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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Costume Design in Film Magic

"What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage." — Edith Head

Transforming characters and transcending time. In observance of Fashion Week events around the globe, Fandor is celebrating the indispensable role of costume design in film.

Fashion, film, and costume design have compelling ties.

Dir. Gao Xiaosong | 99 minutes

A story of honor, love and revenge set against the backdrop of the Chinese opera during its heyday in 1920s Shanghai, MY KINGDOM centers on two sworn brothers and their quest to regain their master’s honor. After years spent training in martial arts, Guan Yilong (Wu Chun) and Meng Erkui (Han Geng) pursue revenge and quickly succeed, establishing themselves as the newest sensations of the Shanghai opera scene. They experience fame and love with a beautiful actress, Xi Mulan (Barbie Hsu), but soon their collective pasts catch up with them and all three are tangled in a complex web of love, lust, deceit and betrayal.

Dir. Valery Todorovsky | 132 minutes

Moscow 1955. Stalin has been dead two years, but not even Khrushchev's thaw can prevent Komsomol shock troops from hounding hipsters (stilyagi), fans of American jazz, culture and fashion. The student Mels, a Komsomol member, meets Polya, a hipster, while conducting a raid on a hipster hangout. Mels falls in love with Polya while his Communist comrade harbors romantic feelings for him. Mels ingratiates himself into Polya's group of hipsters who meet up on "Broadway" (Gorky/Tverskaya Street), and begins adopting their extreme fashion and lifestyle. Soon, Mels is a hit on the dance floor and starts learning to play the saxophone. He is expelled from college, changes his name to Mel and has the beautiful Polya for a girlfriend. With delightful retro-musical scenes and cinematography parodying the style of Soviet realism, HIPSTERS is a lush rebel-with-a-cause romance full of intricately choreographed toe-tapping numbers, and plenty of satirical social commentary.


These two-color Technicolor fashion shots were copied from nitrate film many years ago without the benefit of later techniques that minimize blemishes. Even heavily abraded, they're of interest as a portrait of couture in 1927, as a document of color cinematography when the process was still novel and because many of the models were successful Hollywood actresses. The film was found and copied by Murray Glass, one of the best American friends of early cinema. Music by Frederick Hodges.

Dir. Brent Huff | 84 minutes

A rare glimpse into the dark side of modeling, CHASING BEAUTY speaks with supermodels, photographers, agents and the like in a quest to answer one of the industry's most complex questions: What is beauty and is it worth the cost? Each year, thousands of hopefuls begin the pursuit of their modeling dreams, but how many actually succeed, and how long does success last? For many who try, there is no shortage of collateral damage along the way. Beauty is a billion dollar business, but consumers aren't the only ones paying the price.

Dir. Peter Greenaway | 107 minutes

Set in a richly exaggerated 17th-century England, Peter Greenaway’s sumptuous and sensuously charged brainteaser catapulted him to the forefront of international art cinema. Adorned with intricate wordplay, extravagant costumes and opulent photography, Greenaway’s first narrative feature weaves a labyrinthine mystery around the maxim “draw what you see, not what you know.” An aristocratic wife (Janet Suzman) commissions a young, cocksure draughtsman (Anthony Higgins) to sketch her husband’s property while he is away in exchange for a fee, room and board and one sexual favor for each of the twelve drawings. As the draughtsman becomes more entrenched in the devious schemings in this seemingly idyllic country home, curious details emerge in his drawings that may reveal a murder. Bolstered by a majestic score by then-newcomer Michael Nyman and stunning cinematography by Curtis Clark that suggests Greenaway has the elements at his beck and call, THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT is a luscious cinematic banquet for eye, ear and mind.

