‘Ever watch an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and think “Austen totally wouldn’t recognise what Lizzie is wearing”? Have you cringed at zippers in the backs of medieval gowns on film?’ This description from the Frock Flicks website serves as a signpost to weary like-minded individuals. If this sounds like you, newly inducted Frock Flicker, the site offers costume movie reviews and podcasts organised with articles by era, articles by theme, and podcasts. For the purpose, of this review, the focus will be on the 18th-century contributions. As a place for commiseration about the triumphs and epic failures of historical costuming in media, a gentle warning, there be strong language on this ship. With a tagline, “Bitchy is our brand,” the content reflects the personalities, friendship, and expertise of its contributors, Trystan L. Bass, Sarah Lorraine, and Kendra Van Cleave. Together they convey their vast experience as producers of historically informed costumes, as well as academic contributions in dress and fashion history and art history. Kendra Van Cleave published a book on 18th-century hair and wig styling, a history and guide for step-by-step replication.
The content of the reviews is not restricted to the opinions and expertise of the principal contributors. The writers recognise that they are pointing out features that may or may not be worthy of criticism, and call upon their readers to respond. They have an active social media presence on the usual platforms including Facebook and Twitter, with links available parallel to the main body of content. Frock Flicks also has content behind a Patreon paywall, where subscribers get content and articles (sometimes a year ahead of the main site). Patreon is a model that many creators are using to provide an even higher level of engagement with readers and to support financially the work they put into their content. The 18th-century reviews tackle current and upcoming releases, most recently a documentary entitled The Fabulous Life of Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Portraitist to Queen Marie Antoinette (2015), reviewed by Sarah Lorraine on 24 April 2018. Kendra Van Cleave also makes contributions with the tag ‘18th century Quest’, where she has undertaken a trial to view every 18th-century costume movie she can access. She starts with Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), starring Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland – an indication of the full range of costume movies encompassed in this quest.
In addition to organising by era, Frock Flicks reflects the nuanced Internet trends and culture that have developed within online communities, by organising their articles by themes. These include such gems as “Man Candy Monday,” “Woman Crush Wednesday,” and “Snark Week” (a play on the annual Discovery Channel programming, Shark Week). Posts are identified with searchable tags such as, “Playing fast and loose with history,” “Shocking lack of research,” and “This is why mommy drinks.” Notable favorites from Snark Week, include “Snark Week: Top 5 Reasons I am Watching Frontier,” by Kendra (23/1/18), with hilarious echoed comments, and a reference for 18th century-minded viewers, “Snark week: 8 things costume movies screw up, 18th century edition,” by Kendra (20/1/15). It’s a great overview of the sort of ‘costume faux pas bingo’ you can play while watching costume movies. These articles are short reads and engaging – straight-to-the-point, cutting wit that is accessible to a variety of audiences. The articles also include screen grabs and production stills with arrows added to call attention to the notated offence. Using the arrows represents the methodical attention to detail that Frock Flicks cultivates as well as referencing their scholarly strengths.
The Frock Flicks podcast episodes are available to listen to on the webpage or download from Apple Podcasts and Android. The casualness of the format sees all three contributors together, and it is easy to imagine oneself in their shoes: blowing off steam with colleagues over a bottle of wine and dismantling a subject that encroaches on one’s specialization. Listening to the podcast for Belle (2013), clocking in at fifty-seven minutes, it was anticipated that discussion of costumes would occur before the thirty-seven-minute mark. Instead of an hour-long discussion of costumes, this podcast is even more than just a movie review. The Frock Flicks team introduce the premise of the movie and identify that they are watching the events from a perspective grounded in their experiences as white women. They acknowledge the problematic whitewashing found in costume movies and look to their listeners to contribute to the conversation. The team even recommends a Tumblr account, People of Color in European Art History, as an entry point to build on the dialogue and interest in the real portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle on whose life the movie is based. The podcast dissects the plot points presented in the movie and contrasts them with the historical events on which they are based. The conversation turns to the costuming of main characters as well as background actors. They illustrate the distinctions between the time when events are intended to take place and the reality that the clothing represents fashions from an earlier timeframe. Discussion around the realities of movie productions and costuming designers ensues. They are eager to give praise and mention that the things that they are mentioning fit in an overall successful effort in costuming the movie. They anticipate their listeners being familiar with the same media that they are, referring to actors not by their roles in the movie being addressed, but their most famous roles. It is all part of a larger consistent narrative across the site. Frock Flicks is an ideal platform for the casual listener with an interest in representations of history in media as well as those coming from an academic relationship with material culture. Light banter, strong language, and thoroughly researched content make the site worthy of return visits.