Saturday, December 6, 2014

Costume Design: Dressing Hillary Swank in The Homesman


The Homesman, based on the book by Glenn Swarthout, has been getting great reviews and as a period piece, it may be a film that gets a lot of attention for its costume design. Lahly Poore, the movie's costume designer has a solid resume including assistant costume designer on some huge films ala Bruce Almighty, Minority Report, The Patriot, Titanic and To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. The Homesman, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones and A-Lister Hillary Swank, is her most high profile film as a costume designer to date. Poore is featured as the Pick of the Week over at CostumeDesignersGuild.com, a great source for those of you who want to delve deeper. 

Poore had to design clothes for Swank's character, Mary Bee Cuddy, a woman escorting three traumatized women from the cold, harsh environs of the Nebraska Territories to 'gentler quarters' in Iowa. 
"The mid-1850s setting of “The Homesman” straddles a time when women were wearing confining, heavy and voluminous dresses and underpinnings– hardly the kind of garb suitable for rugged outdoor life. Costume Designer Lahly Poore made more than 200 original pieces of clothing–bloomers, petticoats, coats, hats and more–to outfit a story that covers a rugged five-week journey across the frontier."
"With the film shot out of continuity, Poore had to devise garments with three levels of distressing to represent the wear and tear on the clothes. She also built a rabbit fur hat, with the knowledge that Cuddy probably caught the rabbit herself.
Poore sought original sources for her research to find what made psychological sense to her characters."
“When you read letters from the frontier, you found that women were constantly cutting off their dresses because they were dragging in the mud, or getting caught in the campfire. They found it incredibly inconvenient to wear,” she said. That seeming act of fashion defiance was a precursor to the Reform-era movement that had women adopting bloomers to ride bicycles.
The small-budget film shot in about eight weeks across the cold, high desert of New Mexico and Georgia, during the winter and early spring.
“It gave the actors a sense of reality on who they were portraying and what their lives were like,” Poore said."
"Swank’s character spends a significant amount of time in a paisley, wool challis dress with the era’s signature dropped shoulder. “That shoulder can be hard to wear. On camera, it can widen the shoulder and bosom area and look very heavy, very fast,” Poore said. Swank’s svelte figure minimized the effect, Poore said.
The designer chose the paisley because it evoked the period’s paisley shawls. “I loved the coloring–it reminded me of the colors in nature. But we overdyed it so it wasn’t quite so bright,” she said."

"The dimmer colors and modest attire reflect the values of Cuddy, a religious, former school teacher who demonstrates great fortitude as a woman surving alone on a homestead.
“She was very honorable, and doing the right thing was important to her. So she wouldn’t be flouting convention much,” Poore said."
 Let's take a gander at the trailer again, see how it comes together.

Oh blast it! I'm crying just watching the trailer! The Homesman playing in select theaters now stars Hillary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter with some notable heavyweights encountered along the way: Meryl Streep, James Spader, John Lithgow and Hailee Steinfeld. It looks like director Tommy Lee Jones wasn't leaving anything to chance! While it didn't win, the film was nominated for the Palme D'Or, the top prize at last year's Cannes film fest. An honor indeed, for what appears to be an honorable, moving film about the American west.

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