Funny Face

     I know I haven’t written in like, years, but I have been going through a particularly uninspiring lull and it’s been quite difficult to find delight in writing lately. The films that I had picked to write about just didn’t do it for me for whatever reason, so I’ve neglected the blog for a while. So, yeah, I took some time to just enjoy movies and television without thinking about writing about them specifically. I recently re-watched one of my favorite feel good movies of all time, Funny Face and while absolutely loving every second of it, I finally got a bit of inspiration and an impetus to write. Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 3.53.03 PM

     Funny Face is one of those films that are just pure fun and happiness, there is very little conflict, the stakes are very low and it looks great. I think that above all this movie is marvelous eye candy; the visual style, derived from the look of photographer Richard Avedon’s fashion shots, is bright and cheerful and beautiful to look at. The costume Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 3.54.10 PMdesign in at a forefront because the film is set in the fashion world of the 1950’s an the story follows the characters as they work on a string of fashion shoots, so there is a lot of emphasis on what the characters wear, particularly our protagonist, Jo, played by Audrey Hepburn. Because of the nature of the story, the film is in a way, informed by the clothing and fashion, since much of the plot and narrative revolves around Jo’s transition from frumpy bookworm to glamorous model. Richard Avedon’s involvement and influence gives the many of the shots look like images lifted out of the pages of popular fashion magazines of the times, emphasizing the beauty and glamour of the clothing.

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 4.29.08 PMThe clothing in the film is meant to be admired, so the film calls attention to it, it treats it like spectacle. Unlike some films, in which the costumes are not supposed to be noticed and are utilized in a much more subdued and naturalistic way, the costumes in this film are extravagant and opulent and used as a significant part of the entertainment in the film. The costumes for the film were designed by Edith Head, with the exception of Hepburn’s wardrobe which was designed by the couturier Givenchy.

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Having the costumes of the lead character be designed by a fashion designer gives a certain distinction to her looks and adds an emphasis on its aesthetic value.

In this film, the fact that Hepburn’s costumes are spectacular and call attention to themselves is adequate because they are mostly featured as clothing custom designed for a fashion magazine that focuses on the aesthetic quality of clothing.designed by a fashion designer adds to the element of grandness to Hepburn’s costumes since, when fashion designers take on the task to create costumes for films they are often more concerned with aesthetics than practicality or realism. Jo makes her debut as a glamorous model, for the first time she is shown wearing something in a pastel, soft color.

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This is the most feminine we have seen her look, her hair pushed back to show her made-up face, wearing pink and cream, no longer does she look like the humorless intellectual she started out as.

We see Jo go on her various shoots all around Paris, in them she dons multiple personas per Dick Avery’s direction. She is a spontaneous Parisian frolicking near the Arc de Triomphe.

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Jo readily adopts the various personas to accompany the myriad of outfits she dons. She is Anna Karenina as she weeps in front of a steaming plane; she is Isolde as she marches down the steps of a grand theatre. As time passes and we see more and more of these scenarios, Jo becomes more confident and secure in her new job. She creates the personas herself, and begins to enjoy the process of transformation.

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The costumes in this sequence of scenes are just beautiful, again they serve as complete eye candy, especiallypaired with the stylized visual style.

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Watching the sequence is like flipping through a fashion magazine, each image more rich and luscious than the one before.

I’ve talked about the simple beauty of the costumes  and the straightforward way they are used in the film, but the film hints at a more meaningful power to the clothes.

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The movie calls attention to the transformative power of clothing and how that ties to one’s identity. In a comedic string of scenes the characters of Dick Avery and Maggie Prescott dress up like Parisian bohemians in order to assume another couple’s identities. They wear what they assume the people that go to such gatherings would wear and actually get away with it. Of course they are behaving like caricatures and when the real couple shows up they couldn’t have looked more different, but they manage to convince their hosts that they are who they say they are.

The film opens with Dick Avery in a photo shoot trying to capture even the slightest bit of sophistication of a model who’s anything but.

 While she looks the part of chic intellectual she is not embodying the persona required. This scene Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 4.22.06 PMpoints out that it is not possible to become someone else by merely changing one’s clothes. Jo was able to epitomize the “Quality” woman because she already attained the intelligence and sophistication required, she didn’t have to fake it. Jostarted out as a serious bookstore clerk who had no interest in fashion and beauty, but through the act of “dressing up” was able to assume different personas and become a successful model. While she was glamorized when working, she remained her own self and wore simple clothes in her “real” life so she did not lose her intellect or become a full on glamour puss. Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 4.25.16 PM

Maggie is another character that doesn’t compromise who she is, aside from the time she assumes her bohemian disguise, Maggie never compromises her appearance to appear to be something else.

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 While she has made a career on telling theAmerican woman what to wear and how to look, she has her distinct style and look that never wavers. She introduces and popularizes the trend of the color pink, but would never be “caught dead” wearing it herself. This may seem as incongruous as she is encouraging others to wear what she wouldn’t, but it communicates her personality as someone who knows who she is and what she likes.

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She ha Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 3.59.28 PMalready established herself as an authority figure and doesn’t need to alter her appearance in order to convince others she knows what she is talking about. She keeps to her greys and neutrals and similar silhouettes. She wears a striking red outfit for the final unveiling of the “Quality” woman and is one of the few times she wears such a bright outfit, which is appropriate Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 5.34.30 PM 1because it is an important event so it makes sense she steps out wearing something celebratory.

   Ultimately, the clothing in the film enriches the entertainment value while also adding a bit of subtext. Edith Head and Givenchy created beautiful and fanciful frocks for the actors to wear, never detracting from the narrative, but adding to the overall enjoyment of the film.

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The Stepford Wives

 

Frank Oz’s The Stepford Wives is a modern re-interpretation of the 1975 science fiction film and 1972 novel written by Ira Levin, all of the same name. The now classic story of an affluent American town in which the perfect housewives who inhabit it are really robots created by the men of Stepford has become so widespread since its publication that it has entered and imbedded the realms of popular culture. The phrase “Stepford Wife” has become a common reference and part of the modern lexicon, operating as shorthand for the unachievable ideal of the perfect housewife. Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives was released only three years after Levin’s novel was published. They are both set in the mid 1970s, (amidst the women’s liberation movement) so they both tackle the tensions feminist movements generated within the nation during the time. This updated version transfers the plot from the time of the 1970s to the 21st century. Modern social standards and consequences have been introduced to the plot and significant changes have been made for contemporary audiences. What was once sharp social commentary on the patriarchal fear of the feminist movement and the female anger this paranoia incited has been transformed into a campy satire of a present-day gender struggles.

Forbes’ film was met with lukewarm enthusiasm at the box office and mixed critical reviews. Betty Friedman, author of The Feminine Mystique, whose work certainly informs the feminist drive of the film, called the film a “rip-off” of the women’s liberation movement. Many critics panned the films seemingly simplistic interpretation of the feminist movement and its negative portrayal of men, as sociologist Herbert Gans stated, “The film sees the women’s movement as setting women against men, thus ignoring the many feminists who have argued that women’s liberation cannot be achieved without larger social change that also liberates men.”[1] The Village Voice critic Molly Haskell expresses a similar sentiment when she discussed the film describing the film as “a comical slander of men in general and of the Connecticut branch of the breed in particular”; while Pauline Kael argued that the film “hits men below the belt.”[2] Although most critics viewed the film as unsuccessful, David Bartholomew praised the film stating that, “The Stepford Wives is probably the only viable, intelligently conceived movie about women and their future made in the past decade…(it) is one of the select few genre films more important for its ideas than its genre excitements.”[3] Bonnie J. Dow challenges the notion that the film’s negative treatment of the Stepford men is a flaw by arguing, “What is lost here is that patriarchy is presented as a system in The Stepford Wives, not as a battle between individual men and individual women… The commitment of the film to avoiding personal motives is perfectly demonstrated by the presence of the Stepford Men’s Association as the embodiment of institutionalized patriarchy. Men, as a group, oppress women, as a group, because they can, because it benefits them.”[4]

The social implications of feminist struggle have certainly changed and evolved since the 1970s, so in order to tell the story in which men are driven into transforming their wives into subservient robots, a significant shift in tone and narrative was implemented. While the first film challenged patriarchal attitudes towards women, and incorporated basic feminist tenets popularized at the time, the 2004 remake’s plot is motivated by a desire to turn back the clock and adhere to traditional and archaic gender norms. The mastermind behind the Stepford project in Oz’s film longs for the time before women’s liberation, when women’s place was in the home, the domestic sphere. The men in Forbes’ film are the original oppressors of women, reacting to the relatively new feminist movement.

