Bette Talvacchia: Fashioning Identity in Film
Fashioning Identity in Film
(S. 346 – 357)

»Covered by an outer skin of another's devising«

Bette Talvacchia

Fashioning Identity in Film

PDF, 12 Seiten

Dedicated to Kurt Forster, whose enquiring mind is an example for all who would transcend the narrow boundaries imposed on scholarship, and whose enthusiasm encourages us to get on with it.

Having confessed himself formerly untouched by the allure of fashion, Wim Wenders pursues the implications of his conversion in Notebook on Cities and Clothes. Commissioned by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the personalized documentary records the Zen-tinged approach of Yohji Yamamoto to the design of garments, while it pulses with Wenders’s enthrallment with the procedure. The designer’s conversation and the director’s voice-overs meld into a compatible philosophy of artistic manufacture: both meditate upon process as a means of signifying the final product’s meaning. Beyond this, the entire project is overlaid with an extended and elastic metaphor: the production and screening of a film is analogous to the creation and staging of a fashion collection, and both produce a series of images inextricably bound up with the construction of identity in contemporary society.

Wenders provides an anecdote, ostensibly taken from his own experience, that functions as an originating myth for the film’s quest to fathom the links between individual identity, clothing, and image. When the director talks about his acquaintance with the designer, he mysteriously states that he had experienced a portentous encounter with Yamamoto previous to their actual meeting. On that occasion the spiritual emanated from the material—i.e., when Wenders first put on a shirt and jacket by Yamamoto, it brought on a rush of childhood memories merged with “the essence” of the garment.

Through this story, Wenders gives voice to, and calls into question, his disorienting and disproportionately strong reaction to the simple act of slipping into a shirt and jacket. What causes him to feel most “himself” in an outfit designed by another? How is it that to wear this clothing is to experience his own identity in a powerful way? Why is it that, paradoxically, he most acutely perceives a sense of self when covered by an outer skin of another’s devising? These questions motivate the director’s pursuit of his subject and give a personal investment to the series of musings that open the film, inscribed on the screen as Wenders intones the words

“We are creating an image of ourselves,

We are attempting to resemble this image.

Is that what we call identity?

The accord

between the image we have created

of ourselves

and … ourselves?”

In this tentative hypothesis, we construct identity through a willful assemblage of exterior images, and then hope to find a correspondence within the stuff of our nature. Putting on a garment that has attracted, seduced, or randomly come to us, we may find a fit, which then discloses something of ourselves to ourselves.

Wenders punctuates the documentary with a “visual dialogue” that parallels the text of the film by the placement of a smaller video monitor within the frame of the camera’s lens. At times a particular filmed sequence gets rear-projected, used as a foil for a miniature video monitor that runs its own footage, so that the technological apparatus becomes a protagonist in the mise-en-scène. In other moments, Wenders allows the film to comment on what his video camera has recorded. This takes place most memorably in a passage where an interview on video is played back while Wenders sits at a desk watching the tape, performing the movements that he is also viewing. Yamamoto discusses the impact that a book of photographs, August Sander’s Men of the Twentieth Century, has had on his imagination. Recorded on video, Yamamoto reverently turns the pages, extolling the details that command his admiration. Wenders’s voice-over tells us that he, too, has an enduring love for Sander’s images and the camera pulls back to reveal Wenders in a study, leafing through his own copy of the book. Wenders’s motions on film mirror Yamamoto’s on video, and the entire sequence creates a performance of Notebook’s central point: the designer and director create along parallel circuits, making use of the same traces of material history, and the substances that record it.

Highly self-conscious of their dependence on surfaces and materials for the realization of their images, both Wenders and Yamamoto take a great interest in the information conveyed through photographic representation, and look to seize instructive visual clues from it. Yamamoto prizes a photo of Jean-Paul Sartre, yet indicates that its iconic quality resides most notably in the cut of the philosopher’s lapel; similarly, he sees in Sander’s photographs an almost mystical level of representation of the subjects’ “professional identity” through the clothing that they wear. Ignoring the shrewd and multifaceted strategy of homologies that Sander employed in his compositions, Yamamoto focuses on the terrain he shares with the photographer: an appreciation of the function of clothing in systems of representation. Yamamoto gravitates to the historicity of the garments, and is instructed by it in the formation of his self-described “classical” fashion language. He muses that the photographs reveal an era when clothes announced a job or profession, while today it is impossible to guess the line of work (and sometimes, I would add, the gender) of a person walking along the street in a T-shirt and jeans.

