Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cleopatra and Katniss: Influences on Costume

I wrote a while back about the fascist and Soviet influence on the production design of "the Hunger Games." I mentioned extensively the influence of the Roman Empire, especially how the Roman influence on fascist architecture and design tricked down into the film's production design of the Capitol. But my observations about the Hunger Games aren't limited to the design of the fictitious city. How could I claim any literary merit if I wasn't attracted to the influences of the characters themselves? Especially when the main character is as dynamic as Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss.
I read an interesting article in Time last week about the growing popularity of the strong female protagonist in young adult fiction (citing the Hunger Games and the Divergent series as evidence of this growing trend). Interestingly enough, the article cited the influences of characters like Alice or Dorothy as important in shaping strong women like Katniss. But if my visual hunch is correct, the filmmakers identified a more interesting historical source with some more troubling consequences.
They both even had intense parades!
Because, it didn't take me too long to see the similarities between the visual appearance of Katniss and the appearance of Liz Taylor's Cleopatra. Maybe its the scope of the work or the looming Roman influence, but for some reason, when I saw Katniss's Capitol costumes in Catching Fire, I immediately thought of that famous (or is it infamous?) epic Cleopatra. And its not just because they start with the letter "C."
Don't get me wrong, Cleopatra and Katniss are very different characters. I'm not going to attempt to connect them thematically. But, it seems that, costume-wise at least, they share some visual connection. And why not? In the Capitol, opulence is the defining characteristic in every aspect and what is more opulent (cinematically at least) than Cleopatra. With a budget of millions, cast of thousands, and stars to die for (Liz, Robert, Rex... just to name a few)- what is more opulent than Cleopatra. The movie might be a few hours too long with some overacting, but it is a thing of visual beauty. And those costumes! Wasn't Liz's jewelry alone worth more than most of our homes? And how about the real gold dress? In terms of epics, Cleopatra is EPIC.
Sharaff with Taylor and the Phoenix dress
I mentioned the costumes with good reason. Tens of thousands of costumes were used in the film and Liz had over 60 costume changes. That is a lot of elaborate costumes to make. So, it isn't a surprise that the costume designers, Renie Conley, Irene Sharaff, and Vittoria Nino Novarese won the 1963 Academy Award for their costume designs. They may not have been the most historically accurate (I don't think anyone showed as much as Liz ever did) but they stressed the character and her great beauty and sexuality. In short, they were brilliant.

The main similarity I noted was between Katniss' Capitol party dress and Cleopatra's gold dress (made of 24-carat gold). After all, the situations are similar: a confident woman is thrown into a new, scary situation in grand style. What I really think that got me were the wings on both dresses. Cleo's dress makes her look like a beautifully rich golden eagle. Katniss always evokes the Mockingjay image. I'm not going to talk about her beautiful transforming wedding gown, but the wing motif is repeated there. I have to wonder whether the Catching Fire designer (Trish Summerville) was thinking of that gold dress when she was designing Katniss' gowns. You know I don't believe in coincidences.

But really, the similarities don't end there. Even Katniss' hair had an Egyptian vibe with all the elaborate braiding and gold beads. Couldn't have Liz's Cleo worn the same exact hair? These similarities can't be supported by fact, but you make your own observations. Are similar women in uncomfortable situations simply drawn to bird-related outfits, or is there a Cleopatra-influence on the Hunger Games. I think the odds may very well be in my favor.

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