The Twentieth Century Society

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Looking into Lairs

John Lautner’s Malin Residence, or Chemisphere, was used as a Peeping Tom perch in 1984’s Body Double

Tra Publishing

In preparation for C20 Society’s first Zoom event tonight, I’ve been reading the book Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains, and (of course) also packing in some film watching.

I’ve also been talking to author Chad Oppenheim, to make sure the technology will run smoothly and plan the format of the conversation. Getting the right balance between rehearsing questions and ensuring spontaneity was a concern, but in practice both our work schedules has more or less enforced the spontaneous approach—which I think will be for the best.

The book looks in detail at 15 films, some of which I knew already, but some have been new to me and quite a surprise. I don’t think I would have picked a film described by The Telegraph as “a pornographic fiasco” for watching during lockdown without this prompt (although on reflection that combination of review source and assessment is at the very least intriguing) …. But Body Double, Brian De Palma’s extraordinary Hitchcock inspired shocker not only has John Lautner’s octagonal Chemosphere as a setting, but some superb scenes in a 1980s POMO shopping mall, which I’d love to know more about. Plus, the 80s hairdos are memorable, and the colours fantastic.

Much more muted in palate is the most recent of the films. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina dates from 2014 and combines two recent Norwegian buildings to give the impression of a single location – the Juvet Landscape Hotel and the Summer House, both in Norway, and designed by the practice Jensen and Skodvin in 2007-9 and 2012-14respectively. This is the film that had me Googling to plan a post-lock down trip—I’d love to stay at the Juvet Hotel—the expansiveness of the views over stunning mountain scenery, the sparse, austere beauty of timber and concrete construction are pretty far from my overstuffed home in SE17. I could do with a dramatic change.

A quote from Roman Polanski included in the book helped me realise why in fact the majority of the “lairs” are not real houses, but complex sets. He points out: “The light, it changes constantly… its doesn’t necessarily follow your shooting schedule. So it has to be built, and whatever you see through those windows, it has to be added.” Its obvious once you think about it, but I hadn’t really grasped that before. For Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, Art Director David Scheunemann built just the façade of the ex-prime minister’s retreat (which is meant to be in Martha’s Vineyard), on the German island Usedom. The modernist interiors were all constructed in a studio, and the two subsequently spliced together.

We’ll share the list of films after the event and let us know your favourites and in which “lair” you would most like to be locked down yourself. And if you would like to joint the conversation this evening, please sign up here.



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