Recreating The 70s
Russell relied on his longtime collaborator, production designer Judy Becker, to
bring about the look he desired for the film. Becker was excited by the
opportunity. Her research, combined with the screenplay, inspired her to build
unique worlds for the characters that expresses who they are. "That's one of the
things that drew me to this project," says Russell. "So much of this movie takes
place in different worlds: it's the world of the Long Island home of Rosalyn
Rosenfeld, it's the world of Sydney Prosser's East Side apartment, its' the
world of Richie's Brooklyn apartment, it's the world of the FBI with Stoddard
Thorsen, it's the museum with Irving, it's City Hall, it's the home of Carmine
Polito with his five children and his wife in Camden, it's the beautiful local
restaurant where Carmine takes Irving out to dinner with the wives. So many,
many worlds, bringing warmth to the film."
But it wasn't just the chance to re-team with one of her most cherished
collaborators that excited her - she was also drawn to the film by the fact that
it is set in New York in the 1970s. "I have been interested in tackling that
period for a long time, partly because it's my favorite period in film history,"
she says. "The funny thing is, I was surprised by the world I found myself
creating - instead of the gritty 1970s New York that influenced me, the movie
took a more glamorous point of view."
For a designer, Russell's concept for the themes of American Hustle added
several layers that made the project especially intriguing: because the
characters are running a con, the designs would not only show who the characters
are, but who they are pretending and aspiring to be. Becker's approach is best
seen in the contrast between Sydney's New York apartment and Rosalyn's Long
Island home. "They are really contrasting worlds - what was interesting was that
we used similar palettes, textures, and materials, but completely different
taste levels for those two sets," says Becker. "For Rosalyn's house, the
character is a stay-at-home mom and housewife, a woman who clearly enjoys
decorating and maybe enjoys decorating too much," Becker laughs. "Everything is
based on reality and our research, but it looks a little over-the-top: we made
extensive use of foil-patterned wallpaper, different patterns, furniture from
the Pace Collection, and custom-made engraved Lucite screens. It may not be
tasteful, but it's a feast for the eyes - and tells you immediately who Rosalyn
To contrast Rosalyn's home, Becker sought to make Sydney's apartment more
sophisticated and stylish. "She lives on the Upper East Side in a white brick
building - common for single girls of that era. For Sydney we created a more
minimalist look; where Rosalyn had gold, Sydney has a sunny yellow; where
Rosalyn had wallpaper, Sydney has neutral grasscloth," Becker notes. "It's sexy,
the apartment of a woman who would look cool at Studio 54. When one of my
assistants saw the apartment, he walked in and said, 'Wow, I wish my girlfriend
had an apartment that looked like this' - and that's the feeling that we wanted
that apartment to have."
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