Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Alfie (1966)

by Lucinda Bellm

Alfie was initially written as a book by Bill Naughton in 1963 and later turned into a screenplay. The film was set and filmed in London in 1966 by Lewis Gilbert. The film shows how much of the “swinging sixties” quality of life was a male creation, and a male prerogative. This is predominantly shown through the main character Alfie whose main concern is the conquest of woman. The film brought in new conventions for it time, as Alfie clearly makes his sexual interests and thoughts known directly to the audience but with wit and crude humor, that only a London cockney could pull off so well. The film starts with a brief affair with Siddie, a very minor role in the film, Alfie then moves onto Gilda, who is impregnated by him, he still refuses to marry her. These events force her to leave Alfie for another man, the film then follows Alfie’s life for a few years, which eventually lead the audience to see Alfie’s emotional growth starting with the birth of his son. At this point in the film, Alfie has a minor breakdown as he discovers he has a small case of tuberculosis which he then spends some time in a sanatorium, but his sexual antics don’t stop there, when healing he seduces Carla, the attractive nurse. It is in the healing process that he meets his friend Harry who confronts him about his hedonistic and womanizing ways, which he continues to be delusional about. When leaving the institution he agrees to drive Harry’s wife home, Lily. What seems to be a harmless gesture turns into another promiscuous and meaningless affair for Alfie and yet again another pregnancy.

But Alfie's casual promiscuity is not without repercussions, and the most powerful scene comes when he is forced to arrange an illegal abortion, it is the sight of a stillborn child that has a shattering effect on him. It is here that Alfie exhibits real emotion. He decides that his womanizing days are over and decides to settle down with Ruby, a richer older woman, but when he goes to her apartment to tell her, she has already left him for a younger “him”. We are left with Alfie thinking that maybe he had taken just a few too many wrong steps in life.

I chose the film for a case study to analyze costume design in the 1960’s. The Costume design is by Miss Winters Costume- Jack Dagenais. Unfortunately for this being a prominent part of my case study I couldn’t find any further information. This allowed me to put more of a focus on the analysis of the color pallet that is used in the film, the content and character costume analysis. Although there is no substantial recording's about the costume designer, it is clear he has used costumes of typical attire for the 1960’s working class. The costumes are important historically for us, as they show a period in fashion which still in many way’s had this post war look amongst the working class in the early sixties. But it was at the very end of the decade in which fashion exploded with a kaleidoscope of colors, new materials and style and London was at the forefront of it all. The costumes in the film are still very much based on this postwar look of bland colors and materials.

Lewis Gilbert follows a very defined color palette throughout the film. The color palette is hugely important in a film and is often extremely controlled. The film opens and closes using the color palette of dark racing greens and midnight blues, a significant color to represent masculinity. He uses another color palette of creams, beiges, pastel pinks and blues in most of the scenes that appear in the girlfriend’s homes or what the woman are dressed in which again carry connotations of femininity as a color. But it is brown that is a reoccurring color that is used a lot throughout the film.

When analyzing the costumes and the color palette of each character only Gilda’s costume (played by Julia Foster) evolves with her character change. Alfie is presented in the same attire throughout the whole film, always in a suit following the color palette code. He is occasionally portrayed undressing but generally his costumes don’t change dramatically. Ruby (played by Shelley Winters) is the only character that is presented as a glamorous foreigner. Her outfits consist of fur, fitted suits and hats and her lingerie is black and blues lined with a bold colors such as red. Lily who is Harry’s wife (Vivienne Merchant) is portrayed as the most tragic character in the film; she is always represented in midnight blue and most predominantly in grey. It was Gilda’s costumes that I decided to analyse most closely though. I chose her for a characterization study as I feel that her development as a character is shown a lot through her clothing. Throughout the scenes we see her mature as a woman and become less dependant on Alfie. She is presented in dull greys and browns when we are introduced to her, once she has given birth she is presented in creams and pinks, a representation of her motherly side. It is in the scene where she decides to leave Alfie for another man, that she is presented in a bright emerald green working attire. It is her final outfit in the film that is her most significant. She is shown in this same emerald green with a bright pink hat, not only is it significant for showing her strength in character but also for showing the growing trends in London of the time.

The 1966 Alfie version is a British classic and a valuable record of the hedonistic swinging 60’s but it did not have a huge amount of influence on fashion. It was the re make of Alfie in 2004 staring Jude law and Sienna Miller that influenced fashion at large. It made Sienna Miller a celebrity frenzy and a leading figure in the fashion trends as well as Jude law staring on the classic 1966 Piago Vespa, that made it the new craze for young fashionable people that wanted a little bit of the Alfie look.

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