A classic makeover story, 2005′s Kinky Boots laces together two stories that become irrevocably intertwined somewhere between a drag queen’s broken heel and a young englishman’s broken dreams.
Charlie Price’s family shoe making business is failing; the market for well-made oxfords is dwindling with the rise of fast fashion, and Price is forced to start laying off employees and contemplating closure. Desperate for some sort of sign, Charlie mistakenly wanders into the life of Lola, a drag queen he assumes to be a woman and tries to save from assault. Later in her dressing room at a nearby drag bar, Lola complaints to Charlie about the reoccurring problem she encounters during her acts: her sexy shoes are poorly made, the heels collapsing or cracking under the pressure of a male-bodied person. Although he’s confused, Charlie takes a step into the unknown and sets his mind to building Lola a pair of new boots.
Charlie’s first pair of fetish boots are, to be concise, a complete failure. Cut from burgundy suede with a chunky, short black heel, he presents them to Lola with pride. She of course is mortified, openly resenting the idea that she inspired something “the colour of hot water bottles”.
“Red! Red is the colour of sex!” Lola cries,”Red is the colour of fear and danger and signs that say Do Not Enter.”
“But they’re comfy!” Charlie argues.
“But sex shouldn’t be comfy!” Lola returns.
Based on a true story that inspired a BBC special and a musical, Kinky Boots is all about the traditions and trends surrounding shoes and their makers, and the meaning they take on for consumers and their various identities.
For Charlie, shoes have always meant hand-sewn leather men’s brogues, a tradition passed through his family. For Lola, the very same shoes are a nightmare: even as a child, Lola is shown trading her basic brown school boy’s shoes for bright red bow-accented pumps. For these two people, shoes mean completely different things. Charlie sees them as something ordinary, comfy and practical, and Lola sees them as a tool that can contain or free her depending on their shade and cut. Charlie’s company (Divine Footwear in real life) ends up building the perfect sex-filled stiletto boot in cherry red, but revolutionizes the industry by putting a steel rod in the heel that can support a man’s weight. This innovation gives drag queens like Lola the confidence to sing and dance in their sexiest shoes on sturdy footing.
Something stuck with me after I finished watching Pariah for the first time, but I couldn’t quite put it into words. The film is strong, emotional, and surprisingly realistic compared to other lesbian films I’ve seen over the years. It took a second watch for me to realize what was really moving me throughout the pain-laden plot: the clothes. I have never seen a life so ruled by clothing as the main character Alike’s. For her, clothing can mean fear, strength, punishment, or acceptance. It’s all about the timing.
Pariah opens in an all-ladies club, and Alike (or Lee as most of her friends call her) sits in awe of the women dancing on poles in front of her. She’s accompanied by her best friend Laura, who appears to be much more experienced in the scene. The two complement one another perfectly: Laura with a diamond stud in one ear, an Afro, and a red plaid shirt, and Alike in an oversized striped polo, do-rag, and cap.
But when the pair separates on the bus ride home, Alike starts to strip. The hat comes off and a bun of corn rows is revealed. Under her polo she wears a tight pink t-shirt with sparkle embellishments that spell out “Angel,” and small hoop earrings are added to complete the look. Her old clothing, along with her lesbian identity, is tucked out of sight into a small army-print bag.
At home, it becomes obvious why Alike needs to hide. With an extremely religious mother and absent father, she is constantly pressured to look like a normal, pretty, teenage girl. Her mother, ruled by the fear that Alike is in fact a lesbian, constantly urges her to go shopping, and makes a point of commenting on clothes that “really complement her figure.” Like her hidden bag of boys’ clothing, Alike stuffs the truth beneath layers of fear and uncertainty, and continues lying to her parents. Meanwhile her mother continues buying tight pink clothing in too-small sizes and complaining to her friends that, “For some reason Lee just doesn’t like anything I pick out for her anymore.”
