Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hunger Games (I) and Fashion

**Note: If you have never read or heard anything about this series there are some spoilers**

We often listen to YA books in the Studio when we are working on large scale projects; it is a great way to keep focused and productive when you may be doing the same exact costume item 16 or 27 or 52 times in a row.  Between our third and fourth revisiting of Harry Potter (we're not obsessed... we just keep getting new contractors in who have never read them before and we have no choice...) we listened to the Hunger Games series.  

The ever-symbolic Mockingjay pin

I was already well obsessed with Katniss and her violent, post-apocalyptic world: I have read the series multiple times and rabidly attended the first movie showing at midnight.  The series takes place some indeterminate amount of time in the future, after terrible wars and famines have reduced the human population to that of one terrible North America-spanning country, Panem. Years earlier there had been an unsuccessful rebellion led by the oppressed Districts against the tyrranous Capitol. After the war, the Capitol invented The Hunger Games as a way to ensure the Districts would never rise again. Every year each District is forced to offer up one boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 17 to fight the others to the death on a widely televised and talked about reality show.  Capitol citizens do not participate, except in betting on winners, voting on clothing choices, and the like.  The kids are dressed up in garish Capitol costumes and forced to parade around looking for sponsors in the weeks leading up to the games.  Cinna, Katniss's assigned designer, utilizes his talents to tell a story about Katniss, whether it's to make her look fierce and terrifying to the other participants, or sweet and unassuming to the evil President after she commits an ultimate act of rebellion at the end of the Games. 

Capitol vs Distrct

As a costume designer, I was in love with the use of  fashion not only to separate the classes, but as a mode for subtle rebellion, and I could not wait to see Cinna's designs played out on the big screen.  Unfortunately the first movie did not deliver what I had built up in my head, and I was sorely disappointed. There are so few opportunities for costumes to affect the actual plot of a film, and I felt that the opportunity was squandered in this case.  The differences between the garish Capitol garb and simple District clothing was felt well enough, but I thought there could have been more extremes.  In the book the District denizens are malnourished and work hard manual labor their whole lives, often starving or dying in terrible industry-related accidents before they can reach old age, whereas those in the Capitol are so stuffed with plastic surgery and covered in tattoos and dyed skin and hair that they are unrecognizable to their original selves.  This is why Cinna, Katniss's personal designer, stands out as a Capitol person, and Katniss feels she can trust him: he is dressed simply in all black, with close-cropped hair and only a hint of classy gold eyeliner.  In the first movie the costume silhouettes of the Capitol citizens were larger than life, but I felt they did not look as extreme or "futuristic" as they could have.  Capitol citizens have every technological advancement available to their fashionable whims and desires, and I felt that these costumes were simply not *enough.*

Spoiled Capitol citizens looking like present day fashion show patrons

My real disappointment lay in the portrayal of Cinna's creations, however.  They looked... lame. These gowns are supposed to be breathtaking, making her glow, smolder, and blaze enough to earn her the moniker "the girl on fire," which follows her throughout the series.  In a world of extremes, she is supposed to (quite literally) burn and crackle to the point that everything else falls away.  These gowns are supposed to lay the beginning groundwork for what she ultimately becomes: an unwitting but effective leader in a full-scale rebellion. Instead, they looked like, well, prom dresses. I was not impressed or inspired, and therefore didn't understand as clearly what was so great about this girl from District 12.  I recognize that budget probably had a lot to do with this, but that does not change my disappointment or wish that it could have been dealt with in a more effective way.

Credit where credit is due: this moment was awesome
All that said, I approached the opening of Catching Fire with equal parts excitement and trepidation.  In the second book, which is my personal favorite of the three, Cinna outdoes himself to the point of putting himself squarely in the Capitol's crosshairs and Katniss is officially launched as the Leader of the Rebellion.  Last Thursday at 8pm, we Studio Girls took a field trip to see Catching Fire, and I was excited to see what the new designer, Trish Summerville, would do with it. This time, thanks to many factors and I know budget was one of them, I was NOT disappointed.  Tomorrow I will go into biased detail about what made me love these costumes so much, and criticisms on the diluted message these clothes portray outside the world of the film.

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