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    american no-place: william arnold

    [This entry is part of the Production Design Blog-A-Thon, which begins today and runs through May 25th. Please consider joining us with your own post on the topic.]

    I wanted to begin by discussing one of the films I used for the Production Design Blog-A-Thon banners, specifically "the blue one," which features a still from 2002's Punch-Drunk Love.

    This film features production design by William Arnold, who has done production design or art direction for a number of notable features, including Pleasantville (1998) and Magnolia (1999). Both of these are fine films (and both would be rewarding to discuss in terms of their own production design) but Punch Drunk-Love features what I think of as his most impressive work. When thinking about the "look" of this film, many people might immediately recall Adam Sandler's blue suit, a memorable production design detail indeed, but what I really want to talk about is Arnold's skill in capturing the "look" of certain types of undistinguished everyday environments.

    I call the aesthetic at work here "American No-Place," and once you start being attentive for it, you can see how accurately Arnold has nailed it:

    No-places can be our workplaces:

    or the places we shop:

    or even our homes:

    —and yet it's easy tune out these kinds of places, simply because of their genericness and their lack of beauty or visual interest. That makes them all the more difficult to recreate with significant accuracy, and yet in this film, Arnold succeeds at this task unerringly. For this reason, he has earned our salute.

    Next time: Aline Bonetto.

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    Monday, May 19, 2008
    9:40 AM


    This is an excellent pick...something else about the production design that struck me about the film (and is evident in the photos you selected) is that quite a few scenes look extremely deep and vast, perhaps signifying emptiness.
    Yes, but I might go with "isolation" over "emptiness." The human form is definitely underplayed in some of these compositions (although ultimately I have to attribute that to the director, or possibly the cinematographer, and not Mr. Arnold here).
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