Production Design Nominees for the Academy Awards 2013

This year’s Production Design Academy Awards nominees are all fantastic!  But I have to be honest, there’s one I was unable to see before the awards tonight, and I’m sad about it!  But it’s out on DVD now, so I have every plan to see it: Anna Karenina.  It’s a Joe Wright movie with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen, so you know it’s good.

Keira Knightly and

Keira Knightly as Anna Karenina

I do have a good friend who saw the movie and gave me a great description.  He said it was a movie set up like a play.  The sets moved in and out behind the actors, like the backdrops in a play.  It sounds extraordinary!  Nominated for Anna Karenina are Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration).

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, THE Hobbit.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, THE Hobbit

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey once again takes us to The Shire and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted it to be.  It’s a Hobbit House! Nothing could be better.  Nominated for The Hobbit are Dan Hennah (Production Design) and Ra Vincent and Simon Bright (Set Decoration).

Annie Leibovitz photo, for Vogue, of Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen as Madame and

Annie Leibovitz photo, for Vogue, of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as Madame and Monsieur  Thenardier

Les Miserables is another movie that was set like a play, since it once was.  Period sets were realistically covered with the grittiness of early 19th century Paris.  They built Paris! Amazing.  Nominated for Les Miserables are Eve Stewart (Production Design) and Anna Lynch-Robinson (Set Decoration).

Life of Pi

Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel  in Life of Pi

Life of Pi.  Okay, there were some sets.  But to me, it seems that the set was mostly created digitally.  (More than the others anyway – I’m sure they are all digitally created to some degree.)  But basically, the movie was set in a boat.  It was a GORGEOUS movie, but not my favorite for this category.  Nominated for Life of Pi was David Gropman (Production Design) and Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration).

Daniel Daye Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln and he IS in  1860s Washington DC – I’m pretty sure they just time traveled

For Lincoln, they recreated history.  And they had a high bar set for them, considering Daniel Day-Lewis brought Abraham Lincoln back to life.  Nominated for Lincoln are Rick Carter (Production Design) and Jim Erickson (Set Decoration).

I have a feeling I’d vote for Anna Karenina if I’d seen it, but I happily wish for a win for Lincoln.

Leave a comment

Filed under In the Cinema

Journey to Skyfall

The latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, has all the ingredients for making a movie I’m sure to like.

Daniel Craig as 007 in the Scottish Highlands.

Daniel Craig as 007 in the Scottish Highlands for Skyfall.

Step 1: Set part of the film in Scotland.

Step 2: Include amazingly designed sets and architecture.

Step 3: Cast Javier Bardem as the villain in everything.  He’s brilliant.

The story of Skyfall takes place in London, the Scottish Highlands, Hashima Island, Turkey, and the most incredible set for the Macau floating casino.

MI6 headquarters, as seen from Vauxhall bridge in London.

MI6 headquarters, as seen from Vauxhall Bridge in London.

Let’s start in London.  The MI6 building where M’s office is located is a real building!  And it is the real headquarters of MI6, also known as the Secret Intelligence Service.  The first time this building appears in the film I thought there was no way it was real – especially since it’s bombed.

SIS building attack

Judy Dench as M, looking on as her office is engulfed in flames at the center of the MI6 building.

Obviously accomplished with the technology of CGI, the bombing of the real MI6 building seems to hit a little too close to reality, but it adds to the suspension of disbelief that lets the viewer feel like James Bond is real.  The SIS building was designed by Terry Farrell and built by John Laing, and it was completed in 1994.

James Bond in the National Gallery in London

James Bond in the National Gallery in London

There is another scene in London that caught my eye, and takes place in the National Gallery.  It is where James Bond meets his new Quartermaster, played by Ben Wishaw.  They are seated in Room 34, The Sackler Room, which displays British art from 1750-1850.  Behind James Bond, in the image above, he is flanked by two masterpieces.  The painting on the left is called An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1768.  The painting on the right is titled Mr and Mrs William Hallett (‘The Morning Walk’) and was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1785.  The National Gallery has a fantastic website that offers a virtual tour, so you can look around the gallery yourself.  Assuming the gallery hasn’t changed recently, you can even discover that the painting James Bond was looking at was a Turner.

