Birds of Paradise: Costume as Cinematic Spectacle

recipient of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SWISS BOOKS OF 2014 award.

Edited by: Marketa Uhlirova

Book Design: Laurenz Brunner Studio

Essays by: Lucy Fischer, Inga Fraser, Ronald Gregg, Sumiko Higashi, Catherine Hindson, Esther Leslie, Giovanni Lista, Eugenia Paulicelli, Ryan Powell, Jody Sperling, Juan A. Suarez, Karl Toepfer, Marketa Uhlirova.

Intro image

This book explores cinema costume as a form of opulent visual spectacle. It focuses on dozens of lavishly styled films made during three distinct historical ‘episodes’ in European and American cinema – early film of the turn of the 20th century, popular exotic spectaculars of the 1910s and ’20s, and underground queer cinema with its core activity in the 1960s – in order to examine how and why they often foregrounded dress as the star of the show. Looking at the medium of film in parallel with wider cultures of urban popular spectacle and entertainment, especially fashion, dance and the theatre, the contributors to this book explore how dynamic displays of costume and splendour have helped visualise certain key concerns of modernity, such as movement, time, transience and gender identity. Above all, the essays highlight the immense transformative potential of costume and fashion in the moving image and beyond. The volume is illustrated with over 300 film stills, frame enlargements and other archival images.


Positively breath-taking!

––Agnès Bertola, Department of Silent Fiction Film, Gaumont Pathé Archives


I get books and magazines sent to me every day and they pile up for weeks/months before I get to look through them… well, this one had me hooked right away. A terrific manifesto!


––Cindy Sherman, artist


From Charles Baudelaire to Walter Benjamin to Jack Smith, fashion made the dream world of modernity visible – just like the movies. In this volume, the role of fashion in film goes beyond the talented studio designers and glamorous stars to reveal a fantasia of new media, reinvented identities and refashioned genders. Colour, light, movement, screens and veils make up a world as powerful as it is ephemeral. In this book, fashion takes full flight into a new critical spotlight.

––Tom Gunning, Edwin A and Betty L Bergman Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Art History, Department of Cinema and Media Studies, and the College, The University of Chicago.


I was pretty blown away – not just because it’s a beautiful book but because of the timing of my discovery of it: it seemed so serendipitous to come across this book at the moment I did…

––Jarvis Cocker, musician


GORGEOUS. What a triumph and achievement.

––Stuart Comer, Chief Curator of the Department of Media and Performance Art, Museum of Modern Art


An intellectual and publishing tour de force: this exciting collection of richly illustrated essays casts new light on the historical evolution of spectacular relationships between costume and cinema. There is much here to fascinate readers across a wide range of subject specialisms.

––Tag Gronberg, Reader in the History of Art and Design, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck, University of London


One of the most beautiful books I have ever seen.

––Pamela Hutchison, Silent London


This richly illustrated volume brings together popular and experimental cinema and theatre to highlight the role of costume within and, in so doing, shed new light on the iconographic elements of the films discussed. With an international cast of skirt dancers, vamps, showgirls and actors of queer underground films revealed in a wonderful collection of stills, frame enlargements and photographs, the contributors reanimate the cinema of fifty and a hundred years ago. Given its particular focus on fabrics which decorate bodies or are manipulated by them, the reader becomes fascinated by the significant contribution made by costumes to performance on screen.

––Jane Pritchard, Curator of Dance, Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Published by Koenig Books, London, 2013

344 pages with 313 BW and colour illustrations








RRP £45, BUY NOW FOR SPECIAL PRICE £24.80 including postage and packing