Since the idea that feminism as a social threat can no longer work as a viable premise for a modern film and cannot really be taken seriously, (society has progressed a significant amount in the past four decades and women are equally present in the workforce) the men are not threatened by their spouses’ interest in the feminist movement, but instead feel emasculated by their partners’ successes in their professional lives. The women become Stepford Wives by being molded into the image of the quintessential 1950s housewife.

The 2004 film introduces us to Joanna Eberhart, a ruthless television executive who has been abruptly fired from her job, she consequently tailspins into a nervous breakdown and is admitted briefly in a hospital. Joanna is remorseful of her intense ambition and feels that she has neglected her wifely duties, so she suggests her family leaves the city to make up for it. Soon after Joanna, her husband Walter and their two children move to Stepford. It doesn’t take long for Joanna to find the people of Stepford a bit peculiar and she becomes suspicious of their strange behavior.

The film opens with a montage of vintage 50s era commercials of beautiful women, impeccably dressed showcasing all kinds of household appliances, ovens, toasters, refrigerators, etc. This immediately sets up, not only the campy tone of the film, but also the ideal of the 50s housewife. Paul Rudnick, in an interview for the film, discusses the look of the wives, “…from the early days of planning on Stepford Wives we were discussing the wives themselves would wear, what the look and the aura would be. We had this genius costume designer, Ann Roth, and there was this sense that if you pushed it too far in the male-fantasy direction, they’d become hookers, they’d become showgirls. There was something more Connecticut and suburban that we were after.”[5] The decision to pattern the women after the ideal 50s housewife permits the men to feel power over them; there is nothing to be threatened by after the women’s transformation. The men’s actions are driven by their fear and anxiety of being overpowered and losing control of the authority they have held over women for so many years. If the women were characterized as sex-bombs and overtly sexualized to address male lustful fantasies, they could have become more threatening to the men of Stepford. There is something intimidating about a woman flaunting her sexuality, which implies a rejection of patriarchal pressures and it is the exact opposite of the submissive archetype these men want to control.

The attempt to update the now classic story to a more modern and relatable milieu could have produced a great film of smart social satire, but unfortunately the many, many plot inconsistencies, clunky writing, and some questionable performances prevent it from ever becoming that. Oz embraces the high camp characteristics from the original film and by doing that the sense of eeriness and threat that permeates the 1975 film is almost completely eradicated. One thing that was so great about that original film is the insidious and sinister nature of the Stepford men and their whole master plan; Dale Coba and the Men’s Association were truly scary and imposed a real threat upon the Stepford women. Despite the very real tension created by the film’s opposing forces, there is still a sense of satire and parody present, which adds levity to the tense narrative. I mean, Joanna is ultimately thwarted and strangled with some damn pantyhose, the sartorial symbol of working women of the day, that’s pretty hilarious. Moments like this could be seen an inadvertently campy, but the satiric nature of the story allows these moments to occur and still maintain a foreboding mood.

The 2004 film gets a little too wacky and ‘sitcom-y’ with hackneyed jokes and over the top performances. The screenwriter hits us over the head with so many quips and snarky lines; it like he’s screaming at us, “Hey, aren’t I the cleverest writer ever? Laugh at my bitchy jokes!” It gets old fast and what we are left with is a shallow story about juvenile men who can’t stand their partners’ successes. Which is a shame because the cast is absolutely superb. Nicole Kidman, Glen Close, Christopher fucking Walken! It’s frustrating to see actors that we know can be very good, who can execute good material, and then have to see them in this plot hole laden mess. One of the few redeeming parts of the film are some of the performances, certain moments when the actors shine, regardless of the thinness of the narrative. Joanna’s reaction as she realizes she has been fired from her fancy TV job, the emotionally convincing scene between Walter and Joanna at the Men’s Association, Glen Close’s meltdown at the very end of the movie, etc. Another redeeming quality is how the film looks; the creation of the Stepford world is pulled off expertly. The town of Stepford is both pleasant and familiar, while slightly off. The production design is great and, of course, so are the costumes.

Roth’s costume designs communicate the contrast between the Stepford Wives and the not yet transformed women, which is an important part of the narrative and a main concern that drives Joanna’s actions. It is an important visual element of the film, the way the women are dressed instantly communicates to the audience whether or not they have been transformed into subservient robots. When we see Bobbi Markowitz the first time after her transformation her appearance tells us that she is now a Stepford Wife, the retro 1950s look she wears is so blatantly different from her previous way of dressing that we, along with Joanna, know immediately that she is transformed. Her over the top behavior only confirms what we have already devised.

 Joanna’s wardrobe goes through a significant transition or evolution throughout the film. When we first meet her, she is clad in a very severe outfit. She wears a long-sleeved, slim fitting black top with a high collar, and a grey A-line skirt with a little flare that hits below the knee. Her appearance informs Joanna’s identity as a serious woman, everything is very controlled; there is not even a hair out of place, which suggests her personality is very rigid and even cold. There is no warmth in her appearance, and as she presents her line up of sleazy reality shows we find it difficult to like her. She is not the most sympathetic character when we initially meet her, even though she is our protagonist. This unflattering and over the top portrayal of Joanna fits in with the film’s satirical tone; it critiques the industry of reality television and Kidman’s almost manic delivery takes a comic turn. Although Joanna’s portrayal has not been the most flattering, her sudden firing makes us sympathize with her. Her subsequent breakdown, accompanied by her disheveled appearance, make her seem quite pitiful and instead of really identifying with her, we mostly feel sorry for her.

   In the hospital she is dressed in a grey t-shirt and a black robe, this color palette remains during her first days in Stepford. The first day the family arrives she is wearing a black shirt a long grey scarf, grey pants and dark sunglasses, her attire not only provides a great visual contrast to the town of Stepford, but also hints at her current state of mind. This contrast is emphasized when Mrs. Wellington takes Joanna on a tour of the community. Mrs. Wellington takes Joanna to the “Simply Stepford Day Spa” where the women of Stepford spend their leisurely time; it is here that Joanna meets a group of the wives for the first time. As Mrs. Wellington opens the doors to an expansive room, several women huddle in the middle of the room, “Good morning, ladies,” says Mrs. Wellington. The women move delicately to acknowledge Mrs. Wellington and in delicate, and soft voices they all respond eerily in unison, “Good morning, Claire.” The women are all clad in dresses that hit bellow the knees, high heels and have perfectly styled hair. Their dresses all seem to be variations of floral prints, in an array of bright and feminine colors. Joanna, on the other hand wears black pants, a long sleeved black shirt and a grey sweater draped around her neck.

     The black, sleeveless, form fitting dress Joanna wears for a community event, again visually reinforces the divide between her and the Stepford Wives as well as the rest of the community. Most of the people in the picnic are dressed in soft colors, pastels, and the women wear fuller dresses with less severe silhouettes. Joanna stands out as a dark spot in a sea of colorful pastels.

As Joanna begins to integrate to the community and attempts to fit a more ideal version of what a wife should be, her wardrobe changes drastically. Gone are the dreary blacks and greys that were so prevalent in her attire, they are replaced by colorful items in pretty pastels, ranging from lilacs, and pale yellows to soft pinks and baby blues. The first time we see her attempting the “Stepford look”, she wears a pink short-sleeved dress, a floral printed apron and her hair is adorned with a pink bow headband. She is in the domestic realm, working in the kitchen and cleaning the house. Her physical transformation occurs simultaneously with her behavioral shift, which implies that in Stepford the physical attributes and the way the women compose themselves are equally important. The ideal of the housewife is only met when these two qualities are fulfilled to their highest potential. The film critiques this notion of domesticity by emphasizing the women’s impeccable appearances. There is really no need for a woman to be beautiful or dress splendidly to be a good housewife, or vise versa, but for the men of Stepford it is absolutely crucial that the ladies meet both standards.

