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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The costumes of X-Men: First Class, Part 2: Menswear.

Part 1: Womenswear.

OK, let's be real here. 99% of this section is gonna be about Erik and Charles, firstly because 99% of the movie is about Erik and Charles, and secondly because most of the other dude costumes are pretty dull. I mean, Darwin's clothes were inspired by Muhammed Ali, but in the end he was just wearing a tight polo shirt and jacket. And Havok's All-American Boy ensemble could easily have been the actor's costume from that Taylor Swift video. (N.B. This is irrelevent info, but I was totally shocked to discover that Lucas Till, the actor who played Havoc, is only 22, and therefore was 18 when "You Belong With Me" was filmed. I sort of assumed he was one of those Hollywood "teenage" actors who is actually 27, like the cast of Teen Wolf.)
Like many big blockbuster movies, XMFC's strategy was to hire a really great cast to prop up some exceptionally clunky dialogue. Actually, that counts for all the X-Men movies, but XMFC wins the prize for that scene where Magneto uses his powers to kill some former Nazis. When they ask, terrified, "Who ARE you?" he replies, "Frankenstein's monster," instead of the OBVIOUS COMEBACK of, "I'm the Master Race." I'm so frustrated by this scene!!!! Like, four exclamation marks worth of frustrated! Frankenstein's monster doesn't even make sense in context, whereas Erik describing himself as the Master Race is both relevent to the situation and accurately illustrate's Erik's own view of himself and mutantkind. Aaarrgh.

All that aside, Magneto and Professor X are probably my favourite superhero movie pairing ever. Tony Stark & Pepper Potts are awesome and Thor & Loki are a tale for the ages, but the epic intensity of the Erik/Charles backstory (or in this case, frontstory) is so brilliant that it makes up for any amount of terrible dialogue. Also, they're one of the few cases where I think it's completely legit to interpret their canonical relationship as a romance, rather than it being a fanfic or subtext-based construct. My general opinion on slash fandom (if you don't know what that is, google it) is that it's awesome, but some pairings are more canonical than others. Don't get me wrong, canon "evidence" does not make any pairing more or less valid because hey, it's fanfic, do what you like. But there are a few male/male pairings where I feel like you can just watch or read the original source material and be like, "Yes, this was definitely just going on offscreen" without any need to extrapolate further. Holmes/Watson, Remus/Sirius and Magneto/Professor X all come to mind.
I'd go into this in more detail here but a) this is supposedly a costume post, and b) I could probably write a book on this shit anyway. Suffice it to say that when people criticise the concept of slash fandom on the grounds that it's "misinterpreting close male friendships as gay subtext", I say, SO WHAT? Hollywood has major issues when it comes to masculinity, male friendship, and LGBT representation. Blockbuster movies are obsessed with close male/male relationships (whether it's the conflict between two men, or "buddy-cop" friendships), but is also obsessed with heterosexuality to the extent that it's vanishingly rare for a movie to star a man and a woman in the two lead roles and not have them hook up. When you spend half the movie developing the relationship between two dudes and coincidentally using tropes that would be interpreted as romantic if one of them were a woman, you can't blame people for reading it as "gay".
With Erik and Charles in the X-Men franchise, I think the canon is actually enriched if you watch it with the baseline assumption that they were in some kind of romantic relationship. It adds an extra dimension of tragedy to their story and helps explain their lifelong emotional connection, particularly since in the movie universe they only spent about two months as friends back in the '60s. Plus there's the fact that mutant rights is a clear allegory for LGBT rights (in Bryan Singer's movies, this was explicitly stated), and their first meeting is this wonderful scene where Charles saves Erik from drowning while telling him that he isn't alone. Stuff like this is why I consider X-Men to be far more of an "epic" than any other superhero franchise. While Superman, Batman, Captain America etc all save thousands or millions of lives, their battles don't span the world in the same way that an idealogical struggle like mutant/human rights effects the everyday lives of unseen characters on the outskirts of the fictional universe. Once you've blown up the alien spaceship hovering over Manhattan then the problem is solved, but there's no easy solution for societal problems like anti-mutant bigotry. For this reason I can excuse the X-Men films of quite a lot, because they reach further than the simple story of one hero's personal battle against a supervillain.
In XMFC, the costume design creates very clear links between the young and old iterations of Erik and Charles. With Erik, the biggest hint is his black/purple rollneck sweaters, which not only resemble the high-necked outfits worn by all movie supervillains since the dawn of time, but were also worn by Ian McKellen in the original X-Men trilogy. It helps that Michael Fassbender's preposterously lean, wide-shouldered physique is practically a fashion illustration brought to life, allowing him to get away with clothes that would make most guys look kinda silly. Magneto has always been a very stylish guy, and in XMFC he was purposefully modeled on Sean Connery-era James Bond.

