Posts Tagged ‘set design’
June 29, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- D. W. Griffith’s film Intolerance is a hundred years old. Its lavish sets—replete with plaster elephants, ornate ten-story walls, and all manner of Babylonian spectacle—testify to a creepy brand of movie magic that has long since leaped from the screen: “Intolerance is where fake movie architecture began its complicated dance with the real thing, affecting how audiences perceive the past, reconfigure their present, and anticipate the future … Even though it’s largely vanished from movies, the attraction of a reality that is recognizably phony and yet honest-to-gosh exists has hardly vanished from our culture … Increasingly, shopping malls, hotels, and the like do their best to emulate the same effect. We’re all on location, baby, even when we’re just shopping or hunting for a bite to eat. Intolerance anticipated many things, and one of them was Disneyland. In turn, Disneyland anticipated a lot of the modern environment we live in—not just at the multiplex or while on vacation, but full time.”
- The journalist Suki Kim went undercover as a teacher in North Korea and wrote a book about what she witnessed there—but her publishers decided to call it a memoir, thus exposing one of the industry’s many fault lines. She writes, “As the only journalist to live undercover in North Korea, I had risked imprisonment to tell a story of international importance by the only means possible. By casting my book as personal rather than professional—by marketing me as a woman on a journey of self-discovery, rather than a reporter on a groundbreaking assignment—I was effectively being stripped of my expertise on the subject I knew best. It was a subtle shift, but one familiar to professional women from all walks of life. I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel?”
- In which Geoff Dyer reflects on the condition of the secular pilgrim: “I’m always up for a bit of pilgrimage, really. But I’m so aware of the capacity of the secular pilgrimage to disappoint, whereby you go to the place the great writer lived, and it doesn’t work for you. That’s something I talk about in the Lawrence book [Out of Sheer Rage]. You can’t fake it. You might try to summon up the feeling, but quite often you can’t. So although the pilgrimage itself might be disappointing, quite often there’ll be all sorts of incidentals that render the pilgrimage worthwhile. So in the case of that chapter on Gauguin, you know, it pretty well all sucked, all the Gauguin stuff in Tahiti that I encountered, but there were other incidental things that made it very worthwhile.”
- Stephen Orgel’s The Reader in the Book: A Study of Spaces and Traces reminds us that “the history of any particular book does not conclude with its publication.” As Dustin Illingworth writes: “Over five in-depth studies, including an investigation of a school boy’s 500-year-old Latin grammar book and a deep dive into a bold countess’s library and letters, [Orgel] conducts a kind of archaeology of margins, gleaning sociological insight and human depth from the calcified life at the edge of the text … This historical understanding of books as locations, as readerly edifices within which one might store practical information, binding legal documentation, jokes, and ownership lists, alongside more traditional textual engagement, challenges our contemporary perception of a book’s materiality, one which often equates pristine margins with the value of the new.”
- Let’s check in on the ever-widening field of self-help, shall we? Treatments today—especially, one imagines, in the Greater Los Angeles area—increasingly resemble a kind of conceptual-art experience: “Dream Reality Cinema (DRC) comes from Budapest … According to the company’s upbeat, Kickstarter-ish video, the practice gives you the ability to ‘hack the firewall between the subconscious and conscious minds’ using lucid dreaming … The first half-hour was gentle, screen-saver-y, repetitive — in two distinct sections (with a hypnotic interlude in between), a pulsing orb moved around the screen against changing backgrounds. My soothing female voice instructed me in the ways of the life force, the ways in which knowledge is connected, whole systems can be comprehended, all awareness is attainable. At one point, I saw faces in the background grid.”
March 22, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- At a moment when Syria, in the Western imagination, is synonymous with violence and war, an anonymous Syrian film collective called Abounaddara “provides a strikingly different picture of Syrians and their country,” as our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, writes: “The members of Abounaddara, an Arabic phrase meaning ‘the man with glasses,’ began making films in 2010, but it was Syria’s version of the Arab Spring that gave them an urgent sense of purpose. For the past five years, they have posted a new documentary film every week, resulting in an archive of nearly four hundred shorts that can be watched for free on Vimeo … These films, whose subjects include soccer players for the Syrian national team, bereaved parents, former prisoners of ISIS, intellectuals, and refugees, are powerful portraits of individual Syrians, yet they can also be hard to read, in part because we’re told so little about the subjects and settings. This withholding of information is clearly by design. The films often begin and end in medias res, leaving the viewer to puzzle out their significance. They require one to think as well as to look.”
