QUILLS creates a world that comes right out of the vivid imagination of the Marquis de Sade, a world of both sordid and beautiful images, of both excess and stark oppression. To bring his vision of the Marquis' universe to life, Philip Kaufman brought in a design team including Oscar®-winning production designer Martin Childs, who most recently brought Old England to new life in "Shakespeare In Love," and costume designer Jacqueline West. As with the actors, Kaufman worked with the team in a collaborative atmosphere, holding large meetings in which everyone was encouraged to participate, often debating even minor details, such as the curve of particular handrail or the fluff of a particular wig. He also joined them in further research, as they hunted up the original blueprints of Charenton, pored over paintings of the era and delved into the history of 19th century asylums.
Early on, Kaufman and director of photography Rogier Stoffers decided to literally go against the grain of most films of the period by avoiding a palette of typical blue or sepia. Instead, they opted for something right out of the paintings of the masters — a greenish, antiqued patina, that gives as Philip Kaufman notes, "a moldy halo to the proceedings."
Meanwhile, Martin Childs went to work on imaginatively capturing the extravagance of 18th century France — entirely in England! Childs was taken by a script he describes as "quite unlike anything I had ever read before, as fantastic as 'Shakespeare In Love' yet entirely different" and by the daunting creative challenge of riding the line between reality and fable. "I wanted to create a world in which people believe this story could have happened," he explains. "I wanted to show visually how Charenton changes from an idealistic place to one that takes on a very dark and haunting tone under Dr. Royer-Collard."
He continues: "I've tried to create a rich atmosphere rather than an authentic reality. Because the story doesn't stick definitively to history, I had creative license to really create something out of the imagination, yet informed by reality. At the same time, I've tried to reign in any tendency to play to the absurd. The scenery should enhance but never take over.
Childs used Luton Hoo, a sprawling English country estate to stand in for Charenton Asylum. Fortunately for Childs, certain English estates of that time imitated French styles, so he had few alterations to make, save for a few false chimneys. But it was in the interiors that Childs really stretched his artistry, creating the dank, degraded laundry room, the curving central corridors, and the cells themselves, from scratch at Pinewood Studios. His piece de resistance was the Marquis de Sade's apartment, a lavish, quixotic affair that pays homage to wine, literature and, of course, the sensual arts. Many of the sexually explicit dolls, tantric statues and phallic object des arts came from private collections of authentic eighteenth century erotica, which Childs and his staff had the unusual task of scouring. "We went as far in our designs as we dared," he admits.
Another of Childs' favorite creations for QUILLS were the chilling dungeons of Charenton, where Dr. Royer-Collard tries out his cruel "cures" on the Marquis de Sade, among others. Oscar®-winning set decorator Jill Quertier hunted down historical medical equipment that did indeed seem to occasionally cross the line into, well, sadism. Although Royer-Collard's "calming" chair, a metal contraption into which a patient was strapped securely then dunked backwards into a tank of frigid water, was born in the imagination of Doug Wright, similar monstrosities were all the psychiatric rage of the day. In fact, the filmmakers hunted up an 1811 engraving from the Philadelphia Medical Museum of a chair known, ironically, as "Rush's Tranquilizing Chair," which was r
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