Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Follow the yellow brick road to your local bookstore. Designs on Film makes a great gift!
(And yes, a little artistic license thrown in with my cat Snoopy).
Thank you for your support this past year and all the best for a prosperous and healthy 2011.

Happy Holidays!

Cathy Whitlock

Sunday, December 19, 2010

At The Ballet

I was talking to a friend the other night who is a former professional "ballerina" who was quite dismayed at how Hollywood has portrayed her profession. Neurotic psychos, extreme disciplinarians and ruthless get-ahead-at-all-costs prima donnas are often the norm while a few films tend to capture the essence, technique and dedication of this truly incredible and often misunderstood art form:

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight, 2010)

The most recent addition to the dance film genre is Black Swan, a psychological thriller set in the world of the New York City Ballet. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a danceaholic who plays the lead role in Swan Lake and gets in touch with her dark side along the way. While some of the cliches are present - a bitter off the deep end retired dancer (Winona Ryder), stage door mother (Barbara Hershey), etc., the competitiveness and stress of the profession is effectively portrayed. The emotionally charged  film is garnering all sorts of early nominations and Oscar buzz.

The Turning Point (Twentieth Century Fox, 1977)

The Turning Point is the story of the lives two ballet dancers -- one who left the troupe to start a family (Shirley MacLaine) and another who became a prima ballerina (Anne Bancroft). Regret, reflection and jealousy between the two women ensues when MacLaine's daughter (Lesley Browne) joins the company. Doris Day, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn turned down the leads and as well as  real-life ballet legend Gelsey Kirkland who was offered the role of the daughter.  The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture and was miraculously shut out that year.

Lesley Browne and Mikhail Baryshnikov

Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine as friends and rivals
The Red Shoes (Archer, 1948)

The age old choice between love and career is the theme of this ballet classic. Moira Shearer plays a young dancer who becomes the lead in The Red Shoes production (inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson fable) and is considered one of the top ten British films ever made. Art director Hein Heckroth used over 120 paintings as backdrop for the opening dance sequence.

The Company (Sony Pictures, 2003)

Director Robert Altman's drama of a group of ballet dancers with Neve Campbell as  the principal of a Chicago ballet troupe. Apparently Campbell employed her own method acting and trained eight hours a day for four months. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago cooperated fully with the production both on and off screen.

Campbell with the company's artistic director played by Malcolm McDowell

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Archer Films, Fox Searchlight.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cinema Style Christmas Wishlist

Dear Santa,

While a trip to St. Barth's, world peace, tickets to this week's Paul McCartney concert on Sirius, a leopard Valentino bag and film festival tickets would be wonderful in my stocking, the following is a list any stylish film buff would be happy to receive:

The Audrey Hepburn Muse Collection

Seven of Hepburn's best films including Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sabrina, Roman Holiday, Paris When It Sizzles, War and Peace and Funny Face highlight some of the best fashion moments in her career. Available for 70.99 on Amazon.

All Posters

A great site for unique film posters -- think instant art for the wall. You can see the collection at I love the different take on Sunset Boulevard.

100 remastered top hits from obscure films -- and I bet you never knew Billy Paul's Me and Mrs. Jones was from the film Beautiful Girls. MP3's available from Amazon for a mere 0.99 here.

Movie Posters 2011 (Universe Publishing)

Twelve iconic films from the National Film Registry from Blazing Saddles and The Graduate to Sabrina and A Night at the Opera. It beats a year of cute puppies anytime. 12. 59 on Amazon.

Columbia Best Picture Collection

It's all here -- 11 Best Picture winners including Kramer versus Kramer, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and It Happened One Night. 65.99 on Amazon.


Bored with Scrabble? Try this interactive film game where you watch film clips, test your knowledge and perhaps humiliate yourself at parties. 18.49 at Amazon.

Bob Willoughby's Audrey Hepburn Photographs 1953-1966

If money is no object, Hollywood photographer Bob Willoughby's collector's edition of "The Tiffany Princess in a Little Black Dress" is wonderful. Behind the scene shots from Roman Holiday, My Fair Lady and many more. And only 700.00:) Available from Taschen.

