Lily Absinthe Revisits the Movie Tombstone

Just when you thought it was safe, we once again plunge into the murky waters of the movie Tombstone and it’s costuming aspects…. 🙂

When films are made, there is always a pre-production phase in which various aspects of the film are planned out to include costuming. During the period, the costume designer meets with the director and others to work out just what the sort of a “look” is desired for the production and how it fits with the story being presented. In ideal circumstances, this period should be long enough so that any issues regarding budgeting, logistics, etc. can be worked out but in practice, things can become rushed and especially if major changes are made in the script and/or the budget.

As part of the initial process of designing the costumes, sketches will be made of all the outfits that each actor will be wearing based on a breakdown of the script into the various scenes. The sketches (which are now often done with computer software) serve to illustrate the basic concepts of how a costume is supposed to look and what sorts of materials are going to be used in its construction. The sketches can be extremely detailed or very minimalist and they serve as an initial blueprint for construction. Often they merely illustrate concepts and it’s up to those who actually perform the construction work in the costume workshop to determine the specifics (sometimes even down to the location of individual zippers and buttons).

In Tombstone, the costume designer was Joseph Porro, a designer with film experience going back to the 1980s. Below are a few sketches illustrating the various costumes for Josephine Marcus. I have also attempted to match the actual costumes where possible.


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The dresses in the above sketches do not appear to have been actually constructed. On the flip side, the dress below does not appear to have a sketch for it (or more likely it was lost or misplaced):


Below are some examples of costume sketches and the corresponding finished garments. To begin, the dress below is Josephine’s “entrance dress”, worn as she gets off the stagecoach when she arrives in Tombstone:




The above costume appears to be based on the sketch above it although it appears that some of the details were changed. Next, are two dresses that Josephine wears during some night scenes:



The above dress is fairly pedestrian in appearance, style and color but it provides a counterpoint to the brewing violence; in the scene that this dress appears, Josephine is singing in the corner of the Oriental Saloon while not too far away, an inebriated Ike Clanton is becoming increasingly belligerent after losing one too many hands at cards to Doc Holliday.

With the dress pictured below, Josephine presents a more glamorous image as she basks in the accolades following her performance at the Birdcage Theater. Here she is at top of her game and she’s enjoying the notoriety.




The above two pictures definitely stand out in the movie and depict Josephine Marcus in her ultimate finery. Unfortunately, the color really does not read well in the scene and it’s a bit too shiney. Probably a case of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sort of things. Here are a few more:

In contrast to the above dress, we see a more demure Josephine as she watches the Earps leave town after Morgan Earp is killed and Virgil is seriously wounded in the arm:



This dress appears to be a fairly complete translation of the sketch above it. This one has an interesting silhouette with a faux waistcoat underneath. Bodices were often constructed so as to appear to be two separate garments, coat and waistcoat, but in reality they were a single garment. The collar seems a bit oversized and does not follow the more graceful lines depicted in the sketch above.

It’s an interesting exercise to compare between what was originally envisioned in the costume sketches and what was ultimately created for the final film product. The fact that the production changed directors could have had some influence in that visions differ and costume changes are often made to accommodate those differences. Of course, in the absence of more detailed production information, one can only speculate.

This has been an interesting example of the creative process that goes into the making of a film and while we as audience members may disagree on the Costume Designer’s specific choices, those choices still define that film and make it what it is. The fact that Tombstone is still viewed and enjoyed by audiences some 21 years after it was made is a testament to the power of film’s ability to entertain and influence, an ability sustained by the costume designer’s art and craft.

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