Dir. Derek Jarman | 95 minutes

THE TEMPEST, the last of William Shakespeare's great plays, was adapted for the screen for the first time by Derek Jarman in 1979. Among the most visionary of modern film artists, Jarman, who died of AIDS in 1994 at age 52, was one of the first directors (outside the pornography circuit) to present openly gay material in feature-length films. Shot on location at the ancient and ghostly Stoneleigh Abbey, THE TEMPEST tells the story of Prospero the magician, who lives with his nubile daughter on an enchanted island and punishes his enemies when they are shipwrecked there. It's a study of sexual and political power in the guise of a fairy tale. Jarman presents Shakespeare's intricate comedy of magic and revenge in a form that is at once faithful to the spirit of the play and an original and dazzling spectacle mixing Hollywood pastiche, high camp, and gothic horror. His film recalls the innocent homoeroticism of Pier Paolo Pasolini's versions of classics, while its lush sense of décor and color is worthy of Vincente Minnelli. The film's master stroke is the finale, a wedding feast designed and choreographed as as full scale production number, with the veteran black comedy musical star Elisabeth Welch wafting her way through a chorus of hunky sailors as she belts out "Stormy Weather." It's one of the great scenes in British cinema.

Dir. Mark Rappaport | 36 minutes

Using extensive rear projection to remarkable effect (actors, in color, against black and white backgrounds and all photographed in high definition), Mark Rappaport evocatively plays with the themes of noir while contemporizing the stakes involved. In EXTERIOR NIGHT, there is no past. There is no present. There is only the inevitable now.

Dir. Maria Luisa Bemberg | 108 minutes

Assumpta Serna stars as the brilliant and beautiful poet Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz in this magnificent portrayal of 17th Century Mexico. In order to pursue her love of writing, Juana enters the convent and gains international renown. When the Inquisition comes, the local Vicereine (Dominique Sanda) becomes Juana's protectress and erotic muse, and soon begins a thrilling romance of startling passion and intensity.

CAREFUL (1992)
Dir. Guy Maddin | 99 minutes

Guy Maddin’s early masterpiece takes place in a 19th-century Alpine village where the wary residents (adult, child and animal!) must speak softly and tread lightly lest they cause an avalanche. But sexual frenzies teem in this world of repression, setting off incestuous love triangles and quadrangles with deadly consequences. Bathed in lurid, luminescent tints, CAREFUL resembles a vintage melodrama from another planet, something that could only emerge from the singular mind of Maddin.

Dir. Stephen Quay & Timothy Quay | 95 minutes

THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES is the breathtakingly beautiful and long-awaited second feature from Stephen and Timothy Quay. On the eve of her wedding, the beautiful opera singer Malvina is mysteriously killed and abducted by a malevolent Dr. Droz. Felisberto, an innocent piano tuner, is summoned to Droz's secluded villa to service his strange musical automatons. Little by little, Felisberto learns of the doctor's plans to stage a "diabolical opera" and of Malvina's fate. He secretly conspires to rescue her, only to become trapped himself in the web of Droz's perverse universe.

THE 10TH VICTIM (1965)
Dir. Elio Petri | 92 minutes

It's the 21st century and society's lust for violence is satisfied by the "Big Hunt," an international game of legalized murder. But when the sport's two top assassins (Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress) are pitted against each other, they find that love is the most dangerous game of all. As the world watches, the hunt is on. Who will become THE 10TH VICTIM?

Dir. Mario Bava | 81 minutes

FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON is Mario Bava's deliriously mod spin on an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Bava was so closely associated with the horror genre that this twisting mystery was never released in the U.S. but it is deliciously entertaining all the same. A space age island retreat is visited by a group of friends and business associates, one of whom is a scientist who has invented a revolutionary chemical process, and is fending off various offers to buy it. Soon the vacationers start dying, and the survivors begin to wonder who has the most to gain from these murders most foul. Anything but a drawing room mystery, Bava's erotic thriller is enlivened by its psychedelic set design, a hip score by Piero Umiliani and a swinging performance by giallo goddess Edwige Fenech. 

