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Jan 10 2017

The Furniture: A Last-Minute FYC for the Home Décor of "Paterson"and "Jackie"

"The Furniture"is our weekly series on Production Design.Here'sDaniel Walber...

Oscar balloting has begun!As Nathanielexplained last week,AMPAS branches have received their nomination ballots.They're due on the 13th.The Academy's production designers occasionally make offbeat choices,though they don't do it as often as the costume designers or the makeup artists.So here's a final nudge on behalf of the best work of the year.

I've already written about three of the five movies I'd nominate,were I in charge.The crazed fandom of the apartment inFlorence Foster Jenkinsis a work of precision and inspiration.So is the heavily curtained metaphor that is the mansion inThe Childhood of a Leader.The hotel inThe Lobster,meanwhile,is as perfectly sterile as the above settings are feverish.All three would be a thrilling surprise on nomination morning.

My other two have become less present in the awards conversation than I'd guessed...

Patersonwas never going to be an Oscar movie,I know that.But it's only the second Jim Jarmusch narrative film ever to not receive a single Independent Spirit Award nomination.That's nuts.Jackie,meanwhile,is doing quite well for Natalie Portman but hasn't gotten nearly enough recognition in other categories.

Perhaps bizarrely,the two films have a major design theme in common.Both feature women who spend a great deal of time re-decorating their houses.Yet this shared activity is the essence of their difference,in each case a telling visual metaphor.

While Paterson (Adam Driver) is off driving the bus,his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) paints the curtains and designs new clothes.Yet this is not a 1950s sitcom about domesticity or a Fassbinder film about madness.Laura's artistic expression is a representation of marriage as a nurturer of creativity.Her design impulse,which gradually takes over the entire house,is as honorable a vocation as Ghost Dog's samurai code or Corky's (Winona Ryder) calling as a mechanic inNight on Earth.

Paterson,as well,has an artistic vocation.He writes poetry all day,most of it inspired by the beauty he finds in the details of his life.In a sense,his chosen mode of expression is not all that different from hers.Laura's mania for repeated patterns of black & white has the single-mindedness of many a poet,instantly recognizable for its form but still full of more nuanced meaning.The difference is that she more eagerly shares it with the world,culminating in the brilliantly successful sale of her meticulously frosted cupcakes.

Jackie,meanwhile,is the portrait of a woman living her grief in a house that was never truly hers in the first place.Her grand exercise of restoring the White House seems futile in the wake of the assassination,abruptly ending her work.All of the historic emblems are reminders that her influence on the building has ended,that the Kennedy administration is itself a relic.The Lincoln Bedroom,once blessed by the quaintness of a museum,now threatens 19th century dust and madness.

The White House's high ceilings and grand portals underline the loneliness of a castle that has been utterly abandoned,at least temporarily.The business of governing has already moved to the purview of President Johnson,but the Johnsons have yet to move into the presidential residence.And so Jackie wanders these halls alone,dwarfed by the scope of rooms designed to accommodate crowds.

The furniture develops a silent presence,as if Jackie has found herself among the watchful corridors of a Jean Cocteau film.There are chairs from every era of the republic.They are all empty,yet many seem to observe her as she walks by.They are ghosts,each with its own presidential memories.

The coup de grace is the replication of the 1962 TV specialA Tour of the White House with Mrs.John F.Kennedy.It was made to showcase the $2 million renovation that had just been completed,an expensive project that needed some PR justification.This was Jackie's most concrete opportunity to solidify the legacy of Camelot,yet even here she is dwarfed by the all-consuming grandeur of this living monument.No act of decoration can stop time.

previously on The Furniture

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Reader Comments (4)

Ugh,the wife's decorating quirk in PATERSON shit me.Basically felt like one big joke to get us to laugh at her silly endeavours (shower curtains!cupcakes!) while he did the legitimate artistic outlet of poetry

January 10,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Thanks for this.Both are magnificent.It's truly mind=boggling that the ADG passed up "Paterson"in the Contemporary category.

January 10,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I'm in complete agreement on the art direction of "Jackie".Beautifully worded description.

January 11,2017 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Glenn Dunks: I look at those pics of Paterson and I see the opposite problem of The Lobster: Too MUCH effort being poured into a profoundly stupid and questionable plot turn,even on paper.
The production design of The Lobster: Um...if we're supposed to take THIS world gone mad as frightening but plausible?Maybe more mad science stuff should be prevalent in the production design,even in a cozy domestic place like the hotel.Again,this is a world at the point of transforming people into animals.So...shouldn't be that much to ask.So,yeah.The goal of production design is supposed to make a world feel plausible and The Lobster's production design is too NORMAL to make that world feel even REMOTELY plausible.Even a tesla coil or two (though I would have loved an even more overt approach),somewhere,would have helped quite a bit.

January 11,2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

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