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I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more
A visit to the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V&A is a reminder of the glamour of film. You will need to pre-book your ticket, just as you still have to book to see some films, but the experience is one that I would recommend to anybody who loves the cinema and has an interest in costume.
On entering you are treated to a trailer of what will follow. A montage of scenes is projected onto a cinema screen, whetting your appetite for what will follow. I suggest you go in hungry because some of the images that will flash before your eyes will be of Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, Johnny Depp, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Harrison Ford and Darth Vader.
The exhibition is divided into three scenes: Deconstruction, Dialogue and Finale, each one comprising several sections. On display are more than 100 costumes from the last 100 years of cinema and these are 'modelled' by mannequins, many of which are topped by photographs, or time-lapse photographic images, of the faces of the actors who wore the outfits.
Movie costumes aren't created in a vacuum. The designers work closely with the actors and directors and take close account of the storylines, the periods and the genres. There is a host of information detailing how Harrison Ford's outfits came about for the Indiana Jones films and how the costumes for Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall were devised for Brokeback Mountain, to offer just two examples. Did you know that cowboys wear Wrangler jeans because they are a tighter fit and ranchers wear looser fitting Levis?
You will learn a huge amount about the creative process that goes into designing the costumes, and in Scene II you can pretend that you're actually sitting at the work tables and listening to the discussions between actors, costume designers and movie directors. There are video presentations of Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro talking about the creation of character, as well as displays of costumes from several of their well-known films.
Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro
When it comes to period films many designers took their influences from historical portraits and you will just want to stand and watch the snippets of scenes of queens, including Quentin Crisp, a queen playing a queen.
Categories you may not even have considered are covered, including developments in cinema: the advent of talkies, the first colour movies, digital film, and 'performance capture' the process by which Andy Serkis becomes Gollum.
The event is not all glamorous frocks; the men get a fair share of the limelight too. Apart from the roles already mentioned, you will see The Blues Brothers, Dick Tracy, Spiderman, Superman, Flash Gordon, Tony Manero and Ben Hur. But for me nothing could surpass the costumes worn by the likes of Scarlett O'Hara, Fanny Bryce, Morticia Addams and the actresses who played Queen Elizabeth I.
When you come towards the end of the exhibition the final costume you will see is the one worn by Marilyn Monroe for The Seven Year Itch. This time the frock is not being blown about by any gusts of air, but is perfectly static. The penultimate outfit in the display is the dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, the costume and the character that are the exhibition's signature. I was surprised by how dull her blue gingham dress appears, but everything is eclipsed by those ruby slippers.
Just like a feature length film you should allow yourself a good two hours to take in everything. The lighting is low key, just as it would be in the cinema. You may emerge wishing we could all wear such glamorous clothes every day. I would love to have a chance to play at dressing up with some of the costumes. And of course you exit via the gift shop, where you can buy lots of Hollywood themed gifts and souvenirs to prolong the experience.