Fashion in Film: Menswear

For someone who can’t match anything except black to white, I really do have a strange fascination with fashion. It’s something I haven’t delved too deeply into on this blog yet (although I do have the beginnings of a category for it) but it’s one of my favorite parts of an immersive film. I feel like menswear is a largely underappreciated aspect of costume design, so I thought I would take a minute to touch on some of my favorite menswear moments in film. Enjoy!


The Place Beyond the Pines || Costume Design by Erin Benach

Anyone who knows me knows that my very favorite outfit on a guy is a fitted white tee and dark blue jeans. That’s it. Whether it’s crisp and clean or slouchy and stained, there is something so simple and nonchalant about the combo that makes it feel timeless. In film, the simplicity of the outfit allows character traits and demeanors to take center stage. In The Place Beyond the Pines, Luke wears an oversized tee and acid splashed jeans that serve to make him look simultaneously tough and aloof. His devil-may-care attitude is played up by the wardrobe choice and fits seamlessly with the storyline.

place beyond the pines

Also see: Wade Walker (played by Johnny Depp) in Cry-Baby and Jim Stark (played by James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause


Django Unchained || Costume Design by Sharen Davis

All too often, men’s costumes are reduced to monotone suits and nondescript outfits that might as well have been pulled from a department store. Thanks to costume designer Sharen Davis, however, that was the furthest thing from the case for 2012’s Django Unchained. Every wardrobe change is meaningful and feels like a step down a path of self-discovery– none of them more so than Django’s green bounty hunter garb. It is functional yet stylish, and in it, he looks like his true self: a hero.

django unchained

Also see: No one. This outfit is unparalleled.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them || Costume Design by Colleen Atwood

I may or may not have a thing for lanky boys with floppy hair and freckles. Bonus points if they’re a little awkward and have eyes that crinkle when they smile (I’m looking at you, Andrew Garfield). The icing on the cake of this very particular look is the outfits that they are typically paired with. In most cases this means soft sweaters and eyeglasses, but in the best cases, this means Oxford shoes and rumpled button downs. No one does this look better than the one and only Newt Scamander. A cosplayers dream, Eddie Redmayne’s costume for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a tailored combination of peacock blue and mustard yellow. The layered outfit, the hemmed trousers, and the tiny bowtie somehow add to his overall vulnerability while simultaneously making him look polished and oh-so-very English. Designer Colleen Atwood says of the look: “I felt like he was a bird or one of his fantastical beasts. I wanted him to look regular in the world to pass, but also to be exceptional in a sort of subtle way.”

fantastic beasts and where to find them

Also see: Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) in The Breakfast Club and Ronald Miller (played by Patrick Dempsey) in Money Can’t Buy Me Love


A Streetcar Named Desire || Wardrobe by Lucinda Ballard

While certainly not the pinnacle of fashion, dirty tanks and trousers are still iconic, almost entirely thanks to Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Of course, that fame was largely due to the fact that Brando was a total dreamboat strutting around with his muscles rippling under a sheen of sweat.

a streetcar named desire.jpg

Also see: Donny Donowitz (played by Eli Roth) in Inglorious Basterds and Tyler Gage (played by Channing Tatum) in Step Up


Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid || Costume Design by Edith Head

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid absolutely devastated me when I watched it in college. I’ve watched 983 movies in my lifetime (but who’s counting), and this is one of only two that had an ending that really stuck with me. The ending doesn’t have anything to do with fashion, I just had to get that out of the way. The wardrobe choices in this film are all about practicality. Every item of clothing has that soft look that comes with wearing the same exact thing every single day, and the layered clothes probably smell like sweat and sunshine. Combined with the neck bandannas and flat brimmed hats, the whole ensemble comes together realistically, but also stylishly, and that is thanks to the effortless suaveness of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. They make dusty coats and rumpled trousers look like haute couture. Cowboy chic to the max.

butch cassidy and the sundance kid

Also see: Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford) in A New Hope and Jim Craig (played by Tom Burlinson) in The Man From Snowy River


Pretty in Pink || Costume Design by Marilyn Vance

While I’m sadly not a big Molly Ringwald fan, Pretty in Pink was a high school favorite for one big reason: Ducky. I have a hunch that I might feel different if I were to rewatch it now, but at the time, I found Ducky’s loyalty and sense of humor to be downright marvelous. His fashion sense only made him seem more delightful, even though I could never quite tell if he was quirky without trying to be, or if he was actually trying really really hard. Either way, his bolo ties, layered looks, and small shades are still the absolute coolest in my book.

pretty in pink

Also see: Sing Street‘s music video ensembles.