   On her first Stepford outing since her self imposed makeover, Joanna attends a book club with the rest of the Stepford women. She is dressed in a delicate pale yellow ruffled blouse and matching skirt, accented with a classic pearl necklace. The clothes soften her previously severe and rigid appearance. Joanna almost fits the bill of a Stepford Wife, of course her demeanor and general behavior contrasts with the eerily cheerful Stepford Wives, but there is also an element that visually distinguishes Joanna from the rest of the ladies. The “real” Stepford wives are all wearing wide brimmed hats that coordinate with their day outfits. This is a subtle detail that draws attention to Joanna’s otherness in a visual way, were it not for that element, Joanna would have filled the look of the Stepford Wife.

Joanna’s otherness is eventually thwarted towards the climax of the film. We are led to believe that she has been transformed into another Stepford Wife. After being led into the Men’s Association, Joanna and Walter descend into a private chamber where her transformation will take place. The scene that follows is set in a supermarket, where the many Stepford Wives glide serenely through the aisles as they gather their groceries. The camera moves through the market, slowly tracking and panning, capturing the women’s smooth movements until a still shot showing an empty aisle appears. We see Joanna turn into the aisle with the same serene walk and empty stare as all the others before her. She wears a floral print dress in soft colors with a tight bodice and tiered skirt in a light and airy fabric. Her short auburn hair is now shoulder length and light blonde. We believe she has been transformed because for the first time in the film her appearance and behavior correlate with what a Stepford Wife is. She carries herself daintily and appears to be almost devoid of any trace of personality, she is no longer herself.

We eventually learn that she has not been brainwashed and was just pretending to be a Stepford Wife in order to reverse the actions of the town’s husbands. Walter and Joanna are successful in their attempt to free the women from their husbands’ control and uncover that the mastermind behind the entire scheme was not Mike Wellington, but his wife Claire, and that Mike was a robot controlled by her. In the film’s epilogue we see Joanna, Bobbi, and Roger as guests on Larry King Live where they discuss their experiences in Stepford. Joanna, instead of reverting to her initial style of clothing, is wearing a burgundy colored blazer with strong shoulder, underneath peeks a delicate lilac colored blouse and her hair, although cut back to the short bob she sported in he beginning, remains a light blonde color. Joanna’s appearance six months after her ordeal in Stepford implies that she has indeed softened and tempered her rigid personality and way of life, but has not changed completely. Her appearance suggests that she has reached a happy medium between the controlling woman she once was and the unsettling perfection of a Stepford wife. She wears a bright, but serious color, the blazer is structured and is similar to the one we first see her in in the television showcase, her hair seems to be the same haircut, but it is not as contained as it is when we first see her. Her hair is lighter as previously mentioned, but it is also looser and has more volume giving her a more feminine and delicate look. Ultimately, the film asserts that there is indeed some kind of ideal that should be met. Joanna’s new, new look is a composite of both the Stepford ideal and her bleak appearance from the beginning, she is now the epitome of the 21st century woman, a successful professional as well as doting wife.

Joanna’s wardrobe and appearance is not the only one that goes through a series of changes and shifts. There are specific moments in which Walter’s clothing informs something significant for the character. In Stepford picnic Walter attends with Joanna he wears a pair of khakis that a group of women compliment him on, he responds with “They’re new, a little experiment.” This “new experiment” arises right after he attends the Men’s Association for the first time; the previous scene shows Walter walking in through the club’s door. His outfit of a brightly colored polo shirt and khakis will be later be seen as a kind of Stepford uniform for the men, in a similar way in which colorful dresses are for the women. This outfit points to Walter’s interest of belonging to the men’s group and trying to fit in with the club members. We eventually see Walter as a full member of the men’s association when he wears a burgundy blazer jacket adorned with an insignia on the left-hand breast that all the men in the club wear; this is the official uniform of the association. Walter wears it only after the secret of the Stepford Wives is revealed to him, so the jacket suggests a kind of initiation into the sinister fraternity.

        Bobbi Markowitz and Roger Bannister both go through the Stepford transformation, which drastically changes their wardrobe. Bobbi’s wardrobe consisted of concert t-shirts, loose fitting pants or skirts and cardigans and sweaters, the color palette was dark, blacks, dark browns, etc. her hair was curly and brown and she wore glasses. Roger, on the other hand, was a stereotypically flamboyant gay man who dressed up in designer clothes of bright colors and obnoxious prints. Bobbi is transformed into the quintessential Stepford Wife, when Joanna sees her after she has been brainwashed Bobbi wears a blue, floral printed dress with a full bellow the knee skirt, a sheer yellow apron and silver heels; her hair is now blonde and styled in an elegant bob, and her face is perfectly made up. Roger is changed drastically as well, but instead of heightening his appearance to look more put together, his look is toned down considerably in order to normalize his ostentatious style. After his transformation Roger wears a serious dark suit and red tie, nothing remarkable about his outfit to make him stand out in any way, which is what is acceptable for the meek men.

    Roth successfully utilizes costume to draw distinctions between Stepford and non-Stepford people, she achieves, mostly by juxtaposing extremes and creating strong contrasts (Joanna’s black dress in the Stepford picnic), but Roth also employs subtle details and clues to communicate certain ideas to the audience. While Joanna’s attempts at dressing more like a Stepford Wife are earnest and come close to the ideal, there are particular aspects about her clothing that remind the audience of her difference. Joanna’s silhouette never really varies from the first time we see her, her clothing remains consistently fitted, without any kind of volume or shape. This opposes the style of the Stepford Wives, who emphasize their feminine shapes and curves. It isn’t until the end when Joanna pretends to have been transformed that there is a hint of a shape and some volume in her clothing. This look is also supposed to make the audience believe she has been successfully brainwashed, so it makes sense that Roth would wait until this point to introduce this element in Joanna’s clothing. Another small detail concerning Joanna’s clothing is when she attempts to fit into the Stepford mold; her outfits would be completely monochromatic, as if she prepared each outfit by merely the colors, she had her yellow outfit, her pink ensemble, her purple look, etc. It seems a very simple and easy way to put together a look and suggests that this was the one way she could dress herself.

Roth also seems to hint clues to the audience about the characters and their identity with the use of costume. Roth seemed to be hinting at Claire Wellington’s identity as a woman, not a brainwashed Stepford Wife, early on in the film. As Claire shows Joanna around the community she wears a pair of pink and white gingham printed pants with a white button down shirt with pink trim. Her outfit is appropriate for a real Stepford Wife, but the fact that she wears pants and not a skirt is quite significant. She, along with Joanna and Bobbi are the only women in the film seen wearing pants or trousers instead of a skirt, creating a correlation among the three characters.

The blazer that Joanna wears during the last scene with Larry King draws a parallel with the jackets worn by the men in the Men’s Association, they are similar in both color and silhouette. Joanna wearing such a similar jacket to the one the men used hints at her character regaining the power the men lost after their scheme being discovered. It is an appropriation of a symbol that represented the women’s oppression and is a clever and subtle way that Roth communicates the idea of reaffirming control.

The use of clothing in the original 1975 version differs greatly from what we have seen in Frank Oz’s interpretation. The earlier version, more akin to the novel, seems less preoccupied with the specific fashions the Stepford Wives wear. There are very few direct references to the clothing the characters wear in the novel. There are several moments in the film in which the costume designs communicate certain themes and ideas. The overall image of the Stepford Wife in this film is quite different from the womanly 1950s style seen in Oz’s film.  The first Stepford wife we see is Carol Van Sant she moves and talks slowly and calmly as if in a trance, she wears a long-sleeved white button down blouse, over it a strange overall skirt piece in a patchwork print, the skirt falls all the way down to her ankles and almost every inch of her body is covered. Our first introduction to a Stepford Wife is quite different from the remake, instead of being alluring and attractive, Carol lacks any kind of sex appeal and exudes a generally chaste quality.

 An important moment in the film that affirms this idea is when Joanna and Bobbi go around the neighborhood canvassing for women to join a “consciousness group”.  As they both go from house to house they are met with the perfect Stepford Wives, in this sequence they are all clad in completely white outfits, again evoking the idea of purity and innocence. The women they go meet are also involved in housewife duties while they talk to them. They talk to a woman while she is ironing, another while she works in the kitchen, and another while she gardens, all clad in crisp, and pristine white.