Ulysses deriding Polyphemus- Homer's OdysseyJoseph Mallord William Turner, 1775 - 18511829

Ulysses deriding Polyphemus- Homer’s Odyssey by Joseph Mallord William Turner, in 1829

Next in Great Britain, we visit the Scottish Highlands: Glencoe to be exact, and the fictional manor of Skyfall, to be even more precise.  At this point in the movie, I turned to my friend and mouthed the words, “OH MY GOD!”

M and Bond look out over a fog covered Glencoe.

M and Bond look out over a fog-covered Glencoe.

In Skyfall, we are taken back to Bond’s childhood home, a Scottish manor called Skyfall.  While the structure itself was built specifically for the movie, it takes a lot of inspiration from real manors.  The building of Skyfall is documented in a series of great photos on this James Bond fan website.

Building Skyfall

Building Skyfall

Pictured below, Duntrune Castle, a 12th century Scottish manor in Argyll, Scotland, clearly influenced the entrance gate to Skyfall with the deer on either side of the gate.  It makes for a very dramatic entrance, and is now on my dream house wishlist.

Duntrune Castle

Duntrune Castle

We are also taken to the other side of the world in Skyfall.  I first heard about our next stop on The History Channel’s special Life After People.  The deserted Hashima Island is off the coast of Japan.  A coal mining facility was constructed on the island in 1887, but the entire island was abandoned by 1974, once petroleum replaced coal. For over 30 years, the island was left alone. In Skyfall, Hashima is cast as the villain’s lair. Javier Bardem’s character Raoul Silva and his thugs are the only inhabitants.  Also known as Ghost Island, it has the perfect eeriness to act as the villain’s home.

Abandoned island,  Hashima takes on the role of the villain's lair in Skyfall.

Abandoned island Hashima takes on the role of the villain’s lair in Skyfall.

Speaking of villains …have I mentioned how fantastic Javier Bardem is in this movie?  It seems to me that he was taking a lot of cues from Silence of the Lambs, but his acting was certainly on par with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.

Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva ...as Hannibal Lecter (according to me.)

Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva …as Hannibal Lecter (according to me.)

Next we go to Turkey! Besides all the gorgeously colored markets that James Bond destroys as he races through on a motorcycle, I was stunned by the glimpse we got into the Hagia Sophia. I have always admired this building in pictures, but to get to experience it on film was a treat – and the closest I’ve been to visiting it.

Interior image of the Hagia Sophia.

Interior image of the Hagia Sophia.

Construction on the Hagia Sophia, as we know it today, began in 532 CE.  I often see pictures of the interior, like the one above, taken from the gallery.  But what I liked about seeing it in Skyfall was that we were with James Bond on the ground level, looking up–which offered an interesting new perspective.

Finally, the last place I wanted to investigate was Macau. I can’t remember now if they mention in the movie that he’s in Macau, but I was interested to find out more about the casino boat that James Bond arrives at, looking as James Bond as ever.

James Bond arriving at the floating casino.

James Bond arriving at the floating casino.

Apparently, this whole scene was filmed in the studio, and I wonder how much it even looked like this on set and how much was added in later digitally.  Either way, the outcome was breathtaking.  Also, I didn’t realize that the floating casino was based on a real casino boat.  Just Google “Macau Floating Casino” and you’ll see.

In the course of reading about the movie and looking for images to illustrate my 007 points, I came across some fun websites.  Did you know there’s a whole website dedicated to the suits of James Bond?!  Also, a writer at The Atlantic has gone through and mapped all the locations of all Bond films.  It’s a trivia quiz and geography lesson all-in-one!

James Bond looking out over London.

James Bond looking out over London.

