Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Stepford Wives (1975).

(See very bottom for link to the full film)


"Something strange is happening in the town of Stepford."

Something strange is happening in the town of Stepford.  Where the men spend their nights doing something secret. And every woman acts like every man's dream of the "perfect" wife. Where a young woman watches the dream become a nightmare. And sees the nightmare engulf her best friend. And realizes that any moment, any second - her turn is coming. Via IMDB

After hearing disparaging comments for years about the recent-ish Stepford Wives remake, and deftly avoiding it,  I finally decided to check out the original 1975 version and was totally floored.   Its a fascinating Feminine Mystique send-up with a real Rosemary's Baby feel.  Like in Rosemary, you can't shake this feeling of an almost supernatural, insidious conspiratorial threat creeping over the neighborhood.  It also has one of my favorite plot devices:  The main character, like Rosemary, Nancy Drew, Sandy Williams from Blue Velvet, or Daphnae from Scooby Doo, she is a woman unraveling a mystery, fighting against a nebulous, all-powerful, cult-like group; using logic to peel back the mystical façade that veils mind control.  

Where I hear the Stepford remake was rescripted as a comedy, the original Stepford was actually billed as a science fiction–thriller film (though, very light on the science) based on the 1972 Ira Levin novel of the same name.  I found out he is the same author who wrote Rosemary's Baby, so I am now inspired to add his novels to my reading list.  Surprisingly, the film wasn't a success upon its release and some feminist groups actually labeled it "Anti-woman"; but the film has built up a cult following over time and has a place in history as a quietly accelerating unpeeling of the traditional suburbia façade.  

Aside from the super story line, it is also a soft-focus, 70s dream of a movie.  So many of the shots look inspired by David Hamilton-- which makes it even more unsettling, as the lovely soft traditionally femme sets and pastel costumes belie the sinister forces slithering below the surface.    Katherine Ross-- best known for her role in The Graduate-- is absolutely at her most gorgeous ever.  She is just a dream in that easy, casual-chic 70s aesthetic.  She wears her hair long and loose or loosely tied back in a low pony tail, and she uses very minimal, or no, make-up and jewelry.   Her clothes, while all being relaxed fit, create long lines down her svelte frame:  Light knits, lean straight leg trousers, long deep V sweater wraps, and of course plenty of head scarves and jeans for her cleaning, romping, walking, active-wear.   Its so refreshing to see this wardrobe in our current era of 'tight = thin' dressing mentality.   

Most of the sets in the movie reveal that image of perfect, bright upper middle suburbia that still exists today:  Lots of white, pastels mixed in with distinctly 70s tones,  clean and open spaces.   The Stepford robot-wives look much less relaxed, more prim and dated, than the suspicious real-woman counterparts Joanna and Bobbie, who tend to look more modern, natural, and even a little bohemian-intellectual.  Many of the robotic wives sport fluffy curls, perfectly combed and freshly hair-sprayed, thicker make up,  big open mascaraed eyes, and lots of pastel floral in sometimes Victorian reminiscent wardrobes.  They generally match one another perfectly, giving the subtle hint they are one in the same.  By contrast, Joanna and Bobbie are au natural, sometimes a bit disheveled, and mix in a lot of masculine inspired separates into their wardrobe.  Visually, they are a motley pair, best friends but generally wearing very different outfits, which reinforces the reminder that these two women are individuals with minds of their own. 

Although you could critique The Stepford Wives on many levels, it stands as an engrossing, unique movie.   Although other films like Rosemary's Baby are similar (and, frankly, much better), there's nothing quite like this one.   I couldn't stop thinking "The Valley of the Dolls should have been more like this".  

See more stills here.

Watch the whole movie in 8 parts here:  


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