Monday, 11 May 2015
I just stumbled acrross this picture on my phone. This Christmas my husbands family decided that it would be fun to hire out a small Scottish Castle which was absolutely amazing. (For the curious it was Castle of Park with a link here and only cost us about £500 a couple for a weeks accommodation which is pretty damn cheap to be able to say, "oh yes, we spent Christmas in a castle last year).
Anyway this print was on the bathroom wall. Regular readers will know how obsessed I am with curious costumes, and a French castle in Scottish dress of an indeterminate (or perhaps non existing) period while she is in 1830s (or at a push late 1920s?) dress is more than I can resist.
Are they going to a fancy dress ball, and if so does that mean she's just wearing a surprisingly authentic different period. Are they on holiday from France or why else would they be French?
And don't even get me started on his clohting. I've NEVER seen anything like it. Is it 16th century(esque), Is that a short kilt of some somrt of pantaloons. So many questions. If you have any theories please share them with the rest of the class.
Is he just a very confused Sir Walter Scott fanatic?
So many questions. If you have any theories please share them with the rest of the class.
Monday, 9 March 2015
I just received the dvd for this film, which looks sumptuos and amazing, and has been specially selected for a movie night with said best friend. I'll review it once we've seen it, but it got me to thinking.
Of course there are the usual frock flicks like Gone with the wind, Room with a view, The Princess Bride and The BBC Pride and Prejudice that are widely acknowledged as classics of the genre. But there are also the lesser known films, the slightly embarassingly corny, naff, raunchy, or even worse to some, not remotely historically accurate. *Gasp!* They're the Sunday-afternoon-in-your-pyjamas films that would never even be remotely considered for an award, yet I can recite them word for word and secretly prefer to their much better scripted, directed and acted counterparts.
So I'm going to do a series of posts on my top 5 costume films that I don't like to admit to being obsessed with.
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1982 TV MOVIE)
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton
Sink me. There have been many adaptations of Baroness Orczys novels but this made for TV film adaptation is by far my favourite. The strangest thing about this film is I started watching it because my very straight, then in his mid teens older brother, loved it. (He also had an unhealthy obsession with Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves when it came out, but lets not go into that).
|When Gandalf met Sebastian Flyte|
The Cast:The film is most notable today for having a young(er) Ian McKellan as Chauvelin, long before he became the hero of geeks everywhere, at a time when he was almost exclusively known as a highly respected Shakespearean actor. He is brilliantly uptight as the much thwarted villain of the piece, but also brings an almost sympathetic, softly comic side to what might otherwise be a fairly dull character It also stars an almost unrecognisably beautiful Jane Seymour as Marguerite St. Just, and Anthony Andrews (sans Aloysius) playing the titular fop-come-masquerading hero to perfection. The script is witty and fast paced and doesn't ask you to think too much, aware that it is firmly placed in the Rollicking Good Time genre, but by casting some of the England's finest, the characters become more than cardboard cutouts with complex relationships, lifting what could have been mellodrama into a love triangle between layered and three dimensional characters. Playing fast and loose with the source material (it's based on at least 2 of the Baroness' books, both the original Scarlet Pimpernel and Eldorado), it's as ridiculous as it is completely charming, escaping the self-congratulatory smugness or attempts to make serious commentary on the revultion, it allows as the laddish charm and romantic subplots of the league seduces you into their adventures.
|Those hats, that collar, the hair|
The Costumes:And the costumes? It's designed by Phyllis Dalton. The name may not mean much, but when I tell you her extensively impressive list includes Doctor Zhivago and Laurence of Arabia before this film, but who also went on to costume two of the most beloved frock flicks (at least in my opinion) The Princess Bride and Kenneth Branaghs Much Ado About Nothing, you will appreciate that I don't need to wax lyrical about her talents. Unusually for this period of paniers, heaving bosoms and powdered hair, the costumes manage to be gorgeous without distracting from the characters wearing them. Margeurite's are particularly impressive from both a beautiful and character driven perspective, as she convincingly transforms from Republican sympathetic French actress to wealthy English Lady.
|Margarite as on the stage...|
|vive la revolution ....|
|to English garden party|
Favourite Frock:This was genuinely a difficult one, simply because this is the one era where the mens clothes genuinely come close to outshining the ladies, and as an utter fop and friend of the Prince Regent, Sir Percival Blakeney has some of the most stylish togs around. However as this is a guilty pleasures post, and I'm confessing my deepest darkest secrets, it has to be the Margeurites wedding gown, It's not even the prettiest frock in the film, but its beautiful silhouette and simplicity has basically ruined every other wedding dress for me. Ever. In fact I want that whole wedding - complete with a romantic dance with a man dressed in white satin.
