Criticised for looking too perfect, this skillfully crafted film proves that you don’t have to be a gritty indie film to grapple with strong content. And besides, Tom Ford doesn’t do ugly. The fashion king turned film director cast Lautners Schaffer Residence as the backdrop for his first feature film and it’s not hard to see why. With bleak static shots contrasted against warm cosy flashbacks, the house shows a range which rivals Colin Firths academy award nominated performance.
The plot follows the final day of English professor George Falconer, who has chosen to end his life following the death of his long time partner Jim. He spends the day organising his affairs and as he does is both painfully reminded about life before his tragic loss and the beauty which still remains. The present day is filmed in cold hues, throwing morgue light over his daily activities. Camera angles are chosen wisely - he seems surrounded by hard edges and glass, colourless and unforgiving. An environment no comfort for the desolate. This is contrasted against warm, almost sepia, scenes depicting his previous life with Jim. These nostalgic shots showcase Lautners use of timber and texture which he used to round out the building’s palette of materials.
Ford says it was important that the house was modern as George admired the fresh thinking of America but also warm given his British background and his inevitable traditional point of reference for what constitutes a home, and this is precisely what Lautner was skilled in. His ability to build in a modern way but with the warmth of familiar materials made him very appealing at a time when his contemporaries were being criticised for their cold industrial aesthetic.
The original Christopher Isherwood book of the same name follows much the same story, albeit without the planned suicide so is somewhat more optimistic. Ford points out that George is of independent means which conveniently explains away how he is able to fund this caliber of house while on a university salary and his partner Jim having been an architect gives this some authenticity however it also ignores the description of Isherwood’s ‘low damp dark living room’ and garage covered with a ‘vast humped growth of ivy’. The Schaffer Residence is light filled with a floating roof and filled with modern conveniences.
The building’s unconventiality though, does align with the book. Georges neighbours houses are described as ‘facing the street frontally, wide-openly in apt contrast to the sideways privacy of Georges lair’. A reference perhaps to his ‘alternate’ lifestyle. The house also easily permits the portrayal of a funny part of the book where George watches the goings on in the street from the comfort and privacy of his toilet seat.
The Schaffer House was also used in 2005 Release Happy Endings. Interestingly, also as the house of a gay architect.
The house is currently for sale. Checkout the listing onhttp://www.architectureforsale.com/property-details.php?property_ID=11 but I warn you, this site is addictive
Thanks to Crosby Doe for permission to use images.