Happy Shopping!

Photo Credits: Twentieth Century Fox, All Posters, Taschen

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The News on Film

I am an admitted news junkie therefore I love any film that has to do with the subject of the media. Hollywood's most recent foray on the topic is Morning Glory, the Diane Keaton-Harrison Ford romantic comedy (Rachel McAdams is the real star of this film) about a daytime news show. "Daybreak" is last in the ratings and the former beauty queen host and legendary anchor of course clash while Adams as producer tries to keep the show --and her life -- from unraveling.

Rachel McAdams
Perhaps my favorite film is Broadcast News (1987), director James L. Brooks story of a tv news producer (Holly Hunter), the brilliant writer who is secretly in love with her (Albert Brooks) and the handsome yet awkward on camera anchor (William Hurt). The film is hilarious yet poignant as the Washington news bureau suffers the fate of many in television today -- downsizing due to the economy. Brooks steals the show with some of the best one liners on film. And for a piece of trivia, Debra Winger was supposed to play the female lead but pregnancy got in the way.

Hunter, Brooks and Hurt
Desk Set (1957) is the story of what happens when computerization hits a television network research department.  Spencer Tracy stars as the engineer ordered to reshape the department and Katherine Hepburn as Bunny, the sharp tongued head researcher. There is lots of witty dialogue and banter, not to mention sterling performances. The film was originally a play and rumored to be based on an actual CBS  researcher (and IBM!).

Hepburn and Tracey 

Network (1976) is perhaps the quintessential film on the news business, albeit a dark one. The fictitious Union Broadcasting System suffers from poor ratings and places their somewhat deranged head anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) as an angry prophet with his own "entertainment" show, adding "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" to the national  lexicon. Faye Dunaway won the Oscar as the cold, calculating producer Diana Christensen. It's satirical, brilliant and a must see.

Dunaway as uber producer Diana Christensen

The Infamous Morning After shot: Dunaway with her Oscar by the pool 
And last but not least....All The President's Men (1976) is the political thriller based on the non-fiction book of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Cal Bernstein as they uncover the unraveling of the Nixon presidency. Everything clicks with this film -- the performances, direction and story are first rate. The film won an Oscar for Best Art Direction as production designer George Jenkins dutifully recreated the Post headquarters on a Warner Brothers soundstage, right down to the phone books.

Hoffman and Redford

Jason Robards as Post Editor Ben Bradlee. Designers measured and copied
 original newsroom desks for an authentic recreation
Photo credits: Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today is the Day!

"Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain."
-- The Wizard of Oz, 1939

I am proud to announce that my book debuts today! Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction (!t Books/Harper Collins, 2010) covers the evolving story of art direction from the silents to present day. Hundreds of images and renderings of every film style and genre -- many seen here for the first time -- are featured along with dozens of interviews with some of the cinema's top production designers, art directors and set decorators and written with the cooperation of the venerable Art Directors Guild.

My personal favorite sections are the behind the scenes stories along with Manhattan on Film, Italy on Film and the films from the forties and sixties. And of course Gone With the Wind, period sagas, fantasy films and the Big White Sets of the thirties. And the films of Nancy Meyers, my favorite designing director. It's all here from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and Ben Hur to Sunset Boulevard, North By Northwest and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House to Citizen Kane, The Graduate, Chinatown and  The Age of Innocence to Titanic, Pride and Prejudice, Somethings Gotta Give and Avatar. You get the picture.

You can see more of the book at my website or get a sneak peak at the Art Directors Guild site. The book is available at a bookstore near you (if there are still standing!), Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc. or if you would like to personalize a copy, you can email and purchase directly through me.

It's been a long and winding journey down the yellow brick road and I hope you enjoy it!

Photo Credits: Gosford Park/USA Films, MGM/Photofest/!t Books/Harper Collins

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shelf Life: The Season's Top Design Tomes

Many thanks to editor Wendy Goodman of New York Magazine for naming Designs on Film as one of the seasons "Top Design Tomes." I am proud to be in such wonderful company and you can read more about this and her selections here.

