Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Why Did Amazon Put Heidi Klum In This Terrible Dress?

Despite the relentless kitsch of the Tim and Heidi dynamic, I ended up bingeing more of Amazon's Making the Cut. It is so over-the-top in its production values I kind of hate it. But it is ok background noise while spreading out all my possessions on the floor and pretending that I'm "organizing."

But then in Episode 7 Heidi walked out in THIS:

*record scratch*

Wow, um so this is a horrid cartoony version of a totem pole and blatant cultural appropriation of Northwest Coast Native style. I did some googling and found out that this dress is from a 2013 collection by (non-Native) designer Jeremy Scott for Adidas. 

Here is a photo Heidi posted on Twitter when the show was filming:

And here are some other looks from the collection: 



This collection was firmly condemned by Native people when it was released. Check out this blog post here (best quote: "[Scott's] inspiration was unoriginal, and his take on Northwest Coast formline was ignorant, disrespectful and badly construed"). Tellingly, it wasn't available for purchase in the US-- so Adidas maybe sensed they had a controversy on their hands. So WHY ON EARTH would the Amazon fish this abomination out of the 2013 bin and give it this platform?? 

As I mentioned already, Making the Cut is very glossy. Amazon clearly spent massive money on it: there is a million dollar prize, high-budget fashion shows in Paris and Tokyo, and judges that you know were only lured there with a huge paycheck. There are lots of artsy, slow-motion shots with swelling music that try to make you feel like you are watching something really important and powerful. Every visual feels very manipulated and curated. So unless Heidi brought this dress in from home and said she would leave the show if she couldn't wear it (highly unlikely) this dress was intentionally picked out for her by a team of stylists and she and Tim Gunn and the rest of the production team thought it was a great choice instead of gasping in horror and being like:

Just a reminder that Eighth Generation, a Native-owned business which sells products actually designed by Native artists is awesome and is taking online orders during the pandemic (along with sourcing 10,000 N95 masks and donating them to local clinics). 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Very Important Ranking of Mr. Collinses

I was thinking of ranking Pride and Prejudice adaptations or Mr. Darcys, but where is the surprise in that? Everyone knowns that it is #1 Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice 1995) #2 Colin Firth (Bridget Jones's Diary) #3 tie between Sir Laurence Olivier and Wishbone the dog. But a great Mr. Collins can pop out of nowhere.
Mr. Collins is goofy and embarrassing and a great comedic role. All the men on this list have a slightly different take on whether Mr. Collins is buttoned up and prissy, or boorish and crass. But one thing that is easy to gloss over is that Mr. Collins is no harmless fool. He is pompous, self-important and a misogynist. When Elizabeth rejects him he brushes it off because he believes that when women say no they really mean yes--an idea that continues to cause destruction in women's lives to this day.

The other thing about Mr. Collins is that in the book he is 25 -- actually younger than Mr. Darcy. Most adaptations cast him as more than a decade older and style him to look older still. But being young adds an important dimension-- he is one of those 20-something guys who thinks he knows EVERYTHING and is eager to grace the world with his superior knowledge.

Ok enough chit chat. Here is my list. I wanted to call this a "definitive" list, but there are several versions I haven't seen (something about zombies?) so this will have to be what it is.

6. Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, 1940

I have a fondness for the 1940 Pride and Prejudice even though it takes liberties with the plot. Melville's Mr. Collins is prim and silly but has very little edge. At 44 he is also the oldest Mr. Collins on this list. 

Best line: As you are aware madam, when a certain...melancholy event occurs [makes awkward eye contact with Mr. Bennet]... I shall be the involuntary means of disinheriting your daughters. 

5. Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice, 2005

I like Tom Hollander but I don't care for this adaptation. This Mr. Collins is painfully awkward but not very funny. Hollander is also quite short, which follows a trope of making Mr. Collins a wee little man compared with tall, hot Mr. Darcy.  The book actually describes Mr. Collins as "a tall, heavy-looking young man." Not that every adaptation has to stick to that but it is interesting that most adaptations imagine Mr. Collins as older and smaller than Darcy when in the book he is young and has a big physical presence.

