Friday, 22 February 2013

Why Snow White and The Huntsman Should Win the Costume Oscar

There, I've said it. And I've probably jinxed it and someone else will take home the Academy Award on Sunday. I apologise to Colleen Atwood. I know I've complained about pretty dresses winning costume awards, but Snow White and the Huntsman isn't pretty dresses, it's phenomenal costume design.

I'll admit it, I'm not the target audience for this film. When I first saw the trailers my reaction was 'Who in their right mind is going to believe that anyone thinks Kristen Stewart is more beautiful than Charlize Theron?' But it did have Kim Hyde from neighbours in it  (yes I am aware that's not his real name) and I love an Aussie making good in Hollywood story. So when it came out on Sky I watched it expecting it to be a bit of mindless trash and I absolutely loved it - for the costumes.

(My husbands reaction on walking in half way through was 'What is it kiss a dead girl day?)

For the record, my feelings about Kristen Stewart are pretty similar to Keira Knightly, so the appeal of the leading actress had no impact on my loving this and not Anna Karenina.

I'm a bit late jumping on the Colleen Atwood bandwagon for the simple fact I'm not a huge fan of most of Tim Burton's work, the director who she is most associated with. I feel he's become a bit of a parody of himself lately. I blamed Atwood for the 'Yawn, there's ANOTHER pair of black and white striped trousers' that's become a bit of a theme in his recent years. But after watching Snow White and the Huntsman, and In Time (which I argue is one of the best costumed sci-fi films ever - will post about it soon), two highly trashy Hollywood blockbuster films, I realised she simply is the most phenomenal costume designer of our time. What she does is make the most beautiful over-the-top costumes look like clothing. She uses subtle details and clever palates so that even while you are saying 'Wow that costume is amazing' there is never the slightest wink or nod from the costume designer saying 'See what I did there'. Because that's what I find boring about costume design: when designers and directors want you to notice how clever and pretty they're being. Atwood doesn't play for tricks. You have to realy understand costume design to notice how clever she is.

The entire film has a very muted palette. Sometimes when people choose palettes they don't understand the difference between only using 3 colours and having a subtle tonality theme underlying the entrie look. There are a lot of colours and contrasts in this film, but the muted tones show us the story is taking a more gritty, realistic angle on the classic tale.

I love the way Atwood worked with Snow White's (Kristen Stewart) costume. It looks good, tells a story, but above all is practical. When we see first Snow White she's wearing a dress that meets all audience expectations of an opressed fairytale princess, with the puff sleeves and laced bodice. It's detail is beautiful: the contrasting colour on the underside of the slashes, the use of different patterned leather, stitch detail and seaming in the bodice. Atwood is very good at putting subtle details around the neckline to draw focus to the face and add interest to close up shots. But the colours are muted, suitable for her imprisonment and also making sure the complicated design and texture don't distract from the story. It is also similar to the servants costumes, showing how Ravenna wants to see her step-daughter.

When she rips the skirt off, there's a logic to it. The girly dress suddenly turns tomboy.

Speaking to Grazia, Atwood said "I knew that was going to happen in the story, so that was the way I backed into it.  I put flat boots.  I put legging so when she fell and stuff I didn’t have to worry about underwear showing.  I made the costume out of materials that blended with the environment and that would hold up under the situations that I had to put the costume through.  I made about 20 of those.  When you’re doing that, you source the materials that you can find and that you can duplicate times twenty.  Within the dress and within the underdress and within the pants, there’s all kinds of stretch panels that are hidden in seams so it’s totally flexible.  You’re able to lift your arms over your head.  You’re able to shoot a bow and arrow.  You’re able to move in the costume which is very important for the actors."

Similarly the boys costumes are manly, muted and texturely detailed. The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) has a leather jerkin that looks like he's worn it every day for years. It has pockets and belts and straps, but they are all practical for a huntsman. I love costumes that are broken down to look lived in, and leather is one of the hardest fabrics to get right because it's such a time consuming process.

But it's Ravenna (aka the evil queen) played by Charlize Theron who's costumes really stand out.

‘‘Every costume had a feeling of not quite what it seems,’’ Theron said in an interview to The Boston Globe. ‘‘In a way, these dresses were like torture devices for Ravenna. I love that because I feel like Ravenna was, in a way, more torturous toward herself than to the people she was killing.’’

Every costume befits a woman obsessed with her beauty: a queen ruling over her kingdom with a very tight control. Because Ravenna is the ultimate control freak - of herself, her creepy brother, her step daughter and her kingdom. The crown is heavy and sharp, and there's a lot of hard metallic surfaces. Even when there's soft edges like in the beautiful wedding gown, its controlled by the hard cage-like shoulders made out of bones. There's a lot of animal references: feathers, beetles, bones, quills, leather, fur and sequins used like scales. The costumes tell of her vanity, dark magic, obsession, control and heartlessness. And they're also some of the most incredibly beautiful fantasy gowns I've seen on film.

Look at the tiny bird skulls used as decoration

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