19 June 2012

The Muse: The King and I

 There are dozens of outfits you could develop based on The King and I, it has the sort of lush excess in sets, costumes, and production that are rare even in modern blockbusters. When you think back on it all of it was accomplished on the Hollywood backlots rather than on location, but you're hard pressed not to feel like you're actually in the court of the king of Siam. Its also appealing as one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's shorter musicals, when many run on and on and on. Of course it was banned in Siam for years because they felt it portrayed the former king in an unfavorable light. Okayyyy...so do most retrospective films about royalty regardless of what area of the world they come from. I also think you can't deny that Yul Brynner's performance (which won him the Oscar that year) is deliciously over the top. Clearly it was a poor casting choice, in reality the King of Siam (his real name is Mongkut) was in his 60's when Anna Leonowens arrived to Westernize his court, Yul Brynner (actually Russian by heritage) is ripped to the point he could have starred in 300. But isn't that the beauty of film, everything becomes beautiful in front of the camera. In addition, it really is a beautiful story, and tells accurately how many countries were forced to modernize and adapt or become British protectorates.
 An interesting fact I learned recently when I re-watched the film and wondered aloud, "What did the King actually die of?" They hint that he's been so distraught over the rift between him and Anna he's refused food and drink and is wasting away. In fact, he died of complications of malaria (my guess is heart failure brought on by recurrent fever, fairly common back in the day similar to the damage done by rheumatic or scarlet fever). In a way you could blame Anna Leonowens indirectly, one of the things she encouraged was a greater knowledge of the world and the natural sciences. This prompted the King to undertake a tour of Siam for the purposes of scientific exploration(specifically to observe a solar eclipse) as well as developing the first modern maps of the country. During this trip both he and his son Chulalongkorn contracted the disease. His son did survive and eventually went on to rule Siam for 42 years until his death in 1910, enacting during his reign some of the greatest advancements and reforms in Siam's history, notable the abolition of slavery.

My inspiration today was the outfit Ann wears in the last scene of the film as the king dies, I couldn't find a photo of it (though isn't the one of Deborah Kerr in her extravagant corset and petticoats fabulous?) but its an all white gown worn this a hat covered in roses, and set against the backdrop of the gold throne room and the kings divan as he dies it provides the perfect juxtaposition of British primness and Siamese extravagance. Okay now I'm rambling, I'll stop.

Blouse: Converse One Star via Target
Skirt: one of those 'one garment 50 ways' skirts via street vendor
Necklace: vintage via yard sale
Shoes: Seychelles via Urban Outfitters

The real King Mongkut and Prince Chulalongkorn
(later Chulalongkorn the Great) in their
 naval uniforms, he became king at age 15.

The real Anna Leonowens, in fact her
years in Siam are probably the least
interesting of her life, she was an abolitionist,
suffragette, enterprising widow, bestselling author
and reformer in education. She at one time of another
lived in Australia, India, Canada, the United States, Egypt,
Palastine, Penang, and England in addition to Siam (now Thailand).

No comments:

Post a Comment