Best line: What excellent boiled potatoes. It's been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable.

4. David Bamber as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Oh David Bamber, I'm sorry for ranking you so low! Obviously everything about the 1995 adaptation is iconic and perfect and Bamber is a hoot in the role. We get a little bit of the dark side with his spiteful visit after Lydia's elopement, but generally he is just a sweaty idiot with a moist upper lip.  This adaptation also really leaned into him calling Elizabeth "cousin Elizabeth" which really hits the gross factor for modern audiences. Bamber was about 40 when this was filmed, and the producers tried to age him further by styling his hair to look like he was balding. 

Best line: Observe that closet cousin Elizabeth! WHAT do you say to that? Is it not the very ESSENCE of practicality and convenience? Lady Catherine de Bourgh HERSELF was kind enough to suggest that these shelves be fitted EXACTLY as you see them here.

3. Nitin Ganatra as Mr. Kohli in Bride & Prejudice, 2004

This Bollywood adaptation gets many things right about Mr. Collins (or Mr. Kohli as he is called here). Ganatra brings an amazing smarmy energy to the role. Mr. Kohli is obsessed with signifiers of status, has snobbish ideas about America's superiority to India, and thinks Indian-American women are too "outspoken." He is also the only Collins who has a musical number sung about him.

Best line: No life without wife!

2. Malcolm Rennie as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, 1980

This adaptation is mostly a huge snooze, but Rennie is a bright spot. At 33 he is nearly the youngest on this list and is a tall, big guy. He conspicuously checks the quality of the silver while at dinner (which he will one day inherit), apologizes endlessly for small mistakes, enjoys mansplaining things to the Bennet sisters, dances more hilariously than David Bamber, and his cheerful "you will accept me presently" during the proposal scene sounds like a threat from a serial killer. 

Best line: It is more than well-situated. It is excellently situated. And what you refer to as "rising ground" is a hill, Miss Eliza.

1. Hubbel Palmer as William Collins in Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy, 2003

This is why I wanted to do this list because the #1 is a bit obscure and maybe a surprise: Hubbel Palmer is the best Collins ever captured on screen. He was 26 when the movie came out and is physically spot-on. He is obnoxious, boring, self-important, and has some pretty messed-up ideas about women. This movie was made by Mormon filmmakers and takes place in Provo, Utah. The writers clearly had no problem poking fun of their own, so Collins tinges his self-righteousness with religious overtones. There is this great scene where he is basically giving a sermon about how women should be grateful for marriage offers and Elizabeth fantasizes about throwing a bible directly at his face. This Mr. Collins is awful, but manages to also be very, very funny. 

Best quote: Elizabeth, we have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

My Other Favorite Period Movies

One of my top old blog posts was a ranking of my favorite period movies. (And by "top" I mean the post that I personally re-read the most. My actual most popular post is the one I wrote about how bad the costumes are on a Hallmark Channel show called When Calls the Heart. I kid you not, it has 2500 page views.)

At the time I could only come up with 9 instead of a nice round 10 and described my feelings thus:

Maybe there is something meaningful about always being on the search for that great movie that will round out the list. Or maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and think of the 10th and feel like an idiot for forgetting it. 

So here are my candidates for that 10th spot-- some are ones I forgot about, some are newly discovered.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

This is one where I slapped my forehead and couldn't believe that I forgot. But this actually a period movie? What period is it? The white dresses and leather pants period? Is this just what Italy was like in 1993?  It is an intentionally vague Shakespearean time warp rather than any point in time.

The important thing is that Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh are SO CHARMING in this movie I just can't handle it. It is also PACKED with other great performances, including Denzel Washington and one of Kate Beckinsale's first film roles. There is also a cameo by film composer Patrick Doyle who plays the role of Balthazar the singer.

