Skip to main content

Recreating the Look of the "Decade Taste Forget."

Costume designers Carol Oditz and Mark Bridges. Oditz planned the look for the film The Ice Storm, attempting to create surface tension for the movie through wardrobe. Bridges is responsible for collecting and coordinating the 70’s and 80’s styles seen throughout the movie Boogie Nights.


Other segments from the episode on November 6, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 6, 1997: Interview with David Shipler; Interview with Carol Oditz and Mark Bridges; Review of the television movie "Into Thin Air."


Date: NOVEMBER 06, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110601np.217
Head: Race Relations
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:05

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

"Talking about race is one of the most difficult endeavors in America," writes David Shipler in his new book, "A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America." He says: "Shouting is easy: Muttering and whining and posturing are done with facility. But conversing -- black with white, white with black -- is a rare and heavy accomplishment."

To research his book, Shipler, who is white, crisscrossed the country over a five-year period talking with blacks and whites about race. He wrote a similar book 21 years ago about what Jews and Arabs in Israel thought of each other. That book, "Arab and Jew," won a Pulitzer Prize.

Shipler was a New York Times reporter for over 20 years in New York, Saigon, Moscow, Jerusalem and Washington. I asked about the stereotypes he found whites have now about African-Americans.

DAVID SHIPLER, AUTHOR, "A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS: BLACKS AND WHITES IN AMERICA": I got some pretty tough answers, striking answers, from many people. The images and stereotypes that many whites have of blacks are very negative. They have to do, for example, with the body, the skin color, facial features, hairstyles. I mean, there were whites who told me that when a black wears braids or wears African dress or is dark-skinned, they feel less affinity for that person. They feel more distance. They feel a little wary and even a little afraid.

There are a whole set of stereotypes having to do with the mind. For centuries in this country, blacks have been seen as less intelligent, less capable than whites. There were stereotypes having to do with morality and immorality -- a notion that blacks are sexually aggressive; that their families are disintegrating; that they don't care about their children as much. And there were images about violence, which are very powerful.

So all of these images would come out when you really asked the right questions of whites.

GROSS: Did you ask African-Americans if they had racist feelings toward whites?

SHIPLER: I did indeed, and I got quite a lot of those, too. I mean, one story that one college student from Washington, D.C., told me was that -- and she told it laughingly -- was that you shouldn't go near any white person whose been out in the rain because his or her hair will stink. And I had never heard this before, but it fit into a pattern of many blacks looking at whites as unclean, having poor hygiene, which of course is the flip-side of white stereotypes of blacks as dirty.

And then there are other stereotypes that many blacks have of whites, also having to do with mental ability; that, you know, that whites may be smarter, but they're less wise. They have less street savvy. They don't, you know, think through the implications of their actions as much, that they're immoral because they have no empathy or feeling for people who don't have as much power as they do. And so forth.

GROSS: You've reached the conclusion that white people and African-Americans don't listen well to each other and that in fact they often speak a different language when it comes to discussions about race.

Give me what you think is maybe the most compelling example of that.

SHIPLER: Well, there are so many it's hard to pick one out, but I'll tell you one particular example that I think is a telling one. I have a friend who is a news man, a reporter, and he was writing a story on Somalia. And he had to write a summary of the story first, and in the summary, he mentioned that there was a tribal conflict in Somalia. A black reporter who read the summary went to a white editor and objected to the word "tribal," thinking that it was derogatory about blacks and Africans.

The white editor went to the white reporter and said, "Maybe you should change this." And the white reporter was very angry and said, "This is a perfectly legitimate anthropological term, and I think that it" -- "I should use it." And he was also angry that the black reporter hadn't come directly to him, but had gone to the white editor.

So the white editor insisted that it be changed. And so the white reporter changed it to Byzantine conflict -- Byzantine politics. And another white editor who didn't know about all of the background read the summary and said, "Don't you think it would be better to use the word `tribal'?" So they went around and around again. It came out in the paper as "murky."

So anyway, when the reporter told me this story -- the white reporter -- I said, well: "Did you talk to the black reporter about this, because it sounds like a genuine misunderstanding here. The black reporter thought you were making something of a racist comment, and you thought that the editor and the black reporter were being politically correct in censoring you." He said: "Well, it's a good idea. Maybe I should talk to him."

So a couple weeks later I asked the white reporter, well, "Did you have that conversation?" He said, "No." He said, "I just was afraid I'd get angry."

There's another example that comes to mind, which is more serious in a way, because it happened inside a family. I was interviewing a couple who had been married about 25 years. He's black. She's white.

Just before they were to get married, her brother and his wife came to her, and denounced her, and said: "What are you trying to do? Kill our father? You know, he'll have a heart attack if you marry a black man." And then five years later, her brother came to her and said: "I'm really sorry. That was the most shameful thing I ever did. I apologize."

