Monday, January 11, 2010

The Fine Art of Non-Costuming - Let the Right One In

Obviously, part of what makes a film is the costuming. Some of my favourite films are defined by the costumes - whether they’re over the top and iconic, or subtle and fading into the background. I can see the value in both, but I really love the latter. If a costume can be banal and everyday and still enhance the character, well, that’s pretty nice. Sex in the City is fun and all, but don’t you think it makes those ladies seem just a bit 2 D? And yet, the only costume designers who ever get any credit are the ones who work on period pieces, whether it’s the bodice rippers or the 30’s - 70’s “wow you really captured the feeling of that era” stuff. Or maybe sometimes the quirky Wes Anderson types will get cred, like “Little Miss Sunshine” or whatever. Wacky! Eccentric! Loveable! Or of course, Patricia Field and her designer romps and limitless expense accounts.

It’s mostly Europeans who seem to grasp the elusive concept of “non-costuming”. Maybe because their budgets are smaller, or perhaps they are a bit more trend proof. Some countries are just further behind in what hits with pop culture and fashion, so the costuming can come off as “no period”, which in my books, is the best.

Take for instance, the icy, crystalline, poetic “Let the Right One In”. The film was halfway through before I could figure out when it was set (1980’s). Even the appearance of a rubik’s cube had me thinking it could be a revival thing, rather than an 80’s thing.

The kids wore over-sized sweaters, warm winter clothes, weird boots. Eli, the little vampire girl, has on the same strange polyester/pajama pants throughout most of the film - or else a simple nightgown that showcased blood really well. At one point the little boy Oscar goes to visit his father, who is wearing his fair isle sweater tucked into his jeans!! These touches were so un-highlighted and odd and subtle - it won my vote for best costuming of the year.

If it had been an American film, well, I have a feeling things like a sweater tucked into jeans would have been made into a clever punchline.

Because as hard as they try, Americans just don’t often get “non-costuming”. Take “Lost in Translation”. Let me digress for another minute and say I'm on the fence with this film. I mean I love Sofia Coppola for trying, and I only criticize because nobody else makes anything worth examining, but the weird colonialization stuff? I don't know.

Anyhow, it’s been said Sofia Coppola based (and styled) the Johannson character after herself. And while I’m a big fan of Coppola’s everyday look (couldn’t get more direct or understated), it really didn’t work on Johannson. It was an instance where you could actually see the script and the description of the character, as opposed to feeling or experiencing it. I think the “non-costuming” intention was there, but while button down shirts and khaki’s may look feminine and lovely on a waif like Coppola, Johannson’s curves made it look uncomfortable and forced. How nerdy is it that it her costuming (and hair? ahhhh) actually broke the suspension of disbelief for me?

Part two of this monolgue is coming up. I know you are holding your breath.

No comments: