Posted by Susan Doll on July 27, 2015
TCM joins with Bonham’s auction house to present “Treasures from the Dream Factory,” a selection of high-profile movie memorabilia to be sold this November. This is the third year for the event, which is open to everyone. The first year, the statue from The Maltese Falcon sold for $4 million; last year, the piano from Casablanca was auctioned for $3.5 million. I am sure you have seen the video preview on TCM for this year’s auction. Among the items up for bidding is a Rosebud sled from Citizen Kane, which had been given to Herman Mankiewicz at the end of shooting, Dorothy’s gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz, a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and a variety of items from Natalie Wood’s estate. The video promises that most of the items for auction will be affordable to the average collector, despite these high-profile pieces.
The video for the auction prompted me to think about what pieces of movie memorabilia I would like to own. I discovered that my tastes run on a much smaller scale than iconic props and costumes from Hollywood’s most famous movies. However, Hendrik Wynands, the head of construction on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who provided the Golden Ticket, makes a good point in the video. He notes that people should collect what appeals to them based on the movies that touch them personally. That is where the true value lies. Memorabilia is more than owning a piece of the movie; it’s a tangible reminder of the meaning that the movie holds for the collector, and a trigger for the emotions behind that meaning.
Kobayashi Porcelain Coffee Cup from Usual Suspects. I recently caught Usual Suspects on the big screen as part of a classic-movie series sponsored by Carmike Cinemas. It was by far the best film I have seen all summer. The experience provided proof that there is no substitute for watching a film on a big screen, particularly one like this, which is dependent on following a series of clues to understand the outcome of a complex narrative. And, the clues are embedded in tiny details, like the Kobayashi Porcelain coffee mug. I want one of these mugs as reminder of the power of a simple prop and of the fun that can be had in getting lost in a good mystery.
The Coin Tossed by George Raft in Scarface. Raft’s depiction of Tony Camonte’s right hand thug, Guino, in Scarface was his big breakthrough in the film industry. Hollywood folklore claims that Raft hated being typed as a gangster, partly because he was sensitive about his association with real-life gangsters in his native New York. Guino’s cool confidence was telegraphed by his habit of tossing a coin. Of course, his downfall was love, which created a crack in his cool facade. I like the symbolism associated with coins: A coin is one object with two sides, which is sometimes true of people. And, a coin toss is associated with fate or luck, often bad luck or ill fate.
A Painting from Scarlet Street. In Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street, a meek, mild amateur painter falls for a femme fatale who is at the mercy of a conniving criminal. The criminal steals the paintings from the artist and tries to sell them, claiming the woman is the painter. My favorite part of the film is the way the snobby art critics interpret and misinterpret the paintings based on who they think the artist is. But, the paintings themselves are interesting. They are rendered in a kind of simple surrealism, in which the irrational juxtaposition of objects and figures in the paintings obviously have symbolic meaning. Hard-edged like the work of many surrealists, the paintings were done by John Decker, who also painted the portraits for Brute Force and The Two Mrs. Carrolls.
The Ankle Bracelet in Double Indemnity. When Barbara Stanwyck descends the stairs in the beginning of Double Indemnity, a close-up of her legs reveals she is wearing an anklet. In the 1940s, ankle bracelets were considered déclassé, a flashy tasteless trinket for women of low class or low morals. Walter Neff can’t take his eyes off her “honey of an anklet,” as he calls it, because he is hooked. The ankle bracelet was the hook, Stanwyck’s sexuality the bait, and Walter the poor fish. I liked that one piece of jewelry could wield so much power.
Jigsaw Puzzle from Citizen Kane. While one of the infamous sleds built for Citizen Kane will be auctioned off by Bonham’s, I would prefer to have one of the jigsaw puzzles that belonged to Suzan Alexander Kane. The puzzles represent her loneliness and boredom with her life in secluded Xanadu, where she is kept like one of the statues Kane collected and stored in the basement. The puzzles remind me of the reporter’s metaphor at the end of the film, where he likens his task of finding Rosebud to a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing.
Pocket Watch from Somewhere in Time. Watches and clocks are potent symbols in movies and pop culture. They can suggest a character’s time is up, or that another is past his time, or that modern society is so fixated on time that we are slaves to the clock. The ultra-romantic Somewhere in Time is about two people from different eras who fall in love across time. A pocket watch is the incentive that brings a woman’s lover back in time so they can be reunited. I want this particular watch because I want to be reminded that maybe there is a chance that pure romance still exists, even if you have to go back in time for it, though experience tells me otherwise.
Toy Tiger Purse in Mystery Train. Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 indie film is an experiment in narrative structure. Three separate stories about three sets of characters come together in a unique way at the end of the film. Because the film is set in Memphis, it should come as no surprise that the ghost of Elvis (literally and figuratively) hangs over all three stories. The first tale involves a hip, young Japanese couple who are avid consumers of pop culture, which is evident in their attire and the fact that they are in Memphis to visit Graceland. As soon as I saw the girl’s purse, which looks like a stuffed toy tiger, I was obsessed with having one. I never found a tiger purse, but I did manage to find two fish purses, two bear purses, and one cow purse. In an era when Gucci purses, leather purses, and other high-ticket bags were status symbols, I liked this character’s toy-tiger purse, because it was an un-status symbol.
Pyramid Jacket from Desperately Seeking Susan. Director Susan Seidelman’s comedy about gender and identity featured Madonna in her first movie. Madonna stars as a version of herself—a free spirit unfettered by traditional roles and male expectations of women. Rosanna Arquette costars as a suburban housewife trapped in a traditional role and living vicariously through Madonna’s life. When she finds this jacket, which had belonged to Madonna’s character, it foretells changes in her personality and perspective. The jacket is a signifier of liberation from conventions and norms. The film also captures the bohemian lifestyle of 20-somethings who lived in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s, and the jacket reflects the motley fashion of that moment and place in time.
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