1 Comment

Filed under In the Cinema

Debate Style

In honor of tomorrow night’s third and final Presidential debate of this election, I thought I’d take a look back at a couple of the past debates and point out the true winners …in design.

1960 Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon

The first televised debate, in Chicago, Illinois, 1960,  is famously known for staging the cool, calm John F. Kennedy Jr. against the sweaty Richard M. Nixon.  But, did you know it also featured the elegantly designed chairs of Hans Wegner?  Known simply as The Chair, it was designed in 1949.

The Chairs, 1949, used in the 1960 debate are now a part of The Smithsonian Museum’s collection.

Hans Wegner was born in 1914 and lived until 2007.  He was a Danish designer known the world over for his sleek, sometimes historically referential  and always modern designs.  Also visible in the picture below are four gentlemen seated just in front of the stage, though the picture is quite dark, they appear to be seated in office armchairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

1960 Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, full stage view

If not by Eames, these four chairs were certainly influenced by his Office series furniture.  These particular chairs, known as DAT-1, were introduced in 1953.  D.A.T. stands for Desk Armchair Tilt.  They were part of the Eames Office series and were the first chair to offer the ability to tilt back in your seat.

1953 Eames DAT-1 chair, shown here in a lighter color than was used at the debate.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN SEYFRIED

This was not the last time an Eames chair would make an appearance at a Presidential debate.  After the 1960 debate, there was not another until 1976 – and Eames was there.  In San Francisco, California, 1976, it was incumbent Jimmy Carter debating President Gerald Ford.

Carter and Ford at their podiums with Eames chairs behind them.

The chair behind each gentleman is the EC 118 by Eames.  It was introduced in 1970.  It is very similar in appearance to the DAT-1, although it is at a taller height and has a round foot rail near the base.

The Eames EC 118, 1970
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN SEYFRIED

While the podiums from the 1976 debate appear to be in The Smithsonian’s collection, I was unable to find the chairs.  These same chairs were in the Vice Presidential date of that year, with Bob Dole and Walter Mondale in Houston, Texas.

Mondale and Dole debate with the E 118 in the background
AP PHOTOS

In both of the above cases, the chairs that were used, were relatively new designs.  In 1960, they were using designs from 1949 and 1953.  At the 1976 debate, they used chairs that had been designed only 6 years earlier.  But the iconic designs of Charles and Ray Eames have made it into the 21st Century.  Upon first glance at the set for the first debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, I was totally bored!  There was nothing.  No chairs,and the podiums were standard issue.  Then the camera zoomed out and we caught a glimpse of Jim Lehrer’s chair.

Jim Lehrer and his chair steal the show at the first residential debate of 2012 between Obama and Romney.

How exciting! An Eames chair!  All the way from 1958!  Mr. Lehrer is seated in the Eames Aluminum Management Chair, part of a series of aluminum furniture created by Charles and Ray Eames.  Originally designed for the residence of J. Irwin Miller, designed by the architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard.

The Eames Aluminum Management Chair, part of the Eames Aluminum Group series, 1958, produced by Herman Miller

This is a little sidetrack, but I wanted to include a picture of the house that J. Irwin Miller had built by Saarinen and Girard and where this chair originally went.  Miller was an interesting and important figure in the patronage of Modern architecture in the 1950s and 60s, and he and his house deserve a mention.  The house is now a part of the collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The Miller House, 1957
INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART

The set of the second debate between Romney and Obama left me wanting more.  All it takes is an Eames chair, so I think I’m pretty easily satisfied!  But the wooden bar stools with blue upholstery and the tall metal plant stand-looking tables left me thinking, who designed this?  I’m still trying to figure out where they’re from.  Does anyone have them at home?

The second Presidential debate set at Hofstra University.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES

Perhaps I shouldn’t judge too harshly; maybe it was the simplicity of the second set which allowed for a more exciting debate.  Although, I like to think that good design excites the mind and creates a better dialogue.  Happy debating!

4 Comments

Filed under As Seen On TV

The Avengers Background

When I’m watching an action movie, I don’t necessarily think I’m going to see (or pay attention to) the sets.  And if that action movie is also based on comic book characters, then I tend to think it’s going to be so futuristic that the sets might not have any relationship to historic design.  But, The Avengers proved me wrong! And I love it!  Here are some things I noticed.

Scarlett Johansen as Black Widow

When Black Widow goes to visit Hawkeye in the recovery room she pours him a glass of water.  I noticed the pitcher she poured the water from as a bit of Scandinavian design.

Black Widow pours water for Hawkeye from …of course …a black pitcher.

Erik Magnussen designed this pitcher for the company called Stelton.  He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1940 and graduated as a ceramist from the School of Applied Arts and Design in 1960.  In 1983 he was chosen “designer of the year” by the Danish Design Council.

Black Widow and a refreshed Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)

I also noticed Tony Stark’s home.  Truthfully, I’ve been noticing his home(s) since the first Iron Man movie – but that will be a post of its own.  If the saying is true, and money can’t buy taste, then Mr. Stark is fortunate enough to have both.  For the first two movies, production designer, J. Michael Riva created a horizontally sprawling Charles Lautner-inspired dream space for Stark.  For The Avengers, James Chinlund created a vertical tower, with Tony Stark’s multi-story penthouse at the top.

Stark Tower and landing pad

Besides the completely bad-ass landing pad where Iron Man lands – and through the talents of Stark technologies disassembles his armor – and emerges as Tony Stark, there are the modernist interiors.  In an interview with the LA Times, Chinlund says of Stark Tower, “Tony Stark bought the iconic MetLife Building (formerly the PanAm Building) and ripped off the top, adding his own piece of parasitic architecture to the top. The height of arrogance and the essence of Stark.”  Parade magazine also has a great feature on Stark’s penthouse in The Avengers.

Tony Stark and Pepper Pot’s penthouse in Manhattan.

The penthouse, just like his houses in previous movies has a circular shape to it and is surrounded by windows, and magnificent views.

Loki and Tony Stark in the penthouse with a view of the Chrysler  Building

My favorite thing I noticed in this movie was an obvious one, I know.  But, Iron Man wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt made me chuckle; like, even he gets the joke.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt

Leave a comment

Filed under In the Cinema

Revenge

Oh yeah, I’ve been watching it.  And I’m hooked.  But, when Tyler Barrol tied Nolan Ross to a chair in his living room, in Episode 10, Loyalty, I was too busy noticing the famous chair to worry about Nolan.  Anyone else?

Nolan Ross, played by Gabriel Mann in Revenge.

The chair that Nolan is tied to is the Wassily chair, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925 while he was on the faculty of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany.  Since 1968 it has been produced by Knoll.

Nolan's living room.

Considering the show is filled with wealthy characters, I’m surprised that it took until the tenth episode to spot some famous furniture design.  Here’s hoping there’s more soon!

The Wassily chair.

 

1 Comment

Filed under As Seen On TV

The Five Year Engagement

The past two weeks have been very satisfying ones for me regarding movies.  They’ve been so good in fact, that I’m inspired to write!  I haven’t written in too long.  Last week I got to watch Vertigo on the big screen at an outdoor park’s cinema night.  I feel like I mention this in every post, but Vertigo is my favorite movie.  So, I’m happy with any chance I get to watch it, but to see it on the big screen is magnificent!  Last night I watched The Five Year Engagement.  The story was a good one; it followed a couple, Tom and Violet – played by Jason Segal and Emily Blunt- from San Francisco, California to Ann Arbor, Michigan and gave the audience a chance to see some memorable architecture and lovely interiors along the way.

While in San Francisco, Tom and Violet attend a wedding at the park by the Palace of Fine Arts.  The Palace was originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition.

The Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, California. Bernard Maybeck, architect. 1915

The Palace is also seen in Vertigo when Scotty and Judy pass it during a walk.

