Architecture, Interior Design -. We look inside the stunning architecture and interiors of Nightmare Alley, Dune, The power of the Dog, West Side Story and The Tragedy of Macbeth, the nominees for Best Production Design at the 2022 Academy Awards. The shortlist features movies and genres with opposite aesthetics, from sci-fi to Shakespearean tragedy, from Western to musical and noir.
Dune: new retro-futuristic aesthetics
Directed by Denis Villeneuve – Warner Bros.
Set in a distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs, Dune tells the story of a young hero and prince protecting his desertic planet Harrakis from intergalactic villains who seek to exploit its precious source, The Spice, that extends life and enhances mental abilities. Product designer Patrice Vermette and set decorator Zsuzsanna Sipos took inspiration from both primordial times and the aesthetics of humanity’s ancient cultures. “There are no computers, the intelligence on show is the human brain and spirit” explains director Denis Villeneuve.
The result is a fresh retro-futuristic aesthetic. Expect cavernous palaces and nomadic settlements, Ancient Egyptian environments with Viking vibes, a goth planet and interiors recalling Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan-inspired Ennis House. Even the ornithopters, huge winged flying robots, resemble the giant dragonflies that thrived on Earth 300 million years ago.
The Tragedy of Macbeth: a movie carved out of light and shadow
Directed by Joel Coen – Apple TV+.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a Shakespearean drama about a king-slayer’s insatiable greed for power – and its tragic consequences – unfolds entirely in black and white. “When I first sat down with Joel Coen and his producer, Bob Graf, Joel said, Listen, this is going to be very stylized. Think German Expressionism, and know that sometimes a castle is not really a castle, is the idea of a castle.” Said production designer Stefan Dechant.
Indeed, light and shadow define the movie’s aesthetics, transforming the castle into a powerful play of sharp contrasts. The neat architecture and the essential geometry of arches, stairs, vaults frame the characters, reflecting their bold instincts and feelings. Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Night of the Hunter, some Fritz Lang and Hitchcock’s Rebecca inspired the designer. Dechant brilliantly selected simple elements – for example, a door handle that looks like a dagger when lit properly – to create a spare yet evocative environment curated in any detail.
West Side Story: a NYC love story under the wrecking ball
Directed by Steven Spielberg – 20th Century/Disney.
Set in 1950’s Manhattan, the iconic musical narrates the Shakespearian love story of a ‘mixed couple’ within a culturally-divided society along with the violent rivalry between gangs. “Steven Spielberg wanted to be on the streets as much as possible, and it’s difficult now to find places that feel period [appropriate],” said Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen. As a result, West Side Story was filmed everywhere – from Washington Heights, Harlem, and Queens to Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios, the Bronx, and Paterson and Newark, New Jersey.
An ominous giant wrecking ball looms over the characters’ love, struggles and fights. That is what 1950s New York was about, a city in precessing of being completely rebuilt. The wrecking ball is “present all the way through the story, Spielberg wanted to make sure we feel that. It’s the reality of the neighborhood and its loss. There are circumstances slamming these two groups into each other.” A purposefully use of colour reflects the characters’ differing attitudes through their clothes and the interior design of their homes.
Nightmare Alley: Edward Hopper’s carnival and Art Deco Furniture
Directed by Guillermo del Toro – Searchlight/Disney.
Guillermo de Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a contemporary noir movie set in the 1930s and narrates the world of a corrupt underbelly of showbiz and the illusion of the American Dream. CGI was employed only for falling snow and flying bullets. So production designer Tamara Deverell created vintage settings, interiors and scenery blending the dark mood of Edward Hopper’s painting with Art Deco and – in the first part of the movie – a 1920s carnival and funpark with a giant wheel and a vintage merry-go-round.
In the second part of the movie, the story moves to the glossy corporate power offices of 1930s Buffalo, New York. Deverell created a plush Art Deco environment curated to the finest detail, from gold leaf ceilings to lacquer walls and marble. The architecture helped define each character in the film, like Kate Blanchett’s golden hued-office with angelic light, as her character sometimes makes heroic gestures.
The Power of the Dog
Directed by Jane Cameron – Netflix.
Montana, 1920, when cattle rancher George Burbank brings home his new wife with her son, his tough brother torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. Grant Major’s production design was vital in shaping the drama’s story and tone of Netflix’s award-winning Western The Power of the Dog by acclaimed director Jane Campion.
Co-protagonists of the movies are a lonely house with a barn – the intimate, raw, wood-heavy environments where characters’ feelings and reflections take shape – and the surrounding nature of the New Zealand location – where the story unfolds. Entirely built and crafted from scratch according to 1880 construction techniques in rural America, the house has a strong masculine feeling and “a very early arts-and-crafts style,” explains Major. “We used a lot of logs in the barn.” Everything is curated to the finest detail, from furniture to the dimmed light, with windows framing a gaze to the landscape.