Thursday, 21 April 2016

Costume drama musings

Does it ever frustrate you when you're watching a historically-set television programme or film and the costumes aren't quite what you'd hoped for? I've had a few days off this week and have been watching a series made in the 1970s - it's for Crime Scene, so I can't say much about it - but one thing that's really struck me is that it gives every impression of being from the 1970s and the costumes and hairstyling don't do much to convey that the story is set in the late 1940s.

Blousey. Fab wardrobe.
This surprised me a little, as the late 1960s and 1970s were great times for costume dramas: there were still plenty of authentic clothes from the 1920s-1950s kicking around, lots of people who actually remembered those decades were still alive, and, indeed, there were some great costume dramas and historically-set films made back then. Upstairs, Downstairs. Bonnie and Clyde. The Great Gatsby. Chinatown. Even Bugsy Malone, for goodness' sake - and if you think that's a bit mad, watch it and tell me you don't want Blousey Brown's wardrobe.

Of course, every decade makes its costume dramas according to what's currently fashionable, and there's a weird interplay between current fashion (which may itself be taking retro influences from another decade) and the styles of the past. Who doesn't love a bit of 70s-does-30s/40s? So you've got Mia Farrow's floppy hats in Gatsby, which are as much in keeping with 70s fashions as they are 20s, and an awful lot of sideburns and brown in the 1970s version of Poldark. So, in the programme I've been watching, pussybow blouses abound, and lipgloss is more common than red lippie. I'd say the hairstyles are the most glaring difference. (There's probably a lesson there for anyone seeking to recreate a vintage look... especially me, with my unkempt mop of hair.)

On top of the influence of fashion, even if a designer strives for authenticity, they're always going to pick and choose based on their own tastes from another time, or need to convey the impression a director wants (I recall seeing an interview with the costume designer for Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst, saying the director sent her a box of macaroons for inspiration, and you can really see those macaroon colours coming through in photos). The most recent film version of The Great Gatsby was stunningly inaccurate as far as the costumes went, but presumably they achieved the required effect.

Do you find watching costume dramas or historical films from other decades jarring? Do you like the effect of blended decades? I think as long as there's enough of the intended decade in something, I don't mind it also carrying traces of when it was made - it's a matter of balance for me. After all, many of the things I enjoy now will doubtless look horribly dated in a couple of decades' time.

24 comments :

  1. I must admit I'm bugged by it when the costumes, interiors and settings are too far off from the decade or historical period they're meant to reflect. The film that bothered me the most was "Alexander the Great". The Corinthian columns had me ranting for weeks afterwards. To my defence I was studying art history at the time :)

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    1. Hehehe. I love it when people pick out particular details that wind them up. It shows a love of a particular time or thing.

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  2. I love a good game of 'guess the era'! Old westerns are great for that, all set around the mid to late 1800s, but the costume differences between those made in the 40s to 70s are glaring! Mainly hair and makeup, as you say. Very thoughtful post x

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    1. Oooh, yes, westerns can be particularly 'special'. I wonder whether they were influenced by the C&W music scene?

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  3. It depends what I'm watching. If it is a historical drama I guess I have expectations that the costumes should be researched.

    On the other hand, something like the old Wonder Woman TV show where they were set in the 40's but everyone was sporting hair and makeup like it was 1976 (because it was) could be amusing.

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    1. Wonder Woman was set in the 40s?! I've only ever seen it in stills, never an episode, but I'd never realised it wasn't set in the 70s.

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  4. From what I read the most recent version of The Great Gatsby was intended to appeal to youngsters of today with it's Hip Hop sound track & music video style. Most of the youngsters I've spoken with were unimpressed with the entire movie, so I don't think the makers of TGG achieved their goal. Plus the entire TGG plot embodies an age & era, so the story is the '20's encapsulated- trying to adapt it to modern tastes ignored a large part of the novel. I thought the costumes & music in the recent TGG weren't very impressive nor representative of any era.

    It does bug me when there are all sorts of glaring anachronisms in period movies - like free flowing hairstyles in Elizabethan dramas. No woman but an absolute harlot would go about with their hair 'round their shoulders in daylight. I've often wondered about these depiction of Medieval & Elizabethan era cities where there's no livestock around, you just know there had to be geese, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, & cow scavenging about everywhere as fences weren't prevalent & even folks in cities ate what they raised.