Why this film is a Guilty Pleausre:
Why you should watch this film:
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
I'm starting to go grey. Recently I've progressed from the "a couple of odd hairs" stage to the "oh my God I'm actually getting old phase". I'm a bit of a tree-hugger at heart so when I stumbled across a mention in a blog about black tea as a chemical free alternative to hair dye I was intrigued. I gave it a go and the results were promising enough to make me think this is something that needs further investigation.
But of course tea as dye it makes sense in my profession. As an avid coffee and herbal tea drinker I have literally used black tea as dye more times than I have drunk it. Almost one of the first things you learn as a costume newbie is how to "take down" whites by dip-dying them with tea. The theory is that too much white under the light causes flares for the camera so if you make all your white clothes slightly off white they will appear white on camera but not piss off the Director of Photography. It's particularly important for men's white dress shirts and nurses uniforms. I've also used it to dye stark white laces and trims for a more sympathetic colour for period costumes.
You simply make a really strong tea (soaking five or six tea bags in boiling water in a small Pyrex jug until it starts to look viscous is my standard but there's no rules), add it to warm water in a bath or bucket and soak the offending whites for a while. Then rinse (but not too enthusiastically ) and dry. Then scrub your bath to get rid of the brown marks left by the tea.
It's worth noting that
a) pre washing the items ensure the removal of any protecting coating they might have, but you won't always have time
b) like most dying natural fibres take colour better than synthetics so dying time is completely dependant on fabric and the colour you desire
c) make sure you take the tea bags out before adding the tea to the fabric and stir the items regularly to ensure an even dye.
In the age of digital whites are not as big a problem as they were and less and less DOPs insist on tea dyed clothes. But on certain digital cameras bright red can be a bit of a problem. But there's not much you can do about that except not use bright red or ignore the DOP and use it anyway. You also have to be aware of patterns that strobe. Long a problem of tv it is again less a problem than it was, but small stripes, particularly in contrasting colours can do that "make your eyes go funny" on screen.
So in much the same way that my mother trying to make tablets more palatable by crushing them into a spoon of honey, now means that all honey tastes vaguely of tablets to me, so black tea makes me think of dye and wet calico (a very distinct smell half way between floor cleaner and wet dog). I find the idea of drinking it quite revolting which can be a problem when living in the UK where it is literally a way of life. But sticking it on my hair, that makes much more sense.
NB: for those who are interested in the idea of a cheap, all natural, chemical free dark brown hair dye to cover their greys, I will experiment further and keep you posted .
Monday, 28 April 2014
Warning: if you have been living under a hole for the past few years and still wish to be ignorant of the storyline of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this post contains major spoilers.
I have a confession. I'm 33 and I think The Hunger Games books are the best books I've read in years. There I've said it. After jumping on the 'must read' train and obligatorily reading and watching the Harry Potter and Twilight series, with varying amounts of enjoyment and frustration (not going to critique them here because it's irrelevant) and steadfastly refusing to read 50 Shades of Grey, I've gone and got completely obsessed with popular teen fiction. I read the books, then watched the films, then repeated the whole process again in the past few months. I wasn't a huge fan of the first film when I saw it (probably a case of too much expectation combined with fairly lacklustre directing). But I saw Catching Fire at Christmas and the romance rekindled. I loved it. I re-read the books and then this weekend I introduced my husband to the two films (he read the books when I did), watching them back to back. And I had a break through. I realised why the story resonates so strongly with me personally.
And I'm not talking about the films costume design. I think Trish Summerville, costume designer for Catching Fire, particularly did a wonderful job. To come into a world where there was already a 'look', and then take that look and improve it exponentially, while still keeping it faithful to the original, is quite a feat. And there are some stunningly beautiful pieces of clothing in the film. But more importantly costume is used in the film constantly to define character and class. The people of the capitol dress elaborately in stark contrast to those in the districts just struggling to survive.
But that's not what I mean. I mean the role of costume design within the story. Because the majority of the decisions that a film costume designer and director would make to help the clothes define the story are already well entrenched in every part of the book. I'm talking about what Suzanne Collins added to the story. I mean the Costume Design in the book.
I mean Cinna.
