THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
The look of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES combines the ice-cool surfaces of suburbia with the dreamy inner sanctum of the Lisbon girls. In her creation of the quintessential 1970's suburb, Sofia Coppola was inspired by several photographers, including Bill Owens whose photographic book Suburbia revealed the American suburb as a
symbolically potent landscape filled with neat green lawns, turquoise skies and expressions of weary human dissatisfaction. She was also intrigued by Takashi Homma's photos of suburban Tokyo, which proved the universality of the suburbs and Tina Barney's book Theaters of Manners, which depicts the domestic lives of upper-class WASPs. "I have always been struck by the beauty of banal details," says Coppola, "and that is what suburban style is all about."
Coppola even searched the midwest to find a street denuded of its elms, similar to the one in the novel, which would symbolize the Lisbons' willingness to lay down their own lives for the sake of the last bit of nature clinging to life in their midst. "I loved that image," she says. "A street of stumps."
Throughout the film there is a certain ennui-filled starkness that contrasts with the feverish passion and desire seemingly trapped inside the Lisbon residence. "I wanted everything in the design simple and clean because this is a memory and we tend to leave out certain details when we look back on things," says Coppola.
Coppola also worked closely with cinematographer Edward Lachrnan to achieve a sort of child-like, amateur photographic style that adds to the fantasia of adolescence. "I wanted the film to be shot in the same way that a person would take photos and snapshots of their life. It has this sort of spontaneous naivete about it — this visual sense of being inside of a kid's world," comments Coppola.
But contrasting the well-trimmed facades of the suburbs is the moody, expressionistic, ineffably sweet style of the Lisbon girls — best expressed in their pastel crammed bedrooms. "I wanted to make their rooms filled with all this girl paraphernalia, all this overwhelming femininity that's off-limits and totally mysterious to the boys. It's an extreme version of how teenage girls' rooms are: they collect everything, everything has meaning and nothing is thrown away. It's the only design in the film that's cluttered but the idea is that they're trapped in this house so it's crowded with their essence."
For Coppola, herself the owner of a successful clothing line, the girls' look was a key element of the film's nuanced creation of myth. The director brought in costume designer Nancy Steiner, whose work on Todd Haynes' Safe had impressed her. "She seemed to really understand how to work subtlety," says Coppola. "That was important because I didn't want the film to be campy. I wanted it to be sincere and sort of timeless.
I didn't want to make the same old jokes about super-wide bell-bottoms and tacky seventies clothing. For me, the most important thing was that girls be luscious and the rest the world drab and banal. Once I gave Nancy Steiner my ideas, she ran with them. I completely trusted her."
Steiner was excited by the opportunity to reveal the vast distances between appearances and reality — creating such surfaces as Trip Fontaine's red velvet tux, Mr. Lisbon's permanent-press polyester and Lux Lisbon's irresistibly flowing dresses. Forging the look of the Lisbons was a wonderful challenge for Steiner. She explains:
"We worked to give little peeks into the girls' identities through outward appearances. The idea is that the Lisbons are completely misunderstood. Their perception of themselves is entirely different from how everyone saw them. That's something I think we all can relate to and it's a big theme of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES.
Steiner relied not just on shape
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