Sunday, August 09, 2009

Plot Z-twists

The would-be pithy title is my half-assed attempt to make light of my excitement in discovering a film in which knitting is a plot device. Not much of one, admittedly – mostly serves as a red herring - but one that unexpectedly moves the story forward.

As you may have noticed, dear reader, I have a fondness for things vintage. I’ve a modest but well-loved collection of vintage knitting and crochet patterns. For over a decade the only new garments I wore were underwear and socks (put on a bit too much weight to stay vintage, unfortunately). And when I’d switch through the channels on TV, I’d stop anytime I saw something black and white.

So I was delighted to find a small collection of public domain movies available on the Internet Archive. I downloaded one immediately entitled “And Then There Were None”, directed by Rene Clair. The visuals of the film are quite wonderful, and there’s a light touch of humor brought to a grim Agatha Christie tale. (NB – the novel has a much nastier ending than the film.)

If you’ve never seen any versions of this story (most filmed under the title “10 Little Indians”) or read the book, it’s about a group of people who are invited to an isolated locale for a house party that turns out to be an opportunity for one of the characters to kill off all the others. The justification is that everyone in attendance has gotten away with some crime and deserves their fate.

Judith Anderson is one of the actors in this film version. Her character knits. And she sports a knitted stole for a sizable amount of her screen time. And in one sequence she is wearing what looks to be one of those lovely 1940’s hand knit jackets.

So I grabbed some screen shots – sorry they’re not better, but the print was not dvd quality – to share with everyone, along with a few of the more entertaining dialog quotes.

First photo is a seemingly gratuitous kitty photo. But it’s not gratuitous at all.

The next several are of Judith Anderson. She is sitting on a terrace, knitting her hard little heart out. She seems to be knitting a sweater (or jumper, as they would have said in 1940-something Britain) with what looks to be two to three inches of ribbing. Notice also her shawl and the jacket she is wearing.

Check out the knitting bag!

Large enough to hold her knitting and a pair of binoculars, as you'll see in the next two shots. You'll also see closeups of the sleeves of her jacket – I would have loved a clearer picture, but these were the best I could get. I'm pretty sure I've seen that design, or something similar, in one of my vintage books.

These photos show the design of her stole (which she also uses for a scarf). It’s a long rectangle, so shaping isn’t an issue.

Here’s Judith throwing her yarn, knitting English (just as I would expect). Nice to know that she and Dr Zoidberg share knitting techniques.

Next we see Dame Judith at the beach; note that here she’s using the stole as a head scarf.

Dame Anderson's character stops to pick up some seaweed. But why...?

She returns to the house with her find and says, “Such a pretty pattern - I thought I'd like to copy it for a shawl.”

At a knitting retreat, no one would think twice about that remark. However, since she's the only knitter at this house party of doom, they simply look at her as if she's insane.

The notion that her behaviour is irrational is seemingly supported by a brief conversation someone has with her in the kitchen, in which she makes (what I think) is a perfectly rational observation:

“Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house; now we don't even know where to find the marmalade.”

After breakfast (probably one without marmalade), the rest of the house party discusses Judith's oddness, with Walter Huston passing final judgment with this great line:
“No sane person would think of using seaweed as a pattern for a shawl!”
However, before they can get their pitchforks and torches together to go after the heartless, knitting-crazed witch, a ball of yarn drops down into the conversation. Our little kitty friend has chased it over the banister.

And here’s a gratuitous shot which does not do justice to Clair’s visual aesthetic – the light yarn against the dark floor, with an even darker shadow falling across it.

They follow the yarn into Judith’s room, where she’s obviously died like she lived, with her knitting in her hands (and probably on a chenille bedspread).

From Viviana's Mad Howls

I'll look through some of my knitting patterns to see if I can find one which matches her jacket. And I think the design for the stole should be fairly easy to reproduce - in the next few weeks I'll knit up some swatches and post the photos. I won't, however, be designing shawls based on seaweed just yet. Maybe later.

So, in summary, I rate this film "Mmmm...knitting."


Miss T said...

Great post! I saw that movie so many years ago that I'd completely forgotten the knitting content. Very interesting. I'll look forward to seeing your swatches.

Viviana said...

I simply loved the way that, in the film, a character's passion for knitting was evidence of her insanity ;-)

Severina said...

Of course passion for knitting is evidence of insanity! Why else would we waste time and money on this crap if we could just go down to Old Navy and buy a sweater for like ten bucks? We all need medication I'm sure.

I personally like to start masses of projects, then drop them all over the apartment so years later I get to play "What the Hell Was This Meant to Be?"

Off to knit some more 1940s underwear, which I may finish by spring, and to buy a pair of binoculars that will fit in my knitting basket.

Viviana said...

I pretend that I knit so that, come the collapse of civilisation as we know it, I'll have a marketable skill.

Perhaps if I were paid to do so, I might finally finish some of my own mystery projects - you know the ones. (What the hell was this? This yarn on these needles? Was I drunk when I started this? What year did I buy this yarn?)

And sad to say, I have not one, but two pairs of binoculars that will fit in my knitting bag. I never deny that my paranoia is in full bloom.

Severina said...

I'm thinking perhaps I haven't got a big enough knitting basket for my binoculars.

Perhaps I should either buy a knitting basket large enough drag along behind me like a trailer or buy a ladylike pair of antique opera glasses.

Viviana said...

When I want the vintage look I go with the opera glasses.

On the other hand, my knitting bag looks enough like a doctor's bag that I took to SteamCon and garnered several compliments, and that baby can hold a real pair of binoculars.

Liisa Wennervirta said...

Damn! I have opera glasses, I have tons of knitting. I should make a nice knitting bag to actually carry to the opera.

Viviana said...

Oh, I would love to see someone pull an opera out of a knitting bag! Preferably "The Tsar Saltan" - I'm quite fond of that one.