Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Costumes

Best Costume Design 1917

As with makeup and hair, we’re seeing costumes becoming increasingly sophisticated throughout the film industry as time goes by as well. In the earliest years, actors wore whatever they had at hand, and only for period dramas was there much effort to raid the wardrobes of theatrical companies. But, as Charlie Chaplin proved in 1914, having the right clothes on can make all the difference for a character in any time and place. Stars and character actors found that costume was especially important in the silent cinema, when all information about their characters had to be transmitted visually.

This year, Douglas Fairbanks shows up in two of our nominations. In “Wild and Woolly,” he plays a Western-obsessed Easterner, who convinces a whole town in Arizona to stage a kind of Wild West LARP session for him to get his father to build a railroad. In “A Modern Musketeer,” he plays a similar role, this time obsessed with the works of Alexandre Dumas, and the movie begins with him in an elaborate swashbuckler getup. Mary Pickford was always very conscious of her clothes, but as the rambunctious title character in “A Poor Little Rich Girl,” she transformed into a little girl who dresses up as a little boy as well. The “Judex” serial also gave a wonderful example of the use of costume to transform, perhaps inventing the first costumed super hero in its lead character, and his stylish cape and hat are put to excellent use in “The Tragic Mill,” which also sees Musidora in a bathing suit!

The nominees for best costumes of 1917 are:

  1. Poor Little Rich Girl
  2. The Tragic Mill (Judex)
  3. A Modern Musketeer
  4. Wild and Woolly

And the winner is…

“The Tragic Mill!”

While it’s not as iconic as Charlie’s “little tramp” outfit, the “Judex” costume influenced early heroes like the Shadow and Batman, whose dark sensibilities seem to have come back into fashion with audiences of the twenty first century.  Judex looks particularly striking as he navigates a motor boat down a river in his cape and hat, on his way to rescue his beloved Jacqueline from the clutches of the baddies, and we also see him take off his “Vallieres” disguise and become his secret identity in this episode.

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:

  1. Intolerance
  2. Curse of Quon Gwon
  3. Queen of Spades
  4. Sherlock Holmes
  5. Joan the Woman

And the winner is…”Intolerance!”

Intolerance_(1916)_-_2

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.

Best Costume Design 1915

The clothing we wear affects how others see us and how we see ourselves. An actor’s body language and character can be directly influenced by their outfit, and time periods are established for the audience at least as much through clothing as through scenery. The movies selected for this year’s award for costume design all reflect the importance of this art to the motion pictures.

In “Trilby,” a bohemian subculture is established through clothing, and the development of the main character is shown through her wardrobe changes. In the “Les Vampires” episode called “The Deadly Ring” exotic costumes contrast with the day-to-day norms of Parisian culture. Theda Bara got to display some of the hottest fashions of 1915 in “A Fool There Was.” The Civil War era comes alive in the costumes of “The Coward.” And, although it is remembered today for the innovation of female nudity, the diverse costumes of Lois Weber’sHypocrites” help establish the archetypal nature of its characters.

The nominees for Best Costume Design of 1915 are…

  1. Trilby
  2. The Deadly Ring
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. The Coward
  5. Hypocrites

And the winner is…”The Deadly Ring!”

Deadly RingAs with last year, when I gave the award to Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” outfit, again I chose what must be seen as one of the most iconic images of 1915 cinema, the famous bat-suit worn by Stacia Naperkowska for her brief and fatal dance sequence. While the other costumes in this movie owe a great deal to its “Fantômas” predecessor, the glamorous evening clothes of Jean Ayme and the Grand Inquisitor’s understated but official costume also earn a mention.

Century Awards Update

With just two weeks left before the Century Awards, I want to go ahead and finalize my nominees. Last year I wisely announced only four nominees for each category on the initial day, then added one for each category in the finals. This year, I figured I had done such a good job watching 1915 movies that I didn’t need to do that – and lo and behold I discovered four exceptions. So, I’m adding a sixth movie to three categories and a seventh in one. This breaks the Academy’s rules all over the place, but luckily I’m not bound by them.

So, here’s the updated categories:

Assunta Spina

Best Costume Design

  1. Trilby
  2. The Deadly Ring
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. The Coward
  5. Hypocrites
  6. Alice in Wonderland *New*

Best Stunts

  1. Work
  2. The Lamb
  3. The Champion
  4. Regeneration
  5. By the Sea
  6. Fatty’s Faithful Fido *New*
  7. Fatty’s Tintype Tangle *New*

Best Lead Actress

  1. Clara Kimball Young for “Trilby”
  2. Anna Q. Nilsson for “Regeneration”
  3. Vera Kholodnaia for “Children of the Age”
  4. Fanny Ward for “The Cheat”
  5. Geraldine Farrar for “Carmen”
  6. Francesca Bertini for “Assunta Spina” *New*

See you on the Red Carpet!