The idea of the perfect or ideal housewife in this film is quite puritanical and constricting. It takes the notion of women appearing less threatening, which I elaborated on previously, to the complete extreme. Here the men take away any kind of physical power and intrigue that the women could have. The qualities of purity and even chastity are communicated by the clothing the Stepford Wives wear. The wives are contrasted from Joanna and Bobbi because they both have their moments in which they flaunt their bodies unabashedly; both women are shown baring their midriffs at some point and exposing their legs comfortably.

When Bobbie is replaced by her robot twin, she wears a high-necked, long sleeve dress abundant in ruffles, again she is almost entirely covered and stripped of any kind of sex appeal or allure. This differs greatly from the way Bobbie had dressed throughout the film, where she had sported daring outfits as stated before. We immediately notice the transformation, similarly to the shifts in the 2004 version of the story. The startling contrast of Bobbie’s appearance tells us all we need to know, we immediately know she had been transformed and that Joanna will be next.

When Joanna is confronted by her own double, the robot is wearing a sheer mint green cape, through which we can see her altered and “improved” body, she is slim and well endowed, it is the only time we see a “robot” Stepford Wife in a sexualized way in this film. The sexual, uninhibited woman is reserved for the private space of the woman and her partner. Once Joanna is transformed we cut to the iconic supermarket scene, much like the one described previously. In this version the women are all clad in floor length dresses, of pale colors with gloves and wide brimmed hats. This version of the supermarket scene shows a more extreme housewife, they are awfully overdressed for grocery shopping and it is incredibly over the top.

Levin’s novel doesn’t focus much on the clothing the characters wear; instead he gives very general descriptions of characters’ appearances. He does make some direct descriptions, like when he describes Bobbie Markowitz’s appearance as, “short and heavy-bottomed, in a blue Snoopy sweat-shirt and jean and sandals.” While the 1975 film diverts from this vision of Bobbie, Ann Roth creates a similar looking character to the one Levin describes on the page. One character whose clothing is informed by how Levin describes him in his writing is Dale Coba, who in the 2004 film is the character Mike Wellington. He is shown in both films wearing his signature turtleneck and blazer, which sets him apart from the other men of Stepford and informs his authority figure.

Roth manages to include subtle hints and clues about certain characters within the narrative, while still adhering to the conventions of the world presented; unlike the costume design in the earlier film, where the clothing functioned as more direct and straightforward characterization that enforced the simple storyline and plot. Roth managed to add nuance and finesse to the outlandish and somewhat scattered narrative.


[1] Elyce Rae Helford. “The Stepford Wives And The Gaze.” Feminist Media Studies 6.2 (2006). 146.

[2] Bonnie J. Dow “The Traffic in Men and the Fatal Attraction of Postfeminist Masculinity.” Women’s Studies in Communication 29.1 (Spring 2006). 118.

[3] Lilly A. Boruzkowski “The Stepford Wives: The Re-created Woman.” Jump Cut 32 (April 1987). 16.

[4] Bonnie J. Dow “The Traffic in Men and the Fatal Attraction of Postfeminist Masculinity.” Women’s Studies in Communication 29.1 (Spring 2006). 119.

[5] Alonso Duralde. “Welcome to Summer Camp: Nicole Kidman and Writer Paul Rudnick Talk about Remaking The Stepford Wives in an Era When “traditional Values” Are Scarier than Ever.” The Advocate (The National Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine) 25 May 2004. 42.

Mildred Pierce

  Ann Roth’s costume designs for the mini-series Mildred Pierce showcases her ability to capture characters and portray them in a realistic and believable way, as well as portraying a specific time period with accuracy. The mini-series, an adaptation of the 1941 James M. Cain novel of the same name, narrates the story of the title character Mildred, a middle-class housewife and mother of two, forced into the working world after her husband leaves the home. Issues of economic struggle, social status and class are important themes within the narrative, which centers mainly on the difficult relationship between Mildred and her eldest daughter, Veda. Cinematographer, Edward Lachman points out that through the social struggles of the time motivate the characters of the series, it is not necessarily the central premise, instead the series serves as a “psychological character study, a tragic story of unrequited love in which the object of Mildred’s obsession isn’t a man but her haughty, ungrateful daughter.”[1] The conflicts of this mother-daughter relationship, which is the catalyst for much of the action that takes place in the narrative, are rooted in the class conflicts experienced by the American public during the 1930s.

     The visual style of the film was inspired by 1970s films like The Godfather and Chinatown, director Todd Haynes explains, “In this case I was looking at these films of the 1970s, American sort of revisionist genre films…Many of these were films that were taking classic genres and bringing a sort of new naturalism to the telling of the story, the stylistic language…So, you see right away in Mildred this more naturalistic, soft, softer lens, wider angles, we shot in 16mm and the colors have this slightly more muted, dusty tonality to them.”[2] The naturalistic approach to the cinematography and visual style extends to the use of costume design and absolutely caters to Ann Roth’s method and style of work and she is a perfect fit for this kind of film. Haynes refers to Roth as a “psychiatrist of clothing” and emphasizes her instincts to tailor to the characters and their stories, as opposed to aesthetics, and the designs’ abilities to convey the social psychic conditions of the characters’ inner workings.

Unlike the costumes worn by Joan Crawford in the earlier feature film adaptation, which acknowledged Crawford’s star persona by accentuating her broad shoulders and repeating the silhouette that costume designer Adrian popularized with the actress, Roth’s designs never call attention to themselves, or the actors wearing them. Roth’s treatment of the star’s costumes, in this case Kate Winslet, is based entirely on character and never take away from the narrative being represented.

     While the mini-series provides an accurate retrospective look into the America of the 1930s, strongly adhering to the novel’s time frame and structure, the 1945 Michael Curtiz film adaptation shifts the time frame of the narrative to fit the American experience of the period the film was released. By completely omitting any references to the Great Depression and incorporating a number of hints that support a time shift, Curtiz’s film establishes the narrative to take place in the 1940s. Characters refer to events that suggest they are living in a time of war. For example, Monty’s remark that stockings are “out for the duration” and Ida’s quip about the good men being gone can be seen as indirect references to World War II. This temporal shift provided audiences of the time the ability to directly identify with the struggles and issues portrayed in the narrative and altered or adjusted some of the themes explored by the 1941 novel. As Robert J. Corber points out, “The release of Mildred Pierce coincided with the return of American GIs from World War II and the need it supposedly created for women to make room for them in the workplace by returning to the domestic sphere. Warner Brothers delayed the release of Mildred Pierce until after the Japanese surrendered in September 1945 because it thought that the movie would have more resonance in the postwar context.”[3] The film’s ending can be read as Mildred’s redomestication, since she is pushed away from the workforce and reunited with her husband Bert, asserting the normative patriarchal hierarchy.

    

The costumes used for the Curtiz film are also indicative of the times, in a subtle way, and serve mainly to highlight the class tensions that are central to the narrative’s conflicts and to indicate Joan Crawford’s position as a film star. Crawford’s star persona is hard to ignore when watching Curtiz’s adaptation of Cain’s novel. The story of Mildred’s struggle to provide for her family, specifically her daughter Veda, is often undermined by Crawford’s off-screen persona, which is communicated frequently by the clothing she dons throughout the film.  Oftentimes the costume design in the film informs Crawford’s role as a Hollywood star, which distracts from the film’s narrative.

     The very first time we see Mildred in the film she is clad in an obnoxiously large fur coat, which emphasized her signature shoulders, over a dark, sequin accented dress and matching fur hat. Our first impression of Curtiz’s Mildred is of a high-class and glamorous woman. As Robert J. Corber points out, “With this sequence of shots, the movie pays tribute to Crawford’s image as a clotheshorse…her outfit recalls the costumes Adrian designed for her at MGM.”[4] This is a great departure from the way we are introduced to Mildred in the novel, which presents Mildred wearing a “loose green smock” and working on decorating a cake in the family kitchen. The different presentation of Mildred seen in the film serves not only to incorporate the noir convention of unfolding a story through flashbacks, but also to ease audiences into accepting Crawford playing the role of Mildred. Even though Joan Crawford was known for playing sympathetic characters audiences could relate to, her identity as a star by that time was solidified in popular culture and audiences definitely expected to see the Joan Crawford they were familiar with on the screen. This issue is raised in a memo issued by Warner, which said, “Since it was clear that Mildred must be the heroine of the story it was necessary to clean up her character. For this reason she was made a member of the upper middle class instead of the lower middle class…”[5] This alteration to the character made it easier for audiences to view Mildred in an aspirational way and root for her success, not only in her business but also her personal conflicts.

