Certain sexual awakenings in the 1950s seem to be taboo to society.
Set in the backdrop of the 1950s, INDIGNATION is a story of a butcher’s son who left the big city to attend a small college in Ohio. He loses his virginity to beautiful, sexual female student, but has confrontations with the school’s dean and friends over religion, academics and student life.
The novel is based off a Philip Roth’s book of the same title.
The film stars Logan Lerman, Sara Gadon and Tracy Letts.
LRM had an exclusive phone interview with costume designer Amy Roth (no relation to book's author) last week to discuss the wonderful period costumes from the film. We talked about the inspiration, Philip Roth’s descriptions, colors and the development of the clothes.
In addition, there is an exclusive behind-the-scenes video clip at the end of the article.
INDIGNATION is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download today.
Read the interview transcript with Amy Roth below.
LRM: I checked out INDIGNATION. The costumes looked great in that film.
Amy Roth: Thank you. Thank you. What did you like about it?
LRM: I liked the authenticity of it. The 1950s look. Plus, the color schemes were terrific.
Amy Roth: That was pretty too. It’s so long ago. It’s funny to still be talking about it. I’m still happy too. [Laughter] It was a summer ago. It wasn’t even this past summer, but the last summer.
LRM: I guess that was indeed a while ago. How were you brought on to this project?
Amy Roth: I interviewed with James [Schamus]. I was finishing up my television show MADAME SECRETARY. I know you aren’t familiar with these stuff. I was very tired, but this gem of a little script came up. I rallied for it. I’ve read all of Philip Roth’s novels all my life. I’m very drawn to it. I wanted this project really badly.
I felt like I knew who the characters were when I read it. I knew it was Philip Roth. I took an educated guess it was Sylvia Plath. It was based loosely on their lives.
I interviewed with [James]. He ran off to the Berlin Film Festival. We e-mailed back and forth. So when he came back—I got the job. I was thrilled.
LRM: How was the research was done to make it so authentic for a period piece in the 1950s?
Amy Roth: It’s the understanding on where these people come from. It’s to start there. I just walked into that world.
I started reading some non-fiction works from Philip Roth and Sylvia Plath. They described on what they wear a bit. I had a ton of research photos. I think I’m good at research. I feel like you need to know on where to look. I know that from people who did research for me. Sometimes they don’t know on where to start.
LRM: How did you approach your research? Did you have to pull out some old pictures or delve into a lot of books from that time period?
Amy Roth: I bought a lot of Life Magazine from that time. I hit on some amazing articles. There was one from 1950, the exact year we were doing this. There was an article in it on these two women. One decided to go to a co-ed college in Ohio. The other one decided to go to Smith College. Oddly enough, that was the bifurcated education of Sylvia Plathe. She had gone to Smith College and tragically tried to commit suicide. It was her first attempt and left [the college] after her first year. She may have went back, but I don’t remember the details.
I had this pictorial representation of her college experience from this Life Magazine. It was really great, although it wasn’t based on her. It’s just a random article. It describes the benefits of going to an all-girls school. It showed on what they wore versus on what they wear when they’re co-ed.
To me, it was great research. It all started from there. There were also bits and pieces of certain things I’ve read over the years anyways.
LRM: So this was the basis of Sarah Gadon’s Olivia Hutton clothing, which comprised with skirts and sweaters?
Amy Roth: Circle skirts. Sweaters. Then it became about the colors and on where to use it. I really loved the idea of her looking like an apparition in the hospital scene. She almost blended into the wall colors and maybe her skirt had a vertical pattern so you can see. She was there. She was blond and I made her sort of creamy.
It’s almost like you were on painkillers in the hospital. You kept coming to and seeing this person. You will have some kind of ghostly memory of her being there. So when the story unfolds later, as he looked back on what happened, it’ll be sort like a dream. Did it really happen? That’s what most relationships can feel like.
LRM: Could you tell us about Logan Lerman’s Marcus character? What kind of clothing you were aiming for him?
Amy Roth: He’s a butcher’s son. He’s never really been out of Newark. He read a lot. Obviously, in his mind, he traveled places.
I’ve had read in one of Philip Roth’s books where a friend of his came back from the University of Pennsylvania. His friend dressed differently. His friend lost his virginity at school when he was dating a woman. He described that couldn’t be believed that these things could actually happen to a guy. He really wanted to go to school to meet women and have these experiences. This really happened to Philip Roth.
