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Entries in The Furniture (103)

Monday
Nov062017

The Furniture: Grotesque Extravagance in Fellini's Casanova

"The Furniture," by Daniel Walber, is our weekly series on Production Design. You can click on the images to see them in magnified detail. Since the Honorary Oscars are handed out next week, here's a Donald Sutherland film for you!

Federico Fellini didn’t much like Giacomo Casanova, the famously amorous subject of his meandering fantasy-biopic. The director may not have liked Donald Sutherland, either. The actor was required to shave his head and sport both a false nose and a false chin to play the long-winded lover. The costumes aren’t especially flattering either. Fellini’s Casanova is an erotic descent into Hell, a grotesque pageant of 18th century moral abandon. It frequently borders on the disgusting.

It was also on the edge of Oscar’s attention, sliding into only two categories. While Fellini’s Casanova did win for its costumes, its production design missed out entirely. Anyone betting that year would likely have lost money; La Dolce Vita, 8 ½ and Juliet of the Spirits were all nominated for both.

Though this sexualized panorama thrilled the costume designers, it may have shocked too many art directors. Like Sutherland’s performance, it’s proved to be a bit too much for the Academy. That’s a shame, because the contribution of legendary designer Danilo Donati is dazzling...

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Monday
Oct302017

The Furniture: Framing the Unseen in Personal Shopper

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

Personal Shopper is a film about ghosts, and where to find them. Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is a bereaved twin, waiting in Paris for a sign from her recently deceased brother, Lewis. But it doesn’t come easy, not in the least bit due to some unpleasant cross-currents in her professional life. She acquires clothes and accessories for Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten), a celebrity who has an irritating penchant for holding onto things she was meant to return. Maureen jets across the city and rockets under the English Channel on her behalf, toting jewelry boxes and garment bags.

All of which is to say that the material of this film is transient and fleeting, the inevitable intangibility of the personal shopper’s trade. And, of course, it is also about the translucent transience of ghosts, especially ghosts that struggle to make contact. Olivier Assayas has created a layered projection of Maureen’s psychology that refuses her the simple clarity of the mirror. Instead, she seeks her brother and herself in all of the wrong places, only slowly understanding the nature of presence.

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Monday
Oct232017

The Furniture: Camelot, a Silly and Furry Place

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

Back in August, I wrote about two dramatically different ways of portraying Arthurian Legend on screen. To recap: the bright silliness of Knights of the Round Table (1953) looks like psychedelic compared to the bland grit of King Arthur (2004) and the gruff, imperial fantasia of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017). But even these at least share a mild interest in engaging with English historical design. Camelot (1967), on the other hand, is a flighty fantasy of utter nonsense.

Of course, this is why it’s such a delight to watch. It’s a furry, oversexed epic that sends its glamorous cast out into magical forests to sing Lerner and Loewe songs at the top of their extravagantly-adorned lungs. The film won Oscars for production designer John Truscott, art director Edward Carrere and set decorator John Brown, with Truscott taking home a second statuette for the costumes. Lavishly made and lavishly awarded, it’s a classic of committed inspiration.

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Monday
Oct162017

The Furniture: A Plaster Haze in The Beguiled

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

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is no sprawling epic of the Civil War. The Farnsworth Seminary for Girls, where Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) presides, is no Tara. There are no ballgowns or battlefields. There is only a big lonely house, the seat of a plantation that has decayed into an isolated finishing school for an especially isolated handful of girls.

Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is thrust into this setting, his leg wounded and his uniform bloodied. The resulting tension simmers for days, weeks even, before exploding in nocturnal chaos and violence. All the while the house stands silent, forcing these emotions up and down the stairs and into small, dimly-lit corners. There is a forever haze about this place, though never quite hot enough to break into a sweat.

This tightly-knotted mood owes a great deal to production designer Anne Ross, a frequent collaborator of Coppola’s, as well as art director Jennifer Dehghan and set decorator Amy Beth Silver...

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Monday
Oct092017

The Furniture: The Gas Lighting of Gaslighting in Gaslight

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

This week I’d like to talk about gas lighting. That’s in addition to gaslighting, which is obviously related. Basically, I’d like to talk about the way that Gaslight (1944) uses gas lighting to distill the concept of gaslighting. It was so effective that “gaslighting” stuck, and has remained a popularly understood concept nearly 75 years after the film debuted.

Of course, these days the term has been almost completely divorced from memory of the original play or its various adaptations. The 1944 version is mostly remembered for winning Ingrid Bergman her first Oscar, and deservedly so. Her performance is astonishing, newly powerful with each successive viewing.

However, the film did win a second Oscar. Not for director George Cukor, who wasn’t even nominated. Nor for cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, who lost to Joseph LaShelle’s work on Laura...

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Monday
Oct022017

The Furniture: Slack Bay's Giddy Grotesqueries

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

“Look! Mussel-gatherers!” Isabelle Van Peteghem (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) shrieks. “How picturesque!”

Her deranged tone of voice, along with the confused faces of the mussel-gatherers, let you know that you’re watching a Bruno Dumont film. Slack Bay is a comedy of manners and hats, kidnapping and cannibalism. Set on the coast of Northern France in 1910, it’s a period piece with no shortage of surprises.

Initially, the film seems to be making a fairly straightforward point about tourism and class. André (Fabrice Luchini) and Isabelle Van Peteghem are nightmarishly enthusiastic. Aude (Juliette Binoche), André’s sister, is even worse. They all find everything terribly amusing, including the budding friendship between Aude’s daughter, Billie (Raph), and a local kid named Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville). The interior of their home mimics the interiors of their heads, packed with dusty, fancy nonsense.

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