The opening scene of Interiors (1978) explores the living spaces of a desolate beach house; a series of images during its opening sequence piece together the space of the home and its characters soon become enveloped within this space.
The film focuses on a family; at its core are three sisters; Renata (Diane Keaton), Flyn (Kristin Griffith) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), their interior decorator mother, Eve (Geraldine Page); their lawyer father, Arthur (E.G. Marshall); and their father’s lover, Pearl (Maureen Stapleton). The majority of Interiors takes place, well, indoors, making this one of Woody Allen’s rare films that deals with a single location.
Interiors, its title suggested by Diane Keaton, is sandwiched between Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979). The film breaks the trend of Woody Allen’s early, funny pictures and is notable for being his first drama, as well as the first film in which he didn’t appear as a performer.
Gordon Willis’ exceptional cinematography is complimented by Mel Bourne’s production design and Mario Mazzola and Daniel Robert’s set decoration; Interiors was their first feature film in these respective roles. Gordon Willis primarily makes use of wide compositions throughout the film, keeping us removed from the action as characters move in and out of the frame during unbroken shots. The stationary camera, which captures the action from a distance, creates observes out of the audience. The audience watches characters emotionally fall apart over the course of the film. In moments when the camera does become handheld, its mobility adds to the emotional state of mind of its characters.
The state of paralysis that these characters are in is visualized with its color palette of greys and beiges. The characters are disconnected from the surrounding world, both emotionally and physically. The monochromatic color palette of the film is disrupted with the arrival of Pearl, who arrives wearing a red dress. Pearl is warm and maternal and is seen as a sort of relief for their despair. The character’s clothing and use of color single her out amongst these characters, with her vibrant reds taking the attention off the dull beiges from the background.
The film, for the most part, is pitch-perfect with its visuals. In The New Yorker, Pauline Kael observed: “The movie, with its spotless beaches, is as clean and bare as Geraldine Page’s perfect house: you could eat off any image.” The pristineness of the film went further than its visual design. “The prints of Interiors were processed on a new film stock, and during the showings for the press and people in the industry in Los Angeles, Woody Allen had the print returned to the lab after every screening to be washed,” notes Pauline Kael. This was an approach unlike any other for the filmmaker.
In our floor plan, we examined the final shot of the film, which circles back to the opening scene of the film. These characters, in a similar positioning, look through the same windows as seen at the start of the film. The majority of the film takes place within this living space; we see most of the space during the wedding ceremony, where the camera is in an adjacent room. In all other instances, we see other parts of the space. It’s only in one crucial scene that the audience is taken outside onto the beach. In Interiors, characters are battling an internal crisis, imprisoned inside their house in a conflict with their own emotions.