Well, she told me this story with her husband, her black husband, sitting beside her. He then said to me: "But her brother never apologized to me, and all of these years I've gone to family holidays with the big hugs and all that, and I've had this in the back of my mind. He never apologized to me."

GROSS: As you point out time and time again in your book, it's very difficult for whites and African-Americans to talk together about race and to understand what the other is saying. One proposed -- well, not solution, but help for this is diversity training, and a lot of corporations have been doing this -- hiring professional diversity trainers to come in and do kind of like sensitizing workshops for whites and for African-Americans to understand each other's cultures better and to be able to talk about these issues in a way that everybody can communicate.

You, I think, visited a lot of these diversity sessions around the country. Give me an example of what you think was good and unsatisfactory about them.

SHIPLER: I think the good aspects of diversity sessions are many. I think the bad aspects exist and have to be dealt with.

The negative aspects first -- the negative aspects sometimes are that people feel that they're being preached to and that they're being accused of being racists. And I don't think most people think of themselves as racists and don't want to be thought of that way.

Some diversity trainers are unskilled and don't know their audience very well. A lot of preparation is needed for a good diversity training session. It has to last more than half a day.

When the sessions are good -- the ones I've went to were very good. I went to one that went for five days for middle managers at AT&T and DuPont, and they were all brought to a hotel near Dulles Airport in Virginia, away from their own families. And they went from 8:00 in the morning until midnight. I mean, it was an intense thing.

What the diversity session was composed of was a series of educational lectures and films, plus workshops that -- where people were broken up into like-minded groups or similar groups. That is, at one point, all the blacks would be together and all the whites would be together separately. They would talk about their own experiences. And then they would come back into the larger group and talk about what they had discussed.

One thing that came out, for example -- and one of them was very powerful -- a black woman who was about 50, I would guess, stood up and started to talk about how the day that the not-guilty verdict was rendered on the -- in the trial of the policeman who beat Rodney King in Los Angeles, she came into work and nobody spoke to her. No whites spoke to her about it. She was very upset, but nobody said anything to her.

And she'd worked there for years with these people, and she started crying as she talked about this.

Afterwards, some of her white co-workers came up to her, comforted her, talked to her, and began to discuss these issues in a way that she really wanted them discussed.

I think that it was probably a pretty therapeutic moment, because suddenly she was a human being with feelings, and suddenly race was on the table so that in the future when things happened like this, I would guess that the whites and the blacks will find a way in that particular office to discuss them in a, you know, healthy fashion.

GROSS: Some people say that the real issue in America -- the real divisive issue -- isn't so much race as it is class, that class is really the problem. And I wonder if you'd agree with that.

SHIPLER: I think both are true. I think class and race are both very serious problems.

Obviously, they're related in the sense that more blacks are in poverty than, as a percentage -- higher percentage of blacks than whites -- are in poverty. Not more in sheer numbers, but higher percentage -- almost 30 percent.

But I think that there's something else going on that's important to recognize. Even though many blacks have moved into the middle class, if you measure annual income, the difference in net worth is enormous between blacks and whites. The median net worth of white families in America is $43,800. The median net worth of black families is $3,700.

If you take just those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, whites have a median net worth of 44,000; blacks, $15,000.

What that says is those blacks who've moved into the middle class, if you measure by income, are hanging on by their fingernails and they're vulnerable and they're scared, because any economic downturn will hit them very hard.

In addition, I think it's important to understand what happens inside workplaces once blacks get in. Integration, you know, has been an ideal of this society ever since the civil rights movement, but integration really means sharing power. And by that measurement, we have not had much integration in America. We've had it in the military, but in most other institutions it hasn't taken place.

I remember talking to a black guy who worked for IBM, and he told me that he was working there for a long time before he realized that at the end of every workday, there was a happy hour at a nearby bar where all the white workers would go and make deals and plan strategy and do business. And he didn't even know about it. He wasn't included in it.

So there are invisible walls that are erected even once blacks are inside the company or inside the institution.

GROSS: I think there's a lot of institutions, whether it's schools or corporations, where although there is mathematically a mix of whites and blacks, inside the group there's a lot of separations. The whites sit here; the blacks sit there. The whites socialize here; the blacks socialize there.

SHIPLER: Yes. That's right.

In fact, I open "A Country of Strangers" with a scene in a high school in Brooklyn where in the hallways, the kids are all mixed up together, and then in the cafeteria there's a table all of blacks, table all of Cambodians, table all of Russians speaking Russian, and so forth -- Latinos. And the kids actually spent some time with me drawing a map of the school and showing me where in the school different groups clustered during free periods.

And they were clearly mostly along racial and ethnic lines, although then there was the theater crowd over here and the newspaper crowd over there. You know, people tend to pull together when they have common interests as well as common backgrounds.