     Once Crawford’s star persona in acknowledged, then we are allowed to view her portraying Mildred in her middle-class, housewife splendor. When introduced to Mildred in the first flashback we see her in the domestic sphere, decorating a cake clad in a casual, loose fitting shirtdress, much like the scene described in the novel. Crawford is dressed down in a drab and dowdy outfit that informs the audience of her position in society, which is a drastic shift what we have already seen, but audiences were surely more comfortable with the more elegant version of Mildred as it appealed to their own aspirational hopes. This more glamorous version of Mildred is the one we see more frequently in the film and the one we associate more closely to Mildred’s identity. 

     The shift Mildred undertakes financially and socially is marked visually in the film, as Mildred’s rise in success is seen in the way she carries herself. As Mildred grows successful with her business ventures, her appearance evolves from a dowdy and plain housewife to a strong, assertive, and more sophisticated look. Mildred begins wearing fitted suits with padded shoulders, strong silhouettes that derive from traditional menswear attire, giving her a slightly masculine look. This change not only marks her growth in financial wealth, but also marks a transition of her position in society. Her new occupation allows her to take on what was then a traditional patriarchal role; she is assuming the position that would most likely be a man’s in society. As Corber puts it, “These suits provide a sharp contrast to the simple, loose-fitting dresses she wears in her first flashback when she is still struggling to support Veda and Kay and has not yet shown that she can make it in a man’s world.”[6] This kind of attire also enforces or reaffirms Crawford’s star persona, she is again clad in clothing that accentuates her broad shoulders and mimics the famed Adrian silhouette.       

  

   Ann Roth’s role as costume designer for the HBO mini series differs greatly from what was needed in 1945. Michael Curtiz’s adaptation was a contemporary film and its costumes looked very much like the fashions popular at the time. Hayne’s adaptation, however, is a period piece and offers a look to a specific point in time in America’s past. A significant amount of work had to be taken in order to depict people in the series in a historically accurate way. Since this period in history is highly documented and audiences already have preconceived notions about how people looked back then, there is a considerable amount of expectation to be filled by the film’s production. Roth is successful in capturing the era of the 30s and the Great Depression in the clothing the characters wear, allowing for the audience to accept the time period the characters are living in and letting them focus solely on the narrative and characters within it.

     The lively and playful look of 1920s American fashion took a definite turn with the new decade. The effects of the depression were seen even in the people’s clothing, where a more conservative approach to fashion emerged; skirts became longer, generally ending in the mid-calf, and the waistline was returned to its normal position bringing back a more traditional womanly look. Though the 30s were a time of drastic social and financial struggle, the American film industry was going strong. The clothing featured in the pictures became very influential and studios quickly took advantage of that influence, creating tie-ins with clothing stores and advertising the screen stars style and look in order to appeal to female viewers. The popularity of screen styles helped fashion trends emerge and propagate like, the accentuation of shoulders, bias cut dresses, and backless dresses.

     Todd Hayne’s re-telling of Cain’s novel is much more faithful to the novel than Curtiz’s film. He adheres closely to the narrative and the order and pace in which it unfolds. There is no flashback structure or film noir convention. We witness Mildred’s rise in success in a linear way and her shift in appearance is a gradual and less sudden one than in the film. Like Curtiz’s film, our introduction to Mildred is changed somewhat, unlike the 1945 version it is changed only slightly. Mildred is first presented while she is cooking, our first glimpse of Mildred is a close-up of her hands kneading pie dough, we then are shown a sequence of shots showing her hands diligently working on the preparation of her pies, shots of her apron-clad waist and mid section still cooking and moving around the kitchen, until we are shown a medium shot of her decorating a cake. While the novel narrates that Mildred is in the kitchen working on a cake, the series takes a brief detour from that and shows us Mildred’s diligent hands working hard. Haynes’ Mildred is introduced as a natural in the domestic sphere, she is a worker and anything but glamorous. The shots of her hands crafting homemade pies seem to suggest a strong connection between the character and work, which we will witness in greater contexts throughout the series. These additional scenes of her working at making pies only reinforce her position and visually support the language in the novel.

     The first three episodes in the mini-series narrate Mildred’s beginnings in the working world and her clothing certainly communicates her social and financial state. Roth insisted that “the characters’ wardrobe should look always slightly out of date,”[7] and Mildred’s sure does, especially when she is on the search for a job. She wears the same brown, floral printed dress for the majority of these first episodes. It is a sad looking dress, not only in color, but also in silhouette and shape. It does a good job in communicating the mood and atmosphere of the time of hardship, it also reinforces the financial struggle Mildred finds herself in. Cain brings up a similar sentiment when writing about a print dress in the novel, “The print dress was pressed so many times she searched the seams anxiously every time she put the iron on it.”[8] In this instance, the costume in the series seems to take a direct cue from the written work. Cain writes how Mildred feels about the dress in that short sentence; he communicates her anxiety caused by looking for a job and hints at how long Mildred has been searching for a job, which is expressed visually by the repetitive use of the dress in the series.

    Mildred’s transformation is not as pointed as the one seen in the Curtiz film. Mildred doesn’t suddenly become a glamorous woman the instant her business begins to thrive. The dress Mildred wears to the opening of the restaurant is surprisingly similar to the brown dress she wore so frequently earlier in the film. Since the restaurant opening is such an important moment in the narrative and her life, we expect her to “dress up” and appear slightly different from what we have become accustomed to. There is no great shift in her appearance, she wears another brown dress with a floral print, and if one doesn’t pay enough attention one could easily assume it was the same brown dress again. It is a bit brighter than the dress we have previously seen, it definitely is less drab in terms of color, but is almost identical in silhouette and gives her a severe look. Cain presents a different take on Mildred and her opening night ensemble:

“She had given a considerable thought to what she would wear. She had decided on white, but not sleazy white of the nurse uniforms then becoming so common. She went to Bullocks, and bought sharkskin dresses, of a shade just off white, white with a tint of cream in it, and had little Dutch caps made to go with them. Always vain of her legs, she had the dresses shortened a little. Now, she hurriedly got into one, put on her Tip-Top shoes, stuck on the little cap. As she hurried out carrying the apron she would wear in the kitchen, and slip off when she came out to greet the customers, she looked like the cook in a musical comedy.”

 

Cain offers us a completely different view of Mildred, one who spruces up for her big day and makes an outing of it. She goes out of he way to look presentable and attractive, she adjusts the length of her skirt and draws attention to her physical attractiveness; she emphasizes her most favorable asset and in a way flaunts her sexuality. Haynes’ version of Mildred, it seems, did not spend as much time thinking or preparing for her opening day outfit and just seems more natural and effortless.

     The opening day ensemble in the Curtiz film is the turning point for Mildred; this is the scene is when her appearance alters considerably and noticeably. She wears a dark dress with the strong shoulders of the Crawford look. Her clothing prior to this had generally consisted of lighter colors and softer silhouettes so the contrast is absolutely perceptible. Her clothing communicates that she is in charge; the strong shoulders and the dark color assert her authority and power in the restaurant. While Curtiz’s Mildred goes through a drastic change in a short amount of time, almost immediately, Mildred’s wardrobe in the mini series becomes slightly more sophisticated as time passes in a very transitional and gradual way. She also doesn’t become obnoxiously extravagant. Only in a few instances, special occasions, do we see her becoming somewhat stylish.

     A moment in which we see Mildred at her most elegant and expensive is, ironically when she goes to the board meeting and she is essentially forced out of the company she has built up through these past years. She emerges wearing a rich navy blue dress along with matching gloves and hat, a long grey coat, a rich fox fur scarf, and double stranded pearls. We get the impression that Mildred is emulating Mrs. Lendhart, whom she has had two significant experiences with. Her first meeting with Mrs. Lendhart was during her job search where she goes to her home to interview for a service job and she couldn’t go through with it, Mrs. Lendhart’s treatment of Mildred was quite rude and callous. Then Mildred meets her again under different circumstances, when Mrs. Lendhart visits the restaurant to discuss her son’s and Veda’s relationship. Although Mildred has established herself as a successful woman with a thriving business Mrs. Lendhart still treats her as if Mildred is beneath her. Mrs. Lendhart in this scene wears an elegant cream blouse and skirt, with a veiled hat and a luxurious fox fur scarf. Mildred’s fox scarf also mirrors the scarf worn by Veda the night Mildred and Monty marry and she returns to Mildred’s life. It is interesting to note that Mildred looks her most elegant when her financial demise comes to a head, and the fact that even though she appears quite glamorous there is still an aspect of her outfit as outmoded and even passé, which emphasizes Roth’s insistence on making the clothes seem outdated and out of fashion. Even at the peak of her stylishness, she still has a trace of authenticity.

