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! **

The Princess Bride: CHAT!!

After watching and reviewing The Princess Bride, Maggie and I sat down to chat about its many virtues.  And along the way, we detoured into DragonCon, auctions, Monty Python, Lord of the Rings, and Mandy Patinkin’s drunken Spaniard hotness.  Read on!

KB: Okay, we’d better start talking now b/c I am looking at your pictures and loving this.  I mean, your friend who made the Buttercup dress – that is dedication!!!

Maggie: Did you see mine? 🙂

KB: Yes, I did!! It’s lovely!! What did you do to prepare for patterning? What kind of fabric did you use for the dress itself – it looks like cotton.

Maggie: Thanks! I used a bodice pattern I had used before, but used tucks instead of gathers. For fabric, I was kind of at a loss. My friend had bought silk, but it was too drapey. I ended up using cotton, but I don’t think it’s drapey enough. I have no idea what the real one is, but my current guess is linen. The way the big sleeves drape – cotton just didn’t do that!

KB: But you did the cartridge pleats very nicely. Did you stitch them (anchor them) by hand? Explain how you did it… and maybe also explain what this was for?

Maggie: Thank you! I was so excited to notice that detail, which I actually found on a postcard Hot Topic was selling! I did hand stitch them – cartridge pleating looks complicated but is actually very easy. Basically, when you gather anything, you normally do two rows (or more) of gathering stitches. When you cartridge pleat, you just make sure where the needle/thread go in and out of the fabric is in the exact same places in both rows – when you pull the gathering threads, you get this accordion effect!

I made the Buttercup costume for Dragon Con a few years ago – a few friends and myself decided to all do the red riding dress, but we all made it from a different part of the movie. One of my friends burned her costume and dirtied it, so it would look like it was from the Fire Swamp! My friend’s hubby was our lone Wesley. 🙂  I always liked the Juliet cap, so that’s the version I did. 🙂

KB: That’s so funny that your friend’s husband was Pimp Wesley. So, to the uninitiated, Dragon Con is like a costume version of Comic Con? Explain for those who don’t know…

Maggie: Dragon Con is a huge “media” science fiction/fantasy convention. It’s media because it focuses more on things like comic books, movies, and TV than literature. It’s held every year during Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. It’s an enormous Con and there are people of every fandom you can think of there. It’s very popular with costumers too. Every one dresses up all the time, and at night, it’s like a big costume party!

I’ve heard Comic Con isn’t as much with the costuming, though it does have a good masquerade/contest.

KB: To be quite honest with you, I don’t think too many of us costume people know about Dragon Con – we are going to have to get in on this. I have been to Comic Con several times, and there are lots of costumes – tons… but it sounds like Dragon Con is even more costume-based, true?  I mean, our union is sending a delegation to Comic Con for panels – we are INTO it/ But Dragon Con – not sure we (as a group) even really know about it?

Maggie: Dragon Con does have a costume “track” of programming. I’m sure they would be thrilled to have real costume designers there. It’s a really fun Con – I know the Firefly actors love it. For a lot of actors who come to it, it’s kind of a reunion where they can hang out with former cast members. Plus, they are all super appreciated there. If there were costume designers that came, they’d be appreciated too! Dragon Con is very big with costumes – you will see tons of them worn during the day – and at night it’s really amazing!  I can always get you the contact info of someone involved with the costume programming later! 🙂 I think you’d enjoy it! 🙂

KB: Well, yes, I think that our Guild needs to get in on this, so if anyone is out there listening, cough-cough – let’s talk.  It would be great to interface with people who appreciate what we do.

Maggie: Definitely! I know I would love the chance to talk to some professional costume designers – and I think the costume designers might enjoy being in an environment where people really appreciate what they do and want to learn more!

So, The Princess Bride – such a big influence on me. I was in probably 7th grade when it came out -about the same age as the kid the story was being told to…

KB: OK, back to The Princess Bride. The costume designer, Phyllis Dalton. This woman, who is now like 84 years old, has done some amazing stuff: Dr. Zhivago anyone? Lawrence of Arabia ring a bell? Henry V? Oscars?  She has won 2 Oscars. I bet when she took this job, she was like, OH MAN. This is not a great drama, a big huge film, and LOOK WHAT HAPPENED!  It’s a cult classic!!

Maggie: It definitely is – and I think the biggest compliment I can pay to her is that this film does not look 80s to me. And so many 80s movies are undeniably 80s.

KB: I agree with you totally. This is a difficult film to design, because you want it to look period, but you can’t have it look exactly like King Arthur’s Court; it can’t be necessarily spot-on, because it is a comedy, and as such you need some space to play with the costumes to tell the story. I think she did a brilliant job, and I agree with you 100% it holds up, especially after 22 years. Holy crudzoo; that seems inconceivable, 22 years!!

Maggie: Now I feel old! Again, I saw this one in the theater! I love that she stayed away from 80s hair and makeup and (IMHO) silhouettes.

KB: I think if kids saw it today, they wouldn’t find it very dated, as a film – I mean, the Fred Savage/Peter Falk stuff even holds up well.