I've been mulling it over, and I cannot for the life of me think of another time in fiction when the role of the costume designer is so perfectly understood. All through the series costume is of vital importance. It's NEVER 'And then Katniss wore a pretty dress'. Every single item of clothing she makes a statement, clothing always has a purpose. Katniss is almost always in costume, we very rarely see her in her own clothes. From the minute she puts on her mother's old dress to go to the reaping, she is putting away any choice she has. But that is only the first hint of what is to come.
For it is only when Katniss meets Cinna that we really start to understand the importance of clothing. Cinna uses costume design to pique the crowds interest in an otherwise fairly boring District 12 tribute, both in the chariot and the interview. Particularly in the 2 chariot scenes we are shown how superior Cinna is compared to the tired old choices of other tributes stylists. He is a visionary.
For the record, I don't personally like the interpretation of this dress as seen in the film. I think more could have been done with the design of the dress (I'm sure it's described as having crystals in the book), and less of the CGI. I think the second film chariot costume combines fire and clothing much more effectively. But either way it's the costume that defines Katniss in this scene. She's not good at the PR side of things. Not for the last time does her clothing tell a story that she is incapable of voicing.
I don't think it's underestimating the story to say that costume is used within the story as a matter of life and death. Cinna dresses her as a young, innocent girl when she exits the arena with Peta, to help back up the story of young love, and deflect the anger of the capitol.
But more importantly he gets to make the ultimate heroic act in the wedding dress in Catching Fire. By designing an ingenious costume of political significance, fully knowing what the repercussions will be. The Costume Designer gets to make a heroic act and ultimate sacrifice. He knows that by making a statement with this dress, by thwarting the capital, he will die. And that's why his death scene is so moving. Katniss is too naive to realise it but Cinna is fully aware that this dress signed his death warrant, it was just the timing that took him by surprise.
Of course his work also appears with equal significance in Mockinjay, but for those who have only seen the films and not read the books I won't spoil that.
Of course it's not just Cinna. The clothes worn in the arena are important hints of what is to come. They are infinitely practical to their surroundings. And other characters too. The Peacekeepers are always mentioned in reference to their white uniforms. it is impossible to picture a citizen of the capitol without their styling coming into play. This is a book drenched in the significance of how things look.
But it's not just the clothing, it's the personality of the costume designer. I was REALLY worried when I saw that they had cast Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. My previous knowledge of him was some shirtless glam rock star who dated Nicole Kidman. Surely he couldn't play the role of Cinna with the subtlety and empathy he deserved? But I've been converted. Because that is the important flip side. Suzanne Collins understands more than just the clothes, she also appreciates the relationship of stylist and client. It is somewhere between trusted ladies maid and artistic salesmanship. To get the best out of your clothing you need the person wearing it to believe in it. You have to sell your art to them so that they believe in it (and themselves) too. Sometimes that requires obsequiousness, flattery is very useful, and at other times you need to be bossy, but it is a relationship based on trust. The costume requires both the designer and the model to exist, and so it's a relationship that relies essentially on mutual trust and respect. And when that's not there, believe me, you can tell.
Anything that is as popular as The Hunger Games is by definition going to get as much negative as positive attention. Is the idea really original? Is Katniss really a hero? I don't really care. I like the story of Katniss and her world. It's bloody good storytelling. But even so, what I think is truly great about this world is that is gives costume a platform. Hopefully people will begin to understand that good costume design is almost never about who has the prettiest dress .
Just a personal addendum: this is my favourite costume from the films, The beautiful Cleopatra-esque design and use of colour is stunning. But we're also not allowed to forget that she is the Mocking Jay
Thursday, 20 June 2013
Take this photo of Prinzessin Viktoria von Preussen aka “Moretta” from the 1880s.The silhouette and neckline is unmistakeably 1880s, but the frills, sleeves and pannier skirt loops (without the shaping undergarments) show us that she is dressing in her interpretation of a Rococo costume. What I particularly like is the hair, the front curls are very late Victorian, but the height is, what we would call, Rococo 'inspired'.
|Here is a dress from the 1760s, the sort of style she is imitating|
|This is an 1880s evening gowns from Charles Worth, the style she might have worn to a normal evening party.|
Here's a few more period fancy dress gowns:
|Princess Louise of England in rococo costume. 1865 - note the 1860s crinoline: once again the silhouette is entirely contemporary, but the hair is more authentic and she has the elbow length sleeve with lace. I wish we could see the front!|
|Queen Maude of Norway does 17th C style fancy dress 1897. I love the fabric choice here but the proportions look so odd with the the large shoulders and narrow skirt: much more 1890s the 17th Century. The collar is superb though.|
|A Lady's 17th C Dutch servant girl fancy dress - Charles Worth C1900. This costume feels very romanticised fairy tale character, and apart from the severe corseting, not unlike the sort of thing you would find in a Simplicity pattern|
It seems that it's hardest for Victorians to accurately interpret pre-1800 costumes, when the corsets were more angular and petticoats more dramatic. The dead giveaway though is the Victorian curved corsets, as opposed to the straighter style used in previous decades.
