The full trailer for Star wars: the Force Awakens having just come out (pause for a SQUEEEEE!), I am of course going to be thinking, most impatiently, about that for the next seven or so weeks. I’m not alone in that, of course, and was delighted to see Stephanie Pina’s Pre-Raphaelite Princess of Star Wars blog post reappearing on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood Facebook page. It’s a very interesting and entertaining read about some of George Lucas’ many sources of inspiration for the Star Wars series of films.
Seeing Stephanie’s post again reminded me in turn of a long-ago Twitter conversation with a then colleague at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, not about Pre-Raphaelite art, but still to do with a Victorian piece. She posted a picture of the Victorian painter John Collier’s The Death of Albine (1895), and I commented on how it reminded me of Senator Padme Amidala on her funeral bier (below).
The watery appearance of the fabric and her flowing hair, both strewn with flowers, also brings to mind John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (below).
Looking at the three pictures, it requires only mild exertion of the imagination to smell the flowers they portray, which have a similar form and function, in the mourning of the women’s deaths (bearing in mind that Albine uses the flowers around her as a weapon of choice in her suicide). Such perfume was the focus of my then colleague, Christina Bradstreet, in a paper presented at the 2012 conference of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, theme: the Senses, as she discussed “Floral Asphyxiation in Nineteenth-Century Paintings and Literature”; it was through her posting of Collier’s painting to Twitter that I made the connection to Amidala, and that we started talking about Christina’s research. You can read another of her papers here, and my report of one of her talks at the Paul Mellon Centre back when we were both at Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
Christina has recently been working on transforming and expanding her PhD thesis, Scented visions : the nineteenth-century olfactory imagination, into a book. If you have enjoyed the examples and discussions of her work provided above, I’d recommend that you keep an eye out for it; I hope that it won’t be too much longer!
For all the problems with the first three episodes of the Star Wars tales, I always liked the character of Amidala (bad taste in men aside), and her costumes, her general appearance, are always interesting. It would be interesting to look more in detail at the origins of and inspirations for her aesthetic, and, as Stephanie Pina did in her article, that of her daughter Leia, in existing and forthcoming Star Wars episodes. I’m also intrigued as to what Rey, the new main female character, currently known only as a scavenger, will be, will develop into, and how this could be signified by her dress, general appearance, and relationship with flowers; ideally this last will not be focused on her death. Until such time, I really need to start rereading the two Star Wars costume books, Trisha Biggar’s beautiful Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Harry N. Abrams, 2005) and last year’s Star Wars – Costumes, by Brandon Alinger and J. W. Rinzler (Titan Books, 2014).
The picture of the film poster of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014), is so large because my brief discussion of the film which follows does contain spoilers. I only saw the film on Friday, so there may be others in the same boat who want to remain spoiler-free.
There is a scene in which an air raid on District 13, where Katniss has been since her rescue from the games arena at the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, covers the above ground ruins with President Snow’s signature white roses. It’s a striking scene, Katniss in her dark clothes, with flowing dark hair, and pale skin, against the gray stone, surrounded by the pure white flowers. She resembles Albina, Amidala, and Ophelia, in their flowery tombs, except that, as Katniss herself realises, this is not for her death, it is for the death of Peeta. It is a threat.
From reading the Hunger Games books to watching the films, I’ve found Katniss’ evolution through her clothes and costumes, which are a character in themselves, one of the most deliberately interesting parts of the story, more so than in Star Wars. The white roses are part of President’s Snow costume, albeit a part with a more gruesomely practical purpose, as explained by Finnick, another survivor of the Games (this quote from the book):
Finnick goes back to Snow’s political ascension, which I know nothing of, and works his way up to the present, pointing out case after case of the mysterious deaths of Snow’s adversaries or, even worse, his allies who had the potential to become threats. People dropping dead at a feast or slowly, inexplicably declining into shadows over a period of months. Blamed on bad shellfish, elusive viruses, or an overlooked weakness in the aorta. Snow drinking from the poisoned cup himself to deflect suspicion. But antidotes don’t always work. They say that’s why he wears the roses that reek of perfume. They say it’s to cover the scent of blood from the mouth sores that will never heal. They say, they say, they say…Snow has a list and no one knows who will be next.
Flowers represent Snow’s own gradual death, as well as the many deaths of his enemies; Katniss realises that Peeta is next, which in turn nearly causes the death of the rebellion with her as its figurehead and inspiration, as she considers giving up to save Peeta’s life. All this happens as Katniss stands surrounded by the white roses, vulnerable like Albine, Amidala, and Ophelia, yet ultimately fighting back instead of dying. I’m wondering if Snow himself could be seen as a science-fiction variation on the characters of Beatrice Rappacini and her father combined, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of Rappaccini’s Daughter, first published in his 1846 story collection Mosses from an Old Manse. Perhaps thinking about that, in addition to revisiting the costumes of the women of Star Wars, will make the time until 18 December pass all the faster.