November 2012, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour: Production Design (2)

E LA NAVE VA, 1983

The production designer is the "director's eye" according to famous PD Ken Adam. The production design team implements the script in visual terms, conceptualizes and orchestrates spaces, defines milieus, establishes color schemes for dramatic purposes and plays a central role in creating the atmosphere and fictional world of a film. Beyond such design-intensive genres as science fiction or the history film, convincing production design is also a central factor in productions less obviously concerned with scenery, the essential contribution it makes to the "art" of film being often overlooked despite it being literally impossible to miss.

ZUR CHRONIK VON GRIESHUUS (Arthur von Gerlach,  Germany 1923–25, 1. & 10.11., piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) is a large-scale UFA production which brings together a vaguely mythic story with grand sets. Based on a novella by Theodor Storm and set in the 17th century, the film is about a nobleman falling in love with a maid and the fraternal strife surrounding the paternal inheritance.The studio sets were designed by Robert Herlth and Walter Röhrig, with the location sets being developed by renowned architect Hans Poelzig.

E LA NAVE VA (And the Ship Sails On, Federico Fellini, I/F 1983, 2. & 4.11.) An association of opera stars and opera lovers has gathered on a luxury steamer in 1914 to scatter the ashes of a deceased singer over the sea. Fellini’s musically opulent, visually grotesque vision satirizes smugness in self-deprecating fashion.  The production designer created an entire artificial world in the Cinecittà studios in Rome: the sea is a prop, the ships are sets and the rise and fall of the waves are done with film trickery. The opulently bedecked ship turns out to be a port of fantasy or even a metaphor for cinema itself. 

FALLEN ANGELS(Duo luo tian shi, Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong 1995, 3. & 20.11.) Weaving together the stories of five loners in Hong Kong in kaleidoscopic fashion, with a hitman tired of his job at its core, Wong Kar-wai creates a picture of a city in which communication seems impossible and sadness forms the dominant mood. The camera employs extremely wide angles to isolate the characters from their environment in their hopeless search for love and connection. Production designer William Chang (together with cinematographer Christopher Doyle) has had a significant influence on the unique look of Wong Kar-wai's films.

LA VIE EST UN ROMAN(Life is a Bed of Roses, Alain Resnais, F 1983, 9.11.) A wildly playful story that proliferates in labyrinthine fashion, with Resnias merrily allowing different levels of the narrative and reality to come together. The setting is a castle in the Ardennes, with all the protagonists striving for happiness, love and progress. During the Second World War, a rich eccentric wants to create a new, full harmonious person; in the present, educators and artists discuss the "education of the imagination" at a conference, while the children present have long since started using their imaginations to call a medieval mythology into being. Production designer Jacques Saulnier creates an entirely unique world which becomes an integral part of the narration.

ALIEN (Director's Cut, Ridley Scott, GB 1979/2003, 26. & 30.11.) In this now seminal science fiction horror classic, an alien being takes possession of the crew of a spaceship, with only a young woman  (Sigourney Weaver) being able to put up a fight. By means of a perfectly developed dramatic structure designed to generate tension, Ridley Scott plays with the fear of the unknown in masterly fashion. Swiss artist H.R. Giger's dark, surreal world of nightmares draws on sexual metaphors and violence, a disturbing visual translation of the uncanny.