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Entries in The Furniture (48)

Monday
Feb202017

The Furniture: A Canadian Air Show in Captains of the Clouds

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber...

The United States may have entered World War II late, but American studios didn’t wait nearly as long to start making propaganda. Hollywood produced a number of pro-Allied films before the American entry into the war, from A Yankee in the RAF to the comparatively subtle Sergeant York. Though this ruffled some feathers in Washington, the debate became moot in December of 1941.

Captains of the Clouds falls right on the cusp, shot before Pearl Harbor but released in February of 1942. The film, directed by Michael Curtiz, was intended to drum up support for the Canadian war effort. The first major Hollywood production to be shot north of the border, it’s a technicolor extravaganza starring James Cagney and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

It also received two Oscar nominations. Sol Polito was recognized in the Best Cinematography category for the film’s breathtaking aerial sequences, a no-brainer. 

The nominated work of art director Ted Smith and set decorator Casey Roberts, however, is less flashy...

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Monday
Feb132017

The Furniture: Lost in Space and Time with "Passengers" and "Arrival"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. This is the second of two columns discussing this year's Oscar nominees. Here's Daniel Walber...

On the surface, Arrival and Passengers appear to be the most similar of this year’s Best Production Design nominees. They’re both science fiction films set in the near future. Yet the similarities end there. Passengers is set entirely on an extravagant, colorful spaceship. Arrival splits its scenes between the interior of a minimalist UFO and densely packed military tents.

There is also one more essential difference...

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Monday
Feb062017

The Furniture: Magical Unreality in "La La Land" and "Fantastic Beasts"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. This is the first of two columns discussing this year's Oscar nominees. Here's Daniel Walber...

At a pool party in La La Land, Mia (Emma Stone) is granted the unique misfortune of being introduced to a generic Hollywood screenwriter. “I have a knack for world-building,” he says, instantly conjuring spectres of a Game of Thrones economy. Mia quickly extricates herself, destined for a different man in love with his own talent.

The moment is fleeting, but it peels back the curtain on Damien Chazelle’s own view of world-building and filmmaking. His version of Los Angeles isn’t at all overstated, with the exception of its ever-present automobiles. The characters don’t quite inhabit an identifiable city. Rather, they exist against a backdrop of imagined Hollywood, built from relentlessly colorful skies and busy studio lots...

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Monday
Jan232017

The Furniture: Celebrating the Tackiness of "The Oscar"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber...

Tomorrow is twice blessed. You’re probably already excited for the first reason, the Oscar nominations announcement. It’s also the centennial of Ernest Borgnine, an actor I have never particularly liked. But this coincidence makes today a perfect opportunity to talk about one of the worst movies ever produced by a Hollywood studio: 1966’s The Oscar.

The film begins and ends at the Academy Awards, where fictional Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) is as Best Actor nominee for Breakthrough, perhaps the most on-the-nose fictional title of all time. His newly estranged best friend Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett, in his film debut), glares at him from the next row. Bennett would retire from acting immediately after The Oscar, for reasons that are obvious from the moment he starts talking...

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Monday
Jan162017

The Furniture: Appropriating Chinese Design in "The Shanghai Gesture"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. This week Daniel Walber looks back at one of the Art Direction Oscar nominees of 1942 for its 75th anniversary.

While Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture was still in production, the studio received a letter from T.K. Chang, the Chinese Consul to Los Angeles. Having read the script, he objected to its vicious and absurd portrayal of Shanghai’s underbelly and cautioned the producers to take “consideration of Chinese sentiment.”

Producer Arnold Pressburger defended the film as merely a fantasy. “This imaginary world has no connection with the realistic aspects of today,” he replied. This argument even wound up in the final cut, in the form of an opening title card: “Our story has nothing to do with the present.”


Chang saw right through Pressburger’s nonsense. “Such imaginations always prove to be constructed from the raw material of realities,” he wrote back. He was right. The Shanghai Gesture attempts a menacingly ahistorical flare by appropriating specifically Chinese decor. This is, of course, impossible. But the Oscar-nominated failure of art director Boris Leven (West Side Story) is fascinating...

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Tuesday
Jan102017

The Furniture: A Last-Minute FYC for the Home Décor of "Paterson" and "Jackie"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber...

Oscar balloting has begun! As Nathaniel explained last week, AMPAS branches have received their nomination ballots. They’re due on the 13th. The Academy’s production designers occasionally make offbeat choices, though they don’t do it as often as the costume designers or the makeup artists. So here’s a final nudge on behalf of the best work of the year.


I’ve already written about three of the five movies I’d nominate, were I in charge. The crazed fandom of the apartment in Florence Foster Jenkins is a work of precision and inspiration. So is the heavily curtained metaphor that is the mansion in The Childhood of a Leader. The hotel in The Lobster, meanwhile, is as perfectly sterile as the above settings are feverish. All three would be a thrilling surprise on nomination morning.

My other two have become less present in the awards conversation than I’d guessed...

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Monday
Dec262016

The Furniture: Fame Flattens Your Dreamgirls, Boys

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber...

 This probably goes without saying, but movie musicals tend not to take place in the real world. Gene Kelly doesn’t just serenade French children in An American in Paris, he leads the cast through a dream ballet of wild abstraction. The oddness of public singing is often just the door to an even more fantastical world. Even those about actual musicians, who need no special excuse to croon, often break free from realism.

In this context, Dreamgirls is a bit of an odd duck. Director Bill Condon tries to split the difference. Some of the songs are entirely within the context of a real performance, while others incorporate non-musician characters and non-realistic settings. The back and forth can be a bit confounding...

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