Mackintosh on the Screen – The Interview with Dr Robyne Calvert from the Glasgow School of Art

Dr Robyne Calvert ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin an der Glasgow School of Art und sammelt Filmauftritte von Mackintosh-Stühlen. Wie ist sie auf die Idee dazu gekommen und was erzählt uns die Filmsammlung über Mackintosh, sein künstlerisches Werk und unseren Zeitgeschmack? Ich habe ihr einige Fragen gestellt.

Das Interview ist im Folgenden auf Englisch zu lesen. Zunächst möchte ich sie vorstellen:

Dr Robyne Calvert

Dr Robyne Calvert is a Cultural Historian with research interests focused on the history of art, architecture and design in Britain. In her current role as the Mackintosh Research Fellow at Glasgow School of Art, she is charged with fostering innovative research projects arising from the Mackintosh Building restoration project. From this, she is writing a new history of the building to be published by Yale University Press in 2020. She is also a visiting lecturer in art history at the University of Glasgow, where she teaches and supervises students on the MLitt programmes in Technical Art History and Dress History.

While Dr Calvert moved to Scotland to research Glasgow Style art & design, her PhD research took a slightly different direction in focussing on the way artists dressed to express their creative identities. Inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s ‘floppy bow tie’, she studied nineteenth-century British artists and designers, including the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes, to seek a clearer definition of Artistic Dress and how it was practiced. Her thesis ‘Fashioning the Artist: Artistic Dress in Victorian Britain, 1848-1900’ (University of Glasgow 2012), for which she received a Pasold Fund PhD bursary, is currently being revised and expanded for publication.

Mackintosh goes Hollywood – Filmografie

In Charles Rennie Mackintosh goes Hollywood habe ich Ausschnitte von acht Filmen zusammengestellt, in denen Mackintosh Stühle für das Setting eingesetzt werden. Hier noch einmal die Short List:

Blade Runner, USA, 1982, Science Fiction – Argyle Chair
Madonna, Express Yourself, USA, 1989, Musik Video – Argyle Chair
Addams Family, USA, 1991, Gothic Komödie – Argyle Chair
Babylon 5, USA, 1993, Science Fiction – Hill House Chair
Star Trek / Raumschiff Enterprise, USA, 1994, Science Fiction – Argyle Chair
American Psycho, USA, 2000, Romanverfilmung – Hill House Chair
Inception, USA, 2010, Science Fiction / Dystopie – Willow Chair
Dr. Who, UK, 2013, Science Fiction – Argyle Chair

Das Interview

Karen: What has been the reason to deal with Mackintosh’s furniture used in movie settings?

Robyne: The short answer is, I don’t know! But it makes me curious – what is it about this furniture that somehow expresses a particular Science Fiction aesthetic? It seem that it is just strange enough, or ‘other’ enough, to be familiar but exotic. But how is it futuristic? I think in the case of the Dystopian Fictions (Blade Runner, Express Yourself -which was based on Metropolis), the connection to a Japanese aesthetic supports an imagined future of the stories of people like Phillip K Dick, in which cultures have become homogenized to the extent that the look and even language of the future has shifted. In particular the culture of the Far East was a prevailing aesthetic in these fictions.

Karen: 1973 the furniture company Cassina starts to produce the Willow and the Hill House chair. Looking at the movies you found, the first one using a Mackintosh chair has been published in 1982. Isn’t it a bit late?

Robyne: Not really sure how to answer this question – I think there is probably a practical reason for their appearance – perhaps selected as part of the set for Blade Runner, then the furniture was re-used in other things.

Karen: From 1982 on mainly science fictions movies seems to use a Mackintosh chair. Does that mean, the Mackintosh design is still futuristic?

Robyne: As I say above, I think the reason some of these pieces were chosen to represent and imagined future was for their ‘otherness’. They are strange objects – they are beautiful, and yet they somehow feel foreign. Just enough of a difference to be able to represent some kind of alien aspect. Do they still do this? I think so… Inception and Dr Who were from the last decade.

Karen: Do you think Mackintosh would like to see his Argyle chair in the Addams Family, in such a weird and gothic atmosphere?

Robyne: Well, let’s remember that early criticism of the Four was that their work looked like it came ‘from the graveyard’, and they were called the ‘Spook School’. That their work looks ghoulish still gives it a great deal of appeal to the Goth community. It’s hard to say what Mackintosh would like now – I try to avoid it! But if pressed, would like to think he and Margaret would definitely enjoy some it!

Karen: Madonna’s ‘Express yourself ’ from 1989 is standing out, because it is a music video. What do you think why did she choose the Argyle chair?

Robyne: This is my personal favourite as it is the one that I actually discovered! Just simply watched the video one day, and spotted it – maybe my greatest contribution to knowledge in Mackintosh Studies, haha. The video, directed by the now rather famous David Fincher (of Fight Club and The Social Network fame, amongst others), was based on the classic 1927 German Expressionist film Metropolis by Fritz Lang. It was the most expensive video ever made at the time, and still ranks as third most expensive. Interestingly, Madonna actually had a massive amount of input into it:

»This one I had the most amount of input. I oversaw everything – the building of the sets, everyone’s costumes, I had meetings with make-up and hair and the cinematographer, everybody. Casting, finding the right cat – just every aspect. Kind of like making a little movie. We basically sat down and just threw out all every idea we could possibly conceive of and of all the things we wanted. All the imagery we wanted – and I had a few set ideas, for instance the cat and the idea of Metropolis. I definitely wanted to have that influence, that look on all the men – the workers, diligently, methodically working away. «

— Michael, Mick St. (2004), Madonna ‘Talking’: Madonna in Her Own Words, page 89

Robyne: The aesthetic is a retro-futuristic one, rather similar to the other films. In truth, I think that they have these Cassina repros lying around in some warehouse, and they get hauled out every so often as they suit the particular ‘look’ needed. But what is it about them that offers a look that is vintage-futuristic-science-fiction? It’s an interesting question.

Karen: The most movie of the filmografie are made in the USA. Does that mean, UK still contemn his great architect and designer?

Robyne: No, I wouldn’t make this leap at all. In fact Dr Who is a British production. I think this simply reflects where films are made, not any commentary on Mackintosh. And I also wouldn’t say he was ever ‘condemned’, that is a rather harsh word. His work was largely ignored for a period due to shifting tastes and trends, like many others.

Karen: 2000 the first movie is made, using the Hill House chair in a modern environment. 2010 Inception use the Willow chair because they were looking for a stylish and japanese looking setting. Is the world now, 150 years after his birth, ready for his designs?

Robyne: I think what this shows is more the longevity of his work – it never really left. In such a small body of work (compared to someone like Frank Lloyd Wright), there is a great deal of scope, from the delicate curves of earlier work in the Tearooms, to the later, bolder Jazz-Age styles of 78 Derngate. I think we have long been interested in his designs now, and this idea that he has somehow been overlooked had become a bit of a myth. Are we ‘ready ’ for them? If you mean for day to day use, I suppose that is a matter of personal taste. I love looking at them, but I wouldn’t choose to sit in many of his chairs for any long periods of time!

Karen: Thanks a lot, Robyne, for your time, your answers and especially the discovery of Mackintosh movie settings.

(C) Karen Grol & Dr Robyne Calvert | 12.04.2019
– Hollywood Bild: (C) Thomas Wolf, / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0