Watched: Wonder Woman

As hypothermia-resistant Wonder Woman, the fights are fast and furious. As man-saving Diana Prince, the fashion is fusty and feeble

They love her: the reviewers. So this one must be good, or, at least, not another DC dud. That’s what we were led to believe until all the CGI scenes and slow-mo action started to bore, and you direct your attention at the titular character.

Wonder Woman the film is watchable, but Wonder Woman the superhero isn’t quite enthralling. Sure, Gal Gadot as Princess Diana is a beauty to behold, but her performance belongs to the Angelina Jolie school of acting. As we sat in Hall 4 of Film Garde Cineplex not quite transfixed, we kept spotting Lara Croft spying us from all corners of the screen.

It does not help that Ms Gadot pouts (actually, frown-pouts) when she wants to be fierce. Which means Wonder Woman, too, works her lips, making us wonder why they weren’t part of her arsenal, like those up-to-the-elbows bullet-proof cuff bracelets. And just like the Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman dodges bullets deftly, using her body as an aerodynamic fighting machine. It’s the costume, you see: that amazing armour/swimwear (the earliest version of the comic had WW wear a skirt!) that allows her body to be a weapon of defence rather than an object of desire.

Wonder woman costume 1

Not that the costume adopted by Lynda Carter as the Amazonian—the one we remember most—is great (too campy, too pageant, as many today would concur), but the leather-and-loin-cloth combo of Gadot’s WW, designed by Lindy Hemming (who, also happen to have designed the Lara Croft costumes), led us to think of Sheena Queen of the Jungle. Perhaps the aesthetic/silhouette similarity should be acceptable since Princess Diana grew up on an island that’s forested, even when her homeland (and training grounds) is a take on Rivendell, and a poor one.

What annoyed us somewhat is the lack of explanation to how WW’s costume came about. This is supposed to be her backstory, but the costume just appeared—in the middle of the trenches of war. Sure, she’s similarly dressed back home on Themyscira (more commonly known as Paradise Island), but she did not pack extra clothes when she left with Steve Trevor, whom she rescued earlier, to fight a war that she believes was initiated by Ares, the god of war.

Nope, there is not the famous spin perfected by Ms Carter on the TV series. Wonder Woman of 2017, in a hooded cloak, merely turns with her back to the camera and then faces front with the superhero costume intact. Until then, she does not know she is a superhero and one who needs a costume. How did it become so calculated? Although the script made sure she could speak many languages, including, gasp, Sumerian (can she read cuneiform text, and, therefore, the Epic of Gilgamesh?!), it did not reveal to us that Wonder Woman could cut and sew, unlike, say, Peter Parker.

Wonder woman costume 2Wonder woman costume 3

When feminism is now worn on the chest, this is the female-empowerment movie of the year. The leather (or PU, or latex?) bustier number should be able to say something about sartorial emancipation. But it seems to revive the body-con ideal that never fails to be the feminine ideal. Less revealing than Lynda Carter’s perhaps, but it is even more perfectly shaped than any costume seen in an action film involving a heroine—clearly requiring sewing technology, which seems at odds with an at-war society that required rescuing from a woman who fights with swords, spears, and bows and arrows.

With much of the action and story taking place in the battle grounds of what is believed to be World War I (which, interestingly, took place before DC’s creation of Wonder Woman), WW’s alter-ego Diana Prince requires almost no fashion, just as she needs no man’s chivalry to feel attractive, desired, or feminine. Maybe just his charity (he had to buy her something decent to wear). Clothes, as her urban contemporaries know them, seem to be hindrance to her as a warrior. In fact, she does not need to hide her identity, morphing from Wonder Woman to Diana Prince and back rather unconsciously and effortlessly. When she fights, she is costumed as WW. When she’s off the battleground, she is an I-have-no-time-nor-interest-in-fashion woman.

In fact, part of the script showed how uncomfortable she was with clothes of the world outside Themyscira. When Major Steve Trevor took her shopping in London (apparently at Selfridges) for a set of garments that would look less like underclothes, she scoffed at the choices offered to her, impressing her minder that no one could fight in outfits that cover so much of the body. Wonder Woman, who grew up in what could be considered temperate clime oddly requires no more than a hooded cape to survive snowfall!

Wonder woman costume 4

Diana Prince, Major Trevor’s “secretary”, came by accident rather than as a real character to conceal her superhero identity. Part of the Diana Prince look (disguise?) is her glasses. In the comics, Ms Prince wore many different types, including rimless styles and chunky ’70s frames that would delight Alessandro Michele to no end. Lynda Carter’s was glamorous instead of secretary-conservative, just as Mr Michele’s versions for Gucci are geeky-alluring.

But when Diana Prince was treated to a makeover in London—her first port of call in the movie, she was given a pair of specs that looked like it was hastily picked from Owndays rather than something consistent with those worn in the early 1900s. Those glasses strangely appeared so briefly—during an alleyway ambush—that they don’t even amount to a cameo costume role, just as Diana Prince herself is down-played.

We’re no studious followers of the Wonder Woman comics, but we’re aware that there have been many delineations of the character. No matter how she was and is drawn, there has always been an element of sexual tease in the print versions. There too is humour, whimsy, and, dare we say, camp. But, Wonder Woman, the movie, is a dark, serious, not-fun account of the most known female superhero characters. While director Petty Jenkins has been lauded as a terrific first female director of a superhero movie, it is notable, perhaps, that, in order to gain the accolades, a woman directing a woman needs to stay clear of camp. This is a competent virgin outing, but not one with flair, let alone style.

We’re urged to revisit past print portrayals of Wonder Woman: in some, she even looks like Angelica Huston!

Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji. Movie stills: Warner Bros Pictures

Who Sewed Noah’s Clothes?

Noah Costume 1By Raiment Young

You can look in the Bible for many things about the past, but you can’t find fashion trends. There are mentions of clothes, of course, yet there’s no revelation of what were current styles. Not that there were no affluent people either in the tales of the Book, yet you do not get a clear description of what was the rage. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen…” went a description in Luke 16:19, suggesting, perhaps, coloured garments—or dyed cloths—were a luxury for the wealthy. Still, for the ancients, rocking a certain look was not encouraged. In 1 Peter 3:3, there’s the stern recommendation: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel”.

The Bible authors’ apparent omission of prevalent styles could have been brought about by the disdain of fashion-centric choices such as mixed fibres and ornamentation. In fact, there’s quite a bit of do-nots here: “Thou shalt not wear a garment of diverse sorts, as of woollen and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11)” and “…women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array (1 Timothy 2:9).” And nothing akin to boyfriend shirts and boy-cut jeans too, since “the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man… for all that do so are abomination… (Deuteronomy 22:5)”!

Noah Costume 2

No wonder the costumes of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Noah appear decidedly post-Common Era. Unlike the look of the ark, which could benefit from measurements spelled out in the Bible (materials to be used included), what Noah and his family wore did not draw from ancient dressmaking specs. Earlier this evening, as I watched the film, trying to reconcile the retelling with the story I know since kindergarten, the costume’s extremely modern make and silhouette was as interruptive as the smartphone that lit repeatedly three seats away from me.

Mr Aronofsky’s US$125m blockbuster was prefaced with an admission that they took “artistic licence” with the narrative, which “is inspired by the story of Noah”. This disclaimer should really cover the costume design too. So much far-fetch reimagining of the period’s clothes was there that when close-ups afforded a magnification of the details, I kept seeing bobbins and pins! Not the coarse fabrics, not the unfinished hems, and certainly not the whip stitch could belie the machine finish. I find myself resisting acceptance of the shirts of Noah (played by a gladiator-in-skinny-pants Russell Crow)—yes, shirts, with plackets and yokes, no less! What was disconcerting was that an ark builder awaiting the wiping out of the world would don chemises with the fit of Oxford Street tailors!

Noah Costume 5And costume designer Michael Wilkinson (Man of Steel, 2013) did not stop absurdity in its tracks.When a coat was required, Noah wore a gored version with multiple exposed seams that would not look out of place in a rack of Yohji Yamamoto outerwear. His eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth) looked pretty in a hooded shirt with oversized patch pockets that was clearly shaped after the signature styles of Junya Watanabe. Even the cracked surface treatment of the tunic worn by Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) had more than a whiff of Maison Martin Margiela about it! The two female leads did not fare any better. Noah’s wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), at one point, wore a tank top pinched just below the shoulders to create a décolleté not unlike a sweetheart neckline. Her adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), played up her youth and femininity with a distressed warp-knit tunic that conveniently slipped off the right shoulder. Were the costumes produced out of an H&M sampling room? For a tale that predates the Exodus, Noah appears to be more clothes-conscious than Moses!

Nearing the end of the film, one costume I noticed that had stayed true to the Bible’s depiction was the birthday suit: the one on an inebriated Noah lying naked on the beach.

