Not just a beautiful fraud

Clothing has a major impact on the way we perceive reality. But it plays an equally crucial role in the way we perceive things that, in spite of what Jean Luc Godart said (‘Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world’), are only partially unreal; such as movies.

Although historic precision is impossible and disastrous in the dramatic art, as an 18th-century critic said, there is a path we can follow to explain the use of garments as a different means of exchanging information. The origin of theatre and therefore theatre costume is believed to be the greek Dionysia, a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the god of wine; a mythological entity that is ‘’neither a child nor a man, he is rather an eternal teenager’’ and represents playfulness and energy. The dissembler or actor used to wear a mask and a costume analogous to his authority. Costumes were elaborate, heavy and imposing, and would be used to distinguish people based on their age (younger ones wearing knee-length tunics and older people ankle-length ones), and comedy from tragedy (in comedy they preferred soft shoes allowing them to move freely and in tragedy, roans projecting the god’s brutish side). Masks helped identify one’s gender, age, and mental state, and provoked the desirable emotions from the audience.

As theatre’s goal is the creation of inner, self-contained criteria of plausibility, the play itself does not, in fact, symbolizes a certain reality, but it creates reality through its conventions, so from the very beginning people used codes that were functional both in theatre and in everyday life. In the sphere of a ‘theatrum mundi’, that portrays the world as a theatre wherein people are characters and their actions form a drama, Richard Sennett said that as people imagined garments to be an indication of resourcefulness, decoration, and convention, the body was used as a mannequin rather than an expressive, alive creature, and clothing as a precise indication of social class and more.

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Directors have a huge amount of responsibility when it comes to creating a film. They have to creatively translate the script into actual images and sounds on the screen, to visualize and define the exact style and structure of the film and be in charge of merely the whole production. They use a lot of tools to convey their aesthetics and communicate the desired message through film. In colaboration with a costume designer, they use clothing as an un-spoken but worldly understood language, to share details and information that don’t necessarily need to be expressed vocally but are left to the viewer’s comprehension and will of discovering the universe of each movie. And, in my opinion, there lies the success of a movie; when it does not provide information on a plate, but encourages the viewer to begin a personal journey of understanding and exploring.

‘THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL’ is full of eye-catching visuals and candy colors that appear in the film’s exquisite color palette, reflecting Wes Anderson’s playful and ironic aesthetic. The director, in collaboration with costume designer Milena Canonero, dressed his characters in uniforms, garments that signifie steadfast and unwavering personalities, some keeping up with their job description and others as a nod to their past, all in the high kitsch, glamorous, decadent but also elegiac and dark style of the movie. Gustave, the hotel’s concierge, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, a devoted servant and benevolent chief of the staff, is dressed in the concierge’s uniform. It is sharp, spotless and perfectly tailored in different hues of purple, a color that combines the fierce energy of red with the calm stability of blue, conveys mystery and magic and imbues the character with an air of royalty. Gustave is wearing the uniform with pride and panache; it helps him transform into the ‘face’ of the hotel and provides him with an agency. The uniform for him is the antipode to his stay in prison, which is indicated with a short-sleeved and poorly-fitted trousers prison uniform, that stresses the contrast with his previous noble, handsome and proper identity, that gives him the appropriate attitude to evolve from merely Gustave H. to the Gustave, legendary concierge, member of the Society of the Crossed Keys and in command of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Zero, played by Tony Revolori, is the apprentice concierge of Gustave, with whom he has a father-son relationship. He is dressed identical to his paternal figure, with the difference that he lacks the emblem of The Society of the Crossed Keys. Beyond their resemblance in color, their uniforms are outwardly distinctive from each other, with Zero’s attire inspired by military costume, probably expressing his trainee position under Gustave’s strict command. He is the only character without a mustache, a trait that represents everything his lacks in life; experience in the job, education, family, home, really an identity, hence, he is really a zero. Madame D, a character graced by Tilda Swinton, seems to be frozen in time; her red lavish coat, her Fendi fur, her ‘Roaring Twenties’ inspired hat, her monogrammed Prada luggage, her ‘30s dress and her ‘La Belle Epoque’ hair and make-up, are all a mix of several hedonistic eras, and her inability to evolve stylistically symbolises her inability to let go of the past and the denial she experiences with facing the present. Her relationship with Gustave is like a drug; he helps her sustain the image she has for herself, a false reality of a past youth, and that is why she adores him. Saoirse Ronan’s character, Agatha, Zero’s love interest, with a Mexico-shaped birthmark adorning her cheek, mainly wears a baker’s uniform, in shades of blue, with a peach-colored knitted sweater underneath it and grey wool socks. Her clothing is primarily practical, but also ethereal and childlike. Their soft hues and their contrast with the porcelain Society of the Crossed Keyes pendant accoladed to her by Gustave underline her pure heart and indicate that she is a simple yet capable girl. She is similar to Zero, in the sense that she is too alone in the world and vulnerable, but her character is build up through the film and is finally presented as a brave woman with compassion and strength. Overall, Anderson’s costumes of choice would not be characterized as ground-breaking or unexpected, but, as he does in every movie he makes, he expands the color palettes of his characters’ garments to the space around them, creating a powerful connection between the two, subtly overcoating a loss-themed film with light-heartedness and sweet nostalgia for a vanished past.

In his film ‘THE BIRDS’, ‘a horror classic with thrills and comedy’ as described by ‘The Hollywood Reporter’, Alfred Hitchcock is working once again with Edith Heath, who created the costumes for the sophisticated socialite Melanie Daniels (portrayed by Tippi Hedren), a spoiled and wealthy playgirl, a mysterious woman who seeks attention. The first costume, worn briefly, is a charcoal grey mohair suit with a high collar, styled with black gloves, a black purse and with a white shirt underneath; an outfit that places a dark cloud above the viewer’s head, foreshadows the plot and forms a bias against her mysterious personality. The garment she wears nearly throughout the movie, with a brief intermission of a nightgown, is a chic green suit. Edith Heath created this suit drawing inspiration from a Chanel-like design she made for Grace Kelly’s role in Rear Window; it is an asparagus green sleeveless knee-length wool crepe dress, with a high round neckline, a matching belt and a hip-length jacket with wide lapel collars – a knee-length fur is sporadically added to the look. The color green bears a dual identity; it is the color of nature and is associated with notions of growth, harmony, safety and the environment – but it is also correlated with money, ambition, jealousy, and greed. This duality extrudes itself into the relationship dynamic between the birds and Melanie. The caged lovebirds represent nature’s force and humanity’s helplessness towards it – their juxtaposition with peoples’ choices and behavior towards the environment is made clear by their manners throughout the film, alongside Melanie’s reckless and playful persona. Her suit is the facade of her oppressed sexuality, a testimony of her self-recognized charm; because of the fur coat she wears on-and-off, she can be seen as an animal abuser, nonchalant towards the environment. However, the color of her suit both links her with nature and grants her with a poisonous quality, concluding to this reciprocal give-and-take relationship between the two to be catastrophic.

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