Sunday, April 10, 2011

File Under: Very Important: The Sarah Lund Sweater Debate

The original Sarah Lund (and her amazing sweater)

The US version of Sarah Lund (and her ((crappy)) sweater)

Ahhhh. Just my opinion, but here is ANOTHER classic example of Euro costuming trumping American. And writing. And shooting. But I’m talking costume as a way to judge story, and not the other way around…

'Forbrydelson' (aka "The Killing) is a great (ok, it’s not the best thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty addicting) Danish crime drama that was a cult hit there, and then in England, and of course, is now being remade in the US on AMC.

Here’s some stuff about the original - it looks like it’s PAL, which is perfect for all the gray, misty, gloomy, Scandinavian-y vibes that help to build suspense and drama and highlight the banality of the everyday. There are interweaving story lines conjuring echoes of 'Twin Peaks' or '24', but without the awesome weird or awesome bad, respectively.

Anyhoo, at the heart of the story we have Sarah Lund - the nicorette-chewing, soft-spoken genius detective who wears a 70’s style Faroese sweater throughout most of the series. The costume designer and actress worked together to create this iconic costume, and I LOVE IT.

This g.d sweater conveys so much that I don’t even know where to start. It’s earthy. It’s feminine. It’s from my favourite era. They repeat it (because real people repeat their clothing, duh). She wears really good and boring and euro warm layers underneath it. She wears really good and boring police rain coats on top of it. She ignores her fiancĂ© and son in it. She gets obsessed with her work in it. She lives in a man's world in it. She looks like she walked off a commune AND fights crime in it. It looks handmade. It is a very good candidate for the non-costuming hall of fame. And it is completely unlike the shitty non-costuming of North America. Because North Americans have non-costuming. It’s just waaaaayyyy different.

Watch any NA commercial or (most TV shows), and you’ll see what I mean. As a costumer, when you shop for these kinds of things, the general rule is you must make people look as “normal” as possible. (Someday I'll come back to the difference between "normal" and "understated" dressing. It's a very important topic in the world.)

"Normal" means nothing should offend or be too individual, because nothing should risk the potential for brain dead suburbanites to project their dreams onto that bucket of fried chicken. If you know what I mean. So what you end up with is a veritable sea of blue button down shirts, Capri pants, brown shoes, and “up casual” pieces that the clients, directors, and producers then proceed to fight over because it’s all just a battle of egos and these people need to feel as though they have a purpose or that they have a vision or that they are in any way “creative”. Ahem. Woops, let’s keep it in the positive!

Okay, so Sarah Lund and her sweater. What I’m saying is that this kind of thing would rarely happens in North American TV. And like I said in an earlier post, if it did, a big ironic deal would be made out of it.

So when I saw that AMC was remaking the series, the first thing I did was google image search to see if they were going to use “the sweater”. They are. I read they are even using the same company (Grund & Grund - working in handmade, organic Faroese wool) but for me, the impact is gone. The choice is a bummer. To me they've misinterpreted "the sweater". Something is off. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but it's off. Maybe it's the same as when people try and recreate iconic characters/costumes? Like the Jackie-O pink skirt suit? It just never works, does it? Or maybe it's that they're trying to come from a bit of a different angle. A more, shall we say, middle American one. Viewers need to identify with this character across the board, and some hippy dippy Scandinavian sweater just isn't going to cut it. So they watered it down and made it a bit more universally appealing while keeping the essence of the original. The cynic in me says they wouldn't have even bothered to go this far if the original sweater didn't get so much press. There are actually message board threads based solely on this sweater! It's a cult object, and added to the characters' aura. The cynic in me also says - if they're remaking the show, they are looking to capitalize on the original success - therefore any successful off-shoots need to be included.

If you've made it to the bottom of this post, you deserve a medal. I know that to most, the bloody sweater looks the bloody same. But not to me. Oh no, not to me!

*Update after 5 minutes of feeling bad: I shouldn't have said "brain dead suburbanites". I don't want to be a complainer/negative nelly. Working on this.

3 comments: said...

You crack me up. We've been watching The Killing, and I just know my initial attraction to the whole thing was That Sweater. And, That Hair. And, That Face.
So plain and soooo serious, and sooo beautiful!

jas said...

i feel you.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you could have been more accurate. Especially how you described dressing 'normally'. Personally, I wasn't even going to look at the US version and when I thought about it it was mainly because I knew they'd get the clothes all wrong. Like CSI, where criminologists wear designer clothes, high heels and let their glossy hair swing all over the crime scene. Maybe because US producers believe we're more likely to want to watch people who are successful, therefore any job that's focused on is given the gloss effect, even if there's no way real people in that situation would wear those clothes, or afford them.