The Great Gatsby || Costume Design by Theoni Aldredge (1974) & Catherine Martin (2012)

I suppose no list about menswear would be complete without a mention of suits. They say a bespoke suit is the male equivalent of extravagant lingerie. And whoever “they” are, they aren’t entirely wrong. There is something so divine about the crisp lines of a tailored suit. A good suit can transform the wearer, elevate the scenario, and delight the company. And no one is a better example of this than the late, great Jay Gatsby. You can take your pick between Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal– the effect is the same. He is, after all, the man with the cool, beautiful shirts.

 

Also see: Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) in TV’s Suits and Dr. Robert Laing (played by Tom Hiddleston) in High-Rise. And James Bond, probably


The Fall || Costume Design by Eiko Ishioka

I would be truly remiss if I didn’t at least mention The Fall. I’ve talked at length about my adoration for Eiko Ishioka’s costume design, and her work on The Fall is no exception. The over the top presentation of the colors and styles are a perfect match for the rest of the film, and all of the bright primary colors work in perfect sync to create a flawless set of costumes.

the fall lineup


Runner ups include: Erik Killmonger’s hip museum outfit in Black Panther, Willy Wonka’s posh velvet suit and top hat in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chris Hemsworth’s deep v-necks in Rush, Roux’s everything in Chocolat, Sam’s boy scout chic in Moonrise Kingdom, Ben’s red suit in Captain Fantastic, Tarzan’s loincloth, Armie Hammer’s turtlenecks in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Tyler Durden’s bizarrely colorful statement pieces in Fight Club.


What are some of your favorite film moments in men’s fashion? Let me know in the comments below! 

Spotlight on Cinematography: Faceoffs

For some reason, this was a challenging post to put words to. I want to talk about how impressive a character can seem if they’re framed properly, about how tension between two characters can be tangible if they’re framed properly, and how groups can be so imposing if– you guessed it– they’re framed properly. But words are hard today, so let’s just jump right in!

I’m going to start with a few frames featuring solo characters. I think this is a largely underrated and unnoticed aspect of film that many viewers might not pick up on, but there is so much potential to character introductions, and it feels rare to see that full potential being met. For that reason, I wanted to start with my all-time favorite first appearance: the one and only Marla Singer.

The below frame is a stellar example of showing instead of telling. We don’t really know anything about Marla at this point, but the instant the camera turns to her, it’s impossible not be in awe.

fight club marla
Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)

Straying away from first appearances, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m including a Donald McAlpine frame. The symmetry, shadows, and coloring of this character presentation all combine to work within the drama of the movie itself, and the tension of this particular scene.

moulin rouge frontal
Moulin Rouge (2002) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

The visuals of a character walking away from a fire/explosion/burning building is an age old technique. We see it in westerns, in spy flicks, in super hero movies, etc. But rarely do we see it paired with a femme fatale garbed in handmade haute couture. And boy oh boy does it work. What a force to be reckoned with.

the dressmaker 2
The Dressmaker (2015) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

Two people sharing a scene can run the gamut from stale to sensual. Characters can interact romantically, angrily, averagely, and so on and so forth. However, my favorite way for two people to share a frame is always when it’s charged with tension. This could be in a passionate way (a la cellblock tango in Chicago) or in a fearsome way (a la the xenomorph edging into a frame with a petrified Ellen Ripley).

The Handmaiden is an exquisite film, with every scene beautifully arranged and the characters perfectly positioned. But one of my very favorites moments was the one seen below. The repetition of the branches, the color juxtaposition of the costumes, and the locked eye contact all combine to create a tense and breathtaking scene.

the handmaiden 2
The Handmaiden (2016) || Chung-hoon Chung (DP)

Speaking of tense, how about this faceoff from the recent Black Panther? The tension is tangible between the two royals as they size each other up and stare each other down. Largely thanks to the negative space and forceful eye contact, you can feel the heat between the two of them.

black panther
Black Panther (2018) || Rachel Morrison (DP)

It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched Hanna, and while I wasn’t over the moon for it back then, the final scene at the abandoned theme park has always stayed with me. This wide angle in particular is such a brilliant frame. Between the wolf head and the body language, the space between the two characters feels like a living thing, one Hanna is utterly determined to keep in existence.

hanna
Hanna (2011) || Alwin H. Küchler (DP)

Most of us have some sort of familiarity with standing in front of a large group of people. Either we are being watched, or we are doing the watching, and both carry with them their own sort of weight. It isn’t every day that a character is faced with a huge group of people on screen, which is part of why the below frames are so enjoyable.

