Category Archives: In the Cinema

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.


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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 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.

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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

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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.

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!


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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

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

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As in all Fairy Tales, adapt or die.

I went to see Hanna this weekend and left the theater amazed.  I had hoped from seeing the preview that it would be based on fairy tales, and I was not disappointed.  But, we’re not talking the Disney-sequins-dressed-princess-and-charming-prince-type fairy tales; we’re talking difficult-lessons-learned-through-failure-Grimm Brothers’-gritty fairy tales.  A fairy tale with real heart.  The best kind.

The daughter without a mother.

The entire story seems based on an amalgam of the Grimm Brothers’ stories: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood, to name a few.  The daughter without a mother.  The single father raising her.  The wicked queen and her loyal, devious, but ultimately useless oafs.  The cabin in the woods.  The fortress that must be escaped.

The father, raising his daughter alone.

And of course, the final climactic scene between innocent good and jaded evil.  In this case, at an amusement park, that leaves it all out there, nothing hidden.

The evil queen of the CIA.

The evil queen and her henchman.

The amusement park, known in the movie as Grimm’s Amusement Park, could not make this movie’s references to fairy tales any more obvious.  Hanna’s mission is to get to Grimm’s house.  It is a fairy tale that takes place in an amusement park whose theme is fairy tales.  The park, in reality, is called Spree Park, and it is in East Berlin, Germany.  It was deserted in 1999 and, as explained on Focus Features’ website, it was chosen by the director, Joe Wright and the production designer, Sarah Greenwood to be the surreal and haunted location of the major scene in the film.

At Grimm's Amusement Park in the mouth of the Big Bad Wolf.

Once we arrive at Grimm’s Park, forget any subtle allegory.  The evil queen emerges from the wolf’s mouth.  She’s evil, and fair Hanna is good.  Who will adapt and who will die?

Also, it is coincidence that Cate Blanchett’s character, the devilish CIA agent, wears Prada shoes?  Brilliant!

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The Dragon Tattoo and Swedish Wallpaper

When this film started, I had no way of knowing how much I would get wrapped up in it!  (I had a similar experience with the book too.)  The story is excellent, the acting is amazing, but it was the interesting British and Swedish decorative arts and parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (one of my favorite things to talk about) that made me into a full-on fanatic about this movie.

First, let’s start with the decorative arts.  This movie is filled with design.  (Oh, and I just want to say that I’m not going to spoil anything …the story is too good for me to deprive anyone of that suspense!)  The story revolves around a wealthy Swedish family, the Vangers, so of course they live in some fabulous buildings.  The family’s main home, is so grand and austere, you would think they were royalty.

Erstaviks castle in Nacka Municipality, Sweden, that played the part of the Vanger family home.

When we are introduced to the Vanger son’s home we get a glimpse of modern design.  Martin Vanger’s home was supposed to have been built in 1979, and is unlike any other space we visit in the movie.

Martin Vanger's house

The plot centers around a journalist who is brought in to investigate a long unsolved the murder of one of the Vanger children, Harriet Vanger.  His investigation begins as he is hired by the patriarch of the family, Henrik Vanger.  Henrik received a framed pressed flower every year for his birthday, just as Harriet had given him, every year, when she was alive.

Every year for his birthday, Henrik receives a pressed flower in a frame. Uhh ...he's pretty old.

While researching the family and unsolved crime, the journalist, Mikael Blomqkist, stays on the family estate in a small cabin, down the road from Martin Vanger.  It is here that we see some historic designs.  The wallpaper in this cabin is by the Swedish (born Austrian) architect and designer, named Josef Frank (1885-1967).  Frank’s work in architecture, and especially in furniture, textile and wallpaper design had a profound impact on the Swedish Style of the mid 20th century.  But this so-called Swedish style did not begin with Frank.  It  began around the time of his birth in the 1880s with William Morris (1834-1896) in England. As William Morris shaped the public taste of Victorian England, he influenced a movement that was spreading across all of Europe.  The Arts and Crafts Movement stressed the importance of handmade craftsmanship and an appreciation for nature.  (To sum up the movement in far too few words!)  These beliefs can be clearly scene in his wallpaper.  Creating in the traditional style, William Morris’ wallpapers were made from vegetable dyes and used the hand woodblock technique.