Maggie: I totally agree – I think the film as a whole holds up. The modern pieces don’t really make in-references to the era, so it’s not dated in that way either.  Plus I think the Fred Savage/Peter Falk stuff is genuinely funny/sweet and it works really well as book ends to the movie (and interruptions, which make the movie not be cheesy, i.e., the kissing scene).

KB: I agree – they really downplayed the 1980s stuff. Robin Wright – so beautiful in her first role, and Carey Elwes, stunning, hunka man!! That is timeless in itself. They cast the right people with the right “look” to achieve that sense of timelessness, I think.

Maggie: Yes, and they let Robin look young and naturally beautiful, which she clearly was. They didn’t make her up too heavily. And the costumes didn’t compete with her. She looks lovely in the simple farm clothes. Which to me look like they inspired one of Eowyn’s outfits in Lord of the Rings.

KB: The only real date-reference is in Wallace Shawn (Vizzini)’s line: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”! (clearly referencing Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan)

Maggie: I loved Carey Elwes in that movie. He is such a good leading man. Maybe he didn’t want that for his career, but I wished he’d been able to do more of that. As for Vizzini’s line – I think it’s still good advice. 😉 I think historically, land wars in Asia are not so good.

KB: Interesting re: Lord of the Rings influence. I think you are on to something. I mean, when you do “period – non – period”, you borrow from a lot of different influences. Maybe the LotR stuff was coincidence, but c’mon, who HASN’T seen this movie a hundred times, hahah.

Maggie: I did wonder if it was a little bit of an homage to Princess Bride – because that blue/brown outfit of Eowyn’s was so similar in its simplicity and its purpose in showing who the character was.
KB: I also think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail was certainly a big influence in this film – for its comedy, for its colors, its costumes, its hilarity. I mean, we should do a “dueling banjo-compare/contrast” review. Two reviewers, two films.  Maybe I’m taking this too far…

Maggie: We should totally do a Holy Grail review! For a joke movie – I think they paid attention costume-wise!  Princess Bride definitely has a similar sensibility.  For me, the red riding costume in Princess Bride is what transcends simple princess clothes for Buttercup.  It’s so different than anything you see a pretty blonde princess in.

KB: The thing is, that Holy Grail – well, it’s not a romance, and there are not a whole lot of women in that film. That’s where the comparison ends. This film, Princess Bride, is ultimately a romantic comedy. So, it is a different subject matter and a different objective vis-à-vis the costumes. I didn’t really ever see Buttercup as a Princess, even when she was dressed in her finery. I think that speaks to Robin Wright’s performance. She was so uncomfortable in her own skin, that we (I) didn’t really believe she was a princess? Because she didn’t CHOOSE those garments, they were forced upon her.

You know, we think about these things – where does the costume COME from?  Does she make it herself: no.  Does someone make it for her?  Yes, and does she want to be there, in that situation? NO.  So, therefore, the costume is just that – a costume.  It’s a façade.  And let’s not forget to mention the influence of THIS film on movies like Shrek. Sidebar.

Maggie: No, but (re: Monty Python & Holy Grail) there are men dressed as women in the film! 😉 Princess Bride is definitely different. Technically she is a princess, the Princess Bride, if you will. But you are right, in that she was certainly a reluctant princess. But still, it seems like an artistic trope to have the pretty blonde “princess” in pink and pale blue – and I think the costumes in this movie went beyond that. The two costumes she is most comfortable in are her farm clothes, which are earthy in color and fabric, and the red riding costume – and riding was the only place she felt free. It’s interesting that she is more bound and imprisoned when she is in the pretty pastel princess gowns.

KB: I think that is the point, don’t you?  That those pastels are her prison?  I think I am going to have to hunt down Phyllis Dalton. Or maybe Rob Reiner would be easier.

Maggie: Definitely! Still, red is an unusual choice in some ways – and the style of the gown is a little more historical and a little less fantasy.  I love Rob Reiner. Sidebar, but When Harry Met Sally is one of my fave of all time. (And Spinal Tap is awesome.)

KB: Well, the red … I interpreted it as an “object of desire” statement. Additionally, Humperdink wears red when he addresses the public, so it’s kind of like his “official business” costume. The fact that she wears his “official business” color strengthens their visual link. Even though he has set the whole thing up and wants her dead.

Maggie: Good point! I think visually it’s very striking too. The way it stands up against Wesley’s black, and against the greens of the landscape. Plus the fire swamp – and of course, fire-red…

KB: Let’s talk for a second about those items up for auction at Bonham’s…

Maggie: Sure!

KB: I think it’s really sad that those items sold for as little as they did.

Maggie: I wish they had some of Buttercup’s dresses; I’d love to see more pictures of them. How much did they go for, I didn’t see the end result of the auction…

KB: Maybe it wasn’t very well publicized, but I can guarantee you that it cost WAY more to make those garments (from a manufacturing standpoint) then what they sold for.  OK, 480 pounds for Humperdink’s marriage tunic.  And that DEFINITELY cost more to make.

