The Power of Costuming in Film: Pretty Much Pop #38 with Whitney Anne Adams (Happy Death Day, Great Gatsby)

How does clothing mesh with set design, cinematography, sound design, etc. to create the mood in a film? Whitney designed for and dressed leads and crowds on The Great Gatsby, the Happy Death Day films and several indie flicks. She joins Erica, Mark and Brian to discuss how clothes on screen relate to clothes in life, designing vs. curating, historic vs. modern vs. genre, when costumes get distracting, her current TV and film picks for notable costuming, and how an interest in (or total obliviousness to) clothes affects the watching experience.

Read a few interviews with Whitney about her process:

More articles to make you think about costumes:

Follow Whitney on Instagram @waacostumedesign. She's also the stylist for Brian Tyree Henry (i.e. Paper Boi on Atlanta). Some of the indie films she's worked on that we bring up include Piercing, The Eyes of My Mother, and Irreplaceable You.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

What the Iconic Painting, “The Two Fridas,” Actually Tells Us About Frida Kahlo

I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality. —Frida Kahlo

You may be forgiven for assuming you already know everything there is to know about Frida Kahlo.

The subject of a high profile bio-pic, a bilingual opera, and numerous books for children and adults, her image is nearly as ubiquitous as Marilyn Monroe’s, though Frida exercised a great deal of control over hers by painting dozens of unsmiling self-portraits in which her unplucked unibrow and her traditional Tehuana garb feature prominently.




(Whether she would appreciate having her image splashed across shower curtainslight switch coversyoga mats, and t-shirts is another matter, and one even a force as formidable as she would be hard pressed to control from beyond the grave. Her immediately recognizable countenance powers every souvenir stall in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighborhood, where Casa Azul, the home in which she both was born and died, attracts some 25,000 visitors monthly.)

A recent episode of PBS’ digital series The Art Assignment, above, examines the duality at Frida’s core by using her double self-portrait, The Two Fridas (Las Dos Fridas), as a jumping off place.

Kahlo herself explained that the traditionally dressed figure on the right is the one her just-divorced ex-husband, muralist Diego Rivera had loved, while the unloved one on the left fails to keep the untethered vein uniting them from soiling her Victorian wedding gown. (The vein, originates on the right, rising from a small childhood portrait of Rivera, that was among Kahlo’s personal effects when she died.)

It’s an expression of loneliness and yet, the twin-like figures are depicted tenderly clasping each other’s hands:

Bereft but comforted

Fractured but intact

Lonely but not isolated

Broken but beautiful

Humiliated but proud

Kahlo's boundaries, it suggests, are highly permeable, in life, as in art, drawing from such influences as Bronzino, El Greco, Modigliani, Surrealism, and Catholic iconography in both European religious painting and Mexican folk art.

As for the new thing learned, this writer was unaware that when Kahlo married Riveraher elder by 22 yearsin a 1929 civil ceremony, she did so in skirt and blouse borrowed from her indigenous maid... a fact which speaks to the end of her popularity in certain quarters.

Related Content: 

A Brief Animated Introduction to the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

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Visit the Largest Collection of Frida Kahlo’s Work Ever Assembled: 800 Artifacts from 33 Museums, All Free Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’: The Story Behind Nancy Sinatra’s Enduring #1 Hit (1966)

You put on your boots
And I’ll put on mine
And we’ll sell a million records
Any old time
- Lee Hazlewood

Musicians!

Looking to increase your chances of a hit song, one that will worm its way into the public’s hearts and ears, earning fat royalty checks for half a century or more?

Try starting with a killer bass line.

According to singer Nancy Sinatra, songwriter Lee Hazlewood and arranger Billy Strange swung by her parents’ living room to preview a selection of tunes they thought she might want to record.

The moment she heard "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"s memorable lick, she knew it was a winner.

(As did her famous father, who looked up from his newspaper after Hazlewood and Strange departed, to remark, “The song about the boots is best.”)




Originally conceived of as a song from the male POV, the 25-year-old, just-divorced Sinatra felt its message would be less “harsh and abusive” delivered by a “little girl.”

Hazlewood agreed, but hedged his bets by directing engineer Eddie Brackett to beef up Sinatra’s vocals with some light reverb.

