May 2014, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour: Clothes in Motion – Costumes, Styles and Fashion in Film


White suits, red shoes, black coasts, dark sunglasses – there is many a piece of clothing or accessory to be found over the course of film history that seems to encapsulate an entire film, even outside of its immediate context. Yet even before costumes attain this iconic status, they tell stories within the film, give their wearers new life, conceal hidden chasms, create atmospheres and leave their mark on the look, texture and often even the soundtrack of films. The dramatic, narrative and psychological function of costumes in film is undisputed, as is their influence on the zeitgeists, fashion trends and styles which they call into existence, play a role in and launch. The Magical History Tour invites audiences to take a look into the studios of international costumers fashion designers and artists from nine decades.

BLOW UP (Michelangelo Antonioni, I/GB 1966, 1. & 3.5.) Models and fashion, the London of the Swinging Sixties and the mod & beat culture of the 60s (at which the film’s distribution strategy was aimed) are in the crosshairs of the first film Antonioni shot outside Italy. By dint of his profession, fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) is part of this fashion and style savvy scene. He arranges, choreographs and fixes the beautiful appearances that go hand in hand with it, yet seeks to flee them at the same time. Whilst out looking for new motifs, he believes to have become witness to a murder. Over the course of his investigations, reality and imagination become blurred, as his apparent photographic evidence begins to curdle into projection.

DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (Susan Seidelman, USA 1985,3. & 9.5.) A leather jacket, fingerless gloves, a hair band, leggings, a string vest: Madonna's outfit, which she had already introduced the previous year in "Like a Virgin" video, is deployed once again in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and became one of the fashion must haves for following generations by this independent film's release at the latest. In the film, it is only the shy Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) who has her eye on the mysterious Susan's (Madonna) extravagant jacket, with the new piece of clothing also opening up a whole new life for her in the process.

MOROCCO (Josef von Sternberg, USA 1930, 4. & 10.5.) Marlene Dietrich in a tailcoat! What has long since become a trademark of Dietrich's elegance and her playful approach to extravagance, daring, glamour and the erotic initially caused an unimaginable scandal, fuelled not least by the fact that Marlene Dietrich doesn't just seduce two men whilst wearing the tailcoat but also kisses a woman. The setting is a bar in Morocco at which nightclub singer Amy Jolly (M.D.) performs. The two men are a rich gentleman who intends to marry (Adolphe Menjou) and a member of the Foreign Legion (Gary Cooper), who Amy eventually follows into the desert. A film of passion, of the power of suggestion and of adventure. We will be showing DRESS REHEARSAL & KAROLA 2 (Christine Noll Brinckmann, West Germany 1980) beforehand, a film about clothing and self-representation, creative narcissism and how it is dealt with in film in formal and emotional terms.

AELITA (Yakov Protazanov, USSR 1924, 8. & 23.5., with a live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) A cubist, expressionistic science fiction satire about a Mars expedition: a young Russian engineer working on plans for a manned Mars spaceship daydreams of leaving his life behind to go to Mars. There he falls in love with Aelita, Queen of Mars, liberates the army of slaves together with a friend, sparks a revolution and founds a Soviet republic. Alexandra Exter, who did not merely design the futuristic costumes and decor, constructed a whole anti-illusionist world, using expressive forms for her costumes. Moscow and Mars were depicted as deliberately contrasting; while the Moscow of the present day is shown with sober realism, the architecture on Maris embodies a modernist vision of the future.

CLEOPATRA JONES (Jack Starrett, USA 1973, 10. & 17.5.) "She's 6 feet 2 inches of Dynamite … And the Hottest Super Agent Ever!" is how Warner Bros advertised their breathtakingly kitted out black super heroine, dressed from head to toe by influential ethno and hippie designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo. Ex-model Tamara Dobson plays CIA agent Cleopatra Jones, who battles a gang of drug smugglers under the leadership of the ruthless "Mommy". As a sort of female James Bond and larger than life Afro-American female superhero, Cleopatra Jones presents herself as very much in keeping with the times: emancipated, intelligent, attractive, independent, hip and both aware of her self and of fashion.

L'ANNÉE DERNIÈRE À MARIENBAD (Last Year at Marienbad, Alain Resnais, F 1961, 11. & 13.5.) One might think that Lagerfeld wanted to show his reverence for an important French film classic in the show for his 2011 Spring/Summer collection: its decor, music, color (black and white) and design were all hugely influenced by Resnais' cinematic nouveau roman. Aside from the film however, Lagerfeld's homage was directed first and foremost at fashion designer Coco Chanel, who designed the costumes for the film's lead actress Delphine Seyrig. Her designs take in clear, severe robes as well as playfully romantic dresses that work with feathers, tulle and flowing fabrics, both of which corresponds at once to the architecture of the film location, a magnificent baroque castle, the often stationary figures and the film’s labyrinthine structure.

LA DECIMA VITTIMA(Elio Petri, Italy/France 1965, 15. & 16.5.) Clothing as a tool for murder: Petri's pop-art science fiction contains a bikini decked out with sharp metal points which houses a small pistol that can be used to fire fatal shots as required. The wearer of the "rapid fire brassiere" is Ursula Andress, who is taking part in the Great Hunt, a game show in which riches and honor await the hunter successfully able to take down his or her tenth victim. The hunt for her tenth victim (Marcello Mastroianni) takes Andress to a futuristic Rome. The tenth murder is already organized down to the last detail before she herself ends up in the line of fire. Petri’s multi-colored satire about a totalitarian future which channels destructive urges revels in its costumes, which are styled from top to bottom in the tradition of André Courrèges’ futuristic space look.

FREAK ORLANDO – KLEINES WELTTHEATER IN FÜNF EPISODEN(Ulrike Ottinger, West Germany 1981, 18. & 22.5.) Ulrike Ottinger draws a line from a mythological past all the way to the 20th century in her "small theater of the world" that tells the story of the life and death of freaks, the abnormal and outsiders, of fallacy, incompetence, the hunger for power, fear, madness, cruelty and the everyday. This episodic, globe-spanning journey through time is led by Orlando (Magdalena Montezuma), starts in a department store where myths are being sold off and ends at a festival of the ugly. Ottinger's fantastic, immensely detailed visual collages are characterized not least by the extraordinary costumes designed by the director herself, which take on the function of ironic commentary, opulent subversion or exaggeration.

FÜR DIE LIEBE NOCH ZU MAGER? (Bernhard Stephan, East Germany 1974, 19.5., with an introduction by Stella Donata Haag & 21.5.) "The film begins with a song by the Renft Combo: So what do people do if they don't carry flags? – and then answers this question about what people do in private quite literally: they wear the see-through green blouse brought by Aunt Rosa from the West or genuine Levis. Or they wear the wrong things like well-behaved textile worker Susanne, whose emancipation is made visible in cinematic terms as a process of fashion-related self-discovery. Perhaps this is what a socialist costume drama must look like: narrated from the perspective of production. No Cinderella story, but rather a materialist romance that conceives of attractiveness as being stretched between spaces and textures." (Stella Donata Haag)

BRIGHT STAR (Jane Campion, GB/AUS/F/USA 2009, 20. & 30.5.) Fanny Brawne sows, decorates, designs – artistry and above all love go into the extravagant dress designs of this young women from a good family, whose passion remains ultimately unfulfilled in other parts of her life. Yet her creativity is more than just an activity to take the place of emotion, marking instead an extraordinary sense of independence and self-determination for the time (the start of the 19th century) on the part of the protagonist, who has gone down in literary history as the great love of English poet John Keats. Campion depicts this romantic love affair in the floating, ambling style of Keats' poetry and refuses to give the films the pathos of a classical costume drama.

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (John Badham, USA 1977, 24. & 31.5.) John Travolta's famous white polyester suit, the trademark of both the film and the disco wave of the 70s, came from a small men's clothes store in Brooklyn. The choice of a cheap off the rack three-piece was less to do with the lack of financial means of this low budget production and more a conscious decision to give cool Brooklyn boy (John Travolta) the most authentic look possible, whose perfect stylings on the dancefloor (to the legendary song by the Bee Gees) take him into a whole new life. Travolta's gleaming white suit makes him into a star fixture in the dim club world. PUCE MOMENT (Kenneth Anger, USA 1949) will be shown beforehand, in which Anger gives form to his enthusiasm for the ritual of getting dressed.

DIE 727 TAGE OHNE KARAMO (Anja Salomonowitz, Austria 2013, 26. & 28.5.) Anja Salomonowitz's color concept – the documentary's costumes and decors are kept entirely restricted to yellow and green tones – serve as a bold, combative and almost defiant counterpoint to the actual nucleus of the film: how the state hinders relationships that cross (EU) borders. The individual stories of 20 couples about the duplicities of Austria's laws on foreigners, house inspections, proof of income and deportation come together much like a collage to form a collective narrative. The highly stylized documentary form reveals the structure and system behind the way in which the state encroaches on private lives. (mg)