Friday, 23 May 2008

A Potpourri Of Production Design

This post is part of the Production Design Blog-a-thon being hosted at Too Many Projects Film Club.

Playtime (1967)

Production Design - Eugene Roman

Though "Playtime" just about ruined Jacques Tati financially (entire buildings in 'Tativille' were built specifically for the film), it remains an incredible example of bringing a filmmaker's vision to screen through props, sets and lighting.

The shimmering greys of these shots add to the impersonal cold steel-like feeling of the modern buildings.

The restaurant/club where the latter part of the film takes place is a masterpiece of design - not just in the way that it looks, but the way it controls the movement of its characters and guides the many visual jokes. Screencaps don't do it justice because you need to see the flow of movement through it.

Deep Red (1975)

Production Design - Giuseppe Bassan
Set Decoration - Armando Mannini

Say what you will about Dario Argento's films (and you can certainly say a lot both good and bad), they always look great. He's certainly known for fabulous use of colours in his lighting schemes, but I found "Deep Red" had some terrific sets as well - most used to good effect during the "kill" sequences to help heighten the suspense or provide surprises.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Production Design - Walter Reinman, Walter Rohrig, Hermann Warm
Set Decoration - Hermann Warm

The standard bearer of German Expressionism, "Caligari" is designed to make everything seem off kilter with it's sharp angles and warped constructions. The tinting in these shots is apparently from the original design of the film.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Art Direction - Bernard Reeves

As fun as many of the late 60s and early 70s "horror" films are, one of the reasons they continue to appeal to so many people is the amazing look and feel they bring with them - take the opening of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" with the odd orchestra and dance sequence in Phibes' lair...

The rest of the film looks equally great with each set having its own colour palette and slightly askew feel to it.

Songs From The Second Floor (2000)

Production Designer - None listed in IMDB

Speaking of slightly askew...The incredible "Songs From The Second Floor" by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson contains washed out sets as well as washed out characters (in many ways). There's likely many ways to interpret this beautiful film, but I've always liked to look at it as a vision of purgatory.

Andersson's follow-up film, 2007's "You The Living" is similar in its construction (static shots and washed out colours) and was my favourite film of 2007.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967)

Art Direction - Robert F. Boyle
Set Decoration - Edward G. Boyle

This musical satire of the Corporate world is not only a lot of fun, but has some great looking office space. The colour schemes match the employees' clothing and keep things bright and cheerful while at the same time large swipes are being taken at the culture of business and what it really takes to climb the Corporate ladder.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Art Direction - James Basevi, Leland Fuller
Set Decoration - Thomas Little

From the grand headquarters of Satan in the opening of the film (the first two screencaps) to the overflowing colours and decor of the stately rooms, Ernst Lubitsch's story of a man looking back at his life is a feast for the eyes. Of course, when you have Gene Tierney in your movie, you could really just dispense with sets altogether...

Say Anything (1989)

Production Designer - Mark Mansbridge
Set Decoration - Joe Mitchell

And finally, some set design that doesn't necessarily stand out...As a matter of fact, it's barely noticeable. Which in the case of "Say Anything" is a good thing as nothing gets in the way of the characters and dialog. These are just a couple of examples of things I found that struck me as being quite realistic and not obviously placed in the frame.

That popsicle stick lamp to the left...We had one just like it when I was a kid and the top always leaned to one side just like this one.

That box of Glad wrap over John Cusack's shoulder that is not sitting flat on the top of the fridge, but caught in the gap between wall and fridge.

Those little coloured things in the soapdish at the middle bottom of the frame - it's true that no one actually puts soap there.

The fact that his bed isn't actually made up...


jpb said...

Some really smashing shots there, Bob. I'm finding myself surprised by a lot of these... especially the shots from films I'd heard of but never seen (How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, for instance). I'd half-imagined it to look a certain way based on the title, and it's so striking to see the gap between what was in my imagination and what is actually there.

Also, I'm kind of jealous that I didn't beat you to Playtime. Oh well~

Martin Rayala, Ph.D. said...

What would be a good way to kick-off an effort to transform learning environments by having production designers think about helping teachers and students transform the dismal design of school interiors? How can we use the expertise of production designers to overcome the stultifying effects of cold locker-lined hallways and efficient but sterile classrooms? How can we go beyond the eclectic, flea-market aesthetic employed by those who do try to make their rooms more visually stimulating?

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for the comments. Man, it was tough keeping the screenshots down to just a few per picture...

It's funny you mention "How To Succeed...". I had never seen it but was drawn to it due to a single screencap - this one used by Filmbrain one week for his quiz. I couldn't actually wait a whole week to see what the answer was, so I tracked it down via some good old Google searching (can't remember how I did that now).

Chris MaGee said...

"Songs from the Second Floor" is a great film. Very Bunuel in parts. It definitely deserves to be more well known.

Bob Turnbull said...

Martin, thanks for commenting...

Boy, that's a helluva set of questions you pose. I have no answers, but it's certainly made me think a bit...I actually work with a number of visual designers who have industrial design as their background - I'm going to forward this (and your very interesting "Visioneering" blog) to them.

I have to think money is pretty much the biggest factor - both the cost of design as well as the renumeration to the designers. That's not to say that those things couldn't be overcome...

Bob Turnbull said...

Chris, it's really an amazing film isn't it? And have I mentioned how much I liked his follow-up "You, The Living"?

Oh yeah, I did didn't I?

Martin Rayala, Ph.D. said...

Bob, thanks much for you reply.

I found it interesting that you have an interest in art (your other blog) because art education is where I'm coming from.

I've lately tried to get art teachers to pay more attention to design fields as well and to how design of images, objects, environments and experiences could improve education in every subject area.

Schools are accustomed to having "artists-in-residence" because artists often have the time and can use the small amount of money provided. I know designers are very busy and actually are getting paid daily so it is difficult to take time to work in schools.

At the Charter High School for Architecture and Design we hired architects and other designers as teachers but that took special steps around teacher certification laws and designers who were looking for something in addition to (or instead of) daily design work.

Perhaps the way working designers could help is by helping write curriculum ideas that teachers could apply to doing production design in schools. (?) Just think what a difference it would make if schools spent a year redesigning the interior of their schools to look like museums, movie sets, and theme parks.

RC said...

what a great collection...especially those shots from Playtime. What an incredibly unique film that is...relying SO Heavily on production design.

Jamie said...

Hey Bob--

I was going to post a comment earlier, but I was away for the weekend. All of these shots are phenomenal, but I'm sure you knew that already, or gathered that from everyone else's comments.

I love scenes that remind me of other films. The cubicle shot from "Playtime" immediately reminded me of the cubicle long shot from Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." I'm sure scenes like that are in dozens of other films, but no matter where you see them, it's always striking. I'll definitely be checking this blog out regularly. Great job.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks for the comments everyone...

Playtime sure has its fanbase doesn't it?

Good call on that cubicle scene and The Apartment Jaimie. It also reminds me of the famous scene from the silent film The Crowd.

Martin, I'm finding your blog fascinating and really insightful. I'm still thinking...