Dec 26, 2011

Christmas in Connecticut  [1945]

Directed by Peter Godfrey
Art Direction by Stanley Fleischer
Set Decoration by Casey Roberts
Cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie
Film Format: 35 mm  Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Warner Bros. Pictures
In Christmas In CT, the cynicism of an urbane, single, magazine-columnist for the suburban, wifely comforts her readers aspire to, is first abetted by her outsider-pal, an expatriate eastern-European chef, who helps her in her home-maker masquerade.  To escape discovery as a fake by her publisher, she ensconces herself within the backdrop of a picture-perfect cottage (created by a seemingly gay architect with aspirations of his own to the domestic idyll). As she says to her publisher, “I remember what you said about the charm of an attractive woman performing a homey little task of flipping flapjacks with the smell of good coffee and sizzling bacon in a sunny kitchen”. Eventually, her agnosticism is overcome by lessons learned while impersonating the woman she’d pretended to be, and she gives herself over to connubial love, (and it's suggested, domestic bliss). In effect, the kitchen converts the career-gal.

Mirroring the dilemma of our protagonist, the kitchen is split in the style of its amenities: Openly
configured, but full of odd angles; a modern central counter with cantilevered shelves served by stools for informal eating, but also a full table with chairs when surely there's a formal dining room elsewhere; a custom recessed niche encloses a rather small & old-fashioned refrigerator; ersatz colonial details and gingham-curtains, but a six-burner stove and a double sink with wall-mounted faucet; exposed timber rafters but wrap-around windows - all conspire to make this kitchen (and its dramatic conclusion), too paradoxical to believe.   

Nov 21, 2011

Gosford Park  [2001]

Directed by Robert Altman 
Production Design by Stephen Altman
Art Direction by John Frankish & Sarah Hauldren
Set Decoration by Anna Pinnock 
Cinematography by Andrew Dunn 
Film Format: 35 mm  Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
USA Films

In the 1930’s British country estate of Gosford Park, period detail, scrupulously researched, serves to educate the viewer while providing a believable backdrop for the murder mystery and class comedy being played out.  Although thoroughly equipped with the tools of the trade, the servant roles of the users are reinforced by their relegation to these cellar spaces and their status dramatized by the contrast of delicate china, gleaming, crystal and silver and the butcherblock work tables, soot-stained brick ovens and enormous copper pots.  The minutiae of the kitchen service and protocols are exhibited by slow sideways panning across fastidiously styled studio sets, so there is no mistaking this for a glamorous place to work. So detached and independent is it from the pleasures and freedoms of the land owners and wealthy guests above, that the lady of the house must apologize for her rare intrusion on the servant’s supper. 

Jul 24, 2011

Something's Gotta Give [2003]

Directed by Nancy Meyers 
Production Design by Jon Hutman  
Art Direction by John Wamke & Franck Schwarz 
Set Decoration by Beth Rubino  
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus  
Film Format: 35 mm  
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 
Columbia Pictures Corporation

In Something’s Gotta Give, the aspirational kitchen is so overwrought it threatens to overwhelm the narrative.  Scenes seem created to serve the exhibitionism of the diva performer but this time it’s a set construction, not a person.  The William Sonoma & Restoration Hardware catalogues are elevated to ways-of-being.  What womanizing curmdudgeon (Jack Nicholson), wouldn’t be seduced by the accommodating yards of soapstone counters, acres of glazed white cabinetry with nickel plated schoolhouse hardware and enough separate lighting scenarios to run a Buz Lahrman stageshow.  LIke the heroine, successful author but ambivalent lover, (Diane Keaton), this kitchen is self-deprecating in its style, practical in its luxuries, and pristine in its maintenance. And also like her emotionally overly-controlled character, it’s finally, difficult to believe.