Monday, May 02, 2011

Costume and Cinema



Of the many elements that comprise mise-en-scene — including actors, setting, decor, objects and props, lighting, color, and so on — costume is surely one of the most neglected in film criticism. Cinema scholar Pamela Church Gibson has identified three possible reasons for this neglect of costume and fashion: it’s often considered to be a ‘feminine’ and ‘frivolous’ object of study; it is an overt and materialistic expression of capitalist-consumerist culture (and thus of questionable worthiness); and, finally, fashion is used by society to encourage women to present themselves as ‘objects’ for male visual consumption (feminism in particular wants to be conscious of this). Yet, studies like Jackie Stacey’s Star Gazing reveal that for women audiences, costume is one of the most frequently mentioned aspects of a film.

Costume can also be a vital component of film and mise-en-scene analysis. Take King Vidor’s classic “maternal melodrama” Stella Dallas (1937). In it, Stella (played by Barbara Stanwyck), born and raised in a working-class household, has aspirations of class mobility. She marries an upper-class man but their relationship falters; their class differences are too much, and can’t be surmounted. After they are estranged, Stella works to raise their teenage daughter in a highly strategic and deliberate way, one that prepares her for assuming a place among the upper class. She accomplishes this mainly by assembling for her an identity based on the ‘correct’ wardrobe.

One of the strengths of this film is the wonderful, detailed way in which it presents a system of codes — the codes of class — based on dress. Stella herself is sartorially extravagant: she favors loud patterns, bold stripes, generous frills, large bows, fake jewelry, spangles, vulgar furs with heads, and mountainous hats. But for her daughter, Stella sews and makes home copies of ‘tastefully’ restrained high-fashion clothes favored by the upper classes. (Diana Vreeland of Vogue magazine associated this pared-down, anti-excessive style with “the elegance of refusal”).

In a fascinating essay, literary scholar Edie Thornton has written about the role of women’s magazines in the ‘20s and ‘30s that provided step-by-step instructions for working- and middle-class housewives to construct flawless, undetectable copies of high-fashion garments. Thornton points out that upper-class clothes in Stella Dallas are quiet, minimal, undemonstrative, generally ‘effacing’ the labor of the domestic activities involved in keeping house. (There is an interesting analogy here with Hollywood cinema of the same period — studio-bound, well-crafted, with tasteful production values — that often worked to efface its own labor through devices such as continuity editing.)

In this intelligent and prescient film, personal style, no matter how simple or invisible, is something that is ‘constructed,’ never natural. Stella fashions two parallel and radically divergent identities: one for her daughter (a style based on subtlety and ‘refusal’) and one for herself (excessive and flamboyant). One could watch this film with an eye for costume alone, and find it richly rewarding and meaningful.

I’m curious: What are some other films that make expressive or meaningful use of costume, films in which costume is a key component of mise-en-scene? Also: Any of your favorite writings (reviews or essays or books) that pay attention to film costume? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions.

NOTES: I'd like to thank Tanya Loughead and George Boger for the conversation that spurred this post. Pamela Church Gibson’s essay on costume and film is available in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (1998). Edie Thornton’s essay appeared in American Literary History in 1999.

pic: Upper-class 'restraint' and lower-class 'vulgarity' side by side in Stellas Dallas.

34 Comments:

Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

I'd like to direct all to our last issue of &review, Garments, which features a text by Ignatiy on this precise topic. There are print copies floating around SF and NYC and PDX but you can always look at a PDF of the issue at andreview.com

May 02, 2011 3:06 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Also, _Duelle_ is a favorite film where costume says as much as dialog and camera about the sci-fi elements of the otherwise "natural" (I think B Kite calls it anti-fantastic?) mise-en-scene

May 02, 2011 3:09 PM  
Blogger Revolver-Blog said...

Thanks for this insightful post. A filmmaker that comes to mind in terms of „the importance of costume” is Luchino Visconti, one of very few directors I know the name of his frequent collaborator / costume designer by heart: Piero Tosi, a true genius in the art of creating a character through clothing.