William Morris' "Daisy" wallpaper, 1864

William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts Movement directly influenced the Swedish painter and interior designer, Carl Larsson (1853-1919).  He, in following Morris (he was 20 years Morris’ junior), created an artistic house.  Larsson and his wife, Karin, filled their home with their artistic touches.  Where previously only the “fine arts,” painting and sculpture, would have been used to decorate a house, they painted and decorated walls, furniture and textiles.  The Larssons also documented their entire house in the book, Ett hem, published in 1899.  Their use of Swedish folklore and their belief in the beauty of nature can be seen in every print Larsson put into the book.

"In the Corner" by Carl Larsson, 1894 and published in Ett hem, this is a view of the drawing room. Notice the hand painted stove to the right. It is covered in botanical prints, similar to Morris' "Daisy" pattern wallpaper. (This artwork is now at The National Museum Sweden.)

With the publishing of this book, and the introduction of his style and views on home life to the Swedish people, Larsson helped to create a modern Swedish style.  (I do also need to point out Larsson’s debt to the English illustrator Kate Greenaway and her depiction of English childhood surrounded by Queen Anne architecture.)

Here is another view of the stove in the drawing room, with painter, carpenter and Carl Larsson himself in the mirror.

Okay, okay, back to the movie!!  So, with that brief history of Morris and Larsson in mind, imagine my excitement, when Blomkvist walks into his cabin and we see a view of the paper covering the walls.

Josef Frank wallpaper in Blomkvist's cabin

Josef Frank would have been familiar with Larsson and Morris’ work.  And as a last generation of the Arts and Crafts Movement, he held on to the love of brightly colored, stylized natural motifs and it shines here brightly in his botanical print wallpaper with a print called Vårklockor.

Josef Frank's wallpaper pattern, Vårklockor, from the 1940s. It was manufactured by the Norrköping Wallpaper Factory.

This is such an interesting choice to me.    In reconciling the design against the movie’s plot, it is curious that the wallpaper put up in a Vanger cabin was designed by Josef Frank, a man of Jewish descent.  (Part of the story behind the Vanger family is its involvement with the Nazi party …and I’ll leave it at that.  Like I said, I don’t want any spoilers!)

Another view of Blomkvist's cabin, with Josef Frank's wallpaper.

There is another scene in which we see this wallpaper, but this time it has a dark background.  Also, the bench in this scene caught my eye.

Once again we see Frank's Vårklockor pattern, along side an Eastlake style bench.

Up close, as seen below, the wallpaper is very vibrant.  But,  I like the aged look it has in the film.  Still, the pattern is distinct, and it is certainly Josef Frank’s design.

Josef Frank's Vårklockor pattern wallpaper with a black background.

The bench, in the picture above, where Lisbeth Salander is seated, will again take us back to England.  And, I can’t imagine how I made it this far into my story without mentioning Lisbeth!  She is a fantastic heroine, and I think one of my favorites.  Curiously enough, one of Carl Larsson’s daughters was named Lisbeth, and is featured in the prints of Ett hem.  ( I love little coincidences like that.)  I can’t say for certain whether the bench is Swedish or English, but it definitely finds its provenance in England.  As part of the firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., designer and architect, Philip Webb (1831-1915), created the Morris Adjustable Chair in 1866.

The "Morris Adjustable Chair" from Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., by Philip Webb, 1866.

Notice the similarity in the chair rail, arms and legs of the Morris Adjustable Chair to the bench Lisbeth sits on …and yet there are differences.  The bench takes its slimmer silhouette from the Firm’s Sussex line.

The Firm's Sussex chair line, designed 1865.

