CULTURE

The magician of Hollywood to show paintings in Greece

He still hasn’t bought the house he always wanted in the Peloponnese because he just hasn’t had the time to get around to it. He first expressed this desire in 1997, when he was in Greece as a guest of the 38th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. Maybe he will be able to get around to it now that he has given up production design and turned to painting instead. Celebrated production designer Dean Tavoularis is coming back to his country of origin this month for an exhibition presenting a panorama of his work. His feelings about the return are mixed. On the one hand, he finds a show on his course as an artist a bit intimidating, and on the other, even though he has won an Oscar and has been dubbed «the magician of Hollywood,» he is still just a simple, low-key kind of guy. A close associate of Francis Ford Coppola for over 30 years, the architect of almost all the director’s films, and according to some his alter ego, Tavoularis is one of those rare visionary production designers and art directors who would build a scene down to the very last detail of the location, sets and overall atmosphere. One can only wonder what the «Godfather» trilogy, that monumental mobster epic and at the same time a portrait of an entire era, or «Apocalypse Now!», that poignant commentary on the madness of war, would be without Tavoularis’s signature. The exhibition, titled «The Magician of Hollywood,» is an Attiki Cultural Society production in cooperation with the 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, where it will also be hosted. It comprises storyboards made by Tavoularis along with screenings of extracts of the films to which they belong, as well as his paintings. The show is curated by Marina Fokidi and Makis Faros. The public opening will take place on November 19, and Coppola has been invited to the official inauguration ceremony, which will take place in the last three days of the film festival, from November 25-27. The Massachusets-born Tavoularis, now aged 73, spoke to Kathimerini from his home in Paris, where he spends most of his time with his wife, actress Aurore Clement. Coppola has said that you have «the soul of an architect.» Do you find the work of a set designer akin to that of an architect? I believe that if you describe the two arts you’ll find that they have a lot in common. The nature of set design is linked to architecture. It is pretty obvious in a film if the set designer knows anything about architecture or not. What can you express through painting that you could not through set design? It is hard to pinpoint these things, but there is a huge difference between set design and painting. I always wanted to become a painter, ever since I was in school. Later I became involved in the film industry. I worked for Disney and cartoons and then for movies with real heroes. One production led to another and it became my profession, leaving very little time for painting. I became a weekend painter. Making a movie is a huge commitment… I prefer painting now… What do you paint? My paintings look a bit like cartoons. I like simple forms, like lego for example, basic colors instead of mixed ones, generally forms and colors that remind me of children’s toys. When you paint you can do whatever you want. When you’re making a movie, you have to discuss everything with a committee: how much it will cost, how will it be done, coordinating everything… There are so many things to worry about that it becomes boring and kills your creativity. You can express yourself as a set designer in a movie, but with some limits. Because movies are, above all else, big business… The situation was not quite as bad as it is now when I was working. It wasn’t a business to the same degree. Are the limits tighter in Hollywood than in Europe? How was your experience of working with Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders? I also worked with Arthur Penn. Back then production companies were smaller and more human. The difference was not in the fact that they were European. Penn had a lot in common with them. The atmosphere was just more familiar. Anyway, movies were made by Europeans who emigrated to New York and then Los Angeles. Back then, producers loved beautiful women, they lived on the edge, and within this way of life, they occasionally made brilliant movies. Today, producers are graduates of the Harvard School of Business, they don’t give a damn about pretty girls, about the mystery of cinema; they can’t see it and they don’t care. All they care about is how much they’re going to make at the box office and off the DVD… Whatever has to do with money. You can’t make films with this way of thinking. The same can be said about advertising. In some ways, yes, because both want to get they’re money back. Another huge problem for movies today is the audience. What’s the most popular restaurant in America? McDonald’s. What’s the worst restaurant? McDonald’s. The audience goes to «fast movies,» where the camera is always moving. Shows made for kids. I recently saw a movie that was very good, in every respect – Polanski’s «Oliver Twist,» but it was a box-office flop. And I asked myself: «Am I wrong? Am I getting old?» No. The audience has changed dramatically. It is uneducated and without any culture. Do you think they have the slightest idea about literature? Do you think they have the IQ to sit quietly and watch a film? Or that they can concentrate without fidgeting every two minutes? They behave like 6-year-olds on a sugar high. You have worked on almost every Coppola film. How did this come about? It wasn’t planned. Someone introduced us. The only films of Coppola’s I didn’t work on were «Dracula» and «Cotton Club.» You share a strong bond. Yes. It is very important to know what the director is thinking because often there is no script. In «The Godfather: Part II» there was no script and he had to tell me what he wanted. Coppola won’t say «I want this light here or that set there.» He gives you a general direction. He describes how the idea is born. Then I move, comfortably, around this axis. Coppola gives you the freedom and opportunity to explore your potential. How much has the art of set design changed since the 1970s? Technology has moved in and conquered, scripts are full of special effects. I don’t find it interesting. Of course, it is just the natural course of things to be able to create all these images, like, for example, in «Star Wars.» «All you have to do is make the floor,» [George] Lucas said to me. The role of the set designer has become undermined because everything is done digitally. We used to create a set from start to finish, now all you have to do is make a floor or a door and all the rest is added by the computer. You can see it in films’ credits. There are like 20 or 30 names in the computer and effects departments. The set designer no longer has the responsibility of the movie’s overall look. So, we could say that while technology can be helpful, it also kills a film’s personal look? Yes, that’s right. I’m not saying that we should get rid of technology. It’s just that some people abuse it. In «Le fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain,» for example, they used special effects but with substance and moderation. There was a reason, a meaning to it. On the other hand, «Matrix» or «Spider-Man» are studies on the use of technology; they don’t use it simply to make the narrative more attractive, like in «Amelie.» Could you say a few words about the directors you have worked with? All the directors I have worked with have been interesting and special. I was, let’s say, blessed in this respect. A celebrated career Dean Tavoularis has worked as a production designer on the following films. The ones marked with two stars received Oscars and those with one star were nominated: «Angel Eyes» (2001), «CQ» (2001), «The Ninth Gate» (1999), «The Parent Trap» (1998), «Bulworth» (1998), «Jack» (1996), «I Love Trouble» (1994), «Rising Sun» (1993), «Shelf Life» (1993), «Final Analysis» (1992), «The Godfather: Part III» ** (1990), «New York Stories» (1989) (segment «Life without Zoe»), «Tucker: The Man and His Dream» * (1988), «Gardens of Stone» (1987), «Peggy Sue Got Married» (1986), «Rumble Fish» (1983), «The Outsiders» (1983), «Hammett» (1982), «The Escape Artist» (1982), «One from the Heart» (1982), «Apocalypse Now» * (1979), «The Brink’s Job» * (1978), «Farewell, My Lovely» (1975), «The Godfather: Part II» ** (1974), «The Conversation» (1974), «The Godfather» (1972), «Little Big Man» (1970), «Zabriskie Point» (1970) and «Candy» (1968).