With the anticipation of being in for a treat, Cinemart went along to the press preview of the V&A Museum’s Hollywood Costume exhibition, which will run from the 20th October to the 27th January, 2013. Back at the start of this year senior guest curator for this exhibition, Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, spoke about the extensive work involved in finding and procuring over 100 iconic Hollywood film costumes from the studios and private collectors from all over the world. A project that has taken years to produce, the collection which is exhibited in three large rooms of the V&A is undeniably impressive with all the glamour, glitz and charisma that only Hollywood can offer.
The exhibition seeks to educate film lovers in the art and hard work that goes into costume design. Both blatantly obvious and also seamless, costumes visually tell us a huge amount about the character that wears them.
In the first room (titled: Scene I: What is Costume Design?) Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp’s garb can be found. This legendary costume known to the vast majority of film fans in black and white comes alive ‘in person’ with it actually being a blue/grey tweed-like suit that has been shredded and torn to look like it’s been on the road for many a day.
Along the same row of costumes is the green ‘curtain dress’ worn by Vivienne Leigh as Scarlet in Gone with the Wind (1939). One can be struck by the volumes that just these two costumes speak about their respective characters and this is just the very beginning of the exhibition.
The room flows into costume design which is far more obvious to an audience as they are from period dramas such as costumes worn by Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I from Shakespeare in Love (1998). These Tudor inspired costumes contrast with the variety worn by Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) which also astound in the level of detail and obvious man hours poured into their creation. The room also includes the important, but less obvious, work that went into Jason Bourne’s costume that reflects his ability to disappear in a crowd. Also on show is the memorable bathrobe worn by The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in The Big Lebowski (1998).
The second and larger room of the exhibit is titled Scene II: Creative Contexts. Along with costumes there are also actors, directors and the all-important costume designers shown via life sized on-screen interviews talking about the process and collaborative thinking behind a particular costume in a film, such as Tippy Hedren talking about her green costume in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).
Tim Burton, with his long time costume designer Colleen Atwood, are depicted going to and fro in discussion about the costume for Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd (2007) with a changing visual ‘table’ of inspirations for the costumes between them. This room also includes commissioned interviews by Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro talking about their collaboration with costume designers to find their character. There are a number of their costumes on display including one from Out of Africa, Mamma Mia, The French Lieutenants Woman, Casino, Raging Bull and even the Travis Bickle costume from Taxi Driver (1976).
The final room of the exhibition is an all-out near crush of recognisable film costumes from the green satin dress costume worn by Keira Knightely in Atonement (2007) to Marilyn Monroe’s white dress that floats so well over the air vent in The Seven Year Itch (1955). In this room called Scene III: The Finale we also see Christian Bale’s costume for Batman in 2012′s The Dark Knight Rises which is mounted on the wall of the room, nearly to the ceiling. Our eyes are also drawn upwards to see a Superman costume from Superman IV (1987), Tobey Maguire’s 2002 Spider-Man and sadly quite lost in its high position Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman costume from Burton’s Batman Returns (1992).
The entire exhibition itself brings you closer to childhood memories or film obsessions such as Indiana Jones’ costume (designed by Prof. Deborah Nadoolman Landis herself), Han Solo or even Darth Vader. (Darth Vadar’s light sabre is sadly unlit.) The sparkling glamour of Joan Crawford’s actual rich ruby red dress in the black and white And the Bride Wore Red (1937) comes alive under the spotlight.
Hollywood Costume even has that black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly as she ate a croissant and drank coffee for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). As well as all of these dazzling costumes, each piece has a direct quote from a costume designer explaining their choices or notes from the film makers or actors themselves who wore the costumes. How and why a costume came about is an interesting part of each film and one begins to realise the ferocious amount of work done by the costume department in period or contemporary films alike.
Sometimes costumes are blatantly obvious as in a period drama but in a modern film, the ability to tell a story about a character and still have the costumes blend in before our modern attuned eye shows the real art form behind costume design in the movies.
Along with the abundance of costumes and screen interviews, the exhibit also has a Hollywood orchestra soundtrack that seeps into the whole experience. The darkened rooms also lend themselves a cinematic feel and being able to see a costume in true 3D is remarkably enjoyable. The exhibit humanises many of the movie stars who wore these costumes as their presence is felt as we replay the film and their character in our mind’s eye. It is almost like meeting that character ‘in the flesh.’
Cinemart was struck by just how true the phrase ‘the camera adds 10lbs’ when you see how tiny the waist lines are for so many of these costumes. The exhibit ends with the ruby red shoes worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939) lovingly displayed in a glass case, the first time they have ever left the USA, Kansas or Oz.
Cinemart spent nearly three hours taking in this exhibition and for any museum visit that is well worth the time and ticket price. For film fans the V&A’s Hollywood Costume is a must- see as it is rich in detail, content and Hollywood glamour.
images provided by V&A