The history of epic film is rich with the story of Moses and his liberation of the Jewish people from Ramses and the Egyptians, along with the dramatic crossing of the Nile while being pursued. Cecil B. DeMille made two versions of the story in The Ten Commandments, including the famous 1956 version with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Now the epic has been modernized with Ridley Scott’s sweeping direction in the 20th Century-Fox production of Exodus: Gods and Kings. The costumes, sets, and scenery of the production do justice to the biblical epics of DeMille’s day while adding special CGI effects not known in classic film days. With a cast of Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, John Turturro as Seti and Sigourney Weaver as Queen Tuya, the actors bring this historic drama to life. If you missed it on the big screen, it is out now on Digital HD and Blu-Ray.
Ridley Scott is famous for his vision of what style and look the movies he directs will have. One can see that as far back as his first film The Duellists, starting in 1977 and going on to Alien, Blade Runner, 1492, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and American Gangster, to name a few. Having started out as a cameraman he has a keen eye for how visual details can help tell the story and set the mood. He has forged strong relationships with his creative team, including costume designer Janty Yates, who won an Oscar for Best Costume design for her work in Scott’s film Gladiator.
When Janty Yates got the call asking her to work on Exodus: Gods and Kings, she knew from experience that this would involve a cast of thousands, but her reaction was “I can do this.” But then she found out she had four months to make it happen. That’s when she started waking up every night at 3:15 a.m. concerned about getting it all done – and done to Ridley Scott’s exacting vision. “Research, research, research,” she said about how she started the job. The original Egyptian sources proved the best resources. “I spent a huge amount of time looking at wall paintings, ” added Yates. “You can get a huge amount of reference from tombs, temples … even color.”
In an epic of this magnitude, costuming runs the spectrum from providing period dress for some 7000 people, including armor for warring armies, to detailed accessories for the Egyptian aristocracy. This also included jewelry like pendants, arm bracelets, multiple rings, collar pieces, headdresses, ornate belts and aprons. “Everyone wore about 15 pieces,” Yates said. “Was it blingy?” asked Ridley Scott about the movie. “Absolutely,” he said.
When it comes to costumes from the Egyptian period, the costume rental houses fell short of what was needed. “The last big Egyptian movie was Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor,” Yates said . That movie was released in 1963. But in the early 60s, the tastes ran to bright colors in women’s costumes, and foundation undergarments were used to nip in waists and emphasize breasts, looks no longer considered appropriate for period films. So Yates pretty much had to start from scratch. For the Egyptians that meant fabricating the costumes , from the palace guards to the principle cast members. For the Hebrews, their rustic linen costumes were historically more functional, made in a basic T-form by Italian costume houses. These very contrasts in the costumes tell part of the story.
Queen Nefertari is played by the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. As a queen, and as one of the Great Royal Wives of Ramses, she wears a royal headdress and all the trappings of her station. Much of the costume design elements came from Egyptian hieroglyphics and wall paintings.
Queen Tuya was another Royal Wife, played by Sigourney Weaver. Ridley Scott told Yates he wanted her “to be little more of a man-eater.”
One of Yates’ favorite costumes to design was for Ramses. His suit of armor was plated in gold.That was also discovered in the wall paintings. She designed one of his helmets in a rich blue, and shaped like a bees’ nest. But a gold helmet design was used instead. This alternate design was a better match for Joel Edgerton’s face. Janty Yates loved going over-the-top on his costumes, especially since Ramses II himself was just such a vain and out-sized character.
The court costume of Ramses as designed for Joel Edgerton is shown below. The costumes for Edgerton and Christian Bale as Moses were essentially “dresses” so they had to be “butched up” according to Yates. And the colors for Moses had to be made quite different than from Ramses in order to highlight their differences.
Costume sketches for Moses in Egyptian armor are shown above. The Egyptians used a type of armor called lamellar, which was made of rectangular shaped platelets or scales which were hole-punched and laced together. For the movie the platelets were made of urethane by the UK company FBFX, a supplier of specialized costumes and props to the industry. The material is very light but tough, and it can take a finish that resembles metal. The lightness of the urethane was very functional for all the stunt men in their fight scenes.
The Egyptian infantry fought mainly with a spear, or a bow, and protected by a shield as well as the loin shield shown in the sketch above and below.
The costumes in Exodus: Gods and Kings, like all the best costumes in movies, help define character and sets the story in time and place. Here is a visual treat that makes the scenes and the action all the more life-like as a movie experience. Yates thinks it compares very well to The Ten Commandments, with enhanced special effects and without dated costumes,saying , “… to make it glorious, that was my mission.” And in the process another great collaboration between Ridley Scott and Janty Yates was made.
