Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Don't Dream in Color

If there's one thing the internet is bound to make you feel better about, it's your obsessions. Because even the most casual perusal will teach you that as far as obsessions go, you are likely an amateur.

Recently, Fuzzy Bastard sent me a link to the Recycled Movie Costume website, after which I wasted spent a ridiculous amount of time looking at it. What they do is chart the reusing of costumes in movies and television (and in print media such as book covers and advertisements). I mean, I wasted spent hours. I've always found costume design to be incredibly compelling, and one of my great regrets is never learning how to sew. Whenever this was attempted in Home Ec class in West Egg, well, the results were less than fabulous. Though I am still proud of the fact that when I spelled out my name in puffy pillows, I turned my nose up at the eighties-tastic monstrous pastel satin that everyone else used, and chose instead two contrasting cotton patterned fabrics.

When I look back at the things that brought me to the movies, one of them is definitely the clothes. It was always all about the pictures for me. When I was about 12 or 13, I became obsessed with a book called "Those Glorious Glamour Years", which was full of hundreds of pictures, and was all about the costume design of the films of the 1930s. Through this, and other similar books, I first became aware of actresses like Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Marlena Dietrich and the earliest films of Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. I remember happily spending hours poring over the pictures and reading Edith Head's autobiography and learning all about Irene's tragic suicide long before I saw most of the movies.

My imagination was fired by pictures like this:

And this gorgeously posed shot of Carole Lombard:

And this one of Fay Wray in a publicity still for "Murder in Greenwich Village"(the DVD is completely out of print, and un-Netflixable, unfortunately)

I don't think I can over-emphasize how influential this one book was for me. It's intelligently written, and discusses the limitations of what will translate into black and white, about designing for not only the individual character, but for the over-all aesthetic of the film. About lighting and what looks good and is practical if there is going to be a lot of movement, or about not wasting your time on elements that aren't going to be seen. Obvious stuff, but extremely useful things to be made aware of early.

I think I began dreaming in black and white and my aesthetic sensibilities have never recovered. In these early 21st century times, glamour is all but dead in the talking pictures. Occasionally there will be glimmers of the sort of dreamlike, otherworldliness that drew me in when I was a girl in the pages of (mostly European) fashion magazines. It's all a dream, and some might argue a partially destructive one, but the pictures are so very, very pretty.

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