Director’s Take

By Emily Gold Boutilier / July / August 2003
June 22nd, 2007

While on campus in April to screen some of his movies and meet with students, filmmaker Todd Haynes ’85 stopped by Maddock Alumni Center for a press conference. Dressed top-to-bottom in brown-and-beige plaid, he sat in a thronelike, tooled-leather chair at a massive oak table, answering weighty questions about his thematic intentions and the use of color in the Academy Award–nominated Far from Heaven, whose picture-perfect vignettes of 1950s suburban Connecticut sent critics into fawning ecstasies.

Those sets, as it happens, were the work of Haynes’s former Brown classmate Mark Friedberg. “Usually I try to make sets look real,” Friedberg told Interior Design in March, “but [Haynes] asked me for something that looked consciously like a movie set of that time.” To prepare for the film, Friedberg studied old issues of House & Garden and the sets of Douglas Sirk movies. Because his budget was slim, Friedberg furnished the Whitakers’ “house”—actually a warehouse on a military base in Bayonne, New Jersey—with reupholstered items from Salvation Army stores and antiques shops.

Haynes liked the rehabbed furniture so much that, after the movie wrapped, he shipped many of the pieces to his Arts and Crafts bungalow in Portland, Oregon. “I have the wonderful purple couch from the den,” he confided during the press conference. “I’ve got all the bar glasses, which I’m making good use of.” He also has the Swedish Modern wall unit from the Whitakers’ den and the enormous green sofa on which much of the drama in the movie takes place. House & Garden juxtaposed stills from the movie with photographs of Haynes’s house in its November issue (above).

Haynes told students he’d first been introduced to the Sirk melodramas that inspired Far from Heaven while studying semiotics at Brown. Now former professors assign papers on his work. “It’s crazy,” he said. “This whole year has been filled with unexpected things.”

Emily Gold Boutilier is the BAM’s senior writer.
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July / August 2003