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Immersed in Movies: Production Designer Greenwood Talks 'Anna Karenina'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood November 26, 2012 at 1:35PM

What's old is gloriously new again in Joe Wright's magnificent "Anna Karenina." He boldly conveys the complexity of Tolstoy's epic love story through the simplicity of a puppet-like theater, compressing time and collapsing space in a real theater. It's an elegant metaphor...
Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"
Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

"One of the hardest ones for me was the transformation of Oblonsky's office into the Angleterre restaurant because that was a physical thing that had to happen in camera," Greenwood suggests. "One of the ones I really like is the soldiers in the woods drinking and we see Frou-Frou the white horse with the flag: it says it all with very little.

"And the train station really works because we're dealing with real trains and the physicality of that and the fact that it is the arrival and departure of so many moments in the film. That was a very late revelation on my part where I suddenly woke up one night and said, 'Well, actually what you do is take the theater to the station where we were filming and so we built the proscenium and the stage in the station."

However, Greenwood is critical of those hybrid scenes -- "the bastard children" -- where they didn't have the budget to build sets within the theater, which nonetheless was constantly changing 24/7. "The dueling scene at Oblonsky's house where the countess is on the floor is one of those unresolved ideas," she relates. "Had we limited that more, it would've been better. But at one point you see that it's a conventional English house to my mind. There was no logic when we set out; it was a very instinctive process and I think it does generally work, which is an achievement. With Joe, it's like panning for gold, but there's always something there -- he's the puppet master."

This article is related to: Anna Karenina, Keira Knightley, Keira Knightley, Immersed In Movies, Costume Design

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.