Upon arriving at school the next day, she rushes to the washroom to change again, this time swapping her feminine attire for a tight white undershirt, a large graphic t-shirt, and a cap. Although she’s in clothing that mirrors her friends, she still seems uncomfortable and detached, miserably drifting through the day alone. When school is out, she switches back and heads home where she’s pressured about what boy she’ll take to the homecoming dance. The switches continue back and forth, over and over. Just watching it is exhausting.
From “strapping” with a dildo in her pants to look “harder” to impress a straight girl, to softening and finding a middle ground between who her friends think she is and who her mother says she is supposed to be to try and find happiness, Pariah covers every step of Alike’s transformation and every layer of clothing she pulls onto her body and off again. When she finally realizes there’s nothing wrong with the person she’s been hiding, she breaks and the truth she has been piling under bedazzled t-shirts, cardigans with pulling buttons, and skirts is revealed. She finally gives herself permission to stop changing, and settles somewhere between the two extremes she’s been trying to dress for. With her hair uncovered and tied in a loose knot, earrings in, and fitted sweatshirts where massive polos were once donned with shame, she is no longer Alike or Lee: She is simply herself.
Pariah puts the importance of dress into perspective for us. Not only is dressing important to how we feel about ourselves, or how others perceive us, but it has the power to change our lives, for better or for worse. In Alike’s case, one poorly timed outfit swap could crumble her entire life, her family’s love, and her friendships. It made me realize although clothing has always meant freedom for me, it can be the opposite too. Some people are trapped in their clothing, and there’s no simple zipper or button solution to release them.
Whether you decide to hate watch the Oscars this weekend or turn it into a drinking game (is there really a third option?), I know I’ll be tuning in for at least one category. Best Costume Design is one of the few ways achievements in clothing is recognized in the mainstream media that isn’t on a best/worst dressed list. It doesn’t hurt that it is also relevant to my love of movies. So who’s gonna take home the golden statue? Trying to guess is half the fun (drinking games are the other half).
Durran has been nominated for an Oscar twice, once for Atonement (of the infamous green dress) and once for 2005’s Pride and Prejudice (both by Karenina director Joe Wright), but has never won. As an assistant costume designer, she worked on Topsy Turvy (only one of my most favourite costume porn movies EVER), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (seriously), and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Anna Karenina’s costumes are as lush and opulent as you would expect to find a period piece starring Keira Knightley (translation: every Keira Knightley film that isn’t Bend it Like Beckham). Though the competition is tough and I’m not sure if Durran’s work is enough to charm the Academy over her competition, she’s already won my heart. Really, isn’t that the most important award of all? (Rhetorical question, it clearly is.)
This is Delgado’s first Oscar nomination ever, and as costume designer on Les Miserables, he was responsible for making over 2200 outfits (what did you accomplish today?). He’s receiving international acclaim for his work on Les Mis, including nominations for Spain’s Goya award and a BAFTA. In the past he’s worked with Alejandro González Iñárritu on the costumes for Biutiful, and Pedro Almodóvar on The Skin I Live In. This film and has been getting a lot of attention on the awards circuit, and the costumes were featured in the December 2012 issue of Vogue, but everything is pretty standard historical drama fare (with the exception of the Thenardiers, natch). There are definitely more interesting entries in the category this year, which is why I don’t think this will be the winner.
Despite more than 20 years in the business, this is Johnston’s first nomination. She is particularly known for her collaborations with Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,The Colour Purple). Lincoln has also been an award season favourite (because America, duh), and the costumes are pretty good, although it’s mostly just Sally Field’s, and I don’t see it being the winner. It just doesn’t get me excited like any of the other nominees. The majority of the costumes are just old dudes (and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in black wool suits. Maybe there’s a top hat or a patterned vest to spice things up. For the most part, the costumes are booooooooooooring. However, because the Academy is made up of stodgy Olds, that might be a point in its favour. Plus not having it win might be considered treason, I don’t know.
