September 16th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress


Directed by: Pitof

Starring; Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson.

You might never have heard the name Angus Strathie, but he recently occupied a position many men in the world would give anything for; as the costume designer for Catwoman, he not only had the distinct pleasure of measuring Halle Berry’s vital statistics, but seeing them burst out of her much talked-about costume in the latest big budget version of the tale more than once.

‘The men were all pretty excited when Halle first walked onto the set in that outfit but they all got used to it,’ Strathie laughs down the line from his native Melbourne.

To get used to seeing Halle Berry walking around in a black leather bra top and shredded pants must have taken a very long time in a very busy costuming department, and Strathie is surprisingly candid about the number of Catwoman outfits they needed.

‘I’m guessing we had over thirty costumes in the end,’ Strathie says, ‘Because it’s not just Halle, it’s Halle, two picture doubles, three stunt girls and one stunt boy.

‘And some sequences — like a lot of stuff these days — involved flying rigs, so a lot of costumes were made to go over them depending on what the costume had to do, whether it was spinning, somersaulting or just crawling up walls. Plus there’s the wear and tear aspect as well.

‘The wear and tear happens with stunt people; there’s too much kicking, grabbing and punching. The difficulty with the pants is that with the pattern of the tears, you couldn’t stop them from tearing more, so there’d be another pair of pants ready for her to jump into.’

An Academy Award and some inspired work on films from Moulin Rouge to Queen of the Damned got the young costume designer noticed and he traveled to the Vancouver set of Catwoman to work with Berry and French director Pitof, but as with a lot of blockbusters these days, a lot of the magic happens in the rendering engine of a supercomputer somewhere. Did Strathie have to oversee the program for Halle’s Costume 1.0?

‘The CGI thing is very new to me,’ he says. ‘They came on after the costume was done, scanning Halle in various poses which they plugged into the computer somehow. They just came out of their holes, took the costume and ran back to wherever they worked.’

And as Strathie reports, the CG didn’t stop there, and it’s not always obvious where it appears. He unwittingly gives up one of Hollywood’s sneakiest tricks and lets slip how some screen goddesses keep their seemingly impossible figures.

‘When Halle’s just walking along it’s the same suit as the one she’s wearing during a fight scene but in a different size depending on whether she’s got a harness underneath. We had to cover the harnesses with skin-coloured fabric to cover them and they’d CGI her stomach in later.’

And really, with all the magical things computers can do in Hollywood, they still have a really hard time getting a decent script out of one. What’s more, these TV commercial/video game directors should spent more time eliciting decent performances out of ‘actors’ and a bit less time in action sequence software design.

Not that Catwoman is bad (at least, no worse than most of the other comic book-inspired films that have saturated the screen for the last three years). It’s just that with its many failings, more should have been done with its good aspects to make it stand out more.

Halle left her Oscar at home the day she signed up for this film. Her portrayal of shrinking violet graphic designer turned street vigilante Patience Phillips is what you’d except from a Year 8 school production, her every gesture too obvious, every line unsubtly reminding you of what she’ll become.

The arc of her character as she comes into it’s own is basically Daredevil, Spiderman, the Hulk, Batman and The Punisher all over again. We see the sort of person she was, the life-changing event that made her into a hero, and her exit against the moonlight when she finally comes to terms with what she’s become.

And the whole time, there’s a romantic subplot with the cop determined to bring Catwoman down. Any suspense that could be derived from the irony of him falling for the woman behind the mask is blown away far too early to let the novice French director get back to the business of superhuman fighting and cocaine-high visuals.

The ‘deeper’ subplot — of the liberation of women from gender persecution, has been much discussed and bandied about in the film’s marketing, but don’t except Germaine Greer’s endorsement any time soon. This is Hollywood’s idea of women’s lib; wear an outfit that makes you look like an expensive hooker, have a washboard abdomen and beat the shit of people. Or more simply, get what you can using your sexuality — the sort of ideal many feminists believed enslaved womankind to start with.

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