Costumes for the vengeful and obsessed
'Amadeus' costumes on display at museum
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An imposing black cape, elaborate unicorn headdress and elegant lace-lined court dresses fill the Smith Gallery of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.
The 15 elaborate costumes are from the 1984 Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” and are on loan to the museum from Barrandov Studios in Prague.
The movie depicts the story of a young Wolfgang Mozart as told by his jealous and scheming rival Antonio Salieri. The exhibit, “Amadeus: Costumes for the Obsessed and Vengeful,” remains on display through Dec. 31.
The costumes, made with modern fabrics, were designed to help transport the viewer back in time to the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II, a smoke-screen of cloth, stitches, beading and fabric paint.
“It’s the 1980s meets the 1780s,” museum curator Stefanie Kohn said.
Czech designer Theodor Pistek won an Academy Award for best costume design for his efforts.
“It’s theater, it’s costume design. The choice of fabrics and wigs reflect the characters. He was trying to convey the opulence of it all,” Kohn said.
Pistek’s wasn’t the only accolade for the film, which took home eight Oscars including best director, best picture and best actor.
The studio where it was made, Barrandov Studio, is a major player in the film industry. Founded in 1921 by brothers Milos and Vaclav Maria Havel, the father of the later Czech president of the same name, it has turned out movies such as “Mission: Impossible,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Casino Royale.”
“Barrandov has always been at the top of European filmmaking,” Kohn said.
Untouched by bombing campaigns that wrecked havoc on cities like London during World War II, Prague was a popular filming location.
“There were maybe three cities in the world where you could shoot something set in historic Europe and not worry about modern buildings getting in the way, and Prague was one of them,” Kohn said.
Of course, filmmakers working there in past decades often had to deal with a Communist government that believed in heavy censorship. One film was banned from being screened in the country because it showed a food fight.
There were stories of plain clothes secret police infiltrating the “Amadeus” cast and crew — they were reportedly revealed when on the Fourth of July those on set sang the American national anthem — supposedly the people who remained seated were spies for the government.
Visitors to the exhibit have a chance to dive into the world of the movie. Pistek’s original costume concept drawings hang outside the gallery, and a movie about the film’s making plays inside. A selfie station lets visitors take photos behind costumes to become part of an Austrian court scene, a map of Prague shows movie filming locations, and photos from the film show the displayed costumes in action.
A full slate of related programming is planned in coming months, including an upcoming teen costume design workshop.
Kohn said this exhibit is a chance for the museum to show off a different aspect of culture than its normal display of fabrics found in Czech and Slovak folk costumes.
“It’s different textiles than we normally have on display,” she said. “It’s just beautiful, whether you’ve seen the movie or not.”