February 28, 2009

ARMSTRONG SABIAN: OUR MAN IN ALBANY

GUEST SET LISTS
Spy Vibe continues its series on Spy TV/film production design and the influence of Art and design movements, Playboy, Hugh Hefner, adventure story conventions, and the Space Race.

Guest Set Lists: Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Armstrong Sabian, Steve Bissette, Roger Langley, Matthew Bradford, Wesley Britton, David Foster, Matt Kindt.

Spy Vibe's Set For Adventure here, Set Countdown #10, #9, #8 ,#7, #6, #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.


ARMSTRONG SABIAN: OUR MAN IN ALBANY

Agent ARMSTRONG is the creator of Mister 8, a spy blog and web comic site. If you have not discovered Mister 8, it is a fantastic place to explore scans of rare spy comics, music, and great coverage of classic spy literature, film, and television. Armstrong's Set List:

Like Jason, I'm a big fan of mid-century modern design and architecture, and, like him, I think that love will color my list. My wife and I have just purchased our first house, and wherever possible, I'm trying to let the designs of the Eameses, Saarinen, Knoll and others influence our decor (while at the same time avoiding Ikea). It's not easy, however, because those sorts of things are expensive, the ones that are affordable aren't comfortable, and the style didn't seem to be in vogue around here, judging from the number of colonial and mountain rustic furniture for sale on Craigslist.

I'm hoping to cut loose in Mister 8 though, if my art skills are up to snuff (in other words, don't take this as a promise!), and the following are amongst the top bits of film architecture and design from which I'll be drawing ideas. Inevitably, there will be some crossover with lists that may appear here. I've told Jason that I suspect one particular set will appear on everyone's list, unless they're the type of person who avoids the obvious choice because it's too obvious. I'm not that person, because I love ninjas and rocket ships and volcanoes, and mixing the three is like creating my vision of Heaven on the screen. According to my list, 1967 seems to have been the greatest year of ALL TIME. Or at least the best looking.


5. The President's Analyst (1967) - The Phone Company HQ [Production design: Pato Guzman; Art decoration: Hal Pereira, Al Roelofs; Set decoration: Robert R. Benton, Arthur Krams] SPOILER ALERT! The President's Analyst is a surprisingly biting, still relevant satire with visual design grounded in the psychedelic 60s. The set I've chosen from the film comes from the sort-of payoff scene, where the titular analyst, Dr. Sidney Schaefer (Coburn), learns that the shadowy organization responsible for his kidnapping is the The Phone Company. He's brought, phone booth and all, into the heart of TPC headquarters, an Adamsesque rotating room with blinking light panels, floating neon abstract symbols, and a man at a control panel who turns out to be, as Geoffrey Cambridge points out, a "recording." The set succeeds because it amplifies the satirical commentary that has transformed our utility company into a SPECTRE-esque evil cabal bent on taking over the world (Their plan? Inserting tiny phone receivers into the brain. One wonders if, after Schaefer stops this plot, the Phone Company robots got together and realized they needed an intermediary step: cell phones). This idea of the fear of foreign matters destroying the country, while bigger domestic problems were hiding was understandable in the context of the late 60s, with Vietnam and civil rights and protests in the streets, and with our current financial crisis, as I said, it remains relevant today.

One of the more interesting things about the set is that when Schaefer is rescued by the CIA and KGB agent working together (not through any sort of patriotism or sense of duty -- he's treating both of them and without him, they feel they'd go crazy), the two shut the power off. And so we get to see the set without the special lighting, the blinking neon, and see it in its plain grey, hard metal state. When I went to Disney World last summer, we got to be inside of Space Mountain while they had the lights on to check the track. It was a similar experience watching President's Analyst, sort of seeing behind the magic. It makes you appreciate the work of the filmmakers even more.


4. The Prisoner (1967) - Portmeirion / The Green Dome [Art direction: Jack Shampan; Art department: Ken Bridgeman, John Lageu; Portmeirion designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis] There's something about the town of Portmeirion that makes it the perfect setting for the Village, the way it almost seems like a normal place, but the angles and curves, the bright colors, the arches, the miles of steps, the stone boat, and the way the buildings seem to rise from in between the foliage knock that view of normalcy askew. For the Prisoner to work, the Village must appear to be, on the surface, an ideal place to retire. Were it hell, then Number Six's refusal to play along would seem less heroic. But to be offered life in a beautiful Mediterranean villa, with food and tea, and music, and life-sized chess, without having to work to pay for it (why did some Villagers have jobs, for instance, the waitresses or the operator of the general store?)...and then to turn it down because of scruples? At this point in my life, I might abandon my scruples if it meant never having to shovel snow again.


