Feb 2, 2021

Tortilla Soup [2001]

Directed by Maria Ripoll
Art Direction by John Mott
Production Design by Alicia Maccarone 
Set Decoration by Julieann Getman
Cinematography by Xavier Grobet
Film Format: 35 mm 
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Samuel Goldwyn Films

For a story that revolves around the progress and reversals of multiple characters in a contemporary Mexican-American family, with varying points of plot departure centered on the chief persona of widowed father (Hector Elizondo), a semi-retired professional chef, trying to buttress the traditional values of his assimilated daughters and maintain the stability of his household as it's visited by various boyfriends and aspiring suitors, the kitchen plays an important part as locus for his dexterous prep work, and the arena for family confrontations, interruptions, and resolutions. 

For authenticity the actual kitchen in the Encino home of Larry and Doris Silverton, parents of La Brea Bakery owner Nancy Silverton, was used as a set, which production designer Alicia Maccarone made credible with a crowded but uncluttered & functional assortment of colorful foods, dishes, cookware and hand tools. And since cooking of such a specific kind serves in an equally spotlighted role, the meals for the movie were specially designed by famed restaurant Border Grill chefs Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger, with local cook Paul Rosenbluh in an uncredited role as Elizondo’s “stunt hands” for close-ups.  

Jan 23, 2016

Turnabout [1940]

Directed by Hal Roach
Art Direction by Duncan Cramer & Albert Hogsett Nicolai Remissoff
Set Decoration by William Stevens 

Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller Norbert Brodine
Film Format: 35 mm Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Hal Roach Studios

Apr 25, 2013

Bright Eyes [1934]

Directed by David Butler
Art Direction by Duncan Cramer & Albert Hogsett
Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller
Film Format: 35 mm Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Twentieth Century Fox

Shirley Temple spends a lot of time in the white tiled spaciousness of her single mother’s commodious workplace. Though it might otherwise be a place of unremitting labor, the enormous kitchen's gleaming surfaces and multiple points of entry help the uniformed staff serve as a surrogate family, which is what Shirley Temple movies were all about.

There is a double-door, "Monitor Top" refrigerator, (the Sub-Zero of its day), two ovens under an 8-burner electric stove, and what appears to be third, larger oven (for birthday cakes perhaps?) with broiler drawer below, two back doors and a water cooler in the pantry. And par for the course in any "aspirational" kitchen, a centrally located table with enough room to walk around.  Who wouldn’t feel safe and happy with cupboards this clean and ceilings this high?  Toiling away in a kitchen like this might even give us Bright Eyes.

(Art Director Duncan Cramer would go on to design for the television series My Three Sons, which also set much of its action in the immaculate and well-equipped kitchen of surrogate wife & mother Uncle Charlie to widower Steve Douglas).

Pantry slop sink at left
Streamlined servants' bell at upper right

Wall-recessed clock above a (third?) oven or is 

Jan 19, 2012

Sabrina [1954]

Directed byBilly Wilder
Art Direction by Hal Pereira & Walter Tyler
Set Decoration by Sam Comer & Ray Moyer
Cinematography by Charles Lang
Film Format: 35 mm  Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
Paramount Pictures

In Sabrina another surrogate family of servants shares a kitchen clean, bright and big enough to disarm any possible disloyalty, even as their employer, a rich playboy (William Holden), threatens the balance of the social status-quo.  Indeed, in order to make understandable the protective concerns of the chauffeur/father (John Williams) for daughter (Audrey Hepburn), the workspace and lodgings of these domestic aides must, of necessity, be credibly hospitable so as to be preferable, for even an instant, to the manner of living she’d otherwise enjoy, if she would cross over to become the master’s wife.  And they do: with so much daylight, such high ceilings and appliances so long and wide (how many knobs are on that stove in the background?) who could fuss over their chores?

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.