This is going to sound super basic, but I enjoy Erik's costumes because someone has clearly sat down and really thought about why he'd be wearing those clothes. That isn't a criticism of costume designers in general, because in a sci-fi/action blockbuster like this there are often other things to consider when choosing the more everyday costumes. Unless otherwise specified, characters tend to be dressed as some combination of "cool" and "normal", which is why you see so many movies and TV shows where every single person is wearing some combination of jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket, and plaid shirt. You want your characters to look "normal" so audiences aren't distracted (particularly if the character is a dude), but you want them to look "cool" because they're superheroes or vampires whatever. This idea is upgraded somewhat when it's a movie where everyone is meant to be very rich: then they have to look cool and expensive, but are still rather unlikely to have much in the way of individual style or eccentricity. Anyhow, Erik is a snappy dresser, and the reason for that is... Nazis.
Erik came of age in a concentration camp. You better believe that as soon as he got his hands on some of that Nazi gold, he started spending it on personal luxuries like expensive suits, haircuts, hotels, and air travel. He also has an unusually high degree of personal vanity for a guy who isn't characterised as effeminate or overpoweringly showy, which is something you don't see much in movies set in the present day. He's self-contained to the point of obsession, which ties into his self-image as a superhuman and, later, as a leader of the mutant rebellion against the inferiority of humankind. Always clean-shaven and neat, his pocket squares are folded to a perfect right-angle, and he has an outfit for every occasion. Erik Lensherr is a construct of the well-dressed, well-prepared, well-travelled 20th century man, and I'm almost certain that he got many of those attributes just from magazines and 1960s advertising, because he sure as hell doesn't socialise. If this movie hadn't come out in 2011 then I'm sure we'd see him smoking some very classy cigarettes as well.
I suspect that some viewers had kind of a WTF reaction to James McAvoy's costumes in XMFC, purely because they are so frumpy and old-professorish. Personally, I thought they worked very well, mostly because of the fantastic characterisation decision they made for Charles as a young man. Despite the fact that he's a pivotal character in all the X-Men movies, he has virtually no personality as an old man. And that's fine! In fact, it's kind of the whole point of kindly old mentor figures. But seeing Charles in this movie, it was suddenly clear how he'd matured into the Professor X we know from 40 years in the future. Arrogant and douchey, yet well-meaning: the perfect stereotype of a priveleged young genius. In order to turn into the wise, inspirational (and ethical) old Professor X, he'd have to go through some serious shit first.
Charles' old-man clothes are perfect for an old-money Oxbridge nerd, but also help to highlight the differences between himself and Erik. As opposing forces, even their mutant powers clash: mental and physical. Charles cares far less about his image than Erik, partly because he can always tell what people think of him anyway, and partly because he was born rich and has the luxury of looking like crap and getting away with it. Posh Oxbridge professors can dress in rags because everyone knows that they're posh Oxbridge professors already. Also, they're above such frivolous things as fashion. Whereas Erik wants people to respect and envy him for his appearance, and takes enormous pride in his self-control and physical abilities. We do see Charles wearing three-piece suits, but that's because it's the 1960s when that kind of thing was the norm for businesslike occasions, and they're never as sleek or trendy as Erik's.
Schmidt/Shaw gets the silliest menswear in the movie, probably thanks to the comics. As the owner of the Hellfire Club, it's always been his job to wear totally OTT, dandyish costumes. Plus, villains generally get more fashion leeway than good guys, because Vanity Is Evil. With Schmidt, one also has to take into account that he's not necessarily wearing his own choice of clothes so much as dressing for the role of 1960s playboy millionaire. In order to be convincing as Sebastian Shaw he has to look flashy and wear all these hyper-masculine, hyper-trendy suits in luxury fabrics etc, but when you see him as Shmidt in the 1940s, he's very dowdy, neat, and dressed in the "costume" of an aging doctor, half-moon spectacles and all. Out of all the characters in the movie, the only three who seem to seriously think about their clothes on a personal level are Schmidt/Shaw, Erik, and Emma Frost.
Re: the actual X-Men uniforms, we have kind of a conundrum. On the one hand, they look heartwarmingly practical compared to the X-Men trilogy's black leather catsuits, BUT their actual creation is totally improbable. Not only are we meant to believe that Hank has multiple PhDs and the ability to be a geneticist and build Cerebro and a stealth jet by his mid-20s, but he creates an entire set of made-to-measure superhero costumes as well? And adjusts his own costume to fit his new body overnight? At least by the 2000s, the X-Men are an established team and can probably commission a professional to design their silly-looking fetish outfits. (Don't even get me started on the Days of Future Past costumes. WHO DECIDED IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO PUT PATRICK STEWART IN BLACK PLASTIC BODY ARMOUR?)
Finally, we come to the work of art that is the Magneto Makeover. This was like the worst post-breakup fashion mistake ever, and I fucking love it. In a beautiful transition from "angry young Nazi-hunter" to "megalomaniac leader of a fashionably-attired terrorist organisation", Erik gets rid of his boring old human suits and dons a maroon jacket and floor-length cape. Also, no sooner has his best (and only) friend been shot in the spine, than he rushes off to concentrate on the important things: detailing his new helmet with shiny magenta accents.

