POSTED May 22 2012

The Immortal Style Influence of Men in Black

Bo Welch's MiB set starring Arne Jacobsen's egg chairs

I’m not going to argue for the immortality of theĀ Men in Black franchise, the third installment of which opens Friday. I will, however, argue that art director Bo Welch is an important force, the guy who took mid-20th century High Modernism mainstream.

When the first MiB came out 15 years ago, Welch artfully arranged the sets with Arne Jacobsen’s egg chairs and elliptical tables and designed the MiB headquarters to resemble Eero Saarninen’s 1962 TWA Terminal at what we now call Kennedy Airport, with floor-to-ceiling windows and perforated I-beams. A key sequence of the first film took place at the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1959 ode to the spiral.

Much as I enjoy Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, to me the stars of MiB were George Nelson’s 1950 ball clock, the 1959 Philco Predicta television (it looks like a floating eye) and Jacobsen’s 1957 egg chairs. If memory serves, Smith tries to crack one in the first movie. Welch had a lot of fun playing with the primal motifs of modernism — atom and ovoid and spiral (as if to ask, what came first, the atom or the egg?). In so doing, he took midcentury design out of museums and into media rooms across America.

Can you think of other movies as influential on popular design? There’s an argument to be made for how Stanley Kubrick’s art director Ken Adam, in his sets for Dr. Strangelove, influenced 1970s high-tech.


  1. wwolfe says:

    I suspect that the Astaire/Rogers movies made Art Deco even more popular than it had been previously.

  2. Carrie Rickey says:

    @Wwolfe: Almost certainly. In Italy during the 1930s they referred to “white telephone” movies, films where the characters had upscale phones. Art director Boris Leven told me that Jean Harlow’s white-on-white bedroom in “Dinner at 8” — not so much Deco as satiny and mirror — was a huge influence on interior design.

  3. Horse Badortie says:

    Thise were those grea Nan Nest Polglase sets but I just found out that he didn’t actually design those sets. Carrol Clark was the art director on a lot of those Deco movies..Never heard of him..Learn a new name every day.

  4. Horse Badortie says:

    Sorry Van Nest Polglase.great name that.

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