As biographer James Kaplan describes in Sinatra: The ChairmanHazlewood also offered some discreet direction, insinuating that the vibe to strive for was that of “a 14-year-old girl in love with a 40-year-old man.”

When Sinatra failed to receive his meaning, he shucked all pretense of delicacy. Nancy shared his marching orders in her 1985 biography Frank Sinatra, My Father:

…I was still singing like Nancy NiceLady. Lee hit the talk-back switch in the booth and his deep voice blew my ears off. ‘For chrissake, you were a married woman, Nasty, you’re not a virgin anymore. Let’s do one for the truck drivers. Say something tough at the end of this one... Bite the words.’

Or something to that effect…

Kaplan includes how several sources claim that Hazlewood’s actual instruction was to sing it like “a sixteen-year-old girl who f**ks truck drivers.”

(Editor’s note: instructing a young woman to do that in 2020 is far likelier to result in a law suit than a hit record.… and given that most of the sources who abide by this version of Boots’ creation myth preface their statements with the word “apparently,” it may not have flown in 1966 either.)

The song’s immense popularity was given an assist by the 1966 Color-Sonics film, above, shot in 16mm for the public’s enjoyment on 26-inch Scopitone jukebox screens.

It also put a match to the American tinder where go-go boots were concerned. Young women in Britain had already adopted them as the perfect footwear to accompany Youthquake designer Mary Quant’s miniskirts and hot pants. Sinatra and her maxi sweater-wearing back up dancers get the bulk of the credit on this side of the pond.

While "These Boots Are Made for Walkin’" has been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington to Billy Ray Cyrus and Megadeth, the sweetest cover remains songwriter Hazlewood’s, below, in which he namechecks the collaborators of his most famous hit with nary a mention of truckers or teenaged girls.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC TONIGHT, Monday, February 3, as her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How a Philip Glass Opera Gets Made: An Inside Look

Most fever dreams require very little pre-planning and coordination. All it takes is the flu and a pillow, and perhaps a shot of Ny-Quil.

A fever dream on the order of composer Philip Glass’ 1984 opera, Akhnaten, is a horse of an entirely different color, as "How An Opera Gets Made," above, makes clear.

For those in the performing arts, the revelations of this eyepopping Vox video will come as no surprise, though the formidable resources of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, where the piece was recently restaged by director Phelim McDermott, may be cause for envy.




The costumes!

The wigs!

The set!

The orchestra!

The jugglers!

… wait, jugglers?

Yes, a dozen, whose carefully coordinated efforts provide a counterpoint to the stylized slow motion pace the rest of the cast maintains for the duration of the three and half hour long show.

This maximalist approach to minimalist modern opera has proved a hit, though the New York Timescritic Anthony Tommasini opined that he could have done with less juggling…

We presume everyone gets that bringing an opera to the stage involves many more departments, steps, and heavy labor than can be squeezed into a 10-minute video.

Perhaps the biggest surprise awaiting the uninitiated is the playful offstage manner of Anthony Roth Costanzo, the supremely gifted countertenor in the title role. As the pharaoh who reduced ancient Egypt’s pantheon to a single god, Atenaka the sun, he makes his first entrance completely nude, head shaved, flecked in gold, facing the audience for the entirety of his four-minute descent down a 12-step staircase.

(One step the video doesn't touch on is the workout regimen he embarked on in preparation for his nude debut, a 6-day-a-week commitment that inspired him to found one of the first American businesses to offer fitness buffs training sessions using Electrical Muscle Stimulation.)

His dedication to his craft is obviously extraordinary. It has to be for him to handle the score’s demanding arpeggios and intricate repetitions, notably the six-minute segment whose only lyric is “ah.” His breath control on that section earns high praise from his longtime vocal coach Joan Patenaude-Yarnell.

But—and this will come as a shock to those of us whose concept of male opera stars is informed nearly exclusively by Bugs Bunny cartoons and the late Luciano Pavarotti—his outsized talent does not seem to be reflected in outsized self-regard.

He treats viewers to a self-deprecating peek inside the Met’s wig room while clad in a decidedly anti-primo uomo sweatshirt, gamely dons his styrofoam khepresh for close range inspection, and cracks himself up by high-fiving his own pharaonic image in the lobby.