You know, when I started the book, I really was totally opposed to the idea of black dormitories in colleges. I thought it was a terrible mistake. And I'm still not wild about the idea, but I understand it better.

I sat down with some black students at Colgate who were talking about the subtle and explicit racism they encountered in that mostly white school in upstate New York.

And finally, a couple of them said, you know, when I was -- you know, they were -- you know, they went to high schools with mostly whites. They had mostly white friends, some of the black students.

And they -- you know, they said, but, you know, and we could -- at night, we could go back home, you know; we could go back to our families, and there we could be ourselves; we could be completely relaxed. And they said, you know, if we didn't have this black dorm to retreat to, we really couldn't stay here.

I think it's important to understand that blacks in America need that comfort zone, many of them -- not all, of course. The problem comes where pressure is put on blacks to stay only with other blacks and not make friends or hang out with whites.

FRESH: My guest is David Shipler. He's the author of the new book "A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


Back with Pulitzer Prize winning writer David Shipler, author of the new book, "A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America."

Now that you've finished this book about black and white communication in America, what do you see differently than you did before about yourself or your own perceptions?

SHIPLER: I see -- I understand more clearly than I had before that despite the fact that my family was very open-minded and anti-racist, that my head was filled with what diversity trainers call "tapes." And the tapes play, and there are tapes of bad images, negative stereotypes of black people.

In all the interviewing I did with whites, no white told me anything that I had not already heard about stereotypes of blacks. Somewhere back in my subconscious, these had been registered, which leads me to think that although it's conventional to say that little children have to be taught to hate, that in America it's really the other way around. Children have to be taught to tolerance.

By virtue of growing up in America, you absorb the prejudices. And I'm not even sure I can identify their sources very easily, but they're there.

Now I think, I hope, I put them aside and I put them in a box and I don't act on them. But I can tell you that as I listen to white people talk to me, and as I listen to blacks tell me about their experiences with whites, these bigoted images got activated in my mind. They were familiar to me. I am very honest with you when I say that I have harbored a lot of these views.

GROSS: Like what?

SHIPLER: The -- you know, the reactions to skin color, to facial features, to hair styles; the notion that blacks are less intelligent; that they don't work as hard, they're not as competent. Violence is certainly one that's been in my -- back in my mind quite a bit -- morality issues.

I think power questions. I mean, it's very unusual in America for whites to accept completely, openly, the notion that black people can have power over them. Richard Arrington, the mayor of Birmingham, told me his white staff often gets questions: "What's it like to work for a black man?"

The idea that blacks can have power over you is still, in many parts of America, an alien idea. That concept was there in me, I guess. I mean, I recognized it when people talked about it.

So I -- this is not an autobiography that I've written, but it is very autobiographical in the sense that you're right -- I'm a white person in America. I can read between the lines of white America, and I can look past all the dissembling and denials that many white Americans make into the heart of bigotry.

GROSS: You think one of the problems about talking about whites in America is that there are whites who are much more privileged than other whites? I mean, there are whites in the upper middle class and the upper class, and then there's other whites who are unemployed or on welfare or, you know, have lived in crummy neighborhoods all their lives -- families that live in the, you know, those neighborhoods for generations.

Sometimes I think we see whites as being too monolithic.

SHIPLER: Yes. I think that's very correct, and I mention that, write about that a bit in the book, because many whites cannot imagine seeing themselves as privileged, because they don't feel privileged at all. They feel, also, that they're struggling, and that in fact they look around and they see blacks getting the ostensible privileges of affirmative action, even though they may not be quite as -- whites may not be quite as discriminated against in that regard as they think. It offends them.

So, that's an issue, I think. There's no question about it. Yes.

And it makes it more difficult to say to whites what needs to be said, which is that, as Peggy McIntosh (ph) of Wellesley put it, whites all carry around an invisible knapsack of privilege. We're not aware of it, but our white skin really gets us things that others don't get.

Just -- if I may just tell you one quick story about this. I was at a workshop in Washington -- and this is one of the most effective exercises in diversity training that -- that I saw, where the trainer asked a series of questions. We were supposed to answer them by standing.

And he said -- one of the questions was: "I have never been denied the use of my credit card because of my race." And only the whites in the room stood. And we were left standing there for a long time looking at each other, with the blacks and Latinos and Asians also looking at us.

"I have to leave my culture at the door when I go to work." Only the nonwhites stood.

And then there was the searing question, which I end the last -- begin the last chapter of the book with: "I've considered not having children because of racism." And a small group of black and Latino women stood. And that was a shocker, because I had never thought to ask that question of anyone, even in all my research. And that's why I say that you never stop learning about race. Nobody's an expert.

