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! **

Awardsapalooza: Some Perspective

I have been meaning to write this for some time now – it has been busy in my world.  I am doing a small film project, and sometimes these kinds of projects can suck up disproportionate amounts of time.  I think it is important, during this time of hoopla and craziness, to stop and think about what it all really means.

First of all, I think it is kind of absurd that there should be any kind of “winner” declared for any kind of an artistic endeavor.  Art is not quantitative.  It would be one thing if we said, “He’s the fastest corset-lacer-upper in the world,” and we gave the guy an award.  Or, “She costumed the most BG in a day, ever, in history,” and we gave her an award.  These quantitative pursuits are not what are on the table here.  These awards: the CDG Awards, the BAFTAs, the Oscars, are given for much more esoteric, subjective reasons.

Okay, imagine… you have to pick a “winner” among the following:

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa:

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon:

Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss:

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can:

and Audrey Kawasaki’s Claudia and the Coelacanth:

How do you choose; for whom do you vote?  It all comes down to personal taste, doesn’t it?

While it is certainly an honor to be singled out for recognition at this time of year, it seems almost insulting to put one work above another.  It’s apples and oranges.  Every piece of art has its own value.  The Academy ‘s language used in describing the award: Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design for a Motion Picture puts it most succinctly.  They focus on the achievement – and that is not insignificant.  It is an achievement to make a $10M film look like a $50M film.  It is an achievement to fully recreate a samurai army in feudal Japan.  It is an achievement to create a fantasy world of hobbits, elves, and unearthly warriors.  This kind of achievement should certainly be recognized.  But it’s more complicated than that.

The audience only knows what appears on screen.  They don’t know how much money you had to work with, or the crazy last-minute snafus that you had to power through.  These awards, celebrating achievement, seem flat and superficial when you consider that their merit – achievement – is only what appears on screen.  Real achievement is much more about what happens OFF-screen – the battles we fight, the deadlines that loom, the needles in the haystack for which we search, and how we solve those problems  – and seldom, if ever, are those stories brought to light.

So, to put a finer point on it: how can an awards voting body recognize achievement if we/they rarely get to know the story behind the work?  It’s problematic, don’t you think?  There are some films that host costume designer Q & As with their screenings, but as I have said before – if you are working, you are NOT going to screenings; you don’t have time.  Some films send out “the making of” DVDs, but they are rarely conclusive, and most often gloss over the costume department, in favor of cinematography or special effects.  What kinds of solutions can we come up with, collectively, to solve the problem of telling the story behind the work?

Well, Frocktalk is one solution, but I don’t think it’s enough.  Perhaps we need to get together to create a website where any member can post a presentation about their film, the back-story, the process, so that the voting bodies of these entities can be fully informed about meritorious design.  If there were a forum – an open, user-regulated & user-contributory forum – to showcase films and their design process, we would have a MUCH more well-informed design community.

Honestly, I haven’t seen ANY of the made-for-TV projects nominated this year for the CDG awards.  But if there was a website where I could go and view clips, see sketches and photos, watch QuickTime interviews with the designer, director and cast, I would be much more informed about the project, and much more inclined to vote my conscience in all of this!  How can we do this, costume people?  Let’s open up this forum and discuss it!

In this kind of an environment, it would be up to either the publicity department for the film/project or the designer himself or herself to gather the materials and make the presentation.  However, I think that it would be an important step in the right direction to do so.  Very often, there is amazing work on small films that aren’t widely seen, and those films are almost never thoroughly publicized.  It would be a formidable opportunity for those smaller films to gain recognition for their costume design if this kind of forum were available.

Okay, whew!  Had to get that one out there.

Next: we, as a collective whole, should stop freaking out about who “wins” the award.  There is no such thing as “winning” in the arts.  Art is not a competition.  Art seeks to reveal our hearts and enrich our lives.  There is no quantitative way to judge who is better, faster, or stronger in art.  Let it go, people.  To be recognized (in being nominated) is the real honor, for your peers have found your work exemplary for its achievement.  But again, one needs context in order to understand the achievement.

This is all something to think about.  You may agree with me, and you may not.  I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this, so please register and use the comments section to begin the discussion.  I would especially like to hear from you if you disagree with my ideas – we learn most effectively when we are asked to defend our positions.

But let’s remember to keep all of this awards hullabaloo in perspective.  There are many fine films out there with exceptional costume design that didn’t get a lot of publicity, and consequently have languished in obscurity.  With Frocktalk, I hope to shed light on them.  But how can we change this situation?  Ideas??

By the way, my vote: Warhol.


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