Monday, February 11, 2013

A Night of Movie Fashion . . .

Me in front of a few costumes from The Hunger Games

I was extremely priviledged in having the opportunity to attend the gala opening of FIDM's Film Costume Exhibit this last Saturday. It was an exciting evening and an unprecedented chance to get to see costumes--and costume designers!--up close. I was on Cloud 9 all night, and I still am a little bit :)

The armor dress from Snow White and the Huntsman

I took pictures of course, but these are just a few; my friend and partner in crime Freya (responsible for my invitation), took many more, and here's a link to her Flickr album:

Charlize Theron's wedding dress from Snow White and the Huntsman

The beetle dress from Snow White and the Huntsman

The Peacock dress from Mirror Mirror

Finally getting the chance to see both Eiko's and Colleen's work up close was really something special; I felt a little teary looking at the incredible workmanship, the fabrics, the insane details. I also felt a little like a docent all night; every time I was standing near a set of costumes and I'd hear someone wondering aloud about something, I would automatically answer them. I do so much research into these costumes that I just can't help myself, I guess :) I ended up speaking to a few journalists for a bit because of it!

Snow White Swan Dress from Mirror Mirror

The Prince's costume from Mirror Mirror

Costumes from the Artist

The only designer I really had the chance to speak with was Mark Bridges, who designed the Oscar-winning costumes from the Artist and the nominated costumes from this year's The Master. He was friendly, warm, and full of interesting tidbits; we spoke for several minutes, and I tried not to geek out too badly!

Costumes from the Avengers

The Master


Les Miserables

John Carter

Dejah Thoris' wedding dress from John Carter

Django Unchained

Mary Todd Lincoln's dress from Lincoln

Getting to see costumes from Lincoln was another real treat; Joanna Johnston's attention to detail was astounding. Can you believe the dress above is an orange printed taffeta? Simply beautiful.




The tents outside were quite swanky and those in attendance were many and varied: everything from formal wear to a girl in a coat covered in feathers and a woman wearing nothing but bloomers and a corset! There was even a guy in tails and a top hat, and girl with blue hair and a candy pink tutu :)

All in all, it was a fantastic evening. I didn't get to meet Colleen, but I know I'll get the chance to meet her someday, when the time is right. I'm so glad I got the chance to go, and I'll be having costume dreams for some time to come. . .

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of Line

What would you do if you knew it was your last day on Earth?

We all know the world is not ending tomorrow. We know the Mayans were simply ending a calendar, and this nonsense is a misunderstanding. But, the fervor with which some people have latched onto the idea of World's End is kind of telling in and of itself. Why are so many people so seemingly eager for the world to end?

You can argue that the breathless, panting, ghoulish excitement over endtimes is a bunch of nutters who get their kicks off of shared schadenfreude. Some people really want to see a nuclear holocaust, or a huge earthquake, or another mass shooting. We won't concern ourselves with those people.

Instead, I suspect that at least some of the people who can't stop talking about apocalypse are entranced because they see it as a way out of the terrible all around them. Twenty children dead. Poverty. Heartache. Rampant intolerance and hatred of other. Perhaps the end of the world seems like a good way to wrap it all up in a neat bow and do away with what sometimes feels like a broken society.

But, I think all this doomsday talk actually might serve a better purpose. So many of us (myself included) exist in a perpetual state of waiting: waiting for a better job, a better relationship, a nicer house, a time of financial stability, a baby, whatever. Waiting to be happy. But, whether the world ends tomorrow or 300,000,000,000 years from now, none of us is promised the future. We shouldn't be sitting around and waiting for "a time when". We should be trying to make each now the most important.

So, what would you do today if you knew it was your last day on Earth? Would you hug your family? Have a huge party? Go on a binge? Sit with a good book? Whatever your personal answer is (unless it's about harming yourself or someone else) DO IT. Do it today. Let's make December 20th a day for having no regrets. Tell the people you love that you love them, and then when December 21st comes around and we're all still here, do it all again.

