Mother & Child: Clothes and Character

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

Hello!  Welcome to a glorious last-week-of-November (the only one we’ll have all year), and to blog #93… Counting them down now, aren’t we?  I have 15 days left in my year without clothes shopping challenge.  Canya believe it?  It has a slightly unreal feeling to it.  A year is a long time to challenge yourself.

AND some exciting things have happened… I’m going to be published on one of the world’s largest personal finance blogs (over half a million readers per month), that’ll be in mid December.  And I’m talking with a media production company about a TV show and/or full length documentary based around the “year without clothes shopping” and “shop your wardrobe” concepts.  I can barely contain myself — partly because other people (whose opinions I trust and who know what they’re doing in their own areas of expertise) are excited about the project.  That’s always encouraging. 

Ok doke, what are we talking about today?  On the weekend, I watched Mother & Child, a relationship drama.  I love the special features on DVDs – you learn so much about the film, the actors, the process, the back stories, the bloopers.  In “the making of Mother & Child”, the writer and director, Rodrigo Garcia, talks about how:

“I learn so much about the characters by watching how my actors embody them.  How they walk, how they talk, how they dress”.

Now what’s so amazing about this comment is that Rodrigo spent 10 years working on the script.  TEN YEARS.  One would imagine that his relationship to the characters was… what?… Intimate?  Indepth? Extensive?  You wouldn’t imagine that there wasn’t much about his characters that he didn’t know.  Right?

Anette Benning says that, like all great directors, Rodrigo has a co-creationist philosophy.  He collaborates.  He explores.  He allows.  He doesn’t prescribe, or dictate, or bludgeon compliance from his actors (claims that have been made about other directors, one notable example being the verbal harrassment apparently heaped upon Winona Ryder by Francis Ford Copola to secure her miasmic performance in Dracula).

I was quite moved by Rodrigo Garcia’s openess to discovering new things about his characters.  He talked about the physical mainly – how they walked, talked, sat, ate. And how they dressed.  How fascinating is that?

I’ve talked before about the meaningful nature of clothing. Whether we wish it were true or adamant that it’s not, clothing sends a message.  The way Anette Bening’s character presents herself in the beginning of the film is quite different to how she looks at the end, when her emotional transformation has taken hold.  The visual holds a clue to the emotional, the psychological, the “what lies beneath” (and we’re not referring to the movie with Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford there). 

In movies, of course, they have 90+ minutes to tell us the story, and much of it must be told visually.  That’s why the way a character develops visually is so powerful, and so much attention is placed on it by the director, the lighting and cinematography people, the wardrobe and makeup people. 

And us, the viewers.  Even if we don’t consciously pick up on the subtleties, something within us recognises that a change is taking place on screen. 

Our subconscious picks up that the character is growing, developing, becoming stronger.  Or withering, withdrawing, becoming wicked.  How do we know?  We can see it, and we make meaning out of what we see.

In life, it’s not so different.  Much of the ‘story’ we are conveying is visual.  We believe what we see, often more so than what we hear.  Clothing contributes to our identities, of sense of who we are and our place in the world.  Clothing can signal our emotional state, and it can help us change how we feel about ourselves. 

Like Rodrigo Garcia, we can learn a lot about our characters by the way we choose to dress them.  Right?

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