Hem and Haw

Is there some sort of rule I am not aware of which states all the best genre costumes must from the worst movies?

Last night, I went to see Alice in Wonderland. In fairness it wasn’t a terrible movie, just mediocre, but the story didn’t draw me in enough to lose myself, and I didn’t want to spend the whole hour and forty minutes being annoyed at the blurry visuals (I saw the non-3D version) and gritting my teeth every time a characters said ‘the jabberwocky’ instead of ‘the jabberwock’ so instead I did my best to concentrate on the costumes instead. Being a Burton movie, the costumes were plentiful and elaborate. Alice changed outfits something like seven or eight times and quite naturally looked lovely in all of them (although creepily similar to all the previous hyper-blonde pale young would-be-brides in blue dresses previous Burton extravaganzas). She was an especially pre-Raphaelite vision in her shining silver armor at the climactic final battle (and, if you believe that’s a spoiler, you must not have seen any previous Burton films. Or possibly any films at all. The plot is not exactly packed with twists).

I couldn’t help but become even more annoyed, because I knew I would be seeing these amazing outfits at conventions, and I wish they were attached to a better movie or more interesting characters. Atwood had done a bunch of other Tim Burton movies; some of which I recently looked at for Steampunk inspiration. And, in the majority of these, the problem was the same; so many of the best costumes are attached to substandard stories. Take Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, one of these movies good… the other is pretty.

I guess it’s partially a money thing: in order to afford such a talented costume designer in the first place (and to be able to make her extravagant creations a reality) you’re generally going to have a big budget. And big budget science fiction and fantasy is often lacking in other departments. Like scripts. But it’s frustrating… I realize a lot people costume from a technical angle… they want to recreate something they found beautiful or maybe they want to test their skills. But, as I start to consider doing recreations for the first time, I find that while not a Cosplayer by any means I do care who the character is that I am ‘wearing’. Story is important to me.

So I fully expect recreations of the Glinda-like White Queen and all the Alice variations. I already saw at least one Hatter at Wondercon. The grotesqueries of the Red Queen and Stayne might be a little more difficult but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an attempt. But I’m wondering now if my disinterest in historical costuming and historical costuming groups is related to a niggling feeling that people inclined towards recreations are more interested in the surface of the thing.

While it’s certainly valid in its own right, it reminds me of people who paint copies of the masters. On a personal level, I can understand the challenge of getting something technically right. The mechanics of it are very satisfying in their way… but it seems a bit limited. I look at a costume from a boring movie, and I wonder if it was worth the effort to make. Padme had a dozen intricate outfits for every taste, but I’d rather be Leia any day of the week, “cinnamon buns” and all.

~España Sheriff

Yipe! Volume 2, Issue 5, May 2010