Remember last year’s Mirror Mirror? Yeah, I don’t think many people did. If you’re going to skip it though, it’s worth at least checking out the screencaps for Ishioka’s fabulous work. She won once before, in 1992 for Bram Stoker’s Dracula—the costumes in that movie are incredible, so justly deserved. She has designed costumes for theatre, film, and print, and was known as Japan’s leading art director and graphic designer. Her first film was Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. She died on January 21, 2012,
and since the Oscars love giving awards to the recently departed, I predict she’s going to win. Plus, even though Mirror Mirror was a total flop, there’s no denying that her ornate, over-the-top costumes are incredible.
Snow White and the Huntsman
Yes, there was more to this movie than Kristen Stewart’s British accent! This is Atwood’s 10th (!!!) Oscar nomination. She has won three times, in 2002 for Chicago, in 2005 for Memoirs of a Geisha, and in 2010 for Alice in Wonderland. The first movie she worked on was the ’80s coming of age film Firstborn (I’ve never seen it, but both Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. are in it, so I might have to). She is a frequent collaborator with Tim Burton, notably working on Edward Scissorhands. (And on top of Edward, her first Oscar nomination was for 1994′s Little Women, which means she is already a winner in our eyes for getting to play dress up with Winona Ryder on multiple occasions). Unlike Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman is a much darker and grittier interpretation of the classic fairy tale, and Atwood’s costumes reflect that. They’re just as dramatic as Mirror Mirror’s, but lack the whimsy (and colour) of Ishioka’s designs. Given her pedigree with the Academy, if Ishioka doesn’t win, Atwood probably will. Call it the battle of the Snow Whites. And yay for fantasy films being nominated!
Who do you want to win? Join us on Twitter on February 24 as we live-tweet the events.
A long, long time ago, musical duo The Everly Brothers recorded a song called “Love Hurts.” Now, history was never my strongest subject, but I’m 98% sure Billy Shakespeare had that song in mind when he wrote his tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet (his other point of reference was clearly the classic romance, Pretty in Pink).
To truly understand this tale of woe (this of Juliet and her Romeo), one must look beyond what one learned from their Grade 10 English teacher, and instead refer to the styling choices made in the two most iconic film adaptations. I’m talking, of course, of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli and the 1996 Baz Lurhmann versions. Come join us in Fair Verona where we lay our scene.
ACT ONE: Just a Good Ol’ Fashioned Family Feud
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a well thought out costume is worth pages of backstory. Costume designer Danilo Donati won an Academy Award for his job on the 1968 film, and it’s easy to see why: what better way to convey the gang like confrontations between the Montagues and the Capulets than with colour-coded tights? The entire movie is like a 1960′s retrospective of the Renaissance, where even characters with violent tendencies are draped in lush fabrics and faded colours. This explains the following:
PINK TIGHTS!! Just hanging out in the background on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it extra.
Luckily for us, the overenthusiastic viewers, Baz Luhrmann also just does not do subtlety. Romeo + Juliet was, believe it or not, the first movie for costume designer Kym Barrett, though as a surprise to no one she has an extensive background in theatre costuming. (She would later go on to work on the hacker-tastic Matrix). If you’re gonna have an out-and-out brawl at a gas station triggered by nothing more than some inappropriate thumb-biting, you’re going to need flamboyant looks including shocking pink hair and lots of leather. Is this movie timeless? Hell no. And that’s why we love it.
ACT 2: It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun
And so we come to our star-crossed lovers. Olivia Hussey as the 1968 Juliet was probably the mane main reason why I went a year and a half without cutting my hair. Every scene in which she wears it pulled back, her hair still dominates the scene with its glossy locks and center part. You know the girl was just waiting for any opportunity to shake it out like she was in a Herbal Essences commercial. In keeping with all the soft edges of the film’s aesthetic, is it any wonder that for Romeo they cast Leonard Whiting, who looks like he could be Zac Efron’s great uncle? Gotta love a dude who can effortlessly pull off two-tone tights while getting into a fight.