The American look in women’s fashion developed during the 1930s and three major social developments that coincided at the time influenced the course of women’s clothing. These would be, “the clothing initially designed specifically for sport but later broadened into sportswear; the new ideals of beauty that were closely connected to the lithe, sporting look, created in large part for and by Hollywood movies; and the role those movies played in selling new fashion ideas and goods to the movie-going public.”[9] During this time playing sports suggested leisure, wealth and success, only people with enough time and money could indulge in recreation activities and would wear the clothing necessary for it. Monty Beragon and Veda both wear this kind of leisurely attire in the mini-series.

     Monty Beragon makes his way into Mildred’s life by charming her with his easygoing way of life and his effortless sophistication. He comes from a wealthy family and hasn’t ever worked for what he has. When Mildred asks him what he does for a living, he simply states that he “loafs”; he receives money from a fruit farming company his family invested in. He lives a leisurely existence; he plays polo and goes swimming in the beach frequently, he has no real responsibilities or obligations. The first time we meet Monty he is wearing light cream-colored polo and rust colored slim jacket, similar to a riding jacket, which makes the outfit have an equestrian feel to it. This sporty style is a nod to Monty’s affluent background and is a look that persists with him through the narrative. Monty’s way of dress is distinct from the way all the other men dress, especially Bert and Wally who are his main “rivals” or counterparts in terms of their position regarding Mildred. Bert and Wally are usually clad in suits and slacks, but they do each have a kind of signature or identifying fixture. Bert often wears sweater vests and looks put together, whereas Wally usually wears the same suspenders and hat through the whole series and has a kind of unkempt, almost sloppy quality to his appearance. When positioned next to Wally and Bert, Monty certainly appears more dapper and sophisticated, his exterior informs his privileged upbringing.           

    

                  Veda, Mildred’s daughter, is completely fascinated with Monty, whom she had seen in the society pages. He encompasses everything she wishes to be, and with him in her family’s life she believes she can become a part of his social circle. Veda also is portrayed as a person of leisure. Early on she is shown accompanying Monty to his polo matches, and we see that Bert buys her riding boots for Christmas. After being rejected by a piano teacher and having her dreams of being a concert pianist shattered, Veda resorts to lazing around the house and not doing much but go out with friends and enjoy her time out. In a scene where Veda is lounging in the small patio in her home, she wears a revealing bandeau top with linen trousers and matching short-sleeved jacket, she tops the look off with stylish sunglasses. Veda embodies the casualness of the higher social class she so desperately craves to belong to. An important piece of clothing that made its rise with the emergence of sportswear was the trouser or men’s style trousers for women. Though they were readily available, they were still considered daring if worn on the street. Veda is the only female character we see wearing such trousers, and although she is in her home when we see her dressed in them, we can safely assume that she wore them outside the house as well. Veda’s clothing indicates her desire to belong to a social class that she was not born into, but aspires to be a part of. Her knowledge of the characteristics of the particular group allows her to mimic and copy the way they dress and she makes use of her mother’s newly acquired income and weakness to purchase such items.                   

     Cain expresses a similar idea in the novel, where he writes that Mildred, “bought, without complaining, the somewhat expensive gear that heaven required: riding, golf, and tennis outfits; overnight kits, monogrammed.”[10] In the novel, Mildred gives in to Veda’s whims and desires and aides her pursuit in becoming part of the upper class. The parallels and comparisons between Mildred and Veda, both visually and narratively are central to the significance of the series. The program really is a study of those two characters and how Veda informs most of what Mildred does. We see how Mildred aids in the development of Veda as a character, how she has been influenced by her, etc.

    

Roth manages to create a completely believable world with her costumes, there is never a moment where you doubt what a character wears and are taken out of the narrative. The characters and their appearance make total sense historically, and in the context of Haynes’ world. Roth does not ascribe to any kind of Hollywood glamour conventions, unlike the work created during the Hollywood system. Roth’s designs are distinct to the ones created for the 1945 film in their realism.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Jean Oppenheimer. “A Woman on the Verge.” Ameerican Cinematographer (April 2011). 43.

 

[2] Jean Oppenheimer. “A Woman on the Verge.” Ameerican Cinematographer (April 2011). 43.

[3] R. J Corber. “Joan Crawford’s Padded Shoulders: Female Masculinity in Mildred Pierce.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 21.2 62 (2006). 6.

 

[4] R. J Corber. “Joan Crawford’s Padded Shoulders: Female Masculinity in Mildred Pierce.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 21.2 62 (2006). 24.

 

[5] Greg Garrett. “The Many Faces of Mildred Pierce: A Case Study of Adaptation and the Studio System.” Literature Film Quarterly 23.4 (1995). 289.

 

[6] R. J Corber. “Joan Crawford’s Padded Shoulders: Female Masculinity in Mildred Pierce.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 21.2 62 (2006). 19.

[7] Paul J. Smith “All She Desires.” Sight & Sound 21.8 (2011). 18.

 

[8] James M. Cain  Mildred Pierce. New York: Vintage, 1989. 144.

[9] Patricia Campbell Warner. “The Americanization of Fashion: Sportswear, the Movies and the 1930s.” Twentieth-century American Fashion. Oxford: Berg, 2005. 80.

[10] James M. Cain  Mildred Pierce. New York: Vintage, 1989. 234.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a visually striking film with immaculate cinematography, every frame of this movie is absolutely beautiful, so naturally the costume design is something to admire and warrants a careful looking over. While most of the costuming in the film is rooted in realness and accuracy in terms of time and setting, the seamless way in which it works along with production design and cinematography is definitely masterful. There are definitely stand out moments when the costumes are utilized to express significant subtext along with the standard character information we, as an audience are accustomed to. Costume designer Lala Huete skillfully incorporates layers of information and references to her designs as well as providing the characters with realistic and appropriate garbs. 

 

 

The use of warm and cold light is something that is played with throughout the film. I believe Del Toro has stated that in the beginning of the film the cold light is used to signify the ‘real’ world, or Ofelia’s reality and that the warm tones and lighting are used when in the fantastic realm. As the film progresses the two begin to intertwine and meld together, until the real and the fantastic become one. The screenshots above showcase this use of light, Ofelia creates a door with the chalk the Faun gives her and peers into a fantastic world lit warmly with golden tones and light. The second shot shows her entering the fantasy world and leaving behind an hourglass in the cold ‘real world’.

 

   

The use of cool and warm colors is not limited to the lighting and cinematography. The uniforms of the Spanish military is a cold, grey-blue, icy color. Oftentimes it is contrasted with the clothing of characters that stand in opposition to them.

 

Captain Vidal, the film’s main antagonist is visually contrasted with Mercedes. She dresses in her dark neutrals, mostly browns and beiges which clashes with Vidal’s cool blues. The grey-blue color of the uniform corresponds to Vidal’s cold and frigid personality, he is stern and unfeeling in his interactions with other people, even to Ofelia’s mother, Carmen whom he has recently married. The doctor is shown as an opposing force, from the very beginning, before Vidal learns about his work with the rebels. The doctor wears dark suits that clash with Vidal’s uniform. The clothing the rebels wear is mostly brown and tans, which not only helps them camouflage to their surroundings (their clothing matches the color of the many tree trunks in the forest) but also marks a direct contrast to the soldiers that search for them.

  

Ofelia’s mother is an incredibly passive character, she is sickly from the very beginning and is confined to her wheelchair and bed for the entire film. Her clothing consists generally of pale colored smocks that evoke both her physical weakness and her meek character. Unlike Ofelia, she allows Vidal to control every aspect of her stay in the country, and ultimately suffers for her inactions. 

 

 

 

Ofelia’s clothing is comprised generally of simple frocks and dresses, usually green and neutral colors, giving her a kind of natural vibe. Her color palette consists mostly of these greens and browns and definitely suggests a tie with nature and the natural world, which is apropos of her royal identity. We see her a couple of times in her white nightgown, as she often sneaks out at night to speak to the faun, etc. The white of the nightgown, of course, supports and enforces her character as innocent and good.

