Saturday, 4 August 2012

An American in Paris: A Lesson in Compact Living

I love this early scene in An American in Paris. If you grew up, as I did, loving dollhouses, model villages and miniaturized things, I think this scene captures a lot of the appeal of homeliness and homespun charm that those things captured. Also, if you are amongst the majority who are not millionaires and have to work hard to afford anything much more than a shoebox, then you will no doubt appreciate the ingenious use of a small living space here. I just love the almost Heath Robinson inventiveness here, and the charming Hollywood spin on chic French starving artist style. I sometimes fantasize of my own artist's garret like this, where things roll or lift away, collapse, fold out, spring up, hideaway. Some modern architects and developers building their crappy little shoe box sized apartments, squeezing as many flats as they can into the space they have, could learn from this lesson in compact living. Absolutely charming.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Roger and Val have Just Got in

This comedy drama, or bittersweet comedy, as it seems to be described on the whole, is based on the first half hour of the eponymous married couple arriving home from work. We witness their conversation and banter that usually centres on the mundane events of their everyday lives, but, of course, being a drama, it leads on to, or hints at, the deeper aspects of their lives and feelings. Starring Dawn French and Alfred Molina it seems to have received lukewarm critical reception and often negative reviews, most focussing on it not being funny enough, and it seems to split audiences between those who find it unfunny, dull and boring, about nothing, or those who find it brilliantly observed and a meaningful portrayal of an ordinary couple and their trials and tribulations.  Although most critics and viewers seem to agree that French and Molina are masterful in their craft and faultless in their portrayals.

It takes a little while to get into, admittedly (but what good show doesn’t?) and I found it rather stagey  and over-written at first, which was a  little grating. (My issue often with the theatre and plays being that so often the productions seem so unrealistic and over-engineered, and even pretentious with their “Look, this is just about ordinary people and their ordinary lives....but are they so ordinary? Oh no, look we were just using the mundane as a device to make some really deep points about life. See! Fooled ya! I’m soo clever.” Whereas with films they rarely have the pretence that this is an ordinary story, no, they leap in with the “Hell yeah, you gonna see some extraordinary shit here, dude.”  Or at least, if they are going to start in the mundane and normal they have the production budget and lack of time constraints to make it seem more realistic. Ok, so that seems to a prejudice on the timing and budgets here, but no, it’s not just about that, it’s the pretensions that plays so often seem to have...but that’s a criticism for another day and we could argue over this until Kingdom Come)   But despite the stagy reservations with RAVHJGI the two actors are so compelling, and are faultless in their acting that I got sucked in. As the story unfolds you start to find the clues to their hidden pasts or traumas and it is quite intriguing. The criticism that it just isn’t that funny is only really justifiable if you tune in expecting to find a hilarious sit-com, or hoped (god help you) to find something like My Family (why BBC? Why did this show continue for so long?) It is a more a drama with some amusing moments. Not laugh out loud moments, perhaps, but more of a tee hee or a titter.  There is something rather comforting about this show; it’s warm and human and a bit like eavesdropping on bus conversation where the two people don’t realise how much they are giving away about themselves in their conversation about trivial matters.

So, onto the set design and interiors... Well, I’ve already said that RAVHJGI is warm, and that is reflected and enhanced by the sets. There’s something comforting about the familiarity of their home; the 30’s style semi or detached home, the pictures on the wall, the knick-knacks and personal belongings. It is most likely a studio set, but is convincing as a real home, and the set design reflects the characters and their stories – the warm coloured and homely, slightly cluttered kitchen is a reflection of Food Tech teaching Val and her home running skills, and her and Rogers love of food; the rather impersonal, unloved and empty looking spare room a result of past tragedy. As someone who grew up in the English suburbs, the familiarity of the distinctive 1930s style home (the front door, and interior doors being the main giveaway of the homes age) is an immediate connection to them. And the cosy touches such as the curtains that are added to the entry of the “through lounge” ,  and the personal framed artworks are a nice touch.  The purplish bedroom with its country style furniture hints at Roger and Val’s ongoing connection with each other – attraction mixed with comfort and familiarity.  So why is this so different or better than your average soap set? Well, perhaps because it looks like so much thought and effort has gone into the design of their home, from the little details like Val’s bag and coats over the banister to a candlestick on the mantelpiece that has the look of a keepsake picked up on a foreign holiday or a gift from someone’s travels. The mixed crockery draining by the sink, the cereal packets lined up on the cupboards, the herbs on the windowsill, the full, and often opened, fridge.
 Downstairs of Roger & Val's

The Hall

The classic 1930s front door - Love the grubby finger print details (keeping it real).