16 comments:

  1. Everything about this is perfect.

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  2. Beryl Autumnramble27 August 2013 at 13:59

    "Frankenstein's monster doesn't even make sense in context, whereas Erik
    describing himself as the Master Race is both relevent to the situation and accurately illustrate's Erik's own view of himself and mutantkind." - did he know he was a part of any mutantkind and not some kind of monster at that moment? He looks quite surprised meeting Shaw's people.

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  3. That's funny, when they asked him who he was I actually said aloud 'I am the UBERMAN!' And then got irrationally annoyed when he didn't say it.

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  4. I adore Erik's costumes. Seriously. I've seen possibly a few too many 'cool' 60s films and quite a lot of the advertising and groucho club/carnaby st shots of the time, and Erik is doing it in spades. Rollneck sweaters? Only the really *cool* cats wore those. Ditto the leather jacket and cloth cap. (see David Bailey and Warhol) All he's missing are the tight jeans and winklepickers but alas, he does have to move, not just lounge about studios and clubs...

    And oh god. did they have to go straight to the Kirby outfit? Couldn't they just...ease him into it?

    Waiting with bated breath for Days of Future Past. if only because it's costumer's delight again. Logan showing that lumberjack only changes *slightly* over the decades! Hank's scientist gear! Charles not giving a toss! (I have my parents pics of 70s Oklahoma. THE HORROR)

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  5. flatseven mens designer clothi27 August 2013 at 17:52

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  6. Yeah, I'm with you. Erik didn't say that because didn't know in that scene that mutants existed. I don't think he even knew Shaw was a mutant. Charles tells him "You're not alone..." etc.



    "Frankenstein's Monster" is actually the perfect thing for him to say in that scene, because that's how he thinks of himself-- completely singular, completely alone, wandering the earth destroying things, always knowing that humans would reject him if they knew him for what he is, a freak.

