An epic love story set in the final chapter of the American Civil War, “Cold Mountain” reunites much of the all-star production team assembled by director Anthony Minghella for his earlier “The English Patient.”
From the rugged mountains of North Carolina, where the story takes place, to those of Transylvania, where the majority of the film was ultimately shot, time and place take center stage in this portrait of 1864 America, with authenticity the watchword for production and costume design.
Gone with the wind are the melodramatic backdrops and brightly colored frocks of early Civil War celluloid. This pic, an adaptation of Charles Frazier’s bestselling novel, takes its cues from sepia tintypes, battlefield blueprints and oilskin greatcoats.
Production Design: Dante Ferretti
“For me, because I like to start from scratch … it has to be the right landscape,” says production designer Dante Ferretti, who has seven Academy noms to his credit “Gangs of New York,” “Kundun”). He spent three months scouting locations in North Carolina and Virginia, only to determine that the Southern states could no longer pass as pre-industrial landscapes.
Ferretti soon found himself in the snow-covered mountains of Transylvania, joined two days later by Minghella. A return trip to North Carolina by the duo revealed an area near Asheville called Transylvania Valley. “It was like a sign,” says Ferretti.
Ferretti’s early months in the Blue Ridge Mountains had not been wasted. His extensive research included visiting original sites and Civil War museums, and retracing the journey taken by real-life soldier W.P. Inman (played by Jude Law) home to Cold Mountain. From West Point, he obtained maps of the tunnel built by Union troops to attack Confederate soldiers in the Battle of the Crater so vividly portrayed in the film’s opening sequence.
He also spent days touring locations with author Frazier. “Charlie showed me every place — the church he went to with his wife and mother … then I asked for the floor plans of this church. … So I saw it through his eyes, what he had in mind.”
Ferretti went through the same process with Minghella, creating large sketches and 3-D models from which the set was built.
Just outside Bucharest, Ferretti employed a crew of nearly 600 to re-create the battlefield at Petersburg, Va., complete with a replica of the original 170-foot crater. Further north, in the forests of Transylvania, “we built the entire Cold Mountain town from scratch … 36 buildings with real bricks and logs,” says Ferretti.
The Black Cove Farm left to Ada (Nicole Kidman) was also constructed from the ground up, landscaped with vegetable crops, cornfields and tobacco.
All the construction in Romania, Ferretti proudly reports, was completed for about $2.5 million — an enormous saving over estimated Stateside costs.
Inspired by tintypes from the period, Ferretti describes a visual approach using sepia tones and very little color, with the exception of the green provided by lush forests.
Says the designer: “We all worked together for the look of the movie… to agree on the color, the furniture, the material.This is a kind of symphony, always using the same kind of music.”
Authenticity was also key for Academy Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth (“The English Patient,” “The Hours”), who was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Roth’s previous work on several other films set in 19th-century America proved invaluable.
“Ann gave me a big lesson about America in this period,” says associate costume designer Carlo Poggioli, an Italian. “In Europe we had such different costumes at the time, different fabrics.” (Poggioli collaborated with Roth on Minghella’s “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the latter set mostly in Italy.)
Delving into period books, paintings and rare photographs, the research done by Roth and her team paralleled Ferretti’s efforts. Original patterns and real garments from the period were obtained to create historically accurate uniforms worn by Union and Confederate soldiers.
Noted for her meticulous use of fabrics and color dyes, Roth found people in the Amish country of Pennsylvania who wove fabric in the old-fashioned way, using very old fiber. She was even able to locate a few original fabrics that dated from the era.
These materials were then brought over to Romania, where the costumes were assembled in a factory set up by Poggioli. Exact replicas of uniform shoes, buckles and belts were made by skilled locals.
“It was unbelievable the way they did it, because everything was handmade — it’s impossible to do this kind of job even in Italy now,” says Poggioli. A labor-intensive process of dying all the fabrics to match original color dyes was then followed by elaborate aging techniques.
The scope of the costume production involved was enormous, including some 3,000 military uniforms. For Ada alone, more than 25 costumes were made, most of them at famed Tirelli costume house in Rome, according to Poggioli.
At the outset, Ada wears the elaborate dresses of silks and satin, hoop skirts and corsets, as was the custom in her previous well-to-do life in Charleston. But as the ravages of war take their toll, her wardrobe radically transforms, down to remnants of her deceased father’s wardrobe as she works the farm.
For the heroic Inman, simple, traditional earth-toned clothes from the period are used to echo the character’s strength.
The movie starts with a battle scene involving a huge explosion, which yields the haunting image of a young soldier (Lucas Black), his clothes literally burned away, as he wanders through appalling carnage, his bare skin streaked with mud and blood.
Makeup and hair artist Jeremy Woodhead gave Black his memorable look, working in a department headed by Paul Engelen.
“It was a matter of conveying his inner agony with layers of dirt and blood against the underlying paleness of his own skin from the shock,” says Woodhead. “He’d be absolutely covered and drenched in blood, which would then soak up the dirt and dust around him.”
Oddly, the resulting look has a kind of ethereal beauty, which Woodhead acknowledges.
“He’s such a beautiful boy, and the pathos of that is what were trying to get.”
“Also, we used the local dust, which was very pale and gave him a ghostly quality.”
The dirt came from the battlefield site an hour outside Bucharest. Some 500 Romanian soldiers worked as extras in the scene, which meant that every morning, “there were great queues of fellows waiting to be bloodied and dirtied and scarred up,” recounts Woodhead. But the regiment insisted on sticking to its standard army procedures.
“They weren’t allowed to eat without washing up,” Woodhead recalls. “When lunch was called, off they’d go and wash it all off. We couldn’t persuade them that it wasn’t (the same as) real dirt.
“It caused a few smiles, shall we say. We got very quick at throwing blood and dirt on them again after lunch. But it all got done.”
Woodhead, whose experience with large-scale movies also includes “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, also created the look that made actress Eileen Atkins convincing as Maddie the goat woman, a forest dweller who helps Inman on his journey, as well as makeup for Giovanni Ribisi, Ray Winstone and others in the cast.