I know what I'll be doing today. Do you?

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Unexpected Journey

I saw the Hobbit in 3D IMAX glory, and HFR to boot. Try saying all that 10x fast. On second thought, don't. Also, not so sure about 3D IMAX HFR in general, but more on that in a minute. There are some spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know ANYTHING about it, stop reading here.

First, a general review:
I quite enjoyed it. It did follow the book, for the most part, and where it deviated I wasn't too upset about that. The deviations either gave more backstory (as with the prologue) or set up future films (as with the Radagast detour). I did feel that Jackson was a tad self-indulgent at times; the intro at Bag End with Bilbo and Frodo was too long, and I felt it was pretty much unecessary except as a way for Jackson to sigh and revel in the world he loves so well. His love of Middle Earth is evident everywhere on screen, and though some shots or sequences linger a bit on the long side (did we need to see so much of the dwarves just walking?) I forgave him for this. I wasn't bored, and there was a lot of eye-candy.

I have to say a few words on a few individual performances. Firstly: Martin Freeman is one of my favorite actors, so I am a tad biased, but I thought he brought a wonderful awkward, funny humanity (Hobbinity?) to Bilbo that a film with such scope truly needs. He had impeccable timing too; most of the laughs came from the way he said a line rather than the line itself, and that's a credit to him.
Second: Jesus Christ, Andy Serkis. I am definitely a fan of his; if there were an Andy Serkis Day parade, I would march in it with a huge banner. The ten minutes he spends on screen are packed with so much emotion, nuance, menace, pathos and just sheer awesomeness that I wanted to spend more time with him. The give-and-tale between him and Martin Freeman (shot on Martin's very first week on set!) was really, really interesting to watch. It brought back everything that was terrifying, and sad, about Gollum. And, the evolution of the CGI for Gollum was marked and extraordinary; he looked really amazing in this film, an improvement in expressiveness I didn't know was needed until I saw the results onscreen.
Third: the dwarves, and Richard Armitage (Thorin) in particular. The actors had a really tough job playing parts with few lines, knowing they would be difficult if not impossible to tell apart and would mostly fade together in memory. Though costume and makeup were relied on to distinguish them for the most part, the truly memorable dwarves like Thorin (obviously), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Fili and Kili (Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner), and Balin (Ken Stott) were not memorable for their beards. They managed to shine through their costumes.

Now, for what you're really here to hear about: the costumes.

When I first learned that Ngila Dickson was not doing design duties on the Hobbit trilogy, I was a little miffed. Would the design team of Bob Buck and Ann Maskrey be able to take on the complexities of Middle Earth cultures, preserving the look or LOTR while adding something new? Neither designer has many actual design credits: Buck has designed for television, and Maskrey has been largely an assistant and cutter on large films. But, that's not to say they aren't capable; that's where you start, after all, and this is truly a test of mettle for them. Do they succeed?

Well . . .

Yes and no.

The unique problem of having thirteen fucking dwarves to create would give any designer a heart-attack, and to then need to make each one distinctive while working together as a whole is a nightmare. For the most part, I felt they did a wonderful job with the dwarves, especially with Thorin, whose armor and leather greaves were things of beauty, and whose mail was awesome. But, I found the hair and beards a trifle distracting, rather than distinctive. This may have been an issue of seeing it in HFR (more on that later), but at one point I found myself staring at one of the beards, an appliance that sported two braids that turned up like Pippi Longstocking, and I spent several moments trying to spot the wires instead of watching the action. Hats and hair: those were the watchwords for the dwarves, and while this worked for some characters, it detracted from others, looking less like clothing and more like costume. This is a danger in any fantasy film, and one LOTR sidestepped cleanly, but that the Hobbit seems to be stumbling into.

Bilbo's costumes, however, were lovely. Nothing to criticize here. He had the look of a well-to-do Hobbit through and through.

