|Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.
hmm... see I still can't bring myself to watch the new P&P... Though I surely agree with you, your post did make me think of one of the things I noticed the first time I watched P&P2 (aka 1995, A&E/BBC or Colin Firth version, whichever your prefered method of refering to it... or how about just "the good version" or how I hear it refered to "the long version") ANYWAY I was quite amazed at the um... yeah... how big the ladies were up top... I don't remember a whole lot about that from my pathfinder on regency period culture - but I guess somehow the thought of not having the tightly corseted look then always made me assume they didn't exagerate anything, and those actresses still to this day look to me like they're wearing wonderbras to get that much cleavage... (well especially Lizzie and Lydia...)
A yes, well - my big issue isn't a single anomaly in costume - one woman of reed like proportions - but a whole cast of 'em. No actress has to be some ideal for me but when 100% are ... um, well, ... looking more like strollers on the boulevard in fin de siecle Paris, the whole overwhelms any single actress’ particular skill.
Saw the new P&P this weekend. Wondered WHAT was up with this flat chested thing, too. Ridiculous! And the pig in the house?!?! And laundry hanging all over the place outside?!?! Oh, Come On.
I don't know much about the authenticity of period costumes, although I do loves me a costume drama. I have the new P&P DVD from Netflix sitting next to the TV waiting to be watched -- I'll have to keep an eye out for the costumes. But nothing can hold a candle to the A&E/BBC Colin Firth version - that will always be my gold standard P&P flick.
but of course - only some crazy young fangirl (ok maybe not a fangirl - but the whole idea gives me echoes of the fangirls for Gerard Butler in the new Phantom movie when... um yeah I'm not going there) anyway - only a crazy person who has never read the book or seen the A&E version would not consider it the best...
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Sunday, March 19, 2006 Warning - long rant about images. Very long.
Oleg Cassinni has died. The king of American fashion designers, according to the NYT obit. Creator of the Dorothy Lamour sarong. The designer of the Kennedy White House wardrobe that swept away Dior’s Paris Look to replace it with crisp American silhouettes.
Like all things fashion, the Jackie look waned, only to reappear in a modified version. For the past few years I’ve been seeing little hints of it coming back in the catalogs - those princess seamed shift dresses, some of which are sprouting waistline seams adorned with flat bows. The swing coat that hints of Grace Kelly was also featured in at least one knock-off catalog arriving in my mailbox last fall - Chadwicks, I believe.
Of course, revivals never quite have the impact of the original look - thank goodness, since now I am seeing cheesy nylon tops in turquoise paisley - and bell bottoms - even worse - cropped bell bottoms! God spare me from the reinterpretation of revivals!
Ah. But I am straying too far from the real reason I began this post - which was not particularly to mourn Mr. C, who had a great 92-year run where he stayed at the top a good bit of the time, but to gripe about something ominous I am seeing in my beloved BBC period dramas. To segue gracefully from a NYT obit into a fashion rant I give you this quote from Mr. C:
"My philosophy is this: Do not tamper with the anatomy of a woman's body; do not camouflage it," he told The New York Post in 1961. "I don't want every woman to look like a little boy."
That is what is paramount about Mr. C’s designs. They always begin with a female shape. Of course, exaggeration of the woman’s body is as old as fashion and it gave us Scarlet’s 18 inch waist which threw her into dismay, as well as the crushed livers and collapsed lungs of all those 19th century invalids. There is much that can be said about the evils of fashion trying to exaggerate a woman’s figure into an extreme, but equally, if not more upsetting to me is when fashion, the film industry and the press tries to eradicate any hint of a woman’s body by glamorizing breastlessness.
I’ve recently been awash in BBC’s Trollope Collection - three productions including Barchester Chronicles, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right. The first was filmed in the 1980’s and the other two were filmed within the past few years. Trollope is a lot of fun to watch because he doesn’t ever write too much plot but always fills his novels with colorful characters - the sort of people who translate into really juicy parts in which actors can display their talent and skill.
