This week I'd like to compare two films that utilize the same color scheme in their production design: monochrome grey (or grisaille). The first is Woody Allen's lugubrious Interiors, a personal favorite; and Hitchcock's Rear Window, everybody's favorite.
Interiors made a strong impression on me at an early age, and its production design is indelibly etched in my memory. Geraldine Page plays Eve, a sophisticated matriarch who can only give to others through her work, the decoration of interiors. The rooms she designs are elegant, spare, precise and refined. They are also emotionally withholding and full of refusal.
In my first film still you see Eve's own dining room in the Park Avenue apartment she moves into after her husband has left her. The room is painted grey, including the follies on the back wall, and there's no space for other colors, clutter, passion or unwanted emotions.
In my second shot, she attempts suicide and lays down to die in her cold and elegant tomb. (Note well those fabulous slipper chairs.) In the third shot, her interiors are yet another perfectly coordinated set of grey tones, but the characters are hung there, suspended by formality. However, emotions erupt unexpectedly—moments later Eve uncontrollably bursts into tears at the thought of never reconciling with her husband, a scene that is rendered all the more vividly in this antiseptic atmosphere.
By contrast, the earth-palette neutrals in Rear Window are used for the exact opposite effect. Here, neutral is random, unkempt, human and grubby. Grey is the cardboard color of a West Village studio--lived-in and worked-in and completely unselfconscious. This grey is not elite: no fuss or prissiness will do if Thelma Ritter has anything to say about it. Just look at how Grace Kelly stands out in this environment like a sore thumb, an erstwhile ambassador of Uptown taste. It's interesting to note that the lead characters in both films are artists of a sort—Geraldine Page is a high-end decorator, Jimmy Stewart a photojournalist. Grey can go either way.
Possible matches from a few greys I've enjoyed using in the past: Intense White, Benjamin Moore OC-51, Halo OC-46, Balboa Mist OC-27 (my last bedroom); Ralph Lauren Atlantic Winter TH 01.
- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter
(Re-Edited from 12.05.06)-JR