Belgium may be Tintin’s home, but at the moment Tintin mania has moved to the streets of Paris and of many other European capitals, currently covered in posters of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin in all its motion-capture glory.
One of the first things that came to my mind after seeing the film and after passing innumerable times in front of assorted posters of the movie, was that in recent years quite a few comics have been relaunched at the cinema and yet not many directors seem to have thought about working on an animated action film featuring a comic book heroine.
A good choice - also from the fashion and style point of view - would definitely be Modesty Blaise.
A newspaper strip character created in the early ‘60s by British writer Peter O'Donnell with artist Jim Holdaway, Modesty Blaise first appeared in the London Evening Standard on 13 May 1963 (so there’s just another two years before celebrating Modesty’s 50th birthday, reason enough to rediscover/relaunch her…).
In the comic strips Modesty Blaise is the former head of The Network, an international criminal organisation and now lives in London, getting involved every now and then in various adventures with her partner in crime, Willie Garvin.
The comic strip became so successful that O'Donnell was asked in the mid-‘60s to adapt it for the screen.
The movie, a comedy thriller directed by Joseph Losey, came out in 1966 with a rather different Modesty Blaise compared to the heroine of the comic strip.
Italian actress Monica Vitti (I have often mentioned her on this site in connection with Michelangelo Antonioni’s films and fashion, so please search for previous posts if you're interested in discovering further info about her) starred in the role of Modesty.
Vitti turned 80 at the beginning of November, a birthday celebrated in Rome with a special photographic exhibition about her career (featuring also some images from Modesty Blaise) and with two special screenings during the local film festival.
The film also featured Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin, and Dirk Bogarde as arch-enemy Gabriel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great success since the script originally written by Peter O'Donnell had been revised and the finished film lost the power its original creator had injected into it.
The newspaper strip ended in April 2001, but there are enough adventures, novels and short stories that could be used as starting points for a new film.
A rather unsuccessful TV movie produced for American television and directed by Reza Badiyi came out in 1982 and a third movie, My Name Is Modesty, came out directly on DVD in 2003 directed by Scott Spiegel and mainly focusing on Modesty’s early life.
There are enough inspirations in the Losey film from the visual and the fashion points of view (I'm sure the film may have some appeal to fans of Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik): there are futuristic interiors like Modesty’s all white bedroom or Gabriel’s ancient fortress/villa with its colourful and almost schizoid Op Art interiors.
Mod-couture abounds mixed with more classic styles and fashion fans watching this film may easily understand why Miuccia Prada is among Monica Vitti’s best fans (by the way check out Modesty's black and white fox fur stole in the sixth image in this post, then compare it to the bi-coloured stoles in Prada's S/S 2011...).
The Italian actress always looks stylish in the film especially when she wears classic clothes with an almost surreal touch (costumes for this film were designed by Beatrice Dawson) like a yellow shantung coat with a matching horn speaker-shaped rigid hood that opens up like a flower.
Vitti as Modesty also keeps on changing the colour of her hair in a flick and her Mod-meets-classic fashion attires together with her adoption of the same dress towards the end of the movie but in three different colours (white, black and pale blue) symbolise the multiple personalities incarnated by the comic strip character.
An interesting note for menswear fans is that Terence Stamp's costumes were designed by Douglas Hayward (by the way, my favourite fashion-related quote in the film is: “Modesty, where did you go that last day in Paris when you said you were going to Balenciaga?” “Christian Dior!”).
A very interesting note to add is the functionality (hey fashion design students/accessory designers pay attention!) of Modesty’s accessories like the golden cuffs she wears towards the end of the film that hide a series of tricks and weapons she uses to get out of difficult and dangerous situations (check out picture 14 in this post - Gabriel opens the cuffs to reveal their content).
While in the comic strip there is an assortment of weapons - from guns to the iconic yawara stick - Modesty and Willie look unarmed during their battles against gangs of criminals and baddies in the films but they actualy hide quite a few weapons in the garments or accessories they wear (at a certain point they build an arch from a belt).
For the time being there are no news concerning a new Modesty Blaise film, though the director's name appears on the 2003 film My Name Is Modesty in the label saying "Quentin Tarantino presents ..."
Considering the fan base, the interest for action films and for fashionably stylish heroines, I guess Modesty Blaise could have a new future and I’m sure that even the 1966 film could provide further ideas and inspirations for possible remakes.
I'm going to leave you with "Modesty Plays" by Sparks (originally written and recorded as the theme tune for the TV series that never happened) to put you in a Modesty Blaise mood - enjoy! (shall we bet you will hear it at some point as background music during a Prada catwalk show?).
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