Let it not be said that men are not the equal of women as duelling divas. There is no better proof than in the film The Duellists, with its noble heritage of being based on a Joseph Conrad short story titled The Duel,which in turn was based on a true story about two members of Napoleon’s cavalry that carried on a series of duels with each other that lasted 20 years , from 1794 to 1813.
The Duellists, made in 1977, was the directorial debut of Ridley Scott. It was made for Paramount under a tight budget of $900,000, and Scott was offered certain actors to work with. Those who accepted to be the principals were Harvey Keitel as the hot-headed Cavalry Hussar Gabriel Feraud, and Keith Carradine as Hussar Armand D’Hubert. Keith Carradine almost didn’t accept since his song I’m Easy was a hit in 1976, and had received the Oscar for Best Original Song for Nashville. He wasthinking maybe the singer-songwriter life was calling him.
The panoramic scene below is not a duel between the protagonists, but rather of Feraud at left just before he seriously wounds the nephew of the Mayor of Strasbourg, which sends Carradine/D’Hubert on orders to arrest him for duelling, which precipitates their years-long grudge match of duels.
The Duelling Divas Blogathon is hosted by Lara at the Backlots blog
This opening scene is very reminiscent of the opening pastoral duelling scene of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, made only two years before and undoubtedly a stylistic influence on The Duellists. The scene below takes place at Mme. de Lionne’s salon, where D’Hubert is about to tell Feraud he is under arrest.
The costumes were excellent in the film, designed by Tom Rand and fabricated in Italy. The military uniforms were very accurate. The Hussar’s uniform of the period consisted of a fur-trimmed pelisse jacket with rows of buttons, frogging and loops, worn over the left shoulder. The torso was also covered with a dolman that also featured rows of frogging and a two-toned barrel sash. the trousers worn inside cavalry boots. Belted sabers were accessorized with the black leather “sabretache” pouch that featured the Napoleonic eagle. The hat was the tall leather shako with brass chin straps, emblems, and feather, and later the bearskin hat. The colors of the uniforms depended on the regiments. D’Hubert at left wears the colors of the 4th Hussars, Feraud at right that of the 7th Hussars. Historically all hussars were light cavalry and assumed to be impetuous. They used sabers, pistols and carbines as weapons.
D’Hubert’s visit, official business or not, was perceived by Feraud as an insult and the cause for their 1st duel. In filming these fight sequences, Ridley Scott operated the camera himself, using a hand-held camera and getting close to the action, dodging sword swings as he shot. Scott had been a maker of commercials before turning filmmaker, so he felt comfortable operating his own camera, talking directly to actors while filming, and paying attention to the details of set design. He stated this made is easier for him to be thrifty while still achieving his goals in filmmaking.
The duel below ends with Feraud being wounded, but his girlfriend saved him by jumping on D’Hubert and severely scratching his face.
The photo below shows a close-up of the hussar uniform and hair-style. The French hussars’ hair was worn long, somewhat typical of their Hungarian origins. It was braided at the side, this to add protection from saber cuts to the cheeks. The back was worn in a knotted queue, offering more protection for the back of the neck. Mustaches added extra panache. The red and white barrel sash belt was largely decorative – its origin was that of a rope to tether horses.
The scene below was shot from the interior of a village building that was transformed into a café. Scott filmed the movie mostly in France in the Dordogne area, No sets were used, only real buildings and outdoor settings. This worked for its authenticity and also to save money. Carradine as D’Hubert sits looking outside the window with his friend and fellow lieutenant Lacourbe played by Alun Armstrong. Also in the scene is the great actress Diana Quick, playing D’Hubert’s girlfriend Laura. Outside the window, the dreaded Feraud’s friend and second can be seen walking down the street, who also sees D’Hubert. Thus, the second duel is set up.
The second duel is also set in a pastoral landscape, on a lush carpet of grass using epees as weapons. The duel is quick, as Feraud runs his blade into D’Hubert’s chest. The wound is not mortal, but quickly ends this encounter. He is seen lying on the ground surrounded by the other hussars in the image below.
Laura nurses D’Hubert back to health, yet they separate as he prepares for another duel. This one is fought to exhaustion with swords inside of a vaulted barn. Ridley Scott shot this sequence himself as well with a hand-held camera. He used some rudimentary special effects, using chicken wire on the walls that had been wired to a 12 volt battery, so when Keitel’s sword blade hit the wall sparks flew (and Keitel got jolted). The duel ends in a draw, as both men are bloodied and can barely lift their sabers, they lock arms and collapse on the floor.
