The Darker Side of Hollywood's Golden Age
© Alexandre Keller: "Vicky White" (level 4) showing deer adornment, self-portrait
“Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.”
― Marilyn Monroe
Femininity and cinema-those are the two primary inspirations that led the Parisian artist Alexandre Keller to create glamorous, extravagant, narrative costumes and performances in the spirit of Hollywood's Golden age Divas. Affirming visual art that is beautiful by using unique, exquisite objects, colors, and forms has been Alexandre's primary aspiration for the last 15 years. As he explained, art is his daily preoccupation from morning to evening. Working as a painter, composer, writer, and designer, creating characters is an inherent part of Alexandre's creative expression. He is also a graduate of the French School of Louvre and a licensed art historian.
© Alexandre Keller: THEATER photography, 2021
"We can not avoid who we are," he said during our telephone call. Indeed, as Alexandre explained, there was always a strong desire to tell a story, a need to escape reality, as a response to the somehow unsatisfying propositions of the real world. "Reality doesn't count much." The idea is to concretize this dream through a cinematographic expression, and the Hollywood cinema, as an ultimate empire of illusion, served as a perfect reference.
© Alexandre Keller: HOLLYWOOD BLISS
© Alexandre Keller: SHOOTED STAR
The "Shooted Star," in the glamorous powder rose dress, directly references Hollywood's Golden age stars like Bette Davis, Marylin Monroe, Greta Garbo, and Louise Brooks. The photo is part of Alexandre's video project EVERSCREEN, composed of two videos for the exposition "In the Line of Sight" (trans. from French "Dans la ligne de mire") and filmed in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The grotesque, ostentatious posture with glitter blinded eyes says it all: a Hollywood star is a sex symbol, from the outside a fatal, flirtatious figure, exploited behind the screens by a money-driven industry dominated by men. "I was reading many biographies while creating my characters and noticed a colossal gap between film and life behind the film. There was this art of hypocrisy, where the Star in all its fortune and glory is confronted, behind the scenes, with additions of all kinds, depression, sexual abuse, manipulated and restrained by the famous producers of the time".
Debunking the darker side of the Hollywood industry was a subject explored more in-depth in recent years. From "The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski," by Samantha Geimer, up to "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star," by Tab Hunter, all the stories show the same reality: an industry tainted by immorality and sexual misconduct. One of the most poignant testimonials from the Golden age period of the 40s and 50s was probably revealed by the great movie star Maureen O'Hara, in her "Tis Herself: An Autobiography," where she opened up about incidents of abuse from the legendary director John Ford.
Maureen O'Hara, source: http://archives.ecrannoir.fr/blog/blog/2015/10/25/slan-maureen-ohara
© Alexandre Keller: SHOOTED STAR, extract from EVERSCREEN. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsLAqNpq73I
© Alexandre Keller: alias Vicky White
© Alexandre Keller: alias Vicky White
In EVERSCREEN, in which the main plot is a Star manipulated by a secret organization, we often see mirrors and skulls displayed in a way that enhances the personality split of the Star symbol, through which Alexandre explores the concept of multiple identities. Though his approach is not intellectual and, as he says, most of his ideas arise from chaos, I would add that he is a meticulous researcher. The original vintage paste and crystal jewelry and the fabrics from the 40s and 60s come from the USA, and Alexandre often spends several months finding the right piece. It is even confirmed by professionals, as he states, that they have a specific shine that brings authenticity and uniqueness to his costumes.
© Alexandre Keller: "Idol", photography (2021)
© Alexandre Keller: Everstar XII, photography (2021)
Cinema is, for Alexandre, also linked to childhood emotions and stage costumes. Accustomed to the world of haute couture and the chic nightlife scene, I asked him about significant influences when it comes to fashion. To my astonishment, it was the character of the Maleficent from Walt Disney's 1959 animated movie Sleeping beauty. She was a sassy mistress of evil, "the grand queen of all time," as described by the costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, with her flamboyant black dress, long horns, and furious movements. When I think about it, Alexandre's costumes indeed evoke something of this dark, elegant design and dramatic and vivid animation. Impressed with extravagance, he also mentions Thierry Mugler, famous for his outrageous silhouettes and forms, like those of robotic insects, robots with butterfly wings, or even female soldiers in evening dresses.
© Alexandre Keller: "MOVIEWITCH"
The pinnacle of extraordinary is probably achieved in the costume of "MOVIEWITCH," a metaphoric character and tribute to Hollywood's Golden age gossip columnists such as Hedda Hopper, Elsa Maxwell, and Louella Parsons. The witch figure reminds me of vicious, Machiavellian blacklisting, done by a large portion of gossip journalists in the mid-20th century in the United States. The blacklist involved denying employment to entertainment industry professionals believed to be or to have been Communists or sympathizers.
Apart from historical references, what amazed me was the conceptual work of putting in place the welded costume of 40 kilos and more than 400 vintage pieces put together, a work that lasted several months and included proper technical support.
© Alexandre Keller: "MOVIEWITCH" , close-up
"I don't think that we ever stop to imagine ourselves elsewhere. There is always an ongoing projection of ourselves", explains Alexandre in the interview for the Bienalle de Paname, a multidisciplinary contemporary art event held in 2021 in the Île-de-France region, where he exposed his cinematographic creations. Alexandre truly inhabits all of his characters with remarkable self-assurance and, surprisingly, never observes himself personally in the mirror. As he points out, the characters are almost exclusively feminine because of the immense spectrum of female expression.
I wanted to know, lastly, what was the starting point of his artistic endeavors, the first public appearance that led to a professional affirmation. This breaking point arrived with "Carne".
© Alexandre Keller: "Carne"
The costume "Carne" featured real meat jewels designed by Emmanuel Lacoste and photographed by Michael Mohr. It was exposed in the Bastille Design Center in Paris. This series of photos, interpreted by Alexandre, refer to Seven Deadly Sins, defined by Thomas Aquinas during the 13th century, with an ironic approach questionning the legitimacy of these moral postulates.
The most important part of this exposition on an individual level, was the first major public acknowledgement. Alexandre discovered an open-minded public who understood the message behind the story. The possibility to share and receive public recognition was and remains his main form of salary. And he will never stop pursuing what he calls to be his "soul medicine"!
More about Alexandre Keller:
Facebook: EVERSCREEN, https://www.facebook.com/EVERSCREEN-1495930750682553/
YouTube: EVERSCREEN (1), trailer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YPK2raR_XU
EVERSCREEN (2) trailer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsLAqNpq73I
Magnifique article, des photos qui rendent hommage au travail et au talent d’Alexandre Keller. Des créations fantastiques et intenses qui fascinent.