There’s incredible lightness to this being.

As such, he may be more effective at attracting a new generation of admirers to the art form than any discounts or pre-show mixer for patrons 35-and-under.

For further insights into how this musical sausage got made, have a gander at the Metropolitan Opera’s pre-production videos and read star Anthony Roth Costanzo’s essay in the Guardian.

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Hear the Highest Note Sung in the 137-Year History of the Metropolitan Opera

Hear Singers from the Metropolitan Opera Record Their Voices on Traditional Wax Cylinders

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York: The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Author Imagines in 1893 the Fashions That Would Appear Over the Next 100 Years

The world of tomorrow, today, has been the promise of so much futurism of the modern industrial age, in times that now seem quaint to us from our digital perches. Today’s self-appointed visionaries can’t seem to imagine life on Earth a hundred years from now. They pour their resources into interplanetary ventures. But even if some contingent of humanity goes on to colonize the solar system and beyond, there will always be a role for fashion, even in the austere environs of deep space.

Still, if predicting the future of humanity is a risky proposition, given the number of unpredictable variables at play, predicting future fashions may be even more fraught with peril. Trends don’t come out of nowhere—they draw, self-consciously or otherwise, from the past. But which pasts end up in the latest season’s collections might be anyone’s guess. Unlike technology, in other words, fashion doesn’t appear to follow any sort of linear trajectory from invention to invention.

“Fashion,” writes W. Cade-Gall in an 1893 article in the Strand Magazine, “is thought a whim, a sort of shuttlecock for the weak-minded of both sexes to make rise and fall, bound and rebound with the battledore called—social influence.” All of this will be remedied almost fifty years in the future, the author assures their readers. “It will interest a great many people to learn that Fashion assumed the dignity of a science in 1940.” Cade-Gall’s sci-fi satire is not, perhaps, the most serious attempt at predicting future fashions, but it may rank as one of the most amusingly literary.




The article, “Future Dictates Fashion" (read online here and at the Internet Archive) purports to describe the contents of a book, discovered by “an elderly gentleman of our acquaintance,” from one hundred years in the future, or 1993, a time, as you can see in the drawing at the top, in which the 18th century has come roaring back, with what appears to be a tricorner hat perched on what appears to be the head of a man smoking a pipe and wearing an ankle-length skirt. Cade-Gall describes the scientific system of fashion in detail, with each historical period acquiring both a “Type” and a “Tendency.”

The period between 1915 and 1940, for example, the last one listed in the future fashion history book’s table, is said to be of the type “Hysterical” and the tendency “Angustorial.” Cade-Gall not only invented the word "angustorial" and this clever story within a story (which turns out to be a dream) but also illustrated the fashions of the imagined 20th century, with the conceit that these are printed plates from the future. Readers familiar with the costume designs of the Bauhaus school might see the 1929 illustrations as somewhat uncanny.

Other fashions look like the kind of thing David Bowie might have worn onstage in the early 70s, and some are clearly portmanteaus of different eras and their qualities—from the “bizarre,” “ebullient,” and “hysterical” to the “severe,” “opaque,” and “latorial,” a word, like “angustorial,” that Cade-Gall made up for this occasion. The descriptions of these fashions are as detailed and ridiculous as the illustrations. “Taught by the Darwinian theory” in 1930 we learn, “society discovered whence its tendency to baldness originated. They had recourse by degrees to flexible tiles of extraordinary cut.”

 

The hairpiece innovation followed some indecision over mens’ pants ten years earlier, which led to a period of knee-breeches. “Trousers, which had been wavering between nautical buttons and gallooned knees—or, in the vernacular of the period, a sail three sheets in the wind—and a flag at half-mast—were the items sacrificed.” It’s all in good fun—more a send-up of the overly-serious meaning attached to clothing than an attempt to look into fashion’s future. But imagining a 20th century dressed the way Cade-Gall imagines it might make us pine for a more ostentatiously (if impractically) dressed past—or a more ebullient and latorial future, whether on Earth or gallooned amongst the stars.

via JF Ptak Science Books/Public Domain Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What to Wear to a Successful PhD Thesis Defense? A Skirt’s Worth of Academic Rejection Letters

Some people are paralyzed by rejection.

