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Love and Death and Clorox

December 19, 1990|PATT MORRISON

THE FILM: "Hamlet," directed by Franco Zeffirelli and written by . . . well, you know.

THE CLIFF NOTES REMINDER: Hamlet (Mel Gibson), the great and melancholy Dane, gets the word from the ghost of his father the king (Paul Scofield) that Uncle Claudius (Alan Bates) murdered Dad and married Mom (Glenn Close). Paralyzed by inaction--this is not "Lethal Poignard II"--his grip on love and self go down the drain, and just about everybody dies.

THE LOOK: Nothing so trendy as to make you snatch up your credit card and head for Melrose yelling, "I've got to have that.' Understandably. Someone or other's been putting clothes on these people for almost 400 years. The costumes are unobtrusive--this isn't MTV style over substance--yet are not lost in the spaces they had to occupy. Italian designer Mauricio Millenotti has costumed films, including the Zeffirelli/Shakespeare "Otello," opera, television and ballets and has a command of the grand scale. Remember, "Hamlet" as a story was 12th-Century ancient history when Shakespeare did it in the 17th, and he had some costuming anachronisms of his own, like a reference to "chopines," platform shoes unknown in Denmark.

The Clorox factor is more than apparent. The principals' clothes tend to suffer by their incredible Hollywood tidiness, less suggestive of the 12th or even 17th Century than a modern-day Maytag side-by-side. There is the antiseptic sheen of a '40s MGM spectacular where even the horses' teeth looked like they had been capped. Compare it to Kenneth Branagh's wonderfully grimy film version of "Henry V," released here last fall. The tons of coal dust spread over Hamlet's castle for authentic weathering never touched its big-name residents. At least Ophelia (Helena Bonham-Carter) and Hamlet get more disordered-looking as their minds do. (Look for Hamlet in the library, in a scruffy sweater and throwing his boot.)

THE SUPERB: With the exception of one Gertrude (Close) headdress that looks like a brain-stem injury surgical restraint, the jewelry and adornments are marvelous, particularly the Celtic-looking wrought cloak clasps. The crowns, rough and heavy jeweled bands, are absolutely on-11th-Century target, evoking the oldest surviving crown in Europe, of the Empress Kunigunde of Luxembourg. Gertrude's shoulder-duster earrings are pure Visigoth. Now you might see these turn up on Melrose.

THE SILLY: Gertrude's blond Viking braids, which look like they were extruded from a butterscotch Dairy Queen machine. And one unfortunate aqua surcoat that looks exactly like my mother's chenille bedspread.

THE CREDIBLE: The authentic reliance on knits, embroidery and worked adornment for ornamentation. Ophelia in simple, virginal cream-colored smocks is in deliberate, unsubtle contrast to the bright colors of Gertrude's ardent newlywed sexuality, turquoise and wine reds. And, of course, Hamlet's raiment is a fixed point of almost unrelieved black, a color in great vogue among Elizabethans. Gibson has a modern face, and there are moments when, in leggings, boots, a leather jerkin whose big, loose stitches cry out "olde," he could sit down front at a Madonna concert without turning too many heads.

THE SOURCES: Less likely to catch on as street-style than, say, "Dick Tracy," even if there were such a boutique as "Thor's Threads" to handle this line. But it's like Mrs. Roten told us in 10th grade English--you're supposed to listen to this.

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