In this frame from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, using Alice’s POV was a brilliant choice. Paired with the sea of white clothes and blankly expectant faces fading into the distance, you can almost feel the panic setting in.

alice in wonderland
Alice in Wonderland (2010) || Dariusz Wolski (DP)

A Cure for Wellness is easily one of my most hated films. However, it is undeniably incredibly visually appealing. From start to finish, the movie focuses on repetition, reflections, and uncomfortable focal points to institute an undercurrent of unease. You can’t shake the feeling that something is off. This eerily centered frame is no exception. The color coordinated balls, the lines of the pool and staircases, and the razor sharp focus of the group in the pool combine to leave a tinge of discomfort with the viewer due to the unnatural perfection of it all.

a cure for wellness
A Cure for Wellness (2016) || Bojan Bazelli (DP)

While I wasn’t wild about the storyline, Girl Asleep (directed by Rosemary Myers) is another shockingly beautiful film. Based on the play of the same name, the film utilizes an almost constant feeling of being watched to inject tension and unease through the movie. Between the dark forest, characters in masks, mirrors, and clever framework during school scenes, you can feel the discomfort of our main character.

girl asleep
Girl Asleep (2015) || Andrew Commis (DP)

Spotlight on Cinematography: Dark, Dark my Light

Darkness and stark light in movies help to create negative space, which functions to draw the eye to certain focal points and heighten drama. Sometimes, negative space also creates a feel of tension by emphasizing the solitary nature of an object or highlighting the lack of surroundings. In scenes like the one from Chicago, seen directly below, the shadowy negative spaces makes the glitz and glamour of the scene really stand out. The frame from Moonlight, however, uses shadows and negative space to emphasize the space between the two boys, thereby increasing the tension of the moment. Extreme light and extreme dark are both useful visual tools for filmmakers.

chicago
Chicago (2002) || Dion Beebe (DP)
moulin rouge
Moulin Rouge! (2001) || Donald McAlpine (DP)
la la land
La La Land (2016) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
fight club
Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)
moonlight 2
Moonlight (2016) || James Laxton (DP)
hero
Hero (2002) || Christopher Doyle (DP)
stoker
Stoker (2013) || Chung-hoon Chung (DP)
snow white and the huntsman
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) || Greig Fraser (DP)
we need to talk about kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)
neon demon
The Neon Demon (2016) || Natasha Braier (DP)
mr nobody
Mr. Nobody (2009) || Christophe Beaucarne (DP)
matrix
The Matrix (1999) || Bill Pope (DP)

 

On Adaptions

Prompted by: Annihilation

Book-to-film adaptions are difficult. Some are certainly more fraught with challenges than others, but it is a huge hurdle to do a good book justice. I think that people largely underestimate the sheer volume of adaptions that are out. Most people know that movies like The Notebook, The DaVinci Code, and The Shining are based on popular books. Fewer people (but still a lot) are aware that movies such as The Godfather and Jurassic Park are also adaptions of books. But when it comes to movies like Forrest Gump and even Mean Girls, most people have no idea that they were based on books at all. High Fidelity, Requiem for a Dream, The Dressmaker, Breakfast at Tiffany’s… all books. The number of times I’ve been watching credits and seen the phrase “based on the book by _______” continues to blow me away.

These days, it seems like any book that makes it big gets turned into a movie. From Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train, popular books are being snatched up for movie deals left and right– not to mention books that came out half a century ago (I’m looking at you, A Wrinkle in Time). Half of me is proud of these authors, proud that they crafted a story so deeply enjoyable that they have been able to make a small fortune off of them and transition them to a new medium. But the other half of me squirms with discomfort over the fact that Hollywood execs are going for so few original scripts. Studios like A24 have been doing an increasingly impeccable job of giving inventive and creative scripts a chance, which makes it exciting instead of uncertain when they do spring for adaptions such as Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk at Girls at Parties. Overall though, I tend to avoid adaptions in theaters, especially when they’re on stylistic novels like Room or The Song of Achilles (more on that below).  But without further ado, here’s some of my favorite examples of successful adaptions.

