Umbrellas turn up throughout our social history, from Charles Dickens' depiction of an umbrella-weilding Mrs Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit to the Russian spy Georgi Markov who was killed by the poisoned tip of an umbrella in 1978 on Waterloo Bridge. Rene Magritte's Golconda (1953), featuring men carrying umbrellas as they drift down through the sky, is a symbolic benchmark for surrealism, while Marilyn Monroe was famously photographed by Andre De Dienes in 1949 carrying a red spotted parasol. There is even the notable 'Umbrella Man' conspiracy, linking a man opening an umbrella on a dry day with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Here AnOther pick our Top 10 Umbrella Moments on screen.The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Jacque Demy described his 1964 classic The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as “a film in song.” The opera, which turns 50 this year, indulges the style and ideals of the decade, as characters weave in and out of pop-art backdrops and vibrant colours in trench coats, ballet pumps, pastel twinsets and ribbon-tied bouffants, melodically telling the doomed love story of young Genevieve who falls for a mechanic she meets whilst working in her mother’s chic, but financially troubled, umbrella shop. The film launched the career of Catharine Deneuve, who has become internationally known for her portrayal of aloof, mysterious beauties.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Scarlett Johansson walking through the rainy streets of Tokyo carrying her transparent umbrella is an iconic image in Sofia Coppola's minimalist romantic comedy, which shows the strange, burgeoning friendship between Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Johansson).
Along with her magical carpet bag, the parrot-head umbrella that Mary Poppins holds as she parachutes through the sky has become one of the most recognised umbrellas in cinematic history. The film was released in 1964 and turns 50 this year, is often referred to as Disney's finest achievement, based on P.L Travers' books of the same name. Walt Disney reportedly pursued Travers for twenty years before she agreed to option the book to him. Iron Monkey (1993)
Iron Monkey perhaps demonstrates the most unorthodox use of an umbrella. Under Yeun Wo-Ping’s direction, Wong Fei-Hung learns to fight using his father’s umbrella. The film is a spin-off to the Once Upon a Time in China series, in which Jet Li as character Wong Li Hung also wards off a pack of thugs with an umbrella in one of the strongest fight scenes in Kung Fu cinematic history.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
A pop-culture milepost, Yellow Submarine is an animated film starring the Beatles. The trippy cartoon takes the four on a psychedelic journey through Pepperland, an underwater fantasy world, aided by an iconic soundtrack provided by the band. The Eleanor Rigby scene features a series of silhouetted men in bowler hats and trenchcoats carrying umbrellas, to the poignant lyrics, ‘all the lonely people.’
This classic Charlie Chaplin silent film sees Chaplin jostle with another man, Sterling, in an attempt to help the beautiful Lady in Distress Emma Bell Clifton cross the road. A stolen umbrella and plenty of Chaplin's signature comic fisty-cuff slips and tumbles make this an umbrella classic. Withnail & I (1987)
The final moments of Withnail & I features Withnail reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy as he stands forlorn in the rain in Regents park, holding his umbrella defiantly. "What a piece of work is man," he proclaims. The original ending for the British cult classic showed Withnail then taking his own life with a handgun, however this was later shelved for being too morbid.
Blade Runner (1982)
Featuring futuristic umbrellas with a light-up shaft, the ‘Lampbrella’ has become an iconic prop from the film, released in 1982. The dystopian sci-fi thriller featuring Harrison Ford has gained a cult following, acting as an influential benchmark for science fiction and visual effect movies. In recent years people have jokingly referred to the 'Blade Runner Curse', as companies that invested in product placement within the film have since weathered grim hardship (Atari, Bell, Pan Am).
Audrey Heburn's iconic Ascot outfit in My Fair Lady features a frothy white lace parasol umbrella, designed by the legendary Cecil Beaton. It has since become the predominant image associated with he film and considered one of Beaton's greatest works. Hepburn plays flower girl Eliza Doolittle in this film adaption of the Lerner and Loewe musical of the same name, in which Professor Henry Higgens wagers that he can turn her into a duchess. Singing in the Rain (1952)
Easily one of the most well-known songs in musical history, Singing in the Rain is a blithe depiction of Hollywood during the 1920s. Starring and directed by Gene Kelly, the film’s lead song is the greatest PR that a raincloud has ever received, with the iconic image of Kelly swinging from a lamppost as he dances his umbrella up a street forever etched on cinematic history.
Played by Danny DeVito, Penguin's batcave lair in The Batman Returns is decorated with a sinister collection of umbrellas that double up as weaponry. The story goes that Penguin's father died of pneumonia in a rainstorm and he has carried an umbrella ever since. His collection includes umbrella handles instilled with radio transmitters, guns, blades and explosives.
The restored 50th anniversary edition of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is available now.
Text by Mhairi Graham