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! 

Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino: Same, Same; Different

Prompted by: Kill Bill: Vol 1

I’ll never forget the day I watched both volumes of Kill Bill and Moonrise Kingdom in the same night. I was introduced to Tarantino at an earlier age than I was Anderson, and have always been partial to Anderson due to my own affection for whimsy and quirkiness. But for some reason, I never made the connections between the stylistic choices of the two directors until the day I accidentally watched their films back to back.

Here’s my hypothesis: Anderson and Tarantino use the same techniques– color and symmetry– in similar ways to achieve different results.

Color

The colors that Anderson and Tarantino use are completely different, as are the moods they achieve with those colors. But both of them utilize color, both in entire palates and in specific spots, with a dedication that is not often seen. The thing about using color in film is that it isn’t always something viewers consciously pick up on (expect to see more on this in an upcoming post about color in film). The psychology of colors is a complex and extensive field of discussion, and there is no doubt that colors can both subtly and massively impact moods and feelings. Successfully utilizing certain colors to set certain moods is quite possibly one of the most clever ways to evoke feelings in film.

Tarantino uses primary colors such as red and blue in bold hues and cool tones to create emphasis on certain characters and contribute to the intensity of certain scenes. An excellent example of this is the use of the color red with Shosanna in Inglorious Basterds. When we first see her, she is running away with splashes of dark red blood on her face.

shoshanna1
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

When we see her next, she is working on the marquis for her theater. There are bold red letters in the background and she is wearing a muted red jacket.

shoshanna2
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Her next scene features red as a significantly more dominant color: she is sitting in a bright red cafe booth and is surrounded by a vibrant shade of red.

shoshanna3
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

And by the time we finally arrive at her climactic scene, she is draped, garbed, and surrounded by red.

shoshanna4
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The use of such a visceral and unavoidable color to slowly develop an incredibly strong and driven character is unmistakable. Tarantino’s most frequent use of red is with blood, but he often utilizes the color to evoke feelings of passion, violence, revenge, and intensity. Red is also known to enhance attention, both by drawing the eye to the color and by triggering certain feelings in the viewer. In the case of Shosanna, this works to drop increasingly more obvious hints that ‘this character is important, pay attention when she’s on screen.’

Anderson, on the other hand, uses it more often as an aesthetic focal point, while still hinting that something important is happening. An excellent example of this is with the narrator in Moonrise Kingdom. He’s simply talking about the weather, which is a very easy thing to zone out for. But by dressing him in a bright red coat and placing him in relatively colorless scenes, it helps the viewer to pay a bit more attention. Of course, anyone who has seen Moonrise Kingdom knows that the weather turns out to be a rather pivotal aspect of the entire storyline.

anderson red
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

A similar effect is achieved through the coloring of the tracksuits in The Royal Tenenbaums. It is impossible to not be drawn to those fire-engine-red outfits, which again hints that this is something important and the viewer should take note. In this case, it is quite possibly the clearest indicator of the arrested development that the three children experienced.

track suits
Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Anderson also plays up the passionate nature of the color red, using it to illustrate longing and deep desire, usually for affection. We can see this through the simple act of putting red hats on Suzy, Ned, and Max– all of which are desperate for the love of someone who is inaccessible in one way or another.

anderson red 3
Suzy, Moonrise Kingdom — Ned, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — Max, Rushmore

Symmetry

Over the years, Anderson has become known for his symmetry, and it is undoubtedly one of the primary characteristics of his stylistic choices. Tarantino seems to be a bit more partial to asymmetry, often choosing to follow the rule of thirds and offsetting a character to one side of the frame.

When I was watching Moonrise Kingdom minutes after finishing both Kill Bills, it was impossible not to notice the similarities between some of the frames.

anderson room symmetry
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
tarantino room symmetry
Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)

Director Stanley Kubrick is often referenced in discussions about symmetry in film, but in a very specific way. He utilizes symmetry to create unnatural and oftentimes uncomfortable frames (think about the hallway shots in The Shining). A similar effect is achieved in the living room frame from Kill Bill: Vol 2 seen above. The precision of the character’s exact separation creates a tangible sense of tension that is virtually impossible to ignore.

Anderson, on the other hand, uses symmetry for the complete opposite reason. Almost everything about the way he frames his shots, symmetrical or not, helps to create a storybook feel. The viewers are the intruders looking in on what might as well be paintings, a feeling further heightened by shots where the characters in the frame look directly at the camera, as seen in the above shot from Moonrise Kingdom.

anderson overhead symmetry
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
tarantino overhead symmetry
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

The overhead shot from Kill Bill: Vol 1 creates tension in a different way. Rather than showcasing the amount of empty space around or between key characters, this frame highlights the lack of space that currently exists around our protagonist. The symmetry and mirror images help to build the tension of a scene that already has us on the edge of our seats.

Shot Lists

Tarantino is responsible for coining the specific shot seen below. Known as a ‘trunk shot’ they feature characters (usually two or three) opening something and looking down at the camera. It’s a creative angle that brings a unique perspective to the shot.

Trunk Shot
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

While Anderson doesn’t mimic the trunk shot exactly, he’s fond of a similar reveal: an item being suddenly moved or opened to reveal a group of characters looking directly at the camera.

anderson trunk shot
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Both directors also utilize wide angles, although Anderson more so than Tarantino. Wide angles help contribute to that painting-like quality I mentioned above in regards to Anderson. In the below frame from Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson pairs the wide angle and symmetry to create a rather haunting shot. This frame is an excellent example of building tension using the devices discussed above.

anderson wide angle yellow 2
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
tarantino wide angle blue 2
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

The above frame from Kill Bill is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful shots from a Tarantino film. Whether it was the brain child of Tarantino or of DP Robert Richardson, I’m not sure. Whatever the case may be, it is a breathtaking frame in every way and not one that is easily forgotten.

So what do you think? Do the two directors utilize the same techniques to get different results? 


Robert Richardson is the DP for all the Tarantino films referenced here, and Robert Yeoman is the DP for all of the Anderson films. 

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?