Fight Club

This is, hands down, the best book-to-film transition I have ever seen. The casting was sublime, the pacing was perfection– especially given that I felt it wasn’t ideal in the novel, and the subliminal messages throughout the movie help to recreate and heighten the same sense of disease that the book draws upon. There are some aspects of the book, such as the “I am Jack’s ________” lines and the anti-consumerism themes, that manage to have more impact in the movie, possibly due to having such a visual connection with the narrator. I also feel that the storyline as a whole benefited from the visceral images in the film. My only qualm with Fight Club— both the book and the movie–  is that is has the same effect on certain male groups that Rick and Morty does. Rather than realizing that the stories are a commentary on what is wrong with society, some people place characters like Rick Sanchez and Tyler Durden on a pedestal.

fight club

Carol

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film adaption was released in 2015 and was my favorite film of the year. The strength of the adaption is that it absolutely nails the calmness of the book. Both mediums have a soothing cadence to them, a quiet sort of chemistry that nestles inside your chest. The subtlety of the romance itself is exquisite in the film and pays so much respect to the era that the book was written in. In 1952, coming out as a gay woman would have been nigh on catastrophic. This lends an aura of secrecy and subtlety to every single interaction between the two women, something that the movie displays flawlessly. Lingering glances and fleeting eye contact, swollen silences and unassuming lunches, casual comments and small talk– these are things that the vast majority of heterosexual viewers didn’t pick up on as romantic, whereas queer viewers are entirely too familiar with the language. In fact, some critics complained that the film was “cold” and detached. In an age inundated with overt innuendos and transparency, it can be difficult to pick up on the undercurrent of energy and longing that runs through Carol. This is certainly one of the best adaptions I’ve ever seen, and one that breaks my heart every time I watch it.

carol

Lord of the Rings

The primary issue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series faced when it came time for adaption was time constraints. The book trilogy was incredibly complex and features so much material that plot points like Tom Bombadil and The Sacking of The Shire would have only felt shoehorned if they had been included in the movie adaptions, so it is understandable why they were left out. Speaking of time, however, I do feel that the passage of time was not properly conveyed in the movies. Seventeen years pass between Bilbo’s birthday party and Frodo’s departure from The Shire and the quest itself takes over a year to complete. Aside from that, there are really only two things I take issue with: Frodo telling Sam to go home on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, and Aragorn’s near death when he falls over the cliff. While Legolas and Gimli’s on-screen friendship is lacking in comparison to the books, I think the majority of the characterization was spot-on, especially that of Merry and Pippin and Gandalf. Don’t even get me started on Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but I felt that he succeeded in many ways to bring the scope and scale of such a beloved world to the big screen.

fellowship of the ring

Harry Potter

Again, the main issue with adapting an entire book series is the time constraints. I am rather of the belief that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would have vastly benefited from being made into a TV series rather than a movies series, but of course that would have come with it’s own full set of challenges. Things like Peeves the Poltergeist, Neville’s full background, S.P.E.W., and Dudley’s “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” line are all things would have enriched the movies… but also would have added noticeable run time to the films. The movies are not without their flaws. From the casting choices for Albus Dumbledore to destroying the Elder Wand, I think the movies left much to be desired. However, what made the series such a huge success (and why I’m including it on this list) was the fact that it was accessible for both readers of the books and new fans. The movies feature a slew of small hat tips to the books, which enriched the viewing for everyone who had been following along for years, while still making it entirely accessible for those who had never opened one of the books. The undertaking of bringing such a layered and detailed story to life was monumental, and I think that the four directors did a surprisingly good job of illustrating the aspects of the wizarding world that many readers held near and dear to their hearts.

goblet of fire

Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire

I’ve talked about my issues with this show in a previous post, but I didn’t discuss how much I feel that the books and the show should be required companions for each other. I watched the first four seasons of the show a couple of years back, but only picked up the books this past fall. To say that Martin’s undertaking is ambitious is the understatement of the decade. His endless litany of characters, names, historical events, and houses often feels more like a religious tome than a fantasy novel. I’m not ashamed to say that I likely would not have even made it through the first book if I hadn’t already watched some of the show. Having a familiarity with the main characters (and a lot of the secondary ones) made the story far more enjoyable and immersive. With that being said, the show is severely lacking in many aspects. There are a number of plot points and character subtleties that didn’t make it on screen but do so much to flesh out the world and the people. After finishing the books, I re-watched the first three seasons and had very mixed feelings. There are a lot of things about the show that I simply can’t justify. Merely on a lit nerd level, it’s really difficult to watch all the unnecessary ways in which the show deviates from the books. But on a deeper level, the amount of violence and sexism that repeatedly takes place on screen is something I struggle to watch, for various reasons. I don’t have any intentions of continuing the show, but I can’t recommend the books enough to anyone who is a regular watcher.