This question came at the very end of my research. I was floored by it -- the answer to it. And I -- so I still think there's a lot for me to learn on -- about this subject and a lot to explore in terms of the gap between black and white.

GROSS: Do you live in a neighborhood that has much of an African-American or Latino population in it?

SHIPLER: No, my next door neighbors are a mixed couple, actually. She's black; he's white. And the kid across the street is black, although he's grown up now and he's gone off on -- in his own life. But essentially the neighborhood I live in is very white, yes, very white.

GROSS: Is that sometimes -- something that you feel you're supposed to apologize for?

SHIPLER: No, I don't apologize for it. I regret it, though. I mean, I grew up in an all-white town in New Jersey -- Chatham -- and I feel that was a real disadvantage. And in college in those years, there were very few whites -- in fact, the first black person I ever had a discussion of race with was Martin Luther King. When he was up at Dartmouth giving a speech, I was -- worked for the college radio station and I interviewed him. It wasn't really a conversation. I asked him questions and he talked.

And when I reflect on this, I think this is really remarkable for -- as an example of my disadvantage, because I think a person, especially nowadays, who grows up in an all-white situation, goes out into the real world with a real handicap. That's why I'd say that at colleges, students have a great opportunity that many of them miss, to learn a lot about people who are different from them.

This goes for blacks as well as whites, and Latinos and Asians, you know, everyone who clusters together. It's a great opportunity and an important education, because the world and this society in America is never going to be overwhelmingly white in their futures, as they go into their adult lives.

GROSS: Well, David Shipler, I want to thank you a lot for talking with us about your book.

SHIPLER: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: David Shipler is the author of the new book, "A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: David Shipler
High: Writer David Shipler -- "A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America" (Knopf) is his newest book. It looks closely at the ever-present "race question" in the United States through interviews of folks across the country and analysis of stereotypes he found. Shipler is the author of "Russia" and won a Pulitzer Prize for "Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land."
Spec: Race Relations; Minorities; African-Americans
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Race Relations
Date: NOVEMBER 06, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110602np.217
Head: Costume Designers Carol Oditz and Mark Bridges
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

There is an alarming number of large collars around now. '70s retro fashions have become popular, and two new movies have recreated the looks of the '70s.

We invited the costume designers of those films to talk with us about bringing back the clothes from the decade taste forgot.

Mark Bridges did the costumes for "Boogie Nights"; Carol Oditz for "The Ice Storm." The Ice Storm -- starring Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver -- is set in 1973 and is about what happens when the sexual revolution hits the suburbs of Connecticut.

Boogie Nights -- starring Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore -- is set between 1977 and '84. It was about a group of people who are stars, or are trying to be, in the subterranean world of pornographic films.

No decade's fashions get laughs as quickly as the '70s -- big collars, bell bottoms, crocheted vests, exposed chests, polyester suits. I asked Mark Bridges if he wanted the clothes in "Boogie Nights" to get laughs.

MARK BRIDGES, MOVIE COSTUME DESIGNER, "BOOGIE NIGHTS": I think we had to be very, very careful and very aware of what was going to get a laugh or what people were going to relate to. There are funny things in "Boogie Nights," but I think that we were really just trying to tell a story, rather than get a laugh.

And it's -- the scale of things, the story of Dirk buying clothes -- those are amusing. But the rest of it -- things like plaids, I didn't use any plaids in the movie, which was sort of a big things in the '70s. But I felt it was too jokey, and I felt it was too -- you see a lot of it now with the kids' plaid pants and stuff.

So I think we were very careful not to try to get a laugh.

GROSS: Now, Carol Oditz, I will tell you that in I think it's the first scene in "The Ice Storm," in the movie theater I saw it in -- it's the first scene that you see Kevin Kline in.


GROSS: People started laughing when they saw Kevin Kline in his striped shirt with the kind of large collar and the brown vest and I think matching brown bell bottoms. People laughed. And I think part of the reason why they laughed is because half of them owned that outfit back in the '70s.


ODITZ: Yeah, we've all been there. You know, we've been there, and most people now find it hard to believe they were there. But when we were there, it was a very dynamic time. And I think the laughter is not just what it seems to be on the surface. I think that laughter says a lot.

The early '70s, which is when "Ice Storm" was set -- in '73 -- is a period of pure design. And I learned to love it for that.

Unlike what's happened since then -- which we borrow and take from this period, that period and try to form it into something -- that time was so bold, and it did what it did, I think, brilliantly.

GROSS: Give me an example of a costume that you designed for the movie that's an example of what you actually like about the '70s.

ODITZ: I designed all the costumes for the principal characters. I found almost nothing, because what I was finding was jokey, and I didn't want to go there. The costume -- the one costume that everybody asks me about is Sigourney's last costume ...

GROSS: Describe it.

