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Entries in The Furniture (103)

Wednesday
Jul252018

The Furniture: Cracked Mirrors, Double Lover

by Daniel Walber

Few things were more inevitable than a Francois Ozon film in which Jérémie Renier makes out with himself, however briefly. It’s the erotic cherry on top of a career of rule-breaking sexual escapades and pastel pastiche. Double Lover often feels like a return to some the director’s early ideas, including the effervescent camp of Sitcom and the throbbing sexual ambition of Criminal Lovers.

Yet this newest feature does at least begin with a grounded plot than these earlier films. Chloé (Marine Vacth) is a young woman with a recurring, potentially psychosomatic stomach problem. Naturally, she goes to therapist, the affable and reassuringly-sweatered Dr. Paul Meyer (Renier). Chloe sinks into one of his welcoming leather chairs, settles her feet on the fuzzy carpet, and tells him her story. The sessions go so well that, before you know it, they’ve moved in together...

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Wednesday
Jul182018

The Furniture: Mattes, Moons and Mountains in For Whom the Bell Tolls

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

Sam Wood directing Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper in 1943's top picture

It can seem kind of crazy that For Whom the Bell Tolls was the top box office hit of 1943. The star power of Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper played into it, of course. So did the fact that it was an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s popular and recent novel. And there’s the obvious appeal of Cooper fighting a bunch of Fascists, a year and a half after America’s entry into World War Two.

The thing is, he doesn’t actually do all that much fighting. No one in the film does. It’s mostly a contemplative interlude on the fringes of the Spanish Civil War, a brutal vacation with a band of hardened guerrillas, a doomed love story built from trauma and consummated on the high rocks. It’s 165 minutes of memory, frustration and stasis.

It also wound up with nine Oscar nominations, including both cinematography and art direction. And the collaboration between cinematographer Ray Rennahan and the design team of Hans Dreier, Haldane Douglas and Bertram C. Granger is really the highlight of the film, even against the life-giving energy of Katina Paxinou’s Oscar-winning performance...

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Wednesday
Jul112018

The Furniture: Theatrical Magic in "Fanny and Alexander"

"The Furniture," by Daniel Walber, our weekly series on Production Design returns for Season 3! Kicking off with an episode of our Ingmar Bergman Centennial Mini-Series.

There is so much to say about Fanny and Alexander. It has the visual density of The Age of Innocence, the spiritual ascent of Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Ingmar Bergman’s remarkable way with character. These elements gather together to form a benevolent and mystical dome, one which will define the young Alexander’s relationship to his family and his world. The film is built with a free sense of reality, leaping across time but lingering in resonant moments. Bergman casts the Ekdahl family as practitioners of a magical humanism, which which whisks the audience through these many hours as if in a dream.

Much of this atmosphere depends upon the film’s Oscar-winning production design. 

Its furniture magic takes center stage in the first act, late into the early morning hours of Christmas. Oscar Ekdahl (Allan Edwall), Fanny and Alexander’s father, spins a fantastical yarn about an otherwise unremarkable wooden chair. Its long history and hidden power, he says, make it the most valuable in the entire world. Between the flickering gas lights, the holiday atmosphere and the mood of childlike wonder, we are all taken in...

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Monday
Apr092018

The Furniture: Demolition and Preservation in The Molly Maguires

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

Every now and then, while poring over lists of Oscar nominees from years past, you stumble across a movie you’ve never heard of. Not even once. In 1970, the Best Art Direction category included two big war movies (Patton and Tora! Tora! Tora!), another hit Best Picture nominee (Airport) and Scrooge, the musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol starring Albert Finney. Then there’s The Molly Maguires, the only one not nominated in any other category.

So what’s The Molly Maguires? Well, for one thing, it wasn’t a hit. But that may have been more a result of the film’s dour subject matter than its quality. It stars Richard Harris as a real life undercover Pinkerton Detective, tasked with infiltrating a group of Irish industrial terrorists in 1870s Pennsylvania coal country. Though just a few men, the Molly Maguires have been creating tremendous chaos, blowing up mines and eliminating abusive company supervisors.

These are the early days of organized labor in America, when robber barons hired armies of ersatz police to brutally repress strikes and intimidate low wage workers. Sean Connery’s “Black Jack” Kehoe and his co-conspirators are immigrant miners who have been pushed too far...

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Monday
Mar262018

The Furniture: The Age of Innocence and the Living Museum

"The Furniture" honors the Production Design of The Age of Innocence (1993) for its 25th anniversary year. The Martin Scorsese classic is newly available from the Criterion Collection. (Click on the images to see them in magnified detail.)


by Daniel Walber

The final act of Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence leaps through time. The ever-roving camera comes to a temporary rest in the home of Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), married to May (Winona Ryder) and entering the longue durée of family life. But this relative physical stasis comes with the sudden acceleration of time. Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker fast-forward through years of business, leisure and child-raising. After nearly two hours of social whirlpools and lingering formalities, suddenly it’s a new century.

But despite the speed of this sequence, it’s important to pay close attention. On the wall of Newland’s family home rests one very famous painting. Somehow, through the magic of cinema alone, our hero has ended up with JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire

 

It’s an icon for his last days, a masterpiece of a bygone era being towed away...

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Tuesday
Mar062018

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...? 

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