Not everyone would have had family portrait galleries to use as inspiration. Here's some fashion sketches for fancy dress parties that would have been available, much like we would use fashion magazines for inspiration. They've done a pretty respectable job with the ones below.
|1845 Fancy Dress Costume of 1700s|
|Duchess of Devonshire from 'Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls,' by Hold, Ardern, 1896|
|Dress of Tudor Period from 'Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls,' by Hold, Ardern, 1896|
Please don't think I'm criticising these costumes, if anything I'm admiring them. This is the real anthropology of costumes, an insight into how previous periods perceived other eras. We romanticise the fashions of Victorian times, who in turn also romanticised previous periods. And we are no means immune to editing period fashions to suit contemporary ideals (but that's a post for another day).
This one below is my absolute favourite: Yes that does say Marie Antoinette period: she is of course famous for her leg-o-mutton sleeves. There is a slight nod to a panier petticoat and split front skirt but apart from that there is no resemblance to anything Marie Antoinette would have worn. Perhaps there was a different Marie Antoinette who lived in 1895???
Thursday, 6 June 2013
1912, Les Modes (Paris)
Tailored suit for the afternoon by Linker & Co.
Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic
Costume design by Deborah L. Scott
Obviously they are the 'same' outfit, but equally obviously changes have been made. I much prefer Scott's use of black on the collar and the stiff man shirt collar and tie underneath, very necessary for a film costume where the area framing the face is the most important part. Equally I think her skirt is a much neater, geometric shape and the thinner stripe of the fabric is much cleaner. However I do think something has been lost in the sizing down of the buttons, and while I think it was a wise costume design choice to lose the fur trim, I am an absolute sucker for vintage fur and part of me is disappointed by the choice to remove it. Almost unbelievably, Winslet's (or should I say Scott's) massive hat appears to be a scaled down version of the original, but is a much more opulent design.
I was blown away by how beautiful this ensemble (the Titanic one) was when I saw it at the V&A Hollywood Costume Exhibition. My major memory of this look is the famous shot of that amazing hat as her head turns to reveal her face, but the actual outfit below the neck is far more striking.
While studying I was lucky enough to be taught a class in costume design by Australian costume designer Margot Williams - probably most famous for costuming 'The Proposition' (2005). She used a moderately successful horror film that she worked on called 'Ghost Ship' (2002) as an example piece for us. The IMDB blurb for the film reads as follows: A salvage crew that discovers a long-lost 1962 passenger ship floating lifeless in a remote region of the Bering Sea soon notices, as they try to tow it back to land, that "strange things" happen...
If you're not too squeamish, here's the opening sequence of the film on YouTube. And believe me when I tell you that working with both vintage styling and blood together is the sort of thing most costume and makeup professionals dream about (as long as they don't think about the stressful practicalities too much). Not being a fan of the horror genre, I wasn't that interested in the rest of the film, but I love the opening 4 1/2 minutes.
I'm not unaware of the similarities between the two films: ocean liner where majority on board die, modern day crew revisit the remains... a happy coincidence used to illustrate my point.
Because of the practicalities all the 1962 costumes had to be made from scratch. Noone wants to get blood (even of the fake variety) on vintage clothing, but also they needed multiples: clean ones, bloody ones, half ones (or sometimes both halves at the same time for different actors) and whole ones.
I remember her telling us that she did extensive research into designs and styles of the period, and then drew all the dresses from memory without any first hand material in front of her to distract her. All the designs, though inspired by historical accuracy, were her own.
That has always stuck with me as how good costume design works. In theory.
However in practice it's never that simple.
How is copying a vintage design any different from choosing and styling an actual vintage piece from hundreds of other pieces, because it perfectly suits your vision? Or even buying a dress from the high street for an actress to wear?
Scott made some very conscious decisions on customising the dress to suit her purposes. Nobody could accuse her of making a direct copy. But it's definitely an 'inspired by' piece. Either way it's fascinating to see the inspiration.
