The Hazards of Being Grace (For Halloween)
What Happens When You Dress Up As A Character From A Lars Von Trier Movie?
By Janey Pancake
I mentioned last week that I am particularly fond of Halloween. Over the course of the last four years, I have established a few traditions for our household – including, but not limited to – purchasing and consuming Halloween candy weeks before the blessed day to the point where the supply nears embarrassing lows and must be replenished; watching Sleepy Hollow on repeat for the entire day of Halloween; and hosting a low-key Halloween dinner party with pumpkin carving, be-costumed kiddies (my own), trick and treat-ery and a horror movie screening. Occasionally, I like to dress up – but there are stipulations and conditions that must be met – namely, I have to have a really good idea and it has to come together cheaply and easily. One year, I happened to have dyed my hair platinum blonde and was in possession of a mint green, 60’s era pencil-skirt suit. The timing and circumstances were perfect for me to dress up as Tippi Hedren from Hitchcock’s The Birds – my only expense was the $5 that I spent at U.S. Toy on clip on birds and fake blood. During my first pregnancy, Rosemary Woodhouse of Rosemary’s Baby fame seemed like a good choice and, in fact, it was – a trip to the thrift store yielded a baby doll sailor dress and short blonde wig – I drew freckles on my face and did my best to look wan and terrorized, FUN!
The concept of my very favorite costume came to me during my fall/winter residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in 2004. ARAC is located in a very charming little mountain hamlet called Snow Mass Village, Colorado – a ski town that hosts loads of gorgeous scenery coupled with the looming threat of bears and mountain lion attacks. During the day, we would spend our time working in our studio spaces and in the evenings we would meet in the communal dining hall for our supper. After the evening meal, it wasn’t uncommon for a group of us to carpool into Aspen to visit the local movie theater, but when the weather was especially nasty, we would retreat to a cramped rec-room and watch a film on DVD. The night before Halloween was just such a night – a veritable white-out of snow and ice – and one of the other residents had just rented Dogville by Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and the recent release, Antichrist) and suggested it for viewing.
Dogville, in brief summary, tells the story of a woman named Grace (played by Nicole Kidman) who harbors A Secret and is on the lam from the mob. She seeks refuge in a small mountain town in Colorado and ingratiates herself among the town residents in exchange for their protection. Some other stuff happens – none of which is pleasant – and the ending is remarkably violent. For those of you familiar with Lars von Triers’ oeuvre, it will not surprise you to learn that very bad things happen to Grace. At one point in the film, she is outfitted with a metal collar – which is attached to a heavy, metal chain and connected to a giant wagon wheel. Let it be known that the collar also had a bell on it, like the one you might put on your pet kitty (and for the same reasons one might put a bell on a kitty – shudder.) So, here’s the thing – Grace spends a good amount of the movie wearing a black coat with a grey fur collar and cuffs. As it just so happened, I also had a black coat with a grey fur collar and cuffs, nearly identical to the very one Grace sported. At the time I had strawberry blonde, bobbed hair – exactly like Kidman’s character. And I was living in a small mountain town in Colorado. And, I had A Secret! You see where I am going with this? Stars were aligned, fate was clearly involved and the conditions were perfect – all I needed to complete my Halloween costume was a metal collar with a bell on it attached to a giant, cumbersome wagon wheel by a large chain and I would be set! Surprisingly, this was not as easy to find as one would think, but when kismet is abound, you don’t let something like a lack of available wagon wheels get in your way. I had cardboard, glue, black spray paint and I am a professional artist -by the Eve of Halloween, I had a costume, goddammit.
Now, I thought I looked pretty exceptional and I was very excited to see the look of amazement on the faces of my comrades when I showed up for the Halloween party. I giddily made my entrance, practically peeing myself with self-congratulatory glee. I walked into the crowded room and waited for the inevitable outpouring of enthusiastic praise. And….nothing happened. In fact, not only did people not compliment me on how awesome my costume was, they didn’t even acknowledge that I was wearing one at all. Eventually, after I stood in the doorway for a painfully lengthy amount of time, a ceramicist approached me and asked, “And what is your costume supposed to be, Jane?”
“I’m Grace!” I said, beaming and resplendent in my cardboard collar.
She looked at me with an expression of bewildered blankness.
“You know…from Dogville?”
A complete lack of recognition read plainly across her face.
“All of us just watched it together last night. We even talked about it after, you and me, remember? ”
“But why do you have a cardboard collar around your neck?” She asked me with utter sincerity.
“They put it on her after the gang rape, remember?” I reminded her.
“But…is that a wagon wheel? Why are you tethered to a wagon wheel?” She queried, provoking my ire.
“Are you serious? You were there! You were RIGHT THERE when we all – all of us – watched it last night? You really don’t remember this?” My voice was getting uncomfortably high and squeaky with outrage. She just shrugged her shoulders and walked off, her store-bought, Sexy-Lady-Bug costume bouncing in tempo with her staccato stride. To make matters worse, at least five other residents came up to me and went through a similar line of inquiry. The hell? I will admit, it would have been one thing if I had just randomly shown up at a costume party dressed as Grace from Dogville and assumed that everyone in the room would be familiar enough with the film to recognize me, but we had all just seen the movie together the night before.
My cardboard collar became increasingly more unpleasant to wear and the black paint was beginning to rub off on my neck. Doubt regarding my costuming skills had crept in and I felt miserably silly in my Halloween clothes. I decided the best way to salvage the night of my favorite holiday was to pack it in and rally with a glass or four of wine. Just as I was picking up my paper-made chain to drag my cardboard wagon wheel back to my dorm room, I heard the words that I so desperately longed to hear: