12 February 2012

Vanished Vestments

To keep the goon squad's interest, let's talk about some famous Marlene Dietrich duds that have disappeared. Back in the late '80s, Los Angeles Times assiduously reported on the Hollywood relics that the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks had acquired from the then-(and still-)defunct Hollywood Museum Associates. For criminally demanding costly upkeep, these treasures were eventually sentenced to the decommissioned Lincoln Heights jail, where their Hollywood connection ironically continued. Because the jail served as a filming location for chefs d'oeuvre such as Chained Heat, these captive costumes and memorabilia allegedly became swag for thieving film crews.

This story described one such stolen goodie as "a white tuxedo worn in 1935 by Dietrich in The Devil Is a Woman." Oh, yes. I remember that scene as if it were yesterday. Concha gets deported from some South Pacific island for inciting barroom brawls yet manages to become a Russian empress who earns chump change as a clip joint floozy, coaxing electrical workers to squander their paychecks on apples. This must be from the scene in mind:
Obviously, this is not Concha, but Helen from Blonde Venus
Because the L.A. Times writer didn't cite the right Dietrich film, I wonder whether this costume was in fact snatched from some jail cell. Someone posted this photo of a white tuxedo displayed at the Filmmuseum Berlin as the one from Blonde Venus, but it's surely a tux from Dietrich's later cabaret career, isn't it? It reminds me an awful lot of the tux featured on the Dietrich in Rio LP cover. Whatever the truth is, the FIDM Museum blog continues to spoil us by sharing high-quality images of Dietrich-owned items on loan from the Dept. of Recreation and Parks, such as this pair of custom-made Delmans. Dietrich didn't need to dance when she could get the party started with those disco balls on her heels.

With all this Blonde Venus tux talk, I'd like to pay my respects to the late Whitney Houston, who referenced Dietrich, the Supremes, and Audrey Hepburn in her "I'm Your Baby Tonight" music video (the American and European versions below, to appeal to this blog's international readers).

American version:

European version:

Musically speaking, I prefer the American version, which exemplifies Houston's foray into harder-edged R&B after the 1989 Soul Train Awards audience booed her R&B/urban contemporary nomination for "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?"--a power-pop ballad whose soul truly is difficult to discern. The house remix of the European "I'm Your Baby Tonight" release nullifies this context, which may be inconsequential to non-American audiences who have never lived in the U.S. to experience its race relations, where crossover artists can be treated like traitors or nonentities. Think Houston's cousin, Dionne Warwick.

In terms of images, I don't notice any difference between the the videos' Dietrich homages. I will point out, however, that--although the tuxedo color, backup dancers, setting, and hand-grabbing certainly mirror the Blonde Venus comeback performance--the scene amalgamates some Morocco images, particularly Houston's reclining pose at the beginning and the flirtation between Houston and her female audience members.

Despite those nods, no lesbian kisses take place, and Houston tops a male audience member with her hat rather than presenting him with a flower. Also, Houston's video reconfigures the gender-bending with a sort of trompe l'oeil that led me to mistake the slender-necked male love interest for a lady in Josephine Baker drag. As for Baker, some credit her as the influence of Houston's video, but this begs me to argue in favor of Dietrich:

"Whatever you want from me, I'm giving you everything," sang Miss Houston, but none of us deserved so much.

09 February 2012

Why I Won't Shop At TCM Vault Again

Like Marlene Dietrich, I cannot stand incompetence, and
TCM Vault will never have my business again. Here's my story.

On January 18, I went online to order Pre-Code Double Feature DVD Set (SKU ID#6445-360560)--the one that features The Song of Songs--and pre-order Marlene Dietrich Double Feature: Dishonored & Shanghai Express (DVD) (SKU ID#6445-364907). While processing my order, the TCM Vault website ran sluggishly, leading me to worry that my order wasn't completing. Indeed, I got a message stating that my order didn't go through. But then I got confirmation emails.