In 1806 D’Hubert is now in Lubeck, with the rank of Captain. Again with Lacourbe in a tavern, he is spotted by Feraud, who has also achieved the same rank. Fighting a superior officer would be grounds for a courts martial . Feraud immediately challenges him to another duel, this time on horseback, a “tribute to the cavalry,” D’Hubert is told, who finds it hard to take this connection seriously.
The duel will be made by cavalry charges with sabers. D’Hubert is nervous, remembering his previous chest wound. When the two pass each other in their “joust,” Feraud is struck on the head and knocked off his horse. D’Hubert celebrates by jumping his horse over a cart piled high with hay and then races down a country lane.
The Napoleonic wars continue and D’Hubert and Feraud find themselves in the disastrous Russian campaign. In the frozen terrain they are about to shoot each other with pistols when cossacks attack them, so they empty their pistols at the cossacks instead.
After the wars D’Hubert, now a General, returns to a more peaceful life. He visits his sister and her two sons. The sons, shown in the picture below, were played by Ridley Scott’s two boys: Jason and Luke Scott.
D’Hubert’s sister Leonie, played by Meg Wynn Owen, introduces him to the beautiful Adele, played by Cristina Raines. Cristina just happened to be Keith Carradine’s girlfriend at the time. In the scene below he proposes to her. She can’t keep from laughing, however, as according to Scott, Keith’s horse had an erection during the shooting. Erection or not, the horse should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor Award for continuously nudging Keith in Cristina’s direction.
In the Conrad story D’Hubert wants to settle a final duel with pistols before he marries and so writes a letter to Feraud. In the movie Feraud’s friend and second, Chevalier played by John McNery, now in humbled condition as is his companion, finds D’Hubert and asks for satisfaction on Feraud’s behalf – for a now long-forgotten reason. In fact unknown to Feraud, D’Hubert had saved his life by intervening when Feraud was put on a death list when the new Bourbon king came back on the throne. Feraud and many Bonapartists were in disfavor at best with the new royal regime.
As they had left off in Russia, pistols would be the weapon: two pistols; one shot in each in open country.
True to his character, Feraud is the more tempetuous, firing more quickly in their game of cat and mouse. D’Hubert is left with the last shot, which he can take at close quarters. Instead, he spares Feraud’s life, on condition that he forever leaves him in peace.
The last film shots are of Feraud overlooking the hills and a river. He is expressionless, and we are left to draw our own conclusion about his state of mind. Like his Emperor’s, his ultimate battle was a defeat. And the monarchy and its aristocracy, that they both fought against, were back in power in France and safe on their thrones throughout Europe.
One can view The Duellists as an anti-war film, or one depicting the futility of war as represented by the stupidity of duelling. It was in any case an auspicious beginning for Ridley Scott. While it had limited distribution in the U.S., it won a Best First Work at Cannes where Ridley Scott was nominated for a Palme d’Or, and was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Costume by BAFTA. One can see in this film Scott’s clear focus on setting and his characters’ often sharp delineation in that world. The chiaroscuro of his cinematography is both beautiful and effective, and a hallmark of his film Blade Runner.
There is no more iconic story of dueling divos than The Duellists, but it is also fundamentally a story of forgiveness.
In the 32 years since its release in 1982, Blade Runner has set the standard of excellence for science fiction films. Its penetrating stylishness and perpetual freshness are qualities that make it almost unique in the genre, and it has influenced not only other science fiction films and music videos but also video-games, architecture, set design, fashion, products, and advertising. Like many of the greatest films, Blade Runner’s production was a long and torturous process that nearly derailed on more than one occasion. Its filming and director Ridley Scott’s single-minded pursuit caused strife among the crew and exhaustion among the cast. It went over-budget and was nearly shut down – in fact at the end of principal photography the financial backers laid everybody off including Scott. Harrison Ford stated it was the worst experience of his career. Yet it is often listed among the greatest films ever made, and was voted first place among 100 science-fiction movies by readers of SFX Magazine. It remains a compelling and obsessive vision that is never forgotten by those that have seen it, and a film that enriches the experience with each new viewing. Blade Runner carries deep themes within its story. What is life? Who created us? What does it mean to be alive, and the search for one’s maker. And it shows what might happen to earth through recklessness and ecological devastation. The look of Blade Runner can tell the story in itself, a contradiction of fascinating imagery within a world of decay, the gloomy vision of baroque futurism.
This post is reprinted from my earlier blog Silver Screen Modiste from June 2012.
