The major new film “The Monuments Men,” directed by George Clooney, tells the amazing and true story of a small group of men– curators, architects, artists, and art historians – who risked their lives to turn detective and track down the hidden caches of stolen art before Nazi fanatics carried out a plan to dynamite the lot when they realized the Third Reich was about to lose the war.
The film, starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Bill Murray, follows the Monuments Men (officially, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA)) of the Allied army as they land on the Normandy beaches in search of the Nazis’ 1000 or more hidden art repositories – secreted in mines and remote castles within the Reich.
Louise Frogley, the costume designer, says that her challenge was of logistics and scope. “There were so many big scenes involving uniformed and civilian people in different stages of deterioration,” Frogley remembers. “There were large quantities of people involved and large amounts of costume, and we had to do pre-fits while filming was still going on. Plus, we would be shipping stuff ahead while we were filming. Plus, we had to clothe people in one location while we were pre-fitting people in another. We had to find watches for every main actor, multiples for them. We had to do glasses, coated and uncoated. And sunglasses, coated and uncoated. For people with reading glasses, we had to do coated and uncoated, plus blank, coated and uncoated. It went on and on and on. We were driven mad with all of these details, but we did it.”
Despite the number of past World War II films, military uniforms were not so easy to come by. “Many of the original uniforms have been sold, destroyed or are in bad condition,” Frogley says. “This stuff doesn’t last long if it’s not looked after. There’s original stuff still in existence, but the sizes are almost always too small. We had some wonderful, original Nazi jackets, but in sizes like 36-chest – and no trousers.”
Frogley, along with costume supervisor John C. Casey and military costume supervisor Joe Hobbs, had the added task of outfitting actors who represented several different armies: American, German, British, French and Belgian. “And, of course, mid-way through the war, the uniforms changed,” Frogley adds. To pull it off, Frogley explains, it turned into a true international effort. “The uniforms came from all over the place,” Frogley explains. “We had stuff made in Poland. We had the fabric made in Pakistan. We bought stuff from dealers in Holland. We had boots from Mexico.”
But although the Monuments Men spend most of the movie in uniform, it was important to design costumes in the early scenes that reflected their civilian lives. “We were very much trying to reflect who they were first as civilians because they weren’t the normal military types,” Frogley says. “That way we would show what difference being in the military must have made. Stokes (George Clooney) is an intellectual, so he’s smartly dressed, appropriately but not outstanding. Granger (Matt Damon) is slightly more arty; we first see him in nice period overalls over more casual clothes before he dresses up a bit to meet with Stokes. Campbell (Bill Murray) is an architect, so we see him in a suit, on site of a building project. Garfield (John Goodman) is a sculptor, so we meet in him a sculpting smock and cap; in uniform, he’s still a bit of a mess, because that fits the character. Savitz (Bob Balaban) works in the world of dance; we dressed him a little more flamboyantly.”
Once they’ve joined the military, each man becomes part of a unit, working toward the same goal. “Of course, the actors still bring individuality to their characters and they can use the way they wear their uniforms to reflect that – a shirt tucked into a waist just so, a collar askew, little things that show different traits. These guys are all pretty smart actors. They’re going to use every last thing they can, anything to enhance the character.”
“Louise Frogley is a brilliant designer,” says Cate Blanchett. “I always find her wardrobe fittings really informative and creative. Together, you kick images and ideas around. Louise always approaches recognizable periods in unexpected yet true ways.
“The Monuments Men” opens February 12 in cinemas from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.