Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hollywood Costume Extravaganza

As part of the SIBMAS conference we were given a talk by the curator, Keith Lodwick, and complimentary tickets to the Hollywood Costume Exhibition.  Now, I have a limited knowledge of museums and what goes into exhibitions so found his introduction very enlightening - everything was on loan from other institutions and the V&A was facilitating the bringing together of costumes and props, which normally languish in private collections all around the world.  Real focus was put on the costume designers themselves and what role they have in the film industry.  As a poster presentation at the conference showed,* costume designers can often be lost in the process and not receive the attention or recognition they deserve.

The exhibition was, I have to say, amazing.  You really get a feel for the theatrical, from the welcoming big screen trailer to the captions on clip boards, backlit lettering and music.  There were costumes everywhere and it was hard to control my greedy gaze.  Particular highlights for me were, predictably, Indiana Jones’ costume with accompanying Spielberg drawing of what he wanted Indie to look like (it smacked of Woody from Toy Story) and the plinth of royalty including Judi Dench’s Queen Elizabeth costume from Shakespeare in Love.

One thing that struck me was something that Keith had discussed: the desire to put the actors back into the costumes.  This is obviously very difficult to do but screens bearing videos of the stars’ faces were hovered above the costumes or images of them in the costume provided behind to give a theatrical feeling.  As Keith said, the costumes are often less exciting when taken out of context and put in a museum.  Excerpts from the script, images and props, and interviews from stars and designers, however, have brought the costumes to life.

Bond's tux was a highlight

The only part of the exhibition that seemed a tad out of place was the last room, Act 3, in which various ‘characters’ are engaging with each other.  Here the ladies are mostly taking part in a cocktail evening while the men are fighting.  So, William Wallace is fighting Jack Sparrow and Don Juan while Leo from the Matrix is attacking Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill, Bond is backing up Hans Solo and John McClane is having fisticuffs with Rocky.  This is all very amusing and I had never considered this use of characters - I wonder if anyone is distressed by the unreality of these scenes, when such efforts have been made to make the costumes as close to the original as possible.

* Nancy Friedland, Columbia University presenting on ‘Patterning costume research design’.

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