Christoph

May 02, 2011 3:19 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

This is another example of gaudy-versus-tasteful fashion that serves to demonstrate class difference in 1930s films:

I always enjoyed the moment in Come and Get It when Lotta and Karie walk into Barney Glasgow's private car dressed in what they believe to be the height of fin-de-siècle fashion: fringe, stripes and plaid, and worst of all, hats decorated with clusters of grapes and an owl in flight--all assembled by hand rather than purchased. They are from the backwoods of Wisconsin, but Lotta wants to enter privileged society. They eat in the dining car so that Lotta can observe other fashionable people on their way to Chicago, but they have to run the gauntlet of ridicule between tables populated by women in elegant, but significantly less garish outfits who give the two newcomers wondering looks. Hawks or Wyler do not resort to close-ups of the seated women sneering;he understates the sidelong glances and concentrates instead on the "walk of shame" between the tables--with a medium shot--and this entrusts the viewer to mark the contrast rather than over-selling it with histrionic reaction shots in close-up. So it comes as a slight shock when Lotta admits her embarrassment after the dinner, if only because the previous scene had been subtly presented; Lotta seems ruder than she would otherwise be.

There is also, of course, the famous scene in Wyler's Jezebel when the petulant Julie defiantly arrives in a dark red gown at a ball where women should where only white. On black and white film, the red looks extremely dark, of course, and this codes her as slightly masculine, closer in shade (and self-determination) to the men in black tie.

May 02, 2011 3:55 PM  
Blogger Fredrik said...

Thanks for posting about a neglected field. I wrote a piece about clothes, fashion and cinema a couple of years ago on my Swedish film blog, and it is one of the most read postings I've done. Since there seems to be an interest in the matter I should perhaps translate it and post it on my present film blog, which is in English.
One film where the clothes matters, and warrants attention, is Preminger's Laura, with clothes by Bonnie Cashin.
A modern filmmaker who puts a lot of emphasis on clothing is Wes Anderson.
The only piece of good writing I can think of at the moment is Leo Braudy who in his book The World in a Frame wrote about the differences between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, with particular attention to the clothes they wear, and how the clothes are significant aspects of both their dance routines and the messages they when to send to the audience. If I can think of more good writing on the subject of clothing I'll get back to you!

May 02, 2011 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

I immediately thought of another Stanwyck movie, Baby Face. She starts out as a dirty barroom wench, with simple, almost young tomboy shirts and plain skirts. When she moves to New York and starts her fight upward in class, she goes all out with all her dresses, scarves, even asking fashionable ladies where they get their perms and nails done.

May 02, 2011 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Tucker said...

I have wondered if the tendency to neglect costume in film criticism is because it can feel like costume is more of an element of stage than film, even when evidence to the contrary is right in front of us.

Certain genres build up a great deal of their mise-en-scene with costume, particularly westerns, war pics, and historical drams, to name three.

May 02, 2011 7:16 PM  
Blogger David said...

MoMI just hosted a great series on costume:

http://www.movingimage.us/films/2011/04/15/detail/fashion-in-film-festival-birds-of-paradise/

In Walsh's The Man Who Came Back, sort of like Resnais' Coeurs, Janet Gaynor, fighting an opium addiction in a Shanghai den, expresses whether or not she's a virgin or a floozy by reemerging in the doorway, alternately, in white and black gowns. Memory may be deceiving me that in one moment, succumbing to delirium, she whips off the white robe to expose the black beneath, much to Charles Ferrell's horror.

May 02, 2011 8:41 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Are you familiar with the blog Clothes on Film, Girish? Some people I know who are smart about both fashion and film think highly of it.

Also on the blog front, supposedly the Sartorialist is planning to start a series dealing with the "defining sartorial moments from great films," but this has yet to come to fruition.

May 02, 2011 9:23 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creeekmur said...

It seems clearly true that costume is neglected, but there's some good work on the topic. Pamela Church Gibson (who you cite) has done regular work in the area, and the BFI collection FASHIONING FILM STARS is worth a look. Jane Gaines and Charlotte Herzog have also written on fashion and film, including in their edited volume FABRICATIONS:COSTUME AND THE FEMALE BODY. (They have also written an essay on costume in the Western, one of the few on the topic, but one I take issue with ...).

I do note that -- along with Academy Awards for fashion design -- the tendency (obvious, I suppose) is to attend to films with very notable fashion, usually historical films with elaborate costumes. What's hard for people to see is that costume choices for contemporary, realistic films might also be careful and significant. I think the costumes in Fincher's ZODIAC function brilliantly, for instance, but they are easy to overlook as simply "realistic" (and slightly historical) detail. Far easier to notice and consider the costumes in an adaptation of a Victorian novel, of course.

One interesting practice was the staging of fashion shows within Hollywood films, such as THE WOMEN and a few others, a form of the cinema of attractions not as often noted as other forms of spectacle that slow down narrative progression.