Blade Runner is a futuristic film noir, envisioned as such by Philip K. Dick in his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and by its first screenwriter and film-option holder Hampton Fancher. It carries the film noir tropes of seemingly futile endeavors set in a bleak world, where a “detective” or blade runner is charged with hunting and “retiring” a small group of android “replicants” that have escaped far-off space colonies, where these near-perfect human clones are used as servants and workers, but who now come back to earth to beseech their maker to extend their short programmed life. The lead character Rick Deckard is played by Harrison Ford, a depressed blade runner who seems to care as little about other’s lives as the empathy-less replicants themselves. From the beginning Deckard was envisioned by Fancher as played by Robert Mitchum, complete with trench coat and fedora. Harrison Ford was then cast as Deckard, but his just-completed filming of Indiana Jones in the trademark wide fedora turned Ridley Scott away from any such resemblance. The look and costumes of Sean Young as the replicant Rachael was pointedly borrowed from Joan Crawford as dressed by Gilbert Adrian, wearing wide-shouldered, waist-tapered suits and jackets with pencil skirts. The costume designers Charles Knode and Michael Kaplan, in keeping with the total production design, created inventive costumes that seemed influenced by the past, yet very contemporary and wearable in the future, the same qualities found in the timeless fashions of Adrian. There would be no cliche science-fiction costumes inBlade Runner,no zippered jumpsuits or latex body-suits, but rather a unique melange of 1940s styling, Japanese-inspired fashion, and punk-rock flash.
Photo courtesy Photofest
In the scene above San Young wears a long fur coat of chevron patterns over her suit. The rarity of fur in the brave new world of 2019 signifies her stature as the assistant to Dr. Eldon Tyrell. She is possibly a different order of replicant and her costumes denote her ability to pass as human.
There has been a perceived phenomenon in Hollywood called the “Ridley Scott Exception.” Its premise is that whereas virtually every science-fiction movie is betrayed in time by the limitations of its filmed technology, Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner are as fresh as ever, and when viewed by teenagers are invariably loved by them. The visual aesthetics of the Ridley Scott films are timeless. Every scene in Blade Runner is of a piece, its world is total in itself. It is “layered,” from its sweeping aerial shots to its multi-faceted street scenes. The multitude of objects carries forward the totality of its world, from the very covers of the magazines and newspapers (still around in 2019) that people carry, to the flashing neon signs and the bombarding, sky -scrapper-tall, electronic advertisements.
Blade Runner’s characteristic visual feature is its pervasive night and everlasting rain, with smoke permeating virtually every scene, indoors or out, to give not only a moody atmosphere but to show a world overcome by pollution. The streets are packed with people in a very multi-cultural world, and though set in Los Angeles, an Asian influence is strong. Many artists and designers participated in creating the look, most notably Ridley Scott himself. But the visual genesis of Blade Runner began with the graphic novels or “bandes dessines” of Jean Giraud, working under the pseudonym of Moebius.
Production Design for Blade Runner was accomplished by Lawrence Paull and the Art Direction was handled by David Snyder. Ridley Scott himself drew many of the concept drawings for the film. But one of the most far-reaching steps that Scott took was to hire Syd Mead as the “visual futurist” for Blade Runner. Syd’s job was primarily to design the “spinner” vehicles and other technical gadgets for the film. But Syd started producing background drawings for his vehicles to help visualize the context. This impressed Scott and so resulted in the innovative look being used for many of the sets in the film. Syd also worked on the neon building advertising signs, many in a distinctive cartouche shape.
The street scenes were created at the back lot of Warner Brothers. The New York street standing set was the foundation for a huge makeover into the fantastic visual world of Blade Runner. The construction of the sets was an enormous endeavor. Accomplishing the incredible detail of this project was helped greatly by the actor’s strike of 1980 that gave the designers and crews several extra months of work before shooting began. Ridley Scott admired Stanley Kubrick, and in both their cases attention to every set detail resulted in the heavily textured look of their films.
Ridley Scott believed in “layering” in the design and construction of the sets as well as the set dressing. Each object was endowed with its own back story and its purpose in furthering the story. The interior sets were also smoky, and filmed with flashes of light that served no particular purpose other than giving the visual stimulation that Scott desired. While the sets were very physical, the look of the film was also accomplished through expert model-making, used in the Tyrell building for example, and in the matte paintings used for the aerial views. The construction of the cars and spinners was a huge job in itself, Three shops were used that worked 18 hours a day for their manufacture, with 50 people working on the project for 5 months. $100,000 was spent on neon signs alone (huge in 1980 dollars).
