An ode to the 70s. That is how I would describe David O. Russel's (The silver linings playbook) latest movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner. They portray a group of con artists in New York during the 70s but also corrupt FBI agents and so on.
To the costume designer, Michael Wilkinson (Babel, Man of Steel) "the choisces that people make when they dress themselves and the messages that they give out to the world, both consciously and unconsciously, these things matter deeply to me. I have a passion and fascination for the way people present themselves. In this case, our characters dress as the person they aspire to be. Characters playing characters."
"We used the period as a springboard but at a certain point we cut loose and worked intuitively," Mr. Wilkinson said. "David's characters live large, impassioned lives. They're wildly imaginative. So I wanted their clothes to be equally imaginative" His inspirations include Playboy and Vogue, Jerry Hall and Hugh Hefner, and the "sensory glory" of fabrics in the late 70s. "We looked at endless photographs of "real" people from the period but we also looked at lowbrow magazines and advertising, everything from mail-order catalogs to covers of Cosmopolitan and Helmet Newton's Vogue editorials"
"I wanted to explore the fabrics, to go way beyond the cliché of polyester and double knits, and present the full spectrum of textural choices in all their sensory glory: velvets, silks and furs play just as important a role as the synthetics in capturing the world" A glamorous assemblage of plunging necklines, fur, gowns, gold chains and velvet suits. Welcome to American Hustle.
12 Years a Slave
One of the most talked-about films of the year, starring Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt and directed by Steve McQueen and with the amazing revelation of actress Lupita Nyong'o. Narrating the story of black free man (Solomon Northup) kidnapped into slavery, it probably has one of the oldest costume designers in the business. At 82, with five Oscar nominations and decades of work, Patricia Norris knows her way around Hollywood.
"The research was very difficult because there are no photographs of slaves. So I just went to reading. And when you figure out how people were brough there and how they tried to take their identity from them, you kind of understand the picture. If you died, you were buried naked and your clothes went to the next slave."
"The party scene was a way to do something over the top for the rich and juxtapose these poor slaves. Mardi Gras had been going on since the 1700s, and that's what it was about. The masks, some we found at Western Costumes (L.A) and some at the MET Opera" says designer. "We also made so many shirts on this movie, it was unbelievable. The film has actors laborng in cane and cotton fields. You'd have to make maybe five or six of each piece because of what happened to them. It was a magical moment of shirt-making"
The big surprise amongst the costume nominees is this oriental jem, directed by Kar Wai Wong (My Blueberry Nights) narrating the incidents of martial arts circles during the period of the Republic of China. The Grandmaster has a unique and exquisitely detailed atmosphere and aesthetics portraying chinese culture. The frames in the picture look like an ink wash painting, the antiquated house is full of different woods, lattices with patterns, black railings, heavily decorated teapots...
Costume designer William Chang spent two years collecting beads, ribbons lace and fabrics. He put together a library of photographic books of the era for visual reference. The designer's obsession with details syncs perfectly with Wong's style, his fastidiousness to even a shade of a particular colour or a Chinese button on a cheongsam dress. An epic story that promises to take us to the turbulent chinese 1930s.
The Invisible Woman
An English period classic could never fail to appear on the list of nominees and this year's choice is this beautiful true story, directed by Ralph Fiennes (who also stars in it) and Felicity Jones. The Invisible Woman is the tale of Charles Dickens' secret love affair with young Nelly Ternan. As the writer's fame rises, he becomes more and more focused on his work, pushing real life and the object of his affections to a second place.
Designer Michael O'Connor is a veteran of period costume films. He received an Oscar nomination in 2012 for Jane Eyre and won in 2009 for The Dutchess. The details occupied O'Connor's mind at every step. He had three months to prepare for the film and spent his time reading Dickens' books and biographies, visiting the Victoria & Albert museum with the director, looking at original photgraphs of Dickens. The famous writer loved being photographed so there was an extensive record of original pictures.
A colour palette was also extracted from the research. "With Nelly we started with dull colours: grays, muted colours to keep her in the background" O' Connor explained. Dickens' costumes were more about the exquisite details. "It was more about how far to take Dickens into the showman or into the man - the real man himself behind the show scene: how big the pattern could be on a waistcoat or more subtle patterns for an intimate scene"
The timescale was also determinant in the details of the costumes. The film stretches throughout Dickens' life. "The time goes over a while with Dickens being a dandy in the 1830s to turning into a man who wore grey suits in 1860s. There are strong Victorian colours: jewel colours, dark blues, reds and shades of grey: while he is in France we turned to clothes made with linen"
The Great Gatsby
You can read more about film, stunning in every sense, in this post I did months ago. A masterpiece which will go down as a classic.
P.D The 86th Academy Awards will be held March 2nd at 8:30pm