Rosebud Daisy

You can’t really miss the references to Citizen Kane (1941) in The Great Gatsby (2013). From Gatsby’s  ‘incoherent’ mansion folly to the snowfall imagery and Gatsby’s whispered ‘Daisy’ as he dies, you’re left in no doubt that the filmmakers want you to get the parallels between the two tragic heroes brought down by hubris. There are more subtle references waiting to be teased out, but even the most obvious ones carry layers of meaning, often relayed by the intricate set and costume design that, as usual with Luhrmann and Martin, is the result of meticulous research and flawless attention to detail.

Kane’s secret, Rosebud, symbolising the loss of childhood innocence, blossoms into a full-blown visual metaphor in The Great Gatsby through the profusion of flower imagery. Exotic flowers and other natural iconography are central to the art deco style that dominates the set and costume design; they also echo the nineteenth-century Symbolist and Decadent art movements. Daisy’s black and white peony robe and the headscarf worn during the fleeting, nostalgic afternoon she spends with Gatsby and Nick Carraway recall Aubrey Beardsley’s designs for Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1894), while the oversized corsage on Myrtle’s outrageous red number is like something out of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857).

Daisy Beardsley robe

Beardsley Salome

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Léon Jouhaud, 'Les fleurs du mal' (1919)
Léon Jouhaud, ‘Les fleurs du mal’ (1919)

Myrtle and Tom’s fantastically gaudy, colour-saturated Harlem apartment, scene of illicit sexual liaisons and desperate hedonism, overflows with flower imagery (note the Fragonard prints on the pink sofa) – you can almost smell the cheap floral scent mingling with booze and other illegal substances as the giddy party people spiral towards oblivion. Gatsby’s mansion and the Buchanan house are the other side of this seductive vision of decadence: the Buchanan’s place has elegant silk floral wallpaper that whispers ‘old money’ while Gatsby’s overblown flower arrangements and the daisy motif inscribed on his art deco floor advertise his newly-rich status (and his obsession). At the other extreme, the cottage where Nick Carraway lives, also festooned with blooms, appears innocent and idyllic, a haven amid the corruption and decadence that surrounds him.

THE GREAT GATSBY

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The sets are designed to conjure up a fairytale world, and it’s no surprise that the film’s floral motifs evoke popular myths and stories surrounding flowers, many of which relate to love. One meaning attached to the daisy is loyal love; at the same time, it forms the fickle centre of the game ‘She loves me, she loves me not’, in which its petals are torn off one by one until the player gets the answer to their question. There could hardly be a more resonant metaphor for Gatsby’s insecure relationship to Daisy. The white roses cascading over Nick’s porch symbolise innocence, but also (appropriately for a character who guards so many secrets) silence and secrecy. A white rosebud invokes youth and beauty: the buttonholes worn by Tom and Nick at Gatsby’s party underline the passage of time and loss of innocence at the heart of The Great Gatsby‘s romantic vision. At the tea party staged to impress Daisy, Nick’s relatively austere place is transformed by Gatsby’s anxiety into a florist’s emporium overwhelmed by orchids, which connote love and beauty, visualising the translation of his excessive (and impossible) desire into things.

Nick Rosebud

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In this scene, with Nick as a witness, Daisy and Gatsby’s love is apparently rekindled and hope revived. Daisy’s association with flowers is marked in her lilac dress and gloves made of floral-patterned lace – but what are we to make of the epaulettes and skirt fashioned from drooping pieces of grey fabric that look like fading petals? The motif of dropping petals is echoed in other gowns worn by Daisy: she first appears in a white concoction fashioned from falling petals, and in the Daisy character poster (top of page) she’s wearing a rosebud-pink version of the same dress. This emphasises her own fragility, her elusiveness in Gatsby’s imagination, the passage of time and the inevitability of death.

