How Blade Runner combines a multi-cultural past with a retro-fitted present (plus details on those iconic whiskey glasses)

blade runner poster and glasses

Guest Feature By Matt Cole, Creative Director at Branded Content agency Drum, and founder of Penny Dreadful Menswear.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) paints Los Angeles 2019 as a potent, multifaceted hybrid of cultures. The principal influence reflects the 1980’s assumption that Japan’s driving force in technology would see it become the ruling superpower of the future. Omnipresent billboards depict giant geisha girls popping pills to the baleful soundtrack of Japanese folk song Ogi No Mato. This hint of a society controlled by mood-enhancers is one of the few direct links back to Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep.”

Geisha Girl billboard in Blade Runner. Image courtesy of Ladd Company/The Shaw Brothers/Warner Bros.

Geisha Girl billboard in Blade Runner. Image  © Ladd Company/The Shaw Brothers/Warner Bros.

At ground level “The Egyptian” Abdul Ben Hassan manufactures Snakes, selling them among replicant ostriches and other exotics in the bustling, bazaar like “Animoid Row” while the Mayan styled Pyramidal buildings of the Tyrell Corporation dominate the skyline, monstrous monuments to the gods of Industry.

The Tyrell Corporation building in Blade Runner. Image courtesy of Ladd Company/The Shaw Brothers/Warner Bros.

The Tyrell Corporation building in Blade Runner. Image © Ladd Company/The Shaw Brothers/Warner Bros.

The South American influence continues in the blocky Aztec architecture and interior styling of Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) apartment block. The exterior, shot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Ennis House” in the Hollywood Hills, is augmented by one of the many extraordinary matte paintings designed by Syd Mead and completed by Matt Yurichich, Rocco Gioffre, and Michele Moen.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Ennis House” in the Hollywood Hills

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Ennis House” in the Hollywood Hills

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House.

Art director David Snyder took Syd Mead’s original “form meets function” hi-tech interior designs and encased them in custom molded replicas of Frank Lloyd Wrights Aztec building blocks creating a multi-textural man-cave perfectly suited to Deckard’s loner personality.

The Ennis-Brown House built by Frank Lloyd Wright was the source for Deckard’s apartment. Syd Mead designed the set interior, and Lawrence Paull took casts of the Ennis-Brown bricks and built the set on stage.

The Ennis-Brown House built by Frank Lloyd Wright was the source for Deckard’s apartment. Syd Mead designed the set interior, and Lawrence Paull took casts of the Ennis-Brown bricks and built the set on stage.

Deckard's apartment

Deckard’s apartment

As much as I’m a huge fan of Syd Mead’s industrial sci-fi concept artwork, from Blade Runner to Elysium, it’s the interesting mix of ephemera that Snyder’s team populates Mead’s spaces with that not only authentically depicts the sum contents of a 30 plus divorced male’s life but also injects a sense of personal mystery into an already enigmatic story.

Deckard's apartment

Deckard’s apartment

Much has been made of the Art-deco & Art Nouveau influences on the retro-futuristic design of Blade Runner, but it’s true to Ridley Scott’s reputation for perfection in art direction that the vast majority of the early 20th Century pieces in Deckard’s department are genuine. The cost of acquiring Argyle chairs by Charles Rennie MacKintosh and a barely glimpsed Frank Lloyd Wright Coonley Desk probably gave the production manager a small heart attack. Combined with a Panasonic TR-535 pop up TV they build an authentic image of a future heavily influenced by more elegant times long gone.

Rachel sits in an Argyle chair by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Rachel sits in an Argyle chair by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Frank Lloyd Wright Coonley Desk

Frank Lloyd Wright Coonley Desk

To achieve maximum Future Noir moodiness Deckard’s apartment features little to no overhead lighting. Instead the surfaces are filled with a myriad of lamps including 3 choice American art-deco examples – a 1940’s Lightolier desk lamp by Gerald Thurston (want!), a strangely kitsch World’s Trade Fair lamp and hovering over the piano where Deckard has his Unicorn reverie is a Dazor Saucer Lamp.

Dazor Saucer Lamp and a Lightolier desk lamp (with thanks to Red Line Vintage)

Dazor Saucer Lamp and a Lightolier desk lamp (with thanks to Red Line Vintage)

Dazor Saucer Lamp, a World’s Trade Fair lamp a Lightolier desk lamp.

A World’s Trade Fair lamp.

Deckard's desk lamps

Deckard’s desk lamps

In an age before 3D printing even the future was cobbled together from the present, including the image scanning ESPER Machine, in reality a portable TV with a couple of alarm clocks and what seems to be a Polaroid camera stuck to the side. As a young viewer it was still the coolest piece of tech, lent realism because it seemed second-hand and slightly knackered, screen etched with pen marks.