She cites the designs of Cleopatra (1963) as one of her favorites. I agree as these sets were some of the richest and most opulent in film history.

Elizabeth Taylor as the pampered Queen of the Nile

The film was one of the most expensive films ever made at that time

Filming was shot in England to look like Alexandria, Egypt and then moved to Italy, hence the inflated budget

I am a big fan of Wendy's work and be sure to catch her new book The World of Gloria Vanderbilt (Abrams, 2010) which debuted earlier in the month. The images and insider's view of the history of this renaissance woman are as stunning as the cover.

Photo Credits: Twentieth Century Fox, Abrams Books

Friday, November 19, 2010

All Things Royal

Word came across the pond this week of the engagement of Prince William and Kate (and was anyone really surprised?) and I have to wonder if this will be as celebrated, covered and commented on as the wedding of  Princess Diana and Charles. My guess is in this 24/7, celeb crazy news cycle we live in, the answer is yes. It will be the ultimate wedding reality show.

And speaking of the royals, word also came out recently that Keira Knightly will play the role of the ill-fated Princess and Helen Mirren as her mother, Frances Shand Kidd. Both Knightly and Mirren are no strangers to playing royals as The Dutchess and The Queen respectively were incredible performances.
The film is scheduled to debut around the time of what would have been Diana's 50th birthday. Lets hope the powers that be at Buckingham Palace keep that in mind when they set the upcoming wedding date.

Keira Knightly

One of the later shots of Diana

Shand-Kidd and Mirren

And for those of you who can't wait for the real thing, might I suggest renting the MGM musical Royal Wedding (1951). Fred Astaire and Jane Powell play a brother and sister dance team who find romance when they tour to London for the wedding of Elizabeth II. The film is noted for the complicated dance scene ("You're All the World To Me") where Astaire hoofs with a clothes tree and on the walls and ceiling of his hotel room while Powell is romanced by Lord John Brindale (played by Peter Lawford). The story is loosely based on Astaire and his real-life sister Adele. 

Astaire and Powell

Astaire and the "wallwalk" 

Powell with Peter Lawford and with great curtains as a backdrop

Photo Credits: Turner Classic Movies/MGM

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Way We Were Revisited

It's been thirty seven years since Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand made movie magic in the love story The Way We Were (1973) and this Tuesday, Oprah scores a coup with a reunion show.

For those of you who are a) straight and male and/or hate love stories, b) too young and never got around to seeing, or c) living in a cave, The Way We Were is the story of star crossed lovers who meet in college and fall in love years later and their differences drive them apart. Redford plays Hubbell Gardner, a Waspy jock and Streisand as Katie Morosky, a Jewish political activist and the couple eventually prove that love can't conquer all. New York, Hollywood and Malibu in the forties never looked better and that goes for Streisand and her ironed hair as well (perhaps her most glamorous role to date).

Sydney Pollack directed the film (he later teamed with Redford on Out of Africa) and rumor has it, the golden one had to be literally coaxed into doing the role (Warren Beatty and Ryan O'Neal were also considered). The film is based on Arthur Laurent's book which I highly recommend as well. 

On location in Central Park...

...and in Malibu

Pollack with Streisand and Redford

A on-again-off-again sequel was in the works for decades but Redford could never come to terms with the story or script. Apparently "The Way We Were II" would pick up in the sixties, and the pair would come back together to deal with their radical daughter who protests the Vietnam War. Some things are best left alone and what are the chances magic can happen twice?

The film has become a camp classic and you would be hard pressed to find fans who cannot come up with at least a line or two of the dialogue or a favorite scene. (And since you didn't ask mine would be Redford and Bradford Dillman sailing - "Best Saturday Afternoon").  Sex and the City even paid homage when Carrie told Mr. Big goodbye at the Plaza Hotel. And if you've seen the film you know what I am talking about.

"Your girl is lovely Hubbell"

The Way We Were garnered six Academy Award nominations (Best Actress, Costume, Art Direction and Cinematography) and won two for Best Song and Original Score. Rent the movie, download the score and set your Tivo.

Photo Credits: Columbia Pictures