Sunday, March 06, 2011

fancy dress

Movie and fashion buffs take note: CUT! Costume and the Cinema is on view through April 17 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and delivers a feast for the eyes of embroidery, fabrics, construction and all the skill's of the film costumer's art. The costumes on exhibit are all from British costumer, Cosprop Ltd. and encompass a wide variety of historical and period films, including Ever After, The New World, Sense Sensibility, and The Golden Bowl. It's a virtual Who's Who of some of the more opulent-looking films of the last few decades.

Part of the fun in getting so up close and personal to the garments is that the viewer can see how they measure up to the stars. Much like the footprints at Mann's Theater in Hollywood, you can now see that some actors, like Colin Farrell (costume for John Smith from The New World) and Robert Downey, Jr. (corduroy jacket suit from Sherlock Holmes, contrasted with Jude Law's costume as Watson) may be taller than you ever thought, while an actress like Natalie Portmanis revealed by her gown  from Goya's Ghosts as absolutely tiny.

The show and its costumes also helps cast a little perspective on some of the body image claptrap which also always seems to bedevil actresses. Keira Knightley's costumes from The Duchess, which are exquisitely detailed and won an Academy Award for Michael O’Connor for costume design, also show that she is indeed tall and slender, but certainly no more than the equally tall Nicole Kidman. Kidman's costume from The Portrait of a Lady is pointedly contrasted with Renee Zellwegger's gown from Miss Potter and Scarlett Johansen's from The Prestige, with Kidman towering over the two petite actresses. In fact Zellwegger is so surprisingly tiny she is almost dwarfed by petite Johansen. But everyone ends up enormous and larger-than-life on the movie screen. The other eye-openers relating to image and perception were costumes worn by Kate Winslet, from Sense and Sensibility and Finding Neverland. Winslet has frequently been portrayed as being a little heavier than her too-skinny Hollywood counterparts, but both of her costumes reveal a medium-height, medium size woman. Certainly not skinny, but not zaftig, either.

There is an emotional component to the show too, as we can view the late Heath Ledger's gorgeously appointed costume from Casanova and Natasha Richardson's simple yet elegant gown from The White Countess. There are over 40 costumes on display and the viewer is likely to have seen a great majority of the films represented, which makes it fun to walk through the show, an added guessing game.

The only criticism I would level is that it would have been nice to have some stills from some of the films accompany the costumes. While I have a distinct memory of Emma Thomson's gown from Howard's End, which I have seen more than once, and got an added kick out of seeing it up close, and Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow's costume from Pirates of the Caribbean, it still would have been helpful to see the rest of the costumes in context. The show's curators have blown up some backdrops for a few of the costumes - why not actual film stills? This would have helped immensely with some costumes from lesser-seen films, like the Dior-inspired show-stopper worn by Lara Flynn Boyle and designed by Phoebe de Gaye for Land of the Blind, a movie I had never heard of before, but now am interested in seeing.

If you are in the vicinity of this exhibition, CUT! Costume and the Cinema is a must-see, especially for people who love the movies. The touring exhibition's next stop is Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Images from top:  Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow's costume from Pirates of the Caribbean, detail of  Keira Knightley's costume from The Duchess, Lara Flynn Boyle's costume from Land of the Blind.


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