Thursday, February 11, 2016

Costume Design

Ah! Ah! Ah! I left town without any of my movies! What will I do?

Get to writing, I suppose.

Costume Design:
  • Sandy Powell for Carol
  • Sandy Powell for Cinderella
  • Paco Delgado for The Danish Girl
  • Jenny Beavan for Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Jaqueline West for The Revenant

For Carol's titular character, Sandy Powell scoured fashion magazines from the handful of winter months the film is set, and in doing as much, she creates an image that is fitting for both her time and her class. Powell builds upon Cate Blanchett's body a silhouette definitive of an era. There are beautiful touches, notably in the scene where Carol and Therese meet where Carol is draped in a fur coat perfect for Blanchett's coloring (shown above) with a lustrous coral hat to draw the eye from across the room. She looks distinct but not out of place. Therese's wardrobe was built from archival photos, and her growth from a muted department store clerk's to a young businesswoman is beautifully illustrated in her clothing.

The last few years we've seen a sprinkling of fairy tales making the rounds in the Costume Design category, and 2015 is no different. Last year it was Maleficent and Into the Woods, and 2012 had a double dose of Snow White with Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. In Cinderella, Powell doesn't achieve anything so wonderful as any of Maleficent's wardrobes. While there are some beautiful pieces here, they ultimately feel derivative of the genre. There's nothing so special about Cinderella as to pluck it from poverty and match its hand to an oscar.

Paco Delgado worked on yet a third 2012 Snow White film. That year, he also worked on the phenomenal Les Misérables for which he was nominated for an Academy award. He brings those talents to bear in The Danish Girl with gorgeous period costumes featuring a million perfect hats. both Gerda and Lili are dressed throughout in delicate but bold collections from heel to fascinator. The costuming makes a far more compelling case to bear this film than anything else. Also, maybe I just really want the hats.

Did you know there's a 37 page thread with nearly 1,000 comments dissecting Max's costume? Surely this is due in no small (and probably not even a minority) part due to fandom, but it also illustrates the amount of work Beavan put in to her characters wardrobes. Fury Road is neither a Mad Max defined by fresh, slick leathers, nor is it a bizarre attempt at emulating the juxtaposition of leather culture and bondage gear. No, those were simpler, more farcical times. Beavan draws inspiration from those predecessors, to be certain, but she carefully pares back the absurdity into deeply contextualized choices. From the wispy dresses of The Five Wives to the War Boys' uniformity, a caste system is built directly into Fury Road giving the audience an understanding of every character and their relation to each other without wasting any precious dialogue. Furiosa's utility belt and rag shirt underpin her character's resourcefulness. Similarly, she pares back on armor only keeping the essentials - a leather corset for her midsection and a shoulder plate both for structure and housing of her prosthetic arm and, supposedly, to protect an already damaged limb. Beavan goes to length to reign her characters in to necessary elements while still giving them a flourish, to create uniforms without creating uniformity, and in doing so, she is able to tell her own story.

I really want Leo's fur shawl. Is that okay? Don't go out and kill a bear for me, certainly, but if you have a random bear skin laying around that's fluffier than an angora rabbit, I'll take it off your hands. I'd put it on better display than The Revenant did. Unfortunately for West, her costuming work was rarely well seen as cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki spent much of the film fixing his gaze on character's faces, allowing us to see little else. What she did looked interesting, but even when it was on display, the color and light treatment Lubezki used rarely allowed for the audience to grasp much more than a few tidbits of the wardrobe. Characters looked rough, and resourceful, and warm in their layers of leather and fur, but I just can't shower a plethora adoration on the costuming.

You can probably tell that Mad Max: Fury Road is my standout favorite in this category. The Academy seems to have a thing for early twentieth century foxes, though, so I suspect either The Danish Girl or Carol will win out. Between the two, I like Carol as it feels more intentioned to me, but I suspect that the cultural fetish for dressing men up in female caricature will win out.

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: The Danish Girl

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