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When Daisy and Gatsby slip away from the party to meet secretly in his enchanted garden they are shrouded in shadow. Blue light picks up the flowers and Gatsby’s suit, echoing the blue hydrangeas on the terrace, one of whose meanings is heartlessness. In contrast to the lush vegetation, Daisy’s dress and jewels glitter with a hard, metallic sheen, intimating the carelessness that Nick finally sees in her. The Tiffany jewellery mirrors the flower imagery, signalling Daisy’s attachment to wealth and status and her brittle outer shell.

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Carrie Mulligan in Gatsby

The flower symbolism in The Great Gatsby adds layers of meaning to this richly textured film. Together with the haunting music it visualises themes of love, hope, death and melancholy. A distinctive style feature, it’s there in the credits and in the Bazmark logo that appears on screen, marking its importance in the overall design concept.

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© Pam Cook

Tom Hardy as Bane in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012)

As Christopher Nolan’s final episode of his Dark Knight trilogy is released, speculation is rife about Batman’s nemesis and alter ego, arch-villain Bane, played by Tom Hardy in a mask that has already become hot property on eBay. Hardy’s performance as Bane is set to become legendary — up there with Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger as The Joker. Bane is an adversary of epic proportions: well-educated, highly intelligent and multi-lingual with phenomenal physical strength and abilities — attributes developed during a childhood spent in prison. His origins and exploits are complex enough to leave the non-aficionado thoroughly bemused, but he is the victim of a terrible injustice that has left him scarred and angry. Part-revolutionary, part-mercenary, part-terrorist, he is a violent anarchic force fixated on bringing down Gotham City and Wayne Enterprises (NB link contains spoilers).

Powerful presence though Bane is, his costume tells another story. The mask, which he wears permanently, covers his mouth and nose and supplies him with pain-relieving gas. This is an update on Bane’s Venom-ingesting face wear, which allowed him to pump up his body, giving him incredible strength, and also fed his drug addiction. In Nolan’s film, Bane’s mask is linked to an earlier trauma — possibly a spine injury requiring surgery that has left him dependent on pain killers. The conduit for the pain-killing gas is unclear, but his body-armour could be the container. Ostensibly an urban warrior, Bane is hooked up to medication like a hospital patient, and his drug dependency throws doubt on his apparent invincibility. The mask’s graphic qualities recall Nolan’s visualisation in Memento (2000) of the body as site of the inscription of trauma.

Bane’s vulnerability is underlined by his shearling jacket (made from the pelt of young sheep), whose ‘natural’ style and texture contrast sharply with the quasi-scientific mechanical contraption that encases his face. While the shearling coat and mask may intimate the bestial and fetish imagery of Batman’s (Christian Bale) and Catwoman’s (Anne Hathaway) costumes, the smooth, close-fitting black rubber is absent (Bruce Wayne/Batman are both ‘men in suits’ — Bane, like other Batman villains, is notably rumpled). Bane’s eyes, neck and frontal lobes are exposed, suggesting emotional susceptibility. Perhaps most significant is the effect of the mask on his voice, which is muffled and distorted. He is impaired on many levels; although most Batman characters are damaged, the extent of the trauma suffered is magnified in his case. 

Hardy’s performance takes Bane’s unsettling encapsulation of threat and vulnerability to extremes (there are echoes of his virtuoso turn in Bronson [2008]). The mask imposes constraints and possibilities; without the usual repertoire of facial expressions, his acting skills are focused on the signifying potential of body language, voice and dress. A spectacular example of the importance of costume design in film —  in creating meaning and in determining the actor’s performance.  

 

© Pam Cook

Talented costume designer Sandy Powell was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for her work on Hugo.  She lost out to The Artist, but here’s an illuminating interview with her from earlier this year:

Sandy Powell’s costume sketches for Station Inspector, Hugo and… (Paramount Pictures)
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January 05, 2012|By Janet Kinosian, Special to the Los Angeles Times
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In “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s new 3-D film based on Brian Selznick’s bestselling “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” London-based costume designer Sandy Powell helps create the storybook image of an orphan boy (played by Asa Butterfield) living inside a Parisian train station in the early 1930s. Her awards are many (she’s won three Oscars in nine nominations — her second was with Scorsese for 2004’s “The Aviator”), and she’s a favored Scorsese collaborator (“Shutter Island,” “The Gangs of New York”). A skilled period film designer, Powell seamlessly blends in today’s runway zeitgeist of the 1920s into the “Hugo” scene.
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How did Hugo’s colorful striped sweater and young boy pants come about?

