Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s new film is called The Grand Budapest Hotel and like all his others, it is a quirky, visual treat that will leave you smiling.

Grand Budapest Hotel Exterior Door

The story orbits a fictional East European/Alpine resort hotel in 1932, told in flashback by a visiting English writer in Iron Curtain-era 1968, long gone are the edifice’s best days.  There are many well-known accomplished actors playing exquisite roles, such as Harvey Keitel playing a lifelong convict, Ed Norton as chief Gestapo and Ralph Fiennes as the lead in role Gustave, the hotel’s charming concierge.

Elevator from Grand Budapest Hotel

The plot is something of a caper, as Gustave inherits a valuable painting from a countess he has befriended over the years (played by Tilda Swinton above), with the surviving family more than a little bitter over their mother’s relationship with the concierge.  Hijinks ensue as Gustave enlists his trusty lobby boy Zero to help snatch the painting and hide it from the family’s assassin played by Willem Dafoe.

The story is fantastic, and along with the music and intoxicating production design, this film delivers a great escape on a rainy Spring day.

Grand Budapest Hotel Scene

The production designer is Adam Stockhausen, who puts together a great pastiche of old-World Europe and Cold War-era cues to create something very unique.  There is a big clash between older building shell and some newer detail shots that clearly came from another real-life interior.  Contrast the shot of the 1932 main desk above with the 1968 conceierge’s desk below.

Concierge Desk from Grand Budapest Hotel

The latter shot reminds me of 1960’s hotels in Italian and German spa towns.  It seems incongruous to have both scenes coming from the same building, but the director naturally uses the modern renovations in the 1968 flashback scenes, heightening the “loss of grandeur” feeling of the hotel in it’s fading years.  The 1932 shots are full of people, traditional dress and accompanied by sweeping music.  The 1968 scenes are empty, somber and reflective.

The main interior scenes were shot at the Görlitzer Warenhaus, an Art Deco (Jugendstil) masterpiece department store in Berlin that somehow survived the war intact.

Görlitzer Warenhaus in Berlin

The visual feast is not just in color and escapist scenery, but by using interesting camera angles and framing conversations in creative, non-natural ways as to embrace the fairy tale feeling of adventure.  Anderson uses this type of square-on shot in his film over and over, to create a unique look to the entire piece.  Here Zero and his chocolatier paramour embrace amidst boxes of chocolates.

Mendl's Chocolates and his two lovers

As I mentioned to a friend of mine recently, there seems to be a lot of interest in pre-WWII European life and stories in English-language film and TV.  I feel a romanticism for this “between” era, with the still visible aristocratic history facing the loss-of-innocence early 20th-century, just before the old Europe gets swept away.  Anderson really puts this feeling in perspective with his film, especially by using the Communist-era styling as a contrast to the glory days before the war.  Iron Curtain architecture, product design and culture is something of a trend right now, as more and more people are starting to embrace it’s quirky, “efficient” style.  More than anything, this film made me want to jump on my bicycle and tour Eastern Europe, before all these old buildings get torn down!

A scene from the film showing an elaborate bath from the “original” hotel building.

Bath Scene from Grand Budapest Hotel

And finally, a scene showing the filmmaker during an interview, in the “modern” lobby from 1968.  Truthfully, I love both of these styles so much.  How I love these rich orange and brown 1960s interiors.

1968 Grand Budapest Hotel Lobby

All of the above photos are from Fox Searchlight as part of their online promotion.  Go see the film and escape to a charming world of 20th-Century fantasy.

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Car Design: Classic Brown Interiors

There has been a revival of brown automobile interiors in recent years.  Although this alone would not prompt me to purchase such a car today, Audi, BMW, the Land Rover Evoque, upscale Toyotas and the loveable little Fiat 500 (among many others) offer retro-style brown/saddle interior options.

BMW Cohiba Brown Interior

Contemporary BMW Cohiba Brown Interior

I was a boy in the 1970s when brown was a popular color for cars, kitchen and bath fixtures, appliances and shag carpet.  Brown is a color I grew up with.  The new car interiors are very nice – see the BMW interior to the right –  but I really admire the design and beauty of classic automobiles, so here follows a short list of some favorites.