Noah is currently screening in cinemas. All verses quoted are from the King James version, Cambridge edition. Photos: Paramount Pictures Corporation 

The Future Chic Of Geeks

Her Pic 1By Raiment Young

From start to finish, sight trumps sound, and Casey Storm’s costume beats Scarlett Johansson’s voice! In Spike Jonze’s film Her, it’s really the visual against the aural, and I like the seen more than the heard. Sometimes, the voice of a woman, no matter how alluring, cannot, over two hours, out-seduce the turnout of a man.

Her is set in LA of the not-far-off future, where the computer communicates by voice rather than by text or icon. Yes, it’s Siri as operating system and personal assistant! In comes Theodore Twombly, a letter writer (played by Joaquin Phoenix) for an e-commerce site. As expected, he falls for the seducer of an operating system Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and goes on what Kraftwerk had called in 1981 a “data date”. Theodore appears to be an average guy with the usual taste in women, but his skill in written correspondence and taste in clothes are far from average.

If costume plays an important role in shaping a cinematic story—defining character and delineating culture, Her’s is no exception. The thoughtfully conceived wardrobe of the protagonist illustrates that in a future society too comfortable with personal tech that may cause unease, comfortable clothes, like those of today, can exist because of man’s humanity rather than a mainframe’s algorithms. In fact, the film’s costume has more impact on the viewer than the expected throaty (hence sexy?) and coquettish seduction of the OS. Garb can turn you on more than spiel.

I was attracted to the protagonist’s clothes for their kooky stylishness as well as the antithesis of a futuristic world they represent. There’s no stereotyping, too, for a man can wear loose shapes, choose bright colours, and adopt not-the-usual pairings as naturally as maneuvering the landscapes of projected fantasy RPGs.

Unfortunately, Theodore’s clothes are not, by many SG women’s still-unchanged standards, supremely conventional. As two of them pushed past me to leave the cinema, one was heard saying, “His clothes are weird,” followed by the other, “The pants are ugly” (or as Cath Clark, TimeOut London’s film editor, called them, “worrying high-waisted dad-slacks”).

Why are Theodore Twombly’s outfits peculiar and his pants offensive?

Her Pic 2Let’s first look at the pants: high-waist and low-crotch—made, often, out of nubby fabrics. The daring cut, unbeknownst to a generation of skinny jeans wearers, is rather old-fashioned, and is, in fact, as pointed out by Casey Storm, based on riding pants of the 1800s. The version that appeared on screen is clearly roomy, but not baggy. The high waist is not so alien since it has been offered by Lanvin, Neil Barrett and Comme des Garcons and the low crotch, too, is not unfamiliar since it has been done by Vivienne Westwood, Damir Doma, and Rick Owens.

It is interesting that there are SG women who take issue with the high waist when so many have, for the past five years or more, been wearing slacks, shorts, and skirts above their belly button, sometimes all the way up to just below the bust line. But when men re-position the waist so that they bring attention to the torso, they’re considered unattractive. Has this challenged presently acceptable machismo and attendant sexiness, where male sexual magnetism is centred above the crotch? Have the pants of Theodore Twombly become an affront to the unceasing love for the svelte and hot silhouette of limb-hugging jeans, pants that are so clearly absent in the film? Or is this a case of when women do, men shouldn’t dare?

Her Pic 4Then, there are the collarless shirts (and the one in plaid with the collar deliberately turned inward to show only the collar stand). Once popular in the Nineties (especially those by Armani), they are now considered the poor sibling of the tailored, collared shirt (with stays, no less!), so prominently vended by retailers such as Raoul and Benjamin Barker. What’s truly interesting is how the collarless shirts are styled in the film: they’re not only worn on their own but also as an outer over a polo or collared shirt! Is this too off-beat for women to submit to?

Perhaps for a film so manifestly about the years ahead, the clothes shouldn’t be identifiably retro. But so much of the visual aspects of the films are at odds with future tech: the all-in-one PCs are shaped like (or housed in) old-fashioned picture frames (anti-Apple?) and the GUIs shown on the screens are decidedly old-school (handwriting fonts!). Even Theodore Twombly’s home is warm and woodsy rather than a cold marriage of glass and metal, supposedly future’s preferred interior and exterior materials. In his bedroom, where a significant part of the plot unfolds, his bedside table is really a tall stool with a wooden seat, on top of which sits the table lamp.

In creating folkways and environments peculiar to the future, Spike Jonze, together with production designer K.K. Barrett, has conceived a world that, despite garrulous OIs dominating lives, is rooted in what’s comfortable and real—a comfort and reality not so different from what we pursue today. He may have lost in his computer love, but in the style stakes, Theodore Twombly won out.