Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Exploring '20s decadence in Midnight in Paris

In light of the news that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has pushed its release date back to THE SUMMER OF 2013, the sound of hearts shattering can be heard all over the world. From the controversial casting to the appetite whetting trailer, the film was already hotly anticipated and delaying its release feels like a cruel tease. But never fear! The visual pleasure of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is equally alluring in its depiction of 1920s decadence (or so I can only imagine at this point) and deserves to stand alone in the beauty of its cinematography, music and, of course, its costumes.

The film centres around Owen Wilson’s character of Gil, dry humoured and socially awkward in that classic Allen-esque way. A writer and a romantic, Gil in enamoured with the dreamy notion that he has been born in the wrong time period to ever truly be himself. Taken with the beauty of Paris on a pre-wedding trip with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), he longs to live in the extravagance of the creatively debauched city in the 1920s. Soon enough in a film as whimsically wonderful as this, he finds himself transported at the stroke of midnight to the very era of flapper girls and dapper boys.

Gil is so cleverly costumed that he does not scream 21st century and blends seamlessly into his new surroundings among the arty crowd that become his friends. His clothes appear timeless, using tweed fabrics and earthy colours as the base for slim cut trousers and blazers with narrow lapels. This timelessness works both as a plot narrative, allowing him to fit into the ‘20s world, as well as signifying the idea that Gil is not bound by the conventions of his actual time period.

The opulent world that Gil has stumbled across is filled with those of literary and artistic genius from the time. Iconic figures such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (see what I did there?) pop up and as a viewer, it doesn’t entirely matter if some of the references sail over your head as you become just as immersed in this world as Gil does. Among the glitzy and flamboyant, the character of Adriana (the eternally beautiful Marion Cotillard) is awash in a sea of sequins and headbands, opulence and elegance. A muse to the greats of the era, she is romantic, idealistic and above all, the embodiment of a dreamer. Dressing in the high fashions of the time, she is intricately costumed in a flurry of beads, lace, feathers, all drop-waist dresses and jaunty jazz shoes. It is almost as if she is a caricature of “20s fashion”, convincing herself to play a role when, like Gil, she feels she belongs in a different time: the Belle Époque of the 1890s.

It is also worth mentioning the costume representation of Gil’s present day fiancée, Inez. Bourgeois in every aspect of her life, she believes in wearing your wealth for all to see. With a distinct feel of power-dressing to her style, Inez wears the likes of Ralph Lauren and Dior. She is a markedly modern day woman yet her penchant for 80s-esque shirt dresses and waist belts depict the ideas of fashion and time periods acting as cycles, forever overlapping and intertwining. Although she doesn’t live the fantasy of wanting to exist in another time, she aims to recreate the ideals and power that come with it.

Midnight in Paris portrays how it is easy to become enraptured with the past as a place of perfection. The characters idealise the fantasy of different time period as better than their own as a means of escape and a sense of faultlessness that cannot be obtained. It is through fashion that this is visually illustrated, marking the constant revolving cycles of time.

USA/Spain, 2011
Director: Woody Allen
Costume Design: Sonia Grande


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