"Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il y avait en moi un été invincible." - Albert Camus
"In the middle of winter, I was finally learning that in me lived an invincible summer." - Albert Camus (Our translation)
The Scented Salamander at the Movies
You can look at perfume as if it were a separate experience meant essentially to be sprayed from a beautiful bottle living on a pedestal - a mirrored tray, a pastry tray, a special shelf, your vanity. It is your ideal scent whose olfactory signature you borrow. Or you can make it part of a larger sensory experience which includes movies...
There have been many attempts to match smells to silver-screen cues. Usually, a scene is matched with a scent to add an olfactory dimension to the viewing experience. So far however, those have remained experiments rather than a full fledged art de vivre. Technically speaking, things need to be improved.
While the technology catches up to dreams of multisensory feature films, you can sit back and relax at home after picking the right film and fragrance for the enlarged sensory scent-surround experience of watching it while, you yourself, waft of meaningful fragrance notes adding an olfactory dimension to the story unfolding before your eyes. It could serve also as a future olfactive cue associated with your present viewing pleasure.
As August has started, and to continue celebrating summer in spite of the wealth of information on anticipatory fashion trends speaking of fall 2015 and even spring 2016, we've set up a list of some of the best summer movies of all time in which the lush, generous season plays a key dramatic and atmospheric role. The 1950s in particular were a ripe decade for those - we explain why below.
What scents do you imagine could complement those story lines? Here are The Scented Salamander at the Movies suggestions, in no particular order but that of memory and desire for an "invincible summer".
I/ Le Fleuve (The River) by Jean Renoir (1951)
In this sinuous, slow movie about coming-of-age and East-and-West dramas, both intimate and grandiose, the thick, tropical weather of India can be felt all along as one of the atmospheric characters. We'll go with a tuberose perfume either 1/ Fracas by Robrt Piguet or 2/ Jil Sander No. 4 or 3/ Annick Goutal Passion, which smells particularly exotic, like a tuberose trapped in an Indian wedding spice box.
II/ A Streetcar Named Desire by Elia Kazan (1951)
Can you imagine the movie taking place elsewhere than in New Orleans and in the mugginess of its nights? The drenched tee-shirt scenes with Marlon Brando and the under-the-surface sexual tensions (not to mention the above-the-surface ones) would simply evaporate. Watching it today, this is also a story of sexual repression and hung-ups on women's purity which we can hardly believe could not make anyone laugh, or cringe - yet in many corners of the world it's still a literal and deadly scenario.
Beyond its dated ideological discourse, the atmospheric punch remains. We smell magnolias, the ones bottled in 4/ Guerlain L'Instant and 5/ Estée Lauder Intuition: soft, sensual and insistent. You could argue that Stanley Kowalski needs his own brand of animalistic cologne. We'll say amen to that and advise selecting 6/ Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent to emphasize the iconic bestiality of the character.
III/ Dog Day Afternoon by Sidney Lumet (1975)
For Dog Day Afternoon, with its air conditioners breaking down and the bullet-sized sweat drops running down Al Pacino's back as he reacts to the situation he created by bungling his bank robbery in Brooklyn on August 22 at 3 pm, we're thinking 7/ Bulgari Black with its note of charred tar.
IV/ Oblomov by Nikita Mikhalkov (1980)
With an evocative travelling camera opening a film about Russian aristocratic life in the countryside showing family, peasants and animals all napping wonderfully, you will be transported to a bygone era, just like Oblomov who cannot get over his idyllic childhood on his family's estate. The perfume of that sentiment is bucolic and simple; we're thinking 8/ Summer Hill by Crabtree & Evelyn, a favorite of ours, which is completely underrated.
V/ The Leopard by Luchino Visconti (1963)
The beautiful historical and philosophical novel by Lampedusa was turned into an epic movie in glaringly hot Sicily as the new forces of history spell the end of the local aristocracy - unless they know how to revive themselves with new alliances. We suggest 9/ Guerlain Cologne Impériale and the classic orange blossom cologne in disguise that is 10/ Bottega Veneta Knot.
VI/ Baby Doll by Elia Kazan (1956)
Sticky, decadent, forceful, intense, this is the atmosphere of Baby Doll. You would need something light, powdery yet sensual, one of those fragrances that make you think of cool talcum powder for ladies who frequent provincial or downtown drugstores. We'll go for 11/ Jean Naté talcum powder. If you want to emphasize the constant mix of carnality and childish regression, opt for 12/ Musc Ravageur by Frédéric Malle for its coca-cola and musk cocktail. Since the main character Baby Doll is oddly stuck in a prolongued childhood surrounding herself with toys and continuing to suck on her thumb in a caged children's bed, you could spray on some 13/ Demeter Baby Head, which recreates the elusive smell - in fine perfumey at least - of a plastic doll head.
