Friday, April 15, 2011

Meek's Cutoff

I love the beautiful washed out calico dresses, bonnets, and fabrics in this film. Not sure I love Kelly Reichardt, ("shoe gazer" comes to mind) but I'm still very happy she's making movies. They're calling this one a masterpiece...
I really enjoyed reading what the costume designer, Vicki Farrell, had to say about her involvement - so I thought I'd just paste it. Because today, I'm lazy...It's a long one...courtesy of this site:

Vicki Farrell - Costume Designer

The email I received from Kelly on a freezing day in Jan 2009 went something like this: "Would you like to come to the desert to work on a Western? There will be 3 women, 3 husbands, 1 child, 1 Indian, 1 crazy mountain man and 6 oxen. We have no money yet." The answer of course was yes! And of course it turned out to be one of my all time favorite jobs. Just imagining what Kelly Reichardt would do with a western made me very happy.

In our initial discussions Kelly said she pictured Emily Tetherow in a rose pink dress. Everything spun out from there. Printed calicos in strong garish colors with names like Cinnamon Pink and Cheddar Cheese were popular in the 1840's. I started thinking about what these dresses would look like sun bleached, dusty and worn. Kelly was scouting and sending me these amazing pictures of the desert and I was sending her bleached out swatches of calico. It all came together beautifully.

Sewing began in the hottest August on record at my friend Grace's un-air-conditioned studio in the Bronx. Fueled by popsicles from the local Western Beef, we cut and sewed every day. Because sewing machines were yet to be invented in 1845, everything on the exterior of the costumes was hand sewn. I learned the value of thimbles and always had some handy. In the end our fingers were hard and cracked and calloused. We were proud of them!

After 2 weeks everything was about halfway finished. It was all shipped off to meet us in Oregon. There were about 10 more days to get the costumes completed.

Our plane landed in the tiny, shiny new Bend, OR airport in the middle of the night. Rives Curtright picked us up and drove us to Burns. I convinced him to first take us to the 24 hr superstore where I bought a sewing machine, ironing board, sewing supplies and a couple of gallons of bleach. We then drove four hours into the desert night. The sky was so beautiful. There was the sweet night smell of cooling earth and the things that grow in it.

In the morning costume making began again in earnest at the Horseshoe Motel. It was a beautiful thing to see bonnets and dresses drying and sun bleaching on the grassy field outside our rooms.

Pioneer camp was where the clothes were going to get their authentic layer of dirt. Things got a little messed up for me here because it was also the only time to fit the costumes on the actors and get the alterations done. Driving to set on the first morning of shooting Grace and I were still stitching on trim and hooks and eyes in the back of the crew van. The clothes were bleached but not dirty enough. But after one day in the real desert getting things dusty and dirty was no longer a problem. Every man, woman, child, beast and vehicle was coated inside and out with a thick layer of desert dust. And dusty we all remained for the 30 days and nights of shooting.

We started with sweltering days of high desert sun and ended with snow and actors shivering under the humble horse blankets that we bought to keep them warm. Every day was incredible, magical, difficult, unforgettable.

My last duty as costume designer for Meek's Cutoff was on a Saturday afternoon in Bend. On my way to the airport I went back to the 24 hr superstore and returned that sewing machine no worse for the wear. Then I headed back east.

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