The interior sets of the Prisoner were equally interesting -- among my favorites are Number Six's cottage home, and the gymnasium where the trampoline-swordfight-over-the-swimming-pool game was played. By far, however, the best interior set is the inside of the Green Dome, both the minimalist office of Number Two, with its Aarnio-influenced egg chair and clinical lighting; and the control room, where unnamed watchers rotated on a giant industrial see-saw, constantly peering at monitoring equipment while the electronic eye, reminiscent of the CBS logo (which broadcast the Prisoner in the U.S.), revolves slowly around the room.


3. Danger Diabolik
(1968, though I'm sure filming began in 1967) - The Diabolik Cave [Art Direction: Flavio Mogherini] Danger Diabolik set out to make the ultimate headquarters, and it would've succeeded too, if Ken Adams hadn't already achieved perfection with You Only Live Twice (see #2). Still, the Diabolik Cave is a wonder to behold. Batman would watch this film, as the Jaguar XKE pulls into the vastness of the underground lair, and feel as though the Batcave were a one-room flat. The Diabolik Cave, if Diabolik were ever captured, would become a national monument and visitors would flock to the gift shops to send their friends and family back home postcards of the experience.

I fully expect that host Jason will name this as his top choice (as of this writing, he's only up to #4 on his own list) and so I won't go into my appreciation too much here. But let me highlight my two favorite things: (1) the ultra-modern semi-transparent circles that hang in the shower to obscure the naughty bits and (2) the rotating bed. Sure, you might say, you've seen rotating beds before in these kinds of films. But have you ever seen a rotating bed so vast that you could park a Cessna on it and still probably have room for an orgy? Danger Diabolik takes your concept of a rotating bed and turns it into a cheap feather pillow. Take that!


2. You Only Live Twice
(1967) - Blofeld's Volcano Lair [Production design: Ken Adams; Art direction: Harry Pottle; Set Decoration: David Ffolkes] Only number two? I know, I know, I said this was my idea of Heaven, but the top spot on this list goes to a film whose sets, more than any other, define the ideal of the 60s-modern film set. Still: this film literally set the standard, so that the words "volcano lair" are understood universally, like the choking symbol or the double wink and the elbow nudge. And as I said before, there's plenty to love about this volcano lair, from the fake lava retractable roof, to the monorail system, to the potential for ninjas to swing down on ropes with machine guns. What works best here for me is the mix of the organic and the industrial, the bare rock face almost indistinguishably fading into the concrete and metal. Also: sometimes there's a rocket ship.
1. Casino Royale (1967) - Pretty much the whole damned thing, but at least the last two-thirds. [Production design: Michael Stringer; Art Direction: Ivor Beddoes, Lionel Couch, John Howell; Visual Effects (matte painting): Les Bowie] If you're not a fan of Casino Royale, (David of Permission to Kill), I suggest that you stop reading, put the film in your DVD player, and fast forward to 48:30. Watch this slow motion pan as the beautiful Ursula Andress leads Peter Sellers through her foyer, past the tank of fish who seem to be floating like balloons. Skip ahead to 51:55, and watch Ursula spin and jump on the circular pink bed in front of 180 degrees of floor-to-ceiling mirrors while feathers fill the air around her.


Now jump to 1:05:24, to the school where Mata Hari developed her talents, with sharp angles and planes that evoke the best of German Expressionism. The school houses the monochromatic decoder room seen at 1:11:05, with that wonderful sharp sans serif A anchoring the set. There's plenty to be seen in between, but I also especially like the "fingerprint" room at 1:51:05; Dr. Noah's lair at 1:51:30, with its goldbrick chairs that evoke Goldfinger and the plastic-wrapped art pieces that line the area in front of the desk; his flesh-colored inner sanctum at 1:53:51, lined with shapes and objects with which Freudians could have a field day; and of course the closing sequence where the regal titular casino is home to an extended fistfight between cowboys, indians, paratroopers, gangsters and French policemen.

If you're watching Casino Royale for some sort of plot or characterization, you're going about things all wrong. This is pure visual spectacle, a satirical time capsule of an era now long gone... Or maybe I just like watching Ursula Andress do things in slow motion. Can you blame me?

[The stylized sets of Casino Royale almost made it into the Spy Vibe top-10. I think I balked because of the storytelling... but Armstrong has a great point. Some segments are visually stunning! -Jason]

JEREMY DUNS: OUR MAN IN SWEDEN

GUEST SET LISTS
Spy Vibe continues its series on Spy TV/film production design and the influence of Art and design movements, Playboy, Hugh Hefner, adventure story conventions, and the Space Race.