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak as Scotty and Judy at The Palace of Fine Arts in Vertigo

After San Francicso, we next visit the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  There are some very pretty views of the campus in Spring and in Winter.  I’ve also found a great flickr account (by cseeman) that shows them filming on campus at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.   http://www.flickr.com/photos/cseeman/5787477908/in/photostream/.

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business building on the University of Michigan's campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In The Five Year Engagement, Violet goes to the University of Michigan to study psychology.  The Ross building, built in 2004, served as Violet’s department building.

My favorite bit of production design in the movie, however, was the use of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House.  It was used as Violet’s professor’s house and truly is in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Palmer House at night.

Violet’s professor, played by Rhys Ifans, lives in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, although no one mentions this directly in the film.  His character, Winton, as in real life, is Welsh.  This is mentioned, and I liked the connection.  Wright’s parents were Welsh, and his architecture was often influenced by this heritage.

Winton, played by Rhys Ifans, lives in the Palmer House.

The Palmer House was built for William Palmer and Mary Warton Shuford in 1950.  Both graduates of the University of Michigan, the Palmers became familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s work upon seeing the Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  (The Affleck House was featured in a Chrysler commercial.)  William Palmer was a professor of economics at the University of Michigan.  What a perfect house to use for Winston’s home!  The Palmers lived in the house for over 50 years.  Since 2009, the house has been owned by Jeffery and Kathryn Schox.  Again, both graduates of the University of Michigan, they divide their time between Ann Arbor and San Francisco – like Tom and Violet in the movie!  Connections between real life and movie sets like this are fantastic.  I love learning these sort of facts like a detective.

Tom, Violet, and Winton in the Palmer House, seated on and surrounded by, Wright designed furniture.

In the film, we are shown exterior shots and interiors of the living room, mostly at night.  We also get to see downtown Ann Arbor covered in snow.

Tom and Violet in snow covered Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Besides enjoying the great background locations in The Five Year Engagement, I also liked Violet’s handbag and wardrobe!  She has a classic brown saddle bag that she carries throughout the movie and I like how they often had her dressed in reds.

I liked Tom and Violet's wardrobes. Especially Violet's red coat and brown leather bag.

Tom and Violet ...and that handbag again!

3 Comments

Filed under In the Cinema

2012 Academy Award Nominations

The Academy Award nominations for Art Direction have been announced!  Stuart Craig was once again nominated for his very thorough work on Harry Potter.  Laurence Bennett and Anne Seibel are both coming into the race with impressive past work.  Dante Feretti has already won two Oscars for Art Direction on The Aviator (2004) and Sweeney Todd (2007).  If we’re to judge the future on the past, Rick Carter is probably the favorite – and I especially like the use of horse race metaphors for the art director of a movie about a horse – but with his winning the Oscar last year for Avatar and his track record (oops, I did it again) of nominations and amazing sets for movies like Forrest Gump, it wouldn’t be a shock if he won.  Although, if I’m going to make my pick, I choose Anne Seibel for Midnight in Paris.  I’m a sucker for period set designs and the richness of her design transported Owen Wilson and the audience directly into the Golden Age of 1920s Paris.

The Artist
Laurence Bennett (Production Design); Robert Gould (Set Decoration)

Jean Dujardin as George Valentin in The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration)

Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo
Dante Ferretti (Production Design); Francesca Lo Schiavo (Set Decoration)

Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret in Hugo

Midnight in Paris
Anne Seibel (Production Design); Hélène Dubreuil (Set Decoration)

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson as Adriana and Gil in Midnight in Paris

War Horse
Rick Carter (Production Design); Lee Sandales (Set Decoration)

Celine Buckens as Emilie in War Horse

1 Comment

Filed under In the Cinema, News

American Psycho, Foreign Collector

Patrick Bateman's living room in "American Psycho."

I was inspired by Flavorwire’s recent article titled, 15 Apartments on Film That We Wished We Owned, written by Colette McIntyre.  It covered some of my favorite apartments and homes in movies as well, and I could happily write a post for each one of them (and who knows, I may!), but the first one I thought I would tackle is “Patrick Bateman’s minimalist bachelor pad,” as Ms. McIntyre called it, in American Psycho from 2000.

A view of Patrick Bateman's living room from the other direction.

When it’s not covered in plastic sheeting …(yikes!) we get to see the furniture, from all over the world, that makes up his house.  To the left of his sliding glass doors, we see a chair from Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, in Helensburgh, Scotland.

The Hill House chair, 1904, in its original setting of The Hill House master bedroom.

I love the contrast between the master bedroom of The Hill House, with its stenciled walls, and stylized floral motifs, and Patrick Bateman’s cold, plain, white living room.  It shows what an iconic piece the Hill House chair really is; it can stand alone as a piece of design.

The two black leather side chairs and matching ottomans were designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929 for the German Pavilion for the International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain.  The Barcelona chair’s original aesthetic matches much more closely the aethetic of Patrick Bateman, but they were still seen in a much warmer environment, with golden marble and rich woods.

The Barcelona chairs and ottomans in situ, 1929.

The third piece of famous design in Bateman’s living room is the coffee table.  It was designed by Italian designer, Paolo Piva, c. 1980 for B&B Italia, and is called the Alana coffee table.  From what I’ve been able to find, Piva seems to give his pieces human names.  He was born in 1950, and his designs were most popular in the 1980s.  The time in which he was designing is especially interesting in relation to American Psycho, because while the movie was made in 2000, it was set in the 1980s.

Alana coffee table, c. 1980 by Paolo Piva.

Bateman’s furniture tastes cover many countries and many time periods, but it is the Alana coffee table that would have been brand new when he purchased it.

Gideon Ponte was the production designer for American Psycho and Jeanne Develle, the set decorator.  The American 1980s is not my area of expertise in decorative arts, and I wonder if the Hill House chair and Barcelona chairs would have been readily available for purchase at the time, and also if they would have been seen as the status symbols that they are now, and as I’m sure Patrick Bateman meant for them to be.

1 Comment

Filed under Double Takes, Modern Film

True Blood Season 4: No Really, I Watch It For the Furniture

In just 25 days, the new season of HBO’s True Blood comes out …so, I thought I would take a quick look at the set and find out a little bit more about a painting that caught my eye.

Behind Eric Northman, the vampire character portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård, is a painting by Alex Ross.

In the upper left corner of the image above, from True Blood’s Season Three, Episode 9, “Everything is Broken” there is a painting that is hard to miss.  It hangs in Fangtasia, the vampire bar in True Blood’s world of Shreveport, Louisiana.  The painting depicts George W. Bush as a vampire, sucking the blood and life out of the Statue of Liberty, and was originally published as the cover to New York’s The Village Voice in 2004.

The painting is by famed comic book and graphic novel illustrator, Alex Ross.  A fan of Norman Rockwell growing up, Ross has gone on to illustrate for Marvel Comics as well as DC Comics.  He has also worked on movies like Spider Man and Unbreakable.  He is quoted as saying, “I’ve been called ‘The Norman Rockwell of comics’ more than a hundred times. I’m not going to suggest I’m on the same level as Rockwell, but attempting that sort of realism in my work has always been part of my approach.”  I like this comparison of Ross to Rockwell in relation to the use of his painting in True Blood.  If Norman Rockwell was depicting the idealized innocence of America, Alex Ross has perfectly portrayed the pure evils of modern society.  That’s just the sort of Rockwell Eric Northman would go for.

For a glimpse at the forthcoming season of True Blood, check out CNN’s Marquee Blog or watch this trailer.  Season 4 being on June 26 at 9 PM.

Like I said, the furniture.

1 Comment

Filed under As Seen On TV

Great Gatsby Movie Mansions Help to Preserve Architecture, “Ceaselessly into the Past”

Yesterday, the mansion that likely inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write The Great Gatsby, in 1925, was demolished.  The possibility of demolition has had journalists and bloggers talking for a few months now.