VII/ Partie de Campagne (A Day in the Country) by Jean Renoir (1936-1946)
Partie de Campagne is a short yet absolute must-see film about the false innocence of a sunday spent by the river Seine - the trope which also appears in Renoir's The River. It takes place in the countryside near Paris in the 19th century. The initial shooting in July of 1936 was interrupted due to the weather to be finally edited in 1946 - this to stress the point that an authentic summer here is of the essence. Assistant directors to Jean Renoir were none others than Jacques Becker and Luchino Visconti!!!
The scent of absinthe seems appropriate, both to hint at preying men's vices and the lurking danger found in the lush green of the grass: 14/ Absolument absinthe or 15/ l'Artisan Parfumeur Fou d'Absinthe or 16/ Serge Lutens Douce Amère.
VIII/ Les Vacances de M. Hulot by Jacques Tati (1953 & 1978 versions)
In this uproarious comedy by Jacques Tati where sight gags are so numerous, you may blink and miss one, there is the constant olfactory suggestion of the sea side. We could think of no other than the realistic 17/ L'Artisan Parfumeur Côte d'Amour, which even smells of marine pebbles.
Other candidates could be 18/ Pink Sugar to illustrate the candy and ice-cream leitmotiv or 19/ Vacances by Patou for its social theme, or 20/ Jungle Gardenia for the recurring references to American jazz music. And no, you're not exactly hallucinating, the scene with the shark in the 1978 version was shot as a spoof of Jaws by Steven Spielberg.
IX/ The Long Hot Summer by Martin Ritt (1958)
The film, based on three stories by Faulkner which were collapsed into one (Spotted Horses, Barn Burning and The Hamlet), evokes the Deep Southern way of life as a cultural framework to unfolding, pressure-cooker human dramas. Some of the dialogues are dated and even cringe-worthy, for instance like the pean to maiden virginity that Clara Varner launches into, but it remains an impactful movie.
We're thinking something lemony like 21/ Turkish Limon Kolonyasi but also minty like 22/ Cartier Vétiver Bleu.
X/ Gone with the Wind by Victor Fleming (1939)
Gone with the Wind can serve as a 4-hour long advertising for lady-like eaux de cologne with a hint of reined-in misdemeanour. The American version of the eau de cologne 23/ Florida Water by Murray and Lanman is historically appropriate and 24/ Guerlain Cologne Impériale too - the latter right after Scarlett returns from her grand European tour.
XI/ The Seven Year Itch (1955) by Billy Wilder
What is it with the Fifties? There are so many movies in that decade which seem to use the thermometer mercury climbing high for expressing repressed sexuality. Our theory is that the summer thematic in the 50s served as the best way to suggest sex in a fairly "clean" way. Perspiration, drenched clothes, sartorial loosening of ties, with all those possibilities, summertime could become a pretext for showing a lot of skin and piling on the sexy cues. When Marilyn Monroe singsongs her answer to startled publishing exec and new neighbor Richard Sherman, "Yes, when it's hot like this, do you know what I do? I keep my undies in the icebox," you have the whole American Kama Sutra of the 50s contained in one single movie line.
No perfume comes readily to mind, except for 25/ Chanel No.5 because in fact Marilyn plays her own role as a sex symbol in the film as her character has no name while there is one reference to "Marilyn Monroe" a myth living and breathing right under your nose. There is a bathtub scene and in the foreground and background you can spy an array of fragrance bottles. I recognize 26/ Arpège by Lanvin, which makes sense for its sparkling, champagne-like quality as champagne is a recurring motif in the movie. For a summery version of No.5, you can go for 27/ Chanel Eau Première.
XII/ Days of Heaven by Terrence Malick (1978)
In this beautiful, poetic and visually stunning film, a blond, hay-like kind of summer light nimbs the movie as one of its many nuances. We're thinking soap, hay, violets. How about 28/ Caron Aimez-Moi?
XIII/ 12 Angry Men by Sidney Lumet (1957)
18 years before Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet was already using the dramatic, filmic prop that is summer to create added tension in this movie where a jury of twelve men (12 men only - no women) has to decide whether or not to issue a death penalty. Ordinary men are called upon to act under extraordinary circumstances. How to keep your cool, reasoning mind when passions explode in a barely ventilated cramped room with its open windows letting all the city noises pour inside this human pressure-cooker, this is what you're invited to feel.
The trailer evokes "the smell of violent death in your nostrils," in order to stress the primal character of the plot line. If you don't want to smell of blood, you can smell of a range of manly, classic drugstore colognes from 29/ Pino Silvestre to 30/ Old Spice, and why not 31/ Agua Lavanda by Puig, since this was the signature scent of 50s icon Frank Sinatra.