Posts Tagged ‘pop culture’

Jack Kirby is well known to comic book fans as the co-creator of Thor and X-men as well as the man who wrote and drew the Fourth World series for DC Comics. What you may not know is that he also designed costumes for a production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by University of California at Santa Cruz in 1960s.

Poster, Julius Caesar, 1969  designed by Jack Kirby

This awesome team up came about when the play’s director Sheldon Feldner wrote to Marvel Comics and asked if  one of their artists would want to design costumes for their college’s  play. He was answered by Stan Lee himself, who pointed Feldner in the direction of Kirby, and thus the great project began.

Julius Caesar: Military Dress

Octavius Caesar

Marcus Antonius

Julius Caesar: Civilian Dress

Flavius of Marullus, Tribune of People

I’m not sure why, but Flavius makes me think of Captain America. Maybe it’s because the colors are similar and he has the eagle on his chest.

Roman Garrison Soldier

Roman Field Soldier

Portia, Wife of Brutus

I love Portia’s costume. It reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley‘s work.


Calpurnia, wife of Caesar

This is another one of my favorites. Calpurnia looks a lot like another one of Kirby’s creations – Big Barda.


I really love this one. Artemidorus the Sophist of Cnidos looks like he could be a C-grade superhero from some obscure 70s team up. The Green Question or Sir McMystery.

Roman citizens

If you think that these costumes look familiar, you are not wrong. Kirby used a very similar aethetic and style when he designed his New Gods for DC Comics in 1971.

Calpurnia and maid

Artemidorus – A Sophist

As these color photographs can testify, the costumes turned out amazing.  Made out of military surplus, plastic and vinyl, they give a hint of roman regalia, but also create a sense of a half-mythical, half-alien world. It’s an interesting choice for Julius Caesar, since the play has a very definite historical setting. The costumes do distance the play from its historical origins and give it a contemporary pop and comic book twist, which was probably more appealing to both the young actors and their young audience.

For more great art, check out Jack Kirby Museum.


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Say what you will about the cinematic quality of Julie Taymor’s 2010 adaption of The Tempest, but it’s clear that the costumes created for the film were absolutely fantastic. Designed by the acclaimed Hollywood costumer Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and The Young Victoria) the look can be best described as Elizabethan Punk.

Taymor’s script called for a cape for Prospera (Helen Mirren) that would resemble shards of glass and light. Powell tried creating this effect with fiber optic and glass, but that turned out to be a bit impractical. So she settled on 3,000 pieces of vacuum-formed plastic, painted and sewn together.

“Poor Helen had to stand there with her arms up while she was yelling into the storm.”

The end result was a cape so heavy that it would take two people to lift it. To make it look like the cape flapping in the wind, crew members had to pull strings attached to it. But the end result is absolutely gorgeous – like pieces of polished lava or feathers of a monstrous bird.

The costume palette is dominated by dark, metallic hues; there’s plenty of zippers, studs and leather.

Allons-y, Alonso!

In an interview, Powell said that the budget was so small and resources so limited that when King Alonso (David Strathairn) walked into their workshop and asked if he could help, he was put to work sewing hundreds of metal studs onto his own costume.

Zippers were not just a really cool modern touch, but also a great way to save money. A real Elizabethan costume would have been embroidered with gold thread and lavish decorations.  Zippers were a cheap way to add some shine to the dark costumes.

Sebastian’s (Alan Cumming) Elizabethan collar was made by folding silver-metal zippers to create an accordion pleat. The use of zippers if quite ingenious. From far off those lines on Cumming’s doublet look like metallic embroidery, but up close you can see that they’re all zippers.

So many zippers!

Prince Ferdinand with his boy-band good looks, zipper jacket and biker boots looks more like a rock star than a young nobleman from an Elizabethan court.

A romantic hero must always be brooding

The feeling that he’s a modern heartthrob only increases when he strips down to that black tank top.

These two look like a Levi’s commercial

Miranda (Felicity Jones) looks pure and airy in all her costumes. The fabric is almost sheer, but at the same time well-worn as if the clothes have been in use for many years. The only person who looks less constrained by his costume is Ariel and that’s only because he’s naked throughout the movie.

But the corseted dress with handpainted face is my absolute favorite. Powell said that she had borrowed it from a designer friend and to her it looked like it was made from a painting that got washed up on the shore. It reminds me very much of Vivienne Westwood’s  ‘Boucher’ corset.

Speaking of inspiration, the zipper obsession was in full swing around that time. Balmain had a serious zippers fixation in the fall of 2008. 

The Tempest (2010) Zipper Fix

This film was not as well-received as it could have been. It’s hard to say why, but I think I will talk about my own impressions in another post.

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It is my firm belief that any work can be improved if it’s given the Shakespeare treatment. It’s true; rewrite anything in iambic pentameter and it will instaly sound more intelligent.

This is equally true for Battleship, a recent fluff action flick based on, of all things, a Hasbro board game of the same name. It’s official, we’ve run out things to make movies about.

Hey, was that the plot?

Luckily, Yoni Brenner was kind enough to write this Shakespeare-inspired scene for Battleship, which also doubles as a review of the movie.

A Battleship, sailing majestically. Enter a common SAILOR.

Ahoy ye sailors!—friends and noblemen—
Riding ‘twixt glist’ring waves so bright and blue
That one cannot help but stand and marvel
At the resplendence of Neptune’s kingdom
And the miracle of color correction!
A Band of Brothers we are not, but rather,
A jambalaya of studs and starlets,
Drawn from ev’ry creed and ev’ry hair-type,
Selected, as if by algorithm,
To inflame the hearts and body issues
Of the prize’d target demographic.
Anon, we join this ship—this Battleship!—
With spirits high and cheekbones higher still,
Our sextants fix’d upon the one truly
Bankable star aboard this o’erstuffed vessel.
He whose sapphire eyes and manly shoulders,
Doth evoke the simple ethos of the
Heartland; belied only slightly by the
Rich Irish brogue that doth cling to ev’ry
Consonant like so many barnacles.

Liam Neeson enters, dressed as a CAPTAIN.

Hark! He comes! Pray don’t mention what I said
About his accent.

The CAPTAIN addresses the CREW with a barely concealed Irish accent.

Friends! Gaffers! Hang’rs-on!
‘Tis I, thy totally American captain,
Proud son of one of those states in the middle
That definitely hath a name, although
I cannot recall it at the moment.

Forsooth Captain, canst thou at least name the
First letter o’ the state?

The CAPTAIN shakes his head.

Alas, I cannot.

The CREW grumbles in disappointment.

But stay, friends! I come bearing sweet tidings:
For my accountant hath called and confirmeth
Beyond all doubt that mine check hath clear’ed!
And so I am honor-bound to maintain
A straight face for the next ninety minutes,
Even whilst barking generic orders,
Like “Hard to Starboard!” and “Full speed ahead!”
All of which hath been trademarked by Hasbro.
‘Tis indeed an honor to serve amongst
Such distinguish’d mariners as the guy
From True Blood, Riggins from Friday Night Lights,
And th’ pop star Rihanna—all of whom
Seem to be coated in a thin layer
Of Neoprene.

Er, Captain, excuse the interruption,
But art thou going anywhere with this?

Nay, my good man, not really. Just riffing.


How now, Rihanna? What ho, guy from True Blood?
What news dost thou bring from the radar thingie?

Ay me, dear captain! Most grievous fortune!
For we are invaded by space robots!

The CAPTAIN is confused.

Space robots? Art thou sure sweet Rihanna?
For yea, I cannot recall any such
Robots in the original board game.
Only a grid of numbers and letters,
And cheap plastic pegs with which for keeping score.

Thou rememberest correctly O Captain
But the gods at Hasbro hath recognized
Long ago that the Battleship brand
Couldst not survive on grids and pegs alone.
Hence the space robots.

I see thy logic.
What say’st thou Riggins from Friday Night Lights?

Pray let me defer to the True Blood Guy,
For alas, I have forgotten my lines.

The CAPTAIN nods, resolved.

If Riggins concurs then it is settled!
We shall attack the space robots at once!

The CREW cheers.

Hard to starboard! Full speed ahead! Ready
The doubles! For if we are true of heart
And straight of face there is no way this thing
Cannot gross a bajillion dollars!

Exeunt. End of scene.

The Bard would be proud!

Source: Timothy McSweeney’s Only Desire Is For Your Happiness

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I’ve only seen Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) once or twice. I’ve never cared much for this play and found the film to be pretty underwhelming, but as I was looking into masquerades and carnivals in theater, this scene from the movie came to my mind. I think it captures the essence of the film and the play very well. These two people came to a fancy dress party in two of the most boring, unimaginative costumes one can come up with. Romeo could be forgiven; he’s crashing the party and one would think he came up with the costume on the fly. But this is Juliet’s home. This is her parents’ party. Surely, she could have gone out and spent a few extra bucks on something a bit more sophisticated than a pair of angel wings and a white dress.

If we’re going to look for hidden meaning, I supose the intention was to make her look incocent and pure and to make him look bold and chivelrous. Thank you for reafirming gender roles there, Mr. Luhrmann. Though, it is the lack of any creative thought on the part of these two characters that seals the fate of the film for me. They are just two very boring people. Granted, they are very young, but even as teenagers their whole world revolves around a very ill-conceived love affair. There’s not much else to them.

Ah, if only there were a cute stalker I could fall in love with

To be fair, many people love Romeo and Juliet and think it’s a wonderful play as well as the one of the greatest love stories ever told.  And the two protagonists don’t have to be quite so bland. A lot of their interactions are fun and flirty and, if done without the heavy-handed gravity or wide-eyed naivete, could add to the dramatic ending. Usually these scenes are played with so much passion as if the characters already know that they’re doomed. But wouldn’t these scenes play out so much better if  they were lighthearted and maybe even slightly silly? Wouldn’t that make their end even more terrible?

What’s more, and this has been noted before, Romeo and Juliet may not even be about these two individuals. It could be that the play is more of a commentary on petty feuds that lead to pointless loss of life. The two families can’t even remember why they are fighting, it has become a habit and their young pay a heavy price. After all, the play doesn’t end with the death of Romeo and Juliet, it ends with their two families reconciling and putting aside their differences to avoid more loss of life.

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The sassy gay friend is something of a comedy cliche these days. A rom-com heroine just has to have a well-dressed gay friend whose life revolves around making her feel better about herself and giving excellent fashion tips.

Carrie and her ultimate fashion accessory, Stanford. Sex and The City

So that got me thinking, what if Shakespeare lived today and, in the spirit of the times, gave his female leads a sassy gay friend. Not the comedic heroines – there’s already plenty of sass in Will’s comedies – no, I’m talking about the tragic ladies.

It seems that somebody at Second City Network was reading my mind because, lo and behold, here he is, the Sassy Gay Friend, dishing out some sound advice to Shakespeare’s main ladies.

Things could have turned out very differently if only Juliet had had a sassy gay friend.

And poor Ophelia could have been saved if only she took advice from – who else? – A Sassy Gay Friend

What about Desdemona? There would have been no smothering  if she had only listened to her Sassy Gay Friend

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