The Perfectly Bad Taste of Uncut Gems
Nearly half the movie takes place in Howard’s KMH jewelry showroom and office, built out as a set by Lisenco, with research amassed through the years the Safdies spent schmoozing and politicking in the district. They got in good enough to know the dealers, cast some in the film, and take stylistic cues from them, “pulling marble from one shop, shelves from another, and a color scheme from another” to make a sort of representational pastiche set (kind of like how Howard’s Ferragamo belt didn’t come out of nowhere). Because the Safdies shoot so tight, some set microdetails didn’t make it on screen, or barely did, like the office sneaker boxes or pulled-up carpet and tile glue in the cleaning station, though they helped flesh things out for the actors. They’re the type of details with a point of view that help create a world. Howard’s adjoining office was “secondary to the showroom, totally different,” says Anderson, and “it has the most character in the end,” from all the stuff in there. It’s so neglected, and creates so much wealth. It feels lived-in.
But my favorite, and the most disorienting, of the film’s settings is Howard’s apartment, which Lisenco describes as “this kind of Upper East Side old new money” bachelor pad. The Safdies write extensive bios for their characters; accordingly, Howard is a guy “who fell into a little bit of money” 10 years before the 2012-set film, and whose tastes were formulated 10 years before that. Adds Anderson: “Everything had to feel like he spent big money on it, that everything is a statement piece. There’s not very many things in there.” But they’re things he wanted in 1992 and that he could finally afford 10 years later. Like the two tall, neon Rudi Stern for Kovacs lamps from the 1980s, near the door, the Dakota Jackson coffee table (described by Anderson as “crazy, three-part, spinning”), a nice McIntosh stereo, and a monstrous gray three-piece Vladimir Kagan sectional sofa (the directors wanted a De Sede nonstop, but it cost too much). There’s nothing subtle about anything Howard owns, no furniture equivalent to a black T-shirt. Though elements of his apartment decor have come back into vogue, any good taste in this setting is sporadic, and accidental.
Both Lisenco and Anderson say the artworks featured in the film were selected about as far back as the story, and most made it in. (This doesn’t always happen in movies because of licensing issues—the guy who owns “Dogs Playing Poker” has to approve every appearance.) Howard’s art veers, of course, to sports: a LeRoy Neiman oil painting of Joe Namath (in a Jets uniform, natch) in the office, a Pistol Pete sculpture by Howard Kanovitz at home. There are photorealistic paintings by Damian Loeb and Robert Yarber that imply, like a gilded Furby, too much money, and a sparser one by the apartment door, involving nudity, by Michael McClard (producer Sebastian Bear-McClard’s father).
Howard and the people in his life express their taste and their monetary security in agreed-upon ways, but the differences jump out on closer look, perhaps nowhere more so than in Howard’s in-laws’ apartment, where the Safdies set a Passover seder. It’s more staid, darker, almost entirely burgundy, like a Michael Graves hotel, full of glass sculpture. (At a note-perfect pop-up reproduction in Midtown of Howard’s store, Josh Safdie told me, “Our biggest inspiration was the postmodern architect Michael Graves.”) That apartment’s interiors are about 20 years older, says Anderson, “more rich than Howard’s, with the idea that the decor and money comes from” his father-in-law. Toeing the same line is Howard’s house on Long Island—architecturally significant from the outside, not exactly a McMansion—decorated with weird, soft ’90s pastel tones in the kitchen and living room, almost recalling Robert Venturi.
Source : Sam Reiss Link