(Doyle is on the left)

Best costume moment:

There are like two costumes in this whole movie with a different vest here and there. So instead I will use this gif of a chair collapsing under Benedick, which Kenneth Branagh deserves for cheating on Emma Thompson and ruining the illusion that these two were also the perfect couple in real life.


(But then she met Greg Wise while filming Sense and Sensibility so it all worked out)

Gosford Park (2001)

This is a great film that I recently re-watched and became re-enamored with. It is a murder mystery that takes place at an old English manor house and peeks into lives upstairs and downstairs and how they interact. It was written by Julian Fellows and so was Downton Abbey before Downton Abbey. But unlike Downton Abbey it is perfectly contained and plotted film rather than a TV show that goes off the rails (yeah, I said it).

Fortunately, Maggie Smith plays the exact same character.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham Countess of Trentham

The cast is incredible, including Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry, and Kristin Scott Thomas to just name a few.

Oh and helloooo Clive Owen

This is one of those movies you want to watch over and over again to catch all of the little details and layers of the story.

Best costume moment:

Gosford Park has a great range of 1930s costumes, from evening gowns, to servant's livery, to sporty hunting tweeds. But I think my favorite detail is the little tiara that Maggie Smith wears. She may be low on money (sssh don't tell the other characters!) but she is still a Countess dammit.

Elizabeth (1998)

Elizabeth has a bit more violence and ridiculous drama than I usually enjoy in a good period pic (someone literally dies while having sex in a poisoned dress), but Cate Blanchett is so wonderful and compelling that it is hard not to love it. It is quite different in tone from The Young Victoria but it has a similar appeal-- a young queen coming to the throne, discovering her power in a world that wasn't built for women to be leaders.

She is NO MAN'S Elizabeth

Side note: Having recently watched The Tudors and enjoyed James Frain as Thomas Cromwell, I totally forgot he is also in this movie. He plays a cartoon version of a Spaniard, complete with thick accent, strange facial hair, and overly-dramatic black outfits.

lol not your best look hon

Best costume moment: 

There are some pretty memorable costumes in this movie, but many are debatably accurate. Probably the best for both fabulousness and accuracy is the coronation gown.

Based on this portrait:

And then she wears it while dancing a Volta like a boss.

Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

On a completely unserious note, there is the original Pirates of the Caribbean. The sequels have run this franchise into the ground, and Johnny Depp is kind of gross now, but weren't we all delighted by this movie when it first came out? Weren't we all sort of surprised by how good it was? Do I own this on DVD? Yes, yes, and yes.

This being a movie based on an amusement park ride it isn't the most accurate costume-wise. Elizabeth Swann's costumes seem to place the movie around the 1770s (when she definitely would have worn a corset prior to the start of the movie but would have called it stays), while Will Turner has more of a 17th century Three Musketeers vibe. 

Best costume moment(s):

When this movie came out I had a friend who LOVED Orlando Bloom as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies. I don't really care about Lord of the Rings and wasn't into the platinum blonde look so I didn't get what she was on about. So when Pirates of the Caribbean came out she was like SEE. DON'T YOU GET IT NOW? HE IS SO HOT. And I admit, Will Turner is a dish. But I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. So told her that I preferred Commodore Norrington. I printed out pictures of him for my dorm room and she was SO ANNOYED.

It started as a joke, but was it? I sort of like his look? Perfectly powdered wig, tricorn hat (sometimes with feathers), gold-trimmed jackets, snappy little knee pants? Jack Davenport gave an interview where he complained that all the pirate costumes looked "so cool" and he looked like "an ice cream cone."

Now 15+ years later I can say with confidence that it was not a joke and that I do, in fact, like Norrington, the upstanding ice cream cone. 

Belle (2013)

One of the biggest problems with loving period movies is that they are generally written and directed by white people and star only white people. They often depict a world where no one thinks about race or racism. Belle is a wonderful movie that breaks that mold. Written and directed by Black women, Belle tells a story about a woman of color at the upper end of English society.