May 02, 2011 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Ryland, you are absolutely right about DUELLE. In fact, in an interview, the great Juliet Berto said that the advantage of not relying in improvisation (as distinct from her previous work with Rivette on CELINE AND JULIE) was that they were able to concentrate more on 'costume and vocalisation', an interesting choice of mise en scène elements from an actor's perspective.

May 03, 2011 2:08 AM  
Blogger Yusef Sayed said...

Joan Crawford's outfits in JOHNNY GUITAR quickly comes to mind and has no doubt been written about countless times. Ray Durgnat covers the role of Crawford's outfits pretty well in the 'Themes and Variations' chapter of FILMS AND FEELINGS.

May 03, 2011 7:20 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

For more on Joan Crawford and costume, see: Jane Gaines and Charlotte Herzog, "Puffed Sleeves Before Teatime: Joan Crawford, Adrian, and Women Audiences," originally in WIDE ANGLE (Spring 1982) and repriinted in STARDOM: INDUSTRIES OF DESIRE (1991). Their essay on the costumes in the Garbo film QUEEN CHRISTINA is also a well-known, reprinted essay. One route for previous and future study is to focus on specific designers, such as Edith Head, as, if not quite auteurs, then as key contributors to the look and meaning of the films to which they contributed.

I also meant to earlier mention the work of Claire M. Wilkinson-Weber, who has been writing illuminating essays on costume in Hindi cinema: see for example her essay in ANTHROPOLOGICAL QUARTERLY (Fall 2006) on dressmen, or costumers, in the Bombay film industry.

May 03, 2011 8:53 AM  
Blogger Ehsan Khoshbakht said...

There is a book which discuss costumes in 1930s Hollywood films, extensively: "Screen style: fashion and femininity in 1930s Hollywood" by Sarah Berry, University of Minnesota.

May 03, 2011 12:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for all these wonderful ideas, suggestions and recommendations! I really appreciate your taking the time!

Ry, I'm not sure how I missed that last issue of &review (and Ignatiy's piece "Subtle Sartorialism: A Short Note on Eugene Green and Clothes") but let me link to it here.

Ry, Adrian: On top of my wish list for a Criterion/Eclipse set is a box of Jacques Rivette's films that includes L'AMOUR FOU, DUELLE, and NOROIT--none of which I've managed to see.

Christoph, the few American reviews I've read of your new film THE CITY BELOW are marvelous, and I can't wait to see it. I hope it has (or will soon have) US distribution. Good luck with the film!

Gregory, I must see COME AND GET IT soon!

Fredrik, if you happen to translate your essay from Swedish into English sometime, please feel free to post a link in the comments here.

Jess, it's good to discover your website--and those wonderful photographs!

Tucker, the prejudice against costume because of its connection to theatre (with which cinema has always had a fraught relationship): an intriguing idea that never occurred to me.

David, Andy, those are great links! I hadn't seen any of them.

Yusef, Ehsan, I have both those books: I must dig them out.

Corey, as always, you are a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for those citations! I've already put in requests for several of them.

May 03, 2011 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

Costuming is like editing. Often the best jobs are the ones that slide by unnoticed.

May 03, 2011 9:00 PM  
Blogger Ehsan Khoshbakht said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 04, 2011 8:02 AM  
Blogger Ehsan Khoshbakht said...

There is a terrific chapter in David Thomson's GARY COOPER book when he discusses General Died At Dawn which could be a great example of costumes as the main driving force of movie (and star) analysis:

"[Gary Cooper] wears a fedora hat cast down over one eye, a checked shirt with a single-colored tie in a much lighter material. He has a raincoat not buttoned up, but loosely tied across his waist in a way that shows his belt buckle. He also wears riding boots, and in one pocket of his coat he has a monkey, his pet and his pal. It is a very arresting first appearance and an important example in the progress Gary Cooper was making as a clothes horse. Still, it's a question that we linger over in that the simple if unlikely appearance of O'Hara [Coop's character] - the confluence of the dandified and the casual - is by far the most interesting thing about this fatuous picture."

and after a few paragraphs Thomson returns to the subject:

"O'Hara gets shot in the course of action. There is a wound in his side that has to be treated. Off comes his shirt, and in goes the iodine - or whatever. Am I crazy or don't you feel the very film stock tense up a little? At long last this silly film has itself a side of reliable spectacle and a chest over which some might dream. Suddenly the screen is filled with meat or with mesa-like land formation such as can take your breath away in a Western. I do not raise this point lightly (though Milestone was not the man to pursue it), but grant this impact and the terrific panache of O'Hara in his first costume and I think I'd dropped a lot of the [Clifford] Odets talk (hear it falling, like a log delivery) and settles for a film about a man dressing and undressing."

May 04, 2011 8:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ehsan, thanks for posting that excerpt! I must say that I came to Thomson through his late work--a mistake because the earlier work that I don't know ('60s and '70s, for instance) appears to be much more highly regarded. I just picked up MOVIE MAN, and need to get a sense of which early Thomson books are strong and worth having. I will take a look at the Gary Cooper book!

May 04, 2011 8:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

An interesting link: Ebert Presents has been collecting viewer questions from Facebook users for Ignatiy and Christy Lemire to respond to. On this brief segment, Ignatiy talks about his rate of film viewing: about 15 films a week, with 5 or 6 of those "for work" and the other 9 or 10 for "pleasure" or "curiosity". An inspiring regimen--especially for someone who has probably been super-busy in the last few months!

May 04, 2011 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

One of my favourite anecdotes about film costuming comes from François Thomas' work on Resnais, both in print and in a TV documentary. Resnais' favoured practice - completely contrary to the conventional mise en scène practice of blending pictorial elements in a tightly controlled way - is to strictly keep the production design and costuming departments unaware of each others' work, in order that unexpected clashes (or resonances) will arise in the film's colour scheme between the clothes and the sets. Watching his great JE T'AIME JE T'AIME (1968) last night, I could see the results of this often: colour palette choices that no self-respecting professional would have ever consciously made ! It makes for a fascinating dissonance internal to the shots.

May 05, 2011 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

Girish,

My web-articles on directors go into enormous detail about costuming patterns a director uses.
Around 60 directors have their patterns studied.

Here is a small excerpt of some of the patterns in Vincente Minnell (the whole checklist is three times bigger)i:

Two troupes of woman dancers, in different colored clothes ("This Heart of Mine": Ziegfeld Follies, different black, white costumes in "Who": Till the Clouds Roll By, "Two Faced Woman": The Band Wagon)
four troupes ("Coffee Time": Yolanda and the Thief)

Face and body paint (Halloween: Meet Me in St. Louis, green paint in Carnival: Yolanda and the Thief, elephants in "Sunny", Clowns in "D'Ye Love Me": Till the Clouds Roll By, silver paint and armor in Lovely to Look At, painted-on cat whiskers in "The Midas Touch": Bells Are Ringing, wristwatch drawn in ink: The Courtship of Eddie's Father)

Chorus boys dressed as members of a profession (reporters in "A Great Lady Has An Interview": Ziegfeld Follies, racetrack workers in dream: Yolanda and the Thief, hoods in ballet: The Band Wagon)

Bright yellow clothes for women ("Limehouse Blues": Ziegfeld Follies, shawl at Carnival: Yolanda and the Thief, "Who": Till the Clouds Roll By, Caron's dress and ballet slippers: An American in Paris, shawl: Brigadoon, swimsuit: Designing Woman, women at start: Gigi, Taylor: The Sandpiper, heroine's orange-yellow suit: A Matter of Time)

men (Charlie, band: Brigadoon, rain slickers: The Cobweb, delivery man: Bells Are Ringing, Jack Nicholson: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)

Black-and-white costumes in mainly color films, usually worn by people involved with the arts (Garland in "Trolley Song", nuns: Meet Me in St. Louis, street musicians in "Limehouse Blues", "Traviata" in Ziegfeld Follies, Caron as reading ballerina, artist's ball in An American in Paris, theater manager in tuxedo: The Bad and the Beautiful, tuxedo: Mademoiselle, concert, John Kerr: The Cobweb, Van Gogh: Lust for Life, John Kerr at finale: Tea and Sympathy, hero at masquerade party, evening gown at end: Gigi, the theater party: Bells Are Ringing, Douglas' robe, Lavi dresses: Two Weeks in Another Town, tuxedos: The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Curtis, Boone: Goodbye Charlie, heroine: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)

Black-and-white uniforms of working class men (diaper delivery man: Father's Little Dividend, trailer teacher, policeman, milkman, gas attendants: The Long, Long Trailer, milkman: The Courtship of Eddie's Father, traffic cop in "Come Back To Me": On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)
black-and-gold uniform (Gigi)

May 05, 2011 2:14 PM  
Blogger Asher said...

It's funny that Grost brings up Minnelli, because I was just about to bring up Tea and Sympathy, where Minnelli places an unusual amount of emphasis, even for him, on costume color. Even the script gets in on the act; I think it's no accident that, in Deborah Kerr and John Kerr's first scene together, John Kerr is wearing a blue shirt when Deborah Kerr says, "I need some more blue in my garden."

May 05, 2011 7:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for that, Mike and Asher.

Adrian, that's a fascinating anecdote. It just struck me that we bring certain notions of what palettes are 'good' or 'dissonant' to fiction films more than we do to documentaries (even if so many of the latter involve a significant amount of 'artifice'). There is a particularly 'accidental','non-controlled', chance aspect to mise-en-scene elements like costume or decor in documentaries--and one could almost say that Resnais is finding a way to recover that chance quality and inject it into a fiction film. I've seen JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME just once--a gorgeous print--10 years ago. I hope someone puts it out on DVD...!

May 05, 2011 9:17 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

A new journal called Film, Fashion & Consumption. The first issue is free online. Enjoy.

http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-issue,id=1960/

May 06, 2011 4:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Bobby!

All -- I am posting a link to a very interesting review by Zach Campbell at MUBI of the recent anthology on Apichatpong edited by James Quandt. Zach admires the collection but also expresses an reservation:

"Above, I gestured to Armond White's provocative, sneering review of Boonmee—so much for Horwath's suggestion that Joe brings out the best in people! In fact it brings up an interesting point about Apichatpong's reception among the "cognoscenti" who "scoff at the expression of Christianity in cinema." Examination of Buddhism in Apichatpong's art, at least among those publishing in English, seems sadly overgeneralized. This shortcoming is played out in numerous chapters of the Film Museum's book, as well. Respect and love for Joe's work is clear. But at the same time there's an imbalance in the ways that some critics here discuss his influences or predecessors when they're Western, on one hand, and Asian or Thai, on the other. The former category is always specific and bespeaks the critics' erudition (or at least good taste). Joe's "local" influences tend to be identified on the order of the wholly national, the generically "Oriental" even—Thai (Siam), Buddhist, etc. The book goes into relatively little detail indicating that "Buddhism" can refer to a non-monolithic range of doctrines and practices. What does Quandtmeans when he writes that Joe's whole oeuvre "surely qualifies as a Buddhist version of a Gesamtkunstwerk," for example? Why the adjective Buddhist? Or on the next page: "Such a strict binary form initially seems an oddity, more akin to western rationality or Cartesian thinking than to Buddhist holism." Can't Buddhism be addressed in some depth rather than mentioned, wholesale, from time to time as a vague feature of Joe's work? Might Thai-ness embody something even richer than the Bangkok-versus-rural distinction? It's not that the (Euro-American) writers who contribute to this volume consciously think along these lines. Quite the contrary, I'm positive. I think instead it's a function of unequal distribution of global knowledge and publicity pressing upon upon a filmmaker and nation that are—were—not so publicly visible in world film culture until fairly recently.

When nations rise to prominence in world film culture, as we've seen with various recent vogues for Romania, Argentina, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, there's a scramble not only to see these films but to process them, to say something about them. Yet few "outsiders" to any of these countries find themselves equipped to act as translators and bridge-builders—or Serge Daney's passeurs. Instead, one acquires a few basics and then proceeds from there. In the case of Thai film one can download digital copies of a couple Rattana Pestonji classics, peek in on some key websites, and see new installments in the oeuvres of Apichatpong, Wisit Sasanatieng, Ong Bak, and so on. From there, understand that there are references to Buddhism and perhaps to Americanization. It can be a bit vague. By comparison, the Western references can be distinctive, even brilliantly counter-intuitive (Eggleston and Welty are two comparisons in this book, for instance, and even Rossellini's wonderful La Macchina Ammazzacattivi (1943) gets a mention!). Frankly I'd like to see the same level of specificity and unpredictability when it comes to speaking about Joe as an Asian filmmaker—even if that means there will be some references to lesser-known, to an American, points of Thai history or Buddhism I'd have to actually look up if I wanted to understand more comprehensively." [...]

May 07, 2011 7:25 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach: "The easiest thing is always to presume that we know exactly what we are dealing with, where it has come from, and thus whether we can draw the proper line in the sand relative to it. If we over-emphasize either the Euro-art slowness or the Thai-Buddhist poise of work like Thirdworld, Mysterious Object at Noon, Tropical Malady, or Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, we dishonor the films themselves. What use is it to substitute readymade contexts when the films themselves are always inviting a viewer into experiences which reach the limits of verbalization, and court the extraordinary? Admirably, I think, the essays in Quandt's book move toward this quality, persistently attempting to address it."

May 07, 2011 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I've hesitated mentioning that my forthcoming book on gender and sexuality in the Western is often concerned with costume: in fact the book begins with a comparison of the fashions of Buffalo Bill Cody and Oscar Wilde, who we tend to forget were contemporaneous celebrities. But here's how one chapter begins:

The Kleine Optical Company’s catalog summary of the Selig Polyscope film THE GIRLS IN THE OVERALLS (released in October 1904), recounts the story of eight suddenly orphaned Eastern sisters who “with true Western spirit” determine to work the debt-ridden Colorado ranch they inherit. As the synopsis emphasizes, their decision to honor their parents and remain on the ranch immediately generates a comic tension between the West and their wardrobe: “The girls donned overalls and took up the heavy drudgery of the field. Neither could they forego the habit of wearing high-heeled shoes while at work.” The film’s depiction of the girls’ other chores such as chopping wood, during which “all exhibit a feminine touch and swing that is laughable in the extreme,” exploits similar juxtapositions, contrasting conventional femininity with manly activities. But the real fascination of the film apparently remained its sartorial contradictions: “The sight of bright-eyed, smiling girls driving a horse hitched to a rake is quite amusing, but when the girls wear overalls and high-heeled shoes and even black lace waists under the bibs of the jeans, it is doubly interesting.” THE GIRLS IN THE OVERALLS was released just a few months after Edwin S. Porter’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, commonly identified in retrospect as “the first important Western,” the film frequently claimed to have “set the pattern – of crime, pursuit and retribution – for the Western film as a genre.” Although the Edison Company film remains famous for its apparent codification of many of the genre’s basic elements, the now-forgotten (and presumably lost) Selig film almost simultaneously announced another of the emerging genre’s fundamental yet critically neglected concerns: what to wear?

Almost three decades after the release of THE GIRLS IN THE OVERALLS, a moment in one of the mature genre’s more ornate examples suggests that an “inappropriate” female interest in clothing still lurks within the ostensibly male and presumably fashion-oblivious Western. In DODGE CITY (1939, Warner Bros., Michael Curtiz), Abbie Irvine (Olivia De Havilland), fresh at her job as a newspaper reporter, nabs a story by just looking out into the famous cow town’s busy main street: “Isn’t that the sweetest bonnet she’s got on? It’s brown moiré … moiré … let me see, how do you spell moiré, m-o-i-r-e?” Her crusty editor, presumably speaking for the film’s appalled male audience, can only wonder “who in tarnation gives a hoot what Mrs. Turner’s wearing?” Abbie’s sassy answer -- “Just about every blessed woman in town, that’s all!” -- functions, as Charles Barr astutely recognizes, “as a displaced discussion of why women might like to watch Westerns.”

May 07, 2011 7:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Corey, this is wonderful: I look forward to the release of the book!

May 07, 2011 7:33 AM  
Blogger Fredrik said...

OK, here's the link to my translated piece. It was more about fashion than I remembered. http://fredrikonfilm.blogspot.com/2011/05/films-clothes-and-fashion.html

May 08, 2011 6:37 PM  
Blogger Asher said...

I would also add, on Tea and Sympathy, that Minnelli actually coordinates the colors of the characters' costumes with the decor of the rooms in which they sit, to the point where, within the same room, he'll stage a scene such that Deborah Kerr, wearing a yellow dress, is against a backdrop of yellow furniture, while the preppy kid in a navy sweater she's talking to sits on a red couch.

May 09, 2011 12:25 AM  
Anonymous Evelyn Roak said...

Late to the party and unfortunately must be brief but worth a quick mention is the role of costume and wardrobe, particularly male attire, and the attendant issues of social standing, receptions in society, images and aspirations and marital, gender and class concerns of these very matters in Leo McCarey's masterful Ruggles of Red Gap. Sorry for the brevity and lack of analysis but simply mentioning will have to do for now.

May 11, 2011 3:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Fredrik, thank you for posting the link: I look forward to reading the piece!

Asher and Evelyn: what are the odds? I had my college library order both TEA AND SYMPATHY *and* RUGGLES OF RED GAP on DVD recently, and I'll be watching them both soon.

May 11, 2011 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Will S said...

According to Dudley Andrew’s Andre Bazin bio, the final, 1949 issue of La Revue du Cinema was devoted to costumes in cinema—would be interesting to see a copy if this was available

May 31, 2011 2:21 PM  

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