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"Hollywood Costume" Puts on Blockbuster Show at Phoenix Art Museum

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Imagine Darth Vader without his gleaming black helmet and dark robes. The effect would be considerably less intimidating and fearsome.

And what would Dorothy be without her ruby red slippers? Definitely not as dazzling.

Though audiences may not always realize it, costumes play an integral role in the success of a film.

See also: Madeleine Albright's Pin Collection Doesn't Belong at Phoenix Art Museum

"Hollywood Costume," Phoenix Art Museum's biggest exhibit to date, according to museum director Jim Ballinger, explores the contribution of costumes throughout the history of cinema. The exhibit, which originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is in Phoenix for the second and final stop of its American tour.

Curated by Hollywood costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, along with Phoenix Art Museum's fashion design curator Dennita Sewell, the show brings together a collection of more than 100 costumes spanning almost a century of films.

Landis remarked that the exhibit is not about the clothes, but the power of costume in films.

"This is an exhibition that has the wrong name," she says. "I hope that when you leave the galleries you'll have that 'ah ha' moment where you'll understand that I was driven to design this exhibition because costume designers -- our world and our contribution to every single story -- has not been recognized."

The exhibition begins with a dimly lit movie theater entrance where a montage of famous films splashes across a big screen. Around the corner, Spider-Man clings to a wall, and we get our first round of costumes.

Beyoncé's glittering dress from Dreamgirls, finely tailored suits from Ocean's Eleven, and Jeff Bridges' ratty robe from The Big Lebowski are among the first costumes to greet you. Each costume features a descriptive object label with quotes from the designers who worked on the film.

"The scale of the skirt at the hem actually defines her space; you physically cannot get close to the queen," reads the label for the queen's dress, designed by Alexandra Byrne, from Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

By incorporating education through these anecdotes and film clips, the show strives to captivate all ages.

The most impressive aspect is the depth of the collection. I had a hard time thinking of a film not represented in "Hollywood Costume." And it's no wonder. Landis spent five years researching and planning the show before it premièred at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2012.

In addition to the costumes, there are interviews with directors, designers, and actors being played on digital panels. Landis conducted every interview herself.

For those who love adventure, there is Indiana Jones' famous leather jacket and whip. For those who fancy romance, Jack and Rose stand in their travel clothes before boarding the ill-fated Titanic. There isn't a film genre that's missing.

With such an extensive collection, there are moments where the exhibit becomes overwhelming. Music plays throughout the entirety of the gallery and scenes from films are being shown around every corner. After about 15 minutes in the exhibition, the repetitive music score becomes a nuisance. The mannequins are fitted with a screen showing the actor or actress who wore the costume, and with more than 100 costumes it is a dizzying amount of screens.

It is also disappointing that the last dress in the show, Dorothy's blue and white gingham frock from The Wizard of Oz is a replica made in 2012.

However, the detail and attention obvious in every costume is fascinating. As Landis pointed out, you will leave with a newfound appreciation for the work of designers.

"Hollywood Costume" is on view at the Phoenix Art Museum from Wednesday, March 26, through Sunday, July 6, 2014. The exhibition will be open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays; noon to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays; noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Fridays; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. This is a ticketed exhibition with an admission price of $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 17. Visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance at phxart.org/hollywoodtickets.

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