 

 

 

“When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one,” exclaims Alice as she roams through Wonderland and examines how she got there. In the film, Ofelia could have easily uttered the same words. Del Toro, like many others before him, has utilized Lewis Carroll’s seminal work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as an important influence and template for the narrative in this film. In the article Alice’s Little Sister: Exploring Pan’s Labyrinth Kim Edwards elaborates on Alice’s influence on the film, which is,  “particularly conscious of its sororal relationship with Alice and its re-imagining of a W(under)land, and with the way events below the surface of the world and the text inform reality and meaning.”                                                                              Del Toro takes specific thematic and  narrative cues from Carroll’s work, Edwards elaborates how, “Alice’s journey was, quite literally groundbreaking in positing a child heroine in a subterranean fantasy world, where the surreal clashed with our overt real-world satire and nonsense was imbued with disturbing   meaning.” Del Toro takes this quality of  Alice and applies it to post civil war Spain; he utilizes the presence of fantasy as a way to comment on the state of the country in that era. The film transplants Ofelia into a space where she is faced with the harsh realities of such a difficult time. Soon enough she falls into a fantasy world, which serves as an escape from her current reality. Ofelia, like Alice, has fallen into one of the fairytales she so eagerly consumed.

There are definitely parallels between both narratives, and Del Toro makes direct references and allusions to Carroll’s work. These allusions present themselves in different ways throughout the film, certain themes from Carroll’s story are explored in the film, and Del Toro also employs various visual references that evoke the story. He mentions in the commentary for the film that, “The movie is completely peppered with references to other fantasy movies and other fantasy works like novels and short stories. Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match GirlThe Wizard of OzAlice in Wonderland, Oscar Wilde and so on and so forth.” The most explicit and direct reference to Carroll in the film is Ofelia’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dress. Ofelia’s mother makes her a new dress for an important dinner, which is incredibly reminiscent of the signature ‘Alice’ dress. The dress is almost an exact copy of the now iconic dress, with the exception of its deep emerald green color; Alice’s dress has been generally depicted as light blue through history. Her mother mentions how she will look like a princess with it on, but Ofelia seems pensive recalling  how the faun told her she is Princess Moanna in their previous meetings. She is already a princess in her mind and in her fantasy world and doesn’t need a dress to validate that. 

  We can interpret that this clothing choice highlights the beginning of Ofelia’s adventure since Alice wears this throughout her journey in Wonderland. The dress might be a signifier for delving into an unknown realm, like what Wonderland is for Alice. If we see this dress as enforcing or emphasizing this sense of adventure, then it is undermined when Ofelia takes it off before heading inside the tree. This is an important moment in Ofelia’s journey; it is her first task and the first time that she is an active figure in the magical world. If this moment is so significant in Ofelia’s story, and her involvement in the fantasy world is heightened, then it would make sense for her to dress and appear like Alice. Of course, it makes narrative sense that she would remove it, it is a new dress and she doesn’t want to get mud in it. Del Toro explains, “…the girl’s dress, of course, echoes Alice in Wonderland and here she has to leave behind any adult concern represented by the dress… I wanted to go into the interior world without the conceit of the dress…” The dress in the film seems to symbolize, not the sense of adventure, but the powers of the real world or the adult world that control or oversee Ofelia. She is just a child, she has been relocated by her caretakers, she is surrounded by adults, most of them morally corrupt, the one constant figure in her life is silenced and then eventually killed, this is the one moment when she sheds that control and attempts to take control herself. Ofelia’s act of taking the dress off separates her identity from the ‘Alice’ mold she was forged into. Ofelia is an Alice that doesn’t follow rules, that disobeys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film’s ending alludes to The Wizard of Oz, another story of a young girl uprooted from her home and forced to make her way back. Ofelia has passed the faun’s ultimate test and is rewarded with a homecoming. Her red shoes are a direct reference to Dorothy and her ruby slippers, Del Toro makes it a priority to highlight them and emphasize the connection between the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again we see the use of war tones and lights, the room is bathed in a beautiful warm glow giving the impression of comfort and sanctuary. Ofelia’s and her parents wear red and gold colored clothing and this is the first time we see these colors being worn by anybody in the film. The color red has been scattered through the film, but mostly in violent and brutal situations. This is the first time we not only see someone wearing red, but also see it being used with a more positive connotation. The color can be used to infer and symbolize different things, the love shared by the reunited family; Ofelia’s martyrdom and the fact that she sacrificed herself to keep her baby brother safe; and her courage and ultimate triumph over the many obstacles she faced. The color combination really does pronounce their royalty and grandiosity and with these clothes the filmmaker cements Ofelia’s true identity visually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shining

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Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning (1980) can be seen as a straightforward horror film, it follows classic generic tropes that are so often employed by many a scary movie. The Torrence family is entrusted with the care of the Overlook Hotel for the winter where they find themselves cut off from the world, a standard horror/suspense device; there is a creepy/cute kid who has a strange connection to the supernatural (The Exorcist, The Omen); ghosts torment and haunt the characters (The Haunting); the film even includes the gimmicky notion of the hotel being built on an ancient Indian burial ground (Poltergeist). But of course, The Shinning is much more than just your average, standard scary flick; Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is a subversive take on the typical horror show. He takes these horror clichés that audiences are all too familiar with and presents them in an almost satirical way. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the troubled patriarch is so crazed at times, that it becomes comical, a parody of the archetype ‘crazy killer’. Kubrick is not the average director, certainly not your average horror genre filmmaker, so everything on the screen is intended and present because Kubrick wants it to be there. Kubrick was a notorious control freak, paying strict attention to detail and monitoring not just every detail that wound up on screen, but even the way some of his films were screened. Knowing the great care he gave to executing his films, it comes to no surprise that his filmography is actually quite brief; Kubrick produced thirteen feature films in his forty-six year career.

As it is in any film, the clothing worn by the characters is a crucial part of not only the look of the film, but also the characterization of the people that inhabit the film’s universe. While Kubrick worked in a rigorous and controlling way, he knew when to leave creative agency to the people who contributed to his films. Milena Canonero was costume designer for three consecutive Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining; by the time it came to produce The Shining they had established a successful professional relationship. Canonero’s designs meld seamlessly into the world that Kubrick created and adds a great amount of subtext and nuance to the narrative.

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Jack Torrence arrives at the Overlook Hotel for his job interview, he wears pretty standard ‘interview attire’, and he is presenting himself as a professional. We learn that Jack is a writer and his jacket is a grey, tweedy-ish material, which evokes a kind of professorial quality to him, I think of tweed, especially the tweed jacket, as a kind of signature piece of clothing for intellectuals and like English professors, its almost like a uniform for them and I think that it is an interesting association to make with Jack’s character because of the course he make in the narrative. Also, I love how Jack’s tie evokes nature and is plantlike; it literally looks like grass or moss, much like the hedge maze at the Overlook. Foreshadowing, maybe?Image

The first time we see Wendy she wears a slightly juvenile outfit, the bright colors and schoolgirl vibes dress make her look childish; the red and blue color scheme corresponds to Danny’s clothing drawing a deliberate connection between the characters. Shelly Duvall’s almost uncanny portrayal adds to Wendy’s childlike quality, she speaks to Danny, not in an overly maternal way, but more as if he were an equal.

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When the pediatrician comes over to check up on Danny, Wendy’s childishness is emphasized by mere contrast.  Here comes a woman who asserts her maturity, knowledge, and authority, it is directly contrasted with Wendy’s meek and docile nature. Their dynamic is similar to that of an adult talking to a child. The doctor’s serious appearance in neutral and muted colors clashes with Wendy’s bright and young attire, accentuating their differences visually.