He noticed when that guy came back—he didn’t call it the Ivy League look—but it was called the Ivy League look at the time. It was that you have a coat that you wear everywhere, because you have jacket to go to things. You had khaki pants, a buttoned-down shirt and tie.
In my mind, I was thinking on what I would have Marcus wear on my first day. He went out and had a tailor make this suit for him. He thought he needed to wear in order to assimilate. That’s what came out of that suit. He went from being the butcher’s son to something he thought as the “right look” in order to fit in.
Hopefully, when you first see him at school, he didn’t look like he was fitting in. It looked like the suit didn’t fit him at all almost. There were bits just sticking out. The suit fits fine. [Laughter] It looked like it never been worn.
LRM: I think I caught that. So how many different outfits did you seek out for Logan and Sarah?
Amy Roth: They had many changes. I think they had like forty changes each in the movie. They were just little pieces of changes. People like Marcus wouldn’t have a lot of clothing at that time. People didn’t buy a lot of clothing. What they bought lasted. He would be in these khaki pants every day.
Logan would say to me, “Am I still wearing these same pants?” I respond say, “Yup! You’ll wear these pants every day and maybe a refresher.” James and I talked about that he maybe had seven shirts and two pairs of pants for school. We mixed it up a thousand different ways with the sweaters and vests. Sometimes with the jacket on and jacket off. It would be like it was forty different changes. But really, maybe there was only twenty pieces of clothing. So not much.
With Sarah, you wanted to feel like she had everything. She was somebody who she almost couldn’t relate to. She was probably the only child. She was a beautiful girl who came from [a family] in which her father is a doctor and well off. I don’t want to say that she was spoiled, but money was spent in order to keep presenting her to society.
LRM: Did you have to hunt for these clothes? Or did you make them yourself?
Amy Roth: I made several pieces for her, for him and the boys. I made a lot of the trousers, because they’re hard to find. It’s difficult to locate those trousers from the 1940s that hadn’t been altered to look Huck Finn’s. I would have to make them, which was fun. It was the fun part. The clothes were so beautiful from that period. The actual fabric used I just loved.
I did seek them out. I travelled all over to vintage stores in Albany, upstate New York and Pennsylvania. I get into my car, visit these places and meet people. They showed me on what they had. I corrected it. That’s what I did mostly with my prep on just finding these pieces that would really fill in the idea.
There were saddle shoes and bucks. I wanted beat up bucks for Sonny, the character who was a friend from the fraternity. The guy looks like he was very suited to those clothes. There was a little bit of dash in him. I drove everywhere for it. I did hunted it down.
LRM: You have an amazing career with working from a comic book like THE AVENGERS to AMERICAN GANGSTERS to even TV shows like MADAME SECRETARY. What kind of projects do you love to work on? You have such a diverse career.
Amy Roth: It may sound negative, but working in the Marvel community can sometimes be difficult. You are working with a group of people who already created something. They big and wonderful movies, but things are dictated from the Marvel comics down to you.
My idea of a great piece is something along those lines—maybe fantasy. I love period movies. But, after doing this period movie, I would like to do something more inventive and people don’t tell you on what somebody wore cause you haven’t invented it in that world yet.
It would be something like BLADE RUNNER. Somebody like Ridley Scott, who likes to invent his own world. Or even somebody like Brian De Palma. Sometimes when you watch his movies, you feel like you’re in another world.
I like to create your own reality. That would be fun right now for me.
LRM: Let me close it up with one last question. Could you talk about some of your upcoming projects that your readers would love to know?
Amy Roth: I just did a movie with Sam Hoffman, who directed and wrote HUMOR ME. It has Jermaine Clement in it. It is very funny. Sam was the producer for Wes Anderson. He has a great eye and a great sense of humor. We made this wonderful little movie. I’m not sure on when it’s coming out, but I had a great time doing it. It’s a lot of fun.
And I’m back on MADAME SECRETARY. It’s for my third season.
There might be something else in the early spring. I don’t know what it is yet. TBD!
LRM: [Laughter] Thank you very much. This is a lovely conversation. Good luck with your future projects.
Amy Roth: Thank you. You made this very easy for me. You make this very comfortable. You’re very sweet. Thank you.
INDIGNATION is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download today.
Source: Exclusive to LRM