Set Design – Oscars – Shabby Chic Gets the Nod!

February 27, 2011

“And the Oscar goes to… The King’s Speech” and albeit the acting was superb, I was captivated by the details in the set design. Maybe not the pure magic that goes into such sets as Alice in Wonderland or the sci-fi thrillers that demand a creative fantasy where we are challenged and stimulated to participate in another world order – but from a historic perspective and reality-based imagination, we have seen, talked about, been there and done that with shabby chic – but nothing can compare with the environs of Lionel’s office when Bertie was invited to take a seat on the thread-bare, yet once elegant, gilded settee placed effectively in front of the layers/years of peeling paint and possibly paper being conveyed in the backdrop of depth of character that was the wall treatment. Surely in this case conveying years of previous use and current limited means and not an intentional design statement – except to the extent that the design statement from the standpoint of movie texture, sense of place and imagination was to create that sense of lesser means to that of a King – it is all about design!
When does design convey a sense of place and not an artifice? Well, the movies, of course -perhaps a museum re-creation of an event…The intent is to create a scene, transport the viewer and validate the expression through design. Here a commoner and royalty share a space that has stark contrast between the royals’ living environments and that of a middle class speech therapist. The set emphasizes the class distinction while still capturing a hold on refinements (well worn and decayed over time) rather than a distinction of style differences – Lionel’s office was not one of basic oak desk and chairs, conventional practical elements of the time…it spoke of refinements and elegance since worn.
By stark contrast, Lionel’s home is animated with Art Deco wall coverings – crisp and graphic, geometric, metallic, and colorful, one wonders why the shabby office is maintained as such compared to the seemingly small yet well adorned – exceptionally well adorned – wall covered walls of his home. IF the wall coverings were from a slightly earlier vintage from that of the times, it still begs questioning as to why they were celebrated in the movie as seemingly new and intentionally contrasting to the shabby, tired yet refined furnishings and finishes of his office. If this is striking you as “what did I miss, ?” David Kelps of L.A. Home suggests that if you get a copy of the film “you’ll be pausing your DVD players to get a better look.”
The royals’ environments had a timeless, historical validity of elegance while the home of the therapist had that of new rich expressions of the fashion of the times – or near past times nonetheless. This goes back to the question of when are trends, trends? See the blog… and prior blogs referencing trends’ distinctions.
So, “Hoo-ray for Hollywood” thank you tonight for another star-studded event of art, design, fine craft and recognition. Did your Picks win? Who do you think was over-looked or was better suited for an Oscar tonight?
Goodnight, and remember, Lionel asks…”Why should I waste my time listening to you (me)?
King George VI: “Because I have a voice!” Pattisays!!!


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