Now - Of course I understand that much leeway must be given to actresses to remain fashionable according to whatever standards a given era demands. Slender women have been the idol for most of the past century, now and then sliding over either edge go give a Jane Russell or a Twiggy center stage for a little while. And the film industry is aware that to the viewer’s eye, only what is accepted, what is in style in any given era, can be considered beautiful. The excellent book Hollywood and History, by Edward Maeder, explains that, even the very best of historical dramas must pay obeisance to The Current. This is especially so when it comes to hairstyles, thus all the women except Elizabeth Taylor wore those ever so popular fake braided chignons in the movie Cleopatra. In the fifties movie Shane, even though Mitzi Gaynor was depicting a Colorado rancher’s wife of the 1870’s she still had a Doris Day blonde bubble hair-do.
So be it. I have a lot of tolerance for making an attempt at depicting history while clinging to the day.
What has me upset is the extreme breastless silhouette that I first witnessed in the new (and deplorably repulsive) version of Pride & Prejudice and now have witnessed in the later of these Trollop productions. In fact, I have yet to watch He Knew He Was Right but I have sat through both of the others. The 1980’s Barchester Towers certainly has the requisite slender pretty women in fairly accurate historical costume. None of these women are particularly Jane Russell-ish, by any means. They look like pretty tea-fed English women. But in The Way We Live Now - which, in fact, is a story far more concerned with fashion and the fashionable - the women are not only breastless, their costumes seem designed to accentuate that teen boy look of the narrow hairless chest.
After a while, I began to have difficulty following the story line as I obsessed about these incongruous costumes. Every effort was made to create elaborate and accurate costumes from the neck up and the waist down. All that could be done to put into hair-do’s and bustles, the puffs, braids, loops and frills of 1875, was so done. And everything that could be done to accentuate the flat, straight slender line of upper torso, with no supporting undergarments, was likewise given full force, condeming these women to a subtle freakishness that eventually ruined the viewing for me.
Mind, now. A single actress who happens to be very slim and without any visible curve could easily go unnoticed by Me the All Important Viewer, even though the thought would cross my mind that in 1875 a very very flat chested woman would have pinned starched ruffles beneath her (un-needed) corset to fill out the top half of her dress. She, too, would want to keep up with the current standards of beauty. But when 100% of the women in a period film have this ... what else can I call it ... wrong interpretation of the period - I just can’t stop fidgeting and twisting and daydreaming and ... either slipping into ridicule or walking out in boredom.
Similarly - had the story not been about fashion and image I probably wouldn’t have cared that the fashion and images were so bizarre. Had Barchester Chronicles been costumed to accentuate the boyishness of the girl, it’s likely I would have not minded so much. The story line is all about the minutiae of small - and in this case, cathedral - towns. Dialogue and bickering was the pivot round which this story was written, not image and spin.
The point of a period piece is to transport you to another time. Not to wrench your brain around an anomaly that never was.
But more disturbing than the mind bending is the echo of Mr. Maeder saying that Hollywood always interprets history in the present day’s image of the past and according to present day’s standards of beauty. If that is so, I am appalled that the present day standard of feminine beauty is the most extreme gaunt jawed thinness of adolescent boys to date. I admit, each year I am slipping further away from the age of consideration and closer to the settled spread of the senior citizen when it comes to opining about fashion. I, too, like my mother did 25 years ago, have quit buying fashion magazines. They are not for me, but for GD. I accept that, although I doubt I will ever stop caring about how fashionably I am dressed - or at least, how well I am dressed. Neither do I choose to have television reception way out here in the boonies, so I don’t see what is being presented on the nightly peek into our culture’s living room set. I glean my information from movies and from People magazine (of which I am an unabashed and sloven-brained fan).
The de-womanizing of that gross P&P was a single instance and I was able to gag, but then shrug it off. Seeing it crop up again, in that most venerable of places, the BBC period drama - with Sue Birtwhistle at the helm - is ominous. The one thing I have always been able to count on has been the assurance that the costumes would be fabulous even if the story wasn’t so interesting. If I can no longer count on balance and at least a nod to realizm in the BBC - what can I count on?
Such a blow. Such a loss. I’m not even sure I will bother to watch He Knew He Was Right. I believe - I believe I shall just read the book. posted by Bess | 7:43 AM