Yet, that still doesn’t quite cover it.  I think the bench we see in the movie was very much influenced by Charles Eastlake (1836-1906).  And his influence too would have been felt by Carl Larsson.  Eastlake, an English architect and designer was William Morris’ contemporary.  His book, Hints on Household Taste, published in Great Britain in 1868, presented the idea that the decor of a home should have a continuity in style.  His ideas not only help spread the word of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but it would have influenced Larsson in the decorating of his family home too.

This is an American example of the Charles Eastlake style, and I think a very close look-alike to the bench in the film. (Circa 1880 from D. Dexter's Sons, it is now a part of the Brooklyn Museum's collection.)

Finally, the parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo gave me chills!  Not in a, “oh I’ve already seen this but it’s still great” kind of way, but in a way where new life was brought into a mystery and love story so dark, it chills you to your core beliefs.  Henrik Vanger bears a resemblance to Jimmy Stewart’s main character in Vertigo, Scottie Ferguson.  And just like Scottie, Henrik finds himself so entranced with a dead woman, his niece, that he has put his life on hold trying to find her and bring her back to life.  It is the botanical prints that he loved so dearly as a gift from Harriet that now haunt him on a yearly basis …and also offers the production designers of this movie a brilliant reason to incorporate such historically charged botanical wallpaper into the set design.

There is a necklace that plays a role in the story of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while it is not as central to the story as the necklace in Vertigo is, it is still a game changer.  The necklace Cecelia (Henrik’s niece) is wearing at one point is the same necklace that Harriet is wearing in a photograph, this brings back Michael’s memory, just as Carlotta’s necklace brings back Scottie’s.  Michael is reminded of his childhood, when his nanny was the same Harriet Vanger that he is now searching for, and two women’s identities are woven together into one.


The Arts & Crafts Companion, Pamela Todd, Bulfinch Press, 2004

Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style, Michael Snodin and Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark, Bulfinch Press, 1997


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The Architects of Simplicity

It all begins with an architect.

Michael Caine as Leonardo DiCaprio's character's architecture professor in Inception.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead character in the film, Inception, used to be an architect.  But now, sometime in the near future, he’s an Extractor.  He can enter your mind through dreams and see your subconscious and thereby know your deepest secrets and inner-most thoughts.  It is up to the Architect of the dream, played by Ellen Page (Ariadne), to create the built world of the dream.

The idea of inception (and don’t worry, I’m not going to give any spoilers) is to plant the seed of an idea in a person’s subconscious, but in order for the idea to take root, it must be in the simplest form, and if the Extractor can do that, then the idea can grow, organically in the person’s mind when they awake.

From the first scene in the movie, I knew I was going to have to write about it.  That first scene takes place as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, is escorted into a Japanese dining room.  The first shot we see of this room includes a view of the back of a large half-circular chair with lattice work design at the head of a table, lined along the sides by a dozen or so, smaller, half-circular chairs with vertical rails.

Japanese dining room in Inception with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Arthur), Ken Watanabe (Saito) and Leonardo DiCaprio

And just as nothing is as it seems in a dream, the same is true of this room.  While it is set in Japan, the chairs around this table are not Japanese.  In the image above the lattice work chair is not visible, but Arthur and Cobb are both seated in the side chairs. [You may need to click on the image and follow it to its original link to see the chairs more clearly.]

The lattice work style chair, whose back is to the audience in that first scene is a chair designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903, called the Willow Chair.

Mackintosh's Willow Chair, designed in 1903 for The Willow Tea Room on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, Scotland.

The side chairs were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1937, for the Johnson House, called Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin.

Wright's Barrel Chair from 1937

That these two chairs, designed by a Scot and an American, fit into a Japanese setting, is of no surprise.  Both Mackintosh and Wright were greatly influenced by Japan, its architecture and design.  The elegant simplicity and minimal decoration of Japanese design was admired and copied by both of these architects.

