Best Costume Design 1916
While we often talk about films in terms of photography and acting, what often stands out most clearly in memory about a movie is the style or idiosyncrasy of the clothing. Whether it’s Charlie Chaplin in the “Little Tramp” outfit or the Stormtroopers in Star Wars, costume often offers an instantly recognizable code for a character’s persona and position. When new and exciting costumes are created for the screen, new icons or symbols can be added to the repertoire of human imagination.
“Intolerance” depicts four different ages of history, in part through creative use of costume, perhaps most memorably in the “Babylonian Story,” but also in the French and Judean stories. In “Curse of Quon Gwon,” traditional Chinese attire is sensitively mixed with Westernized clothing to help drive a story of the conflicts inherent in the immigrant experience. Russian actors contrast their own history with that of France in “Queen of Spades,” in part through nineteenth century costume. In “Sherlock Holmes,” actor/director William Gillette preserved an iconic look for the world’s most famous detective by filming his theatrical interpretation of Holmes. And Cecil B. DeMille recreates fifteenth century France with the assistance of well-chosen clothes in “Joan the Woman.”
The nominees for best costume design of 1916 are:
- Curse of Quon Gwon
- Queen of Spades
- Sherlock Holmes
- Joan the Woman
And the winner is…”Intolerance!”
I must admit I went back and forth on this quite a bit. Arguably, “Sherlock Holmes” should win for the same reasons “Kid Auto Races” did in 1914 – because when you want to dress up as Sherlock Holmes for Halloween, you turn right to the look William Gillette invented. But, he created that look on stage, which makes the actual design of costumes for the movie a derivation. Then there was “Curse of Quon Gwon,” which, to my mind, has some of the loveliest costumes of all time. However one suspects that a lot of them were just ordinary clothes for the actors involved. Besides, there was the sheer scope of “Intolerance” to take into account: rather than just a handful of actors costumed convincingly to represent another era or culture, there are hundreds in some shots. And, while I think that some writers have over-rated D.W. Griffith’s historical research, there’s no denying that the costumes are memorable and effective. I had to go with this choice this time out.