Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Everything but the Fish Tank

There is actually no fish tank in Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank. That's a shame. But for a film that many seem to want to reduce down to being a downbeat, British "counsel estate movie", Fish Tank is a fairly generous movie in its design. It's not want for vivid use of colour and eye-catching production design. In fact, one of the aspects I enjoy most about it is in fact the art direction, which many may not recognise. As framed by Rabbie Ryan's TV aspect ratio cinematography - a very literal "boxed in" aesthetic, there - production designer Helen Scott does a marvellous job at making this cramped Essex flat feel personal and lived in.

I personally love that each room seems to have its own theme or colour. We can all spot the fiery temper that routinely bubbles to the service of Katie Jarvis' "Mia", but on first look at her would you expect her to have a bedroom painted purple? And how about the moment later in the film when we realise the image on her door has changed from blue skies and clouds to a raging tiger? What's that saying, I wonder.

Or what about the bedroom of Mia's sister "Tyler". Love the image below of the yellow-painted walls and the kiddy pink television, as well as the way Arnold shows a closeup on the stickers Tyler has stuck around her room and the hamster she has caged against the wall.

Perhaps the oddest of the three bedrooms belongs to the mother, "Joanne". Her room is not only pink, but she has beaded wall-hangings and creepy masquerade masks tacked on to the wall (above a perfectly fussy make-up table). What this says about Joanna, I'm not too sure, but those masks... whoa. They're the sort of thing you'd wake up screaming to in the middle of the night. And, of course, that cheeky "Parental Advisory" sign on her bedroom door. Good one, Joanne.

Of course, my favourite room in the Williams household is the living room with its giant palm tree feature wall. I can't say I'd like that in my apartment, but as a visual kick to Fish Tank it works wonders, while also serving as a sort of "fantasy" ideal for Mia and her family. It's an obvious visual cue, but one that still works.

I don't think location scouting counts as an aspect of production design, but Fish Tank's locals are so perfect, don't you think. Apart from finding the block of flats that is so important to the setting of Fish Tank, I was immediately taken by the greenness of the park that Michael Fassbender's "Connor" takes the family to, as well as the seaside area that Mia takes "Keira". That colours of that park just scream out because, well, it's a colour the film hasn't shown us much of. And all that thick, matted grass with the looming clouds overhead towards the end are a perfect example of why 1:33 aspect ratios can work.

I just rewatched Fish Tank for the first time last in nearly a year and a half. I first saw it at MIFF in 2009 and I liked it a lot. That love has only grown over time and I was so relieved to see I still found it an incredibly powerful piece of cinema. Don't let your 2010 movie watching go without seeing it. Bring on Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, I say!

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