Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Case Study: Tess (1979)

This Case Study provides a format for analyzing the role of costume in film. The emphasis is on costume and its relationship to fashion. Filmic aspects, such as directing and plot development are not addressed unless they connect to costume.

1. Screen the film.

Consider also viewing the original promotional poster in the country of origin.

Tess simultaneous release US & France original promotions

2. Provide basic information about the costume designer.

Costume by Anthony Powell, British responsible for working on Indiana Jones’ of the 1980’s, as well as Hook (1991), 101 Dalmations (1996) and others.

3. Identify the context

Filmic context includes the original when and where the book or script was written, the when and where the film takes place and the when and where the film was shot. All 3 factors influence costume. You may need to provide more explanation if one aspect of context is strong as in the filming location for Tess below.

Important to the context, Roman Polanski was involved in a US Court case for sex with a minor, fled and was bound to life in France where he shot Tess. Despite the criticism, he started dating 16 year Nastassja Kinski and then decided to cast her as the lead in Tess.

4. Provide a short summary of the film. Providing the trailer is helpful.

Based on a 1891 novel by Thomas Hardy, set in rural England. The daughter of a peasant, she flees to wealthy cousins but is raped by an older cousin Alec and gives birth to a child who dies. She works for milkmaids and meets Angel who marries her but when he discovers her past rape he leaves her for years, sailing to South America. In the mean time Alec comes back converted to Christianity and gives her a home. When Angel returns and sees she is living with Alec, he is angry so Tess kills Alec but is caught by the police and executed.

5. Give an overview of the main characters (no more than 5).

The first key characters of the film are the Durbyfield peasants. These include Tess' family members and other peasants in their village. The clothing is humble, layered and loose fitting cottons.

The second important character is distant wealthy relative Alec d'urberville. Alec is the best dressed character in the film and when Tess is with Alec she also has more extensive costumes.

The romance of the film centers on Angel and Tess who meet at a farm. Together the couple wear clothing for the country and their wedding attire.

6. Describe the color palette.

There is likely a dominate or primary color set, supported by a secondary set of colors. It is not possible to calibrate most screens for viewing films and images so the color swatches are a best estimation. You should look at the costume but can consider how costume colors relate to the set as well.

Above the peasants wear earth tones and below the two leading men are also seen in opposing combinations of cream and brown with Alec in the least amount of brown and most light colors, suggesting a cleaner less grittier lifestyle.

In the wedding scene, Tess wears traditional light colors, but not all white suggesting her past.

7. Provide a characterization study.

Focus on the looks of one main character and how the clothing supports the narrative. Polyvore is a helpful site for building example looks. When possible original illustrations help with explanation. For Tess there are 3 areas of costume changes. Her life with Alec, her peasant times and then milkmaid times have different styles.

1. Life with Alec

Her clothing is more detailed and better quality. Even the first time she meets Alec when she is wearing her own clothing, she wears her absolute best. The looks are characteristic of the 19th century with long sleeves and a straw hat. See the look here.

2. Mother Peasant
After leaving Alec she is alone in the world, her clothes have the same palette but they are cotton and then eventually bohemian and gypsy like.

3. Milkmaid
While a milkmaid she wears dresses on days off but must wear a type of uniform in white and blue while working. See the looks here.

8. Depending on your film, you should also identify any ways in which the film may have influenced fashion at large.

While the costume of Tess did not markedly influence any fashion trends, Kinski was adored in the fashion world. The October 1979 Vogue Paris cover was timed with the film's release. She appeared several more times in Vogue editorials shot by Avedon.

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