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Entries in Production Design (107)

Monday
Jul172017

The Furniture: A Quiet Passion's Floral Punctuations

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in magnified detail.

by Daniel Walber 

If you know one thing about the life of Emily Dickinson, it’s probably that she was a recluse. She spent the last years of her life cooped up in her Massachusetts home. Very few of her 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime. Up until very recently, only one picture of her was known to exist.

Yet she is now recognized as the most important American poet of the 19th century. That her universally resonant voice emerged from such isolation has seemed miraculous. A Quiet Passion peers into this conundrum and finds some strikingly poetic answers.

Unsurprisingly, the key to understanding is found in her house. Cynthia Nixon gives a brilliant performance, but the difference between Terence Davies’s film and lesser biopics is that she is not left to fend for herself. The work of production designer Merijn Sep and set decorator Ilse Willocx is crucial... 

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Monday
Jul102017

The Furniture: The Magnificent Amberson Mansion

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in magnified detail.

by Daniel Walber 

Much has been written about the making of The Magnificent Ambersons, the conflict between Orson Welles and RKO, Robert Wise’s studio-mandated shorter version, Bernard Herrmann’s refusal of credit, and the loss of much of the original footage. It’s a fascinating story.

However, this column isn’t about that. There remains plenty to celebrate in the version that was released to theaters, 75 years ago today. At the top of that list is the Amberson mansion, a triumph of design that should stand next to Citizen Kane’s Xanadu. It’s like a Victorian ancestor to the great palace of Charles Foster Kane, a previous iteration of wealth’s excesses. But the story of The Magnificent Ambersons is not about a meteoric rise in fortune, but what comes after.

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Monday
Jul032017

The Furniture: Leering Through Querelle's Erotic Architecture

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in magnified detail.

by Daniel Walber 

The films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, though they are many and varied, almost always have striking production design. The obvious examples include the ‘70s scifi chic of World on a Wire and the opulent apartment of Petra von Kant, but it's true of his whole catalogue. The design of Querelle is as bold as it is aroused. And as of this week it’s new to FilmStruck, a place where you can find tons of design classics (like La Ronde and Great Expectations, two of my favorites).

Querelle got terrible reviews when it opened in 1982. It’s often considered an oddity of excess at the end of a career built on precision, an oversexed and underwritten mess with little to say and too much to show. 

That’s nonsense. Sure, it's a lot, including the work of production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and art director Walter Richarz. But what most of the reviews seem to have missed is that Querelle isn’t just about sex. It’s about power, and the way that sex between men can be as much an exchange of control as it is an exchange of fluids.

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Monday
Jun262017

The Furniture: A Humble Palace of Moral Struggle in David and Bathsheba

"The Furniture" a weekly series on Production Design by Daniel Walber 

The 1951 box office was topped by Quo Vadis, a sword-and-sandal epic with thumping Christian overtones that cost well over $7 million. Crowds flocked to see Peter Ustinov’s Nero fiddle over the burning wreckage of Rome. And when the Academy Awards came around, the film picked up eight nominations.

Nevertheless, this is not column about Quo Vadis. If you scan a bit lower on the list of 1951’s biggest moneymakers, you’ll find David and Bathsheba. Next to Nero’s gold, it seems minor. It grossed less and scored fewer Oscar nominations. But it makes up for this deficit in sparkle with its unique character, intimate drama in a biblical package. The Oscar nominated production design, sprung from a much lower budget, illustrates that as much as anything else...

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Monday
Jun192017

The Furniture: Decorating for a Lost Generation in "Frantz"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in magnified detail. Here's Daniel Walber on Frantz, newly available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Sometimes gimmicks work. François Ozon’s Frantz is built up from single stylistic convention, flipped on its head. It’s a black and white drama of Europe in the wake of World War One, but its flashbacks are in color. It’s quite striking, a remarkable collaboration between cinematographer Pascal Marti, production designer Michel Barthélemy and art director Susanne Abel. Even the soggy trenches are more vibrant than the sober landscape of the Armistice.

Frantz begins in 1919, in the small German town of Quedlinburg. Anna (Paula Beer) mourns her fiancé, Frantz, taken from her by the war. She lives with his parents, Hans (Ernst Stötzner) and Magda Hoffmeister (Marie Gruber). Their gloomy lives are shaken by the arrival of a Frenchman, the hesitant Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney).

Anna and Magda assume that he must be a friend of Frantz’s from before the war, and invite him into their home...

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Monday
Jun122017

The Furniture: Ghosts of Property in My Cousin Rachel

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in magnified detail.

by Daniel Walber 

Location is everything. Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel is so intimately associated with the Cornish landscape that you can go take a “My Cousin Rachel Walk” along the coast. Its cliffs and pastures feature prominently in the new adaptation of the book, starring Rachel Weisz, which was shot close to the novelist's home.

The 1952 version, meanwhile, was shot almost entirely inside an American film studio. The real Cornwall only makes a few brief appearances. But, despite the appeal of literary tourism, authenticity is not necessarily art. The location choice forces much of the plot indoors, taking full advantage of the complex and Oscar-nominated work of art directors Lyle R. Wheeler and John DeCuir and set decorator Walter M. Scott. It's more subtle, more effective.

After all, natural beauty is not really at the heart of the drama. This is a story about wealth, property and suspicion...

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