Yes, my order not only went through, it triplicated, showing 6 items on my order details page. Reading on the TCM Vault site that the customer service hours are from 7am to midnight, I realized that I--the ordering night owl--would have to call in the morning. Thus, when I woke up, I made a call on Jan. 18 at about 8:30am. Let me emphasize that everyone with whom I spoke at 1-888-982-6746 was polite, but no one seemed capable of performing simple tasks. The customer service agent could not remove the added items on my order and told me she had to submit a "ticket"  for TCM Vault's tech people to address, even though nothing had yet shipped.

Well, by the January 19, I got a shipping confirmation email, prompting me to call TCM Vault customer service again (this time just after 7am!). The customer service agent's recommendation was that I print out some packing labels to send the packages back once they had arrived. I thought to myself, "No, that's ridiculous," and asked whether I could refuse the packages. The agent told me the package might just get dropped off at my door, but I did indeed see that I could refuse the package in the TCM Vault FAQ. That didn't stop TCM Vault (or, more exactly, the company that "powers" them--Delivery Agent, Inc.) from posting 3 pending charges of $59.05 to my account. What a lovely sight to see at the end of the month, when bills are due.

So I had to wait until UPS dropped off the packages at my door at who-knows-what-time-because-I-was-at-work on Jan. 24. Before I even got home, I called up UPS to pick up the packages and called my bank to cancel the unwanted charges. By the way, the charges ended up being less, but--for some odd reason--all the charges were different (one over $30, another about $27, and yet another about $25), even though they were all clearly associated with 3 copies of the same item--the DVD that featured The Song of Songs. Wondering whether I'd face more complications, I considered doing a giveaway, but the DVD featuring The Song of Songs isn't worth it. That would be like giving away Madonna's American Life CD.

Somehow, this mess seemed to get cleared up. UPS picked up the package containing the 2 DVD copies that I did not order, I got Customer Service to cancel the two extra copies of Marlene Dietrich Double Feature: Dishonored & Shanghai Express in my order details, and the unwanted charges were refunded to my bank account. All I had to do at this point was look forward to receiving my copy of Marlene Dietrich Double Feature: Dishonored & Shanghai Express, which would become available after Feb. 5.

Now, guess what I found lying in front of my door after I got home from work this evening? The same package that I had already refused and had UPS pick up. Once again, I had to call TCM Vault, my bank, and UPS to ensure that this mess gets fixed. I was excited about getting the Dishonored/Shanghai Express DVD because Dishonored is in fact my favorite early American Dietrich movie and--after watching the The Song of Songs DVD that I had kept--I was expecting high-quality footage. Whether my conjecture is accurate, I won't know anytime soon because I refuse to do business with TCM Vault again. The customer service agent had the nerve to ask me whether I wanted to order the DVD on the phone--but why bother when they can't fix their computer's mistakes, can't stop unwanted shipments, and send back shipments that customers have already refused?

I'll just have to wait until I find it through another vendor. Let me assure you, though, that I will have a royal hissy fit if the Feb. 6 charge of $27.05 doesn't get fully credited back to my bank account because the customer service agent initially said I'd be getting $24.99 back. I will not pay for OTHERS' shipping errors. In the meantime, I will have to redirect all the emails that TCM sends me to my spam folder. After a over a decade of perfectly smooth business dealings online at Amazon, Ebay, BuyDig, Orbitz, Kayak, and others, I never expected that a vendor specializing in classic films would embody what Dietrich exclaimed in Schell's documentary:


Edited to add: I should tell you how to refuse a package left at your door by UPS in case you must because the information TCM Vault site and the UPS site give is unclear. My apologies, but I can only assert that this advice applies to the U.S.

1) Call UPS ( 1-800-742-5877 aka 1-800-PICK-UPS)

2) Dial "0" because the automated options won't help you.

3) The automated service won't like that you dialed "0" and will repeat automated options. Dial "0" again.

4) Yay! You should connect to a human being! Now, be sure that you have your tracking number (which should be on the package you wish to refuse) because you will have to give this number to the UPS customer service agent. Within less than a minute, the customer service agents were able to schedule a day for refused packages to be picked up from my doorstep, and I hope the same is possible for you.