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Daily Reads: ‘Spotlight’s’ Unfashionable Costume Design, the Woman Behind ‘Jane the Virgin’ Speaks Out, and More

Daily Reads: 'Spotlight's' Unfashionable Costume Design, the Woman Behind 'Jane the Virgin' Speaks Out, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. How The “Spotlight” Costume Designer Made The Least Fashionable Film of the Year.
One of the frontrunners for Best Picture this year is Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church, and one of the most noticeable parts of the film is the unshowy costume design. The journalists in “Spotlight” are dressed in formalwear that’s both very accurate and very bland. For The Guardian, Morwenna Ferrier talked to costume designer Wendy Chuck about fashioning the unfashionable in “Spotlight.”

Real journalists, it seems, aren’t afraid to wear the same shirt two days running, or for years. “It’s a process to get that look,: Chuck explains. “You want to break stuff in – essentially stonewash the whole wardrobe. With shirts, you need to pick something in a cheerless color – light blue or khaki green – then pop a bit of cascade in the wash, maybe a little bleach, and that takes the color out. Or you put a tennis ball into the washing machine, which breaks down the fibres and makes them look old.” Then it’s a case of just wearing the same shirt two days running or “leaving them unfolded on the back of a chair so they don’t look crispy new.” The hardest thing was deglamorizing Rachel McAdams. For the actor, who plays Pfeiffer, they used Hillary Clinton’s (famously noughties) trouser suits as a moodboard and worked backwards. “Sasha was on a budget in real life, so used to go to discount stores – she was a big fan of khaki pants and T-shirts. I remember talking to her and she described herself as ‘anti-fashion.’ Clothes weren’t important.” Wide-legged pants and ill-fitting nylon shirts were McAdams’s go-to look, and while the whole aesthetic has shades of Vetements scruffiness, she didn’t exactly shine. It was only when images of McAdams on set were released and Twitter reacted that Chuck realized things had gone too far: “We had to be careful not to make them look clownish, and they almost did. And there were some that we had to take in because they didn’t feel right. And [the actors] didn’t want to wear them – in fairness, they looked ridiculous.” Rezendes, played by Mark Ruffalo, is an erratic journalist with a maverick approach to reporting. We get a sense of that from his leather jacket, although Rezendes did wear something similar. Chuck found hers by trawling through second-hand shops. “That jacket was key to his characterization, as were the used Dr Martens boots and loose-fitting Levi’s, which I think were second-hand.” She also worked from photographs of the team after playing golf, which explains some of the sporting outfits. The accuracy might feel unsettling for real journalists to watch. “I’m not aware of journalistic dress, but I know it’s not really a visual medium. These reporters were desk sergeants. There wasn’t a culture of dressing up. And it was important to this is that they look approachable.” One scene, in which Pfeiffer successfully doorsteps a former priest, is delicately underpinned by her standing tentatively in a rain-soaked beige outfit. “Being in the field, you need to assume a look that people feel safe so they talk to them. They want to blend in.”

2. The Woman Behind “Jane the Virgin,” the Most Topical Show on TV.
The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” aired its mid-season premiere last night. The show has garnered critical acclaim over the last two years for its affectionate satire of telenovelas, as well as its performances, and its topical humor. Buzzfeed’s Jarett Wieselman profiles Jennie Snyder Urman, executive producer of “Jane the Virgin,” and discusses what it’s like to be behind arguably one of the most topical shows on TV.

When she was developing “Jane the Virgin,” which is now in its second season on The CW, Snyder Urman didn’t actively set out to create a show that leaned heavily on social commentary — after all, “Jane the Virgin” was based on a Venezuelan soap opera. In her adaptation, she kept the family Venezuelan as an homage to the original series, and she quickly realized the larger opportunity a show about a three generations of tight-knit Latina women afforded: She had an immediate vessel through which to tell, and personalize, this wide-ranging immigration storyline. “We’ve talked about immigration through such a warm character that I think [it] makes the political really personal,” she said of Alba. “People will be like, ‘Why wouldn’t you want Alba to be a citizen if she wants to be?'” For Coll, who is Puerto Rican, playing Alba goes beyond professional accomplishment. It’s a source of personal pride as well. “It is very profound what Jennie and all the writers are doing with our family,” she told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “It’s very important to me as a Hispanic actor that we are depicted as human beings in a human relationship with each other, because usually it’s a stereotype of an overly religious mother or grandmother with the easygoing daughter. But here, Jennie has created a family unit which is a universal unit. You seldom see that on TV for Hispanic characters, and I think that’s what people are reacting to.” To ensure the stories “Jane” planned to tell were as authentic as possible, Snyder Urman very intentionally filled her writers room with people who have diverse backgrounds, including some who have gone through the green card process. That was particularly important seeing as the Villanuevas’s legal journey remained an important through line on the show — culminating in a beautiful moment in Season 2 when Alba was granted her green card. “She really listens, man,” “Jane’s” titular star Gina Rodriguez said of Snyder Urman in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News. “She listens to real-life experiences and pulls from all these beautiful people she loves and admires…She listens to the things we want to be a part of and she finds a way to bring them into the art because the fusing of art and social responsibility is the most effective way to change a culture for the better. She’s a socially responsible artist, and I freakin’ love it.”

3. Women of Sundance Speak Out About Gender Inequality in Hollywood.
Independent films have a long history of catering to diverse voices, albeit mostly in minor ways, but it’s still true that female directors are better represented at a festival like Sundance than in mainstream Hollywood. Mashable’s Valentina Valentini discusses gender inequality with a few female directors out of Sundance to see what kind of changes can be made.

Q: Does the volume of conversation about female directors this year make you feel any added pressure? 

A: “I am nothing but grateful for it,” says Meera Menon, the director of “Equity,” who was hired by Reiner and producing partner Sarah Megan Thomas as part of the change they wanted to see. “I feel like every person I’m talking to within the industry seems to be specifically angling in on how to cultivate female talent behind the camera. It can only be a good thing and maybe the change will be a bit glacial in its pace, but at least it’s happening.” Veteran actress Clea Duvall, who’s debuting her first written/directed feature “The Intervention” at Sundance, says she, too, sees people in Hollywood making an earnest effort. “My experience making this movie was that the more women I had, the more excited people were about the project. But I realize mine is a singular experience and it’s not that way for a lot of people.” “I’ve been pushing really hard to get this movie made for a number of years,” says [Sian] Heder, “and when I directed it I had a 16-month-old and I was six months pregnant. So not only was I a woman director, but I was a woman director at the height of my womanhood. We locked picture and I went into labor that night. I was bringing a newborn into my color correct and my sound design and breast pumping in the room with my composer. It was just the most absurd version of being a female filmmaker. But the pressure is just to make great movies, so that when people go to look for a female director they’re not just hiring them because they’re a woman, but because they’re great artists and make great movies.” “The only pressure [is the pressure] I put on myself,” says So Yong Kim, who’s first film “In Between Days” won many festival awards including at Sundance and is now back in Park City with the female road-trip drama. “[I] wonder if I’ve done the best I can with a film or if I’ve pushed my limits in the filmmaking process. That’s where the pressure comes for me.”

4. The Cigarette Smoking Man of “The X-Files” Resurfaces.
So you may have heard about this little “X-Files” revival airing on FOX for the next few weeks. Mulder and Scully are back to discover if the truth is really out there, and though the revival has received mixed reviews, fans are still very excited. In light of the series’ return, The New York Times’ Jeremy Egner sits down with William B. Davis, the actor who plays the indelible Cigarette Smoking Man, to discuss the revival.

Q. You haven’t been the Smoking Man since 2002. Is it like riding a bicycle, or did you have to readjust to it?

 It’s been many years, but it seems to fit me like a glove, to be honest. I don’t have any difficulty dropping back into it.

 Is that at all troubling, considering he’s a supervillain?

 And I’m really a nice person! I don’t know why it fits me so well. [Laughs] Maybe it allows me to do things I’ve always wanted to do, but never could. I used to have a lot of fun doing college tours, where I would make the case that they misunderstood the show. They think Mulder’s the hero, but they’ve got it wrong: I’m the hero. Mulder’s the guy who’s going to mess everything up.

 At the premiere screening at New York Comic Con, perhaps the loudest cheers came when the Smoking Man appeared. Why do you think he’s resonated so much with fans?

 That’s nice to hear. Obviously villains are fascinating to the public. They suggest a power and a strength and a danger, and in this case the danger is unclear. We don’t quite know what power I have. And underneath it, there’s a human being that has suffered enormously, but I don’t know whether the audience picks up on that or whether they just don’t care. It’s surprising how many younger people I meet at conventions — a whole kind of echo boom of “X-Files” fans has grown up. I don’t know how large it is, but it’s certainly committed and active.

5. HBO’s Seven-Hour Cut of “The Godfather” Is a Fascinating Failed Experiment.
HBO recently aired “The Godfather 1902-1959: The Complete Epic,” which recut the first two “Godfather” films into one long chronological narrative, removing the flashback structure in the second film entirely and creating new transitions between scenes. For Playboy, Greg Cwik argues why this cut is a failed experiment.

A slightly altered version of “Epic,” then called “The Godfather Saga” (and later “The Godfather Epic” in yet another version – it’s very confusing), aired as a miniseries on NBC in November 1977, over four straight nights — with violence expunged, of course. With “Saga,” NBC execs hoped to take advantage of television’s vast audience and rope in those too young to have seen the films in theaters. Coppola, allegedly needing money to continue work on his beautiful nightmare “Apocalypse Now,” agreed to make the seven-hour cut with editor Barry Malkin, who didn’t work on the first film. “Saga” didn’t draw as many viewers as expected, though. With “Epic,” HBO seems to be tapping into the appeal of binge-watching and the control allotted to at-home streaming services. (Note that the two films aren’t streaming separately.) Hey, people will watch a whole season of “House of Cards” in a night, and “House of Cards” is awful. Why wouldn’t they watch seven hours of “The Godfather”? By fusing the two films and straightening out the elliptical narrative, “Epic” denies you the joy of putting the films together. The editing is technically impressive, with Malkin and Coppola making the transitions as un-awkward as possible. But in doing so — and Coppola surely knows this — they strip the films of all associative poetry. While not as abysmal as George Lucas’ CGI-spangled “Star Wars” bastard spawn, the new cut adds nothing of value; just more minutes, more information, more wadding between the majestic moments. Compare it to “Apocalypse Now: Redux,” which Coppola made not for profit but for passion. Or Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” a film that, for 20 years, appeared to be a perpetual work-in-progress, whose final-final version finally (finally) rectified the various afflictions that made previous cuts insufferable.

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