Your Must-See Film List, According to the Rodarte Sisters

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Cries and whispers 3
Cries and Whispers, 1972(Film still)

To celebrate the release of Laura and Kate Mulleavy's directorial debut Woodshock, the designer duo offer up a list of five films that have influenced them most

The Mulleavy sisters started their label Rodarte three years after graduating – Kate studied Art History, Laura English Literature, both at Berkeley, California – having moved back home with their artist parents for the interim to save up for their first collection. Melding inspiration from their hippy childhoods in the Humboldt woods of northern California, their work has garnered them great acclaim without ever having to depart from their small scale business model and show only twice a year.

The fact that their ready-to-wear line joined the haute couture schedule just last season is indicative of their exquisitely wrought couture-style craft, which veers towards romanticism with ruffled, lace and tulle creations. The Mulleavys’ fantastical confections routinely point to the natural motifs of their youth, whether floral or nymph-like, and yet for every feminine frippery each collection rides on a darker undercurrent. The same of which can be said for the newly released Woodshock.

Set in those same Humboldt woods, Theresa, played by Kirsten Dunst, mourns the loss of her mother in a muddled, marijuana-induced daydream/nightmare of a movie. Though set now, the film’s hallucinogenic frames are interspersed with 70s Californian interiors and awe-inspiring landscapes, not to mention a series of rather minimal lingerie-like costumes. It makes for meditative viewing and marks the first of the sisters’ forays into film-making, since they’ve already begun writing their next. Inspired by their rich, aesthetic vocabulary, we picked the duo’s brains for a list of their most inspirational movies.

1. Cries and Whispers, 1972 (above)

Set in an isolated mansion in early 20th century rural Sweden, Cries and Whispers charts the dying days of cancer-suffering Agnes. As her condition deteriorates, she is visited by her two sisters, and a lifetime of repressed jealousy and resentment is unearthed. Director Ingmar Bergman’s visual language draws these characters through their shared exorcism, as the Mulleavys explain. “Igmar Bergman’s use of the colour red in this film is inspiring and artful. The characters seemingly walk into the colour, which pulses rage, horror, death, and redemption through them. Red is used as a wash of meaning over each narrative moment, blending the surrealism of their memories into the starkness of the home in which four women interact.”

2. 3 Women, 1977

A tale of three awkward outcasts searching for meaning in their small hometown out in the Californian desert. Emotional despair leads the three to seek ulterior identities, stealing and trading them until they can finally settle. “Sissy Spacek as Pinky Rose, Shelley Duvall as Millie Lammoreaux, and Janice Rule as Willy Hart, in combination with the California desert and Bodhi Wind’s murals, make for iconic cinematic imagery and narrative. Strange and wondrous, these characters intermingle almost like a dream; Millie unpacking her groceries and narrating it to herself, Pinky dressed in her many nightgowns, longing to be anyone but herself and Willy, desolate, standing amid her pastel, surrealistic murals. Each viewing leads to a new fondness for [director Robert] Altman’s boundless understanding of the cinematic art form.”

3. All That Jazz, 1979

In a trippy tangle of timeframes, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz follows the frazzled mid-life of choreographer and filmmaker Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider, whose ambition drives him into dangerous health. “This film’s narrative structure has had a deep impact on us,” explain the sisters. “With each glance and gesture that Roy Scheider makes within the film, we become more attached to his experience. It is marvellous how entwined one feels with him as he stares at the stage or watches a dancer perform. It is an incredible display of subjectivity.”

4. Harlan County USA, 1976

This 1979 documentary investigates the events that led up the coal-miners strike at Brookside Mine in Harlan County, Kentucky. This year-long strike led to a bloody and brutal conflict between company thugs and scabs and the picketers and their families that has since scarred the district. “There may be nothing more emotionally riveting than the story that unfolds in Barbara Kopple’s documentary. It melds together as a work defined by its intimate and sensitive accounts while still maintaining the immediacy and urgency of the issues addressed by the subjects of the film. The discoveries of the voices and activism within the worker’s movement is inspiring and enightening.”

5. McCabe and Mrs Miller, 1971 

Gambler John McCabe (Warren Beatty) arrives in a Pacific northwest town and meets prostitute Mrs Miller (the gloriously permed Julie Christie). The pair combine their wily tactics to profitable effect until the untoward approaches of a major corporation turns the tables. “Truly haunting and memorable, the opening sequence of this film changes the way you view the experience of cinema. Leonard Cohen’s soundtrack perfectly intertwines with the narrative to create feelings of isolation, desperation and determination. The sound of the wind against the title scene is hypnotising and also interactive – it sends a chill through one’s body that follows the viewer until the final moment of the film.”