Even the light fixtures, both in the Japanese dining room and in the main hall (as seen in later scenes, and below) contain light fixtures that are unmistakably Japanese in style, but appear much like fixtures by Mackintosh.

Leonardo DiCaprio stands in the main hall of a Japanese house under Mackintosh style lighting fixtures.

Notice the similarities in the lighting fixtures between the Japanese house above and those in The Hill House, designed by Mackintosh in 1903, below. Gabriele Fahr-Becker, talking about another building by Mackintosh in Art Nouveau (Könemann: Germany, 1997) stated, “The Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh’s most famous building, belongs to architecture and architects, or rather to building and the future.  This manifesto of simplicity, warding off all false pomp with its block-like, self-contained composition, has become a model for future generations of architects.” (p.53)  I like thinking of this quote in relation to the dream architect of the movie.

Interior view of the main hall with light fixtures at Mackintosh's Hill House, 1903.

The light fixtures in the library at The Glasgow School of Art, 1909, are modern interpretations of the more traditional cluster of lanterns that hang above the table in the Japanese dining room in the movie.

And since we seem to be covering all 20th century architects that were influenced by Japanese design, it only seems appropriate to include California’s Greene and Greene.

Charles and Henry Greene were also influenced by the elegance and simplicity of Japan, although their work tended to focus on the craftsmanship rather than the functionality of Mackintosh and Wright’s works.  And while I tend to think that Mackintosh and Wright looked more to the future and rejected Historicism more than Greene and Greene, all four men held true to their shared beliefs in simplicity, unity and nature.

And while dreams can combine ones ability to re-live memories of the past with wishing for the future, so did these architects.  Henry Greene was quoted in 1912 as saying, “the idea was to eliminate everything unnecessary, to make the whole as direct and simple as possible, but always with the beautiful in mind as the first goal…” (Greene & Greene Masterworks, by Bruce Smith and Alexander Vertikoff, Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 1998, p.27)

Freeman Ford House, 1909, by Greene and Greene.

It is so perfectly fitting, then, that the former Architect, Cobb, and his wife share a house outside of Los Angeles, that was built by Greene and Greene.  This house, the Freeman Ford House, is a metaphor for the beauty of simplicity in design and in the dreams of Inception.   Cobb may appreciate the house’s simplicity as a former architect, but he can also see the necessity in the simplicity of ideas.

While Pasadena is proud to claim the Freeman Ford house for it’s own, there are not many interior photos of it available online.  But it’s characteristics are similar to those in many other Greene and Greene houses.

This window, actually at the Ford House is a common design element, horizontal bands of windows with stained glass. A window like this is visible in the scenes that take place in the Cobbs' dining room.

This interior image is of Greene and Greene's most famous residential structure, the Gamble House, 1909.

The image of the Gamble House above shows the dominance of woodwork in the interior and the use of low ceilings and constricted space opening up into larger rooms and more open space.  We got to experience this every time Cobb walked down the long, narrow corridor to his dining room that looked out over a large backyard.

Another area of the movie Inception that I want to mention is the music.  I can’t talk about the musical theory behind it, but as I was watching the movie, in the theater, the soundtrack blew me away.  It was those two deep beats played by an ear-piercingly loud horn every time it was all about to go to Hell, that made me jump and stay on the edge of my seat.  I found an interesting article about how those two notes mimic the two notes played in the Edith Piaf song used to wake the dreamers, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” The music is by Hans Zimmer and it’s brilliant, not only in its ability to captivate but in the symbolism of a song about no regrets being used for a movie about continuously re-living dreams.  There’s something about the music (and this whole movie) that reminds me of Vertigo (or maybe it’s the cymbals in The Man Who Knew Too Much), which just makes me love it all the more.

One of the main characters in the movie is named Eames. Charles and Ray Eames are two designers and architects that I mention the work of often. Here is Cobb, with Eames, played by Tom Hardy, in Inception.

Here is Cobb, the former Architect, and Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, the new Architect. Every time I saw her on screen, I couldn't help but think, "note to self: wear scarves more often and study architecture in Paris."


