Costume Designer Anthony Powell Talks to BFI, from Polanski to Friedkin's Controversial 'Sorcerer'

by Beth Hanna and Ryan Lattanzio
March 28, 2013 5:37 PM
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Roman Polanski's 'Tess'

Three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Anthony Powell, who gave us the sumptuous sartorial designs in Roman Polanski's "Tess," Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones films "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade" and William Friedkin's "Sorcerer," sat down recently with the BFI to discuss his career. Highlights below, with photos of his many costuming feats.

Powell's Sketches for 'Tess'

On working with Roman Polanski:

Roman's extraordinary. He could do the job of anyone on the set, except, possibly the costumes. He says he knows nothing about costumes but I don't think it's true; he always knows instinctively if something is right or not. In real life, we have very little in common, but in work, we have this extraordinary telepathy. Every time we've worked together, he just rings me up and gives me one sentence, and I just go away and do it, because I see exactly what he's got in his mind.

On the influence of film fashion on real-world fashion:

I once realized that whenever I did a period film that had interesting or amusing hats, one or two of those would always appear in the next Paris collections. After "Tess" came out, girls everywhere started wearing the blouses with puffed shouldered sleeves. I saw them all over the world. And Ralph Lauren did all these Tess-type clothes for three consecutive seasons, which he called 'the Prairie Look'. It’s very flattering.

On costuming for William Friedkin's "Sorcerer":
Roy Scheider in 'Sorcerer'
I remember that Roy Scheider had a long, long sequence of travelling through many countries and deserts and swamps, always wearing the same shirt and trousers. Each country had a different coloured earth, so his clothes got more and more broken down with different colours and aged, in a way that you couldn't copy. At the end of every week, we would take this same shirt and trousers out of his trailer, saying, "We're just taking these to the cleaners for next week." We'd spray it all with disinfectant, and let that evaporate over the weekend so you couldn't smell it, and then we put a cleaners' transparent bag over the top of it and hung it back in his trailer for Monday morning. So he wore the same shirt and trousers every day for about six months, the poor man, and never realised.

When costumes get left on the cutting room floor:

When we were doing "Hook" (1991), there was a wonderful, self-contained, 20-minute fantasy musical sequence, brilliantly arranged by Madonna's choreographer, which was actually the best bit of the film. There were lots of costumes made specially for it, with the whole Pirate Town set full of people; pirate beauticians and everything... It was all shot, but in the end, Steven [Spielberg] cut the whole sequence from the film. 

Read the complete interview with Powell here.

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