Gandalf was his usual, familiar look, though I was distracted by the slightly different staff this time around; each time it appeared I found myself wondering: could they not find the old prop? Was this a continuity error? Is his staff broken at some point between now and LOTR and I've forgotten? The silver scarf was a little Vegas for me, but it is specifically mentioned in the book. However, I suspect HFR strikes again in terms of how glittery-fake the fabric appeared; in normal rate the fabric probably looked fine.
Radagast's costume was actually delightful. Not much to add here, except: BUNNY SLEIGH! That is all.

The elves were where I really started to have issues with the costuming. Though Elrond first appears in a truly beautiful set of armor (in purple, for whatever reason), the rest of his looks I found bland. It was as though someone who had been used to having all his garments tailor-made suddenly started shopping at Elf-GAP. I really felt the costumer's lack of experience showed here; the purple and rust-colored robes he wears lacked the individual style and details of his garments in LOTR. Where was the embroidery? the recurring figural motifs? At one point another elf appears dressed nearly identical to Elrond in the White Council scene, and I sighed in exasperation.

Oh dear. Then we have Galadriel. I'm not going to deny that she was shot beautifully; the light coming from behind her in the scene with Gandalf is breathtaking. But, her dress? It seemed designed only to trail artfully behind her. The silhouette was lovely, but the devil is in the details, and the details were not impressive. When we are given a closeup, we see not the incredible botanical embroidery and hand-beadwork from Fellowship, but a Vegas-y trail of--is that rhinestones? It was plain and boring and looked amateurish when compared to other things designed for her. The tiny rhinestiones just dripped down in uniform lines, and looked as though they couldn't even be bothered to not make it look like an iron-on transfer. And the hideous grey overdress she wears when we first see her? What? Why? It seems to serve no purpose whatsoever, and disappears a few moments later.

However, with Thranduil they shine. We see him for only a few moments onscreen, but he looks really distinct and impressive, and I'm seriously looking forward to seeing more of him in the next film. Perhaps with the well-known characters the costumers felt intimidated by what had come before and played it too safe, but here was a character that was all their own, and it showed.

A word about seeing the film in IMAX HFR. I'm not certain I would do it again. There were things about it I liked: it was definitely clearer. But, at times it was just too clear. I noticed details I know I wasn't supposed to see, appliances started to look fake, rather than like seamless movie magic, and fabric that would have no doubt seemed fine suddenly looked weird and over-bright (like Gandalf's scarf). I have read some interviews with the art department about what a nightmare it was at times to work in HFR; everything had to be absolutely perfect or it would show, and the colors and tones were all terribly messed up by the 3D cameras. I can't imagine how hard it made their jobs. I'm just not sold on HFR yet.

Overall, I did enjoy the Hobbit and I am looking forward to the next installment. I don't think I'll be dreaming up any reproductions based on the costumes, however. But, Thorin might be showing up in a few naughty dreams for a while (sigh . . .) ;)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Trutina . . .

*This is not a costuming post, so I apologize in advance for that. Recent events inspired me to write this today.

The last few weeks, one of the bloggers I read on a semi-regular basis came out as a bisexual, a trip that was extremely difficult for him, coming from a Mormon background. I've been reading his self-revelatory posts and looking introspectively at my own journey to get here, and I'm amazed at how difficult it still is to confess my sexuality to people.

I am not straight. It's been my truth for many years; I have known it of myself since I was a teenager, though looking back through the years I think I have known it much longer than that (though my first attraction to a girl was in high school). She was funny, snarky, pretty, and just a little tough (which seems to be my type). I even had the sense once that she might have had an idea I was interested in her . . . and she pulled away from me in discomfort, so that became my impression: neither boys nor girls are into me, so I'd better give up now. I never told her or anyone how I felt, scared that I was gay. I was raised Catholic but I never had any fear that my family wouldn't accept me as a lesbian. It was more a fear of being abnormal . . . something I alreadywas  in so many ways: abnormally mature, abnormally serious, abnormally smart or talented (we're talking high school, when I was in front of the curve). I did not have any gay friends back then, but I completely and utterly accepted that being gay was okay, and nothing unusual. Just not for me. And, I was hopelessly into boys too. My attraction to this girl just confused and scared me, and I let it go.

