Miniature room box #2: The study

I’ve been mostly finished the miniature study for some time, but I’ve been waiting for ages to get the shelves I ordered. Well, they came yesterday at last! There are still one or two things I’m waiting on, a standing lamp in particular, so I borrowed a lamp from the sitting room to help light things up in the meantime. Here it is…

Here’s a bit of an overhead view of the desk. On it, you can see a little green-shaded desk lamp, a calendar (anachronistically dated 2006!), a black vintage phone, a letter-holder, an inkstand and letter-opener, and that little verdigris antelope statuette that Poirot has on his desk in the latter episodes. (I made that out of Sculpey and painted it.) Also part of the desk set is a blotter, a fountain pen, a magnifying glass, and a bridge score pad. Perhaps Poirot is investigating Cards on the Table?聽 馃檪聽 I made the chair on the right with some bendy brass rods and upholstered it with the same fabric I used on the window curtain and the cushions in the sitting room– the chair is actually very unstable! I was delighted to have found the brass clothing valet in the back left there, which you can also see in his study in the latter episodes. The floor lamp actually belongs on a table in the sitting room; I brought it here for a bit more light. The little bonsai tree I also made, not liking the ones I saw in stores, and put it on a little Art Deco table with scissors on the shelf beneath.

You may have seen this shot before, but I’ve made changes. The Japanese prints are still there, but I’ve exchanged white lilies for yellow irises (in reference to the story). The mini clock here really works; it’s very Art Deco-looking. I scored it off a friend of a friend for $1.聽 馃檪聽 The ashtray includes a tiny black cigarette, the kind it is Poirot’s affectation to smoke. The brass coat rack really doesn’t belong here; that’s where the standing lamp is supposed to be. It would be an inconvenient location for a coat rack. But I live in hope of one day making a fourth room, a hallway and perhaps Miss Lemon’s office.

The scene of Prague appears in several places in the earlier episodes, most noticeably in the sitting room of his flat. I stuck it here in the study with a picture light. The mini barometer I made as a model of the one in his second flat (see the first bit of Third Girl for a good glimpse of it). I believe that one was loaned to the set by Suchet, who apparently collects barometers. The chess set is pretty self-explanatory. The umbrella and cane stand is meant to be transferred to Future Room #4 as mentioned above.聽 馃檪聽 The Chinese curio shelf includes such trifles as a ball of malachite, a sheep figurine, a compass, a crystal specimen or two, and a Chinese coin.

The bookshelf is one of the most fun parts of the room. Delightful to fill it up! The “pottery” on the top shelf are actually dollar store beads.聽 馃檪 I moved things from elsewhere to the shelf, including the running deer statue, the copy of Murder on the Orient Express, the copy of Blue Train (on the top left, propped up), and the globe that I used to have on the desk.

Detail. Notice the golden sphinx figurine (a reference to Poirot’s journeys to Egypt). I also moved First Steps in Russian to the bottom left shelf, as it was too big to stand up!

On the second shelf on the left, you can see a Pieta statuette; it is holding up the loose books in that shelf, including the one right next to it: Agatha Christie’s A Pocket Full of Rye!

More detail. On the bottom shelf is a series of medical reference books– VERY useful! Also, I painted up a series of Ariadne Oliver novels, which are next to them. You may remember that Poirot has a set of her books in his office, right behind his chair.聽 馃檪聽 The turquoise “jar” is another bead.

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The mantel clock

The lovely Art Deco mantel clock that appears in Poirot’s second flat has a fun history. It was acquired by David Suchet and used as a prop for the show (as is the stylin’ barometer in the front hall).

I decided to make a little model of it for my miniature room. It’s skinnier than the original; all the better to fit into a small space.聽 馃槈聽 I used a sterling silver dog charm (loop cut off) for the statue part– the dog in the original looks rather like a Doberman, but the best charm I found for my purposes happens to be a Great Dane. The agate bases are rectangular cabochons that I ordered from Estonia. The rest is metallic cardstock, beads, transparent plastic, and a bit of paint.

Poirot himself had a model of a foxhound he bought with his winnings from his bet with Giraud in The Murder on the Links (he names it Giraud, in fact).聽 馃檪

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“Good pictures”: the Japanese prints in Poirot’s study

When I see art used for the set, I tend to be curious as to where it came from. In Taken at the Flood, David Hunter and Rosalind are perusing Poirot’s new flat. Hunter wryly comments on the “good pictures” that Poirot has, referencing a couple of Japanese wood block prints. You were wondering about those prints that caught Hunter’s eye, weren’t you? Of course you were…聽 馃槈

I finally managed to track down the one on the right, anyway. It appears to be by Kunisada II: 鈥淎ctors Band么 Hikosabur么 V as Akogi Gennoj么 and Onoe Kikugor么 IV as the Female Street Musician (Onnaday没) Ohaya.鈥 This print was purchased and had been donated to an American museum by the early 20th century.

