Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The power of costume in Catch Me If You Can

Speilberg’s Catch Me If You Can explores our unhesitating acceptance of the visuals with which we are presented every day. Be this through subtle body language decisions or clever vocabulary, we often believe what we see without query. In the film, Leonardo di Caprio exploits this unquestioning acceptance, fooling his characters as to his real identity. A huge part of this visual trickery lies in his wardrobe choices.

Based on a real life story, di Caprio plays Frank Abognale Jr., a professional con artist living and loving in the Swinging Sixties. Not much more than a mere schoolboy of eighteen, he successfully impersonates the lives and careers of a pilot, a doctor, a teacher and many more. He fraudulently earns millions of dollars and even secures himself a perfectly prim and pretty fiancée, she herself believing him to be a doctor.

His costumes throughout the film illustrate the power that the simple presentation of a uniform has. Frank is able to easily deceive by exuding a strong visual façade of status. Wearing a uniform that reinforces his chosen persona, Frank grows increasingly self-assured in his ability to deceive. This can be seen no better than when he begins to impersonate a Pan Am pilot. The unmistakeable smart and accomplished air (oh, I went there) that the Pan Am uniform provides sees Frank empowered by the image he has built. He strides through the airport, receiving countless admiring glances and looks of respect, despite never having as much as sat in a plane. He is surrounded by beautiful stewardesses, themselves costumed to the embodiment of the sixties air hostess image: tightly girdled uniforms, with fully made up faces complimenting the shiniest hair and the highest heels. Presenting us with a visual reminder that flying was once synonymous with luxury style; their costumes instil a smokescreen of confidence and, in Frank’s case, somewhere to hide.

Before becoming the ultimate conman, Frank begins the film as a young school boy trapped in his parent’s divorce. His sadness is visually reflected through the lacklustre, dull and colourless attire he wears before he begins his life of deception. As he falls deeper into his false world of impersonation, his ‘off-duty’ clothes become increasingly flamboyant and vivacious as his confidence grows. Fitting with the sixties vibes, out of uniform he kits himself out with a palette of vivid and loud colours. He can be seen in white trousers and bright blue shirts with orange Wayfarer sunglasses casually perched atop his head. He becomes a man that can have all he desires and beings cultivated a collection of luxuriously tailored suits and expensive cars. However, as the film draws to a close, Frank’s wardrobe demonstrates a complete turnaround in his appearance as his lifestyle dramatically changes. Caught and imprisoned for fraud, his health deteriorates as his riches turn to rags, his long, unkempt hair and dirty clothes a visual embodiment of this.

2002, USA
Director: Steven Spielberg
Costume Design: Mary Zophres

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