Wendy transitions into a more mature look when the family arrivesImage at the Overlook; she even dresses in a similar color palette to the one the doctor wears previously. This is Wendy’s ‘adult’ outfit, in great contrast to the one she wore when we see her for the first time. Wendy and Jack, in these scenes, dress in similar colors (neutral browns and tans) and it is probably the only time in the film when they correspond visually. Jack and Wendy are at their most amicable and “couple-y” in these scenes, of course there is always something slightly off in their behavior and its like they are ‘performing’ marriage for the people around them. Wendy seems to really be ‘playing’ the role of the wife, its almost as if she waited to see what he was wearing in order to match her outfit with his.Image

Danny is contrasted with his parents and wears his signature colors of red and blue, which as mentioned before could mean to emphasize his childishness and innocence. As his parents are given the tour of the hotel he goes off to the game room and entertains himself with a game of darts. This moment of juvenile diversion is interrupted by the supernatural elements that inhabit the Overlook. The Grady sisters appear in the game room wearing matching baby blue dresses, again the color blue marks their innocence and age, it also aligns them with the character, Danny. Like him, they became victims of their father’s insanity, but Danny ultimately managed to escape. Still, their experiences in the Overlook were definitely similar.Image

Another character whose connection with Danny is supported by the costuming in the film is Dick Halloran. Dick is dressed in an almost ‘grown up’ version of what Danny wears, they are both clad in light blue button-down shirts, and darker blue jacket, Halloran’s is a more mature navy blazer. ImageThe characters share the gift of ‘the shinning’ and are able to communicate telepathically; their clothing supports this connection and their similarities.

This is one of the few moments in the film when Wendy and Danny are at odds. While Wendy is preoccupied with playing the perfect wife, Danny is left to seek for a replacement paternal/maternal figure, which he finds in Halloran.Image

A month into their stay in the Overlook, Wendy is almost starting to blend into the look of the hotel. Her yellow and blue plaid robe match the hotel’s hallway right outside the small apartment they stay in. The soft colors of the robe also communicate submissiveness and passivity in the character. She is serving Jack breakfast; she’s being a caretaker and acting out her domestic chores, as she is expected to.Image

Danny wears his usual red and blue outfit as he wanders the halls of the Overlook in his tricycle.Image

As Wendy and Danny explore the maze, they revert to dressing similarly (again in primary colors). This time Wendy wears the more infantile, bright red jacket, and as they go through the maze it is, again, like they are equals, instead of mother and son. Like I said previously, Wendy is definitely characterized as and Imageinfantilized adult, which reflects the way Jack probably thinks of her. Jack often treats her as a hindrance; like she’s just another kid he has to deal with and repeatedly talks down to her as if she were a child that needs scolding.

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As Wendy and Danny play in the maze, Jack distracts himself from his writing; his green sweater is in contrast to Wendy’s and Danny’s reds and blues. Again, his green, mossy sweater echoes the texture and color of the hedge maze, as he looks at the model all godlike and menacing.

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Another ridiculously ugly and infantile dress for Wendy in the usual blue, she wears bright red stockings underneath, similar to what she wears in the beginning of the film. Again, Jack wears a forest green shirt, in contrast to his wife’s blue. This is a scene in which Jack is incredibly Imageharsh on Wendy and speaks to her in a condescending and hurtful way, their dynamic is enforced by the costuming and I just love the way Wendy’s dress just makes her look like such a child. The extreme silhouette rids her of any womanly shape and any sex appeal and all that’s left is a kid being scolded by her elder.

Again, Wendy and Danny in their play-clothes as Jack creeps in his dark greens.Image

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Wendy sticks with the bright primary color trend, this time it is a bright yellow, which is certainly a departure from what we have previously seen her wear. The jacket has a cartoony-Navajo-y Native American motif that might be a nod to the hotel’s history and setting. This is a more serious look for the character and she carries out more serious or grown-up errands during these scenes. She takes an active role in the care of the hotel and because of that her clothing is more serious than what we’ve previously seenImage

Again Wendy wears a more serious outfit, this is a more practical look, almost menswear inspired because of the overalls and the button down shirt. The colors are muted, much like her outfit when they first arrive at the hotel. She is again seen working on the Imagecaretaking of the hotel. As Jack is busy working on his writing, Wendy has to carry the load of the hotel’s care and it seems that she has taken over what is supposed to be his responsibility. Image            When Wendy goes to Jack’s aid, it is like their roles are reversed. In this case it is Jack who dresses in red and blue, colors that have been tied to childhood and immaturity throughout the film and associated mostly with Danny and Wendy. This scene shows Wendy caring for him as if he were a child, she handles him almost exactly as she treats Danny afterwards. She is maternal with both of them and, in a way, is pushed or forced into becoming this authority figure because of the state the two men/boys in her life are in.  Image

Jack is now showing more overt signs of his mental breakdown and when he goes to the ballroom manifestations of his insanity and/or the hotel’s supernatural forces begin to appear. The Imagebartender’s jacket is the same color as Jack’s, which suggests a link between them. The bartender could be a figment of Jack’s imagination, a subconscious projection of his inner turmoil, so he is dressed in the same color as his own clothing. Jack might think of him as part of his own personality, the bartender, who gladly serves him free of charge, indulges his alcoholic urges. The Imagebartender could also be explained as one of the hotel’s many ghostly inhabitants who interact with the Torrence family. The way he is shot and the color red he wears encodes him as a malevolent figure, a kind of demonic even devilish character who pulls Jack further into his insanity and madness. Image

The color red both Jack and the bartender wear is considerably darker than what has previously been shown in Wendy’s and Danny’s clothing, suggesting a sinister and threatening connotation and contrasting their nature to the ‘innocents’ in the film.

ImageJack meets the ghost of Mr. Grady and talk in the bathroom. There is not much to elaborate on here, Grady tells Jack that he has been at the Overlook for longer than he thinks and is echoed by the closing shot of the film, which shows a picture of Jack as an employee of the hotel in the 1920s. The suggestion that Jack is another being of the hotel is one of those twisty horror clichés that Kubrick plays with. Grady is dressed just like Jack is in the old picture which tells us that they probably had the same position as employees of the ImageOverlook and further links them and their experiences in the hotel.

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Shit is really hitting the fan and Jack is full on crazy, again Wendy’s more muted outfit reflects her new position as the adult and trying to control the impish and impulsive Jack. The moment when she locks him in the walk in fridge is reminiscent of a mother punishing her child; she literally gives him a ‘time-out’ and locks him away so he could calm down.Image

Wendy wears a blue robe previously worn by Jack when Jack escapes from the walk in and goes apeshit and hacks away at the apartment door. I love the comparison drawn between the two parents with the simple use of an item of clothing. ImageWhen we first see the robe, Jack wears it during an off-putting moment between him and Danny. Jack tells Danny how much he loves and cares for him and how he would never harm him.    Nicholson’s execution Imageis eerily uncanny; the way he speaks makes Danny visibly uncomfortable and scared. We, as an audience, are put off by this supposed outpouring of emotion or affection from Jack, he has previously given off weird vibes in which we sense that there is something psychologically wrong with him. This moment with Jack asserting his patriarchal dominance and attempting to display paternal love and care is subverted by Nicholson’s delivery, it makes what could have been a heartwarming moment of father-son bonding to a creepy and tense moment.Image

Jack’s parental fail is further emphasized when Wendy asserts her maternal dominance successfully. When Wendy wears the blue robe, she is forced to exert her survival agency and is protective of her son. She, for the moment, successfully protects Danny from the menacing Jack who relentlessly hacks away at the apartment door. In the sequence Wendy manages to get Danny out of harms way making him escape out the bathroom window, she is then successful in driving Jack away from the bathroom by striking him with a knife. Wendy is pushed into becoming a more active character and is able to perform under the intense pressure and also becomes the more apt parent in the process.

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The clothing stays the same through to the end of the film. Jack is thwarted ultimately by Danny, who manages to trick him into getting lost in the maze. So, Danny, who conquered over his father’s homicidal actions is now free to live happily with his mother, Oedipal much??? Regardless of Freudian subtext, Danny and Wendy are again able to reinstate the status quo with their color-coordinated outfits and live contentedly without Jack’s creepy presence all up in their ‘bidness’.Image

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Hello world!

Welcome to TheLiontheWitchandtheWardrobeMalfunctioned.

Ann Roth, Sandy Powell, Gary Jones, Colleen Atwood, these are some of the most influential and important people in the film industry but many people haven’t even heard of them, not even cinephiles who dedicate themselves to explore all things cinema. My blog is dedicated to these people, the costume designers whose work is integral to the creation of many a film and series. Often an overlooked art and aspect of film and television costume design is not given the attention it deserves. I hope to highlight the work of costume designers and showcase the importance of clothing in all kinds of narratives and genres.

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