ColorTherapy: Ruthless People

I began watching Ruthless People to find the image of a red, blue and yellow chair that existed in my mind as a distant memory. What I found instead was an explosion of grids, triangles, squiggles, turquoise and black ca. 1985 that burst off the screen. What a hoot…

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As the film opens, Barbara Stone (Bette Midler) has been kidnapped. Her husband Sam (Danny DeVito) refuses the ransom, as he was going to snuff her out himself to be with his mistress. The film is set in Los Angeles, and the house they live in is an enormous, overwrought bauble in the hills. All of my images are taken from the second scene, as Sam capers through the house looking for Barbara with a hand full of chloroform. This gives us the perfect opportunity to pan through the house with him and revel in a very specific time capsule.

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The décor indicates a very broad personality—that’s our Bette—and takes it’s cues from Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group. It contains hard geometries, primary colors and the most curves in furniture since Mid-Century Modern. It’s a brash and glitzy look for a brash and glitzy era, and also indicates a Nouveau Riche sensibility, judging from the characters. We may conclude that this is Barbara’s domain entirely as the one “normal” room in the house is Sam’s study, a fortress of solitude amid all the other chaos.

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I think there are several palettes one might associate w/ the 80s, including the aforementioned red/blue/yellow color triad à la Piet Modrian. In watching this film, there’s another palette I’m remembering now too—it’s the coral/turquoise combination, which I suspect was 80s nostalgia for the 50s. That also means we’re due for a wave of Naughties nostalgia for 80s nostalgia for the 50s. But count me out of that one.

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At this point I’ll let pictures speak louder than words. This type of design usually makes my teeth hurt, but dig further and I’d like to suggest that it’s well done. For the kind of people that like that kind of thing, that’s the thing they like. Let’s call them “ruthless decorators.”

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- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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