Going Grey: Blow-Up & The Ghost Writer

Going Grey: Blow-Up & The Ghost Writer

Mark Chamberlain
Nov 9, 2010

I started watching Polanski's The Ghost Writer on DVD, which I was looking forward to with great eagerness, and was struck by the elegant austerity of the main set, a contemporary beach house. The film is about a former British Prim Minister living in exile, and it got me thinking about another film by a foreign-born director working with British actors on the theme of sleuthing: Antonioni's Blow-up.

Pierce Brosnan plays Adam Lang, a former PM sequestered in a fictional Nantucketesque island. Ewan McGregor is hired to ghost write Lang's memoirs after the former "ghost" is found dead under mysterious circumstances, and soon Lang is accused of war crimes by the Hague. The poured-concrete walls and dark colors of this bunker-like house belie the existence of this team in a prison—it's cement walls and cement colored skies and no escape. Admirers of Polanski will appreciate the precision with which he delineates his mise-en-scène, and the film's look resembles a photo shoot in Architectural Digest.

The film is so grey, it got me searching for something fun and British as a counterpoint, and Blow-Up immediately sprang to mind—swinging London in the sixties. This is a day in the life of a decadent photographer, who discovers he's discovered a murder during a spontaneous photo shoot, upon later viewing of his negatives. But no one takes his claim seriously, and he returns home to find all his photos and negatives have been stolen, the party over.

This film rocked my art-student world when I saw it ca. 1989, it's poetic and non-linear and a good study of the artist at work. Anyone remember Peggy Moffitt? And David Hemmings always looked like a naughty cupid to me. Much to my surprise, the production design here too is very grey—black and white and grey. Sure, there's the stray bright feather and pretty dress, but if you look at the set design it's very monochrome and neutral. Reminds me a bit of a shoot out of Vogue or a black and white photograph by Avedon or Irving Penn.

May we deduce that monochrome grey indicates the hip and cool both then and now? You tell me. It will always provide a sturdy backdrop for your pretty dress and feathers.

Possible color recommendations: Choosing the right grey

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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