FILM COSTUME - WOMEN IN FILM NOIR
Series in 5 parts
2 - IT’S A MATTER OF STYLE: RITA HAYWORTH in GILDA.
GOOD BAD GIRL
Erotization by costume and styling
Gilda wears mainly feminine clothing elements. The fantastic long etui-gowns are precisely cut and fitting. They cover an apparently perfect body, and erotize by the extravagance of materials and by the exhibition of parts of the body. This erotization of the film costume manifests itself as a lack of textile presence which can be seen in: a frequent exposition of shoulders, generously formed off-the-shoulder necklines, and a waist free two-part dancing costume. Precious coats of silver fox or mink and the glitter of the jewelry accentuate the sensuality of the GOOD BAD GIRL (BAD). In GILDA, HAYWORTH’ shoulder-long red hair, her personal trademark, is open, waved and naturally styled unlike the 40s hair fashion - a clear accentuation of a legendary feminine connotation. Soon after this it fell a victim to Orson Welles (The Lady from Shanghai). The typical Film Noir-focusing onto the legs (sign of the femme fatale) is on the one hand represented through an extremely high-slitted skirt of the dancing costume and on the other hand by the typical high-heeled 40s sandals using the colours black or silver. The transparent stockings connote nudity.
Character of colour: white / black
Also the colour level of the costume expresses the ambivalence of the GOOD BAD-character. The use of bright uni materials or of pure white concentrates remarkably from the beginning up to the middle of the film and refers, in combination with fragile materials, to weakness, innocence, and harmlessness (GOOD), while the dark and black ensembles dominate towards the end. Dramatic black in combination with expensive and elegant materials is regarded as sophisticated and signalizes power, often with the undertone of evil and danger. The actualized suspense of attraction and fear is a vestmental reference to the BAD (femme fatale).
„Put the Blame on Mame, Boys“
On the vestmental level the erotic excesses in GILDA take no end, but not only there. Even the handling of the costume is specifically formed and shows a cinematic rarity. Under the motto - undressing instead of dressing - the body of the leading actress is celebrated in a ritual which is definitely daring for the 40s: a soft variant of a strip-tease. Certainly it’s an extreme within the Film Noir-convention, and there is no doubt that this could have been realised only with RITA HAYWORTH in the title-role.
„No other femme fatale dances. Undoubtedly the numbers in GILDA are there because Hayworth was known as a dancer ... However, once there they introduce a new element into the construction of the character as a sexual object - namely, movement.“ (Richard Dyer)
Nearly at the end of the film Gilda performs her second dancing number in a long strapless evening dress of black satin. While singing the song „Put he Blame on Mame, Boys“ she lasciviously manipulates with her gown (feminine clothing element) and the accessoires. In a skillful and sexy way black satin gloves and the necklace are manœuvered into the enthusiastic, mainly masculine audience. After an apparently failed attempt to open the zip of the dress, she requests help from the spectators. Nevertheless, what would follow is prevented and in the last moment she is dragged off stage by an employee of her husband. Gilda only comments ironically on this: „ Now, everyone knows, that Johnny has married a ...“
But once more appearances are deceptive - as so often in Film Noir.
Photos: GILDA, Charles Vidor, 1946, Columbia, 110 min.
How to dress for success: JOAN CRAWFORD in MILDRED PIERCE
- 3rd part
© Rosa Burger, MA 1997
Tel. +43 1 535 94 09
FILM COSTUME - WOMEN IN FILM NOIR
Master’s thesis, University of Vienna, 1993.
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