Sunday, 10 August 2014

Clothes Make the Mob in 'Casino'

AMC Wardrobe Notes:
The costume budget for Casino was $1 million.
The costume department had to dress more than 7,000 extras for Casino.
Stone had about 40 costume changes and De Niro had 52.

Clothes Make the Mob in 'Casino' : Director Scorsese Sought an Authentic Look That Required Lots of Bad Rags From the '70s and an Army of Minor Players From N.Y. Streets

During the opening credits of "Casino," Martin Scorsese serves up an image of Robert De Niro nearly as memorable as the car bomb that hurls his character, Sam (Ace) Rothstein, into the air moments later. Decked out in a coral jacket with matching apricot shirt, tie and socks, the Vegas mobster fairly radiates "cocky" and "flamboyant."

From costumes to casting, the look of "Casino" was crucial to Scorsese, a director renowned for his dazzling visual sense. For this three-hour portrait of the underbelly of Las Vegas, he hired more non-actors--regular folks--than he had for any previous film. Casting directors combed the streets of New York and New Jersey to round up background players and secondary characters--each of whom had to be outfitted. And since no one thinks of the 1970s as "period," says costume designer Rita Ryack, the challenge was greater than anyone had assumed.

"It was triage," recalls Ryack, whose credits also include "Apollo 13" and Scorsese's "Cape Fear." "The first three weeks we shot in the casino from midnight to 10:30 a.m. and shopped and fitted the rest of the time. We were really punchy, crying a lot and quitting several times a day. Though things got a lot more civilized by the time the set moved to Sam's house, we still went violently over budget."

More than 7,000 extras--from go-go girls to hotel clerks--had to be clothed at a cost of $150 to $200 each, much higher than the Hollywood norm. And, though the 30-plus outfits worn by hustler-turned-trophy-wife Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) were a mix of vintage and custom-made, all of Rothstein's 70 costumes--not to mention those worn by Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak and James Woods--had to be "built" from scratch. Long, pointed, locked collars separated the older, more traditional Wise Guys from the up-and-comers. Solid ties conveyed a sense of slickness. White or light beige clothing provided visual counterpoint to the brutality of certain scenes.

"These characters, for the most part, were low-life people who worked their way up the gambling hierarchy," observes co-costume designer John Dunn. "Presentation was more important than ability when it came to reinventing themselves."

Authenticity was heightened by casting real-life veterans of the Strip. Ffolliott ("Fluff") LeCoque, company manager of the "Jubilee Show" at Bally's for 22 years, displayed the necessary toughness to land the $522-a-day part of a real estate investor trying to strong-arm the mob. A slot manager at Caesars Palace and a shift manager at the Golden Nugget portrayed two of De Niro's henchmen. And John Bloom, who played the none-too-swift relative of a local politician, is a Dallas-born, Arkansas-raised writer who made his name as the syndicated columnist/cable TV movie host Joe Bob Briggs.

"After I got the part and flew out to Vegas, I went to the mall to buy some shoes," recalls Bloom, who was called in to read after the director spotted him on the Movie Channel's "Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater." " 'What are you doing out here?' this salesman, a guy with a really great face, asked me. I told him I was in 'Casino'--and he said he was in it, too. Scorsese's talent is taking people off the street with a certain kind of energy and look."

Secondary parts were cast with the likes of Rickles, King and Dick Smothers--Vegas performers who had played the Sands and the Dunes. For the Midwest mobsters, the filmmakers scouted out New York-area churches and put out feelers to the Italian Seaman's Club, the Italian Actors Union and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. Joe Rigano, a New York City borough coordinator who plays mobster Vincent Borelli, heard of the tryouts from a friend at the Sons of Italy. Pasquale Cajano, who plays mobster Remo Gaggi, was an announcer for Italian television for 28 years and hosted a Little Italy festival when Scorsese was a child.

Someone who utters one word is as important as any in the film, maintains casting director Ellen Lewis ("GoodFellas," "The Age of Innocence"), who had 120 speaking parts to fill. Rather than looking for some "John Gotti/mob boss" stereotypes, they kept an eye out for nondescript "neighborhood" sorts. "If it doesn't feel real, it throws off the balance," she says. "There was a story behind nearly every person in the movie which added to the performance."

Dressing them up, however, was a double-edged sword. Costumes are least effective when calling attention to themselves--a definite risk when conjuring up that time and place.

"It was a gaudy, trashy period--a time of great excess," Dunn says. "The fashion world was trying to foist the idea of better-living-through-chemistry fabrics on us. We paid a fortune to rent bad '70s clothing--shiny Qiana material, platform shoes, bell bottoms--things we all donated to the Salvation Army. We actually reveled in the horribleness of it all."

 rita ryack
A native of Massachusetts, Ryack has worked extensively in film, theatre and television. On the big screen, her affiliation with director Martin Scorsese encompasses work on Casino and Cape Fear.
 Ryack received Tony, Drama Desk and Los Angeles Drama Critics Award nominations for her designs on the hit stage musical, My One and Only, starring Tommy Tune and Twiggy. She also designed costumes for the Broadway staging of The Human Comedy as well as the off-Broadway productions of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, Hunting Cockroaches, The Vampires, The Foreigner, Anteroom, The Loman Family Picnic and It’s Only A Play, for which she earned an American Theatre Wing nomination. Her talents were recognized with the 1986 Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Costume Design. She was principal costume designer at Robert Brustein’s American Repertory Theatre at Harvard.

