Monday, November 10, 2014
Bonfire of the Vanities
Quite a few people have told me that Tom Wolfe's 1987 best-seller, Bonfire of the Vanities, is right up my alley. I have not read the book, nor have I seen the 1990 film version, so I don't know whether to take their "right up your alley" comments as a compliment or not. However, the book has been on my to-read list for years, and after recently finding a November 1990 HG article about the film's set, I am moving both the book and the movie to the top of my to-do list.
The article's photos, which are shown here, depict the fictional Park Avenue apartment of the book's lead characters, Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street tycoon played by Tom Hanks in the movie, and his wife, Judy, who was portrayed in the film by Kim Cattrall. Judy, by the way, is a socialite/decorator, who was responsible for her apartment's decoration. So believable was this movie apartment that had I not told you otherwise, you might very well have assumed that the photos showed a real Park Avenue apartment, circa 1985. That is how well-decorated this fictional apartment was.
The production designer, Richard Sylbert, spared no expense nor detail in conjuring up the archetypal Manhattan apartment of an 1980s-era master of the universe. The set's abundance of chintz, English furniture, elaborate draperies, and traditional pictures were all hallmarks of that affluent 1980s-look that Sylbert referred to as "a 'chopped salad' of English country classics". But, using your 21st-century-eyes, start peeling back the layers in each photo, and you'll find a number of classic elements that are still compelling today. One such example is the now-discontinued Brunschwig & Fils wallpaper in the set's dining room.
The article's author, Donald Albrecht, wrote, "In the future we may look at Bonfire as representing the essential look of the booming, greedy eighties." Although I have not read the book, I am familiar enough with it to know that Albrecht's comment was indeed prescient, because the book has become a modern classic, one which captured the excess that was the 1980s.
All photos from HG, November 1990, Grant Mudford photographer.