In fact, if fashionable clothing of the past was in part a system for visually announcing difference along the lines of class and gender, now it often dissimulates or willfully teases both categories. The fashion system’s ability to manipulate meaning within society’s codes of convention, to employ the codes in such a way as to confuse their original meanings, allows for subversive uses and readings of fashion statements, which can empower marginalized groups. Examples abound in film and the discourse around it, with the outfits both in front of and behind the camera apt for analysis from an “other” point of view. A novelist can invoke the image of Errol Flynn wrapped in Robin Hood’s tights as a divining rod for his awakening homosexuality, hilariously (and convincingly) reading “the Hood’s” adventures in the key of a gay fantasy, with Claude Rains’s Prince John as queen, and Basil Rathbone’s Sir Guy as a “gloriously butch” villain. 

Out from the corner of an entirely different wardrobe closet, Dorothy Arzner’s custom-made trousers and man-tailored turnouts provide a means to investigate specifically lesbian issues in the films of this director, one of the few women to have sustained a successful Hollywood career between the 1920s and 1940s. Some critics have argued that, in a real sense, the carefully coded appearance of Arzner completes the meaning, or provides an interpretive key essential to understanding the significance of her films, since it connotes lesbian identity. Inescapably, considerations of the systems of representation constructed in photographs, films, and fashion lead to examinations of how identity is fabricated. Does it stem from the images that foster its recognition, or does it remain a discrete entity ultimately separable from the elements of its expression? The most convincing response to these concerns is a recognition of the instability of identity, and the possibility that one builds a sense of self through constant mutations of signifying images; trying on a wardrobe of self-representations, until one (or several) “fits” are revealed. Judith Williamson argues both for the viability of changing identities with each day’s outfit, and against its paradoxical limitations:

“When I rummage through my wardrobe in the morning I am not merely faced with a choice of what to wear. I am faced with a choice of images: the difference between a smart suit and a pair of overalls, a leather skirt and a cotton dress, is not just one of fabric and style, but one of identity. You know perfectly well that you will be seen differently for the whole day, depending on what you put on; you will appear as a particular kind of woman with one particular identity which excludes others. The black leather skirt rather rules out girlish innocence, oily overalls tend to exclude sophistication, ditto smart suit and radical feminism. Often I have wished I could put them all on together, or appear simultaneously in every possible outfit, just to say, ‘How dare you think any one of these is me. But also, ‘See, I can be all of them’”.

What matters here is less Williamson’s own coding of what the articles of her wardrobe imply—some would not read “smart suit” and “radical feminism” as exclusionary—than her frustration with the limitations imposed by the confusion of a partial and changeable image with the totality of her being. Significantly, Williamson presents this problematizing of an ostensibly liberating choice of identities in which to clothe herself by way of introduction to an essay on Cindy Sherman that centers on the photographer’s group of untitled works collectively referred to as the Film Stills. Williamson’s analysis of her daily ritual of disguise/revelation in the act of dressing is offered as a prolegomena to Sherman’s strategy of changing her appearance and personas in order to play the protagonist of her own photos. Sherman’s imposture in this particular series is most apt for the issues around fashion and film, since the fictional site of these images is the equally fictive set of a Hollywood movie, with the photographer/subject posing as an actress caught in one isolated moment, captured and extracted from a stream of “motion pictures.” The motion is stopped (or composed) in front of Sherman’s camera, presenting us with an image of the photographer in disguise, constructing her identity at the same time that it calls it into question. Sherman creates a category of fictional autobiography, whose joke of mixed genres works fully only with a complicit viewer who is in on the game. 

That such a routine should be conceptually linked to filmmaking indicates the privileged status in our culture of film as a site for the production of images of identity. Placement within the more expansive operations of a film implies that the one frozen scene has a parallel reality as part of a continuum of actions, and therefore has a history, a context, and a meaning that would be clear if only we were allowed access to it. In other words, the designation Film Stills falsely posits existence of an enveloping narrative, of which the individual images are a sign, and thus treacherously encourages the viewer to supply meaning, to answer the question of identity, based on an unknowable narrative.

Following the lead of Williamson’s reading, an image requires the active services of a spectator to be constructed as an identity, in films just as in Sherman’s Film Stills. The viewer reconstructs the image, based on the signs that are provided, and acknowledges its implications. An awareness of this process can unhinge the joining of image and identity. To amplify this line of reasoning in terms of the present discussion, the spectator is prompted to translate the visual language rendered by the characters’ clothing into an interpretive text. The function of this visual script in relation to the spoken dialogue can be a pivotal dynamic in the creation of meaning within the film’s representational system, and its analysis can be used to clarify and to question assumptions that have been submerged within the flow of the narrative.

In a discussion of the standard usages of costume in what is generally termed “classical realist cinema,” Jane Gaines sees the relation between costuming and narrative as antagonistic, since the ascendancy of one would result in a diminishing of the other. Inevitably, the tendency in this tradition was to restrict the autonomy of the discourse plotted by the costumes, which instead supported the narrative in a subservient manner. Spectacular clothing might steal a scene, a garment might “overact,” usurping the starring role awarded to verbal dialogue in this genre. The precise nature of this concern is important: costumes might be glamorous, conspicuous, certainly extravagant, but these attributes had to be an “expression” of the character in question. The clothes were painstakingly devised to advance, through visual manifestation or amplification, the unfolding of the story; they were never staged to disrupt the narrative. If the balance were upset, the film’s narrative coherence would be threatened. Gaines articulates how this operates in the melodramas produced in Hollywood studios from the 1920s through the 1950s:

“In these superfluous [transitional] scenes the heroine may do nothing more than answer the telephone or pen a note, but she carries out this mundane task in the most visually stunning and complex costume featured in the entire film. And here lies the danger. The costume plot organizes an idiolect with its own motifs, variations, surprises, anticipations, and resolutions which unfold in a temporality which does not correspond with narrative developments, whose climaxes occur in alternation with the key dramatic scenes, in the undramatic moments.”

In a genre where the straightforward unfolding of plot is fundamental, and the filmic components are naturalized as much as possible, a competing visual discourse would indeed jeopardize the final product.

However, in contemporary cinematic genres, a self-consciousness about both the ideological implications of technique and the engagement of issues of representation encourages a more contentious relationship between image and plot. A fracturing of the seamless correspondence between visual and narrative developments has been effectively used to amplify the range of meanings conveyed by the film and the possible responses to them. Several recent films challenge the viewer by exploring ways in which a plot of viewing might coexist with the textual plot. Specifically, with regard to meaning conveyed through fashion, a practice might be engaged where the costumes construct a parallel text, which works in tandem with, but is not strictly in the service of, the narrative supplied by the dialogue.

Derek Jarman’s version of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, for example, presents an extradialogic commentary on how the image of Queen Isabella can be literally made-up by means of a procession of outfits that follow their own rhythm of elaboration as the film—and the plot—progresses. The lavish clothes do not add up to a stable indicator of the queen’s intrinsic and unalterable identity; nothing like the costumes in classic cinema that express character and personality. They remain, instead, a group of images rife with conflicting bits of visual information, which even the most hardworking spectator will have trouble forcing together. This is because the attire of the queen does not so much serve to characterize Isabella as to comment on the role that she assumes.

The costumes/images belong to a system of representation different from that of Marlowe’s sixteenth-century dialogue; they are patterned on the template for “how to be female” in Hollywood films. In each of her appearances, Queen Isabella appropriates the persona of a recognizable female film star, conveyed by the details of her costume. In an early scene where the queen’s innocence and wrongful hurt are discussed, she poses as an icon of Audrey Hepburnesque simplicity, with Peter Pan collar and full white skirt fanning out from a tight-fitting waist. If we want this characterization to signal the queen’s identity, then we must cancel out the view that we were given in a preceding scene, where she was sensuously draped in a satin peignoir with boa feathers tickling her neck. Both of these images are modified by Isabella’s appearance in a boxy navy and white Chanel-inspired suit, punctuated with bows, and complemented by white gloves, an Hermès bag, and silk scarf wrapped closely to her head—a turnout that gives off a Doris Day glow. The roll call continues with evocations of Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, Loretta Young, even (arguably) Joan Collins, or to be more precise, the “types” that all of these stars have embodied.

The conjuring up of the ways in which the film industry has codified and packaged female stars to determine the acceptable and desirable images of “femaleness” creates a visual gloss that comments on the practices of Hollywood filmmaking rather than Marlowe’s dialogue. And the employment of these images in a visual discourse that remains detached from the text forms a parallel narrative—one that works to cancel verisimilitude, even while it exploits the visual and metaphoric possibilities inherent in the medium of film.

