Film Bitch History
Oscar History

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The Furniture: *Not* Another Art Deco Oscars!

Daniel Walber's weekly series on Production Design. Click on the images to see them in magnified detail.

“Hey, how about these sets? Are these sets great? They’re just like the Orgasmatron in Barbarella.”
-Jane Fonda

Oh, would that they were, Jane Fonda. Maybe someday we’ll have a Space Oscars, with gravity-defying holographic moons and an ever-shifting alien landscape. Presenters would enter through a pair of giant airlock doors at the back of the stage. The statuettes would float. The 50th anniversaries of both Barbarella and 2001: A Space Odyssey are coming up -- maybe they’ll do it next year?

Of course, the 90th Academy Awards didn’t escape earth’s atmosphere. But were they able to at least escape the endless parade of Art Deco, the nearly uniform tradition of the past few decades of Oscar telecasts...? 

The opening tableau wasn’t a great sign, a metallic Deco sun whose rays bounced off of what can only be described as a diamond mine made of Swarovski Crystal.

This solar centerpiece came back later, backing up Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani. It’s actually quite nice, almost like something Esther Williams might swim out from under.

But that’s about it for the in-your-face Deco moments. There was no single genre of design that dominated the ceremony in its place, either.

When a show lasts nearly 4 hours, consistency becomes monotony. You don’t want the audience looking at the same thing all night, no matter how shiny it might be. 

This is why it was so great to see the designers take the idea of “diamonds” and leap into the era of Louis XIV. It worked for a few reasons. First, it’s refreshing to see actual physical structures at the Oscars. Recent ceremonies have relied far too much on projection. It was so wonderful to have real set pieces moving around on the stage, like these charmingly tactile window panels.

Suddenly the Oscars have an architectural feel, something much harder to create with the projected silhouettes of a bunch of imaginary Art Deco skyscrapers.

This year we got columns and stairs, all with character and ornamentation. Even with the elaborate lighting changes and supplemental effects, the room often looked more convincing than the “live action” Beauty and the Beast.

More importantly, physical sets tend to be better at framing physical people. This should be obvious. The columns and the staircase draw in the eye, further emphasizing Rita Moreno’s iconic pose and introducing the best entrance of the night.

So, thank you to the designers of this year’s Academy Awards set for the variety, for the combination of Baroque and Deco glamour, and for keeping things interesting all evening. Thank you, finally, for whatever was going on with those terrifying lightbulb portals. They remind me of the Hanukkah-themed supervillain lair of my dreams.

Thank you, finally, for whatever was going on with those terrifying lightbulb portals. They remind me of the Hanukkah-themed supervillain lair of my dreams.

Last year's Oscar set
Index of all episodes of The Furniture
All Oscar 2017 coverage

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Reader Comments (9)

so happy you admired this set. I was thrilled the whole night by it. SO VERSATILE. It just kept surprising but always diamond mine sparkling like the seven dwarves would be trudging in at any minute with a Heigh Ho to excavate.

March 6, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I absolutely hated it.

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

This site is nailing it with the post-Oscars coverage. I am firmly in the “loved the sets” camp. The fluidity and opportunity for easy opulence worked really well for a TV broadcast. Several “wow” moments, most of which you highlighted. Thanks for the great post!

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

i was having trouble figuring out if there was some theme going on with the backstage I think in that sense, it didn't work. The diamond arch was really weird at first, but I warmed up to it.

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermikey67

Some of the sets I like, some I hated. But I have a better appreciation of them after reading this article!

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

The beauty and the beast style set took my breath away. Absolutely GORGEOUS

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterME

It was so gorgeous. Good show overall

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFadhil

Yep, the sets were mostly gorgeous and kept things interesting all night.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

By far the best part of the show. Best looking (or maybe it just stood out more) staging they've had in years that I can recall.

March 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBee

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