I got a crush on another girl in college, this time a petite, pretty, sweet girl that I wanted to make tea and cookies for. Again, I never said a word, and again I had the feeling at one point that she picked up on it and was weirded out, so I pulled away. We didn't speak after the show we did together. I still think of her sometimes. I still didn't really have any gay friends at this point either, and my only real, practical experience was in the vehemence with which some of the guys I knew proclaimed their heterosexuality. Guys who seemed obviously gay, and who still crowed from the rooftops how much they liked girls, because it was still not okay, somehow. I ducked my head and only talked about the men I was hung up on, and ignored everything else.

I didn't actually fall for a girl until a few years ago, and though it was ultimately a painful experience it did help me to do something I hadn't been able to do before: admit that I am not straight. By this time many things had changed in my life: my circle of friends had grown and expanded tremendously to contain many, many happy, healthy, honestly gay people whose example was one to be admired and cherished . . . but most of all, I had changed enough to give this a real try. I fell hard, and it was the first time the girl in question was aware of how I felt and didn't shun me; in fact, she was the one who initiated the attraction. It ultimately didn't lead anywhere, but it was still a pretty big milestone for me. I came out quietly not long after, with no fanfare, and though I was intensely nervous over the revelation the reaction of friends and family was a resounding, "And . . .?" It was not news to any of them. So, I was bisexual. So what?

And yet, still, I find it difficult to confess this to people. I fear that girls I know who are simply friends will pull away when they find out, out of the irrational worry that I am trying to trick them into bed, or interested in "more" . . . which 99% of the time is NOT the case. I fear that men will be weirded out by it, perhaps thinking I am just a lesbian who's fooling herself, or will be perversely turned on by it (the thought of which is a little gross to me). And, I worry that others in the LGBT community will look at me like I'm some sort of fraud, that I'm not "gay-enough", that I don't belong. And, there is still a part of me, deep down, that feels abnormal, like this is okay for everybody else in the world, but for me it's wrong.

I don't know if I will eventually end up with a man or a woman, or which of those scenarios I prefer; I develop crushes on guys all the time (and am still persistently invisible/uninteresting to those guys), and I feel cautious attractions to girls too, from time to time. I try to be cavalier and casual about my sexuality, but it is still mostly bravado. I am 100% single right now, going on eight years, and I wonder how this dry-spell will break, and which gender it will be with. And if it is a girl that I ultimately form the deepest bond with, I wonder how long it will take before I stop feeling the fear that I must apologize for that.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's time to light the lights . . .

I know it's taken me a few days to get around to it; I apologize to the readers who've been waiting with baited breath to hear about the shoot this weekend. For those of you who didn't know: I did wardrobe for a web series shoot this past weekend! Yay!

This pretty much sums up my feelings about the experience:

Is this not the best GIF ever? Seriously.

I can't go into details really, but I will say that it was pretty damn fabulous to get the chance to do what I actually came out here to do for a change. Everybody involved were awesome, from the Director to the Production Coordinator to the Sound Guy to--well--everybody. It was a small shoot, and understandably so; there was a micro-budget and we really only had the two days to shoot as much as we possibly could. The hope is that what we managed to produce will be used in a Kickstarter to get more funding to shoot more episodes, and actually turn this into a Thing. I'll keep y'all posted on that.

For now, I'll just leave you with a few snippets from the weekend:
-Though I insisted I would not be any good at Production Design or prop-building, I nonetheless found myself spending close to two hours building a time machine out of tin-foil and . . . basically, tin-foil. I thought it turned out looking like an enormous Jiffy Pop sans popcorn, but everybody else seemed to think it was made of rainbows, and that was kind of awesome.

-I somehow created a ridiculously Steampunk character using nothing more than elements from a previous Halloween costume, a copper flare gun, and a borrowed tweed vest. BOOM.

