Magazine article The Spectator

A Girdle Too Far

Magazine article The Spectator

A Girdle Too Far

Article excerpt

Fact: in 1963, air travel was so new and exciting that the awed gasps of the passengers as the plane took flight frequently drowned out the noise of the jet engines.

Fact: in 1963, air travel was so comfortable that passengers emerged from long-haul flights even more refreshed, relaxed and cheerful than when they boarded the plane.

Instead of taking their suits to the dry cleaners, canny travellers of the day would often just take a plane journey instead, knowing that their clothes would emerge at the end more pressed and immaculate than before.

Fact: in 1963, every woman looked and dressed like Jackie Kennedy, especially air stewardesses, all of whom could have doubled as models because they were just so hot.

Well, at least it's all true if you believe the BBC's new Mad-Men-in-the-air series Pan Am (BBC2, Wednesday). But you know, I'm not necessarily sure that I do. There's a vogue at the moment for lovingly realised, uber-authentic screen hommages to the Sixties and Seventies, but the line between ingeniously constructed verisimilitude and ludicrous pastiche is very thin. I fear Pan Am may have crossed it right from episode one.

To give you a recent film example of how easily these period recreations can go wrong, let me cite the Extra Strong Mint scene in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The director Tomas Alfredson is probably the world's greatest master of retro porn chic - cf. his magnificently convincing evocation of early-Eighties suburban Stockholm in Let the Right One In - and his le Carre adaptation (setting aside for a moment Gary Oldman's beyond-bad George Smiley) looks to be evoking period and place just as impressively, till the scene right at the end when Alfredson blows it for the sake of a sweet packet.

Clearly, Alfredson has gone to a lot of trouble to find exactly the right kind of Extra Strong Mints Smiley would have had in his pocket in 1974. Problem is, he can't quite resist rubbing in the fact, with disastrous consequences. It's a moment of high tension: Karla's mole is about to be unearthed;

the camera lingers just a little too long on the Extra Strong Mints packet with which Smiley is fumbling nervously. And that's it:

the magic is broken, the fourth wall has been breached. Instead of thinking what you're supposed to be thinking, what you're actually thinking is, 'Oooh. Look at that Extra Strong Mint packaging. What lovingly realised period detail . . . ' In Pan Am, though, this sort of thing happens not once but in pretty much every frame. One early scene, for example, in which a grande-dame stickler of a supervisor inspects and weighs the air stewardesses, is clearly constructed around the fact that they all had to wear girdles then and that their uniforms were more fitted and standards much higher than they are today. …

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