Guest Set Lists: Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Armstrong Sabian, Steve Bissette, Roger Langley, Matthew Bradford, Wesley Britton, David Foster, Matt Kindt.

Spy Vibe's Set For Adventure here, Set Countdown #10, #9, #8 ,#7, #6, #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.


JEREMY DUNS: OUR MAN IN SWEDEN

agent JEREMY was born in 1973 and lives in Sweden with his wife, kids, and massive collection of vintage spy thrillers. His first novel, Free Agent, set in Nigeria in 1969, will be published by Simon & Schuster in the UK on May 5 and by Viking Penguin in the US on June 25. It's the first in a trilogy featuring British double agent Paul Dark and has been praised by David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Eric Van Lustbader, Christopher Reich and Jeff Abbott. Jeremy's picks from #1-5:


1. DR NO (1962). Ursula Andress' bikini-clad introduction is the most iconic moment in the film - perhaps in the whole of the Bond series, perhaps in the whole of spy cinema - but Ken Adam's sets, from the low-ceilinged ante-rooms of No's lair to the oriental elegance of Miss Taro's bachelorette pad to the strangely-angled cell Bond must escape from, gave the film a sleek claustrophobic sheen.


2. THE IPCRESS FILE (1965). Ken Adam again, and more peculiar angles. But despite Palmer's own bachelor pad tendencies, the effect here is less glamorous than in the Bond films - and the disused warehouse would never be the same again.


3. BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967). This was probably the weakest of the Harry Palmer films (the originals, I mean – not the later ones!), but it had great Syd Cain sets, from the banks of computers of the title to the swinging furniture in Finland.


4. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969). Syd Cain again, and almost as snowy as Billion Dollar Brain. The sets are less extravagant, and perhaps less obviously ‘Bond’ than even Billion Dollar Brain, but they are nevertheless rich, atmospheric and perfectly suited to the story, from Blofeld’s groovy mountain clinic-cum-fortress Piz Gloria to the magnificent casino that James Bond (George Lazenby) walks through early in the film. It helps that the film itself is terrific.


5. A DANDY IN ASPIC (1966). Another of the lesser known British Sixties spy flicks, starring Laurence Harvey as double agent Alexander Eberlin – both this and Derek Marlowe’s novel, from which it was adapted, were major influences for me. The film has its problems but I find the look and atmosphere of it compelling, from a firing range to a military airfield. There’s a haunting scene as Eberlin walks around the tiny London flat of his burned-out, drug-addicted handler Pavel (Per Oscarsson): as he squeezes past lampshades and picks up a photograph of Pavel’s wife back in Russia, the bleak life of a spy hits home.



February 26, 2009

Cinema Retro

A heartfelt thank you to CINEMA RETRO magazine and Lee Pfeiffer for featuring SPY VIBE recently on-line. As IMDB now guides new readers to their magazine, so do their kind words bring new readers to SPY VIBE. If you have not discovered CINEMA RETRO yet, I urge you to subscribe today. Catch up with back issues. They are truly a treasure for fans of Film/TV of the 1960s and 1970s. The founders also have quite a back catalog of cool books (and other media releases) that are worth tracking down, and many new projects coming our way in the future. They also organize fantastic events- especially for 007 fans. Click for larger image.
Grazie! - Jason

February 25, 2009

SPY VIBE SET COUNTDOWN #1

Danger Diabolik (Mario Bava 1968) Underground Lair. Art Director/Flavio Mogherini (Satyricon, Mamma Roma, The Thief of Bagdad), Costume Designer/Production Designer (La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits, 8 1/2). Imagine clicking your garage door opener on a mountain road, engaging a giant clam-shell door, and driving into a series of electronic hatches and elevators down (deep deep down) to a cavernous lair that sports a fleet of E-type Jaguars, Sci-Fi gadgets, a Habitrail-like network of tubes and chambers, glass "see-through" showers, and a giant revolving bed with futuristic technology and television monitors. I’ll give you a moment to recover. You’re right- it’s simply the coolest pad any spy, criminal mastermind, or lounge cat could crave (they had me at Jaguars). Add Marisa Mell, John Phillip Law, and a score by Ennio Morricone to the mix and you can see why this Mario Bava cult classic jumps right to the #1 spot on the list. There are wonderful adventure conventions in the film, including a trap door... in an airplane!