a song of fire and ice

Room & Virgin Suicides

I almost didn’t include this section, as I haven’t seen either of these movies. However, both films were nominated for various awards and were clearly well-executed. So why won’t I watch them? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m absolutely over the moon for prose that reads like poetry. The Song of Achilles always leaves me breathless and/or in tears for that very reason, as does Valente’s Fairyland series. While poetic prose is my favorite stylistic trait when it comes to novels, I’m also a huge fan of inventive narrators in general, such as Jack in Room. The Virgin Suicides has been one of my favorite books for close to five years, largely because of it’s blend of unique narrative and beautiful prose. I find myself deeply attached and endlessly in awe of these novels almost entirely due to their writing style. Of course the characters and the settings are wonderful as well, but I only connect to them in the first place because of how they were written. It seems to me that regardless of how well filmed or perfectly cast these movies may be, they will still be unable to properly capture the writing style that made me fall in love with them in the first place. I hate to think that I will watch these movies and forever associate the film choices with the novels. I would rather have the books remain flawless for me than try to mix the two mediums.


So what do you think? Did you enjoy these adaptions? Leave a comment below with your favorite page-to-screen adaption! 

My Love Affair with Cinematography

Prompted by: re-watching LotR

I am such a sucker for cinematography.

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos have, in my opinion, the best video series out there on film and cinematography: Every Frame a Painting. Their series has come to an end, but if you haven’t already watched some of their work, you’re truly missing out. Their very handle perfectly sums up the magic of cinematography– it is truly art.

So what exactly is cinematography? Essentially it’s what the viewer sees in any given frame. It’s composition and angles and light and shadows.

“The cinematographer—also known as the Director of Photography, or “DP”— is responsible for all the visual elements of a film… He or she makes every creative choice related to composition, lighting, and camera motion—anything that audiences can see in a given shot.”

Abigail Schoenberg, Contributing Writer, Harvard Crimson

While a DP is responsible for those visual elements, they are chosen through very specific conversation with the director. The DP is the one who brings the director’s vision to life, so it is of utmost importance that the two are allies and agree on creative choices. As a director, having a DP that you can rely on and trust in is an absolute game changer. The two individuals inform and support each other throughout the creative process, from day one all the way to color correction in post-production. We can see how a close relationship between the director and the DP magnifies stylistic choices through the work of director Wes Anderson and his most frequent director of photography, Robert Yeoman. Yeoman has worked with Anderson for over 20 years on no less than 8 films, working alongside him on films from Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel. There’s no question that Yeoman has been an instrumental part of bringing Anderson’s visions of symmetry and color schemes to life through his own choices of lenses, lighting, framing, and positioning.

Cinematography connects with different people in different ways. Some viewers like wide angles, some like symmetry. Some like orbital shots, some like overhead shots. Some people may not even realize that what they like so much about a film is the cinematography. Regardless of their level of awareness though, from super hero movies to romances to arthouse films, a good DP makes all the difference.

like crazy
Like Crazy (2011) || John Guleserian (DP)
furiosa
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) || John Seale (DP)

I still remember the first time I saw a frame that made me audibly gasp out loud in the theater. It was 2012 and I was watching Django Unchained, which was only the second time I had seen a Tarantino film. Growing up in a very conservative household, my media intake was strictly limited, and Tarantino was definitely not approved viewing. There’s a scene that takes place in a cotton field where Jamie Foxx’s character points his gun and takes precise aim at a man fleeing on horseback. He pulls the trigger and the camera angle changes to a cropped shot of the cotton. We hear the hoof beats of the running horse in slow motion, and then…

replacement
Django Unchained (2012) || Robert Richardson (DP)

A fine spray of bright red spatters the pristine white cotton. I watched Django Unchained three more times that year, and every single time there was something about the cropped frame took my breath away. And so began my documented love affair with cinematography.

But then, when I was re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this summer, I realized that my delight with well-framed shots had actually started much much earlier.

Balrog Fall
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) || Andrew Lesnie (DP)

In fact, it had even started earlier than that. The Prince of Egypt was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and even at the ripe old age of four, certain shots stood out to me.

prince of egypt
The Prince of Egypt (1998) || Brenda Chapman (Director)

I still gasp out loud when I’m watching movies and a particularly moving frame appears. I “mmm’ed” out loud at the end of Fight Club. My toes curled with bliss at the opening of Evolution.

fight club
Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)
evolution
Evolution (2015) || Manuel Dacosse (DP)

Cinematography will be a frequent topic on this blog. Whether a monthly collection of favorite frames or a closer look at the work of a particular DP, it is something that I find to be an endless source of joy and fascination. So join in on the fun and leave a comment! What are some of your favorite frames?