For him, I started off by pulling various pieces from the rental companies, some vintage things, and I just kept putting ideas on him to see what worked style-wise and proportion-wise; and then I built from scratch, basically. The striped sweater was originally a natty old vintage sweater we found, which I then copied several times, as the sweater is one of the key things you notice on him, and it had to be in perfect shape. One thing I never factored into the mix is growth; you know, from beginning to end, these younger types grow. So we made it over and over again, many times.

What about the uniform for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Lieutenant?

This I designed from scratch. It was researched. We looked at the real uniforms that the inspectors and the railway station staff would have worn in a French train station at the time, but if we used that color to be historically accurate it would have been a navy blue, which would have come out looking black in the film. I thought that wasn’t going to be dramatic enough. In the book, interestingly, he’s described as wearing green, but I didn’t want to make it green either, as it would come out much darker as well. We tested various shades of blue-green, green-blue, many bluey-greeny-blue shades, that sort of fun search, until I came out with this one, just because it looked like it’s believable for a uniform and it also was a strong, vibrant color.

And I sort of adapted the look of an actual station inspector and made it more military because Sacha’s character had a back story of being ex-military and still being very military-minded, hence the brass and the epaulets and the whole military feel. I worked very closely with him on designing it and coming up with the whole thing. The hat’s actually more of a gendarme hat, and I just exaggerated the proportions; it was made up.

Were the costumes in the movies within the movie — those early films from Georges Méliès —all based on real images or more fantasy?

Let’s say I did it “in the style of Méliès.” I had the original films and photographs from the film, and then I tried to re-create them. The images were very blurry, so I did what I thought worked; I made some up based on the originals and did some of my own.… In fact, some of my wardrobe staff made costumes for themselves and ended up being on the set as extras in those [“Kingdom of the Fairies” sequences]. They all loved it.

You did seem to have hordes of extras in the train station milling to and fro …

There were literally over 1,000 costumes, so it took us a long time. We contracted costume rental companies, and we actually did a lot of buying, we sort of scoured markets and secondhand stores both in London where it was filmed and also in Paris; there are great flea markets there. And then we were filming so long, some of the extras were wearing the same clothing for weeks on end, and a lot of the original vintage pieces actually ended up falling apart, disintegrating.

In your own process, when you first read a script, do you quickly start imagining the final vision — or does it grow more organically for you during the preparation process?

It depends on the script. If the script’s really good, of course, you start having a vision and imagining things, but then you start doing your research and you have real-time people and things to compare it to, like the Méliès films. But, yes, my mind starts going immediately, I start visualizing immediately. I might not visualize it exact, or very specific costumes, but I might get a feel for characters or an idea for color or texture….

What do you think it is about Paris in the 1930s that holds Hollywood’s attention so?

People keep talking about the 1930s, but here in this film we were in 1931 and it’s a transitional period, really. What happened in 1931 is that it still looks like the 1920s. I’m a stickler for these kinds of things. And it’s not until later in the 1930s that you can go back and see the actual ’30s. But having said that, the 1920s obviously had an air of mysticism, there’s just something very romantic about Paris in the ’20s and always will be. It’s after the war and before the next one. It’s always going to look good.

Yes, and we have Paris in the eyes of an orphaned child living inside a world of magic.

Exactly. What happened with the set design and the costumes and the way it was shot is that it’s a slightly heightened version; it’s a storybook version of the ’20s and ’30s. You have to look and see everything through the eyes of a child and a child’s point of view. Even when they look out over Paris and see the Eiffel Tower, it looks almost like a painting rather than the absolute real thing. It’s a storybook. A lovely storybook.

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