The Citroen SM.

Interior: Citroen SMThis car was one of the most advanced automobiles extant on its debut in 1971.  Featuring a lovely Maserati V6 and the trademark hydraulic suspension (among many other great technological hardware) the SM unfortunately cost Citroen its independence as the cost to develop the car was never recovered.  The perfect “personal car”, this executive-class coupe was all luxury inside.  One picture is not enough… here is a nice montage of SM details:

Citroen SM Details

Next up, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia from the American brochure of 1971 (courtesy enthusiast website Drivers Found).

1971 Brown Karmann Ghia Interior

In the mid-70s, I used to peer over the window jambs of the few old Volkswagens in my neighborhood.  In the summer, especially, you could smell the horse hair stuffing if the windows were open (or the top was down).  I have not smelled this lovely odor for many years now, but I know it would take me right back to that 10-year old wandering around on his bike in NJ.  I had many, many Volkswagens over the years (I have a 1977 Scirocco today – guess what color interior?).  Not an expensive machine, but such a quality old motorcar.

Since I am reminiscing about cars of my youth, I’ll need to mention the Mercedes 300D.  My neighbor’s dad had one of these, and it was a lovely, solid piece of rolling art.  This was a slow-moving car, but it motored majestically on all-wheel independent suspension and those fantastic MB-Tex psuedo leather seats. (note: to this day, I do not like actual leather seats.  Probably another reason I will not be buying a new brown car – everything is leather these days).

Brown MB-Tex Interior

Here is a 1970s 450SEL Mercedes interior.  You can see the all-encompassing devotion to functionalism.  These old Mercedes have particularly large-diameter steering wheels.  I don’t know if the modern Benzes stick to this tradition, but that larger wheel gives you a nice sense of, lets call it, relaxed entitlement.  Note the wood control panel; the little VW above got along with a nice wood-grain decal, but be assured the Benz is the real thing.

70's Benz Interior

It is time to drop the mid-70s bomb that is the Porsche 928 Op-Art interior.  Originally conceived as a replacement to the venerable 911 model, the 928 was perhaps a wee-bit advanced in style and feature set for the traditional Porsche customer.  In fact, this car is very much like the Citroen SM in this regard – a little ahead of its time.  Little Brown Porsche 928

The picture to right is a scale model, but I wanted to find a brown exterior shot to support the incredible interior you are about to see.  This automobile was designed in the early-mid 1970s, when Porsche was still a very small boutique manufacturer.  Although they had recently had success at the top of motorsport (overall victory at the 24 hours of Le Mans), they were not yet the cash-flush company that would threaten to buy VW outright (like they almost did in pre-recession 2008/2009).  This car had the motor in the front, as opposed to the rear like all Porsches did in the 50s and 60s.  And it was a modern liquid-cooled V8 unlike those aircooled little 4 and 6 cylinder units of prior models.  To celebrate this technological breakthrough, the company styled the otherwise functional and rigorous interior with the most incredible seat cushion inserts you can imagine.

928 InteriorIt is just… mind blowing.  I’m not sure how many years they offered this seat option, but it came in a orange-toned color as well:

Orange 928 Interior

Note how the instrument binnacle is still in black.  I’m sure the idea is to keep the driver’s eyes on the road and not distracted by that lustrous interior color.  The binnacle would actually move up/down with the steering wheel height adjustment – quite novel at the time.

Porsche Op ArtThe center console was quite influential, as many makers (Acura most notably) copied the long, integrated sweep towards the gearshift and armrest.

There are so many great cars from the 60s and 70s I want to post about, so this will have to be a multi-part post.  As a parting shot, we’ll use the interior from a VW Scirocco.  This is not mine; I hinted above that I had a brown interior in my 77 but it is actually a light tan color called Bedouin.  One of my favorite colors for Sciroccos was Brazil Brown, a metallic copper-like tone.  The interior was a little darker than Bedouin, so we’ll use this.

VW Scirocco Brown Interior

Any favorite car interiors you have, brown or otherwise?  Share your thoughts with me.