A GREAT deal of thought and detail goes into what actors and actresses wear on set in Hollywood. But to Carene Chong’s surprise, for audiences to completely miss the attire is, in a costume designer’s book, oftentimes considered a huge success.
Darkness engulfed visitors as they descend the steps into the exhibition. A cinematic score plays in the background, immediately setting the mood for what visitors are about to feast their eyes upon.
A large screen greeted visitors at the bottom of the steps, showing scenes from some of Hollywood’s most iconic films such as The Wizard of Oz and Titanic.
At that moment, all attention was switched on to the costumes worn by the characters in the reel, which often goes unnoticed in a typical movie session. Can we honestly say we’ve noticed how fitting the black jacket was on Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity?
Costume design is a largely ignored and invisible process in film making which does not warrant much attention except for an Academy Award category.
However, as visitors find out from this exhibition, the attire on the characters play a huge part in telling the story whether it be the bathrobe worn by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski or the elaborate Victorian gown on Cate Blanchett’s slim body in Elizabeth: the Golden Age.
The show was divided into three sections, starting with ‘Scene 1: What is Costume Design?’ The scene explores the link between clothing and identity and looks at how costume designers create unique characters, whether for modern, period or fantasy films.
Case studies put forward in this section include the ensemble worn by the characters in The Addams Family and Fight Club, where the design process was revealed from start to finish with sketches and designers explaining the inspiration behind their masterpieces.
While the elaborate costumes such as Morticia Addam’s spiderweb dress was indeed captivating, I find the thought process for the ‘invisible’ costumes such as the simple denim and cowboy hats on Jack Twist (Jake Gylenhaal) and Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) in Brokeback Mountain more fascinating.
While audiences might think simple costumes like jeans and a shirt are simply bought straight off the rack and thrown together without much thought, it’s anything but. As costume designer Ellen Mirojnick who designed for Wall Street says, ” You have to work doubly hard to make the costumes disappear.” And for audiences to completely miss the attire is, in a costume designer’s book, a huge success.
‘Scene 2: Creative Contexts’ reveals the collaborative process between the directors, costume designers and actors to piece a film together. Costumes featured in this section include Sweeney Todd’s (Johnny Depp) worn out jacket which reflects his rough life.
An interesting detail in this section was the use of digital animation in a very inventive way. One such example is Mrs Lovett’s rolling pin in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which is transformed by a projected overlay into a barber’s pole, complete with moving red and white stripes. This motif apparently provides an inspired link between the pie-making and the nefarious activities of Sweeney Todd.
Snippets of interviews with key personnel in the film-making process was playing on the loop next to the costumes, revealing how the main brains put their heads together to hash out attire ideas for the characters.
In this section, homage was paid to silver screen veterans Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro, with Meryl’s iconic film costumes decked out ranging from her colorful wardrobe in Mamma Mia! to her simple yet powerful attire in her portrayal as the late Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Robert de Niro’s green military shirt donned in Taxi Driver, though not exactly eye catching was there for a reason, and that was to portray his character as a former Vietnam war veteran.
Motion capture was given a slice of the pie in this section with MoCap expert Andy Serkis (aka Gollum in The Lord of The Rings) giving audiences a general overview of the innovative technology that has grabbed the film-making industry by storm. Some award winning films created using MoCap include Avatar and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
‘Scene 3 : The Finale’ wraps up the exhibition with a spread of the most memorable costumes throughout film history. This section was my favourite for obvious reasons, having grown up and loved so many of the films in which the costumes were featured in. Dorothy Gale’s sparkly red shoes and striped pinafore in The Wizard of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s awfully tiny dress in the The Seven Year Itch (aka the dress which billowed up over a grate) are among the exhibits people can certainly look forward to.
Superheroes were hanging from the ceiling or on the wall which was a clever idea but the only shortfall being visitors could not take a closer look at the costumes. My partner who tagged along mainly because of the superheroes was left a little disappointed.
Other highlights in this section include the Gryffindor costume in the Harry Potter movies, James Bond’s crisp tuxedo and Jack Sparrow’s 18th century pirate costume in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
The exhibition took about 45 minutes to an hour to walk through. While it certainly was an eye-opening and unique experience, we were left expecting more. If someone was to pay full price I would imagine them wanting a little more for their money’s worth but for a concession price of a little over 15 dollars, I say give it a go for a different weekend experience with friends.
The Hollywood Costume Exhibition is now on till August 18 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). For more information on tickets and opening hours, visit the ACMI website.