The image scanning ESPER Machine, in reality a portable TV with a couple of alarm clocks and what seems to be a polaroid camera stuck to the side

The image scanning ESPER Machine, in reality a portable TV with a couple of alarm clocks and what seems to be a Polaroid camera stuck to the side

Elsewhere the past continues to collide with the contemporary in building a convincing future. The story goes that Scott himself found 2019’s answer to the Lazyboy, a huge leather suite with built-in lighting, in a junk sale having recently been removed from an LA Nightclub that had fallen on hard times.

Deckard's leather suite complete with built in lighting. Story has it, it came from an LA nightclub

Deckard’s leather suite complete with built in lighting. Story has it, it came from an LA nightclub

Amongst this wealth of amazing stuff expertly and painstakingly thrown together to create the perfect mess of a dysfunctional bachelor pad there are 2 items I’ve come to covet most over my 50 or so viewings of Blade Runner. Both of which are the vessels that transport the fuel of Deckard’s burgeoning alcoholism. The shot glass tainted with blood after Deckard’s violent run in with Leon originally formed part of an elaborate set by the wonderfully named United Metal Goods from the 50’s. In my favourite shot from the film, standing on the apartment balcony, hundreds of stories above the city Rick reflects on cruelly bursting Rachel’s faux-human bubble. For one fleeting moment Deckard leans over as if he might jump. The glass in his hand is a 1974 Arnolfo di Cambio CIBI tumbler. Look at it glowering in that promo image. That’s a serious Whiskey glass surely built with Future-Noir, Replicant Hunting, Killer Cops in mind.

The shot glass tainted with blood after Deckard’s violent run in with Leon originally formed part of an elaborate set by United Metal Goods from the 50’s.

The shot glass tainted with blood after Deckard’s violent run in with Leon originally formed part of an elaborate set by United Metal Goods from the 50’s.

Deckard takes a drink of whiskey from a Arnolofo di Cambio CIBI tumbler

Deckard takes a drink of whiskey from an Arnolfo di Cambio CIBI tumbler – see where to buy these glasses below

Arnolofo di Cambio CIBI tumbler

Arnolfo di Cambio CIBI tumbler

It’s more than likely that Snyder and his team had a very tight brief from Ridley Scott according to his overall vision for the style and texture of LA 2019 and all these disparate items came together like a jigsaw puzzle, piece by piece to create a cohesive whole that looked great on camera. But I have a theory. Bear with me.

Deckard’s apartment is crammed full of not just a selection of choice furniture, elegant lamps and shonky old portable TV’s. Rick’s also got a fair few knick-knacks like this carved wooden rhino.

Rick’s also got a fair few knick knacks like this carved wooden rhino.

Rick’s also got a fair few knick-knacks like this carved wooden rhino.

Now does “One man slaughterhouse” Blade Runner Rick Deckard strike you as the kind of guy who’d spend his weekends browsing through antique fairs and car boot sales looking for wooden Rhinos and art deco dining chairs? Well maybe. Replicants are collectors, empty vessels constantly trying to build an identity. Leon compiles memories in a literal way with his “precious photos”. Rachel also carries a photo of “her mother” as proof that she had one and Deckard’s piano is loaded with seemingly random snaps, some incongruously black and white next to holographic prints. Perhaps despite being oblivious to his Replicant origin Deckard is filling his home with items harboring their own pasts and stories in a subconscious attempt to fabricate a soul?

Or maybe he just rents the pad fully-furnished. Who knows.

Matt Cole
(with much thanks to the true Blade Runner obsessives at PropSummit.com)
Matt is Creative Director at Branded Content agency Drum, founder of Penny Dreadful Menswear and a card carrying geek.

 

What’s the low down and where can I get one?

Probably the coolest whiskey tumbler ever made, the 1974 Arnolfo di Cambio CIBI tumbler is a ‘Double Old fashion glass’ made from hand blown crystal glass, It is very much still in production by The Arnolfo di Cambio company which was founded in Tuscany, Italy in 1963 and in the course of 45 years and three generations has become one of Italy’s leading glass manufacturers.

Hard to Find Whiskey sell Arnolfo di Cambio tumblers via Amazon UK in twin packs for £89.95 and The Fowndry sell single glasses (around £52) via Amazon UK.  The ultimate gift for a whiskey drinking Blade Runner fan.arnolfo glass

Frank Lloyd Wright Coonley Desk.
Fran Lloyd Wright hated the fussy, historicist furniture available in America in the 1890s. His concept of ‘Organic Architecture’ required furnishings to ‘be of the building itself’ – to reflect the same design principles and materials as the architecture.To fulfil this ideal, Wright had to design his own furniture, despite having little wood-working experience. Strongly influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement, he started in 1889 with his home in Oak Park, Illinois. The Coonley desk was made for the Averly Coonley house, Illinois in 1908. The book ‘The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright’ implies that one of Wrights employees Niedecken who created some beautiful watercolour designs for the many design pieces in the house may well have made some copies of the desk for his own clients. One desk exists in the Elvehjem Art Cemtre, Wisconsin. In short, one would be unlikely to find an original Coonley desk, but fear not, for 1stdibs features several dealers who have some very handsome Wright pieces: https://www.1stdibs.com/creators/frank-lloyd-wright/furniture/

