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Entries in The Furniture (57)

Monday
Apr242017

The Furniture: Tom Sawyer's Stovepipe and Steamboat Nostalgia

"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...

[PART ONE OF OUR CELESTE HOLM CENTENNIAL SERIES]

On paper, 1973’s Tom Sawyer might be the oddest project of Celeste Holm’s entire career. It was her first big screen appearance in six years. She’d been splitting her time between TV and theater, making guest appearances on shows like The Fugitive and leading the national tour of Mame. And while it’s not unexpected that her return would come via an independent production, the company in question may surprise you.

Tom Sawyer was made by Reader’s Digest, during the company’s six year foray into the industry. This was their first feature, the accompanying risk of which might explain the bizarre product placement. Child star Johnny Whitaker is actually credited as appearing “through the courtesy of Elder Manufacturing Company, manufacturers of Tom Sawyer wearing apparel for boys.” Still selling uniforms today, their signature line of boys’ outfits appears not to have changed in a century.

For our purposes, however, the notable thing is the location. Tom Sawyer and its sequel are the only films based on Mark Twain’s beloved characters to be shot in Missouri after the silent era...

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Monday
Apr172017

The Furniture: Toni Erdmann and the Dangers of Corporate Upholstery

"The Furniture" by Daniel Walber

[You can click on the images to see them in much more magnified detail.]

Toni Erdmann is a film about chairs. It is also a film about couches, though less so. Its grander themes, the culture of global capitalism and the relationship between parents and adult children, are excellent stuffing for oddly shaped poolside chaises and hideous hotel sofas. The milieu is convincingly skin-deep, punctuated by passionless objects that look blankly up at the uproarious behavior of the characters.

This satirical furniture represents some of the best production design of 2016, though Toni Erdmann may not be the first film to come to mind.

It plays a supporting role, commenting in muted colors. Yet Maren Ade’s comedy of personal and professional tension has a thoughtful design sensibility, perfectly attuned to the non-places that have been projected across the globe by transnational corporations...

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Monday
Apr102017

The Furniture: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Your House Is Listening

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in much more magnified detail. Here's Daniel Walber...

 “Hush hush, sweet Charlotte,” Patti Page softly croons, “He’ll love you till he dies.” The title song of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte may not be as catchy as “Chim Chim Chiree,” which took the Oscar, but it has a much creepier sort of staying power. Here’s the final verse:

“And every night after he shall die
Yes every night when he’s gone
The wind will sing you this lullaby
Sweet Charlotte was loved by John.”

The music haunts Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis), along with everything else: her house, her family and her memories.

This Southern Gothic vibe is what separates the film from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Well, that and the fact that Joan Crawford walked off the set. But I will leave the offscreen drama to Ryan Murphy...

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Monday
Apr032017

The Furniture: Repairs for the House in "20th Century Women"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in much more magnified detail. Here's Daniel Walber...

"The house is a character in its own right," everyone says. It’s one of our more meaningless cliches, poltergeists notwithstanding. But the sentiment behind it is understandable. A building, though hardly alive, can still offer charisma. A dynamic visual language can be built from its beams.

20th Century Women has one of these abodes. The house in question belongs to Dorothea (Annette Bening), who lives with her son Jamie (Lucas Zumann) and two boarders, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup). As she explains to a fireman she’s invited to a party...

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Monday
Mar272017

The Furniture: A Tarot Reading with "The Love Witch"

 "The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in much more magnified detail. Here's Daniel Walber...

Over the last year, I’ve written about a fair number films in which the costume design and production design are intimate companions. The Taming of the Shrew is the most recent example, a visual cornucopia that underlines Zeffirelli’s tendency to paint people and props with the same brush. Yet that flamboyant director was not actually the credited costume designer or production designer. His style, like that of most filmmakers, was the result of artistic collaboration.

Not so for The Love Witch, a much more literal “singular vision.” Director Anna Biller worked as both production designer and costume designer for her film, as well as art director, set decorator, editor, composer, writer and producer. The film’s strikingly unified aesthetic certainly can be attributed to this herculean labor, but that’s hardly the only impact. The magic of The Love Witch is in its details, the cumulative effect of Biller’s meticulous and varied craft.

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Monday
Mar202017

The Furniture: Thoroughly Modern Millie

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

Thoroughly Modern Millie opened 50 years ago this week, in the spring between San Francisco’s Human Be-In and the Summer of Love. None of 1967’s Best Picture nominees, immortalized as the birth of the New Hollywood in Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution, had yet opened, but there was already something in the air.

Director George Roy Hill capitalized on this countercultural moment with an extravagant show of concentrated nostalgia. Thoroughly Modern Millie leaps back to the Roaring 20s, America’s last moment of liberated sexuality and conspicuous consumption before the Great Depression. Its flamboyant, frenetic ode to the flappers and their world was a big hit, making more than $34 million and landing 10th at the yearly box office. The film was nominated for seven Oscars including Art Direction-Set Decoration.

Yet its portrayal is not without contradictions...

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Monday
Mar132017

The Furniture: Stark Contrast in "The Eyes of My Mother"

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. (Click on the images to see them in their more detailed large glory.) Here's Daniel Walber...

The Eyes of My Mother, one of the best horror films of 2016, stands in a grand tradition of scary iconography. Which is, of course, also a polite way of saying that Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature is not much of a departure. Francisca (Kika Magalhães), the film’s murderous anti-heroine, grows up surrounded by anatomical grotesquery and Catholic devotional objects. As is often the case in the genre, she is gradually driven to violence by the meticulously-crafted environment in which she lives.

But what makes The Eyes of My Mother different is the way these otherwise familiar tropes are woven together. The unsettling sets and weird props aren’t simply tossed in for dramatic impact, but arranged to unite the darkness of the setting with the psychology of the protagonist. This is why production designer Sam Hensen so richly deserved his American Independent Film Award last month, winning over some much more colorful and outrageous competition.

The two most prominent design themes are announced out very beginning, each with a single, striking object...

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