The relationship between early-teenager Juliet and nearly-adult Romeo probably would not be that palatable to contemporary audiences, yet Lurhmann was able to keep the age difference consistent but not skeezy by casting another baby-faced blue eyed actor named Leo (that’s DiCaprio. Keep up, now). Simultaneously non-threatening and able to piss off the parents of his amour, he proved to be the perfect Jordan Catalano for Claire Danes’s Juliet.
I believe the costume designer for this was given the assignment: “try to put everything about the ’90s into one outfit. Then amp it up by 11.” A shiny, button-up, halter wedding dress WITH a high ponytail and two skinny face framing hair wisps? Is she getting married or auditioning as an extra in a Smashing Pumpkins video? Next you’re going to tell me that the best man in this wedding is the guy from Bring it On.
ACT 3: Ain’t No Party like a Capulet Party
In a play filled with excesses, the visual cues come to a glittering pinnacle with a riotous masquerade. It serves as the backdrop for the first meeting between two of pop culture’s most melodramatic teenagers, so low-key it ain’t. Zeffirelli goes for a hazy nightmarish vibe with unsettling metallic masks, at once animalistic and skeletal.
Lurhmann skips the vague drug allegories and goes straight for an ecstasy high, creating a kaleidoscope of colours heightened by the surrealism of having his entire cast in costumes that mirror their personalities.
They can star in as many gritty shows and movies like Homeland and Django Unchained as they want, but will we ever see these two as anything beyond an angel and a knight, kissing by the book?
ACT 4: The Supporting Cast Needs Your Love, Too
Ice queen Lady Capulet (Natasha Parry in 1968) drapes herself in black, curtaining her perma-scowl. Even if the Montagues and Capulets weren’t feuding, methinks Romeo would still be nervous around his mother-in-law.
Whatchu brewing in that apothecary, 1968 Friar Lawrence (Milo O’Shea)? Could it be CINEMATIC ATMOSPHERE??? Somebody use this as the backdrop for a photo shoot, stat.
1996 Friar Lawrence (Pete Postlethwaite) has such an intense relationship with God he doesn’t even bother buttoning up his shirt, granting the Almighty a straight route to his heart.
1996 Nurse (Miriam Margolyes) looks like somebody to whom you could confide all your problems before raiding her accessories drawer. Those shades!
ACT 5: Call it Funeral Chic
This is a tragedy, after all. That ooey-gooey puppy love can’t compete with the power of deep rooted hatred, poison, fake poison, swords, daggers, and (if you’re Baz Luhrmann), pistols. Still, if you’re gonna fake your death, you might as well do it in style. Can we see some more gauze on that ensemble, Juliet? That’s better. And how much do we love the girls of Capulet house, treating Juliet’s not-not-funeral as a place to show off their duds? We love them. We love them a lot.
Romeo and Juliet, together and colour-coded for eternity.
Not to be outdone, 1996 Juliet shies away from wearing black when depressed, opting instead for an equally moody midnight blue. I mean what are you going to do, not wear a velvet dress with a pointed collar and matching beret when planning to fake your own death? That right there is exactly why you’re single.
Finally, my favourite set out of both movies. LOOK AT ALL THOSE CANDLES! What I love about this is that Juliet’s family didn’t know that Romeo would break his way in, or that Friar Lawrence was planning to rescue her, and still they go all out in snazzing up her crypt. What does your job title have to be to ensure the lighting of dozens and dozens of ornate candles surrounding a dead body? And is there any room for advancement in that profession? Is the life expectancy at least better than a Montague in Verona?
Winner: I could waste my time trying to calculate which film had the better wardrobes, but really in both scenarios it is the audience that wins. Still, I have to give the “Best Dressed” title to anybody, we all know that 1996 Mercutio owns it.
Please don’t kill yourself in the name of romance.