Birds of Paradise - Fashion in Film Festival

The 3rd Fashion in Film Festival is proud to present Birds of Paradise, an intoxicating exploration of costume as a form of cinematic spectacle throughout European and American cinema. There will be exclusive screenings of rare and unseen films, plus two special commissions as part of the season: an installation for Somerset House by the award-winning Jason Bruges Studio and a London-wide Kinoscope Parlour, an installation of six peephole machines designed by Mark Garside after Thomas A. Edison’s kinetoscopes. From the exquisitely opulent films of the silent era, to the sybaritic, lavishly stylised underground films of the1940s - 1970s, costume has, for a long time, played a significant role in cinema as a vital medium for showcasing such basic properties of film as movement, change, light and colour. The festival programme explores episodes in film history which most distinctly foreground costume, adornment and styling as vehicles of sensuous pleasure and enchantment.

Experimental films by Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, Ron Rice, José Rodríguez-Soltero, Steven Arnold and James Bidgood constitute one such episode. Their decadent, highly stylised visions full of lyrical fascination with jewellery, textures, layers, glittering fabrics and make-up unlock the splendour and excess of earlier periods of popular cinema, especially ‘spectacle’ and Orientalist films of the 1920s; early dance, trick and féerie films of the 1890s and 1900s; and Hollywood exotica of the 1940s. In their dreamlike, magical and sometimes phantasmagorical tableaux, costume and artifice do not so much serve to build a character; instead, they hypnotise, surprise or dramatically metamorphose - they become a subject of wonder, a type of special effect.

Stressing the purely visual aspects of cinema, the programme suggests one way of closing the cleavage (or at least temporarily suspending the opposition) between experimental film and mainstream commercial cinema. This is very much in the spirit of such progressive journals as the pre-war French Cinéa - Ciné pour tous and the post-war American Film Culture, and of course, the very attitude of the underground filmmakers featured.

The Horse Hospital showcases the link between underground film and its direct and indirect inspirations from mainstream Hollywood cinema. Highlights include a screening of James Bidgood’s stunning oeuvre Pink Narcissus (1971) and Robert Siodmak’s trashy exotica Cobra Woman (1944) starring Jack Smith’s idol Maria Montez.


Wednesday 1 December  7pm

Total running time of films c.170min (with a short break in between).

Buy Tickets HERE

Tickets £10, concessions £8

You absolutely must come dressed as your own madness if you wish to be admitted to the Fashion in Film Festival’s opening ceremony, a special film club night co-hosted exclusively for your pleasure by the brilliant Ken Hollings and a pair of London legends

Princess Julia and Felicity Hayward. The evening will kick off with a mystery double bill screening featuring one of cinema’s greatest mavericks, plus a fiendish mix of lavish costumes and masks, dark rituals and a profusion of sequins and sparkles.

Post-screening, Princess Julia and Felicity Hayward will DJ into the night. Make sure to dress up to the nines for this unmissable event, the stranger the better... unless your madness is called normality.

Ken Hollings is a writer whose work draws freely upon trash culture, weird science and strange connections. Princess Julia is a music writer and DJ of Kinky Gerlinky fame. Felicity Hayward is a freelance artist, photographer and events organiser.


Thursday 2 December 6:45pm

Buy Tickets HERE

Single ticket, £7  (conc. £5)

With introductory notes by Ryan Powell, lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London.


USA 1971. Dir James Bidgood. With Bobby Kendall, Don Brooks. Costume and set design James Bidgood. c.71 min.

With experience in still photography and stage costume design, but no training in film whatsoever, Bidgood shot Pink Narcissus on the cheap in the confines of his bedroom, using Bolex cameras with 8mm Kodachrome and eventually 16mm Ektachrome stock.

It took over seven years to make and the result is an epic and bold work. A series of homoerotic fantasies, the film’s singular aesthetic is at once highly camp and deliberately trashy, yet moving and stunningly beautiful. Its charming ‘naivety’ evokes early film

pioneers such as Méliès or de Chomón and like them Bidgood was heavily invested in fabricating his own elaborate sets and costumes, as well as his own universe of solutions and tricks. Sadly, the film was not edited by the artist himself who had, by the early 1970s, lost creative control of his mesmerising footage.


USA 1941. Dir Robert Z. Leonard. With Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, James Stewart. Costumes Adrian, sets Cedric Gibbons and Merrill Pye, choreography Busby Berkeley. c.133 min.

Perpetuating the Ziegfeld Follies mythology, this is Leonard’s second foray into the subject (after the Academy Award-winning The Great Ziegfeld,1936). The star-studded musical follows the utterly predictable career transformations of three budding Ziegfeld girls as they are ‘processed’ by the showbiz genius. Hoping to out-Ziegfeld the man himself with its special effects, candy-floss sartorial frivolities and celestial cast, the film embraces a glamour that is quintessentially Ziegfeldian with girls parading in outlandish costumes dripping with sequins courtesy of MGM’s star designer Adrian. The number ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’ recycles from the 1936 film the colossal tiered cake staircase and uses clouds of mist for an added dreamlike effect. The opulence of the Ziegfeld Follies’ costumes and sets has been a life-long inspiration for Bidgood who has enthusiastically referred to them ever since the days he designed costumes for Club 82 in New York.


Friday 3 December  9.15pm

Buy Tickets HERE

Single ticket, £7 (conc. £5)


USA 1944. Dir Robert Siodmak. With Maria Montez, John Hall, Sabu. Costumes Vera West, sets Russel A. Gausman, Ira Webb. c.117 min.

A star of Universal’s Technicolor escape films in the 1940s, the Dominican-born siren Maria Montez became the centrepiece of Jack Smith’s Hollywood idolatry two decades later.  The star who founded her own fan club and who reportedly once exclaimed ‘When

I see myself on the screen, I am so beautiful, I jump for joy’ was a blueprint for the (admittedly more knowing and parodic) campness and narcissism of Jack Smith’s stars. (Smith famously singled Montez out in his essay ‘The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez’.) With reference to Montez, Smith stated that bad acting can in fact expose a much more priceless slice of life, an approach echoed in Andy Warhol’s cinema.  In Cobra Woman Montez is cast in a dual role as Tollea of the South Seas and her evil sister Naja, priestess of the Cobra People on a forbidden island. The film showcases her feminine charms in Vera West’s sensuously soft, pastel gowns and more gaudy outfits. West was a former fashion designer trained by Lucile and became the doyenne of costume design for horror and monster movies in the ’30s and ’40s.

Plus a DJ set by turntable goddesses the Broken Hearts who will follow the screening with ‘Stranded in the Jungle’, a selection of wildly primeval tracks featuring voodoo magic, jungle drums and swinging from the tree tops. Cannibals, savages and feral wildcats all welcome.