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Inside films’ most flamboyant, forgotten interior spaces

@celluloidhomes looks at decor throughout cinema and offers followers a bespoke ‘film prescription’ as an antidote to lockdown anxiety

@celluloidhomes is the Instagram account surveying the history of cinema from the perspective of films’ interior spaces. From grand midcentury modernist villas in Capri to sparsely furnished apartments in impoverished, inner-city neighbourhoods, @celluloidhomes draws your attention beyond the immediate action of a movie and diverts your eye to the often-overlooked rooms in which the story is unfolding; the decor and details which hugely affect our understanding and experience of the film but so often go unnoticed.

Not only does @celluloidhomes create the opportunity to revisit and reconsider familiar movies in a new way, but it’s also a really rich resource for discovering films you may not have yet encountered. Featuring a mixture of arthouse and cult cinema alongside more mainstream movies, it’s a great place to turn for ideas if you’re paralysed by Netflix-ennui (the condition of extreme malaise that settles over you when you’re scrolling hopelessly through Netflix and you suspect you’ve exhausted the whole site and it no longer has anything new to offer you).

In addition to the range of the movies featured on the account, its creator, Emma Paterson, also offers followers a unique on-request film prescription service. Depending on how you’re feeling (or how you’d like to feel) Paterson will provide you with a bespoke list of films for your personal viewing, designed to enhance or transform your mood. An ardent believer in what she describes as the “simultaneously transporting and grounding” possibilities of cinema, she began offering this free service back in the first lockdown and found people really responded to the idea of being recommended a viewing list. “Prescriptions are mainly based on what I have seen,” she explains. “I try to imagine myself into the mood of the person and I ask myself ‘What would I feel like watching?’”

Below, we talk to Emma Paterson about her all-time favourite film interiors, the healing potential of cinema as an antidote to chaos and anxiety, and moonlighting as a ‘film doctor’.

How did @celluloidhomes begin?

Emma Paterson: I love cinema and I’ve always been interested in the small details held in interior spaces on-screen. I began by thinking about a number of contemporary films in which luxurious, breath-taking house takes centre stage – almost as an additional character in the film. So I started by sharing images of the Schaffer Residence used in Tom Ford’s A Single Man and the Villa Necchi Campiglio in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. Other good examples would probably be the modernist homes in films such as Nocturnal Animals and Arrival. But I soon realised that almost every on-screen home, however prosaic, is both narratively and aesthetically interesting – not just the homes of the moneyed. I decided to expand the view, first by revisiting some of my favourite films and looking again at homes I perhaps previously ignored.

“Since childhood, watching a film in the cinema has felt simultaneously transporting and grounding. I can’t quite explain it but, as an experience, it expands and anchors me at once. I can’t imagine two better emotional states to experience in a year of chaos, anxiety, and restriction” – Emma Paterson

Could you tell us more about your interest in film interiors? 

Emma Paterson: It’s maybe easier to use someone else’s words to answer this: film director Douglas Sirk said, ‘I considered that the homes that people live in exactly describe their lives.’ Almodóvar offers something similar, saying, ‘I think décor says a lot about someone’s social position, their taste, their sensibility, their work.’ As an extension of that, I would say that my interest in film interiors is really just an interest in people and story. 

What kind of decor are you drawn to? Please talk us through some of your all-time favourite on-screen interiors.

Emma Paterson: I would be lying if I said the flamboyant houses – like Casa Malaparte in Godard’s Contempt – weren’t among my favourites, but I’m also very partial to the small apartments in which characters live alone. There are fascinating continuities between the vulnerable New York apartments lived in by Bree (played by Jane Fonda) in Pakula’s Klute, and Frannie in Campion’s In The Cut, for example. And I love Scottie and Midge’s apartments in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Often the bathroom becomes a symbolically rich space: think of Chiron as a boy in the bathroom in Jenkins’ Moonlight – the lonely bar of yellow soap in the wall! Or the famous scene in the bathroom of what I imagine to be an upper east side apartment in Glazer’s Birth: white, eerily pristine, like a bathroom in a hotel. 

Could you share with us a bit more about the film prescriptions? How did you come to offer this service? And how does it work? 

Emma Paterson: This was a service I began offering partly out of boredom and anxiety at the start of the first lockdown. But I found that people really liked it and, in fact, searching for the films felt very meditative. Given everyone’s moods this year have been intensified x100, I generally ask people to talk to me about their mood and then I try to prescribe a set of films suited to it. Alternatively, I ask people what mood they would rather be in, and try to identify two or three films that might get them there.

How do you put together a prescription? 

Emma Paterson: Prescriptions are mainly based on what I have seen: I try to imagine myself into the mood of the person and I ask myself ‘What would I feel like watching?’ I’ve received some funny requests, including ‘I want to feel erotic‘, or just ‘chrome and power suits, please.’

Can you tell a lot about a person by their list of favourite films? Is it quite revealing?

Emma Paterson: Yes and no. Often, people’s favourite films will be underlined by a lot of nostalgia.

In what ways do you think watching movies can be beneficial? And how can watching the right films help us through these trying times? 

Emma Paterson: Since childhood, watching a film in the cinema has felt simultaneously transporting and grounding. I can’t quite explain it but, as an experience, it expands and anchors me at once. I can’t imagine two better emotional states to experience in a year of chaos, anxiety, and restriction.

What’s your day job? Would you like to run @celluloidhomes as a living? 

Emma Paterson: I am a literary agent by day, film doctor – ha! – by night. I wonder what it would be like to spend every waking hour on @celluloidhomes! I can’t quite imagine it. I suppose in another life I might have tried my hand at cinematography or set design.

Having recently lost their respective jobs as leader of the free world and chief advisor to the PM, Donald Trump and Dominic Cummings both probably have a lot more time on their hands whilst also possibly feeling dejected and struggling with issues of self-worth. What films might you prescribe for them?

Emma Paterson: Honestly, I wouldn’t bother. They’re beyond help.