Colour and Costume: Jane Fonda in The Morning After

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 

The 1980s. The most underrated decade in terms of style and music and film is one of my favourites. The decade of power dressing but also the decade of the make-it-in-the-garage aesthetic. The decade that was less secure in taste but also the decade of unabashedly expressivity. The decade of excess but also the decade that didn’t try so much to force something that’s different into being the same. The decade of commercial greed and conspicuous wealth but also the decade of a riotous energy in the streets. It was the decade for everybody. A creative free-for-all. Everything was entirely possible and there were no constraints, no boundaries. There was a desire to express things independently and as freely as possible. As part of Generation X, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The neo-noir films of the 1980s give me a particular thrill about the decade. There are the highly acclaimed, naturally, like Blade Runner, but I am equally drawn to the more under-the-radar ones like Against All Odds and Angel Heart, or To Live and Die in L.A. Sidney Lumet’s The Morning After falls into that same category. The only picture that Lumet shot in Hollywood was also one he didn’t shoot out of a major studio, but using a pickup crew of technicians. Alex Sternbergen (Jane Fonda), a washed-up actress, wakes up on Thanksgiving morning with a hangover in an apartment she doesn’t recognise and with no recollection of the previous night, and with a dead body in bed next to her. Unable to go to the police, because of a previous conviction, she tries to tie the pieces together, reluctantly turning to an ex-cop, Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges), for help. Both Fonda and Bridges’ performances are truly great and the relationship forming between them looks very genuine, even though secrets and resentments are part of it. Broken people can mend other broken people.
 
 

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
“In The Morning After, we looked for expanses of high colour,” Sidney Lumet wrote in his book, Making Movies. “No colour was excluded, but we wanted one colour to dominate each scene. […] For the title sequence, I found a series of walls, yellow, red, brown, blue, and just had Fonda walking dejectedly past them. Buildings were deep blue, baby pink, any strong colour. Los Angeles can provide an endless supply of that kind of decor.” That, it does, and Sidney Lumet makes great use of it by placing Jane Fonda’s silhouette, dressed in black, in front of them, in one of the opening sequences. “Don’t the 80s now seem naïve and colourful compared to the cool, elegant decade the 90s tried so hard to be?,” Jürgen Müller remarks in his film comments on the 1980s. That’s one of the things I like about the films of the 80s. I also like the atmospheric, colourful density provided by L.A. in The Morning After, interspersed with sunlit vast open spaces. It’s part of the storytelling. Because form follows function. Sidney Lumet wanted to use primary colours because “living in Los Angeles was part of the debilitating influence on the character played by Jane Fonda. I wanted all colour exaggerated: reds redder, blues bluer. We used filters.”
 

Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
Los Angeles is known, and is known in movies, for its light and you really get that feeling when Jane Fonda steps out in the blinding light, shot from above, pinned on the canvas of a bright red building. She looks trapped in that strong, harsh, anti-glamour light. And she looks small passing by those endless colourful walls Sidney Lumet was mentioning. They look threatening and that’s the idea. “Blue or red may mean totally different things to you and me. But as long as my interpretation of a colour is persistent, eventually you’ll become aware (subconsciously, I hope) of how I’m using that colour and what I’m using it for.” The opening titles are neon blue.
 

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
Jane Fonda’s costumes are not however colourful excess (another trademark of the 80s), except for an emerald green trouser suit – beautifully paired with a silk white blouse and heels – which however does not belong to her but to her drag queen friend she has to turn to find something to wear when running from the police. It’s the only “outfit” she wears. Her wardrobe is built around tops and bottoms, a 1980s concept very much built on the idea of a man’s wardrobe: wrap skirts, sharp-shouldered, loose-fit jackets. Smart, free, outgoing, but subdued nonetheless. It’s 1980s alright, but it’s like a breath of fresh air in the overheated atmosphere of Los Angeles. I have always thought that Jane Fonda fit right in the 1980s, because of her modern elegance appeal, but most of all because of her attitude, independent and free thinking, and because she always had the authenticity of an actor completely in control of her art.
 

Jane Fonda in ”The Morning After”, 1986 | American Filmworks. Lorimar Productions

 
 

MORE STORIES

Renaissance woman and dance hall days in the alienated city:
The costumes of To Live and Die in L.A.

Dressed to fit the monochromatic look and distressed reality of a 1955 noir:
Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart

The individualistic minimalism of the 1980s: Kim Basinger in Nine 1/2 Weeks

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