Wednesday, May 16, 2018
About that Bene Gesserit outfit in the movie Dune (1984).........
Gay men tend to swoon over the way the train of the costume swirls and floats and moves as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam leaves the throne room at the beginning of the film.
Costume designer Bob Ringwood created the Bene Gesserit dress and headdress. There's precious little out there about Ringwood's work on Dune. Not even Ed Naha's book The Making of Dune has much about it. There's a little to be found in a 1985 issue of Cinefantastique, but just tidbits.
The dress is a simple tube dress made of pre-crinkled black rayon. It's incredibly lightweight stuff, just 3.4 ounces per square yard (115 grams per square meter). The dresses have a bateau neckline, which means it goes from shoulder to shoulder across the line of the collarbone with a slight droop. (It also mostly or completely covers the shoulders.) Inch-long loops of thick black thread at the neckline are connected horizontally by another thick black thread; when tied at the back of the neck, the loops-and-thread help tighten the neckline so the dress lies atop the shoulders but still hangs somewhat loosely. The dresses have modified bell sleeves. When the arm hangs down, the front of the sleeve covers the hand, but leaves the back of the lower forearm bare. Down the front, across the neckline, and down the outside of each sleeve are a series of thick and thin yellow lines. These appear painted on the rayon (they are not sewn on, and they are not beadwork). The series of bars and lines are not quite repetitive. The ankle-length hem is narrow on the sleeves and bottom of the dress.
The Rev. Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam's dress is slightly different. Hers is a tube dress as well, but the top of the dress is slightly off the shoulder. The bateau neckline has a modified V-neck in the middle third that extends about to the bottom of the breastbone. The bare shoulders and neck are covered in a beaded black fishnet, forming a crewneck collar. The outer portion of the Rev. Mother's sleeves are also covered in black beaded fishnet (covering the yellow bars and stripes pattern). The cuff of the Rev. Mother's sleeves are not bell, but rather highly accentuated fitted-point sleeves. The sleeve covers the upper half of forearm. Only the point extends past the half-forearm mark, dropping down over the back of the hand. Covering the remaining bare forearm and hand (to the first knuckle of each finger) is beaded black fishnet. The hem of the Rev. Mother's dress is more like a six inches.
Novitiates, Reverend Mothers, and Rev. Mother Mohiam all wear headdresses. These are Tudor-inspired Beguins, a close-fitting cap which covers the ears, back of the head, and nape of the neck. The Beguin varies as to how much of the cranium they cover: Some went as far forward as the top of the skull, while others barely covered the crown of the head. Attached to each Beguin was an Early Tudor-style French hood (akin to a somewhat rigid flat cap). Attached to the center of each hood was a floor-length veil of pre-crinkled black rayon, bordered in the same painted yellow bars-and-stripes design. The veil was worn draped forward slightly over the shoulders.
The Rev. Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam's Beguin covered the least amount of cranium. Her French hood was Late Tudor in style, flaring backward. Her veil was stitched into the space where the hood attached to the Beguin, helping to keep her veil spread out rather than bunching at the back.
Actress Sian Phillips grabbed the hem of her veil, holding it with the outer fingers of each hand (almost like clutching a handkerchief). This left her first two fingers and thumb free, so she could act with them. This gave the impression that the veil was attached to her wrists, but it was not. When she walked, she retained her hold on the veil -- undoubtedly to prevent air-drag from pulling the headdress off.
Here is an photo of the capelet worn by Jessica Atreides and the Bene Gesserit, which appeaers when the Bene Gesserit show up at night in the rain at the Atreides manor house. It is made of raw silk. It was different from the Beguins worn by the Bene Gesserit in the throne room scene, so I've included an image of it here.
For comparison's sake, here is an early Tudor beguin (covering the ears and back of the head) with French hood (flat-cap type).
For comparison's sake, here is a late Tudor beguin (covering the ears and back of the head) with French hood (flaring backward).