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Male and Female Screening


Billy Wilder Theater
Dec 2, 2023
7:30 pm
Introduction by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, founding director and chair of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design. Q&A with Professor Landis and fashion and design historian, curator and author Michelle Tolini Finamore. ASL interpretation provided.

Male and Female

U.S., 1919

With live musical accompaniment!

Adapted from Peter Pan creator Sir James M. Barrie’s play The Admirable CrichtonMale and Female turns the tables on social class in a whimsical silent adventure film centered on an aristocratic family and their dutiful butler Crichton (Thomas Meighan). Crichton’s devotion to the family and Lady Mary Loam (Gloria Swanson, in a role that helped propel her into stardom) is upended when the group is shipwrecked on an island, and he assumes control to ensure their survival. Cecil B. DeMille’s trademark flair for the spectacle is underscored by dazzling costumes and distinct locales and sequences. DeMille remarked, “It was a theory that died very hard that the public would not stand for anyone dressed in clothes of another period.” DeMille proves his point in the film’s famous and extravagant ancient Babylon scene, creating a canvas for a box office hit in Male and Female, where costumes were front and center.

The screening will be followed by a conversation between Deborah Nadoolman Landis and Michelle Finamore, focusing on the uncredited costume designers for the film, including Clare West, Mitchell Leisen and Paul Iribe. When DeMille hired West, he informed her that he wanted costumes that would “make people gasp,” and Male and Female delivered not only spectacular designs, but also everyday wear and fantastical desert island garb. The film captures a moment in time when the professional film costume designer was in ascendancy, as well as the early days of Leisen’s career and the Parisian designer Paul Iribe’s short-lived foray into Hollywood film.

DCP, b&w, silent, 116 min. Director: Cecil B. DeMille. Screenwriter: Jeanie Macpherson. Based on The Admirable Crichton, a play by Sir James M. Barrie. With: Gloria Swanson, Thomas Meighan, Bebe Daniels. DCP courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.

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