With the Queen’s 60th Coronation anniversary just past, it seems fitting that I was able to learn more about the photographer of the official Coronation photo, Cecil Beaton.
A. and I went back to the Cinema Museum to hear a talk about Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) by Hugo Vickers. Beaton appointed Vickers as his biographer and died after they had met just twice. But with complete access to all of his letters and papers, Vickers was able to document Beaton’s extraordinary life.
Beaton started as photographer but also did set and costume design for theater productions while still at university. Before PhotoShop, he was retouching photos of his upper-class clientele, nipping in a waist or removing wrinkles. For the most part, his subjects were pleased; only the Queen Mother (when she was a young woman) asked that he remove the retouching.
As a young man Beaton sought out aristocratic “bright young things” and created a niche for himself amongst them. It was only natural that he moved on to the most glamorous subjects of the time--Hollywood film stars--and also royal subjects. He worked for Vanity Fair and Vogue as a fashion and society photographer, and when assigned to document the home front during the Second World War, created haunting images. His portraits had life and immediacy.
Vickers showed a short clip of the Ascot scene from the 1964 film 'My Fair Lady,' for which Beaton did the costume and set design. I’ve seen snippets of this film but can’t believe I’ve never seen the whole thing—something I plan to rectify very soon.
Of course, there was some discussion of Beaton’s affair with Greta Garbo, but I was more interested in hearing about Valentina, the fashion designer wife of Garbo’s friend/bodyguard/assistant. She was the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. This video features the show's curator speaking about Valentina's designs.
The Cinema Museum is housed in the administration block for Lambeth’s former Victorian Workhouse which coincidentally sheltered a very young Charlie Chaplin in the 1890s.
The Museum contains all manner of cinema artifacts including projectors, interior furnishings, movie posters, film star stills and even usher uniforms.
There is a corridor devoted to Charlie Chaplin. The grand hall, where films are screened, includes a café, bar, and book shop. There's a bit of a homey 'clubhouse' feel to events there as I get the feeling that it is frequented by a regular group of very serious film buffs.
Must run over to the library to get the DVD of 'My Fair Lady' now.