Filed under In the Cinema, Music

It’s Complicated and Perfectly Cluttered

This is my first entry under the new category of “Favorite Rooms.”  This category is for all those homes I see in movies that I love and make me think, “I could live there.”   While I like to focus on historic and famous furniture design and architecture, sometimes a good room is just, well, good.  So, it’s a little selfish, but hey, why not share?  And as I started to research Meryl Streep’s character’s house in the movie It’s Complicated, the more I realized – or so I hope – that perhaps this isn’t a selfish entry at all.  A lot of other people have written about Jane’s house and how fabulous it is too.  So, if you share our sentiment, let me know.

The exterior of Jane's house

Jane, who is now divorced from Jake, still lives in the family’s house in Santa Barbara, California.  The Spanish Eclectic style of the exterior of the house is common in the Santa Barbara area, and was probably built sometime between 1915 and 1940.

The first view we see of Jane's kitchen

But, I think it’s the interior of her house that turned me into a fan.  I love that it’s cluttered and yet clean, how warm and inviting it is and how much it makes me feel at home; it’s just like how a mom’s house should look.  I like the color palette and how the background surfaces of the walls, floors, trim and furniture remain neutral in creams, whites and natural wood tones.  The color in the room, and its warmth is in the bursts of color in the seat cushions, the table runner, plants, paintings and the food.  And it’s those bursts that bring a vibrancy to the space.

Another view of Jane's kitchen

I like how even though there is something everywhere you look, it’s all organized and it feels like everything is in its place – kind of like the story line of the movie.  It’s complicated, but it’s just as it should be.  I just can’t imagine why Jane wants to have an architect come in and redo the whole thing!  (Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen the movie, I haven’t spoiled anything.)

Here are some of my fellow bloggers who are also loving this house!   Cathy Whitlock has written about the set in Traditional Home and has an amazing design blog of her own about movies called Cinema Style.  Rooms to Rave About and Design-59 also love it and Remodelista will show you how to copy the look.  Beth Rubino was the set decorator for this film as well as Nancy Meyers’ movie, Something’s Gotta Give.  Nancy Meyers also directed The Holiday, which, no joke, is going to be my next entry in this new category for me.  If there’s a little English cottage in the movie, I’m going to love it.

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Filed under Favorite Rooms, In the Cinema

Mackintosh in Spain

I went to see Pedro Almodóvar’s latest movie in the cinema, Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotas), this past weekend.  Besides being amazed by his ability to tell a story and Penelope Cruz’s beauty, it delights me to report I spotted two chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh!

The Hill House Chair, as seen in the master bedroom, Helensburgh, Scotland

The chair, as seen in the image above,was designed to go in the master bedroom of The Hill House, built for Walter Blackie and his family in 1903.  Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the chair and the house.  Walter Blackie was a book publisher in Glasgow, Scotland.  Many of the books he published were fairy tales.  So, The Hill House, very fittingly, has a subtle theme of roses and Sleeping Beauty.  The lattice-shape of the back of the chair fits both in dimension and theme the stencils on the walls of roses growing on trellises.

Ernesto Martel and Lena in their dining room

The Hill House Chair, as seen in the movie with red seat

I was unable to find a still from the movie that included the Hill House Chair.  It was the customary black, however, it had a red upholstered seat.  There are two in Ernesto Martel’s dining room and they are visible in the scene pictured above.

This is my first post in my new category of “Double Takes” where I plan to document quick views of famous design in movies and not get into the history, philosophy or interpretation of it all.

Although I do have to say, besides having a chair meant for a bedroom in a dining room, there is an interesting layer here with the theme of this chair.  As this chair was meant to evoke the feeling of a trellis where Sleeping Beauty’s roses might grow around her and cage her in with their thorns, so does Ernesto Martel to Lena in Broken Embraces.1

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Filed under Double Takes, Foreign Film, In the Cinema