What are your thoughts? Is this clever costume design or downright plagiarism?
Friday, 10 May 2013
|The storeroom where the meeting takes place|
Last night I went to see Peter and Alice, a new play directed by Michael Grandage, about when Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Wonderland) met Peter Llewelyn Davies (Pan) at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. Oh, and stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. Yep, that was pretty much all I needed to know to be interested. In August of last year I booked tickets, hunting through an already fast selling catalogue to ensure we found a night where we could sit front and centre, three rows back. Being close enough to see the genuine tears glistening in Judy Dench's eyes during the curtain call made the wait and the expense worth it.
I've never had much interest in Peter Pan, but have always been rather obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Not so much the many film adaptations but the books, and particularly the original drawings. (Although, in a similar manner to Winnie-the-Pooh, it is hard to divorce them from Disney's interpretations.) As well as avidly reading both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass when I was younger, I was also obsessed with one of my fathers' books by Raymond M. Smullyan, 'Alice in Puzzle-land', a book of logic puzzles based on Wonderland characters, which really brought the Lewis Carol spirit alive (I must have been a strange child!).
When we arrived in Britain we were based in Oxford, and were invited by a friend to dine at the top table of at Christ Church, where Charles Dodgsen aka Lewis Carol spent a large portion of his life. We walked down the spiral staircase from the staff room, which supposedly inspired the rabbit hole, and saw the various features of the room, such as the long necked fireplaces. But particularly I remember walking under the statue of Reverend Henry Liddell, and our friend said: "I walk under that every day and all I can think is 'That poor man, it doesn't matter what he did or didn't do in his life, he'll always be Alice in Wonderland's father'"
Which pretty much brings us to the point of the play. How do the Real Alice and Real Peter feel about being immortalised in fiction? What does it mean to go through life under the weight of such a burden? It's a complicated thing to achieve fame for doing nothing, to have everyone blur the lines between reality and fiction. As the two share their experiences, their current real life misery is contrasted with happy childhood memories, and the store room becomes a magical stage, full of Wonderland and Neverland imagery. They are joined by Lewis Carol and J. M. Barry, and by Alice and Peter Pan who represent their childhood, storybook naivety. It is a story, that in the wrong hands, could have been terrible, but playwright John Logan managed to get the slightly sinister nature of the relationships the children had with the authors, the world's intense possessive love of the stories, and the leads own battle with real life tragedy, pitch perfect.
Dench and Whishaw jumped perfectly from old and bitter to young and naive seamlessly. Brilliant actor Nicholas Farrell (above - one of those 'you'd recognise him when you see him' actors) played Lewis Carol with a wonderful stutter and a brilliant mix of kindness and creepy. And the rest of the cast were strong. The us of fictional Alice and Peter Pan was a wonderful conceit, contrasting the naive almost pantomime style acting and the authors words with real world emotions. It was a play full of humour, but I was swallowing back tears on more than one occasion.
The design, as you would expect with such a subject matter, was magical. It stayed respectful to our memories, but then took them to another level beyond imagination. Older Alice wore a 1930s style blue floral dress, and a hat with a big bow on it; older Peter wore a crumbled jacket with a green knitted waistcoat and grey trousers; wonderful allusions to the costumes of their fantasy namesakes, but subtle enough that my husband didn't even notice until I pointed it out afterwards. Fictional Alice's dress was a childhood dream, with stiff skirts and puffy sleeves and exquisitely tailored. If I have one fault, the hem of Peter's brown jacket was roughly hand hemmed, distracting enough to make me wonder if it was dodgy sewing or a deliberate attempt to make him look rumpled, but I don't pretend that this would have bothered anybody less costume obsessed.
At the beginning Peter and Alice meet in a crowded store room, complete with subtle details like a pirate ship, a mirror and a white rabbit toy mixed in with old boxes and junk. But once they began to talk properly about the past, the storeroom dissolved into a magical theatre, where lush red curtains were painted onto felt and we lived an breathed scenes of storybook fantasy. Particularly beautiful was the Neverland cavern where, through lighting and paint they somehow managed to recreate the effect of moonlight on water. It reminded me a lot of Matilda, (see my review here) in its beautiful way of combining childhood ideas for an adult audience.
I have this belief that the best theatre should embrace a sort of suspended reality, a magical place that film and television can't go, and this play perfectly illustrates that idea. But it also requires collaboration under strong directing: script, acting and design have to work together in harmony in order to create a really successful piece of theatre, and this is where Peter and Alice really excelled.