Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hollywood Costume at the V&A

If you’ve never watched even one Marilyn Monroe film, you’re still likely to have a mental image of her in a flyaway white dress, standing above a vent, trying to keep the hem of her dress from travelling up to her neck. This was in the film The Seven-Year Itch. In another Billy Wilder film – Some Like it Hot – rumour has it that Monroe had to film one simple scene more than fifty times. All she had to do was knock on a door, enter a room and ask for a glass of bourbon with those seductive red lips of hers, but she kept getting it wrong. So, maybe she wasn’t the best actress in the world, but Monroe had such strong personal style that it takes only a few iconic accessories – a mole on the cheek, a blonde bob, and a white dress – to perfectly capture her look.

This is the alchemy of a good Hollywood costume designer. In a few simple strokes, they tell a character and a story. Think Ruby Slippers and you are instantly transported to the world of the Wizard of Oz. There were around fifteen ruby slippers created for the film, of which Judy Garland wore several, and the dead witch and the witch of the East wore others. A pair of these notorious slippers are now on view at the V&A, along with iconic costumes such as those worn by Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean), Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet in Titanic), and of course Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.) You can also buy a pair of ruby slipper earrings at the V&A store.

On display are interviews with actors like Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, talking about the role that costume has played in bringing their characters to life. Streep, who remarks on how her strong opinions about her costumes can often make the life of a costume designer difficult, says, “On every film, the clothes are half the battle in creating the character. I have a great deal of opinion about how my people are presented. We show a great deal by what we put on our bodies.”

The exhibition is divided into three sections. The first deconstructs screenplays. It shows us how the simple directions – “he wears a leather jacket, a flapped holster and a brimmed felt hat” – are transformed into Indiana Jones. The second sections deals with the dialogue between actor and designer, and how putting on a costume makes the actor feel like their character. The third – the finale – is a smorgasbord of famous costumes. So, what costume gives you your very own Becky Bloomwood moment? The Bride (Uma Thurman in Kill Bill), Dorothy’s pinafore in Wizard of Oz, or Tony Manero’s white suit (John Travolta in Saturday night Fever)?

Published at http://www.thelondonword.com/2012/11/hollywood-costume-at-the-va/ 

Breakfast at Buckingham Palace

So, I had breakfast at Buckingham Palace the other week. I just thought I’d mention it. In fact, I’m thinking that from now on, I’m going to drop this titbit of information into random conversations whenever possible. For example, if anyone complains about the constant rain we’re having in London, I will nod thoughtfully and say, “Yes, but the morning I had breakfast at Buckingham Palace, it was really rather a splendid day!” Or if someone comments on the heaven that is pain au chocolat at Bagatelle Boutique in South Kensington, I will simper and say, “Almost as good as the ones from the Buckingham Palace kitchens, darling.”

The curators at Queen’s Gallery have put together a wonderful new exhibition called The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein, and their series of press views included an intimate breakfast-do for bloggers, and curators’ tours from two passionate women – Kate Heard and Lucy Whitaker – who know sixteenth-century portrait artists better than most people know their nephews. If you don’t think this exhibition is your cup of tea – if your idea of a historical painter is Andy Warhol, and you don’t do higher brow than David Hockney – then I would say, check out this exhibition. The paintings and prints are not only great examples of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century royal portraiture, but they also lead you from Brussels through Venice to London, as you watch the incredible journey of oil painting through Europe.

If you think of Leonardo da Vinci as a pioneer, think again. This exhibition charts the painters from the Netherlands tradition – like German-born Hans Memling (1430-1494) – that inspired the Italian artist and many after him. In fact, da Vinci was the first Master of the Italian Renaissance who painted in oils, a technique that travelled down from Memling, and his teacher Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441). The exhibition brings together royal portraits by court artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) and Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543), and detailed ink-on-paper prints by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). A gorgeous snowy landscape by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, called Massacre of the Innocents tells a story of bloodshed and poverty. The original owner Rudolph II found the pathos of the painting so overwhelming that he had the massacre of children that was depicted in the work painted over.

The curators explain how lucky they are not only to have original paintings by the masters on display, but also a lot of preparatory drawings to show alongside. Kate Heard points to a copy of the Whitehall Mural (by Holbein the Younger) that depicts a bold-faced Henry VIII, accompanied by Henry VII, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour, and says, “Close your eyes and picture Henry VIII, and he will look something like this painting. Remember that we don’t know what Henry VIII looked like. We only know what Holbein tells us he looked like.” These artists were not just painters, but theologians, philosophers, scientists and life-long students of human psyche and morality.

Published at http://www.thelondonword.com/2012/11/northern-renaissance-buckingham-palace/