Bright Lights Film Journal

Forever in Blue Jeans

Watching the MGM DVD of LAST TANGO IN PARIS the other night, I noticed something strange going on in the jeans of Maria Schneider, the Parisian waif who plays house with the newly be-paunched Marlon Brando. This was 1972 and you take one look at how hot those tight jeans are on Schneider as she masturbates face down on the bed, and you feel it, you feel it deep in your soul…. what is it? No it’s not that, my dear perverted friend, it’s a fashion craze being born.

I searched all over the web for a photo of Maria in those jeans (she’s topless in the jean scenes but wearing her famous hat). But I couldn’t find jack. What’s the deal? Did Calvin Klein order all stills of Schneider destroyed so Brooke’s skinny body would have no competition?

Anyway, the jeans are the thing, here, and the lurid “education” of the young female Lolita-esque Parisian innocents by brooding American ex-pugilists is just icing on ze cake. My memory of this period is hazy (I was only five) but I recall the brewing of the craze that would finally erupt with Brooke Shields in her Calvins in 1980 (“Nothing comes between me any my Calvins…. nothing!”) In 1980, America’s collective attention had yet to diffused by a trillion competing sources so everyone got to see Brooke and her Calvins all at the same time, and–like a drove of startled cattle–we went stampeding to the newly-built mall.

Now, in them thar days, America was very much used to getting watered down versions of what Europe had to offer, but nobody was ready for some sexy 15-year old like Brooke and her Calvins. I mean, the jeans craze exploded! $150 for some god-damned jeans was a fortune back then, but everyone had to have them, from old ladies to fat guys, everyone… but me of course, alone in my room in a perpetual sulk.

Now, 27 very odd years later, we have Britney and Lindsay and the Olsens and all the other trashy waifs that get America drunk off its favorite cocktail (two parts sexual arousal to one part moral indignation, shake until frothy), but the lineage from which it all sprang becomes suddenly clear with a view of TANGO… oohh la la, indeed. Sue Lyon will always be LOLITA for me, but Maria Schneider, you are the root chord for 21st century nymphette symphony. Cheers!

To read the rest of (or rather a different version of) this LAST TANGO IN PARIS resurrection, please press here.