ODITZ: ... at the party. It's a black kind of halter blouse, leaving her shoulders completely bare. It has a high turtleneck, but it's slit in the front and the back, with large beads and -- she wears large beads, a necklace. And she's wearing it with palazzo pants that are patterned. And the sum total of it is something wonderfully elegant and very powerful.

What you find -- what I found when I went back to the clothes, when I cut through to the core of what it really was, was a -- very powerful, a lot of power in those clothes.

GROSS: Well, since you mentioned what Sigourney Weaver's wearing toward the end of "The Ice Storm," let me mention what Joan Allen is wearing.


GROSS: And I found this one just mortifying.


I mean, she's wearing a long crocheted vest -- I forget what the top underneath was...

ODITZ: Right.

GROSS: ... with -- with a kind of thin polyester-type of long patterned skirt ...

ODITZ: Mmm-hm.

GROSS: ... and oh, it just struck me as in its own way just epitomizing why I wouldn't want to go back.

ODITZ: But you either had it or knew people who had it.

GROSS: Well, I didn't.


I'm proud to say I didn't. I know I'm talking to the designer here...


... but you designed it for a character and not for yourself.

ODITZ: Yes, I designed it for a character, very much so.

GROSS: What did you want that to say?

ODITZ: Well, I was setting up a whole situation with those two families that -- one of the families, the family with Sigourney, which was the Williams family, were much darker, murkier tones. And the Hood family was much lighter, milkier tones.

And I wanted that costume to really grow out of who Joan's character was. She was sort of floating. She was confused. Whereas Sigourney was a much more eccentric character. And I was really contrasting those two women throughout the whole movie.

GROSS: Now Mark Bridges, in "Boogie Nights," some of the characters -- the way they're dressed -- really look like jackasses, which is what they are. I mean, some of the characters really are that. And other characters really look, you know, kind of interesting in their '70s clothes.

Can you contrast for me the clothes you gave one of the characters who is supposed to be kind of goofy? And contrast that with the clothes of a character who's not?

BRIDGES: Well, I think there's a character, Scotty Jay (ph), who's sort of ill-fitting clothes. Paul had asked me to dress Scotty Jay. We knew it was going to be Philip. He said, as if he was a 14-year-old boy. And so...

GROSS: Scotty Jay is a young guy who's kind of overweight...


GROSS: ... and insecure and works on the film crew in the porn industry.

BRIDGES: That's right. And he sort of has clothes that his stomach shows and are two sizes, three sizes too small. And to me, that's kind of jokey and funny and outrageous. And he doesn't think anything of it.

And then there's the contrast, Amber Waves -- Julianne's character -- who's sort of always in sort of pretty, flowing disco dresses, quiana (ph) dresses. One of our first meetings when you show your sketches, you know, she was like this worked for me because it's pretty. It's not like gauche or ugly stuff for her. So she ends up looking somewhat together.

GROSS: Mark Bridges, I'm wondering if in designing the clothes for "Boogie Nights," particularly in designing the clothes for Burt Reynolds, if you went back and watched Burt Reynolds movies from the '70s and gave him anything to wear that he actually wore in earlier films?

BRIDGES: It was very interesting working with Burt Reynolds, because, as someone who's sort of come from a kind of studio system and what I think of as someone who, you know, an establishment star kind of thing, he knew what he looked good in. He knew what was right for his physique -- the kind of neck he had; the kind of face; what kind of collar showed him off in his best light.

And I did do some research on what Burt wore in the '70s. I have a wonderful book that's sort of a compilation that was done in the late '70 -- early '80s. And went from there. And also found -- I work with one of his shirtmakers, and we did some research. They have files back from, like, 30 years and we -- Burt had asked for, say, a blue tux shirt. We were able to go back into the files and look at what color that is in the swatch from, say, 1970.

So, that was a great resource, too, to make choices for -- what would work for Jack Horner and also work for Burt Reynolds.

GROSS: Jack Horner is the director who he plays ...


GROSS: ... in the movie.

BRIDGES: ... his character.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Mark Bridges, the costume designer for "Boogie Nights"; and Carol Oditz, costume designer for "The Ice Storm." Both movies are set in the '70s, although I should say "Boogie Nights" continues on through 1984.

Carol Oditz, where did you go for inspiration? Are there magazines, television shows, movies, record jackets that you consulted as reference points?

ODITZ: Yes, we went back completely. We lived in that period while we were rethinking what to do for it.

I -- it was a tremendous amount of magazine research. In fact, when the actors came in for fittings, the walls were wallpapered with magazine research, from top to bottom, one end to the other. So they were saturated in it while we were working with the costumes.

We also went back to the artists of the period. Hockney was very important for me. Alex Katz (ph) was important for the movie. And the idea of surface tension in all of the art from that period -- the kind of lack of depth of field was very important to the way I organize things on the body, and that translated into clothes.

