Hello! Thanks for joining me. This is the first of what I hope to be several posts about design in TV shows. It's a little known fact that I started out in a Bachelor of Communication, and although I emphasised the Comms part to get roles in government, I actually majored in film and television and drama. So, although I got A's for lengthy essays about mis en scene and post-modernism in The 5th Element, it's been a while since I've written some screen analysis. I may elaborate on how this directly affects your home interior or style, but most likely not. Take what you like from it and apply to your life as needed, get inspired, discuss this with me. If it's not your thing, cool. If it is, get amongst it! It's all in the name of, creativity, learning and inspiration and other garble about why we write blogs. My first dissection... House of Cards. Other than the brutal and callous nature of pretty much all the characters, there were several things that struck me about this show. So. Here are my 3 discussion points about the design in this slow moving, yet somehow engaging and thrilling, political masterpiece.
Please note: SPOILERS GALORE!
1. CLAIRE UNDERWOOD'S COSTUME (Designed by Kemal Harris)
It's obvious. She is immaculately dressed. All. The. Time. Each outfit fitted in perfect precision, with a strong and almost military feel sometimes. I can't help but notice that she wears white at the most important occasions especially in this last season... the inauguration, the gala, her first speech as President, where she also wore white to the following war room meeting where Yusuf al Ahmadi was killed...
...but sometimes... she wears black. I can't really recall a time in the whole series, where she is not radiating a twisted kind of holiness, except toward the end of Chapter 63. The evening that she murdered her lover, Tom Yeates. We hear her rehearsing her lines for the testimony, and it cuts to her removing her make up. Symbolic, I think, of how she is about to remove some of her facade and we will start to see more of her true hunger for power and ruthlessness. As it happens, this starts to play out in the rest of the season, ending with one of only a few direct-to-camera incidents we see from her. "It's my turn". I do also see in this scene any sense of compassion we might have felt from her at times, being wiped away with those make up removal pads.
I think she got pissed off at her own weakness with Tom, and is now out to prove something. When she was with him, we saw some beautiful vulnerability, and the potential for her to turn from the wreckless pursuit of power. But this act ensures her firmly back in that direction. I don't think I'd ever seen Frank shocked in any episode. But man, was he was surprised when she told him about killing her own boyfriend. Holy heck.
2. THE LIGHTING
Yep. It's good. We probably all already know that, but sometimes, I just get really excited about how they've done it. My favourite, is down in that little room with the spiral staircase. Where lies are told, deals are done, secrets are made. People's faces come in and out of darkness, and the shadows move, depending on what they're saying and who they're trying to deceive.
And speaking of Jane Davis, the mystery woman of this season, and the most mysterious and interesting shot. Chapter 65 where she is dressed in a long white gown, as if angelic, and climbs into a heavenly light. The power of this dichotomy is so enthralling, and to be honest I am still mystified as to who she really is. She shows a great deal of humanity, but in her kind and gentle ways, still manages to manipulate some delicate situations, and gives Claire the poison she ends Tom's life with. I guess we'll find out more in round 6.
3. THE SYMMETRY!
I feel like this was much stronger in the recent season 5, don't you think? There were some scenes in there where I was just blown away at the symmetrical perfection, particularly towards the end of the season. I feel like these deliberate shots are a demonstration of the power, this show is all about the power. It's about the power, the control, order, discipline, structure...My favourite scene, is at the end of Chapter 61, where Frank and Claire sit side by side, so casually leaning on the presidential desk. This season, they seem to appear more equal, as Claire has started to rise and prove that she is just as eager for the power as Frank, despite her nagging humanity. And this imagery solidifies the level of comfort they have in the power they've gained.
It is also used so very cleverly in all the slow pans of Doug Stamper sitting alone in his couch, and above that, in his double entendre confession. The panning away backwards from him, we see such perfect symmetry again, in his lounge room, a lamp on either side, and he's perfectly centred, but as we move back, french doors slightly ajar start to block the scene, I believe it's signifying his loss of power. He sits in this position of strength, but essentially it is closing, his head is bowed, and whatever he had gained through is loyalty is becoming useless. He is unable to come to terms with the idea that the one he was so loyal to, has thrown him under the bus, and he is trying to hold on to it, although the doors are closing.
I deliberately didn't read many blogs or articles about the design in this season, I wanted to try and share my own thoughts and interpretations. But after I'd written this, I found an amazing thing that I personally didn't notice; the very specific colourisation. There is blue in foreground and yellow in background, in objects or lighting, in almost every shot. And once you know this, your eyes can't undo it. Read more about it, listen to a podcast, and watch a little video at this article by Chris Wade if you are interested!
Would love you to share this, and follow, I think my next post will be The Handmaid's Tale, because I found myself saying WOW more than once throughout that show.
Photos are screen grabs from Netflix.