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Hollywood threads on parade at ACMI

Explore the world of Hollywood's best known films in the 'Hollwood Costume' exhibition at ACMI

Words by: Matthew Stephenson
Photography by: Mark Ashkanasy, courtesy ACMI

Ever wondered how short Russell Crow’s skirt in Gladiator really was? Or whether The Dude’s dressing gown looks as comfy in real life as it does throughout The Big Labowski? Or perhaps you always had a thing for blood-stained singlets, such as the one Bruce Willis sported in Die Hard? If so, the current exhibition at ACMI will delight you. Simply titled Hollywood Costume, the exhibition delivers precisely what the name promises. Costumes. From Hollywood.

The Hollywood Costume exhibition opens with a swelling, cinematic score and a projected montage of famous film characters dressed in their finest gowns, suites and getups. A fitting, if somewhat predictable beginning. But shuffling past the screen and around the corner into the exhibition it becomes clear that grander plans are afoot. The large space has been cleverly divided into three distinct sections, or “Scenes”, each exploring a different aspect of costume design. This was a wise decision as not only does it provide wider context for each of the costumes on display, but it also drives a kind of narrative that coaxes you through the space from display to display as you follow the story of costume design through to three distinct acts.

Scene 1, titled “What is costume design?”, provides solid groundwork for those unfamiliar with the notion of a costume designer and highlights just how utterly crucial their role is within the making of a film. There are some stunning period gowns on display here as well as some more modern work from films such as Fight Club and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Scene 2, titled “Creative Contexts” delves a little deeper into the creative collaborations involved in costume design and this is where the real meat of the exhibition lies. There is a fascinating interview footage with cinematic geniuses such as Martin Scorsese and Mike Nichols, in-depth looks at films such as Hitchcock’s The Birds and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, and thorough examinations of the stunningly varied work and costumes of individual actors such as Meryl Streep and Robert DeNero.

The exhibition then closes with Scene 3, “The Finale”, a large open space showcasing the most famous costumes in the collection. There are many gorgeous frocks and dashing suits from classic films such as Titanic, The Wizard of Oz and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on show here, and the kids will be particularly pleased with this section as heavyweights such a Batman, Spiderman and James Bond all get to show off their flashy threads. Unfortunately this final section lacks some of the fascinating insight present in the opening two scenes and the large, somewhat clumsy layout of this space is less than ideal. However, much like many Hollywood films, what “The Finale” lacks in intelligence it makes up for in dazzling star power and gorgeous eye candy. And that’s not always a bad thing.

Film buffs and film novices alike will find something to enjoy and likely learn something along the way. With less than three weeks left in it’s run, Hollywood Costume is without a doubt worth making time to see. Just be sure to do it soon.

The Hollywood Costume exhibition runs from 24 April to 18 August at ACMI.

More information about the Hollywood Costume exhibition can be found here.

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