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! **

Frankie and Alice

Review Date: 12-18-10

Release Date: 12-10-10 (LA), expands 2-4-11

Running Time: 102 min.

Period: 1957, 1973

Costume Designer: Ruth E. Carter

Frankie and Alice is a film based on a true story of Frankie Murdock, a woman with dissociative personality disorder (what many people call “multiple personalities”). It is an interesting film in that the actress playing Frankie (Halle Berry) plays three roles at once, and the costumes support her transition between them. Ms. Berry has been deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, and the film is worth seeing for her elegant and heart wrenching work.

The question at the center of the film is: what happened to Frankie to cause the split in her personality? The answers are revealed in flashback, and that’s where the 1957 portion of the film comes in. Most of the film takes place in Los Angeles in 1973, in seedy strip clubs, rundown neighborhoods, and in a psychiatric hospital. The challenge? It was shot in Canada.

Frankie Murdock has three people living inside of her. First, Frankie herself. Initially she is unaware that she has other personalities. She “blacks out” and has no recollection of what just transpired or how she arrived where she is. We meet Frankie as she dances in a go-go cage at a strip club (though we never see anyone take their clothes off, the idea is that this is a place where women are objectified and treated like dirt). Frankie wears an impressive costume – gold paillette fringe sways as she moves like water from a sprinkler. It is stunning.

When she leaves the club, she wears a brown two-piece suede halter/short set. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination, for sure. She has a meltdown in this costume, and runs barefoot into the street, narrowly escaping death as cars fly past her. Now, this is a stunt sequence and the woman is wearing barely anything. Additionally, it is Canada, at night. I can only imagine it was chilly, and it would be very hard to hide stunt pads – these are major challenges for the costume department.

When she transitions into “Alice”, we see the costumes define the character. Whereas Frankie wears sexy, revealing clothing, Alice (a bigoted white woman) wears elegant and refined clothing. In fact, sometimes Alice shops on Frankie’s dime, much to her chagrin when she can’t pay the rent. Here’s Alice in full effect – it’s a floor-length gown. Note the hair change and the complete 180-degree color and silhouette change. It’s dramatic.

When Frankie is hospitalized, the third personality emerges. “Genius”, as she is called, speaks in a baby voice and is nearsighted. Yes, nearsighted – she requires eyeglasses. Genius has less of a costume demand than Alice, but it is interesting to see how just an accessory can complete the character change.

Stellan Skarsgård plays Dr. Oswald, Frankie’s psychiatrist. Though he experimented with LSD and lives in a modernist cliff-hanging house in the hills, his fashion sense screeched to a halt in the 1960s. His colleagues wear polyester and wide ties, but Dr. Oz is still in skinny tie, skinny lapel-land. It is interesting that for an innovator, he is dressed as if he is stuck in the past.

I am not going to give too much more away about this film, but Halle Berry’s performance is worth the price of admission, and Ruth Carter’s costumes go a long way in helping to tell the story. Hopefully I will be able to speak with her and get you some behind-the-scenes information about how they did it! Stay tuned!

— KMB

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