Unordered List

Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Killing, and the iconic status of Sarah Lund's jumpers.

Previously: A fan's introduction to costume design.

Unpopular opinion time: I don't think that Sarah Lund's jumpers are all that significant.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Sarah Lund is the taciturn protagonist of Danish TV series The Killing, AKA Forbrydelsen. The Killing is a political drama/detective show, the first season taking place over 20 days of a murder investigation in Copenhagen. It was very popular in Denmark, and quickly reached must-watch status in the UK when it aired on the BBC last year. Season 2 just started and I'm watching like a hawk, brain already conditioned into Pavlovian stress attacks whenever I hear the credits music (the Forbrydel-drums). However. While I'm psyched that such a well-made, intelligent, feminist show is so popular, the obsession with Forbrydelsen includes some intense yet slightly bemusing involvement in Lund's jumper choices.
Sarah Lund and the bunch of idiots she has to pretend to tolerate in order to keep her job.
This promo pic gives you a good idea both of Lund's character (confident, serious and aloof), and of the entire cast's attitude towards fashion -- ie, that they don't find it very important.

Thursday 24 November 2011

REVVVEEENNNGE: Nolan Ross costume analysis RETURNS.

I've already written quite extensively about my love of the character Nolan Ross in Revenge. Not only is he the best character in what is already an extremely entertaining show, but his dress sense is eye-bendingly awesome. He has this whole peacockish prepster-satire thing going on, and once you start looking out for it you notice that he appears to be wearing themed outfits in certain scenes. Last week he donned a sleazy-looking brown silk patterned dressing-gown to lounge around in after a sordid, loveless tryst, and I'm almost certain this was on purpose.

At the start of this week's episode (1x09) Nolan is wearing a fairly everyday ensemble: top half normal-looking, bottom half douchey prepster. (Tragically, you can't see the white dress shoes he's wearing to go with the white jeans and white belt. But rest-assured they are very white and shiny.) 
This is his "I'm not going to be hanging around anyone important today so who cares" outfit, the one he wears to do minor household tasks such as purring threats into the ears of people in bars at 11am, and spying on murderous identity-thieving strippers. (I know, right? This show is amazing.) However, later on he's invited to a party full of financial types, there to invest in the probably-corrupt company of his part-time-rentboy fuckbuddy. Aside from the show's protagonist and the aforementioned part-time-rentboy financial advisor, he's the youngest person at the party by about 20 years. So he wears this:

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Leyendecker and the Arrow Collar Man.

Because I feel this blog has been tragically short on vintage suits so far, here's a post all about Leyendecker and the Arrow Collar Man.
The Arrow Collar Man is a creation of J.C. Leyendecker, a German-American illustrator of magazine covers and advertisements in the 1900s-30s. Leyendecker worked on a variety of illustrations and ad campaigns, but his speciality was these hyper-masculine, square-jawed all-American guys who spent their days smoking, posing in a manly fashion, and playing sports. The Arrow Collar Man is kind of The Man Your Man Could Smell like of the early 20th Century.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Movie Costumes I Have Loved: Doomsday

photo from here.
At some point I'll go back to writing serious reviews, but having spent the day wandering around Glasgow, my thoughts turned to Doomsday instead. In this film the costumes, like everything else, are nonsense and should be taken with a pinch of critical salt. Doomsday is the film that would happen if someone put every 1980s dystopic/apocalyptic movie in a blender and then set the resulting mish-mash in mid-21st-Century Scotland. This quote from Cheri Priest will hopefully give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

"’s got humanity-eating plagues, tribes of cannibal punks, medieval-style fiefs with knights and torture chambers, rubber-wrapped gimps, futuristic soldiers with wacky hardware, cyborg eyeballs, embittered but noble old cops, corrupt and power-mad politicians, tanks, humorous decapitations, and Malcolm McDowell dressed like Henry the Eighth."

Also there's a dance sequence set to Adam Ant. This film came out in 2008, by the way. Not back when Adam Ant was still on the cutting edge of the anachronistic pop-culture zeitgeist. To ease you gently into the logic-free world of Doomsday, here's comparatively subdued screenshot:

Monday 14 November 2011

Movie Costumes I Have Loved: True Romance.

I'm taking the "costumes I have loved" theme very literally here, since True Romance is unlikely to make anyone's top ten list of films with cleverest costume design.

I was reminded of this film when I saw Drive this weekend. Drive and True Romance both have this sensitivity/brutality, garishness/darkness dichotomy thing going on, and despite wildly differing in tone, both stories are in similar veins of "petty criminals get in over their heads" + sweet romance. Ryan Gosling's scorpion-pattern jacket is already iconic enough to have inspired fan-made posters, but it comes from the same school of cheap, artificial-fibre colourful Americana as the less famous costumes of True Romance.
True Romance is an early '90s psychos-in-love romantic thriller: Badlands or Bonnie & Clyde by way of Quentin Tarantino. In fact, in true Tarantino referential style, the theme music of True Romance is adapted from Badlands itself.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Movie Costumes I Have Loved: Thor.