-I am old. It has happened. I was doing makeup on one of the actors (they were all lovely, but most were significantly under the quarter-century mark), and I tossed off, "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!" thinking this would elicit chuckles at least. NOTHING. I said, "The Princess Bride?" hopefully. I got a, "Who's that?" in response. I am old.

-The highlight was, seriously, EVERYTHING. I just want to keep doing this, and get paid, and be able to suppport myself. On Monday, I was telling a coworker about my weekend in very vague terms, and he said, "You look relaxed." I wanted to tell him it was just exhaustion, but I realized I actually was kinda relaxed. This is what results from getting the chance to do what I love for a change. Go figure.

I hope that in five years or so I can be out of an office and in a wardrobe trailer on a set somewhere, full time. We'll see, dear readers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

With Malice Toward None . . .

I saw Lincoln on Friday night.

Immediately on leaving the theatre, I made three phone calls: first to my sister. I gushed and cried. Then to my best friend B. I gushed and cried. Then to my mom. Ditto. It was after 10pm Chicago-time, but I did not hesitate to make any of these phone calls. I think I would have burst if I hadn't been able to speak to someone after that experience, and even after three calls I was still full of feeling.

We all know who Abraham Lincoln was, and the immense impact he had on the history and shaping of this country. And, I think most reading this review have seen more than one film about some historical figure, be it Napoleon or Kennedy or even Jesus Christ. Biopics tend to treat their subjects as larger-than-life, and we sit in awe as the events of history play out before us, the figure portrayed by some actor we recognize and try to forget in the guise of someone we've read about. Beloved historical figures are often treated as nearly god-like in films about them. We leave the theatre after these films with the sense of having seen the deeds of someone great, while not truly feeling any nearer that person.

Lincoln is not that film.

I can honestly say that I have never seen a biopic that made me feel more, personally, for the subject than this one. The Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln, are already deeply personal to me for obvious reasons, and so I expected to feel some emotional stake in the events onscreen. But, what Spielberg has managed to do is to put the viewer smack in the center of the room with the man. You cannot sit and watch. You must join in. Lincoln is not grandiose; he is a man, an extraordinary man, yes, but a man: funny, complicated, kind, fiercely intelligent, even gently conniving. Rarely have I ever liked a figure on film as much as I personally did by the end; here was a man I wanted to know, to sit with on a porch and talk with. Here was a man who made others better simply by being present. The tallest man in the room, always.

To compliment the film fully, I cannot just compliment Spielberg, naturally. I must talk about the incredible cast. Every single person brings their A-game, even those you barely see, even soldiers who do not get a name, or secretaries who handle his letters. Day-Lewis gives a performance so striking in its natural flow that I never, for one moment, saw him onscreen. I saw Lincoln. He is completely and utterly the man, and if he does not win the Oscar this year, good God, I can't think who might beat him. Sally Field plays Mary Todd with a barely contained intensity; not madness, but such heart-breaking misery at times that it was difficult to watch. She is always on edge without ever seeming to lurch into expected characature. Tommy Lee Jones is powerful, hilarious, and deserves a supporting actor nod for his turn as Thaddeus Stevens, so instrumental in the passing of the 13th Amendment. And David Strathairn deserves a nod as well for his understated and controlled portrayal of Lincoln's Secretary of State Seward, who is possibly the only man who can argue any opposing point with the President while still so clearly showing how he respects and loves the man. There are scores of others in the film who play meaningful and important roles and who I could mention here, but this review is too long already.

A few words on the superior costuming by Joanna Johnston: it is beautiful and incredibly specific; I watched the entire film with a critical eye, and I couldn't find a single flaw. Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses in particular were superb, even though I personally would never wear them. And, the men . . .! I cannot say enough. Flawless, right down to Stevens' horrible wig.

