While Reynolds Woodcock was flinching at the sounds of Alma buttering and eating her toast, I was being driven to distraction by the woman behind me rustling her chips bag and crunch, crunch, crunching. I could barely restrain myself from turning round and telling her to shut the fuck up.. It was crowded at the Union Square Regal ($17 a ticket), and the crowd was noisy. I like my movies quiet. I like a matinee scene that gives you rows of seats all to yourself. I hate to get distracted.
Woodcock's diction is particular - at the same time fussy and vicieuse. He's used to a household geared to soothe and protect his tender nerves and keep the dressmaking business ticking. It's claustrophobic in the House of Woodcock; Reynolds and his sister Cyril are bound tight by routine. When Alma is brought in as the latest disposable ingenue, the latest artistic muse, she proves to be an unexpected match for the siblings, shifting the balance of power until she finds the means to win a masochist's lasting devotion.
The film is rich in sensory detail. Food. Clothes. Flesh. The secret tokens sewn into the fabric of the gowns. Couture as devotion, beauty, art ("fuck the new chic"). Bodies prodded, fitted and appraised. A giant of a standard British breakfast ordered with erotic precision (fuck oysters!). The rush of disgust as a gown is disgraced by a rich, fat bride; it has to be stripped from her hungover body. Throughout, while the acid play of words is exchanged at breakfast, show or dinner party table, the rhythm of the seamstresses at work, the flashes of scissors and needles cutting and stitching, and into the night, mending the tears in the fabric. At the end of the film, the mess of eggs falling into an omelette pan, viscous, yellow, deadly.
The test of a film is the little spell it casts on the outside world as you leave the theater. It's as good as the film itself, this little rush that makes everything brighter and sharper and every so slightly alien. It doesn't last long. Long enough to walk down 8th, the block that used to be my Street of Shoes, and stop to give a dollar to a woman swaddled in coats and shawls. Long enough to pass the styles of Fantasy Tattoos & Parties, the peekaboo ladies and the men in chains. Long enough to listen to Bach on the platform sweet and pure, next to a man with a New York bobble hat slumped on a bench, resting his head on a carry-on suitcase. On the train the spell fades, but the film is still a shiny bauble in your head, catching the light as it spins and turns, holding your secret attention in the crowd.