Catherine Martin holds the ace distinction of being the most awarded Aussie in Oscars history. A costume and production designer and the chief collaborator of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, Martin won two Oscars for her work on 2001's Moulin Rouge!, and then, won two more Oscars for 2013's The Great Gatsby. She was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for 1996's Romeo + Juliet and Best Costume Design for 2008's Australia.
Her latest collaboration with Luhrmann is Elvis, the maximalist biopic about the King of Rock and Roll, which received a total of eight Oscar nominations at the 95th Oscars, including three nominations for Martin: Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and, as one of the film's producers, Best Picture.
"I see myself as being a visual translator for the ultimate storyteller, Baz," Martin says. "What I love about the producorial aspect of my job is I get to have agency in an area that impacts so profoundly on all the areas I work in: costume, hair and makeup, scheduling — which is so vitally important to the art department and to the costume department — the actors and the actors' well-being, the storytelling... That's the thing I'm fascinated in."
Martin — or "CM" as she was christened by Luhrmann when they met as students at Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Art — gravitates towards "extraordinary human stories," movies that are most personal, and thus most universal, and told on a grand, cinematic scale.
Below, CM shares with A.frame five of the films that have most inspired her love of cinema and her approach to her design work. "There are so many movies that have inspired me," she adds. "These are in no particular order."
Directed by: Victor Fleming | Costume Design by: Adrian
I saw The Wizard of Oz in the cinema with my dad when I must have been 10. I'm embarrassed, because I was terrified of the monkeys even at 10. I just thought that that witch was the worst. My dad, although he's a French academic, he is a huge aficionado of movies prior to the 1940s, and this was a movie that he had seen as a child and thought was extraordinary.
For me, one of the most magical moments is the reel change between black-and-white and color; when the house has fallen on the witch and Dorothy opens the door and you're in color. That is one of the most dramatic, technique-shattering moments in cinema, so cleverly done and so low tech. And I remember my dad saying to me, 'You know, it's just a reel change.' I don't think I understood what that was until I worked as an usherette in our local cinema, and the projectionist taught me how to flip the switch and do a reel change.
Also, the red shoes. As a child, from the time I could talk, I would only ever wear red shoes. I've always had an obsession. So, her sparkly red shoes, combined with the gingham dress, there's something totally magical about it.
Directed by: Luchino Visconti | Costume Design by: Piero Tosi
Those Piero Tosi costumes! And the fact that, in all the drawers in the house, Visconti put in all the objects that the person had. That kind of detailed storytelling — trying to really put yourself in the world — I find inspirational. That level of detail and really thinking about where things come from, how they get to wherever they've got, is really important, even in an imagined world. And The Leopard does that in a historical context.
Directed by: Bob Fosse | Costume Design by: Charlotte Flemming
Cabaret, for its incredible mix of style and history, emotion, and just being so emotionally satisfying, so stylish, so historically true. I found it so satisfying.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Alain Resnais | Costume Design by: Gerard Collery
I went to a girls' high school that had a lot of advanced classes — I think in America you call them AP classes — and one of the classes was entirely in French, talking about movies. Hiroshima Mon Amour was the first movie we studied, and I loved it. I loved the idea of it weaving between a collaborator who'd been in love with a French soldier and then ending up in Hiroshima in the '50s after it had been bombed. I loved the thematic interweaving.
It didn't hurt that the woman, who is the collaborator, actually lived in my mother's natal village, Nevers. So, there was some kind of extraordinary interconnection.
Directed by: Marcel Carné | Costume Design by: Mayo
I absolutely adore Les Enfants du Paradis. It's a classic of the French cinema, and some would say a corny choice, but the beauty of the story within the story — life and art connecting in such a meaningful, poignant human story — moved me. I suppose the common theme is I love stories that are about the human experience and hopefully teach us something about who we are and why we are the way we are. And that are, ultimately, a little bit hopeful. Even in the terrible parts, you think, 'Maybe if I learn from that, I can be better.'