- The set designer Es Devlin has a CV that includes everyone from Shakespeare to Verdi to Miley Cyrus: “Devlin argues that there is something in between pictorial realism and complete abstraction. Though she borrows elements from every period, her approach is thoroughly contemporary. She’s not interested in straight realism, or in traditional production design … She is theatre’s postmodern expert, and has an instinctive sense of how Shakespeare and opera and fashion and pop concerts might draw from the same dark web of psychological information. Each of her designs is an attack on the notion that a set is merely scenery. She is in demand because she can enter the psychic ether of each production and make it glow with significance. She told me, ‘A stage setting is not a background, it is an environment’—something that directors and actors can respond to. ‘Sometimes what these people want is a liberator, someone who might encourage them to defy gravity.’ ”
- A new biography of Wallace Stevens, The Whole Harmonium, reminds us of the vast chasm between artist and art: “He never left North America. He was casually racist and anti-Semitic. A Hoover Republican, he distrusted labor unions. He drank too much at parties, to overcome his natural shyness, and later had to apologize for his boorishness. In the depths of the Depression, he made $20,000 a year, the equivalent of $350,000 today … ‘Wallace Stevens is beyond fathoming,’ Marianne Moore wrote, comparing him to a person with ‘a morbid secret he would rather perish than disclose.’ But the secret would out, and in his poems Stevens revealed it: The bluff American executive had a soul as baroque and fantastical as an aesthete’s, as profound and brooding as a philosopher’s.”
- Before he found renown as a painter, sculptor, filmmaker, collector, and God knows what else, Marcel Broodthaers was a poet. And his poems pursued (among other subjects) ogres: “The world of these poems is far removed from modern life. My Ogre Book in particular, a self-described ‘suite of poetic tales,’ unfolds across a medieval-ish neverland of forests, mad kings, storm-swept landscapes, and those ogres invoked in the title. Its fairy-tale idiom is vivid but generalized, the animal and human figures serving as emblems that are never far distant from elemental strife: ‘Lost in solitude / I have always been prey,’ reflects the speaker of ‘The Donkey-Drummer’; ‘The toads devour themselves / at the heart of diamonds,’ runs the full text of one of the brief untitled poems interlarded throughout the book; in ‘A Drama of Solitude’ a ‘huntsman of ogres’ turns on his loyal dog and kills him, preferring ‘to be alone in the Great North.’ Broodthaers’s archaism, which according to his translator extends to his use of anachronistic phrasing in the original French, was also deeply personal, providing him with a means to map his inner geography in ways both distanced and intimate.”
- Today in nomenclature and direct democracy: just when you’re coming around to the idea of the Internet as a tool to empower the masses, something like this happens … and you’re more convinced of its awesome potential than ever before. “A proposal by a British government agency to let the Internet suggest a name for a $287 million polar research ship probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, the agency is the latest group to see what happens when web users are asked to unleash their creative energy: R.S. Boaty McBoatface is a clear front-runner … Alison Robinson, a spokeswoman, said in an email that the group was ‘delighted by the enthusiasm and creativity’ of people vying for names like Boaty McBoatface. The ship is scheduled to set sail in 2019.”
March 16, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ta-Nehisi Coates has offered a glimpse of what we can expect from his new series of Black Panther comics, and it involves, as all good stories do, a superhuman terrorist group called the People. “In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? … The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society—from the precolonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of ISIS … Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X-Men wasn’t just about an ultracool band of rebels. That series sought to grapple with the role of minorities in society—both the inner power and the outward persecution that come with that status. And so it is, I hope, with Black Panther. The questions are what motivate the action. The questions, ultimately, are more necessary than the answers.”
- Take some time away from your busy day and think about the logistics of nineteenth-century feces disposal, won’t you? Adee Braun can help: “Night soil was the name euphemistically given to human waste because it was removed from privies under the cloak of darkness so that polite society would be spared from confronting its own feces as the men carted the crap away, leaving a trail of stench in their wake … Night soil collection was big business. Hundreds of men were employed in cities—mostly African-Americans and immigrants who were either independent entrepreneurs or employees of city contractors. The night men, with their ‘rude carts,’ were considered a nuisance at best. Their night work also left them vulnerable to hoodlums who sometimes stoned the men and occasionally shot their horses. At least the pay was decent, even if the work was not. The night soil men used rudimentary long-handled dippers or buckets to scoop the mephitic waste into barrels or tanks on a wagon.”
- Tim Parks continues his dissection of the politics and vagaries of professional translation, that most unsung of literary pursuits: “Does translation matter? Does the choice of translator matter? Some translators’ associations (in Germany for example) insist that a translator ought to be paid a royalty for the translation and share in the commercial success of the work, as if the individual translator had the same impact on the work as the author. This is nonsense. Umberto Eco was better translated by Geoffrey Brock and Richard Dixon than by William Weaver, but The Name of the Rose, which Weaver translated, was an infinitely better book than The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Brock) or Numero Zero (Dixon). Why should the one translator grow rich and the others not? … To introduce royalties would be to encourage the finest translators to drop literary work altogether and concentrate on genre novels.”
