Monday, May 26, 2008

production design blog-a-thon: day seven

The last day of the Production Design Blog-A-Thon opens with Richard from Bastard In Love browsing the Film Stills LiveJournal community and giving us a link to someone's astonishing collection of screencaps from The Color of Pomegranates (production design by Stepan Andranikyan). Just stunning:

Also today, I contributed my fourth and final contribution, moving on to Asia to examine the work of Wong Kar-Wai's longtime production designer William Chang. In Chungking Express (1994), Chang memorably evokes the crowded, "hyperactive" look of contemporary Hong Kong (see below).

And joining us for the first time is Bob Westal (Forward to Yesterday), on Fritz Lang's 1922 film Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. In "Playing About," his appreciation of the film's four art directors, Bob examines the film's Expressionist use of "sheer artifice":

Then we have "Cruel Production Design," by Pacheco of Bohemian Cinema. Pacheco writes on the movie Cruel Intentions, providing some lavish screenshots of "the expensive suits, clothes, and homes of the spoiled brats on screen."

And then we're joined by Oggs Cruz, of "Lessons From The School of Inattention," who provides a thoughful write-up on 1985's Scorpio Nights (directed by production-designer-turned-director Peque Gallaga). Scorpio Nights, Cruz writes, uses its production design to generate an "unsurmountable atmosphere of fetishistic, fatalistic and erotic danger."

And closing things out [possibly?] we have Jason Bellamy, of The Cooler. In his piece, "Messaging Through the Medium: The Royal Tenenbaums," he writes on the Tenenbaum house and notes that while it is "pure fantasy, the temporary stuff of movie magic," it also "feels lived-in to a degree that many sets don't."

Includes, as a bonus, scans of the detailed drawings that Wes Anderson provided to production designer David Wasco.

If you're just now coming to this Blog-A-Thon, feel free to consider participating -- I'm likely to do an update wrapping late-comers into the fold if there's interest. Or just post a link in the comments thread, here.

I had a great time working on this, and seeing what people came up with. Expect a full wrap-up post a bit later (likely tomorrow).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

mass-populated and hyperactive spaces: william chang

My final post for the Blog-A-Thon takes us away from Europe and into Asia: we're going to be taking a look at the work of William Chang, Wong Kar-Wai's longtime production designer. All of their collaborations have phenomenal production design—I considered, briefly, trying to tackle their 2004 project 2046—but the one I'd like to look at today is a much earlier one, Chungking Express (1994).

Chungking Express is a pair of love stories set in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of the densest cities on Earth, and correspondingly, there's not a shot in the entire film that doesn't take place in some kind of built environment, providing a special challenge for the production designer.

In Chang and Kar-Wai's vision of the city, Hong Kong is strikingly evoked as an elaborate labyrinth of infrastructural space, apartments, shops, corridors, restaurants, clandestine workspaces, and unclassifiable combinations of the above. Behold:

[Much of the distinctive look of this film stems from the choice to film portions of it within the Chungking Mansions, a sprawling building described by Wong Kar-Wai as a "mass-populated and hyperactive place," and a "great metaphor for [Hong Kong] herself." The Chungking Mansion Wikipedia page is absolutely fascinating reading.]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

production design blog-a-thon: day six

Things may be beginning to wind down at the Production Design Blog-A-Thon, but today we're treated to two powerhouse posts.

First, Bob Turnbull, of Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind makes his second contribution to the Blog-A-Thon with "A Potpourri of Production Design," which features appreciations of eight different films: Playtime, Deep Red, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Songs From the Second Floor, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Heaven Can Wait, and Say Anything. Some incredible stuff there:

And then we've got Weeping Sam of The Listening Ear, also joining us for a second go, and also doing a big production-design round up, with stills from The Pornographers, The Apartment, Inland Empire, and some films of Ed Wood's.

Plenty to delight in here as well:

In other news, I'm presently in Seattle, WA, and by lucky coincidence my visit happens to overlap with a segment of the Seattle International Film Festival: I went and saw two festival films today and will go see two more tomorrow... if any readers of this blog are also in town, drop me a line and we can compare notes.

Friday, May 23, 2008

production design blog-a-thon: days four and five

Day Four was a slow day for the Blog-A-Thon, with no new entries coming in: just as well, as I was moving about the country (visiting three major US cities) and only had fleeting time to tend to the blog(s).

However, Day Five is off to a good start, with Deborah Lipp, of the Ultimate James Bond Fan Blog, contributing a post on "The Genius of Ken Adam": "Bond films, as designed by Adam, look like you are walking into a heightened world, someplace a little more alive, a little more exciting."

And then, we have "Beyond Repulsion," a piece on David Cronenberg's long-time designer Carol Spier, over at Jeff Ignatius' Culture Snob. Of their collaboration, Jeff writes that it has yielded "a physicality that's unparalleled in cinema":

And finally, my own post on Amelie, whose production designer Aline Bonetto reliably provides a series of "objects and spaces that can convincingly yield pleasure and reveal character" (see below).

The Blog-A-Thon doesn't end until Sunday, so there's still time to participate with your own post...

the pleasures of objects and spaces: aline bonetto

[This entry is not part of Film Club proper but is part of the Production Design Blog-A-Thon, which begins today and runs through May 25th. Please consider joining us with your own post on the topic.]

Production designer Aline Bonetto's collaboration with French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet began in 1991, when she worked as a set decorator on Delicatessen (still one of my all-time favorite movies). She returned as his set decorator in 1995 for City of Lost Children, and moved on to become his official production designer in 2001, with Amelie.

Amelie would present a challenge for any production designer, given that, at its core, it is a movie about the pleasures of objects and spaces. Even beyond this: the film repeatedly posits that your relationship to objects and spaces is, in fact, a central determinant of your character. And so the responsibility falls on the production designer to produce objects and spaces that can convincingly yield pleasure and reveal character.

It is to Ms. Bonetto's enormous credit that the film pulls this off: the spaces in the film are crammed with interesting things which delight the eye and help to establish mood and flavor. The costumes are great, too.

Screenshots can say this better than I can:

One more to go, this weekend.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

production design blog-a-thon: day three

Day Three of the Blog-A-Thon gets underway with "I Think We Lost The Horizon," in which Jonathan L. (of Cinema Styles) appreciates Frank Capra's 1937 film, Lost Horizon. Lost Horizon, in Jonathan's estimation, has "[c]razy politics, a disturbing message and beautiful, and I mean beautiful, production design."

I follow up with my second go at it, this time looking at the balance between "beautiful places" and places that are "falling apart" in David Gordon Green's George Washington (see below).

Then we're joined by Anaj, of !anaj, em s'taht, who writes on how the very palette of a film can be oppressive, in her piece on Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem, "Suffocating in 1970's Must and Tapestry."

"Production designer Christian M. Goldbeck," Anaj writes, "sets the scene for a suffocating trip into the 1970s where the brownish colour of wall-to-wall carpeting seems to smother all of Michaela’s hopes and ambitions."

Next, Weeping Sam at The Listening Ear appreciates the "stagy" quality of 2005's Princess Raccoon. "Frontal, artificial, performative," Sam writes in his post, "all the way through."

And, finally, creeping in just a hair before midnight, we have Bob Turnbull of Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind contributing an appreciation of "The Look of The Loved One," Tony Richardson's 1965 film, featuring production design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. Bob observes the way that, in this film, "the rooms are so stuffed and almost overflowing that they can barely fit the people in":

An excellent day for the Blog-A-Thon! Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow may hold. I'll be in three different major US cities tomorrow, but expect a late update nevertheless.

varieties of american space: richard wright

[This post is not part of Film Club proper, but is part of the Production Design Blog-A-Thon, running through May 25. Please consider joining us with your own post on the topic.]

I know I promised to do a post on Aline Bonetto, but before I leave the US for sunny France I wanted to do an appreciation of one more person who has an eye for uniquely American types of spaces, specifically, production designer Richard Wright (no relationship to the American novelist).

Richard Wright's work has mostly been with director David Gordon Green, in a partnership lasting four films: George Washington, All The Real Girls, Undertow, and Snow Angels. This partnership, incidentally, seems to be coming to an end as both Wright and Green branch out: Green is taking a turn in the Apatow machine with Pineapple Express (forthcoming), and Wright has been bringing his hardscrabble Americana aesthetic to acclaimed indie features like Great World of Sound (2007) and Chop Shop (2008).

The future doesn't really matter either way for our purpose here today, which is to look at the first product of the Green / Wright partnership, George Washington. Production design is crucial to George Washington for the same reason it's crucial to Punch-Drunk Love: because the film is deeply concerned with space. Specifically, American varieties of space:

Space is explicitly discussed in a few different ways in George Washington before it reaches the ten-minute mark. "This place is falling apart faster than we can do anything about it," complains one character, while another remarks in dreamy voice-over "I like to go to beautiful places, where there's waterfalls and empty fields, just places that are nice, and calm, and quiet."

The film might initially seem to be privelging the position of the complainer, because while we don't see any empty fields or waterfalls in the film, we see no shortage of what we might be considered ruin:

But ultimately, the film instructs us that both of these characters are missing the point somewhat, and that in a post-industrial America the available places of "nice, calm, quiet" are not waterfalls or empty fields, but are precisely the places that have effectively "fallen apart." Almost the entire film happens in these sorts of spaces, and Wright's eye for designing them is flawless:

These types of spaces are, almost always, sources of comfort (the final screenshot in that sequence is an exception); sites where play, exploration, and a kind of culture can occur.

In my own creative work and personal life I have often found that these spaces yield similar sorts of pleasures, but outside of Wright's production design I can't think of a time when I've felt that feeling reliably translated to the screen. Production Designer Richard Wright, we salute you!