For the last ten years or so, blockbuster comicbook movies have been getting gradually less and less comicbook-y. That's not a criticism -- after all, The Dark Knight is a zillion times better than the infamously godawful Batman & Robin, even if it does take place entirely in the dark and focus on a ridiculously good-looking billionaire being sad about how hard his life is -- but I did enjoy getting a chance to see a movie as shamelessly comicbook-looking as Thor, because it really would have been impossible to make a story about sparkly alien god-beings seem super dark and serious. His weapon is a magical hammer, hello.
As you can tell from his helmet, nobody in Asgard gives a shit about low doorways.
(Also, Thor is the first feminist superhero movie. It is! Read that article, it says it better than I ever could.)

I was a bit doubtful of Thor at first, especially since when I asked my comicbook friend Michael whether it was just a film about an angry blond jock with an enormous hammer, he said, "YES, AND THAT'S WHY IT'S AWESOME." But once I saw it I had to agree that while it was still a film about an angry blond jock with a hammer, it WAS awesome! It was 100% sparkles and explosions, and 0% tiresome Hollywood sexism! The hero had a convincing rapport with his love-interest, unlike Batman (Christopher Nolan, I love you, but why must all your female characters be cardboard cut-outs and/or dead?) or Spiderman (Mary Jane: start carrying a taser, you get kidnapped like twice a week)! Thor and Loki's daddy issues were interesting and emotionally compelling, unlike the representation of pretty much any other blockbuster hero's daddy issues ever.
Disco eyepatches are in!
And it has some sparkleicious fantasy costumes, the likes of which have not been seen in years. I love the more "realistic" style of costumes used in LOTR and Harry Potter, but if they'd make Thor all harsh-looking and mysterious it would have ruined it, I think. Much of this movie's appeal comes from the contrast between the over-the-top, rainbows-and-gold visuals of Asgard (where Thor is an alien prince with a magical hammer), and Natalie Portman's impoverished scientist lifestyle in New Mexico (where Thor is a hot yet possibly-crazy homeless man). If you haven't seen the movie then most of the Asgardian costumes in this post are going to look completely ridiculous, but I promise you that in the context of a civilisation of alien vikings (really glam alien vikings, who despite the very sound advice of the superhero costume lady from The Incredibles, still have an ongoing love-affair with capes) they are perfectly acceptable.
Asgard, land of sparkles. That long walkway in the middle is made of GLOWING CRYSTALS and is called the Rainbow Bridge, just FYI.
OK, so for maximum shininess I'd put Heimdall first, even though he's a relatively minor character. Caveat: I have not seen an actor look so much look like an action figure in a long, long time, maybe ever. Even Captain America did not look this much like an action figure, and Captain America practically is an action figure.

Monday 7 November 2011

Movie costumes I have loved: A Knight's Tale.

After writing about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and (kind of) the new Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptation, I'd hate it to seem like I only think "serious" films have costumes worth talking about. Time for something a little more lighthearted!
Paul Bettany as bitchy Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the main reasons you NEED to see this film.
A Knight's Tale has been one of my favourite feel-good movies for years, but only recently did I realise that it's become kind of a cult favourite in the decade since it first came out. In the UK at least, most students and people in their mid-twenties have seen it or own it on DVD, although it's not one of those cult-cult movies like The Room or Mean Girls that people quote incessantly -- it's just straight-up fun. I can't help but love the way A Knight's Tale gleefully embraces its own ridiculousness without a trace of irony. If you haven't seen it, here's a test to see if you'll like it or not: If you get annoyed by the fact that this scene appears in an action-comedy supposedly set in 14th century Europe, then probably don't bother watching any more.
From the first minute, A Knight's Tale is awash with self-aware anachronisms, from the soundtrack (Queen; David Bowie; AC/DC) to the fact that in one overhead shot of "medieval" London they have the freaking London Eye made of wood by the Thames. I don't really understand people who frame that as a criticism, since the film never once claims to be historically accurate the way, say, Ridley Scott's Robin Hood touted its "realism". When was the last time you heard someone complain that Pirates of the Caribbean isn't realistic enough? They're similar films -- action/romance comedies with attractive leads and a supporting cast of excellent comedic actors -- but while Pirates has zombies in it (so historical), A Knight's Tale has people dancing to David Bowie and competing in a completely fictitious set of World Cup-like jousting tournaments. Neither of them are historical dramas, they are fantasy movies.
P.S. The whole "jousting world cup" thing was totally fabricated.

Saturday 5 November 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, H&M, and the difficulties of marketing a female action/thriller hero.

Whenever I see an article about H&M's new "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" line I waste valuable seconds of my life being irritated, so where better to vent than my fashion blog?

I'm aware that it's probably stupid to get annoyed by high street fashion marketing. It's always going to be dumb. H&M is just making use of a popular book and movie franchise to sell bland goth-lite clothes. However, the designer hired by H&M to create the Lisbeth Salander line is the costume designer from the actual movie, and the clothes look exactly like normal H&M clothes, except monochromatic. And... "Lisbeth Salander studded wedge heels"? Right.

Omigod I can't wait to get my emotionally-damaged hacker outfit! Yay, generic-looking $200 jackets!
I'm not wild about they way Lisbeth Salander is being marketed in preparation for this film. It's going to be hard enough for Rooney Mara to measure up to Noomi Rapace's fantastic performance in the original Swedish-language adaptations, and I doubt that "sexy" marketing is going to help in that regard. A gajillion people bought this book: isn't that evidence enough that Lisbeth Salander is already an interesting character? Is it necessary for Mara's first -- and aside from a recent spread in Le Monde, which is unlikely to reach most of this movie's prospective viewers, only -- photoshoot for the Dragon Tattoo movie to look like this?
Photos from W Magazine.
Seriously? I mean, obviously this photoshoot wasn't made using the actual Lisbeth Salander costumes, but most people taking a casual glance at it are not going to know that. Aside from the fact that they essentially amount to a collection of sexualised images of a character whose defining backstory centres around child abuse, these pictures do the movie a disservice by making it indistinguishable from a multitude of other fashion spreads. Girl straddling a motorcycle and looking pouty? Meh. Every actress in Hollywood has done a photoshoot that either includes a sexy motorbike pose or involves a goth/punk theme (especially former child stars trying to appear "adult").

Thursday 3 November 2011

Movie costumes I have loved: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,

(Previously on Movies Costumes I Have Loved: A fan's introduction to costume design.)

I've described Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to friends as "a movie about grey-faced men in suits looking at each other suspiciously", although a slightly more accurate description would be that it's a British espionage thriller set during the Cold War, starring Gary Oldman as a spy brought out of retirement to track down a double agent in the upper echelons of MI6. It's full of reticent Englishmen (Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy) staring at each other expressionlessly as they try to figure out who is double-crossing whom, and it's brilliant.
The men of "the Circus".
No one in Tinker, Tailor is dressed ostentatiously, and it would've looked out of place if they had been. The setting is (mostly) London in the early 1970s, but it's not the '70s of David Bowie, it's the '70s of chilly civil service offices during the Cold War, where feminism hasn't really hit yet. There are women working at MI6, but they're mostly office aides working silently in the background.

George Smiley
Gary Oldman's character may be the focus of the story, but he's as sombrely dressed as he is quiet in personality. He's neat, he's efficient, he's dogged, and his clothing gives away about as much as his complete lack of outward emotional expression.
According to an interview with the costume designer, Gary Oldman wears two (very similar) grey suits in the film, but I'm damned if I can tell the difference. Everything about him is engineered to fade into the background. He's one of the old guard of British spies, quiet men who lived through the War and who feel slightly out of place in the rapidly changing world of the 1970s.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Movie costumes I have loved: a fan's introduction to costume design.

When rating movie wardrobes, I deduct points for both period dramas and musicals. Allow me to direct your attention to the list of Academy Awards for Best Costume Design. In the past fifteen years, the only winners that weren't period dramas or musicals were Lord Of The Rings and Alice In Wonderland, both fantasies featuring very ostentatious costuming (not that I begrude LOTR its win, which was thoroughly deserved). Is this because all the designers working on films with a contemporary (or futuristic) setting were incompetent? I doubt it. It's similar to the often-bemoaned problem of hammy "Oscar bait" performances -- At this point, putting Keira Knightley or Helena Bonham Carter in a corset and crinoline is the costuming equivalent of getting Philip Seymour Hoffman to play a mentally-ill Nazi.
A totes realistic portrayal of 18th century womanhood.
As far as I can tell, the main points taken into consideration when judging movie costumes are these:

1. Authenticity. This mostly concerns period dramas, but since they make up the vast majority of costume award nominations (not that awards are the be-all and end-all of cinema, but still.) it's probably the most important point. A lot of fuss is made over historically accurate costuming, which I'd immediately dismiss as pointless. First of all, you can't make a truly historically-accurate costume for anything set before, oh, 1850 or so, for these reasons:
  • Lack of availability of detailed/accurate documentation of day-to-day clothing. Only the rich had portraits, and those would be idealised. There is no such thing as a "casual" painting, and until you reach the age of photography, it's difficult to find pictures of what most people (ie, poor people) would look like in real life.
  • Methods of clothing production are completely different now than they were even 100 years ago, and many of the materials used are now unavailable or stupidly inconvenient to produce. And what's the point in going to the effort of hand-squeezing dye to make your own cloth? Nobody watching the film is going to know or care. No one except fashion historians, who probably enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean as much as the next person, and therefore don't give a crap. 
  • Beauty standards change so drastically that modern actors aren't even the same shape as people even 50 years ago, never mind 500, making "historical authenticity" a moot point in the first place. Try looking at a portrait of a 18th century "beauty" some time. They look weird as shit. Diet was completely different, people had babies at 14, every second person had smallpox or syphilis, all the aristocrats wore Lady Gaga wigs and bathed like once a month... it wasn't pretty. Good luck getting Gwyneth Paltrow to do that for the next kings-and-crinolines epic.
Painting of Queen Victoria's coronation. Obviously, there are no photos.
Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria.