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NewYorkGuy

Costume Designers - Deborah Just Went Out on a Limb

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In only her second introduction -- just now, about 1934's "Cleopatra" -- Deborah said this:

 

"It's important to note that period costume design must *always* resemble the year in which the film is made. The audience wants to recognize and to relate to the people in every story. If their clothes look bizarre or distracting, filmmakers -- then, *and* now -- risk losing the attention of the audience."

 

That bold emphasis was hers, not mine. She said this as part of a defense of why the clothes (and, it's fair to say, the makeup) look so 1930s, but her "and now" means she believes it true for every era of film making.

 

She just lost me. There's nothing that distracts me more in a film than spotting something contemporary in a story that's set in the past. Those upswept hairdos that look directly out of "Laugh-in" in "Funny Girl" are a perfect example. And why audiences can't be trusted to imagine that sparkly fabrics available in the 1930s aren't true to Cleopatra's era is a judgment call on the part of producers and the creative teams.

 

Perhaps she'll back this up further in later comments with something like "it's part of the magic of movies and how audiences like to lose themselves in that magic." But that's not the way she put it. She put it in a way that's actually a bit insulting to an audience's intelligence.

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Could it be that her opening remarks were edited for time and in doing so, truncated part of what she was trying to say?

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Actually I think she's correct about the expectations of audience members about the presentation of historical figures in movies. Movie goers expect to hear Henry VIII or Elizabeth I as characters in a film speak with a "posh " contemporary English accent rather than the actual English accent of the time in which these people lived (which was much closer to the sound of today's North American English). Moviegoers also don't expect to see Elizabeth I portrayed as having rotten teeth when in fact she had so many rotten teeth that her cheeks started cave in from lack of support. Moviegoers expect to see royalty of the past exhibit the hygenic standards of the present.

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I like HoldenIsHere's excellent point that many aspects of historical films must be up to today's standards. But I'm not sure that explains design elements like hair & costume as the OP is referring.

 

Also remember, that in the 70's, people THOUGHT that swept up beehive was evocative of "old wild west" 1800's hairdos. Kids today think wearing an upswept "bun" at the crown and side bangs make them look like Audrey Hepburn. They're not historical, just evocative.

 

I have a great book HOLLYWOOD & HISTORY: Costume Design in Film (LOC 87-50184) that covers this very subject with LOTS of designs and costume examples.

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TikiSoo, your point about 1970s audience's PERCEPTION of swept-up hair evoking 1800s styles is what I was trying to express.

Thank you for adding your points since I did not specifically offer any examples of costume and hair in my earlier comments.

 

I will offer these screen captures from ELIZABETH (with Cate Blanchett).

The fashion and hair in the movie depict the current audience's PERCEPTION of the styles of that time (based on current standards) rather than a truly authentic rendering of the style.

 

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/cate-blanchett/images/13443940/title/elizabeth-screencap

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She made me look at the films- specially "Cleopatra" in a different way- the costume design for the film is stunning. Cleo knew the power of clothes ( or lack of clothes) for seduction. Yes there is a hint of 1930's glamor- but do we really want historical romances to be that realistic?! And "Cleopatra" is pure 1930s movie fantasy- the Anthony seduction scene is amazing. Of course you don't want a the costumes to look too modern- nothing dates a movie- specially a sci-fi movie as those futuristic fashions.

 

Edited by: joefilmone on Dec 7, 2013 11:25 AM

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>Also remember, that in the 70's, people THOUGHT that swept up beehive was evocative of "old wild west" 1800's hairdos.

 

And speaking of "the old west" here...on the men's side of this equation it always seemed to me that until Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns" hit the big screen, most Hollywood westerns featured "cowboys", "gunslingers" and "town folk" that looked as if their hair had been recently cut and styled at Harry's Barber Shop along Hollywood Blvd, all their faces freshly shaved at the very same place, AND their outfits courtesy of "Big Tex's Western Store" situated on Fairfax Ave just a pistol shot from L.A.'s famed Farmers Market!!! ;)

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Since VOGUE and MADEMOISELLE did not exist during the periods that historical dramas depicted, filmmakers could take some license with hair styles and wardrobes, since filmgoers are not entirely sure how women wore their hair and dressed during those periods.

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So then what of all the portrait paintings and early photography of those earlier eras, finance? Those don't count or somethin'?

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Well, I WOULD, but word is the day she went to the Alexandria area Sears to have her portrait taken, the photographer was covering for his friend at the OTHER Sears in Memphis.

 

(...and no, NOT the one in Tennessee of course!) ;)

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>NewYorkGuy wrote: In only her second introduction -- just now, about 1934's "Cleopatra" -- Deborah said this: "It's important to note that period costume design must always resemble the year in which the film is made. The audience wants to recognize and to relate to the people in every story. If their clothes look bizarre or distracting, filmmakers -- then, and now -- risk losing the attention of the audience."

 

 

 

I guess this explains why Michelle Pfeiffer wears a Michael Jackson jacket in "Into the Night" (1985).

 

Edited by: jakeem on Dec 7, 2013 1:45 PM

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>"It's important to note that period costume design must always resemble the year in which the film is made. The audience wants to recognize and to relate to the people in every story. If their clothes look bizarre or distracting, filmmakers -- then, and now -- risk losing the attention of the audience."

 

I heard her say that, and I was shocked.

 

A lot of us TCM fans complain when modern movies use modern hair styles in films that are supposed to be about previous eras. For example, THE CINCINNATI KID was supposed to have been set in the late 1920s but it used 1965 hair styles on the women in the film.

 

http://thisdistractedglobe.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/Cincinnati%20Kid%20pic3.jpg

 

One of the joys of watching 1930s and 40s film, about that era, is that we see the real hair styles and clothes.

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Kate Winslet has been criticized for looking fat in Cameron's TITANIC; I am glad that she actually looked like a woman of 1912, instead of like those fashion models whose arms and legs seem to be made of matchsticks.

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A lot of us TCM fans complain when modern movies use modern hair styles in films that are supposed to be about previous era

 

But movies made in the 1930s set in previous eras typically featured actors with 1930s hairstyles although sometimes there were modifications to SUGGEST the style of the time of the story . . . but these were always grounded in the time when the movie was made.

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>But movies made in the 1930s set in previous eras typically featured actors with 1930s hairstyles although sometimes there were modifications to SUGGEST the style of the time of the story .

 

That might be true about some movies, but I don't think I noticed any 1930s hairstyles in Cobert's CLEOPATRA. Her long hair looked like many old Egyptian paintings and carvings of ancient female hair styles.

 

lady-tjepu.jpg

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That might be true about some movies, but I don't think I noticed any 1930s hairstyles in Cobert's CLEOPATRA. Her long hair looked like many old Egyptian paintings and carvings of ancient female hair styles.

 

You notice that ONLY Cleopatra had that hairstyle in the movie. The other women in the film had hairstyles of the 1930s with perhaps slight modification. Colbert's hairstyle was to suggest the audience's PERCEPTION of how Cleopatra's hair looked. What is perceived as hair in ancient Egyptian drawings were actually headdresses.

 

Here is some information on the REAL Cleopatra from an article about Stacy Schiff's biography _Cleopatra : A Life_ :

 

Cinematic sleights of hand can prove impossible to undo . . . but Cleopatra looked nothing like Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert, or Vivien Leigh. And she was no Elizabeth Taylor. Despite all efforts to make her so, and with apologies to Cleopatra Jones, the last queen of Egypt was not black. Her ancestors were Macedonian Greeks; Cleopatra VII descended from an enterprising general and childhood intimate of Alexander the Great. Three centuries later, there was almost certainly a hint of Persian blood in the family. The word ?honey-skinned? recurs in descriptions of Cleopatra?s relatives. It would presumably have applied to her too.

 

If the story of her being carried in to Julius Caesar on the shoulder of a servant is true -- and it sounds to have been, as she needed to be smuggled behind enemy lines to meet Caesar--Cleopatra was relatively small. Some four or five marble busts are thought to represent her, though they collectively establish little more than that *she wore her hair in tight corkscrew curls, that she appeared before her subjects with a white ribbon, or diadem, tied around her head, and that she had prominent cheekbones and a hooked nose.* The coin portraits are more explicit. Even allowing for inexpert engraving and for a certain authoritative posturing, *Cleopatra had a lean face, angular and alert. The chin was sharp and prominent, the eyes sunken.*

 

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/cleopatra/images/18735603/title/real-face-cleopatra-photo

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> But movies made in the 1930s set in previous eras typically featured actors with 1930s hairstyles although sometimes there were modifications to SUGGEST the style of the time of the story . . . but these were always grounded in the time when the movie was made.

 

I noticed this when I was watching *Back Pay* a couple of weeks ago. A 1930 film set in the World War I era, and the cars look much too modern. (I don't know enough about the different hairstyles of the teens and 30s.)

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>What is perceived as hair in ancient Egyptian drawings were actually headdresses.

 

Claudette was wearing a headdress. That is not her real hair. It's a wig. :)

 

cleopatra_still_1.jpg

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There seemed to be an inordinate amount of blonde women in CLEOPATRA. Colberts wigs seemed to evoke the image of the queen, and with the long straight hair was about the only thing that didnt scream early 1930s. The stylized sets and costumes are pure deco sensibilities masquerading for that period.

 

I agree with the hostess in her assessment that each period does period according to their period, but necessarily with her contention that audiences would reject it otherwise. However, audiences in the 30s and 40s, seeking escapism on the screen, especially women, would have wanted go see something they could faotasize about if not realiztically strive for ...in the 30s because they couldnt afford to buy much, in the war years due to restrictions on use of materials on clothes.

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Just to chime in again, I don't have any problem with enjoying the look of the 1934 Cleopatra, or the later Liz Taylor production. Choices are made by films' creative teams about what look and feel they want to convey.

 

But that doesn't mean such choices don't often distract me from losing myself in the idea that a story takes place in the period ostensibly conveyed if, for example, gold lame material is put on the wild west showgirls dancing in a turn-of-the-century saloon. The filmmaker is making a calculated choice that most of the audience doesn't give a hoot and the people who will notice it's not accurate don't count enough to matter.

 

My objection to what she said really boils down to the use of the word "always." It's pretty dogmatic, and certainly is going to inform my watching of productions she's been or will be part of.

 

(The point about how modern dentistry has changed the look of people in general is certainly true, but there are dental professionals who make prosthetic devices to alter actors' appearances in movies set in all eras -- and who can make a nice bit of change doing it.)

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>I noticed this when I was watching Back Pay a couple of weeks ago. A 1930 film set in the World War I era, and the cars look much too modern. (I don't know enough about the different hairstyles of the teens and 30s.)

 

I think you are right. That hat, hair, and dress are from 1930, in the film BACK PAY.

 

http://mmgcollectibles.com/images/F/FE/FE735f.jpg

 

I prefer the hair and costumes be authentic and not modern. The same with the cars, etc.

 

I think Claudette looks fairly authentic in CLEOPATRA, at least like Cleopatra in old art. I don't know if any old picture of the real Cleopatra is authentic. I think most old Egyptian wall paintings of women show their hair style similar but braided with small braids.

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Yes but now people expect a bit more realism- and let's face the past apart from royalty was not pretty- not too mention the smell.

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