Read more about Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs on the V&A website

Argyle chair by Charles Rennie MacKintosh
Mackintosh originally designed these high-backed chairs for the Argyle Street tearooms in Glasgow in 1897, hence their name and why you would be more likely to find an original on the open market since they were made in multiples for the tearooms. Cassina currently sell new versions produced under license from the Estate of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (so indicated by a stamped signature and serial number of each model.) The pierced oval back-rail is decorated with the familiar flying bird motif used elsewhere at the Argyle Street Tea Rooms. The Cassina Argyle chair has an ashwood frame stained black and a seat upholstered in a choice of colours from the Nebraska collection. Priced £1818 from Atomic Interiors.

Scottish based Bruce Hamilton Furniture Makers also producers quality Charles Rennie Mackintosh reproduction furniture. Bruce has undertaken many Mackintosh commissions, both for private clients and commercial outlets and has acknowledgements from both the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society which is based at the Queen’s Cross Church in Glasgow.

The Dazor Saucer Lamp crop up on Ebay and Etsy Vintage from time to time or try some of the excellent dealers at Alfies Antiques market, 13-25 Church Street, London NW8 8DT

The Lightolier desk lamp by Gerald Thurston features a matte black metal base, angular brass-plated arm, and white plastic shade with a matte black metal crown. The hinge allows the shade to be moved up/down and left/right, positioned as you wish. Red Line Vintage sold one recently and might be able to find you another if you get in touch  and they have also been sold by 1stdibs, Ebay and Etsy vintage.

Watch it!

Buy the DVD 2 disc special edition >
or
Buy the 30th Anniversary – Collector’s Edition Box Set (Blu-ray Region Free-3 Disk with 4 different versions of the film)

The original film trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFNUFqHyGZU

Hooked?

See more on Syd Mead’s futuristic illustrations and more on Blade Runner production design on E&O here >
Will Harrison Ford agree to do the recently proposed sequel?

Related stories:

Mad Men whiskey tumblers have the silver screen embedded in their iconic silver rims.

About the author -


Matt Cole

Matt Cole is Creative Director at Branded Content agency Drum, founder of Penny Dreadful Menswear and a card carrying geek. http://www.drum.co.uk/ http://www.HouseOfDreadful.com

Posted in: Feature, Guest Blog on September 5, 2014
Film Title: Blade Runner
Film Year: 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Set Designer: Lawrence G. Paull David L. Snyder Linda DeScenna Leslie Frankenheimer Thomas Roysden Peg Cummings Syd Mead
Object Type: glass tumbler chair desk lamp light sofa
Object Sub-type: Arnolfo di Cambio CIBI tumbler Lightolier desk lamp Dazor Saucer Lamp Argyle chair Coonley Desk
Object Designer: Arnolfo di Cambio Gerald Thurston Charles Rennie MacKintosh Frank Lloyd Wright
Object Shop: The Fowndry Iconic Design Firebox ebay etsy Alfies Antiques Market 1st Dibs Atomic Interiors Bruce Hamilton Furniture Makers Red Line Vintage
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments

  1. Paul

    What an informative article. So well researched Matt.

  2. Paul

    As a post-script – also interesting point on the low level lighting to create a sense of cosy-unease.

  3. contadino

    Those Argyle chairs are quite enigmatic. They look like they are too low but it’s probably due to the really high backs. Sean Young is no midget and she doesn’t look awkward on one.

  4. msottovoce

    Thanks for the link Matt!

  5. John Baldwin

    Very interesting article.I saw Bladerunner on BBC TV a couple of weeks ago and spotted the Charles Rennie Mackintosh chair. Like it so much I decided to make one (I enjoy woodwork as a hobby). I was able to find a book with the chair featured in a photo but could not find a measured drawing so had to guess the size. Quite pleased with the result.

  6. Fiona Cole

    John, I’m intrigued and impressed by your “I want that chair, I shall make that chair” attitude, would you care to share a picture of the finished result?

  7. Paula Benson
    Paula

    On the Charles Rennie Mackintosh tip, and John’s comment about making the chair (nice one!) we met a man (Graham Roxburgh) who bought a house in Glasgow, and in the attic he found some lost original drawings by Mackintosh for an architectural competition he had entered back in 1900. Graham decided it might be an interesting idea build the house – and he did! All to the exact spec on the drawings he found. It’s called House for an Art Lover and it’s stunning. We designed a book telling the whole story called Building the Dream: http://www.form.uk.com/portfolio/books-brochures/architecture-history/building-the-dream/cover-spreads/

  8. Gary Willoughby

    Trying to figure out how to put this article on my BladeZone facebook page may I??

  9. Galen Chandler

    Bladerunner is probably artistically one of my favorite movies. I have the original “shaver” prop from the bathroom scene that one of the props guys gave me. It’s actually a sphere shaped lighter. A rare gift indeed.

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