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    1. Weirdly, the music was something I thought I'd hate, but it worked far better than I expected. I found di Caprio my least favourite thing in Gatsby; I've always seen Gatsby as someone trying to achieve an impossible dream, not a hustler.

      Re: city scenes, I always wonder at the cleanliness of everything. Wot, no poopy streets? Even in London?

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  5. I can understand why costume designers incorporate the current fashions, it makes for mass appeal therefore attracts a larger audience. Whilst Murder Under The Sun is gorgeous to look at it's so 1980s you'd half expect Wham to appear on the beach and burst into a rendition of Club Tropicana.

    I've never really been a fan of costume dramas and I must admit to rolling my eyes when I read about Peaky Blinders, expecting yet another opportunity for people to take the piss out of us Midlanders. When I saw the trailer I was hooked, a Nick Cave soundtrack and the cast dressed in the way Jon & other indie blokes have dressed for years. In reality the Peaky Blinders were weasle-faced & pock-marked with rotten teeth and who needs to see that on the telly? Not me! xxx

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    1. I really like the Peaky Blinders soundtrack. Lapsed goth. I'm very much looking forward to the show starting again. And it's nice to have something set in the Midlands that is achingly cool, the Midlands are much maligned.

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  6. I was watching a Jane Austen production from the 70's not long ago and the make-up was very distracting, all false eyelashes and lip gloss!

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    1. Heh! 70s lip gloss really does stand out, doesn't it? That and the blue eyeshadow.

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  7. I'm in complete agreement. I cringed at the costumes in the recent great gatsby even though I got the hip hop connection and I like Baz luhrman. I think that poirot and call the midwife are pretty accurate

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    1. I know with Poirot they deliberately skew it towards the deco - most people would've had interiors containing bits and bobs from previous decades - but it's all so pretty I really don't care. If I could move into a TV programme, Poirot would be a strong contender.

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  8. Often, yes, but not always. In a way, it depends on the whole scope of the story, sets, cast and costumes. I do prefer period pieces to be as period authentic as possible (with an exception made for 1930s - 50s takes on Victorian stories; I utterly love the mix of awesome mid-century styles and those of the 19th century), but sometimes if any one (or more) of those elements is especially strong, I have an easier time letting "off" costuming slide.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Yes, I find I'll let things slide for a really good story. The worse the story, the more other flaws pop out.

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  9. When watching costume dramas, I always have a hard time following the plot, as I keep looking at the fashions and interiors. Unless it's something really incongruous, I don't always spot it when things aren't quite right ... Last year, I watched a Belgian series about two friends, from when they met in the 1940s until the present day. I loved it, but kept rewinding to have a better look at some of the fashions. xxx

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    1. I don't get that distracted, that's a really keen interest in the visuals you've got there.

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  10. Funny enough, I've just don a blog post about how accurate the knitwear is on 'Home Fires'. I am stickler for detail though. If a film is aimed to be period - then I expect the clothes to be spot-on. It makes me laugh though when I see 1970s costume dramas on Youtube and they're in full on make-up and false eyelashes.

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    1. That was an excellent post, I really enjoyed it.

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  11. Hi Mim, I thought about this post last night when i was watching a film. It was "The Keep" an early Eighties film set during the Second World War and the costumes were as 80's as get out. It is quite annoying isn't it? I tend to do that with horses set in medieval times when they are thoroughbreds and like to have a good rant to myself. I suppose that incorporating a bit of our time is a really good way to work a connection but it is still a bit annoying. :) Xx

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    1. I'd never even considered horses! Funnily enough, thinking of transport, cars are the one things it seems impossible to get badly wrong, probably because there's not much room for messing around with them or reinterpreting them. Horses, though, will have changed a lot, you're right.

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  12. Those made in the sixties and seventies are the worst offenders in my opinion, it's all about the hair and make up xx

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    1. It's hit the point for me where I find that charming in itself. I wonder what the reason for keeping hair and makeup current is? (I'm sure it's probably still happening, it's just not obvious right now.) Perhaps programme makers think their audiences are okay with people's clothes being different, but that they won't accept 'unattractive' leads.

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