The film is based on the popular Italian comic Diabolik, created in 1962 by two sisters from Milan. Diabolik is an anti-hero, a kind of Fantomas-meets-Golgo 13-meets 007 in a Sci-Spy crime adventure, and he is a great example of the European tradition of weaving adventure stories around master criminals-as-heroes. Comic and film maestro Steve Bissette suggests that this reflects a post-war skepticism of authority and a spirit of late-60s counter-culture. Where 007 works for queen and country, Diabolik relishes in high-stakes heists and acts of destruction against the state. His other passion is to enjoy a life of pleasure with his partner Eva. Celebration of the individual perhaps taken to the extreme, yet Diabolik remains empathetic and ultra-cool. One infamous scene shows Diabolik and Eva making love in piles of money on his giant revolving bed. As the detective mentions just before this image hits the screen, Diabolik has a use for the money that only a mind like his can conceive of:

The counter culture influenced not just the notion of the hero, but notions of aesthetics, lifestyle, and values. Somehow, I don't see the Rat Pack generation choosing a Lair like this. Designer Verner Panton is once again an influence. His "total environment" installation exhibits, such as Visiona (1968) and Visiona II (1970), were room constructions of fluid, organic forms. Here is Panton's design followed by Diabolik's vault room.


The sets have a fantastical feel of the late 1960s and the dynamics of a comic page.
Originally given three million dollars to make the film, Bava stuck with his familiar bag of budget-conscious tricks to create one the greatest comic book adaptations in movie history for a mere... $400,000. Actor John Phillip Law recalls seeing most of the sets piled up in a corner of the studio. Steve Bissette adds, "Bava did it with collage of photos glued to glass! He was a magician! Bava really understood the magic of "the frame" as the essential cinematic illusion, and within that frame worked wonders." Like all of Bava's work, Danger Diabolik crackles with atmosphere, imagination, and sensuality. The director (a former cameraman himself) made great use of wide-angle lenses, forced perspective, mattes, and foreground design to create a stylized look- one which Video Watchdog founder, Tim Lucas, says shows "a fantastic view of the 1960s that only existed in the movies and in Playboy magazine perhaps." It's groovy, stylized, smart, sexy, and action-packed; I call it the Spy Vibe!






For more info about Danger Diabolik, see Steve Bissette's excellent documentary, "From Fumetti to Film" on the 2005 Paramount DVD release (which also features John Phillip Law and Roman Coppola), and this review from DVD Verdict.

NOW STAY TUNED FOR THE TOP-5 SETS FROM SPY AND MOVIE WRITERS AROUND THE GLOBE!

Check out Spy Vibe's production set series, an event that gathered together many writers to celebrate the best spy sets from cold war-era film & TV. Guest Set Lists: Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Armstrong Sabian, Steve Bissette, Roger Langley, Matthew Bradford, Wesley Britton, David Foster, Matt Kindt. Spy Vibe's Set For Adventure here, Set Countdown #10, #9, #8 ,#7, #6, #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.


February 23, 2009

SPY VIBE SET COUNTDOWN #2

You Only Live Twice (1967) Production Design by Ken Adam. Said to be the largest set ever constructed at the time in the UK, Blofeld’s lair built inside a Japanese volcano is so sensational and fantastic a concept that it has gone on to epitomize what every evil megalomaniac should aspire to. For the pilot flying overhead it looks like an innocent lake within the basin of an extinct volcano. But the water is an illusion! At the pull of a lever, the surface retracts into the mountain to reveal a secret rocket base, heliport, a network of monorails, and an ultra-modern office lair with a piranha pool (!) on one side and a lordly lounge setting on the other. Adams created a kind of Dr. No antechamber on a massive scale for this film, establishing that SPECTRE is a force to be reckoned with. These baddies have resources, and they are living like ants right under our noses. The secret volcano base is perhaps the most ostentatious example of Cold War paranoia in the Bond films, and a reference point for many future villains (including Mike Meyer's cartoony parody in Austin Powers). Though not my fave 007, the sets, gadgetry, and Japanese location all add up to a great Spy Vibe! Click images for larger view.

Additional points go to Adam's many additional designs for the film, including Osato's office (with ceiling machine guns and x-ray/TV monitors), a 2001-like plastic surgery lab, a Toyota GT200 with 2-way video communications, and Tanaka's office with trap-door chute and globe monitors. In "The Art of Bond" Adam writes, "I have to confess that one of my favourite sets ever was Tanaka's office. At the time, I was getting more minimalist, and I got the idea of a stainless-steel chute, with Bond sliding through it and landing on a very comfortable chair. I also decided not to have normal television screens but to have spherical monitors in copper instead." The Bond series began to take less from Fleming and more from this kind of larger-than-life, imaginative thinking. One can't deny that the scope and cool-factor of Adam's vision makes for a fun film experience- especially when attention to character and story is maintained.