EVE (1962)
Dir. Joseph Losey | 103 minutes

Welsh writer Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) seems to have it all, 1960s-style: an international bestseller, an apartment in Rome, a gorgeous fiancée in Virna Lisi. But he's bitter anyway. He meets his existential match in ennui in the mod seductress Eve, played by Jeanne Moreau, who was never more cynical or iconic. Decked out in pointy pumps and heavy eyeliner, listening to Billie Holiday on scratch LPs (intermingled with an evocative score by the legendary Michel Legrand) as she counts lire and smokes endless packs of cigarettes in strangers' bedrooms, she is the epitome of frayed glamor. An emotional tyrant, Eve's cruelly casual maneuvering forces Baker to confront his past and his weaknesses as a man and an artist. Director Joseph Losey disowned this "producers' version" of his film, fifteen minutes shorter than his own cut. That longer version survives in somewhat rougher condition, preserved by the British Film Institute from a Swedish/Finnish release print (with burned-in subtitles).

Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini | 136 minutes

The birth, life, teachings and death on the cross of Jesus Christ presented almost as a cinéma-vérité documentary. Pasolini's second feature seemed a strange choice for such a revolutionary director, but it is an attempt to take Christ out of the opulent church and present him as an outcast Italian peasant. Applying Neo-Realist methods, the director shot in Calabria, using the expressive faces of non-professionals including that of his mother as the Virgin Mary. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW is considered the greatest screen version of the "greatest story ever told" and this freshly remastered version brings the film to life in a away that has never been seen before. Nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Music at the 1967 Academy Awards®. 

Dir. Franz Osten | 76 minutes

A lavish silent super-production comprising 10,000 extras, a thousand horses and scores of elephants, A THROW OF DICE is the climax of German film pioneer Franz Osten's richly cinematic sojourn in India. In this "fairy tale for adults" (BBC) inspired by the ancient Sanskrit epic poem THE MAHABHARATA, royal cousins and rulers of adjoining kingdoms King Sohat (producer/star Himansu Rai) and King Rajit (Charu Roy) share a reckless passion for gambling, the perilous jungle tiger hunt and the beautiful maiden Sunita (Seeta Devi). After a tiger nearly claims Rajit's life, Sunita nurses the handsome young king back to health and becomes his bride. Knowing that the only thing stronger than love in Rajit's heart is a compulsive fascination with games of chance, jealous Sohat challenges his cousin to a winner-take-all contest where the stakes are freedom, marriage and life itself. "Lovingly restored" (The Guardian UK) by the British Film Institute to a level of ravishing spectacle and splendor unseen since its debut in 1929, this "immaculately dressed and beautifully shot" (Times of London) masterpiece of the late silent period is complemented by a "stirring" (Guardian) and "brilliantly evocative new score" (BBC) composed by Nitin Sawhney.

Dir. Fritz Lang | 148 minutes

Incorporating more than twenty-five minutes of newly discovered footage, this 2010 restoration of METROPOLIS is the definitive edition of Fritz Lang’s science fiction masterpiece. Backed by a new recording of Gottfried Huppertz’s 1927 score, the film’s dazzling visual design and special effects are more striking than ever. And the integration of scenes and subplots long considered lost endows METROPOLIS with even greater tension and emotional resonance, as it dramatizes the conflict between wealthy über-capitalists and rebellious subterranean laborers, orchestrated by a diabolical scientist capable of destroying them both.

Dir. D.W. Griffith | 198 minutes

Four separate stories (the fall of Babylon, the death of Christ, the massacre of the Huguenots and a then-contemporary early 20th Century drama) are interwoven, building with enormous energy to a thrilling chase and finale. Through the juxtaposition of these well-known sagas, D.W. Griffith joyously makes clear his markedly deterministic view of history, namely that the suffering of innocents makes possible the salvation of the current generation, symbolized by the boy in the modern love story.

Dir. Auguste Lumière and Louis Lumière | 1 minute

The Lumières stay inside the studio for this delightful portrait of a quick-change artist. Our man fleshes out six distinct costumes in under a minute: from affable ticket-taker to haughty sea captain, long-nosed blowhard to assured financier. Usually noted for their documentary subjects, here the Lumière brothers borrow from the vaudeville tradition.



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