Rooms, huh? They’re just spaces to put stuff, and maybe hang a picture. Interior decorating is for trendy thirty-something Nathan Barleys who read The Guardian and need something to do as they hurtle towards the twilight of their years.
Except no, because rooms can be staggering. Years ago my parents gifted me a book of the pre-production designs that helped make The Phantom Menace such a beautiful, terrible film, and I was stunned by how much design goes into the smallest things. Every detail of a set is designed with such staggering genius that making a film is a bit like assembling The Great Pyramid of Cheops, in a month, out of balsa wood and tin, and filling it with priceless treasures. Designing the set of a film is a work of love for the armies of background people you never hear about.Some of the best designers work on films and their work is largely forgotten. Well no longer. Continuing the vague theme I’m developing of championing forgotten designs (and designers, too, if I can manage), I will today take you by the hand, gentle traveller, and lead you through some of the nicest places that have never existed.
Children of Men (2007) – Nigel’s Ark of Art
Children of Men is the greatest science fiction film set in Britain and in my personal top ten of Sci-Fi. Except it’s not really a science fiction film. Technology in this movie, set in the year 2027, is every bit as omnipresent and unobtrusive as it is in our world, and therein lies true genius. Cars drive themselves and every surface has a touchscreen, but the overall effect is so strikingly realistic that you can fully imagine it being real. Red buses still trundle along London roads : the only difference being that their sides have moving billboards as opposed to static ones. It’s neat touches like that that make it real. Films like Logan’s Run depicted glittering futuristic vistas where everybody wore jumpsuits and technology worked perfectly. Children of Men has technology that is scratched, muddy, and makes irritating bleeping noises.
The world has gone to hell, because everybody’s infertile, and civilization is grinding to a halt. Theo (Clive Owen) is tasked with an important mission that requires the help of Nigel, a government minister and collector of antiques. He lives in a secure location in Battersea Power Station, a building that has featured in more movies that Christopher Lee . While people struggle for food and shelter on the street, Nigel lives in opulence, surrounded by works of art, just like government ministers tend to do.
So the cinematic eyefest includes Picasso’s Guernica along one wall, and a long minimalist walkway towards Michelangelo’s David, seemingly recovered from the clutches of revolutionaries (and therefore missing a lower leg). Behind it, outside, stand the twin smokestacks of Battersea Power Station, and in between them…. hovers the pig from Pink Floyd’s Animals.
The combination of sterile minimalism and iconic works of art creates a beautiful sense of old meeting you, which reinforces the realism of the film. Battersea Power Station is itself an icon of Old Architecture, all solid brick and stark utility, and to convert it into a living-room-cum-warehouse is to create something I’d like to live in. In fact I’m making this my new header image.
Oh and also Clive Owen should have been the new James Bond instead of Daniel Craig. That would be a better world. The International is way better than Quantum of Solace.
Tron Legacy (2010): Flynn’s Room
Yikes, more minimalism. And who remembers Tron Legacy? Just me, apparently. I can forgive this film a multitude of sins (including an incomprehensible plot) for several reasons. It has Jeff Bridges, Michael Sheen, Beau Garret and Olivia Wilde in it. Daft Punk did the soundtrack. It looked nothing like the original Tron (thank CHRIST, because Tron is on my “Worst Films of All Time” list). And, weirdest of all, it made multiple references to Taoism, the I Ching, and Chinese mysticism. For a stupid Disney film, Tron Legacy is one of the most-watched movies in my collection.
The reason is the design. I want to live in Tron World. I want to ride a lightcycle to work. I want glowing laser discuses. I want to live in a world where Olivia Wilde has a ridiculous bob and glows in the dark. And if that isn’t an excuse to add a picture of the lovely Ms Wilde, I don’t know what is.
And most of all i want to live in Jeff Bridge’s house, where the floors glow and there’s a laser-powered Louis XIV fireplace against a solid black granite wall. I want a holographic window that faces the city. I want silver apples and mysterious blue liquid in decanters. And I want a weird cushion thing I can meditate on. And I will kill a hostage for every hour that passes and I don’t get what I want.
Iron Man 1,2&3 (2008,2010 & 2013) – Tony Stark’s Garage
The daddy of all tech geeks has his own underground lair. And it is exactly as it should be. There are cool cars and aluminium workbenches. There is a voice-activated computer that offers sarcastic comments and robots that don’t do what they’re told. And best of all, there’s a rack of Iron Men, looking like amusingly over-sized Oscar trophies. What’s not to like?
The best thing about this particular space is that it feels lived in. There’s crap lying about. There are tools and blueprints scattered haphazardly all over the place. It feels like a space that is used, and is real because while everything in it is gleaming metal, these individual items have a loved quality that makes the room appealing. This is a “boy’s club” kind of place, a hideaway, a den, a game room. It makes me wish I had a basement.
Also, doesn’t this reinforce what I was saying about Iron Man and Batman? Which one would you rather spend time in? A warm Californian basement surrounded by amusing robots and sleek sports cars, or a damp cave with bats and a waterfall? Or the empty underground bathroom in The Dark Knight?
PI (1998) – Max Cohen’s Apartment
PI is one of those movies you either really like or really loathe. I fully expected to hate it, because I knew it was about the whole “mystical numbers from God” concept that appeals to a certain type of person with a sense of spirituality but nowhere to put it. Instead PI just gave me a panic attack, a bit like Requiem For a Dream did years later. Maybe I’m allergic to Darren Aronofsky. Still, i enjoyed PI immensely, as it’s more about obsession than the search for God. Max Cohen is a mathematician trying to discover a number sequence beneath reality. To do this he endlessly runs stock picks and formulae through his custom-built computer. His apartment, filled with electronic gizmos, is a claustrophobic mess of wires and parts. Filmed in stark black and white, Max’s apartment takes on a haunting, nest-like appearance, as if Max is both a part of a living machine and trapped inside a maze of barbed wire. As his mind disintegrates, the room begins to feel as alive as he is, a living prison for his madness. For a room that’s just a bunch of computers, it feels uncannily organic.
Cosmopolis (2012) – Eric Packer’s Limousine
Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), young billionaire, travels across the city in his custom-built limousine, insulated from the world as it turns against him. In the course of a day, his marriage disintegrates, his bodyguard is killed, the global economy collapses, he loses all of his money, and he shoots himself in the hand.
Eric’s problems stem from not being able to plot the irregularities of life. Obsessed with his “asymmetrical prostate” while trying to predict currency markets, he fails to account for the unusual and unexpected, the meaningless and arbitrary. His world collapses because he cannot grasp irregularity. And from the design of his car, it’s not hard to see why. Separated from the world by bulletproof glass, soundproof cork lining and armored steel, Eric is fundamentally unaware of the world as it is. He lives in a cosseted, perfect existence.
And it’s a beautiful car, all leather and dark Mahogany, with blue computer readouts and minibars wherever you look. Luxury of this kind is almost oppressive, and I guess that’s the point. It’s as if somebody has transplanted the interior of a Lear jet into the black of a taxi. Weirdly, it looks bigger than it is, which I put down to the lighting. It sort of gives the sense of a womb: inside, Eric Packer is insulated from all harm, his every need provided for. It’s only when he steps out of the car that reality starts insisting on him. His car is an extension of himself and his ego.
There you go. My top picks. I realise my favourites are all heavily geared in favour of minimalist or techy men (I am both), and I apologise. I will try to find some lady-type rooms for the next installment. Actually, though, why can’t sophisticated minimalism or messy tech be a female thing too? Are you some kind of misogynist? Discuss.