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Festivale online magazine
A Reel Life film section
August, 1999
Reviews this issue:

Designing Eyes
Eyes Wide Shut,
The Thomas Crown Affair
In Dreams,

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It's probably not a good thing, I've often seen a film purely for the production design. It's a weakness of mine but unfortunately, there are many bad films that look gorgeous. I will sit through a lot for a nice frock or apartment. Hence, I never miss the opening scenes of Rosemary's Baby for the long slow pan over the gothic Victorian rooftop of New York's Dakota Building (not that it's a bad film: far from it).

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a film that I like for that reason. Terry Gilliam is truly a man of vision and anything he does is worth watching, even though sometimes he doesn't give the structure the most attention. The film ran out of time and the second half is unsatisfactory to say the least, but some of the visuals will stay with me forever: we all owe a debt to the man who cast an unknown Uma Thurman as Venus rising from the sea.

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I try not to let the rich interiors of Eyes Wide Shut blind me to the failings of the script, or the awful, awful outfit Goldie Hawn wears in The Out Of Towners detract from what is quite an enjoyable, if undemanding film. And boy, can John Cleese high kick!

Being a costume fiend definitely has its downside. How many of us cringed at the fanciful medieval garb in The Princess Bride or the un-film noir knickers Melissa George wore in Dark City? Who can care what happens to Buttercup when she's dressed in what looks like a kirtle? Or the cute streetwalker wearing scanties forty years too soon?

What of my favourite, Marilyn Monroe's most unflapper-like gowns in Some Like It Hot? Orry-Kelly won his Academy Award(R) despite the blatant disregard for 1920s period accuracy. So perhaps here is the thing - isn't it more important to show off the charms of your leading lady than pander to the pedants? What is the point of casting the ultimate 1950s sex goddess with her breasts strapped firmly down in a drop waist dress when you can have her in see-through chiffon and strategically placed beads? The same logic, presumably, brought us Liv Tyler stunning in un-Rococo midnight blue in Plunkett and Macleane. No powdered wigs for her.

Then there are the films where the production design people know their stuff: the Elizabeths, the Mrs Browns, the Queen Margots, anything BBC or Merchant Ivory; when you know you can sit back and admire. Ah, even when they do slip up, you're inclined to credit them with superior knowledge: yes, so they didn't actually have pearls in Ancient Egypt, but then maybe there was a stray Phoenican ship enroute from China etc etc (the first Cleopatra).

Really though, I have always believed that if they do their job properly, you don't even notice the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the sound. All you see is the story and the characters. It should all come together to produce one cohesive result. Then again, does anyone know where can I get a frock like the black lace one Nicole Kidman was wearing.... ???

Nicky Jenkins

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Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: Aug-1999 : Last updated: : Last tested: : Last compiled: 08-Aug-2014
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