The self-conscious assemblage of male identity through careful, fashionable artifice is a topic less explored in traditional cinema, but it is a central concern of Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo. The film’s handsome protagonist, Julian Kay, calculates and announces who he is from the sum of his elegant outfits and meticulously chosen possessions, which literally form him even as they fashion his existence. Schrader insists on the equation of the character’s identity with its material signifiers by a painstaking calibration of Julian’s turnout with his surroundings in every scene, composing a symphony of harmonious fabrics, colors, and textures. The viewer is given to understand the superficiality of the callboy’s existence through a visual emphasis upon all the surfaces with which he defines himself.

The single scene that makes the most powerfully explicit (and completely wordless) statement of how the protagonist fabricates his identity through fashion portrays Julian dressing to go out for the night. Julian accompanies his preparations with soulful pop music, moving to its rhythms as he concentrates on putting together an outfit. Julian’s orchestration of jackets, shirts, and ties across the bed is as artful as the musical arrangement that accompanies him, and the creative effort as blissful. By surveying the possibilities resulting from the various combinations of articles of clothing, Julian glimpses his potential for embodying one of several particularly nuanced personas. Every indication is given that Julian takes deep pleasure in his game of dressing and in his awareness of the play involved: as he sings along to his music, Julian joins Smokey Robinson in crooning about camouflage, and appearances being “just a mirage.”

The combination of Julian’s choreographed gestures, the lack of dialogue, and the musical accompaniment that ends when he finishes dressing, endows this sequence with a self-contained character, like a music video clip within the film, which stresses its presentation as performance. The concept of “clothing as performance” has been theorized by Annette Kuhn:

“Clothing can dissemble—it may be costume, mask, masquerade. Put another way, clothing can embody performance. As a means to, even the substance of, a commutable persona, clothing as performance threatens to undercut the ideological fixity of the human subject.”

Kuhn’s formulation is contained in a discussion that explores the relationship of clothing and gender identity; while Julian’s clothes do not disguise his gender, his attention to his wardrobe and sensuous approach to dressing certainly describe traits that are conventionally gendered as female. Such a fundamental crossing of assigned gender roles is one of the several allusions to Julian’s possible homosexuality in the film.

By the end of the narrative, Julian’s cautiously regulated persona and carefully assembled arena of action have collapsed, and he sits in prison in blue denim, ready to start again from scratch, undoubtedly in a new sartorial manifestation. The scene of dressing as spectacle, however, is placed at the beginning of the film, at the height of Julian’s success and self-confidence. His performance of constructed selfhood is fully amplified with visual information that gives us a thorough view of all of the elements needed to know Julian; that is, we get to see his wardrobe. The camera movements in this scene show us not only Julian’s physical beauty and his narcissism, but through slow panning document the articles contained in closet and drawers, as though an inventory of their contents might reveal the inner workings of their owner. The visual strategy is deliberate: Julian springs open one drawer after another, perhaps for the sheer pleasure of gazing upon the beautiful fabrics, segregated and grouped for color and clothing type, or perhaps (within the logic of the visual plot) to exhibit proudly for the viewer the richness of his concealed holdings.

Further, the camera lets us know that Julian’s collection is based on connoisseurship. Several times a book with the Chanel logo on its cover comes into the purview of its lens; the American Gigolo reads fashion history the way other Americans read self-help books. As an ironic result, the film did have an educative value for the discerning viewer, since it was responsible for introducing Giorgio Armani, the designer of the clothes featured in (or starring in?) American Gigolo, to a wide American public.

A foregrounding of the role played by clothing in the manipulation of appearances that get conflated with identity also occurs in Susan Seidelman’s film, Desperately Seeking Susan. The story is set into motion by the confusion that ensues when Roberta (a suburban housewife) is taken to be Susan (a downtown free spirit). This otherwise implausible mistake can occur only because Roberta puts on a jacket emblazoned with a pyramid surmounted by the all-seeing eye, which belongs to Susan and becomes a metonym for her literal identity: the signification of the jacket designates the person inside it as Susan. In other words, the wearer is deduced from the piece of clothing worn. While wearing the jacket Roberta bangs her head and loses her memory/identity, and so accepts the designation “Susan” that others give her. Roberta repeatedly encounters the alarming repercussions of bearing Susan’s identity, as when she is unceremoniously thrown out of a coffee shop in a gesture precipitated by an angry recognition: “It’s that crazy girl in the jacket.”

This particular article of clothing, in fact, is a central protagonist of the plot, and we follow its movement through the course of the story, the thread that pulls the major characters together. Roberta’s discovery of the jacket in a secondhand shop allows her to make contact with Susan in the first place; it leads to the encounter with her future boyfriend; and eventually provides the conduit that guides her husband to Susan, and thus to Roberta herself, albeit with a new persona. It is a measure of the film’s belief in the power of images to evoke viable identities that the narrative plots Roberta’s discovery of her “true self” by trying on Susan’s jacket, a symbol for trying out her anarchic life. In the logic of the film, having access to Susan’s environment and affairs leads Roberta to realize that the identity signaled by the jacket is more congenial than the one she had believed to be her own.

Clothing also transcends the simple descriptive function of traditional characterization in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, where it operates more self-consciously and with more complexity. Here the costumes construct stereotypical images of the protagonists, only to deconstruct them immediately, as the film switches the terms of its own narrative. The spectator first meets Lulu as she takes a yuppie business executive out on a joy ride, abducting him from an afternoon at the office. The businessman in his conservative gray suit is by turns a more or less willing victim to the assertive and seductive powers of his captor, who is the image of forbidden pleasures. The yuppie responds to this tantalizing promise because he, along with the spectators, reads the image of Lulu to certify that she is sexually sophisticated, certainly liberated, and perhaps a bit dangerous. The components of the image that induce this reaction are the woman’s sleek, shiny black hair, worn in the manner patented by Louise Brooks (as the essential Lulu in G. W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box); a black knit dress, slit up the side; exotic jewelry everywhere, both arms cuffed up to the elbows in piles of silver bracelets; red lipstick. In a roadside motel, Lulu acts out the dominatrix-like role signified by the get-up.

Soon, however, the seeming certainty of Lulu’s identity based on the image of the female outlaw is shown to have been a charade, a game contrived on the predictable reactions to the fantasy of an illicit interlude with a dark lady. Back in her hometown, Lulu turns into Audrey, a pale blond who wears her old prom dress—in virginal white with a sweetheart neckline—to a high school reunion. This demure image of femininity is the one that will operate as the “real” indicator of the heroine’s identity, as well as represent her as essentially vulnerable, but its credibility is diminished by the performance exposed in the first half of the film. The mutable image of the central female character, expressed through manipulation of her costuming, provides an undercurrent of destabilization to the meaning of the narrative, which contains the tools for its own dismantling.

A problematic aspect of Something Wild resides in the way its narrative employs the costume/character changes of Lulu/Audrey. As opposed to Lulu, the Audrey persona develops entirely within the trope of woman as victim, brutalized by a violent ex-husband. Much of the daring, transgression, and resourcefulness of Lulu disappears along with the dark helmet of hair when the disguising wig is removed. The female energy of the film’s beginning dissipates, and is not recouped. Only in the film’s final moments does Lulu/Audrey reappear, regal and sophisticated in dark dress and broad-brimmed hat: the existence of terrorized, small-town Audrey is framed by two powerful female personas, but they exist on the margins rather than at the core of the film. Why are these manifestations of empowered femininity never called upon to rescue the damsel in distress at the heart of the film’s story? The strong visual message of Lulu as determined, resourceful, and self-reliant is never integrated into Something Wild’s actual plot.

Clothing as a visual unsettling of apparent certainties operates with full force in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game. The film calls into question the relation of people’s images to their “natures,” posits the construction of identity as a surface that conceals this underlying nature, and proceeds to interrogate the fixity of identity, specifically in terms of gender and sexuality. One component of the plot is a display of clothing as complicit in dissolving the imposed boundaries of image, gender, and identity. The central character, Fergus, who goes by the alias “Jimmy,” plays the role of a terrorist, but discovers his underlying nature to be different. Dil, the object of his obsession, has the outer appearance of a sexy female, but beneath the feminine costumes is biologically male.

Outward surfaces are deceiving, you can err in judging a body by its clothes, and among all the uncertainties, names also send mixed messages. Despite the ostensibly indicative purpose of a name, it is clear that how you call someone or something does little to define it. Along with clothes, names can confuse gender identities, as seen in the cases of Jody (male but gentle), Jude (female but tough), Dil (can be either/both, or, as the dialogue has it, “she’s anybody’s type”). Although Fergus possesses a traditional, straightforward name (male), confusion surfaces when he also identifies himself as Jimmy, while others derisively refer to him as Paddy. The anxiety-ridden muddle of naming is never so clear as when it is avoided altogether. Sex, for example, is not named. Jody talks about wanting it; Fergus asks Jude, “Did you give it to him?”

In a telling comparison, the word murder is also left unpronounced. Jody taunts Fergus about his imminent execution, “You’re gonna have to do it.” The unspoken objects of action can certainly become subjects of confusion. It is no wonder that the characters are always stopping to have each other clarify their intent: “What does that mean?” incessantly punctures conversations. Explanations usually are not forthcoming, even when responses are made. In the hazy world of these characters, ambiguity caused by masquerading in gender-inappropriate outfits is on a continuum with the mixed messages conveyed by names that obscure gender identification, and a vocabulary that simply obscures.

If in The Crying Game the ultimate game is to formulate an identity that successfully responds to the demands of one’s nature, it is Dil who is most skilled at, and most at peace with the charade. Dil performs her life in female drag with elegance and artifice, confident in her seductive powers, resigned to the conflicts that they may cause. With clothes as the signpost of her chosen identity, Dil is supremely comfortable with the ostensible incongruities of outer construction and inner makeup. In contrast, Fergus is troubled by the fact that seductive surfaces lure him to assumptions that are finally not sustainable.

Ultimately, pushed by desperation and in a panic about Dil’s safety, Fergus implicitly accepts the fluidity of identity when he orchestrates a change in Dil’s appearance. Hoping to hide Dil from the menace of his former comrades, Fergus cuts Dil’s hair and enforces an alteration in her wardrobe, saying, “I want to change you to a man.” The switch to men’s clothes that should, in normative terms, synchronize Dil’s outer representation and inner nature, works instead to obscure all traces of any revealing identity. The result is that in the attire of a male athlete, Dil becomes truly disguised, without a trace of the assertive selfhood that she projected so radiantly when cross-dressed. Made to wear the white cricket uniform that had belonged to and is symbolic of Jody, Dil is forced to assume a different role. S/he now performs in male drag, taking the part of a former lover—one who in fact haunts the dreams of Fergus dressed precisely in the outfit now imposed on Dil.

By assuming this attire, Dil also enacts a further conflict embedded in Fergus’s psychosexual makeup. She now becomes the literal embodiment of the haunting image of Jody, an undisguised homoerotic object of desire that stalks the dreams of Fergus, a specter that causes him to toss fitfully in his sleep. Fergus never acknowledges the nature of his feelings for Jody, but plays them out over the ostensibly female body of Dil. The portentous creepiness of the exchange, which calls upon Dil to assume the clothing of a corpse, functions most powerfully due to the appropriately ghostly quality of the cricket whites; an apparition of resplendent luminosity on the phantom Jody, they become deathly pale when enshrouding the camouflaged Dil. In this guise Dil pleads with Fergus to say if he likes her/him better that way, wondering if the altered image works for Fergus. A plea to know if the imposition of the dead man’s outfit indicates a preference for Jody over Dil is left unanswered.

Should identity be linked to the information conveyed by the image, to what is under our clothes, or to what is under our skin? The Crying Game presents the questions, but its lack of definitive answers suggests the tentative nature of all responses.

This brief study of some issues around identity has followed a course from Wim Wenders’s Notebook and its encompassing meditation on clothing design and film direction to a focus on thematic interrelation of images, clothing, and the representation of selfhood in different media, and on to particular performances of clothing that undermine the fixity of identity in contemporary films. My intention has been, following Wenders’s example, to cross-examine two discrete modes of image-production (film and fashion) until the testimony yields some evidence about the nature of representation. I have specifically wanted to emphasize some of the visual strategies used in films that foreground fashion as a signifying practice, which constructs and questions concepts of identity.

The points of conjunction in the genres of fashion, film, and photography, while clamoring for further critical exploration, have of course suggested themselves to the more adventurous practitioners of these media for at least half a century. A particularly apt precedent for contemporary collaborative performances of fashion and film occurred in 1930, when Man Ray and Lee Miller projected film footage that had been hand-colored by Georges Méliès, onto the dancing guests at the Bal Blanc in Paris. The white clothing requested of the participants became the ambulant screens for motion pictures, both carrying the film and modifying its meaning. Man Ray also photographed the spectacle and published the resulting images in French Vogue. In the multiple manifestations of this event, as in the films that I have discussed, the shrewd mixing of media depended on brilliant clothing as a support for the language of images.

  • Gender
  • Identität
  • Mode
  • Film

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Bette Talvacchia

ist eine Kunsthistorikerin und Professorin am Department of Art & Art history an der University of Connecticut. Sie ist eine Spezialistin der Renaissance und des Barock.

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