Sunday, September 8, 2013

Moving Pictures: Rita Hayworth Photographs by Bob Landry, as seen in "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)

I'm returning to that age-old question: Is photography art? As a long-time proponent of the artistry in moving-pictures, I don't think you'll be surprised that I consider certain types of photography artistic. The photographic series I'm going to describe now toes the line between art and commercialism, but I'm going to try to make it's case for its artistry.
Rita Hayworth
pin-up for LIFE magazine, August 1941
The photo I'm talking about appears very prominently in the now-classic The Shawshank Redemption (1994). The film is based on a Stephen King novella titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, so it is no surprise that the legendary film goddess Rita Hayworth appears prominently, if not briefly, in the movie adaptation. I love Shawshank- which tells of the story of Andy Dufresne, a formerly wealthy banker imprisoned for decades for a murder he claims he did not commit at a strictly run prison in Maine.

At one point, during one of those beautifully surreal movie in a movie scenes, the inmates are watching the classic noir Gilda (1946) starring Rita Hayworth. Andy turns to "Red" (Morgan Freeman), an inmate with connections to the "outside" who claims he can get anything, and asks if he can get the beautiful Rita Hayworth. They all laugh, but later in the plot, as a gesture of goodwill, Red gets Andy this gorgeous pin-up poster of Rita Hayworth. Surprisingly, the poster will play a rather large part in the drama to come, but for our purposes, we're going to pause and begin examining the poster, or rather the picture that became the poster.

Andy views "his" Rita for the first time
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Rita Hayworth, the beautiful sex symbol of the '40s, is perhaps best-known for her role as the titular Gilda in 1946. It's during this role that she appears on screen... on screen in Shawshank. But that was in 1946, when Rita was experiencing the absolute height of her career. The photograph was actually taken in 1941, while her career was certainly on the rise and she was certainly very popular, but as not as much as her mid-40s years. Among other factors, including her performance in a number of pictures, this picture would help launch her permanently into the nation's spotlight.
Rita Hayworth captured the world's imagination in roles such as Gilda
Like I said, the photograph was taken in the summer of 1941, while Rita was shooting You'll Never Get Rich with Fred Astaire. A LIFE photographer, Bob Landry, was commissioned to do a story on this rising star and took a number of pictures of her dressed in a black and white silk negligee kneeling on what appears to be a hotel bed. The editors of LIFE liked the pictures but the thought they were to risque to be a cover shot. As it would happen though, this pin-up, which was published in the August 1941 issue of LIFE, became one of the most popular pin-ups for the American soldiers of WWII. In fact, Rita Hayworth was second only to the famous pin-up queen, Betty Grable, for her pin up popularity.
"The Shadow Shot"
by Bob Landry, LIFE 1941
Landry took a number of photos during that shoot. One of the more famous shots showed Rita making a slight smile at the camera, with a dark shadow behind her back. However, the version that appears on the poster in Shawshank was a more developed and finer photograph which shows Rita in greater clarity. If it lacks the slight aura of suggestive mystery that appears in the "shadow shot" is simply a matter of personal opinion.
Publicity Still of Rita
Rita Hayworth was a legend, a gorgeous bombshell who captivated the hearts and minds of American men for years and the photos from this shoot are some of her most prominent iconography. But are they art? Whatever Landry's inspiration, you can image he did not design the shots to have a high-minded purpose. But in my mind, that doesn't matter because the photographs had a purpose and more importantly achieved their purpose. The appearance of the poster in Shawshank simply acts a small reminder of the purpose- to excite the imaginations of men and to celebrate the ideal of beauty in a world lacking idealism- be it a Maine prison or a battleship headed for its rendezvous with destiny. But with her mysterious smile, and captivating beauty, it's not too difficult to imagine Rita Hayworth as the contemporary Mona Lisa. Perhaps only time will tell us if a simple photograph will turn out to be a timeless masterpiece.

Base Source:
Iconic Photos: "Rita Hayworth Pin-Up" May 10, 2009

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