"They're all wildly different," forewarns costume designer Jennifer Johnson of the films that have inspired her own work over the years.
Johnson is the designer behind such films as the Margot Robbie-starring I, Tonya (2017) and Miranda July's Kajillionaire (2020), as well as a repeat collaborator of Mike Mills' on Beginners (2010) and 20th Century Women (2016). Her latest project is Blonde, on which she costumed one of the most iconic movie stars of all time: Marilyn Monroe, as portrayed by Ana de Armas.
"When I talk about movies that have influenced me as a designer and what I've really started looking for is this sort of energetic humanitarianism," Johnson says. "I really love authenticity in costume design and really getting the spirit of the person and never making fun of them and never making them a caricature."
Her honorable mentions preview that range — like the horror film Possession ("for the blue dress"), the arthouse thriller Woman in the Dunes ("one of my absolute favorite movies") and The Act of Killing ("which is one of the best documentaries ever made and should be watched by all") — but below, Johnson shares with A.frame the five films that have most shaped her approach to costume designing.
Directed by: David Lean | Costume Design by: Phyllis Dalton
Once a year, the Egyptian Theater has a screening of Lawrence of Arabia in Los Angeles, and I love going to see that movie. My favorite moment is when Peter O'Toole is trying to get water at the well, and then suddenly there's a dot on the horizon. You see this black figure on horseback and Lawrence realizes he's not alone. Peter O'Toole is wearing all white and Omar Sharif is wearing black, and that is such a pure, cinematic moment. It's so minimal and economical and so powerful. That's the movie I return to again and again. There's some imperfection with the casting choices and things of that nature, but as far as a formal cinematic experience, I love that movie.
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for me, holds the same weight as a movie like Lawrence of Arabia. And though the approach is completely different — certainly the shooting schedule is completely different and the resources are completely different — I hold them together, because I think that both are a testament to a singular vision. It is absolute cinema. It takes you to a place you've never been before. I've seen both movies so many times, but Texas Chain Saw Massacre, every time I see it, I dread seeing it.
It's so terrifying to this day, but also artistically beautiful. I love the naturalism of that movie and the raw energy. It's an interesting movie for audiences, because it's transcended itself as an art film. Some people might read it as a B-movie, but I think it's an absolute piece of cinema and it holds up every time you watch it. It's just raw, pure, deranged and crazed directing, but almost like the perfect symphony. It's so singular and perfect.
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica | Costume Design by: Mario Chiari
Everyone who loves cinema is familiar with Bicycle Thieves, but this is a Vittorio De Sica movie that I hadn't seen until recently. And if you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it enough. It is a very human movie, like all of his movies, but it has a sense of fantastical realism in it and even a touch of Fellini in its absurdity. It is a movie that is very poignant for our times now. It's about displaced people that have lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost everything, and they've come together and created a community. And the costume work is beautiful. It's actually a really good black-and-white movie with great aging in it and just a lovely realism to it. I think all three movies could be easily played back to back in my cinema series.
Directed by: Paul King | Costume Design by: Lindy Hemming
It's so easy to pick really cineaste films, but I would like to pick a popular film also, because I think that's also really important — that movies inspire audiences of all types and ages and backgrounds. I love the Paddington movies so much. They are not only so beautifully put together and so clever the costume work is so much fun, but the actors and the acting and art direction is really of the highest quality. It has an old-fashioned-ness to it that I just love, and I wish that more people would talk about that movie. I think that Paddington 2 fits with this series too, because they're movies that really have an idea and are not afraid to express it.
Directed by: Gus Van Sant | Costume Design by: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor
I graduated high school in 1991 and I remember seeing My Own Private Idaho and To Die For, and those movies were really influential to me. The costume design is so incredible in those and I think that Gus Van Sant is a beautiful storyteller in the way that De Sica is. There's a sort of punk rock-ness to Gus Van Sant, this energy. Like To Die For is such a wild movie, but it has such a connection to the characters. It's a humorous movie and it's a dark comedy, but it still has an authenticity that I love and that elevates the film.