CUT! Costume and the Cinema

An exhibition of film costumes spanning five decades of history

What do the following actors and actresses have in common? Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Johnny Depp, Amy Adams, Colin Farrell and Daniel Craig? Nope, they are not in a new film together. Costumes that each of them have worn in various films are on display at the Durham Museum.

Through April 29th, the Durham Museum is presenting CUT! Costume and the Cinema.

The exhibit features 43 period costumes, created by and borrowed from Cosprop Ltd. of London. Since 1986, Cosprop Ltd. has supplied costumes for 24 Oscar nominated films.

Shawna Forsberg, Director of Marketing and PR for the Durham, said the details of the costumes demonstrate just how much work and artistry went into each piece. The costumes offer insight into five decades history as well, particularly how people’s lifestyles have changed over the years.

The exhibition appeals to movie lovers of all ages but Forsberg thinks younger girls will find it especially interesting and fun. There is a pink dress from Phantom of the Opera that has been popular with little girls coming through the exhibit.  Forsrberg said that’s because it sort of fits that princess ideal.

“Women’s lifestyles have changed a lot because the way women dress has evolved so dramatically over the years. And if you think about 400 years of really tight girdles and that sort of thing and being tied as tiny as you could be, it really affected how much you could eat or breathe” Forsberg said.

One of the questions Forsberg is asked a lot is if the costumes are actually the ones worn by the actors in the movies. She said they are and that most of the time, the actors had to wear the same costume throughout the filming process.

In Pirates of the Caribbean though, it was a different story.

“In the Johnny Depp case, because his character is action driven and he’s jumping in and out of the water all the time, they actually made several identical costumes. The one in the exhibit was one of them he wore,” she said.

Another highlight of the exhibition is a series of three dresses that Keira Knightley wore in the film The Duchess. Forsberg said these examples of French dress offer a look at how people defined wealth in the 18th century. At that time, women didn’t have much of a voice but were able to demonstrate their presence by the way they looked. The costumes feature wide skirts and layer upon layer of fabric.

Those who enjoy the Sherlock Holmes films will get a kick out of costumes worn by actors Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Both give a good indication of just how small actors are today.

“They really show the characters through the costuming. They say a lot of actors find their characters in the dressing room, because that’s when they can see themselves look like the character they are portraying,” said Forsberg.

She said Robert Downey, Jr. had input on his costume. He wanted the eccentricity of his character to show through so he had the costume designer build really large pockets on the inside of his jacket. 

Another fun piece for men is Heath Ledger’s costume from Casanova. The costume features a formal frock coat with gold metallic embroidery.

Forsberg said, “People that sew will come in and be amazed at what the costumers are able to do. They are craftsmen. You know, when they make the costumes, they do it from head to toe. But sometimes only a small portion of the costume makes it into the film. With this exhibit, you get to see the whole piece.”

She said after seeing the costumes up close, those who haven’t seen the movies the costumes come from have expressed an interest in seeing the films represented. And if they have seen the movie, after viewing the exhibit, they have said they are interested in renting the film again.

The Durham will host a variety of special programming related to the exhibit, including Pirate Day in January, a Tea and Tour in February and a Fashion Show in March. 

For more information, the web site is durhammuseum.org. The Durham Museum is located at 801 South 10th Street.  

posted at 02:38 am
on Friday, December 30th, 2011

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