A couple of cool, round TVs were released In Britain and Japan from 1969 into the early 1970s, including the "Orbitel" from Panasonic below. Master Design Agent Tony Sison from Design Within Reach spied the Oxford Chair in Tanaka's Office by Danish architect and designer, Arne Jacobsen, and the desk and cabinet by Danish designer Bodil Kjaer.




Each set piece illustrates Adam's signature contrast of sloping ceilings, triangles, circles, sleek modern furniture, and fun spy gadgetry. SPECTRE's aim to sabotage the space programs of the US and USSR allowed the team to highlight the white and silver, futuristic look that became iconic in design and fashion with the coverage of NASA and the Space Race. For all its spectacle, the film holds the designs fairly well within its story-telling. You Only Live Twice premiered in June 1967 and remains the template of Spy Vibe production design and spy-genre conventions.




STAY TUNED FOR SET #1 -AND- THE TOP 5 SETS FROM SPY AND MOVIE WRITERS AROUND THE GLOBE!

Check out Spy Vibe's production set series, an event that gathered together many writers to celebrate the best spy sets from cold war-era film & TV. Guest Set Lists: Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Armstrong Sabian, Steve Bissette, Roger Langley, Matthew Bradford, Wesley Britton, David Foster, Matt Kindt. Spy Vibe's Set For Adventure here, Set Countdown #10, #9, #8 ,#7, #6, #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.



February 18, 2009

SPY VIBE SET COUNTDOWN #3

Our Man Flint (1966) In Like Flint (1967). Art Director/Jack Martin Smith (Planet of the Apes, Valley of the Dolls), Set Decorator/Raphael Bretton (Poseidon Adventure), Set Decorator/Walter Scott (Fantastic Voyage, Hello Dolly), Art Director/Dale Hennesy (Logan’s Run, Sleeper, Dirty Harry, Fantastic Voyage). Out of the elevator and into a thinking man’s penthouse apartment. The sets for the two Flint films offer much to discuss the attitudes of the times. Actress Jean Hale and historian Mary Corey called Coburn’s character the first metrosexual- a man who excels as an intellectual, artist, lover, foodie, sportsman, inventor, adventurer, scientist, and who, most importantly, can satisfy his companions emotionally. With his harem of female friends, he is a Spy Vibe version of Hugh Hefner. Flint embodies Hef’s credo that a Playboy be a “man who must see life not as a vale of tears, but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to pleasure, a man who- without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante- can live life to the hilt.” Though Hale and Corey see the pro-feminism elements in the Flint films, they point out that the movies had not quite caught up with the feminism movement. But Flint tries- breaking the hypnotic spell that holds his partners in sexual slavery by uttering the magic mantra, "You are not a pleasure unit!" The entrance to the pleasure quarters is a wonderful nod to the Mondrian Day Dress by Yves Saint Laurent, which saw its debut one year earlier in 1965.


Flint’s penthouse pad is a conglomeration of Playboy's apartment illustrations and has design schemes to fit different moods- all immediately changeable at the flick of a switch. Erotic paintings and sculptures revolve into the wall to be replaced with modern d├ęcor and canvases by Modern masters. The rooms are eclectic: futuristic gadgetry, military traditional, neo-classical- all shades of the male fantasy. An aperture monitors the front door to a clear security panel that rises electronically from a clear coffee table (shades of Lucas’ private screening room). The library area is like an editor's office, filled with books (that Flint wrote), and the patio sports a dolphin tank where Flint conducts his research for a Dolphin dictionary. He is the modern man!



The bad guys have it even better! Their vast evil lairs embody male fantasy and freedom that predates the Playboy Mansion (sorry, Hef!), which didn't start its Shangri-La renovations until 1971. The movie has ultra-stylized sets, including beauty salons, hot tub spas, a disco with go-go dancers, ancient Roman bacchanalia, a drive-in theater for backseat necking, cryogenic chambers, and an array of Space Aged labs, control rooms, and corridors. This pair of cult-classic spy adventures was produced with wit, care, and quintessential Spy Vibe cool.



STAY TUNED FOR SET #2 -AND- THE TOP 5 SETS FROM SPY AND MOVIE WRITERS AROUND THE GLOBE!

Check out Spy Vibe's production set series, an event that gathered together many writers to celebrate the best spy sets from cold war-era film & TV. Guest Set Lists: Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Armstrong Sabian, Steve Bissette, Roger Langley, Matthew Bradford, Wesley Britton, David Foster, Matt Kindt. Spy Vibe's Set For Adventure here, Set Countdown #10, #9, #8 ,#7, #6, #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.

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