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  7. This. It furthermore posits Shaw as Frankenstein, and backstory-wise, we know that Erik considers his powers and abilities at that point to be Shaw's "creation", as a result of torture and manipulation. "You're the one who made me strong." or w/e he says to Shaw at the end of the movie.

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  8. Thoughtful and interesting as usual - although I, like Beryl, could see how 'Frankenstein's monster' worked in context, 'master race' definitely would have been more pointed and entertaining, and now I wish he'd said that.


    I wanted to add, though, that for me Erik's wardrobe added a feeling of cultural accuracy to his character that might (I apologise if I'm misinterpreting - I've no idea your heritage) not be obvious unless you are, or are close to, European Jews - particularly men - of that era. Although I agree with you that using reclaimed Nazi gold to outfit himself beautifully would have felt like a sort of revenge/recovery act - not to mention the fact that nobody would let him move in the circles he needed to move in if he didn't look the part - I suppose I interpreted the origin of his impeccable grooming and sartorial choices differently. European Jewish culture traditionally places a strong emphasis on things which are easily transportable - education, wealth tied up in inherently precious goods (like gold), and cultural capital - including aesthetic understanding and expression. For a peoples used to being shunted from one country to the next long before the Nazis came along, things like music, art, literature, and personal style became very important, not only because you could take them with you anywhere (or at least your understanding of them), but because being in possession of good taste and elegant personal style opened the kind of doors that, to strangers and immigrants, otherwise remain shut.


    So while I certainly think one of the first things Erik did after the war was scrape together the means to make himself look like a gentleman, when I saw the film I imagined this desire as coming not from post-war media, but more from a residual mental image of himself, his culture, his people; something lodged in his mind from before the Holocaust. He's antisocial as an adult, but for practicing Jewish families - particularly those that live in predominantly Jewish areas, as he likely would have even in pre-Nazi Germany - community is vital, and his childhood would have been spent surrounded by extended family and Synagogue-goers.


    When I look at his perfect hair and beautifully tailored suits, his carefully cultured accent, multilingualism, air of worldliness, etc. I imagine he felt compelled to become that kind of man because those were the men he watched and looked up to when he was young. That level of personal grooming and attention to detail was not only expected, but almost mundane among the European Jewish men I grew up around; so necessary to them that it became ordinary, except in comparison to the men of their new, adopted country. It was normal in a way it never quite seemed to be among, say, contemporaneous Americans. Even in something like Mad Men, there's a sense of 'putting on your face', and dressing the right way for the rest of the world; in Erik's culture - and Erik, or so I felt - it was just...what you did. Of course he presents himself that way, because that's how a proper European gentleman presents himself, it's another way of reclaiming himself and his history from the horrors of WWII.




    /essay - sorry, bit more than 2 cents there, probably. I just like your posts (hello! I've been reading your work quite a while!), and had Feelings about this. I hope you don't mind long comments.

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  9. My thoughts exactly. It's like the person who made this article forgot to take into account the fact that in the time period Erik and Charles and all the rest of them grew up mutants were not even known to exist. Hell it was only AFTER Charles used Cerebro for the first time that any of them even knew there were more out there than they realized. Well okay a lot more out there.

    So Erik saying he's Frankstein's Monster instead of Master All makes a lot of sense. In the fact that he thought he was an abnormality created by Shaw/Schmidt. Plus he even does say when Charles fishes him out of the water "I thought I was alone"

    Oh and let's not forget this quote he says to Shaw before he puts the Nazi coin through his head "Everything you did make me stronger. It made me the weapon I am today. It's the truth. I've known it all along. You are my creator."

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  10. Frankie also wanted Dr. Frankenstein to acknowledge him as his son. And since Shaw created him, in a sense, and was also a mad scientist...

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  11. Yeah, I'm with you. Erik didn't say that because didn't know in that scene that mutants existed. I don't think he even knew Shaw was a mutant. Charles tells him "You're not alone..." etc.

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  12. That's funny, when they asked him who he was I actually said aloud 'I am the UBERMAN!' And then got irrationally annoyed when he didn't say it.

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