An Ode to La Divina Cate’s Couture in Venezia

The legend of St. Mark, and the lion that represents him, is one of the defining traits of the city of Venice. The winged beast watches over the township from the famous square named after the saint, and St. Mark’s effigy can be found all over the churches, homes, and tourist shops of the Italian city.

The legend states that the evangelist once found himself caught in the midst of a storm in the Venice lagoon, and upon landing in a small island an angel appeared to him and announced he would find rest there.

For film fans, hungry for the couture and red carpets the pandemic stole from them, Venice Film Festival Jury President, Cate Blanchett arrived in very much St. Mark- style to let them know “be at ease children, your patron saint of fashion is here.”

To claim her throne, Blanchett appeared in nautical Armani, wide slacks, a navy jacket and of course a mask. The Blanchett does not toy around with Covid.

The effortless ensemble recalls one of Cate’s most iconic characters, her take on Kate the Great in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

“Do your worst, Ms. Blanchett!

Like most decent people, Cate doesn’t understand what’s the big deal with wearing a mask. If she can sport one while looking unfazed in the striped Armani jumpsuit she wore to the jury photocall, how can you complain about putting one on to wear to the grocery store, where you won’t be photographed by all of Europe’s paparazzi?

Before arriving in Venice, Cate promised she would make this a “green” red carpet by wearing some of her most beloved looks from premieres past.

Allow me for a second to fantasize and get lost in the dream of visiting Cate’s closet. It must look like the one from the first Sex and the City movie, where Big proposes to Carrie, right? Yes, I will marry thee, canary yellow Valentino from the 2004 Oscars. I shall love thee forever, pink Balenciaga from 2013! Yes, I take you as my beloved husband, Galliano gown from the 1998 awards.

Yes, you too hummingbird!

Never one to disappoint, Cate’s first recycled look came from 2015, for the opening night film at Venice, she wore the same caped Esteban Cortázar she donned to the BFI Festival premiere of Carol. Notice how the mask with the winged sleeves makes her look positively superehero-esque.

Speaking of Carol, look at this pair:

I demand a Freaky Friday or a Persona where the two trade places or merge as one supreme being of fashion and rule over our humdrum lives.

Cate’s couture reconfiguration continued with Alexander McQueen. In 2016 she wore this exquisite beaded McQueen top to the BAFTAS with a feathered skirt that would’ve made the late Lee swoon. For Venice 2020, a pair of pants and a 1940s style up-do got the job done.

Venetians have a reputation for being tall-tale-tellers, some accuse them of being liars! But what they know how to do is tease and reveal just about enough to leave one wanting more. The 16th century Venetian scholar and historian Paolo Sarpi once exclaimed “I never, never tell a lie, but the truth not to everyone,” and so fashioning herself a Venetian, not by birth but by spirit, Cate didn’t stick to couture compost, and debuted two new Armani suits.

After all, a girl has to fulfill her spokeswoman contract duties.

With the festival wrapping up this weekend, we wrap up this ode to la divina Blanchett, with some lines from Emma Lazarus’ appropriately titled “A Masque of Venice,”

We shall mark
All the pageant from this ivory porch of ours,
Masques and jesters, mimes and minstrels, while we hark
To their music as they fare.
Scent their flowers
Flung from boat to boat in rainbow radiant showers
Through the laughter-ringing air.

Addio, for now.

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2019 Redux

While the podcast is on hiatus for the next few weeks, revisit some of our more popular episodes from last year.

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Ocean’s 8 and the peak of Cate Blanchett’s celebrity post Carol (2015).

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Her spot on interpretation of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.

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An early career highlight in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

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Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in ‘The Aviator’

What happens when an icon of cinema takes on another icon? Well an Oscar for starters. This week we discuss Cate Blanchett’s performance as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004).

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Manuel Betancourt, check out  his website for some of his writing.

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What is the film about?

From imdb: A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.

What year did it come out?

2004- released in the US in December, the rest of the world in 2005.

Who does Cate play?

Katherine Hepburn. From Sylvia Scarlett to Woman of the Year; 1935 -1940.

How is Cate introduced?

27 miutess in – long wait – Hughes lands on the set of Sylvia Scarlett, first close up with her hand shielding the sun – iconic. Then the golf scene. Gets the movie star treatment of course.

Box Office: Domestic = $102,610,330 Int’l =  $111,131,129.

Metacritic: 77. RT: 86.

