Interiors in Film: Postmodernism

Postmodernism was a drastic departure from the utopian visions of Modernism, which had been based on clarity and simplicity. Vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration; everything was a style statement. With its current resurgence, let’s take a look back to two late ’80s films with a very Postmodern look; Memphis excess in “Ruthless People”, and Postmodern expression in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”.

HBF91A RUTHLESS PEOPLE, Danny DeVito, 1986, © Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a 1988 Spanish black comedy film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Postmodern in mise-en-scène and storyline, it takes influence from screwball comedies of the 1930s. The living room of Pepa’s Madrid penthouse apartment is the space where most of the action takes place; it features interior design that reflects the vibrant and eclectic style of the film. It is full of colour, quirky decorative objects, and furniture that captures the chaotic and frenetic energy of the characters. Mixing patterns, asymmetry, and proportions, there are oversized lamps on columnar pedestals and lots of primary and pastel colours used throughout.  Almodóvar is known for his use of colour to establish mood and create emotion.

Nathalie Du Pasquier emerald sideboard for Memphis Milano | Sold for $10,500

Ruthless People is a 1986 American black comedy film starring Danny DeVito and Bette Midler as the Stones, whose Beverly Hills home is filled entirely with Memphis and Memphis inspired design. Barbara Stone clearly values style over comfort, a contrast to the modernist mantra of ‘form follows function’. In one humorous scene, DeVito attempts unsuccessfully to sit comfortably in a Lido chair designed by Michele De Lucchi. The exaggerated use of Memphis furniture is symbolic of the Stones’ affluent and decadent lifestyle and the personality clash between husband and wife. The film takes place at the peak of the Memphis design movement’s popularity in the mainstream. It’s a very divisive design period characterised by bold, vibrant colours and geometric shapes, rejecting the notion of good taste.

Both films also feature fantastic title credits and promotional graphic design with collage animations and a slightly kitsch look.

I like to think that both protagonists, Pepa Marcos and Barbara Stone, would have loved browsing the seasonal Leonard Joel Modern Design catalogues looking for more distinctly Postmodern pieces to complete their interior design vision, from a Nathalie Du Pasquier Emerald Sideboard for Memphis Milano or perhaps a Circo Table Lamp by Linke Plewa for Brilliant AG.

REBECCA STORMONT / Modern Design Specialist

Banner Image: Ruthless People, Danny DeVito, 1986. © Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection / Alamy

August 2023