Lands End in a recent photo shows the home in its condemned state.

The mansion was in Sands Point, New York, along Long Island’s Gold Cost.  It was called Lands End, and it was built in 1902 by architect Stanford White for the executive editor of the New York World newspaper, Herbert Bayard Swope.  News of the possible demolition was featured on the Today Show on March9.  It was first brought to my attention on March 12 on a fellow blogger’s website, Cinema Style, where the forthcoming Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby was discussed.  It was reported today on the CBS show, Sunday Morning, that it had been demolished.

A view of Lands End in better days.

Even though the look and location of this house may have inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was not used in the 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, as Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.  Lands End would have served as inspiration for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s house on East Egg, where the “old money” lived.

Rosecliff mansion of Newport, Rhode Island.

However, the house that was chosen for the film as Jay Gatsby’s mansion, was Rosecliff, a mansion commissioned by Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs, was completed in 1902 by architect Stanford White.

This is surely no coincidence, being built in the same year and by the same architect as Lands End.  But, I do wonder why the production designer, John Box, of the 1974 film chose not to, or was unable to use Lands End.   Another oddity is that while Lands End was in “East Egg,” Jay Gatsby lived in the nouveau riche “West Egg.”  Somehow, I think, the house chosen to portray Gatsby’s mansion would have been an even better replica of the Buchanan mansion.

Heatherden Hall in England became the Buchanan mansion in the 1974 movie.

The location for filming of the Buchanan House, in the 1974 movie, was actually in England at Heatherden Hall.

Beacon Towers built by architect Richard Howland Hunt, 1918.

The mansion thought to have been the inspiration for Jay Gatsby’s abode, was Beacon Towers.  Built for Alva Vanderbilt Belmont by architect Richard Howland Hunt in around 1918.  Richard Howland Hunt was the eldest son of Richard Morris Hunt , who had completed the Biltmore Estate for the Vanderbilt family in 1895.

Richard Morris Hunt is one of the most important architects in American architectural history.  He was the first American to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and brought back with him its sensibility.  Though much older than Stanford White, both men were designing the gilded mansions of the elite along the coasts of New York and Rhode Island – a tradition which also carried on into the next generation, as evidenced by Richard Howland Hunt building Beacon Towers.

Hammersmith Farm of Newport, Rhode Island was used in 1974 as Jay Gatsbys mansion.

In the 1974 Great Gatsby movie, two mansions were used to portray Gatsby’s mansion.  In addition to Rosecliff, Hammersmith Farm was used, and to me seems a much better recreation of Beacon Towers.

Hammersmith Farm, by architect Robert Henderson Robertson, 1887.

Hammersmith Farm was built in 1887 for John W. Auchincloss, by architect Robert H. Robertson.  Auchincloss, as it would turn out, was the the great-grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy’s stepfather, Hugh D. Auchincloss; and Hammersmith Farm was Jacqueline Kennedy’s childhood home.  It was later the location of the Kennedy’s wedding reception and their summer house while JFK was President.

Robert Redford, as the Great Gatsby in the 1974 movie at his West Egg mansion.

While we are still granted the presence of Rosecliff, Heatherden Hall and Hammersmith Farm, Fitzgerald’s original inspirations have been lost.  Both Beacon Towers and Lands End have been demolished, in 1945 and 2011, respectively.  And I can’t help but wonder if – or hope – that perhaps the 1974 movie helped to raise the importance or value or, at the very least, the recognizability of the mansions used as its sets.

Satellite view of Beacon Towers and Lands End in Sands Point, New York. (Before the demolition of Lands End.)

With the satellite view above, one can see just how perfectly Beacon Towers and Lands End were situated to inspire Jay Gatsby’s longing views of Daisy Buchanan’s pier with the green light on it.

Taking that famous last line of the book, that all the journalist and bloggers have reminded us of over the past few months, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” let us hope that future movies help to preserve historic architecture, by casting them as characters, as those were in the 1974 movie as the mansions of East and West Egg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Modern Film, News