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Review from July 1st. The full book title is Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915.

Which is basically what you get. This is an extremely useful book if you are interested in historical clothing that is a reasonable compromise between appearance and accuracy. Well, historical clothing from Western Europe, mostly. The progression goes Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Dark Ages, and continues from there; there's a generic Chinese and generic Japanese no-period-given set of patterns, which would bother me more if the rest of the patterns weren't also very generalized, but still bothers me.

Each time period gets generic that-era male and female outfits, with a few having variants shown for different classes or social groups. The amount of time that elapses between outfits is kind of odd-- we get three separate thirteenth-century things, for instance, and one fourteenth-century, and I'm not quite sure why. All the garment terminology is correct as far as I know. Hats get patterns, as do belts. Shoes don't, but they are pictured. Undergarment patterns happen when they are necessary for supporting the outer structure, so that you can build a working bustle or hoopskirt from this book but you're on your own at figuring out what, if anything, to put under the bishop's robes. Each pattern set also has a page of suggested embroidery/decorative motifs, and points out when odd fabrics and furs would be appropriate.

All of the patterns are duplicated at 1/8" to the real inch, with several methods of enlarging them given-- this book is old enough not to be able to mention that you can just scan them, blow them up, and print them out, which is what my house does-- and they all come in three sizes. The designer assumes you know the basics of draping and seam allowances and, well, standard garment construction; she'll tell you if there's anything really peculiar going on, and admits that nobody, but nobody, likes building hosen now that it would take too long to knit them so maybe you should just buy tights.

I would like to reiterate that this is clothing meant to look good at a distance, and that the designer expects you to put in the work yourself to modify it for whatever purposes you need, and says as much directly. If you are a stickler for specificity and accuracy, this is a starting point, not an end. That said, the overall authenticity level is, let us say, about two hundred and fifty percent better than your local Renaissance festival, at least. With the willingness to do a little research, you can get spectacular things out of this-- we've had the book in the house for several years, it's one of Thrud's most used references, and I'd flipped through it but never sat down and read it through before.

The interesting thing when you read it straight through is watching the evolution, because clothes basically start with 'here is a piece of cloth which we will keep on a body somehow', and then continue to ring changes on that until a technical innovation comes along, at which point they ring all the changes on that. You can really see the shapes of garments shifting here. It's also neat tracking at which eras men's garments were silliest and at which eras women's were; it does not quite alternate.

Also, of course, the burning question with this sort of book is which clothes you'd want. Thrud uses this to prop up her collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century menswear, because Thrud dresses that way all the time. I find, and this deeply confuses me, that the clothes here that make the most sense to me in terms of clothes I know how to wear (and you do have to know how to wear historical clothes; some of them have high skill thresholds) are the ridiculous seventeenth-century dresses, that somehow I picked up and internalized all the rules about what to do with one's gloves and how the layers work and how to sit and get through a door and all that. Which is ridiculous, because that is just about the silliest possible era of women's fashion, but it is that or modern menswear in terms of my preferences, there is no middle ground.

Anyway, this is a worthy and useful book, adaptable to many purposes and capable of taking the kind of beating that you get in the organized chaos of costuming multiple persons. I only wish we had something similar for, well, any bits of the world that aren't Western Europe.
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From Wednesday.

This is a very brief overview indeed-- less than a hundred pages for a couple of thousand years. Therefore it honestly falls into the category of 'useful mostly for its bibliography'. But it isn't badly done. McKinven cites stage directions that indicate the use of stage flying in ancient Greece, theorizes briefly about why the Romans didn't seem to have it, and then gives a very good rundown of medieval mystery play special effects in various countries, heavy on translations of primary sources-- this was enjoyable. He then wanders through the Italian Renaissance-- one reason the Duomo in Florence looks as it does is that Brunelleschi also designed machines for flight effects and thought that the space would be spectacular for it.

Some of the cathedral stuff sounds truly impressive, I have to say-- you get things like a hovering heaven with seven rotating spheres covered in singing angels, from which the angel Gabriel flies the entire length of the nave to land in front of Mary. They ought to consider reviving some of this, on the grounds that it looked really cool.

At any rate, McKinven goes on to talk about the migration of flight effects into the secular theatre vernacular and its eventual usage in things like harlequinade (there's a harlequin version of Faust mentioned here from the late eighteenth century that sounds epic) and later British pantomime. In the twentieth century he mostly talks about Peter Pan, which pretty much created a set of specialist technicians around itself, who then diversified into new technologies. As the book was written in 1993 and many of the then-current machines are/were still trade secrets, he doesn't go much into detail about them. For earlier tech, though, he has many diagrams including plates from Diderot's Encyclopedia and a vast quantity of patents.

Enjoyable, entertaining, reasonably well-organized. It's just, if you want details, there simply isn't room. The bibliography is, however, extensive, so there's that.
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I know William Weaver primarily for his translations from the Italian; he's done both Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino. Thrud had a fellowship for some time at the Villa I Tatti, and it turns out that Weaver wrote a history of the house, so I read it mostly out of curiosity about where Thrud had been living. A Legacy of Excellence: The Story of Villa I Tatti is I think a vanity project, honestly; it's a factual account of the house, its various refurbishings and renovations and contents, but it does not make an argument as to why the house is so important except that Bernard Berenson bought it, Edith Wharton stayed there a lot, and Harvard owns it now. There are a great many photos, and honestly that is what was important to me, but I cannot recommend this to anyone who is neither passionately interested in the architecture of Italian villas nor doing research on one of the relevant historical figures, especially as the last chunk of the book essentially reads as one long apologia for Harvard's tenancy and a lot of assurances that they are Maintaining The Place's Historical Value, which, I mean, it's Harvard, I was not going to assume that they aren't. Personal interest barely got me through this, though Weaver's prose is perfectly competent. I wonder why he wrote the thing?

And then the next night I read Paul Kozelka's The Theatre Student: Directing, because I have never been in a play and have always been curious about the directing process-- there is a lot of mystique surrounding it. Unfortunately, while vaguely informative, the Kozelka was also fairly dire. It seemed to be aimed at persons wishing to direct community theatre for an audience of children and operates on the assumption that such persons are by definition more cultured than the people around them and must bring this culture to the unenlightened masses; it also worships Stanislavsky, which does not seem entirely compatible with the previous. And the included play may be by Betty Smith, but I am sorry, a novelist does not always a playwright make. I learned some details about ways directors could organize their lives into a notebook and that is really all the help this gave me. Can anyone recommend anything better on the philosophy and technique of stage directing and acting? There must be more than this.

Fortunately after that I came to Osamu Tezuka's Swallowing the Earth.

I have an odd relationship with the God of Manga. Honestly, I don't enjoy Tezuka ninety percent of the time. I find Phoenix too unbearably depressing to be manageable, I tend to summarize Princess Knight to people as 'a comedy where all the wrong people die', and I find Urasawa's Pluto far more readable than the chunk of Astro Boy from which it is adapted. However, I keep reading and watching Tezuka, because every so often something happens like his nineteen-fifties theatrical version of Saiyuki (the English dub stars Frankie Avalon, I will never get over this), or the first ten pages of Apollo no Uta, or the Tezuka studio's gorgeously weird Kanashimi no Belladonna, one of the strangest films ever made (it's a film based on the 1860s book about witchcraft La Sorcière, and almost all of the animation consists of still pans over paintings-- I love this movie, but I totally understand why it was an utter commercial failure).

So I tend to go into Tezuka with a certain hesitancy. I refuse to become attached to his characters, and honestly I am usually waiting with trepidation for the book to do something I hate.

Swallowing the Earth I do not hate. )


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