Retrospective 2022

Cinema of Splendour - Fashion in Film

Elegant evening gowns, scuffed leather jackets, dark sunglasses – fashion has shaped film history and contributed to some of its finest moments. Cinema has always served as a showcase for clothing. Sometimes it’s glamorous luxury, sometimes it’s a character’s defining trait, sometimes it’s both. Sometimes we hardly notice the costumes, they seem quite natural, like they belong to our own reality. At other times, they serve as signs of another, alien existence. Not infrequently they become the object of our desire. Again and again, they are integral to the formation of a character’s identity, and the choice of clothing can even represent a political act.

Our retrospective “Cinema of Splendour - Fashion in Film” looks across film history at works in which fashion draws our attention in powerful ways. Either because it is central to the film’s message, or because it creates an additional layer of meaning. Extravagance is here a major theme. This is already made clear by the oldest film in the series: ›Salomé‹, by the legendary dancer Alla Nazimova and her (sham) husband Charles Bryant. Made exactly one hundred years ago, this Oscar Wilde adaptation was a style-defining work whose costumes influenced generations of filmmakers. Its flamboyant playfulness speaks specifically to the film as a pure art product. At the same time, ›Salomé‹ offers an impressive demonstration of the central role that fashion played in early Hollywood cinema. It’s no surprise, given that the studio moguls of the time had often made their fortunes in the clothing industry. Opulent costume splendor was for them a personal concern – something that is evident in George Cukor’s ›The Women‹ (1939), a classic of Hollywood cinema, with its extraordinarily colorized fashion show. Moreover, like all of the retrospective’s titles, it offers a deliberate reflection on the role of women in front of the camera.

A playful desire for decadence and spectacle characterizes many of the films in the retrospective. They often leave our conventional role models far behind. In general, they show us great freedom, which allows films to realize one of their most impressive potentials: a cinema of attractions. This desire for spectacle as well as for a new conception of gender roles is a thread that runs from ›Salomé‹ directly to ›Pink Narcissus‹ (1971), the cinematic masterpiece by the photographer James Bidgood. This film reminds us how closely fashion and queerness are intertwined.

Fashion attracts particular attention in a genre where it for the most part differs starkly from the world of our own experience and, at the same, contributes to the creation of the world depicted on screen: the period costume drama. Luchino Visconti’s ›Ludwig‹ (1972) and Peter Weir’s ›Picnic at Hanging Rock‹ (1975) are even shown in their newly restored versions. Here, the costumes not only represent specific eras, they also tell us something about the periods in which the films themselves were made. The interaction between these two layers of time greatly enhances the viewing experience.

Finally, costumes are of central thematic importance in films that are themselves set in the world of fashion. ›Puzzle of a Downfall Child‹ (1970), starring Faye Dunaway, is a real discovery. In this debut, the director Jerry Schatzberg processes his own experiences as a fashion photographer. Among the films that dramatize the fashion world, one of the most beautiful examples was made in Paris in 1944, while the city was still under German occupation: ›Falbalas‹ by Jacques Becker. The difficulties that the main characters struggle with in their work, and their constant pursuit of artistic expression, are themes that unite all of these films as works by directors reflecting on their own craft.

The films of the 2022 Retrospective at a glance:

Salome - D: Charles Bryant, Alla Nazimova - USA 1922
The Women - D: George Cukor - USA 1939
Falbalas - D: Jacques Becker - FRA 1945
Puzzle of a Downfall Child - D: Jerry Schatzberg - USA 1970
Pink Narcissus - D: James Bidgood - USA 1971
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder - BRD 1972
Ludwig - D: Luchino Visconti - ITA, FRA, BRD 1973
Picnic at Hanging Rock - D: Peter Weir - AUS 1975
Orlando - D: Sally Potter - GBR, RUS, ITA, FRA, NLD 1992
The Virgin Suicides - D: Sofia Coppola - USA 1999
Girlhood - D: Céline Sciamma - FRA 2014
The Handmaiden - D: Park Chan-wook - KOR 2016