This movie is loosely based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (if you do some internet searching you realize quite loosely) whose mother was a slave, but because her (white) father claimed her and designated her as his heiress, she was raised as gentlewoman by her wealthy uncle and aunt. She was in a unique position, but the movie also gives us glimpses of other Black lives in England during this period-- including a Black maid and group of formally dressed Black men attending an important court case.

The movie wrestles with the racism of English society and how it effects Dido. It is at times a little heavy-handed and overly idealistic. But it also has many insightful and moving moments. There are a lot of well-meaning white people saying things to Dido that they think are really enlightened but are actually pretty crappy. It is powerful to watch her start rejecting all the ways that she has been belittled and marginalized. Ultimately the movie is uplifting and she gets a happy ending which is what every period movie heroine deserves.

Best costume moment: 

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is fabulous and looks fabulous in 18th century gowns. I'm a sucker for a frothy pink dress, and she gets SEVERAL.

Lovely pastel

A little frillier

Hot pink YAAAS

Wolf Hall (2015)

This is my current obsession so I might go on a bit. Why do I love this so much?? One of the joys of most of my favorite period movies and miniseries is that they are female-centered stories, with female characters driving the plot and the action. But Wolf Hall is all about Thomas Cromwell. I argue that it is so good because the series is based on an excellent and award-winning series by lady writer Hilary Mantel.

This is a retelling of the King Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn story from Thomas Cromwell's perspective-- a man who is usually cast as the villain in most fictionalized accounts. Here he is clever, likable, and compelling to watch.

Best costume moment(s):

I love movies that make subtle changes to costumes as the story progresses. Cromwell consistently wears black but his clothing get fancier as he rises in power. At the beginning he is a successful lawyer and secretary so his clothing is nice but simple, and he wears a soft cap which he is always taking off when he bows and then re-adjusting over his loose hair.

By Anne's coronation he is trimmed in heavy furs and the cap he wears is more structured. He now wears a skullcap underneath it that keeps his hair in place when he takes his hat on and off. 

In the book the reader is reminded that Cromwell was once a cloth merchant and sizes people up by mentally pricing the fabrics they are wearing. He understands the power of clothing, both as a representation of self and as a connection to one of the most important seats of power in Europe: the merchants and traders. His costuming is contrasted with Thomas More who is shown in furs that look old and shabby.

This is implied to be an affectation rather than a sign of poverty. More is wealthy, but in this telling he is insufferably smug and superior--assuming he is more intelligent and righteous than anyone he meets. His old clothes are a way for him to show that he is "above" worldly things.

There is a scene in the book when More is regaling his dinner guests with stories about the follies of women. He recounts how his daughter-in-law desperately wanted a pearl necklace. To teach her a lesson about desiring such vain things, he gifted her with a box that rattled like pearls when shaken. She was elated and opened the box, only to discover it was filled with dried peas. He roars with laughter remembering her disappointment. Cromwell notes to one of the other guests that the woman in question brought a great deal of money into the family when she married More's son (which of course became the property of her husband's family). Cromwell remarks that if the lady wants pearls, she should damn well have pearls.

This anecdote, and the costuming are two of the clever ways that the story re-frames and re-imagines the differences between these two men. The conventional wisdom is that More was a voice of morality and unwavering in his opinions. Cromwell was constantly changing, climbing the ladder, and pleasing who he needed. Usually that translates to More=good, Cromwell=bad. But here More's steadfastness is stubborn and backward. He would rather wear an old coat and gift someone dried peas than participate in the vanity of fashion. Cromwell is a man who embraces change-- change in himself, change for England, change for the church. He adjusts his wardrobe as his wealth increases and is generous with gifts and favors. If you were a Tudor woman with virtually no rights wouldn't you rather be Mrs. Cromwell than Mrs. More?

Ok I need to stop tinkering with this post and finish Bring up the Bodies.