The Kitchen

Homely with a bit of normal clutter
Rog and Val love their food
The conservatory can be seen in the background here and in the next two shots, where Roger keeps his beloved plants

The Lounge    
The stylish and comfortable lounge

A touching moment between Roger and Val

I like the artworks in their home - tasteful and personal touches

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Let's start with a goodie, and a now classic Brit flick to boot - Withnail and I

Despite being set in the low-rent world of struggling actors, more out of work than in, the magic of film (yes, I uttered that dread cliche, godammit) renders the sets within this film with a warm and inviting desirability; from the warm glow of Uncle Monty's home to the shabby chic of the holiday cottage (arggh, can't believe I used the SC term either, but for want of a better phrase it will have to do for now) these sets make you want to just to be part of their world rather than just spectators. Let's start with...
OOps...Ok, I admit, this was just an excuse to sneak in a pic of the devine Mr Mcgann's cheek bones - a feature in themselves
Seriously now...Uncle Monty's place

"As a youth I used to weep in butcher's shops."

Uncle Monty's as we know it from the movie
How delightfully old-fashioned and traditionally English, a litle bourgeois, a little eccentric, and probably totally unlivable, but look how great it looks on the film, how beautifully lit it is. That sofa says, "Come, sit on me. Have a sherry".

Here's the real home as it looks in real life.

And here's how it looks from the outside.

Pretty darn desirable, inside and out. The real home is 35, Glebe Place, Chelsea, London. Designed by Philip Speakman Webb for the Pre-Raphaelite artist George Boyce, it was built in1868-71. Think I like Withnail's cosy take on the place best.

Credit here should be due to the magnificent Monty, brilliantly played by Richard Griffiths. His finest hour.

Moving on now to the bleak yet wonderful Sleddale Hall....

Sleddale Hall in Penrith, Cumbria was built in the Mid 18th Century and features in the film as Uncle Monty's cottage, Crow Crag. The building is two miles from the nearest public road, and over a mile from the nearest inhabited home. The exterior and downstairs rooms of the Hall were used for filming, but the staircase and upstairs rooms were filmed at Stockers Farm in Rickmansworth. Sleddale Hall went up for sale at auction in 2009 (at a guide price of £145,000), much interest was rumoured to shown by celebrity fans such as the UK TV personality Chris Evans and Kate Moss, as well as a collective of Withnail fans anxious to preserve such a meaningful piece of film history. The home sold for £265,000 to a local publican, but the sale eventually fell through and the property was bought by another bidder at the auction, an architect who plans to restore the Hall to a private home whilst staying true to the Withnail spirit of the place.

Here it is in all its Wuthering Heights-esque beauty.

Did someone say beauty?

Now we've finished admiring its exterior let's take a look inside.

Lovely bedroom. Look at that classic brass bed, I wonder if you rub the knobs anything special happens? I'm sure Monty hopes so.

Cosy, n'est pas?

I'm pretty sure I saw this is Homes & Gardens last month. The Featherstone-Hawkneys welcome you to their beautiful country abode.

Little did the Withnail team know that their shabby chic kitchen would spark a huge interiors trend.

But what mention of Withnail would be complete without a mention of:

The man himself, Withnail - the terrific Richard E. Grant. Just look at that expression!

Those curls! Oh, why did you shear those beautiful Pre-Raphaelite curls?! Whhhhyyyyyy?

All credit due to to the excellent cast and crew of Withnail and I:

Directed By:
Bruce Robinson
Written By:
Michael Elphick
Ralph Brown
Richard Griffiths
Paul McGann
Richard E. Grant
(an excellent) Soundtrack By:
Rick Wentworth
David Dundas

And, especially as we are focussing on the film design here, in particular the look of the film and sets,
Director of Photography:
Peter Hannan
Costume Designer:
Andrea Galer
Production Designer:
Michael Pickwoad
And a special mention here to the much missed
Executive Producer:
George Harrison
If you can't get enough of Withnail related stuff then check out the Withnail inspired outfits this blogger has created for the characters. Cute!