SPOTLIGHT January 2023: Catherine Martin, Australia’s iconic Costume, Production and Set designer

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Movie pros and goers “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with Catherine Martin’s work on director/co-writer Baz Luhrmann’s dazzling biopic Elvis. In December, the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts honored the Oscar-winning costume, production and set designer and producer for her outstanding global contribution to and influence on film with its most prestigious prize, the coveted Longford Lyell Award.
 
 
In presenting Martin with the award, fellow Australian Nicole Kidman praised the designer as “a visionary and a risk-taker” who has “created some of the most visually stunning imagery to ever appear on screen.”

It wasn’t the only prize Martin took home at her home country’s December film festivities. Elvis won eleven trophies at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, with Martin earning best costume design, sharing best production design with Karen Murphy and Beverley Dunn and sharing best film with Luhrmann, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick and Schuyler Weiss.

MARTIN ADDS TO HER IMPRESSIVE TROPHY CASE

An Oscar for GATSBY

Known to her peers as as CM, Martin is one of Australia’s most awarded film artists:. She’s earned four Oscars, five BAFTAs and a Tony Award as well as five Australian Film Institute honors and three previous Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. A film, stage and interior designer, she was named one of Glamour Magazine’s 2013 Women of the Year for her production, set and costume designs. She’s also been inducted into the Rodeo Drive “Walk of Style” for her work on the 2013 movie The Great Gatsby.

The Australian Academy previously honored Martin with the Byron Kennedy Award, which celebrates outstanding creative enterprise within the film and television industries. Determined annually by an appointed jury, the award is given to an individual or organization whose work embodies innovation and the relentless pursuit of excellence.

“For over three decades, Catherine Martin has been injecting colour and life onto our screens through visionary artistry and experimental designs. Receiving the Byron Kennedy Award from the Australian Film Institute in 1999, and now the Longford Lyell Award 23 years later, exemplifies the dedication she has for her craft,” said Damian Trewhella, CEO of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, in a statement. “Catherine is held in the highest regard by her peers and audiences globally, and the Australian Academy is proud to honour her for her relentless work and outstanding contribution to the industry.”

FROM COLLEGE TO MACHINEST, THEN PARTNERING WITH BAZ

Martin studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (or NIDA) in Sydney, where she grew up. According to a 2013 Elle profile, Martin’s Australian father and French mother were both academics who met at the Sorbonne in Paris, where her mother studied mathematics and her father studied 18th century French literature.

“Before NIDA, I dropped out of a very prestigious college and worked as an apprentice machinist. My parents disapproved – they wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor – but I knew design was my strength,” she told Glamour in 2017.

She met her future husband and collaborator, the one and only Baz Luhrmann, at NIDA, where she did set design for stage productions of Lake Lost, Diary of a Madman and A Midsummer Night’s Dream between 1988 and 1991.

“He’d graduated the year before I started, but came back to look for people to work with. We were just friends back then, and our first professional job together came in 1988 – designing the set and costumes for his production of opera Lake Lost, she told Glamour.

SPOUSAL COLLABORATIONS ON ICONIC FILMS

Even before they married in 1997, Martin started working alongside her future husband and chief collaborator, now an Oscar-nominated director, producer and writer, to create stunning film costumes and sets that have become part of global screen folklore.

Their first collaboration on a feature film was for 1992’s Strictly Ballroom, for which Martin won two Australian Film Institute Awards, for best production design and best costume design. She and Luhrmann then went on to create the second of their Red Curtain Trilogy, Romeo + Juliet, for which Martin was nominated an Academy Award for best production design.

In 2001, Martin designed the sets and co-designed the costumes with Angus Strathie for Moulin Rouge! and took home two Oscars. She won Broadway’s 2003 Tony Award for best scenic design of a musical for her work on Luhrmann’s Broadway adaptation of La Bohème.

In 2008, Martin reunited with Moulin Rouge! star Kidman on the visually sweeping Australia, for which she won two shared Australian Film Institute Awards, for best production design and best costume design with Eliza Godman, and was nominated for an Oscar for costume design.

Martin oversaw the construction of 42 sets over 14 weeks on The Great Gatsby, garnering two more Oscars, two BAFTAs and two Australian Academy awards, for costume design and production design, which she shared with Beverly Dunn.

AND NOW THERE’S ELVIS

Elvis, the larger-than-life biopic of The King, is the latest collaboration between creative partners Martin and Luhrmann. The lavish production delves into the life of American music icon Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) from his childhood to his becoming a rock and movie star in the 1950s. all the while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Martin, who reportedly designed some 90 distinctive costumes to chronicle Elvis’ changing styles over multiple decades, and she dressed a “punishing” number of background performers, as well as supervising the creation of about 90 sets that were built either on stage or on location for the Australian shoot.

Elvis is expected to earn more nominations for Martin when Oscar nods are announced Jan. 24 for the 95th Academy Awards, which will be presented in Hollywood on March 12, 2023. In the meantime, Martin already has secured her place in Australian as the recipient of cinema history as this year’s recipient of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts’ Longford Lyell Award, the highest honor that the Australian Academy can bestow upon an individual in recognition of their making a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment of Australia’s screen environment and culture.

“I am humbled and honoured to be this year’s recipient of the Longford Lyell Award. To be recognized by one’s peers in one’s home country is profoundly meaningful,” Martin said in a statement. “Australia, with its myriad filmmaking opportunities and wonderful talents, has been extraordinarily fertile soil for my body of work, and for this I am truly grateful.

“The award also resonates with me personally as its namesakes [Australian film pioneer Raymond Longford and his partner in filmmaking and life, Lottie Lyell] were, as Baz and I am, both partners in life and art. Baz and I often joke that we are just getting started, so I hope this ‘lifetime achievement award’ is not a full stop, but a comma; heralding the beginning of new and exciting creative adventures to be shared with both long-time collaborators and new artists alike, in front of and behind the camera.”

WHY WE CHOSE HER

As collaborative as she is multitalented, Catherine Martin has made an indelible mark on cinema (as well as on the Broadway stage and on famous retail brands like Prada, Chanel, Tiffany & Co and Brooks Brothers). Her flair for design, her dedication to research and her passion for authenticity have allowed the movies she’s worked on to transport us to Parisian cabaret in the 1890s, to a New York mansion during the Roaring 1920s and to a Las Vegas stage with The King himself. Wherever her work takes us next, it’s sure to look fabulous. – Brandy McDonnell

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.