Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Beetle Juice: Dueling Banjos – KB and Chris’ Chat

Earlier this week, I hid in a corner of the costume truck with my computer and i-chatted about Beetle Juice with Chris from Clothes on Film. We covered ‘goth’, Japanese fashion designers, what it means to be happy, and jumpers worn as skirts. It was lively! And I didn’t get caught playing hooky from the set!

Chris: I’ll kick off if you like; I know you haven’t got long. I thought it was good we both looked at the costumes for Beetle Juice from different perspectives – you ‘Goth’, me more the Japanese designer influence.

KB: Which is interesting. The Japanese designer stuff was really happening in LA at the time. I remember there were stores on Melrose in 1987 selling that stuff for cheap, but of course they (on Beetle Juice) purchased the real deals. My walls in college were covered in Issey Miyake ads from W magazine when it was all black and white. Very graphic.

Issey Miyake dress

Issey Miyake dress

Chris: There was definitely some Issey in the film, mainly on Catherine O’Hara. Aggie (Guerard Rodgers, Costume Designer) wanted the same for Otho, but the clothes wouldn’t fit his build. Referring to your review, I must admit I never really associated ‘goth’ with California. I saw it more as a punk offshoot in the UK.

KB: I know. It probably seems incongruous to think of California and early ‘goth’ in the same sentence, but it was pretty big here in the subculture sense. I remember seeing what we now know as ‘goth’ in about 1984–1985, but I was in the boonies and we were behind the times. I am sure in LA it was more like 1980–1981. But the kids where I grew up, they were really into it. It was an expression that rural society had never, ever seen. Additionally we had no resources to get the stuff: no ‘Hot Topic’, nothing like that. Everyone had to go to the Salvation Army and do it for themselves.

Siouxie Sioux

Siouxie Sioux

Chris: I find it ironic that part of being a ‘goth’ is to reject society’s labels and yet by being a ‘goth’ one is instantly labelled as such.

KB: Well, that was the beauty of it in the beginning – there were no labels. When it was labelled ‘goth’ it all went south; Marilyn Manson was the demise of it all. In 1987, when it was just a bunch of kids wearing black, it was a true rebellion of sorts – there was no name for it. ‘I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside’… to quote the Moz (Morrissey). Now it’s a total joke, a cliché. The moment Hot Topic opened, the world collapsed.

The Smiths in the early days - Moz on the left

The Smiths in the early days - Moz on the left

I was never a true ‘goth’, by any stretch. I just loved the look and was influenced by it, had a lot of ‘gothy’ friends, especially from summer art school. We all went to this crazy art program one summer, and it was so fabulous. Everyone dyed their hair black and spiked it high. Black fingernails, black everything. Lots of The Smiths, Cure and Cocteau Twins; it was heaven.

Cocteau Twins, late 1980s

Cocteau Twins, late 1980s

How many people asked me if I hit my fingernails with a hammer? Those kinds of lame comments just made me want to wear more black; to separate myself from that kind of mindset – the limited, closed mind.

Robert Smith of The Cure, late 1980s

Robert Smith of The Cure, late 1980s

Chris: Personally I have only known a handful of ‘goths’. Most ‘goths’ in the UK hang out in the costal town of Whitby nowadays, where some of the Dracula book was set – nobody takes a blind bit of notice of them there.

So, do you see Lydia in Beetle Juice as a ‘goth’ then? I wish I had asked Aggie about how the character was written in the script. She did say the red dress was her idea, plus the character ‘evolved very quickly’.

KB: When I saw the movie I didn’t see Lydia as a ‘goth’, because ‘goths’ did not exist. I saw her as someone I recognized; someone who wears black on the outside because black is how she feels on the inside. I saw her as one of the art kids, who society would later call ‘goth’. It’s kind of hard to explain because we didn’t have the label back then, but to us – to the kids who were involved in art and knew the visual language of the movement – we recognized her. How could you not? As for the red dress, that is definitely a costume.

There aren’t as many ‘goth’ kids now as there used to be. In LA these days you see a lot of ‘rockabilly’ goth Latino kids. I guess you would call them ‘Gothabilly’.

Chris: Ha, ha, ‘Gothabilly’. That’s great!

KB: It is pretty cool. They are rediscovering The Smiths and those bands, and it’s a pretty awesome look. I went to see Morrissey when he played the 13 shows at the Palladium and the place was full of them. They really have style.

Chris: Actually, when talking to Aggie she never mentioned the word ‘goth’ once. Though I would argue Lydia is definitely obsessed with death; she does want to be dead in the film after all.

KB: Yes, and that is part of what is now called ‘goth’.

Chris: ‘Gothabilly’, I’m sorry but that’s tickled me!

KB: You could argue that ‘goth’ grew exponentially because of Tim Burton’s work – he popularized the movement. So, in a way, he has created the commercialization of the thing he loved?

Chris: Good point. Burton is almost a genre unto himself. Success inevitably means commercialisation though, doesn’t it?

KB: I mean, for the fact that there is a Nightmare Before Christmas store at Disneyland, where they sell all of these clothing items (black mostly) that are sort of ‘gothic themed’ . You know it’s bad when your art-kids movement is being sold at Disneyland.

Well, I think people DEFINE success commercially. Think about it. To me, success is not about money. But hey, I have never been normal that way.

Chris: Regarding success, I guess I was playing devil’s advocate as I could not agree with you more. In my opinion, success is happiness.

KB: I think that, as an artist, creativity is its own reward. Doing great work (work that you know is great, pushing yourself, etc) is exceedingly gratifying. Money is nice, but that feeling is priceless.

Chris: Just jumping back to Beetle Juice and how funny it is for being so ‘dark’ – did you notice the upside-down jumper worn as a skirt by Catherine O’Hara?

KB: I didn’t, actually! When you mentioned that in your review, I thought … “when was that?” because it was so seamless. I really loved Otto though; such a great character. And, forget it, Catherine O’Hara.

Chris: Apparently Aggie put that idea together in the shop – IN THE SHOP! Love it.

KB: That woman can do anything and it is hilarious. I would also like to thank the hair department for doing such an excellent job, they really added to the characterization.

Chris: Her pale look is very attractive (O’Hara), especially today in a sea of dry fake-tanned skin.

KB: The wavy sideburns across her face? Come on, that was hilarious. I think the film has a timeless look that they should be very proud of. It holds up. I mean, Geena Davis’ hair is very 1980s, but most everything else really holds up.

Chris: Oh, that hair. Yes, well, and the Laura Ashley…. and the ‘gloves hat’! Again, done in the shop. Such fun. ‘Dark’ my eye, the film cheers me up no end.

KB: And to see Alec Baldwin so young – it’s amazing. No offense, Alec. Love you!

Chris: My girlfriend could not believe Alec in 30 Rock and Alec in Beetle Juice was the same brother. He is great though, so funny to watch.

KB: Ha, ha. He is awesome. I LOVE the music too – wanted to mention that. The ‘DAY-OH’ dancing, that was classic.

I really need to go now, Chris. Work calls. Sorry about that.

Chris: Have a good day. Oh, and thanks again for chatting.

Big thanks to Chris from Clothes on Film for his stellar review and awesome chat.  I look forward to the next “Dueling Banjos” review!  Hopefully, soon!!

— KMB

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