Others, like Michigan State University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD candidate, Caitlin Kirby, sport rejection like a mantle of honor... or more accurately, a pleated skirt falling to just below mid-thigh.

"Successfully defended my PhD dissertation today!" Kirby wrote in a Tweet that has since garnered over 25,000 likes. "In the spirit of acknowledging & normalizing failure in the process, I defended in a skirt made of rejection letters from the course of my PhD."

The custom garment, which Kirby teamed with a dark blazer and red waistband, was organized in two tiers, with a tulle ruffle peeping out beneath.

MSU’s Career Services Network’s Director of Employer Relations, Karin Hanson, told the Lansing State Journal that rejection comes as a shock to many high achieving MSU students.

Kirby’s decision to upcycle 17 disappointing letters received over the course of her academic career was partially inspired by a Parks and Recreation episode in which the skirt of Leslie Knope's wedding dress is a wearable collage of newspaper articles about the character, drawn from earlier episodes

More to the point, Kirby’s skirt is part of an ongoing campaign to acknowledge rejection as a necessary, if painful, part of academic growth.

The whole process of revisiting those old letters and making that skirt sort of reminded me that you have to apply to a lot of things to succeed. It seems counterintuitive to wear your rejections to your last test in your Ph.D, but we talked about our rejections every week and I wanted them to be a part of it.

And, as she later noted in a tweet:

Acceptances and rejections are often based on the traditional values of academia, which excludes POC by not valuing the approaches, research questions, and experiences that POC tend to bring to their work.

Kirby’s letters were culled from a variety of sources—scholarship applications, submissions to academic journals, and proposals for conference presentations.  Unfortunately and We regret to inform you are recurrent motifs. About 8 letters were left on the cutting room floor.

But she is prepared to lower her hemline, when she starts applying for jobs, following a stint at the Research Institute for Urban and Regional Development in Dortmund, Germany, the result of a successful Fulbright application.

Follow Kirby’s example and turn your temporary setbacks into a power skirt, using the tutorial above.

via Boing Boing 

Related Content:

Read Rejection Letters Sent to Three Famous Artists: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut & Andy Warhol

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Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from Publisher (1912)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, resurrects Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What Happens to the Clothes We Throw Away?: Watch Unravel, a Short Documentary on the Journey Our Waste Takes

When we throw our clothes away in the West, they don’t all go to a thrift store or to a recycling center or a local landfill. Instead, every year 100,000 tons of clothes make their way across the ocean to India. In this awareness raising short doc from UK-based filmmaker Meghna Gupta, we see the end point of these bales and bales of Western fashion, and the women and men who turn our waste back into thread. The thread then begins its own journey, inevitably winding back up as cheap imported clothes. And the cycle begins again.

Gupta lets the women speak for themselves, in particular Reshma, a young mother and wife who works in one such recycling center in Panipat, North India. We see her daily life as well as the process turning our castoffs into thread. Upon entering the country, the clothes are cut so they can’t be re-sold. Then women like Reshma remove buttons, zippers, and any other non-cloth component.




Far, far away from even a passing encounter with a Westerner (apart from what they’ve seen on the Discovery Channel), Reshma and her co-workers create a narrative and an image of the people sending all these clothes. The West must have a water shortage, Reshma says, that is stopping people from washing their clothes. The West also must have a very strange diet to produce the plus-size garments they keep coming across.

Now, the West doesn’t have a water shortage, but according to EDGE (Emerging Designers Get Exposed), the clothing and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil, producing 20 percent of global waste water, and a global waste total of nearly 13 million tons of fabric. Producing cotton is water-intensive—with 5,000 gallons needed just to make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

Recycling is important—it’s been a constant message to the public since the 1970s. But the global footprint that this film hints at, all those cargo ships, all those trucks, all that fuel and those miles traveled…is this really a solution? How do we stop the demand and the disposability?

The doc doesn’t answer those questions, and doesn’t mean to do so. It just wants you to see a small family in the middle of a large global machine. They seem happy enough. But they also see their fate as God-given, at least in this life this time 'round.

“You tend to get dressed for other people,” Reshma’s husband says. “But at the end of the day you’ll be as beautiful as God made you. All people have a natural beauty.”

via Aeon

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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