Filmed in New York and Century City by Marcia Ely Prods. for American Movie Classics. Executive producer, Lewis A. Bogach; producer-writer, Marcia Ely; co-producer, Terry Benes; camera, Craig Needelman, Scott Marshall, Peter Reniers, Michael Lesser; editor, Mary Manhardt; music consultant, Diana Colasurdo. TX:With: Geoffrey Beene, Stanley Donen, Hubert de Givenchy, Robert L. Green, Celeste Holm , Elsa Klench, Bob Mackie, Ali MacGraw, Richard Martin, Polly Mellen, Isaac Mizrahi, Jane Russell, Kalman Rittenstein, Paul Schrader, Sandy Schreier, Theadora Van Runkle, Albert Wolsky. TX:Host: Jacqueline Bisset. Just try to find a teenage girl who didn’t cut the neckline out of a sweatshirt after seeing “Flashdance” or, decades earlier, a girl who didn’t want to wear Elizabeth Taylor’s dress from “A Place in the Sun.” Bloomingdale’s sold more than 400 copies of “Dick Tracy’s” loud yellow raincoat. Hollywood’s grip on the fashion world is obvious and undeniable, but how it has held that grip — so well and for so long — is the subject of AMC’s “The Hollywood Fashion Machine,” a smart documentary by Marcia Ely. In a smart, if cautious move, the program focuses on older films, making it a shoo-in for AMC’s core audience.
The wonderful old footage and studio stills are brought together seamlessly with the commentary and supported by Diane Colasurdo’s perfect musical choices. Everything from the snappy opening sequence to the elegant typeface used for the credits is beautifully handled, and the piece moves steadily along through the decades.
Beginning with the 1930s and ’40s when studios had inexhaustible resources, Ely proposes that this was the first time Hollywood was giving Parisian couture some competition. Costumers at the major studios — Paramount and Columbia especially — were quickly becoming world-class designers and forging long-lasting relationships with the studios’ stars.
WWII marked a decline in the studios’ deep pockets, and store-bought dresses were used; the ’50s swirled around in the wake that Marilyn, Marlon and Grace Kelly churned; in the ’60s, it was the hemline haggle.
Special attention is given to Rita Hayworth’s “Gilda” dress, John Travolta’s white disco suit and Ali MacGraw’s “Love Story” hat.
But the most fun is seeing how costumers would camouflage a star’s figure faults. Here, costume consultant Robert L. Green is a delight. His candor is charming, whether talking about Rita Hayworth’s bosom in “Gilda” or Barbara Stanwyck’s “long torso and low butt.”
The only drawback is that host Jacqueline Bisset, moving about an infomercial-looking set, is underused, contributing only her exquisite voice.