On the costumes of ‘The Fighter’

Posted by · 12:16 pm · January 13th, 2011

When the Costume Designers’ Guild announce their nominees next week, I have no doubt that Mark Bridges’ work on “The Fighter” will show up in their contemporary category — not really the right classification for a film whose lurid early-1990s threads are as meticulously era-specific as any of 2010’s more lavish period spectacles. (If you didn’t cringe and/or chuckle at the first sight of Christian Bale’s balloon pants, chances are you weren’t alive in 1991.)

Either way, it remains perhaps my favorite costuming of the year, even if the Academy is unlikely to agree. That said, they’ve been warming to more modern work in recent years — with nods for the high-gloss couture of “The Devil Wears Prada” and the cheap 70s duds of “Milk” — even if corsets and hoop skirts invariably eke out the win.

This year’s Costume Design field, however, is lean enough that a contemporary nominee or two could squeeze in.

Obviously, the more ornamental creations for “Burlesque” and “Black Swan” are way ahead in that line, but I’m personally rooting for Bridges, an inspired designer overdue for some respect from this branch — between his work on “Boogie Nights,” “Blow” (for which he received a period Guild nod), “I Heart Huckabees” and “There Will Be Blood,” he should have at least one Oscar nod to his credit.

I was pleased to see, then, that I’m not the only one impressed by his unpretty wardrobe for “The Fighter.” Kristin M. Burke, an active Hollywood costume designer herself and founder of Frocktalk, an excellent site devoted to the craft, has posted an interesting interview with Bridges which reveals just how much thought and effort goes into those seemingly casual threads. I particularly like his description of how the appropriately unsubtle look for Melissa Leo’s larger-than-life Alice Ward came about:

I had a first fitting with her with her real hair, which was longish dark blond/brown. Between that and the first go-round of clothes, the result was period, real and maternal, but rather dull and flat. I showed David the photos from the fitting and he said, “More sexy! More leg!”

So I really pumped it up by making everything tighter, shorter, more 1980s and younger. At the second fitting her hair had been cut and colored and with the new clothes, something very exciting was happening. We knew we had found Alice, and she was hot! Many of the details of her look were based on the real Alice – her use of jewelry, the bodysuits, the length of skirt to show off her legs, matching purses and shoes. Melissa was all for it!

Great stuff. Check out the rest here.

[Photo: Paramount Pictures]

→ 13 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

13 responses so far

  • 1 1-13-2011 at 12:36 pm

    Edward L. said...

    Guy, I agree that the Academy has an overwhelming penchant for period costumes (especially those worn by royals) but when it comes to Milk, I would call that a definite period/historical nominee myself (i.e. business as usual for the Academy): the film is set 30-odd years in the past, which makes it more of a period piece than, say, The Godfather was when it first came out. To me, the only films that break down that trend are those set in the present day or very close to it (e.g. The Devil Wears Prada, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Prizzi’s Honor, to name three nominees from the past 25 years).

    I’d like to see a Costume Design nomination for Burlesque this year. It strikes me that the costumes could have been eye-catchingly (or, rather, jaw-droppingly) awful; that they were pretty subtle and tasteful – and well-judged – showed talent, I think.

  • 2 1-13-2011 at 12:47 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m not saying “Milk” isn’t a period piece. (After all, I say “The Fighter” is one right in the piece.) But the fact remains it’s a comparatively modern nominee by that branch’s recent standards.

    What made “Milk” a particularly unusual and pleasing nominee was the predominance of casualwear — this is a film dominated by jeans, t-shirts and the occasional polyester suit. We’re not exactly talking royalty porn here, are we?

  • 3 1-13-2011 at 12:47 pm

    al b. said...

    One of the reasons I loved Melissa in the film was because of her costumes! They were amazing! In fact, I think this is one of the few films set in the early 90s that actually got it right in terms of costume design. And yes, I laughed at Bale’s pants, and yes, I was born in 1991!

  • 4 1-13-2011 at 12:55 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I would also single out the makeup of that film. I mean, just look at the hair in that picture!

  • 5 1-13-2011 at 12:58 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I enjoyed the shot of Melissa walking up the steps (of the gym, I believe) in those white 1980/90’s styled high heel boots. lol

  • 6 1-13-2011 at 1:14 pm

    Edward L. said...

    Guy: Yep, I too was heartened by the Milk nomination, and for those reasons.

  • 7 1-13-2011 at 3:27 pm

    Jstone said...

    As a native of Boston and the outlying suburbs, the outfits in The Fighter are pretty spot on. The funny thing is that even though the film takes place in the early 90’s, many people in that area still dress like that today. For me it didn’t even look like an aged film. Everyone in Massachusetts has a neighbor, relative, or acquaintance that strongly resembles these characters and seems to be stuck in a late 80’s early 90’s time warp. So while Bridges nailed the costuming all he had to do is go to any dive bar in Lowell and take a look around.

    I’m actually really hopeful that Michael Kaplan finally gets a nomination for Burlesque. He is way overdue for some recognition. Given the fact that his work tends to be much more contemporary driven he often gets overlooked despite the fact that he is one of the best of the best when it actually comes to actual contemporary work. It’s hard to believe the guy who did Blade Runner, Fight Club, Flash Dance and Star Trek has never received a nomination. If you look at the not only the sheer amount of costumes in Burlesque but also each individual dancer’s costume, they are not only really well done, but each one is different and spans multiple decades from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and that’s on top of the contemporary costuming he did outside of the nightclub. This seems like it could be his best shot at a nomination, so I would be really disappointed if he doesn’t get some attention this time around.

  • 8 1-13-2011 at 5:02 pm

    Ivan said...

    First look at Spidey Garfield


  • 9 1-13-2011 at 7:15 pm

    Glenn said...

    The Oscars have never been much of a fan of the ’70s onwards so the “Milk” nomination was a surprise.

    I am really hoping for “Burlesque”. Say what you will about the film, but those costumes were kinda perfect.

  • 10 1-13-2011 at 8:23 pm

    André said...

    I loved Sandy Powell´s speech last year, when she dedicated her award to contemporary costume designers (some regarded her ´I have [deservingly] won some of these before´ remarks as arrogant; I honestly didn´t think they were).

    Haven´t seen The Fighter yet, but loved the costume design in TSN and the former looks like it follows suit… it´s tougher than it looks to make a statement about a character in contemporary clothes. I have a ton of respect for the designers of such films.

  • 11 1-13-2011 at 8:24 pm

    André said...

    also, The Queen should´ve won in this category.

  • 12 1-13-2011 at 11:22 pm

    Sam C. said...

    Am I alone in my total admiration of Inception’s sexy-suited Costume Design? I mean did you SEE Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that film.

  • 13 1-14-2011 at 1:19 am

    Leone said...

    I was very impressed with the costume design in this film and thebhair and makeup as well. The people looked realistic and the town felt so authentic to the time, kudos to the designers whonworked on all that. My friend lived in Lowell mass for 2 yrs in the 1990’s and says the movie was spot on.