Ryack is also an award-winning cartoon illustrator and film animator, and in May 2000, was honored by the New York chapter of Women in Film for her creative achievement in costume design. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama (MFA) and Brandeis University, Ryack was awarded a teaching fellowship in Costume Design at Bennington College.

q&a with costume designer rita ryack

August 4, 2011 in costume party by editor /

Throughout a career that spans over thirty years, Hollywood costume designer Rita Ryack has dressed some of the most celebrated names on the big and small screens. In Casino, she decked out Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro in seventies-era Sin City finery, fit John Travolta in a series of house dresses for Hairspray, and turned Mike Myers into a striped top hat wearing feline in The Cat and the Hat.

This summer, her leading man is more animated than usual as it was her duty to turn the brilliantly funny Hank Azaria into Saturday morning cartoons’ most notorious super villain, Gargamel in The Smurfs movie. We recently spoke to Rita and got the skinny on working with little blue CGI characters, time travel shopping, and acid-washed jeans in music videos.
The Smurfs is a live-action movie with animation worked in 3-D. Is this your first 3-D movie and did you have to take any special considerations knowing the film would be worked in this medium?

In any film, you have to consider the body in three dimensions. You never know where the camera will be, so you have to be very careful about every detail. It is interesting, though, to think about what silhouettes will have 3D impact- how a garment will move, what details will come forward. we have to be careful about hanging bits, like ribbons , fringes, and fur, which require additional digital attention.

How familiar were you with the Smurfs before the project and what kind of research was involved? Did you have to watch many old episodes of the series?

To be honest, I’m not of the Smurfs generation. But I did enjoy watching some old episodes. I particularly like the original books on which the series was based. The drawing has great energy. I’ve done films based on illustrations before- it’s difficult to capture that energy in three dimensions!

As the designer, were there any kind of challenges working with animated characters who weren’t actual living beings on set? Or was that mostly an issue for the actors who had to talk to invisible creatures?

It’s more an issue for the actors. For the Smurfs, I chose fabrics to scan for surfacing- applying color and texture to the Smurfs’ clothes. But I didn’t design anything too different from the cartoon, except new dresses for Smurfette, including a dance dress.

Your credits include Charlotte’s Web, Cat in the Hat, The Grinch, and now Smurfs. What is the appeal of working on films where a great portion of the audience is children?

I think I can channel children’s vision pretty easily, never having grown out of childhood.. It’s fun to give children things to discover. I have so many indelible memories of costumes that I saw in theatre and movies when I was a kid. Maybe I can give kids iconic costumes to fantasize about, the way I did- I will never forget “wicked queen” in Snow White. Not every dress in Gone with the Wind, nor West Side Story. The first time I went to the theatre, I was four years’ old. We saw Oklahoma, and the thing that made the greatest impression was the costumes. The actors were wearing clothes that turned them into DIFFERENT PEOPLE. MAGIC!!!!

You have done a lot of stage work, what are some of the differences/ limitations between stage costumes and those for film (for instance, adjusting for quick-changes for the stage or camera close-ups in film)

You’re creating characters in both mediums, so the process is pretty much the same. Costume designers are story tellers- it’s the most important part of the job. Lately, we’re adjusting to HD . For the stage, you see the whole actor all the time, and the silhouette is critical- like long shots in film. In both cases, the clothes have to tell the audience who the characters are the minute they enter, even if the understanding is subliminal. In film, the visual interest is often shoulders up, so what’s around the face is what usually fills 2/3 of the frame.
Your first movie was After Hours, was it a bit intimidating working with Scorsese on your film debut?

A little, at first. But Scorsese was very approachable and very funny, and we had a great time. and it led to Cape Fear and Casino, two of my favorite films.

It was through Martin Scorsese that you ended up costuming Michael Jackson’s “Bad” since he directed that as well. Michael’s outfit in that video became incredibly iconic.

That video was also beyond fun. I confess that Michael brought his own costume, he was into buckles. We wanted to give the dancers the b-boy, bicycle messenger look, which was very tough at the time. Acid wash jeans debuted in that video- they hadn’t been brought to the market yet. I loved dressing the 9 minute black and white film at the beginning of the video, which features a young Wesley Snipes. I don’t think everyone has seen that movie- it explains the concept of the dance, and is hyper realistic.

If you got to use that machine for a day, where would you head for a shopping spree?

I think I’d take the time machine to the Dior atelier in the late 40′s/early 50′s. I do some drooling over the New Look shape- which Marc Jacobs has brought back for Louis Vuitton. Women will have waists again! I love the hourglass- so feminine and strong.

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