We had volumes of research. Everybody was doing research. And that's when I began to really, really appreciate this period of time -- this period in time -- in a way that I hadn't when I was living through it. I found it to be so bold, and I found there to be genius in how bold it was. It made no excuses or apologies for what it was. And I thought it was brilliant for that.

GROSS: Mark, what did you use as reference points in doing the clothes for "Boogie Nights"?

BRIDGES: We used a lot of primary research. It was the first film that I'd actually used Playboys and Penthouse and Chic magazines for research.

GROSS: Oh, sure, that would be perfect.

BRIDGES: Yeah, because the way that they styled them and sort of what constitutes sexy girl in 1977 was great. And I work very -- I plot out sort of what look at what scene. And so we would do -- we did a lot of primary research. Of course, we watched films like "Saturday Night Fever."

There's that unmistakable silhouette of John Travolta -- the high-rise pants with no pockets; very slim -- slim shirts. That was our primary -- one of our primary research for the silhouette.

Minimal jewelry on the women; you know, what constitutes sort of the disco craze, and of course, magazines and television as well -- that's California sensibility, 1977 television. So we used a lot of that as well.

GROSS: My guests are Mark Bridges, costume designer for the new film "Boogie Nights," and Carol Oditz, costume designer for "The Ice Storm."
We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


We're talking about recreating the fashions of the '70s. My guests are Mark Bridges, costume designer for the new film "Boogie Nights," and Carol Oditz, costume designer for "The Ice Storm."

Clothes really can transform a person, and I imagine a lot of actors feel more in character when they're wearing the character's clothes. Did you feel that any of the actors you were working with changed in any way when they started wearing period clothes from the '70s?

ODITZ: They all did. I think you could pretty well say that across the board. Mark is shaking his head "yes," too.

BRIDGES: Absolutely.

ODITZ: Yeah ...

BRIDGES: Absolutely.

ODITZ: ... yeah, they put on the -- particularly the men in my movie, because the way those clothes are cut, they feel so different. They force your movement into something else, something we're not used to.

GROSS: What do you mean?

ODITZ: Well, now with a Gap on every corner, clothes are very loose. Those clothes were not very loose. They were tight in the thighs, those pants. They were cut so differently that, you know -- I know you said you interviewed Kevin. Kevin was -- he put on those clothes and felt quite restricted by them. And that worked for his character.

GROSS: Yeah, because his character was pretty ...


GROSS: ... uptight.

ODITZ: There are times when he wasn't so happy about it, but it really worked for the character. Same with Jamie -- it really worked for those guys.

And the kids just fell in love with the clothes. Both Sigourney and Joan had a slightly different reaction. They said: "Oh, we would wear these out today. We love these clothes." And they felt right at home in the clothes.

But the men had a more difficult time, because they felt so differently than clothes feel on men today.

GROSS: Mark, what about the actors in "Boogie Nights"?

BRIDGES: Absolutely, and you can see it right from the very first fitting, where they would put on their polyester pants ...


... and again, very -- cut very tightly and no pockets, all revealing. And I think you know the story of Boogie Nights. You know, so the pants made a big difference in how they walked, moved and carried themselves.

And my very first fitting with Mark Wahlberg, you know, he went through these different types of pants, going '70s to '80s, and would put on a different character every time he had a different kind of pant on. He was acting as soon as he put the clothes on, and he, you know, he was just great about it. It gave him something to go off of.

And you know, I feel like I'm doing my job then.

GROSS: Carol, you had said that you couldn't find what you were looking for in the thrift stores and vintage clothing stores.

ODITZ: I couldn't find it.

GROSS: Because those were just like the big broad gaudy things, and you wanted more kind of high-end stuff.

ODITZ: I was looking for high-end, and it just wasn't there. It absolutely was not there.

Now, I was told when I went to a couple of the costume houses in New York that what they had of that period that was high-end was out by certain Seventh Avenue designers, because it was being knocked off.

Whether that's the case or not, I wasn't finding it.

GROSS: Mark, what about you? Did you have any luck at thrift stores and vintage clothing stores?

BRIDGES: Absolutely. We just searched high and low from everything from, you know, Salvation Army to the sort of trendy areas on Melrose Avenue. And I found it a little difficult to find specific pants. There's that kind of 1977 pant which is unmistakably 1977. It's very high-waisted, no pockets. It's thin polyester.

I remember what we did in the late '70s when it started to seem like the silhouette was going to change, we had them all cut down to be straight. So maybe that's what happened to a lot of those pants. You got rid of your bell bottom. You still had the high waist, but you got rid of your bell bottom.

So I found it very difficult to find those specific pants, and I really needed them.

Also, there's this sort of -- of the young kid, you know, high school kids, teenagers are loving this retro -- the prints, the quiana shirts from the disco era.

