Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Look Back at Gosford Park

Before the intrigue, splendor and Sunday night "must see" addiction that is Downton Abbey, there was the film Gosford Park (2001). A story of the upper crust world of nobility and their servants in thirties England, the Robert Altman film was reminiscent of Upstairs/Downstairs with a little Agatha Christie thrown in for good measure.

Production designer Stephen Altman (and son of the director), created the authentic period interiors for the story of a group of wealthy Brits and one American who assemble for a shooting weekend at a country estate known as Gosford Park. The film's all-star cast includes Kristen Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, and the late Alan Bates and was nominated for seven Oscars.

Upstairs cast....

and downstairs. 
Shot on location in the UK, it took two estates and a soundstage  to make up Gosford Park -- Wrotham Park, Syon House (upstairs) and Shepperton Studios (downstairs). Altman and set decorator Anna Pinnock took painstaking care to use colors and furnishings authentic to the period with red as the predominant color. Altman explains, "In houses like these, there are antiques from two or three hundred years before, so we just added in layers of modernity. We wanted to make sure it was comfortable and livable, since many of the stately homes we'd seen were like museums and didn't seem like homes."

Wrotham Park

Working on a period film requires extensive research and the ultimate set decorators dream. Altman hired as consultant a butler and cook who had been in domestic service in England in the thirties. From the proper table settings to the appropriate wardrobe for the staff, Altman and his team wanted to make sure they portrayed domestic life in a noble home in an accurate fashion. Rooms were designed for sewing, ironing, making jams and jellies, and even a “brushing room” was added, where guests would be “brushed down” and thus not carry any mud or dirt into the house. I guess it was the precursor to what we know now as the mud room:)

Party guests

Stephen Fry and Kristen Scott Thomas

Costume designer Jenny Beavan's satin gown for Kristen Scott Thomas

Ryan Phillipe as the valet 
The film has many parallels to Downtown Abbey - lots of great period interiors in an idyllic English estate, the wonderful Maggie Smith as scene stealer Constance, Countess of Trentham, devoted maids and mysterious handsome valets, and a classic study of the British class system. Catch it on DVD after Season Two of the PBS show is over and when a fix of all things Brit is in order.

Photo Credits: USA Films

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Anatomy of an Awards Show

Hollywood and the world for that matter is obsessed with little golden statuettes, who's wearing what, who will win what and all the hoopla that is known as the awards show. And tonight this season's statue race begins with perhaps one of the best of the season, the Golden Globes.

First, a quick primer. The Golden Globe Award honors the best of television and film as judged by the 93 members of the Hollywood Press Association. Dating back to l944, the show tends to be a tad more glamorous than the Oscars (more celebrities from the big as well as small screens), more interesting (selections are broader as there are split categories for best actor and film based on comedy, drama, etc.), and the speeches more outrageous (translation - alcohol is served). Miss Golden Globe remains an annual staple as a coming out party of sorts for the daughter (and in some rare cases, sons) of a celebrity. Former Miss GG's include Melanie Griffith, Linda Evans, Joely Fisher, Rumer Willis with Donna Douglas (Beverly Hillbillies's Ellie Mae Clampett) as the show's first. Freddie Prinze, Jr. and John Clark Gable were two of the men who held the duties.

Rainey Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell and Miss GG 2012

Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce and Demi
Stars with their publicists and stylists in tow will stroll down 30,000 square feet of red carpet as 550 bottles of Moet & Chandon vintage 2002 and 9,000 champagne glasses await. Five to six thousand guests will be found in the Beverly Hilton attending the proverbial after parties with a lucky 1,300 seated for dinner. (Note: No botox figures were available at this time). Harvey Weinstein, In Style, Vanity Fair's party at Cecconi's and HBO will have some of the hottest most sought after soirees with NBC/Universal throwing their hopeful celebration of the hit film Bridesmaids (nominated for best film in the comedy category) on the roof.

Party map courtesy of The Daily Truffle
All eyes will be on third time host Ricky Gervais who is expected to be bawdy, hilarious and tell it like it is. No one will escape unscathed and expect lots of Sandusky, Tebowing, Ashton and Demi, Kardashian and Republican presidential contender barbs. In the past, he has drawn the ire of the Hollywood Press Association and certain segments of the film industry with his comments on gay actors and scientology. My personal favorite  -- "It's going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking -- or, as Charlie Sheen calls it, breakfast." Sheen laughed so what was the problem?:)

Ricky Gervais, king of barbs

The show has had other scandals that question the validity of the awards. Case in point -  Pia Zadora won "Newcomer of the Year" in 1981 for her performance in Butterfly (I can hear many of you now asking who/what?) amid accusations her producer husband "bought" her the award. Similar stories surfaced around the film The Tourist last year as the studio was accused of offering voters an all expense paid trip to Vegas. (I am not sure the latter had any legs as press junkets have always been the norm.)

Pia Zadora beat out actresses Elizabeth McGovern (Ragtime)
and Kathleen Turner (Body Heat)
And it's hard to remember a time the awards shows were not about the clothes. The red carpet has become a staple and the fashions get equal if not more emphasis than the actual films themselves. A gown can make or break both an actress and designer's career and stylists have become the new power and image brokers in Hollywood (be sure to check out the Ruth La Ferla's New York Times piece on The Power Stylists of Hollywood). Countless hours will be spent dissecting, scrutinizing and analyzing hits and misses and heaven forbid two actresses wear the same gown. It's often excruciating watching the red carpet interviewers come up with questions ("How was the ride over in the limo" makes for compelling journalism) and I suspect every campus in America could have a field day using the word "amazing" for their drinking game.

Last year's red carpet fashions - champagne was the order of the day
The event is truly Hollywood's Super Bowl, a predictor of things to come at Oscar time and 17 million viewers plus  in 167 countries will no doubt tune in. And with Downton Abbey Season Two and The Good Wife airing at the same time, Tivo is the order of the evening.

Follow me on Twitter tonight @catwhit as I give my two cents during the show and red carpet.

Photo Credits: HPA, Daily Truffle