Fashion in Film Festival: Birds of Paradise

April 15–24, 2011

Curated by Marketa Uhlirova

The Fashion in Film Festival program Birds of Paradise is an intoxicating exploration of costume as a form of cinematic spectacle, exploring episodes in American and European cinema history that foreground costume, adornment, and styling as vehicles of sensuous pleasure and enchantment. Underground films by Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, José Rodriguez-Soltero, Steven Arnold, and James Bidgood constitute one such episode. Their exquisitely decadent, highly stylized visions, full of lyrical fascination with jewelry, textures, layers, luxurious fabrics, and makeup, evoke the opulence of earlier periods of popular cinema, especially “spectacle” and Orientalist films of the 1920s; early dance and trick films of the 1890s and 1900s; and Hollywood exotica of the 1930s and 1940s. The program forges a link between the characteristic visual intensity of American underground cinema and the dreamlike, marvelous world of silent cinema. In their magical and sometimes phantasmagorical tableaux, costume and artifice are not merely on display. Instead, they dazzle, seduce, surprise, or dramatically metamorphose—they become a type of special effect.

Fashion in Film is an exhibition, research, and education project based at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. Birds of Paradise is Fashion in Film’s second collaboration with Museum of the Moving Image, and was organized in partnership with Yale University, the Center for the Humanities, and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.

The program was curated by Marketa Uhlirova, with Ronald Gregg, Stuart Comer, Eugenia Paulicelli, and Inga Fraser.

Festival advisors: Serge Bromberg, Alistair O’Neill, Eric de Kuyper, Ronny Temme, Christel Tsilibaris, Marc Siegel. The season is supported by the British Council; the Italian Cultural Institute of New York; Film London, Arts Council England, and London College of Fashion. The season is part of the PMI2 Project funded by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for the benefit of the United States and UK Higher Education Sectors.

This season runs in conjunction with a program of seminars at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (April 19 and May 2), and will be followed by a symposium on Orientalism in cinema at Yale University in November of this year. For more information, visit