Thursday, 29 March 2012

Movie costumes I have loved: Pepper Potts in the Iron Man franchise.

Thanks to Tumblr, I'm absorbing way more promo material for the new Avengers movie than I otherwise would. Which isn't to say that I'm not psyched about The Avengers (I am!) but I'm definitely thinking about it more than expected. Effective marketing, you guys! (N.B. The most effective marketing of all is Clark Gregg's Twitter -- ie, the guy who plays the Men In Black-style Agent Coulson in the Thor and Iron Man movies. Seriously. He's awesome.) Anyhow, today I was thinking about Pepper Potts, and how much I love her.
One of my favourite things about Pepper Potts is how terrible the character seems on paper. She's the PA to a self-destructive billionaire playboy who regularly ignores her advice and almost gets her blown up on multiple occasions. She stays with him because she loves him. He bribes her with expensive shoes whenever he's done something especially atrocious. Now, from that description the Tony/Pepper relationship sounds all kinds of awful, like some dire Mad Men/Miss Moneypenny throwback to the days when mainstream films didn't have to keep their rampant misogyny on the down-low. But the surprising reality is that Tony and Pepper are one of the most charming and engaging onscreen superhero couples ever, and that's mostly down to the casting. I mean, it's widely agreed that Robert Downey Jr basically is Tony Stark. Did you see his and Gwyneth's Tony/Pepper-in-all-but-name routine at the Oscars this year? Perfection.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Girl Walk // All Day

I first heard about Anne Marsen via The Good Wife, because I'm the kind of square who learns about viral-video street dance phenomena via TV shows about lawyers. In The Good Wife and, as far as I can tell, in the real world, Anne Marsen is a charming-badass-weird improvisational dancer who combines talent and training with an irresistable aura of total balls-out glee. Marsen started off in classical ballet before she quit and began to study as wide a variety of dance styles as New York City could provide. Girl Wall//All Day, the feature-length dance video inspired by Girl Talk's mashup album All Day, mirrors this journey to a certain extent, with the heroine freaking out during a ballet class and fleeing for the Staten Island Ferry in a jacket stolen from her teacher
All Day by Girl Talk is, first of all, a brilliant album. I'd been listening to it for months before I had any idea that there was an accompanying film, so I can confirm that it stands up on its own. You can download it free from Girl Talk's homepage or (as I prefer, because I'm a geek) listen on Mashup Breakdown, where each component sample is highlighted onscreen while you listen. But Girl Walk//All Day transforms each track into more than just sections of a great album -- they become memorable moments of a narrative. Girl Walk is very much a product of the internet and remix culture: funded on Kickstarter, produced with no official involvement from the creator of the (free to download) mashup album it's based on, and screened on Vimeo.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Links post: 18th century Danish face-coverings, Tom Hiddleston & Michelle Dockery: time travelers, Alexander McQueen's "Alien" shoes, and more.

The above picture is from Trine S√łndergaard's photo series on strude, the complex scarves and hoods worn by 18th century women on the small Danish island of Fano to protect their faces from the elements. There's a full gallery of these photos at her website -- stunning, and quite the most interesting alternative to a balaclava that I've ever seen.
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Not precisely fashion, but definitely clothing: Iceland's necropants. Magic trousers made from... human skin. I wish I'd known about this when I was in Iceland! It sounds like the best museum ever.
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Alexander McQueen is known for beautifully bizarre couture, and for me this particular work of his is a real delight. I wish I'd known about it last week, in fact -- shoes inspired by the movie Alien:

Monday, 12 March 2012

The costumes of Aliens, or, James Cameron says Put A Gun On It.


Each film in the Alien quadrilogy is so different that it makes me wish they'd continued to make sequels in a whole bunch of other genres -- Western, romantic drama, buddy-cop movie, you name it. Alien is the tense, slow paced thriller of the series; Aliens is the bombastic Vietnam war-movie blockbuster. As reigning overlord of American action/sci-fi cinema from Terminator to Avatar, James Cameron's vision of an Alien sequel was to take Ripley and plant her in a scenario that involves as many loud and deadly weapons as possible. Unlike the ungainly and slow-moving ore refinery Ripley works on in the first movie, even the spaceship in Aliens looks like a gun.
Ripley, Hicks, and the Sulaco.
My own personal recommendation for watching Aliens is to accept straight off that the team of Colonial Marines are really terrible. Because they are. They're really terrible. James Cameron went to a lot of trouble to get the actors into character with various training exercises alongside real-life soldiers, but the end result was still an overall impression of panicked incompetence. They're poorly disciplined, trigger-happy, and bad at thinking on their feet in a crisis. Accepting this as fact doesn't make Aliens any less gripping, and I don't really see it a criticism either of the film's quality or of the actors themselves. If the marines had been a well-organised fighting force of by-the-book professionals, there wouldn't be nearly so much narrative tension and Ripley would never get a chance to shine. The best explanation is that this squad of loudmouths and weirdos, headed up by a woefully inexperienced and uninspiring officer, were the ones deemed most disposable and therefore the best choice to check out the colony at LV-426. They're the Breakfast Club of military units.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Chanel Fall 2012: Geological reports from the Fortress of Solitude.

Previously on Chanel: Karl Lagerfeld, Lord of the Sea addresses the proletariat via harp and conch-shell, and Karl Lagerfeld has never been to India but let's just gloss over that, shall we?

"Diverse" isn't a word that springs to mind when thinking of Chanel, but this collection was extraordinarily varied. The 68 looks ranged from billowing, translucent dresses to armour-like metallic suits, so it was just as well that the theme was easy to pick out: gems. A perfect opportunity for writers to start in on a seemingly endless wave of puns like so many Carrie Bradshaws. Look no further than this review, which summarises the show as "A gem of a collection... Solid as a rock." Just let me get my geological hammer to break into this treasure trove of -- oh, never mind.
Aside from the eyebrows, makeup was minimal. Having Vulcan brows made from tiny rocks glued onto their faces gave the models an especially stern look, adding to the typically aloof Chanel mood. I can just imagine Karl backstage: "Eyebrows are the true source of expression, but why should a Chanel Woman tempt wrinkles when she can communicate directly via the resonance of crystals? The Chanel Woman does not WEAR the diamond, she IS the diamond!"

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The costumes of Alien. Part 2: Space suits, retrofuturism, and Prometheus.

Previously: The costumes of Alien. Part 1: Uniforms and characterisation.

People often use the phrase "space truckers" in relation to Alien, which amuses me because from the appearance of the Nostromo and its crew, it seems like Weyland-Yutani ("The Company") is actively trying to combat that image. The aesthetic of Alien was a purposeful step away from the gleaming consoles of Star Trek and other classic space adventures, with most of the action taking place against a backdrop of murky, dripping corridors and the functional and battered interior of the Nostromo's control rooms. But there are several indicators that originally, Weyland-Yutani's preferred image was that of the sparklingly clean, iPod-like spaceship. Rooms that don't see much active use, such as the medical bay and the hypersleep pods, are still pristine, even while the engine rooms look like a sewer and the control room is literally held together with gaffer-tape.
The medical bay of the Nostromo.
When the crew wakes up they're all wearing the same perfectly-laundered utilitarian white underwear, the baseline of clean uniformity The Company would most likely prefer them to retain throughout their careers. Once upon a time the rest of the characters' uniforms would have been just as clean and white, but while the hypersleep pods and medical bay are clean from lack of use, the Company evidently doesn't care enough about the condition of its employees' main workspaces to make sure the less photogenic areas of the ship are well-maintained. 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The costumes of Alien. Part 1: Uniforms and characterisation.

It took me until the ripe old age of 22 to see Alien, mostly because my mother warned me for years that it was the Most Terrifying Film Ever and should be avoided at all costs. Having seen it I can now verify that it's pretty scary but not, you know, lethally so. Puzzled, I asked my mother to elaborate on her experiences, and very quickly everything became clear. After leaving school she more or less ran away to sea, working on freight ships and oil-tankers. In the '70s and '80s the main communal entertainment for the crew was film reels brought onboard at the most recent port, and this was the context in which my mother saw Alien. In other words, she, a young woman working a low-level engineering job on a huge commercial freighter full of men in overalls, saw Alien for the first and only time in what is basically the setting of Alien. Apparently the one thing that differentiated it from "real life" (aside from the whole "it's set in space" thing) was that when you're working the nightshift on cargo ships it's always really brightly lit so you'd definitely be able to see the alien coming.
The thing that immediately won me over when I first saw Alien was the fact that the characters are so obviously people rather than the sort of cleanly-drawn caricatures favoured by many sci-fi and horror movie writers. Even disregarding my personal dislike of overt exposition, the practise of introducing characters by one or two defining characteristics doesn't exactly lend itself to realistic storytelling.