Some notable Los Angeles landmarks were used as filming sets. Downtown LA’s 2nd Street tunnel, similarly built as the Pasadena freeway’s glazed white brick tunnels was used with some exciting lighting results. Especially significant was the Bradbury Building with its open atrium and wrought iron grill work and stairs. It was used as a hotel where character J.F. Sebastian lives. The interior of Deckard’s apartment was fully realized as a live in space. The Frank Loyd Wright designed concrete textile blocks, used for his Ennis House were copied for the cave-like interior. Filming was done inside the Bradbury Building, which was occupied as office space at the time. Thus filming had to be done at night, notably between 6:00 pm and 5:00 am just before clean-up and office day use. began. The building also had to be dressed with litter, and eventually cork was used as depicting debris, which notonly looked good but absorbed all the water that flooded the building as rain. After each shoot the building had to be cleaned in time for its occupants. LA’s beautiful Union Train Station was also used, although it served as the Police Station in the film.
The interior of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, as it looks today above and was below as the Blade Runner set. Ironically, the Bradbury Building’s design, built in 1893, was influenced by a science fiction novel, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1887.
Make-up was also a important contributor to the film’s look, as it usually does for every film, although often over-looked. Marvin Westmore was the principal make-up artist, he of the famed Westmore Hollywood make-up family. Below is Joanna Cassidy who plays the sexy replicant Zhora. Joanna Cassidy actually owned the snake as a pet.
Zhora was the first replicant that Deckard hunts in Blade Runner. She is trying to make her escape in the scene below before Deckard shoots her in a later dramatic scene. Her see-through plastic jacket was very novel and eye-catching. Adrian had also used a similar plastic for some show-girl costumes in the 1930s. Charles Knode also designed the black “dominatrix” undergarments and boots of Cassidy’s costume.
Daryl Hannah plays the replicant Pris, described as a “basic pleasure model,” in her police file. Daryl came up with the blacked-out “raccoon”eye make-up herself. Her costume, shown below, was designed by Michael Kaplan as a revealing sexy black outfit, with a dog collar, and high boots over torn hose . The costume set a fashion trend for the sexy punk look. She wears the outfit to draw the attention of Sebastian and to have him reveal the whereabouts of replicant-maker Dr. Tyrell.
One of the eery scenes in the film is that off Pris sitting among the mannequins and marionettes in Sebastian’s apartment. She poses as one of the mannequins as Deckard enters looking for her. The image makes its own statement about the reality of a replicant. It took a few years for the fashion of torn hose to morph into torn jeans, but this fashion influence has had legs.
The continual shooting of Blade Runner, from night through early morning, often with simulated rain, exhausted the cast and crew. Twice as many costumes had to be made since the simulated rain soaked the ones worn by the actors. Friction began early when an unflattering remark made by Ridley Scott about the crew, comparing them negatively to what he was used to in the U.K., was leaked, creating animosity among the crew. Harrison Ford never got along with Scott and was usually irritated. And Ford never had any good chemistry with Sean Young either, as she was new to film acting. Meanwhile the financiers of the movie were threatening Scott, while meddling with the production.
The film was greatly enhancedby the moody synthesized music of Vangelis. The score achieved an other-worldly but totally appropriate sound track. Production artist Tom Southwell actually listened to Vangelis music as he painted set designs for the film.
Therehas also been controversy over the various versions of Blade Runner. Thelatest version is the Final Cut from 2007. The voice over narration is eliminated. Harrison Ford had to provide the narration as stipulated in his contract, but to which he objected, finding it unnecessary and even dumb. Some people still enjoy the voice-over, however. The film’s original “happy ending” was also eliminated, it having been forced on Scott by the financial backers.
One crucial scene remains in all versions, the end of life scene for replicant Roy Batty played by Rutger Hauer. He fights Deckard and in a chase sequence ends up saving Deckard’s life. Batty’s final scene was written as a long monologue about the nature of his existence. But Hauer provided his own shortened lines:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
The Final Cut also reinserted a beautiful Deckard Dream sequence involving a unicorn. Not reinserted was a sex scene between Deckard and Rachael, a shame because it seems to add emotional depth to their relationship, while also emphasizing the likely transition of Rachael to a human. It was always a question mark in the movie whether he would “retire” her as a replicant, or whether some other blade runner would. At the end of the Final Cut they escape the Bradbury Building together, facing an uncertain future.
The future of a Blade Runner IIis a little less uncertain. Ridley Scott had confirmed in the fall of 2013 that he is working on this project, although its release is definitely set for the future.
A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion