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Hollywood Comes To Phoenix

Images by Jeff Moses.

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A Sneak Peak At The Costumes Depicting Iconic Characters From Classic Hollywood Films That Will Be On Display At The Phoenix Art Museum This Summer

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By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

May 29, 2014 — Immersive is definitely the best single word to describe the Hollywood Costume exhibit that is currently showing at the Phoenix Art Museum.

As if the fabulous array of costumes was not enough, the exhibit’s curator, Debra Landis, added a whole new layer by using projections of the characters faces including blinking and facial expressions to put the outfits in their most memorable perspective.

The exhibit includes costumes from iconic characters such as Darth Vader, Superman, The Blues Brothers, and Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, among more than 100 others. Some are even put into iconic poses such as Superman, who can be found hanging from the ceiling in a flying position, Neo from The Matrix who is guns drawn against Black Mamba from Kill Bill, and Maddie Ross from True Grit who has her six shooter trained on a phantom Tom Chaney.

“We were very desirous of doing a major film project at some point,” said James Ballinger the Sybil Harrington Director of the Phoenix Art Museum. “I think it’s fair to say that if you look at the last quarter of the 20th century and into the 21st century, that film, video, and movies, to some people, have become a really major art form, particularly in America. So we were looking for the right kind of project to highlight that. We’ve done video game design, we’ve done car design, so we were looking for the right way to embrace film. But in another way than just a film festival, which we do 50 to 60 films a year, and this became the way to do that.”

The show was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which gave Ballinger great “confidence of the exhibit’s quality,” and Landis was actually an old colleague of Phoenix Art Museum Curator of Fashion Design, Denita Sewell.

“We knew her in advance and new about this project and we were excited about it,” said Ballinger.

The show was put together in London and toured internationally but Phoenix is the the exhibit’s last stop and for the finale there a quite a few upgrades. The walk-through already includes a variety of interactive options such as short documentaries on the making of some of the costumes, as well television screens that show some of the films represented in the exhibit.

But Phoenix decided to add a little more panache.

For the exhibit, the mannequins are on to raised platforms and lit on stage. The resulting effect keeps the ground line dark to create an illusion that the patron is walking through a theater, according to Ballinger. Furthermore, the entire tour is made to mirror some of the aspects of the filming process.

The entrance to the exhibit is very clearly made to look like a movie theater lobby, complete with movie posters and a ticket taker. According to Phoenix Art Museum Public Relations Director, Stephanie Lieb, all of the posters are originals. The step past the ticket taker reveals Satine from Moulin Rouge perched high above the entrance, just before the patrons would encounter the movie screen playing clips of many of the films with costumes housed inside.

The next “act” of the the exhibit shows what Ballinger described as the sound stage, which for effect, and an added place in the museum to hang lights from, the museum decided to build metal scaffolding for. In this area costumes such as The Dude from the Big Lebowski, Jason Bourne from the Bourne Identity, Spiderman,  as well as The Adams Family and Queen Elizabeth among a wide variety of royal looking costumes and quite a few others.

“To highlight and celebrate The Big Lebowski and The Dude is not exactly off the charts great design when you look at the bathrobe. But on the other hand that bathrobe became the iconic statement of who that character was for all kinds of reasons beyond what it is and who the actor was as a person. But those things brought together created a kind of unforgettable character,” said Ballinger.

Also housed in this area of the exhibit was the famed brown fedora and leather coat of “Indiana Jones,” which Landis actually designed herself. Along with the costume there is also the original sketch of Indiana by Steven Spielberg as well as Landis’ original sketch.

According to Ballinger, it took Landis six months just to develop Indiana’s fedora because, “you’ve always got to be able to see Harrison Ford’s face.”

But the statement also highlighted a key difference between a fashion designer and a costume designer.

Continuing through the exhibit patrons will find the costumes of Melanie Daniels from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, Bill The Butcher From Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, Sweeney Todd from Tim Burton’s production, and a few other costumes but in this section the costumes take a back seat to the technology.

The exhibit has it set up so many of the original illustrations are projected onto tables near the costumes while video monitors show the directors and costume designers discussing the dress decisions made in the movies. It is definitely one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit.

“It’s set up so they are actually talking to each other. We created this dialogue so we feel like we are at the table talking about the original designs. it shows how the collaboration goes to together to make film and I think that’s the most important thing here,” said Ballinger.

The next “act” which Ballinger said represents the “front of the house” has some of the heaviest hitters in the exhibit including Darth Vader, which according to Ballinger was one of the most difficult costumes to acquire due to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. This section also holds one of John Wayne’s costumes, as well as the oldest costume in the exhibit which was worn by Louise Glaum for her role in the 1920 film Sex.

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