- Speaking of unsung careers in the arts, I don’t spend enough time thinking about the production designers of the world, and so was grateful to learn about Ken Adam, whose set designs for Dr. Strangelove, Barry Lyndon, and Goldfinger, among others, changed the game. Adam died last week, at ninety-five: “Adam’s magnificent designs, vast and lucid and expressive but often with an undercurrent of chilling horror, transformed those films in which they were featured … He decided, he said, to ‘forget the old way of making sets—wood and paper and so on—and try to do it all for real. I had the chance to let myself go because there was nobody looking over my shoulder.’ ”
- While we’re reminiscing: Sunny Balzano, the proprietor of a bar called Sunny’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, died last week. Tim Sultan, whose memoir Sunny’s Nights just came out, remembers his friend: “Instinctually, he was familiar with men’s inner lives, giving direction and guidance even to those he had only just met. Many came to him for this, and in his very genuine attentiveness and his gentle conversational manner he unfailingly gave it. The final destination was always this: arriving at a place where one valued oneself. Sunny had a great appreciation for each person’s significance and he reflected that worth back on us. One always seemed to feel better after a visit with Sunny.”
February 24, 2014 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Santo Richard Loquasto has a big, easy smile, and an infectious enthusiasm for his work. Since his first production—Sticks and Bones, in 1972—he’s worked on some sixty-one Broadway productions, either as a scenic or costume designer, and often as both. His cunning sets and fanciful costumes have garnered him fifteen Tony Award nominations (he’s won three times), and he’s also won numerous Drama Desk Set Awards for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design. Loquasto is also known for his work in film—most notably with Woody Allen, with whom he’s worked for decades, most recently on Blue Jasmine. One afternoon last summer we met at the Margot Patisserie on the Upper West Side, where Loquasto talked about how he got his start, the demands of designing for dancers, and the downsides of his job.
What got you into costume design?
Well, it just always interested me as a kid. I grew up in Pennsylvania. Mine is the classic story of a teenager in the Poconos, painting summer-stock scenery because that’s what you do there. What I was really interested in was scenery and visuals. I was always creating the mise-en-scène in my backyard. The costumes were always part of it. I was interested in the scenery because in many ways it’s … well, I can’t say it’s more manageable, but it is, of course, because you don’t have to deal with people quite in the same way. People think of me as a costume designer, but in New York, the first things I did were scenery. I did a Sam Shepard one-act play off Broadway in 1970, and then worked for Joe Papp for many years. By that time, I was in grad school at Yale, concentrating on both scenery and costumes. I was designing costumes at Williamstown. When you don’t sew, you’re somewhat intimidated by that aspect of it. You’re lucky if you get to work with amazing people who make the costumes for you and with you.
I just raced from this little shop, Euroco Costumes, where I have the costumes designed for most of my dance projects. It’s two people, Janet Bloor and Werner Kulovitz. She’s brilliant at the stretch issues, and he is an amazing costume-maker of the grand school. Beautiful period cutting. I’ve only known him for about thirty years. You rely on the shorthand that develops between you and also what they bring to it, which is not only their expertise but also their passion. It’s very interesting—normally people who make costumes, who deal with the horrible deadlines and the issues of comfort and the egos of the performers, get sick of it. But I see them get excited by new projects and it’s exhilarating for all of us.
Can you talk to me about designing for Alexei Ratmansky’s The Tempest?
The Tempest you can approach in any number of ways, like most Shakespeare. I did a lot of Shakespeare in the Park in the seventies, both scenery and costumes, and for ten years, I worked in Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespeare festival. I didn’t do The Tempest there, but I’ve dealt with the play. It was interesting to work with Ratmansky. For him, working on The Tempest is not like, say, Romeo and Juliet, which is so much more of a ballet vocabulary, both because of the great score, which so guides you, and because of his ballet background. Also, everyone knows the story so well. Whereas with our production of The Tempest, there is this much looser Sibelius score.
I follow the play, and I think you have to start there. As an interpreter, you have to follow the progression as Shakespeare laid it out, with your own understanding of where the words aren’t applicable to movement. You understand when Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love. You know what to do. There’s anger and rage and comedy. There was a debate at one point about losing the clowns, Trinculo and Stephano. I quietly fought to keep them. I said, their relationship to Caliban makes for a wonderful scene, and those things are in the structure to give us a breather, so it’s not just this man railing against everything.Read More »