Home > Uncategorized > Interlude: on cinematography and interior design in Ratched and The New Pope

Interlude: on cinematography and interior design in Ratched and The New Pope

November 30, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

I cannot recommend either series for its writing, coherence of plot, or entertainment as TV, but it’s good to see some classical composition in cinematography. It’s also pleasingly novel to read, in The Jesuit Review, the evasion “is it blasphemous? A TV review is not, perhaps, the forum to determine that.”

Ratched is so loosely based on an idea from a character sketch from an idea from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that mentioning the inspirational work feels like a marketing over-reach. The point is, it’s the 1940s and everyone’s mad, but because it’s the 40s, they’re mad in gorgeously overblown architectural interiors.

This shot doesn’t do justice to the main doctor’s office, which is a gigantic ballroom with blue curtains over 2 walls and a mirror-glazed ceiling, reflections from the windows on which dominate half the shots.
Glassy and impenetrable, like the psychiatrist’s cover.
And obviously the nurses’ uniforms are teal. The hospital stops short of being orange…
…but not by much.
There’s a lot more to the color stories in this show, though…
this aged rich psychopath with the blood wings
lives in this house, with mirrored doors and skylights
complete with an Orientalist folly of a Mughal mausoleum in the back yard
and a peacock-and-malachite verandah. I dunno, I think they’re going for “overheated Old Hollywood?” You think?

Articles in Architectural Fetishist magazine vaguely discuss the buildings here, here and here. But the show itself is the best showcase, natch.

The New Pope, obviously, is set in the Vatican. Which, obviously, means heavy Renaissance and Baroque inspiration, and a lot of soundstage building, because there’s no way the Vatican would let them film on site.
It’s the sequel to The Young Pope, in which Jude Law plays an American playing the Pope.

Who? What? Why? None of it matters. Just relax and enjoy the ride.
So, yeah. Interiors.
Apparently they had to build another Sistine Chapel for it, so they get the most out of it. But there are also formal corridors and salons aplenty.
Black, red, white.
And a lot of Vatican-adjacent on-site photography. Here’s James Cromwell practicing the Papal “embracing the world” gesture in front of what I think is the mural of The Country Under Good Government in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
And who’s that? Another Pope?? Where Jude Law plays Dreampope, John Malkovich plays Alternadreampope and you suddenly discover you’re….
In an Edward Gorey story.
Malkovich straight up tells us he’s channelling Gorey by appearing in a chapel/fountain decorated with shells, which perfectly matches the muted colour and high contrast of his eye liner, to produce the best Gorey scratchy line art simulacrum I’ve ever seen on film.
Where it’s important to the story that Law is American, which he shows us by wearing Ray Bans and smoking cigarettes…
Malkovich’s Englishness is expressed by… well, a big country house, divergent sexuality, and the visual style of a Chicago book illustrator, seen here reclining on a Curious Sofa.
Note wallpaper halo. In this particular production, I am quite certain that’s not accidental.

It could be said of both series that they strive to make every shot a painting (The New Pope strives a bit more strenuously). It’s therefore a bit galling that such shot-paintings are not so easy to find on the internet. I guess you’ll have to watch a couple of sample episodes after all.

Of The New Pope, I recommend episodes 2 and 3, which show Malkovich’s country house, shell-shrine, and Papal debut in Rome. Won’t you be totally lost and not understand what’s happening? Don’t worry, you would be even if you’d watched the show from the beginning.

Ratched makes more sense, until it doesn’t. Episode 3 has the best intro to the lush, Orientalist house, Episode 5 has the best shots of the extravagantly reflective doctor’s office.

As usual, the brief lists of locations are uninformative. I have a sense a lot of the interiors in both cases were scratch-built, which according to the strange logic of Hollywood Reporter style coverage, means they’re beneath notice. Sorry, stage-decorators, I guess you don’t have a product the punters can buy. Come back when you’ve got something marketable and you might be elevated to the status of costume designers.

  1. November 30, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Aesthetically, this feels like the “decadent empire” that shows up in about 60% of space operas, but with more budget for set design.

  2. December 1, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Hey! I have nothing relevant to add, just wanted to say it’s good to see you still posting. I hope you are doing well.

    • December 1, 2020 at 7:33 pm

      thanks! It’s been a long, strange year. I’m actually writing quite actively, just not on the blog right now. But hopefully I should have multiple books coming out next year. How are you? It’s been a long time.

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