Everyone knows how Lincoln's story ends, with a fateful trip to Ford's Theatre. As the film reached that point, I felt my chest seize and a lump in my throat, and I began to cry unashamedly as the camera follows him out of the White House for the final time. This was not just a historical figure I had read about. Not even a figure I had seen portrayed by a friend or intereacted with. This was someone I suddenly felt as though I knew. I felt for the first time the depth of the country's loss, because it felt like my loss. Spielberg invited me into this man's life for a few weeks, and in the end I felt just how short a time that was. I wish I could adequately put it into words, but that is the best I can do.

See Lincoln. Even if you think you know the history and nothing can surprise you, I promise, you're wrong. You will be moved, and, if you're anything like me, you might be a little changed too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Big, Big, Big Day!

Yeah, it's been a while.

I'm trying to move this blog more towards what it was intended to be, a costuming/history blog, and in that effort I decided not to post until I had something, well, costume-y to post about. So . . . Halloween:)

After my original plans sort of didn't prove feasible (and based on my belief, backed by science!, that no one wants to see a fat girl in spandex) I decided the frigging week before Halloween to change my entire costume. Because I like an insane challenge.

Every time I went into my workroom, the Effie fabric I bought so many months ago would mock me quietly. "Maybe you should make a pillow out of me!" it taunted. "I bet you could sell me on eBay, and somebody would make an Effie costume out of me!" it hissed, jeeringly. Yes, my fabric does this. Shut up.

Truthfully, I felt really guilty every time I saw the pile of Chinese brocade and the gold boots just sitting there, unused. So, I had a flash of brilliance (?) and decided, around Thursday the week before Halloween, that I would be Effie Trinket after all. No pressure or anything.

Saturday morning I got up at 7am and started laying out and cutting. I used a basic pencil skirt pattern; I don't even remember which one, and it doesn't matter. Any pencil skirt will do, as long as it's the correct length and it fits. Then, I used one of the darted bodice 1860's Martha McCain patterns from Simplicity for the jacket; I cut it like a Civil War bodice and fitted the lining, using a Sharpie to mark out the cuts for the armscyes and the opening in the front. It took a little while to get it right, but once I was happy I used the lining/mock-up to cut the outer fabric and once that was together, I made the shawl collar. Like a real kimono, this was not a curved piece; just one long, straight, folded over strip of fabric. I sewed the bodice together, leaving the armscyes and bottom edge open (for the pouf, which I was making Sunday). The belt was just a costume belt that I encased in the same fabric. Easy-peasy.

Sunday dawned around 7am as well, and after a sudden brown-out (don't you love LA?) had me panicked, the power came back and I got back to work. I measured out 4 yards for the pouf. I had a couple choices: I could make it just a tube of gathered fabric, or I could reduce the bulk slightly and make the underside smooth, gathering the bottom and top edges of the pouf to it. I decided not to worry about bulk; after all, this was supposed to be a big bubble peplum, and I went with the gathered tube of fabric. I hand-gathered (I HATE machine gathering!) and then sewed the peplum to the jacket, the opening in front, and stuffed the pouf with tulle. The sleeves were next; no pattern, just eyeballed it. Once they were done I hand-stitched the armscyes closed and did the rest of the finishing hand-work.

The under-blouse was just a dickey of cumin-colored silk taffeta; it took me around ten minutes to do that part:) The whole thing needs to be hit with the iron in this pic, but this was the first time I put it on the mannequin to look at it together.

And, voila! If I were to wear it again, I would find a method for getting the jacket to stay more closed in the front; my boobs are, after all, much larger than Elizabeth Banks';) Otherwise, I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

I did do the little doo-hickie on the back of the skirt; I glimpsed it in one photo and improvised, figuring it would mimic an obi bow.

The gold silk looks really green here; unfortunately the flourescent lights in my office turned all the gold green and really washed out the makeup. Oh well. I did win the costume contest at my office, though:)

My pics ended up posted on Elizabeth Banks' website, along with many others who dressed as Effie for Halloween; I was tickled to see them added. I hope everyone jad a lovely holiday, and I'll do my best not to be so antisocial in the future:)