Maggie: That’s not too bad, though. Usually with costume auctions, only costumes worn by super famous people go super high.

KB: I mean, the labor alone would be close to $1000, and that (even in our worst exchange rate) would be less than 500 pounds.

Maggie: You can compare prices with other costume/prop stores. Plus you have to consider the economy right now. I don’t think people are spending.

KB: So what I am saying is that even if it wasn’t from one of the greatest movies of all time, it’s still a bargain!  Interesting – the auction just ended yesterday.

Maggie: Princess Bride is totally one of the greatest movies of all time! Well, it’s one of my favorites anyway. 🙂

KB: No, what I was saying is that even if it were from a piece of sh*t movie, that tunic would still have been a bargain.

Maggie: Sadly, probably few things actually sell for what they are worth in terms of money and time.  Again, unless someone like Johnny Depp wore it. I have a gorgeous Sleepy Hollow gown that is as nice as anything Christina Ricci wore, but because it was worn by the midwife, it sold for a fraction.

KB: It’s kind of scandalous. I mean, for example, the big donut costume I made for “Sex Drive” – if it sold at auction, how much do you think someone would pay for it? Just take a guess… and then I’ll tell you how much it cost to make it.

Maggie: I have no idea, but it’s awesome. Collectibles are only worth what someone will pay for them – it’s totally not how much money they cost to make or time or energy put into it. Hobbyists get this all the time. They’ll put a ton of time and money into one of their costumes and then you’ll get an email from some rude person wanting you to make them something screen-accurate on a short deadline but they only want to pay $50 bucks for it. People don’t get that costumes are costly and time consuming. I imagine it’s the same for movie props and costumes.

KB: You betcha. That donut cost us as much as a down payment on a car. But (especially in this economy) no one would even get close to that figure if they bought it at auction.  There is going to be a huge props auction here in town at the end of the month, as 20th Century props is closing. I hope to cover the event, and I will be writing up the prices, etc. Certainly is sad.

Maggie: It is, but on the other hand, it gives people who really want them and treasure them a way to afford to buy them! I couldn’t afford Christina Ricci’s costume, but the midwife’s was more in my range. 🙂

KB: Yes, I suppose you are right in the fan/treasure aspect of it… but it is just wild to think about it.

Maggie: I am sad if working prop houses are closing. But a lot of costumes just go to stores to resell. And it’s nice when the stores don’t charge outrageous prices on them. I bought a few hats from The Patriot, and I’ve actually worn them with my 18th century costumes. So they are well-taken care of and have a second life!

KB: Well, that is the silver lining. So often we make these garments and don’t really consider their life after the show. Which is why I was surprised to see some of my stuff on the auction website I posted a while back. We rarely consider the eventuality of these costumes. They are, however, meaningful – especially to fans – and it is nice that they get a second home.  But where are the Buttercup and Wesley costumes? Sold for more money?  In the Smithsonian?  In the actors’ collections?

Maggie: I have no idea where the Buttercup ones are! I’ve never seen or heard a mention of them anywhere, either sold or on display, so I haven’t the faintest idea. But I would love to see them – back in the 80s, they didn’t put out hi-res promo pictures like they do today, so in the photos we do have, those costumes aren’t very good and they are hard to see well. Which is a shame!  What did you think of some of the other costumes in the movie?

KB: Well, I loved the attention to detail in the townspeople – I mean, they didn’t really have to go to those lengths, with all the wimples and layers of beautiful linens, woolens and raw silks. But the fact is, they did. These costumes are impressive. And as for Fezzik, Vizzini and Inigo – they are a perfectly costumed “trio” – and I say that with quotations, because they are a team, visually linked, but individually so different. The costume design really worked to tie them together (using color especially) while allowing the characters to retain their individuality.

Maggie: I agree – Fezzik, Vizzini, and Inigo all do work together. I really like Inigo’s costume, with the leather pants. An interesting choice that looks very natural on the character.

KB: Yeah, wasn’t Mandy Patinkin HOT?

Maggie: Frighteningly!

KB: Leather pants, rrraooowwwrrrr!!  I hope he reads this…  hahaa

Maggie: LOL

KB: And God bless Andre the Giant. He was so fantastic. And his simple costume – custom-sewn for his enormous size – was perfect, down to the proportionally-correct stripes.

Maggie: Definitely! I saw him once at Atlanta airport. He had a small entourage and a briefcase covered with dirty bumper stickers. It was awesome.  I also read that he had a bad back so they had to have a special harness so he could carry Buttercup at the end.

KB: There was, obviously, a ton of age/tech/dye work on this show. I will hunt down someone who worked on it. Give me a few weeks.  This had been great, Maggie. But I am starving and I need to eat dinner at some point.

Maggie: I’d love to hear about that!  It’s late for me, so I think I’m off to bed soon! It was lovely chatting! We’ll have to do it again!

Thanks, Maggie, for another amazing and educational adventure.  I hope that we can do this again, maybe Monty Python and the Holy Grail next time???  Come back here and take what’s coming to you! I’ll bite your legs off!

— KMB

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