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Topics discussed:

  •  Impersonation vs performance – did she get the emotions right? Was it just surface, all perfect accent work, perfect posing in the frame?
  • Who’s Cate’s classic mirror actress? Is it Hepburn? Bette Davis, I think of Blue Jasmine as a Davis film and Cate would’ve killed it in Jezebel or Of Human Bondage.. There are shades of Marlene Dietrich particularly in her androgyny and high glamour. 
  • It’s a series of big scenes / set pieces for Cate/Kate. Every single one a showcase for Cate, no wonder she won the Oscar.
  • Is this Cate’s riskiest performance? Daring to take on an icon in the same medium for which she was known and celebrated. 

“Representing Kate in the same medium, film, in which she existed was very daunting. But because she was so private and few people really knew her, we basically know Hepburn through her films. So of course you have to give a nod to her screen persona when playing her.”- Cate to the NY Times.

  • What constitutes risk in screen acting? Subject matter? Artistic merit / independence? Collaborators?
  • Hepburn’s legacy and screen persona.
  • How does this film fit into Scorsese oeuvre. 

Famous quotes by the character:

Do your worst Mr. Hughes.”

I’m Not Acting.”

Howard, there’s a rather alarming mountain coming our way

I sweat and you’re deaf

And from Leo “You are a movie star. Nothing more

Costumes we loved:

  • The green gown at the movie premiere is to die for.
  • At the club with Hughes and Errol Flynn.
  • The golf outfit.

Scenes we liked:

See above basically all of Cate scenes. Sylvia Scarlett set, Golf, the night club, plane, bathroom, Hepburn family, breakup and later on outside Hughes’ door.

What seemed off:

Basically everything after Howard and Kate break up.The energy left the movie with Cate/Kate. Or is it just me?

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Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • Her first Academy award.
  • Came at the tail end of a few years of films – with the exception of LOTR – that didn’t connect with audiences or critics.
  • Was the start of a few years in which she collaborated with top tier international directors: Soderbergh, Inarritu, Fincher.

Film within the context of year it’s been released:

Awards: Won 5 Oscars (Cate, Sandy Powell, Thelma Schoonmaker, Cinematography and Art Direction). Nominated for Best picture, director, sound mixing, screenplay, Leo and Alan Alda. Cate also won BAFTA, SAG and came in 2nd at National Society of Film Critics. Leo won GG.

What reviews said of Cate:

Cate Blanchett has the task of playing Katharine Hepburn, who was herself so close to caricature that to play her accurately involves some risk. Blanchett succeeds in a performance that is delightful and yet touching; mannered and tomboyish, delighting in saying exactly what she means, she shrewdly sizes up Hughes and is quick to be concerned about his eccentricities.”-  Roger Ebert.

a cheerfully stylized performance.”-  Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.

A merely imitative Cate Blanchett, horsy and cursing, “Hot Dawg!” – Ella Taylor, LA Weekly.

Before he stopped cutting his toenails and hair and spiraled into oblivion, Hughes earned a reputation as a serial romancer. Hepburn was only one of many conquests, but she plays a central role in “The Aviator” because she gets Mr. Scorsese closer to the black box at the center of the story. Ms. Blanchett doesn’t look a thing like Hepburn, a discrepancy she tries to overcome by adopting a purposeful gait and delivering an overblown approximation of the actress’s legendary lock-jaw. For the most part Ms. Blanchett sounds as if she’s channeling one of Hepburn’s own overblown performances. But she gives the story a shot of adrenaline and, more importantly, does her job by making Hughes seem palpably human. So much so that when she runs off with Spencer Tracy you feel her absence immediately.” – Manohla Dargis, The New Times.

This cockeyed romance, which lasts considerably longer in the film than it did in real life, proves as charming as it is unlikely, thanks in large measure to Blanchett’s dead-on rendering of the star’s hauteur and vocal peculiarities.Todd McCarthy – Variety.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Only collaboration so far with Scorsese and Di Caprio.
  • First collaboration with Sandy Powell, who’ll go on to costume Cate in Carol And Cinderella.

Press coverage:

  • 2nd of ultimate 5 Vogue covers coincided with the release of this film, Dec 2004.

NYTimes profile:

It’s such a brave performance by Cate, with the accent and mannerisms, that naturally there are those who will feel a certain way about it,” said Mr. Scorsese, who had been impressed with the actress’s “precision and boldness” since “Elizabeth” and considers Ms. Blanchett’s role in “The Aviator” one of the most “daunting in the film, even if some younger viewers won’t know who the real Katharine Hepburn was.

  • Great insight in the article on how she found Hepburn’s voice.

Some fashion moments:

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