So there -- I did have a little competition there on the shopping.

GROSS: So did you end up having to make things yourself?

BRIDGES: There were specific things that we made. Dirk's denim tuxedo that he wins his first adult film award in -- we made that, a wonderful tailor. It was just -- I had seen research of the three-piece denim suit, and I thought well why not take it one more step to the ridiculous to -- and it wasn't even that ridiculous. I mean, because it was -- there were three-piece suits for business, out of denim, with top-stitching. So why not have a tux?

GROSS: Why do you think that '70s has been repopularized through this retro '70s look? What do you make of that?

BRIDGES: It depends on what you're talking about. I mean, I think that the late '70s -- you know, the late '70s stuff that we're talking about in 1977, '78, '79 -- you know, it's really -- it's body-conscious. It's sort of sexy in a naive way. I think it's great -- it looks great on young bodies.

So I think that's why the kids have sort of embraced it, too.

And then growing up with television reruns. You know, they see, like, "Charlie's Angels," and they think it's a cool look. Wouldn't it be great now? You know, that -- as far as the late '70s, that's my take on it.

GROSS: Carol, what's your take?

ODITZ: My take -- I think the reason we keep going back to the late '60s, early '70s is something I said earlier. It has so much to do with how alive everything was at that point. And the clothes are part of that aliveness.

These clothes that were worn at that point were not like anything that had gone before, you know. It was breaking new ground. And it came from a sense of who we were as a young culture at that time.

The kids were creating it. It wasn't the designers. That was a big difference. It was a first. It was coming from the streets. It was coming from Carnaby Street. It was coming from the kids in denim. It was coming off the streets.

It's one reason that our parents looked a little ridiculous. It wasn't meant for them. But they adopted it because all of a sudden we became so youth-oriented.

And I -- I think that the kids now really wish they had lived through that, and they didn't, so they're wearing the clothes from the time.

GROSS: If you were doing films set in 1997 and you wanted to get in a little bit of spoofing of that period, what do you think you'd be looking at?


ODITZ: Oh dear.

BRIDGES: Well, for me, I think it's -- it's the oversized clothing is still with us. Men's -- there's still a huge, huge pants. I've just seen the biggest pair of pants on Melrose this past weekend that I've ever seen. They remind me of the Oxford bags from the '30s, but they've got to be even bigger.

And then huge shoes.

GROSS: Yes, the sneakers especially.

BRIDGES: I don't know if you've been in the mall lately, but every single pair of shoes practically is like a huge, thick, bigger platform than it ever was in the '70s, "moon boot" kind of look. So I think sort of the overscaleness -- and then this, just exaggerate the shapes. Like there's -- we're getting to a very, very skinny top, and then a very huge bottom, and then bigger feet. So I'd probably do the real A-silhouette.


... for '97.

GROSS: And Carol, what would you do -- what would you do for '97?

ODITZ: Gee, I think one of the hallmarks right now is that we keep reaching to other places -- many, many, many other places -- rather than having a clear identity for this moment. And I think if I were going to spoof it, I would spoof that -- how we're sort of grabbing and groping everyplace else rather than finding what the moment really is for us.

GROSS: Where is everyplace else?

ODITZ: Everyplace. I mean, you -- in terms of clothes, for periods you can -- we're going back to the '70s, the '60s, the '40s. With the corsetry, we're going back to another century. We're going everyplace -- with the new fabrics, we're trying to go to the future. We just -- it's a hodge-podge.

BRIDGES: Yeah, and there's ethnic stuff, too.

ODITZ: Absolutely. Everything is being thrown in with no clear singular identity of what it is that's defining now or that's springing from now. And perhaps the identity is that it's a hodge-podge and a time of great confusion.

BRIDGES: Mmm-hm.

GROSS: OK. What do you each do when you have clothes that you no longer like, but that still fit and that aren't worn out yet? Do you feel like it's OK to just get rid of them? And if you get rid of them, what do you do with them? Do you throw them out? Give them through a thrift store? Or friend? Sell them?

ODITZ: Well, the only appropriate thing to do with them in New York is to give them to the homeless, and that's what I do.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

BRIDGES: I have a whole closet of clothes like that, but when I do finally break down to get rid of them, it's to a thrift store, because I use thrift stores a lot and I rely on thrift stores, just because you find the most incredibly unique, worn-in things that are great for a character or something. So I give back and start that cycle all over again with thrift stores.

GROSS: Mark Bridges designed the costumes for "Boogie Nights." Carol Oditz designed the costumes for "The Ice Storm."

