Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cleopatra on the Silver Screen


My friend Zoe and I have just scored a gig roving around at the Viva Victoria festival dressed as "Golden Goddesses". We have to provide our own costumes, the only caveat being that they are gold and Egyptian themed. So, for inspiration, I have turned to depictions of Cleopatra in film. Now I realise these are mostly historically inaccurate confections born of a costume-designers fevered imagination, but wow! Cleopatra is a reason to pull all the stops out and create really lavish costumes.

Helen Gardner, 1912

One of the earliest films about the famous Egyptian queen was Cleopatra, a silent film made in 1912 and starring Helen Gardner. A series of tableaux showed the queen and her love affairs, and used lavish sets and costumes.

Theda Bara, 1917

The infamous Theda Bara (her name was an anagram of "Death Arab") was the original vamp, so the famous seductress Cleopatra was an obvious choice for her to pay. This 1917 was one of the most expensive movies to be made at the time and had incredibly elaborate sets and costumes. Unfortunately all the known copies of the film have been lost of destroyed and only a few seconds of the film remain.


It's amazing how racy most of the costumes were - skimpy, transparent and exotic. I love the 20s take on Egyptian, and this snake...I hesitate to even call it a bra...is just crazy.




Claudette Colbert, 1934

I really like the costumes from this amazing Cecil B. DeMille film, which were designed by Travis Banton. The headdresses are particularly amazing, and Colbert's unusual looks make her a very memorable Cleopatra.




I love this costume which is totally encrusted with pearls, and which I imagine is gold. Ravishing!


The vulture appliques on the bust of this dress are really unusual, and I like the piping on the dress which almost mimics mummy bandages.



Vivienne Leigh, 1945

I think she is the most beautiful actress to have played Cleopatra, and I think her amazing blue bead wig is really stunning. Interestingly, most of the stills I could find were in black and white, although the film was shot in glorious Technicolor.



See how lovely and blue it is?


She has the most amazing bone structure, very like the famous statue of Nefertiti.


Elizabeth Taylor, 1963

The most famous Cleopatra of all is of course Elizabeth Taylor. The film was tremendously expensive, and Taylor had 65 costume changes.


Most of her costumes are variations on this - a tight fitting dress in a plain colour with some fantastic eyemakeup and elaborate jewellery.


But I'm more interested in these ones - lots of gold, big wigs, and crazy locust necklaces!


Considering I only have about 2 weeks to make two of these costumes (I've already started) they're going to be a bit less elaborate - I'll post what I've made so far very soon!

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