‘Power of the Dog’ Clothing: A History of Western Costume Design

A historical look at how Jane Campion’s clothing created a collision between the modern world of the 1920s and the image of the West.

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Hard hats, leather jackets and button-down shirts “by Jane CampionThe power of the dog“It evokes a cinematic image that is centuries old and reflects a world even older than that. Take a closer look, however, and the camera reveals something else: Many of these men are wearing questionable new suits that look like they’ve just arrived from a Sears catalog.

Despite the frequent setting in the late 19th century, Western stories often run through the historical cinema scene, where the West always needed to win. But Campion’s film breaks that myth, emphasizing that in the 20th century, the modern world has encroached on what has become a carefully constructed fantasy farm life of men with hats. 10 gallons by mail order.

Kirsty Cameron’s costume designs draw upon the modernism and glitz of the 20s and the harsh timelessness of the American West in ways that reflect the rapidly changing world and the people, especially Benedict Cumberbatch’s malicious Phil Burbank, who rejects modern encroachment. In an interview with IndieWire, Cameron said, “I never really thought of it as a Westerner,” but the image and ideology of the West is an unmistakable legacy that the film offers. .

The delicate balance of the outfit

This complex orientation to the changing world informs Cameron’s outfit for each of the characters in “The Power of the Dog,” all of which inadvertently reveal how they want to be seen through the way they dress. In the film’s remote Montana setting (played by New Zealand’s South Island), Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) stands out as the most unusual character, not least because of her femininity on a male farm. dominated but also because of her embroidered dresses. Cameron explains: “Rose has a façade of dressing up. “Her dress is elevated when she arrives at the ranch,” reflecting her wealth and new status as George Burbank’s wife.

"The power of the dog" Jesse Plemons costume, Kirsten Dunst

Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in “The Power of the Dog”


Likewise, Jesse Plemons’ George regularly wears well-dressed suits (even while attending a herd), a visual link to his wealthy family and the “fitness of life” life they lived”. His brother, Phil (Cumberbatch), and Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) serve as a study of contrasts, revealing conflicts between the old and new worlds. Phil conceals his past self and layers of dirt (especially his refusal to shower), concealing his Yale studies as well as the deeper urges of his soul. He is frequently sent into space by his heavy woofs as a kind of armor that keeps people at a distance.

Peter defied expectations in his ill-fitting store-bought jeans. Cameron suggests he’s at home in his gang-like body: “He doesn’t mind being awkward.” Ultimately, it is his “disciplined minimalism” and his defiance – wearing shoes and a white shirt on a dusty farmhouse – that point to the future.

Taken together, the many scenes where the film’s characters choose and dress carefully suggest that their appearance is at the center of Campion’s world – more so than in typical Western Hollywood.

Design an authentic West

“Dog power” comes at a time when the West has long been re-evaluated, largely abandoning white supremacy and embracing fate in favor of musings. about masculinity, isolation, and repression. Accompanying the genre’s philosophical revision, West from “True Grit” (2010) to “The Assassination of Jesse James…” (2007) has far surpassed the stock treasures of Western towns and suburban- prices for cowboy uniforms of the past decades. In turn, they’ve been praised for their cinematography, costumes, makeup, and art direction in ways the genre has never been in its heyday as a B-movie staple.

For much of its history, its factory-like manufacturing run meant that Western craftsmanship was largely ignored. Their blindness to design elements stems from their familiarity – they will become natural in time. Academy begins to award awards Design clothes As its own catalog in 1949, the symbolism of the West is so ingrained in people’s minds that it is impossible to see how it is crafted.

"Days in Heaven"

“Days in Heaven”

Paramount Collection / Courtesy Everett

It was the slow decline of the West as a tribute to manifest destiny that transformed the genre from timeless myth into a genre that was historically recognizable to those design elements. Beginning with Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” in 1978, Westerners – at least as of now – have finally gained recognition for their craft. In the 73-year history of the Costume Design category, only 10 Western works have been nominated, and eight of those are nominations for films made after Malick and costume designer Patricia Norris redefine the genre with “Days of Heaven”.

Like “The Power of the Dog,” Malick’s film is set in the 20th century, when Hollywood is mythologizing a still-domesticated West.

More than in the previous film, however, Cameron’s “The Power of the Dog” costume reflects this clash between frontiers and modernity. Every time Phil’s timeless world in which the West still needs to be tamed by the seemingly all-encompassing white masculinity, the Converse All-Star is there to remind us that his world It’s a dying world.

Clothes Make the Cowboy

The Western genre was an important element of early cinema even before filmmakers moved to Los Angeles (in part due to its suitability to the genre). The small industry of Hollywood dress shops that was born specifically to serve the many Westerners is being filmed around Southern California.

In 1912, Western Costume was founded to provide special clothing for Native American characters, who locals recognize as being portrayed as disingenuous by these largely East Coast producers. On a research trip to Los Angeles for “The Power of the Dog,” Cameron scoured vintage stores for inspiration and landed on Western Apparel, still an industry staple. , where they bought most of the cowboy jackets in the movie.

By 1925, the year in which “The Power of the Dog” was set, Phil and his cowherds had been imbued with the first Western cinematic icon. Like Campion explain told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson: “It’s just at the end of that myth when the cowherds are working there because they love the cowboys of old and they take their clothes from mail-orders. and wear a cowboy suit like a cowboy quote.”

"The power of the dog" Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Benedict Cumberbatch costumes

Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog”


The signature cowboy denim jackets, boots, boots, and hats – symbolized by early movie cowboys such as Broncho Billy Anderson and Tom Mix – can be found at a corner store or through a grocery store. the Sears item (introduced in 1889 and popular throughout the West). On a close look at the silhouettes of the cowboys, Phil shows a mix of old fashioned jackets alongside newer tassels and embroideries, made by Cameron and her crew. handcrafted to imitate the mass production style of the early 20th century.

But Phil, whose allegiance to the previous Western version, would never have worn such colorful suits. As Cameron put it, “The whole idea about Phil is that he’s been wearing his clothes for a long time, that he’s dismissed the idea of ​​progress, in a way.”

Throughout the film, the costumes represent the uneasy coexistence of the modern world and timeless frontiers, trapping the characters between these worlds as if they were bound together by emptiness. vastness of the landscape. At the same time, however, the characters’ clothes do little to disguise their inner self. And only Peter realizes what lies beneath Phil’s armor that ultimately opens up a path forward for most of the film’s characters.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/01/the-power-of-the-dog-history-western-costume-design-1234688688/ ‘Power of the Dog’ Clothing: A History of Western Costume Design

Aila Slisco

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