Coming up, the new tele-movie about the storm on Mount Everest.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Carol Oditz, Mark Bridges
High: Costume designer Carol Oditz planned the look for the film "The Ice Storm," attempting to create surface tension for the movie through wardrobe. Costume designer Mark Bridges is responsible for collecting and coordinating the '70s and '80s styles seen throughout the movie "Boogie Nights."
Spec: Fashion; Movie Industry; Textiles
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Costume Designers Carol Oditz and Mark Bridges
Date: NOVEMBER 06, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110603NP.217
Head: Review of "Into Thin Air"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: In 1996, two teams of amateur climbers led by professional guides attempted to ascend Mount Everest. Before the expedition was over, five people would die. One of the survivors, journalist and author John Krakauer, wrote a magazine article about the tragedy, which he expanded into the bestselling book "Into Thin Air."

This Sunday, ABC presents a telemovie based on Krakauer's book and accounts by other survivors.

TV critic David Bianculli has a review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: The telemovie is called "Into Thin Air: Death on Everest," and it's surprising on several levels. It's surprising that it works as well as it does because so much of Krakauer's book was internal. It's surprising that director Robert Markowitz (ph) insisted on filming this telemovie on the Austrian Alps, where conditions on Everest could be approximated without the danger, but with lots of credibility and discomfort.

Most of all, though, it's surprising that a drama this involving could be made from a subject this nonvisual. I know, most people think of mountain climbing as an amazingly visual and beautiful thing. And at least one good movie, "K-2," has been made on the subject.

But once you get above the tree line, landscapes of snow and ice look pretty much the same, especially on TV's smaller screens, and so do the actors. Covered with heavy parkas, with their faces obscured by oxygen masks, most of these characters become indistinguishable after a while. That's true even more literally once the storm hits.

And if you think about it, "Into Thin Air" is basically a real-life and real-death disaster film. We're introduced briefly to a bunch of characters who get thrown into a dangerous situation and have to fight for their lives.

One reason ABC's "Into Thin Air" is better than the usual disaster movie is that it doesn't waste time with dramatic contrivances. Instead of devoting a lot of time to humanizing each climber in advance of the trip, this drama, adapted by Robert Averick (ph), let's us know them on the mountain.

In the entire film, the only time we see the climbers indoors is in the opening scene, when the movie crosscuts between the two rival guides giving basic instructions to their respective teams.

Peter Horton, who played Gary on "Thirty-something," plays expedition leader Scott Fisher (ph), and the first voice you'll hear belongs to Nathaniel Parker, who plays the rival expedition leader Rob Hall.


NATHANIEL PARKER, ACTOR, PORTRAYING EXPEDITION LEADER ROB HALL: Tomorrow, we begin a 10-day hike into base camp Everest. Now base camp is 17,600 feet; then Camp One, 19,500 feet. It's early in the game, but already there's a third less oxygen than at sea level.

So we'll lay in again, and let our bodies adjust.

Then, we go up to Camp Two. Now Camp Two is 21,600 feet, which is when you have to start worrying about edema, or cerebral pulmonary -- it's where your brain can swell up like an overinflated balloon and your lungs fill up with so much liquid you literally drown.

Camp Three, you're 24,000 feet. Now, your body is inhaling four times faster than normal and still not getting enough oxygen. Your digestive tract's going to want to call it quits, making your body so hungry for nutrients, it will literally start to eat itself.

And then it's Camp Four, 26,000 feet. Welcome to the death zone.


BIANCULLI: Before seeing ABC's "Into Thin Air," I had doubts that the script would dare to criticize the actions or reactions of any climbers, particularly the very rich and prominent Sandy Hill Pittman (ph), whose survival gear included a capuccino machine. I also had doubts that it could make the dangers seem real.

This telemovie, though, boldly does both. All of the climbers, Krakauer included, are dramatized with flaws intact. And there's one scene early on, before the real danger sets in, that ought to keep viewers riveted and uneasy for the rest of the drama.

One hiker leaves the safety of his tent with only his bootlinings on. He slips, falls on his back, and slides down the mountain with a speed that quickly goes from exhilarating to terrifying. And he dies.

Literally or figuratively, all it takes is one slip and these climbers are dead.

Into Thin Air, the telemovie as well as the book, questions the wisdom of climbing Everest and leaves me with only one unanswered question. Watching my preview tape, which went straight from scene to scene, was an impressively intense experience. But I wonder, on regular TV, with the constant interruption of commercials, will "Into Thin Air" deliver the same thrills?

All viewers can do, I guess, is set up camp, start the journey, and see what happens.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: David Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli previews the upcoming television docu-drama "Into Thin Air." The movie is based on the 1996 tragedy on Mt. Everest in which eight climbers died.
Spec: Television and Radio; Sports; Death
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Review of "Into Thin Air"
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.


This Romanian film about immigration and vanishing jobs hits close to home

R.M.N. is based on an actual 2020 event in Ditrău, Romania, where 1,800 villagers voted to expel three Sri Lankans who worked at their local bakery.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue