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Entries in Production Design (99)

Monday
May222017

The Furniture: All That Jazz and the Creative Erotics of Scaffolding

"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 ...

All That Jazz (1979) is the only Palme d’Or winner to have won the Oscar for Best Production Design. I do not have an explanation for that. Luck of the draw, really. But, as we await the prizes at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this odd piece of trivia is an excellent excuse to take a closer look at Bob Fosse’s masterpiece.

There are actually a few odd things about the film’s Oscar record. It’s not only a rare Oscar-winning remake, but a remake of another production design nominee: Federico Fellini’s . The four designers who took home the prize for All That Jazz include not only production designer Philip Rosenberg and art directors Gary Brink and Edward Stewart but also Tony Walton, who was credited as “fantasy designer.”

The “fantasies” in question are a big part of what connects All That Jazz with its predecessor...

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Monday
May152017

The Furniture: Decorating Obsession in "The Skin I Live In"

It's a Pedro Party! Our Almodóvar week is extending a couple of days. You can click on the images from this production design feature to see them in magnified detail. Here's Daniel Walber...

El Cigarral is a mysterious, hidden estate that lurks on the outskirts of Toledo, Spain. Its gates are perpetually locked and its secrets are not easily pried loose. Its owner, Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), keeps the outside world at a distance.

That said, more people manage to break in than he might like. It’s inevitable, at least in movies like these. Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is part of a long tradition that winds its way from The Island of Lost Souls through Eyes Without a Face. And this house, which seems to be accessible only under cover of night or in disguise, is among the most dramatically conceived in the entire genre...

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Monday
May082017

The Furniture: The Salesman Crafts His Own Stage

"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...

Asghar Farhadi's Oscar winning The Salesman begins with a set. The opening credits appear over the quiet stage of a small Tehran theater, nearly ready to debut a new production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We see the bed before the actors who will lie in it, neon lights illuminated for an empty house. It is a quite literal setting of the stage before the drama begins.

It’s not a play adaptation, but it often feels like one. There are few locations and the cast is small. And, as in many play adaptations, the production design does a lot of heavy lifting...

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Monday
May012017

The Furniture: My Gal Sal's Nonsense Gay Nineties

"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...

My Gal Sal is a pack of lies. The 1942 musical, ostensibly a biopic of songwriter Paul Dresser, is almost entirely fabricated. Of course, that hardly matters. Accuracy is no prerequisite for the Best Production Design Oscar, which Richard Day, Joseph C. Wright and Thomas Little won for the picture. No one will be mad if some details are fudged in musical numbers like “Me and My Fella and a Big Umbrella.”

That said, My Gal Sal is interesting because it’s all nonsense. It’s a window into the way Hollywood projects itself onto the past, a compendium of historical kitsch.

Dresser (Victor Mature) begins the film in a strict, Indiana home. His minister father objects to his music, so he runs away and gets a job with a medicine show. 

Eventually he meets Sally Elliott (Rita Hayworth), an established Broadway star. They don’t hit it off right away, but he meets her again in New York City. Their on-again-off-again romance, troubled by his sudden success, drives the rest of the plot...

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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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Wednesday
Apr122017

Cinematography, Production Design, Editing ~ April Foolish Oscar Predix

We're almost to our favorite craft category (costume design) and the marquee categories (acting/picture) are yet to come but here's another does of "what could be" in a few visual categories as our April Foolish Oscar Predictions continue...

Mudbound was shot by Rachel Morrison, who was previously DP on Fruitvale Station and Dope. Next up: Marvel's Black Panther

CINEMATOGRAPHY [click for the chart]
The big question TFE must always ask is "when is a female DP ever going to get nominated?" This year we count three female DPs with major projects: Mandy Walker (Australia, Hidden Figures) shot the romantic drama The Mountain Between Us, Rachel Morrison (Fruitvale Station) delivered another Sundance hit with Mudbound, and Urszula Pontikos (Lilting) was behind the camera on the story of Gloria Grahame's last days called Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Meanwhile on the male side of the equation, given that Greig Fraser and Bradford Young were FINALLY nominated last season after years of impressive rangey work, can the same thing happen for Hoyt Van Hoytema who has been waiting just as long. He shot Dunkirk this year.

PRODUCTION DESIGN 
Two mini-dramas within this race might be Production Designers at war with themselves. Four time nominee Sarah Greenwood has two high profile films, one fantasy (Beauty and the Beast) and one World War II drama (Darkest Hour). Three time nominee Nathan Crowley's films are less diametrically opposed but there's still plenty of room to showcase his range from the period circus musical The Greatest Showman and yet another collaboration with Chris Nolan on the World War II drama Dunkirk. Neither have ever won. Could this be the year for one of them? 

FILM EDITING
Arguably the category that's most dependent on the Best Picture race (give or take an action movie or thriller now and then) so this is like throwing darts at a wall about which films will have Best Picture heat and which could be the type of films that are honored for editing without that boost. 

Previous first stabs at new Oscar predictions
BEST SCORE, BEST SOUND
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS, BEST MAKEUP & HAIR
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE 

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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