Japanese wood block prints became fashionable throughout Europe in the 19th century, and the art of Japan came to influence genres from clothing fashion to the fine arts. Van Gogh was an avid collector of Japanese prints, and the flat, vivid, outlined imagery would come to be seen in his own work and that of others of the Post-Impressionist and Expressionist movements. Poirot’s second flat was full of the fashionably continental.

And it would be a picture of actors, wouldn’t it.聽 馃檪

I included miniature paintings of these two prints in my own 1:12-scale Poirot study.

Poirot’s flat, dollhouse miniature style!

Currently I have two room boxes in the works for the sitting room and study of Poirot’s flat. The rooms aren’t replicas of the sets, but I use elements from the sets (including both flats) plus some of my own observations from the books.

I was excited to get my cut MDF pieces from my friends, the Harders, this evening. The sitting room is the first room box. I painted up the walls right away, added paper parquet flooring and baseboards, and glued it all together. Here’s how it looked:

Herringbone parquet is the flooring seen in both of the flats of the television series.

Then came the fun of adding the details! Here’s the current flat-in-progress…

Still missing, as you can see, at least one more painting under the picture light on the right-hand wall, one of the end tables to match the other, and some more shelving, etc.

A little difficult to capture via photo, but the fireplace has a flickering LED bulb behind the vellum fireplace screen. The picture lights and wall sconces are attached to the wall via a glued-on magnet. They’re easy to remove for turning the lights on and off.

Picture lights abound in Poirot’s second flat, so I was delighted to find them in miniature. The round shades of the wall sconces are reminiscent of certain table lamps observable in both flats. The running deer is similar to certain ceramic pieces in the second flat, including mantel decorations.

The brass clothing valet was also a delight to have found; I’ll probably be moving it to the study. I intend to fill the decanters and possibly the glasses and add a bottle of liqueur. I made the chairs, side table, fireplace, and plant stand from scratch, but bought the brass/glass/acrylic furniture.

An aerial view. Obviously, symmetry is important! The area rug was made by heat-bonding a piece of bluish-gray cotton to a stiff felt backing so it would lay very flat. The distinctive wood grain of the chairs, side table, and plant stand were lifted directly from the show. In the opening scene of Third Girl, the camera pans down the lovely wood dining table. I took a screen capture of the wood grain and just printed it out on my computer to use for the furniture.

Fans should understand this reference… 馃檪

Refreshments on the coffee table. Included is a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream and a spoon, and two plates of macarons. (We actually see Poirot and Mrs. Oliver sharing some macarons in his apartment in Elephants Can Remember.) The wooden box opens and contains cigars; next to it is a cigarette case and a table lighter. White square ashtrays are on the side table.

Coming soon, I hope… the study!聽 馃榾

Building a miniature fireplace…

I’ve been well and truly bitten by the miniature bug. I’ve painted miniatures before, but haven’t done much concentrated building in three dimensions (with the exception of my Poirot library). But now I’ve got designs on building vignettes of a miniature flat…

Here are some photos from my construction project of a miniature fireplace. It’s made out of balsa wood, foam board, heavy kraft paper, and illustration board (which is versatile stuff). It’s painted with acrylics, and the “marble” mantle top is illustration board, painted and then glazed. The figurine of the running deer was a different plastic miniature which I painted white and attached to a balsa base– I didn’t sculpt it.聽 馃槈

The ghost that took over his life: Poirot’s handwriting in Curtain

“I am writing a letter to Hastings to explain all that has happened, and what makes it extraordinary is that the art department have discovered a way to create my handwriting so that I do not have to write every word myself time after time. It is as though a ghost has taken over my life.”

-David Suchet, Poirot and Me

This little detail about the final scenes of Curtain, mentioned in passing in Suchet’s book, intrigued me when I first read it. Art departments and handwriting are always of special interest! But it was only when I took a close look at what is shown on screen in this episode that his meaning became clear. (In advance: please understand that in this post, I’m not attempting any sort of “gotcha!” to said fine art department– I may have never noticed, had it not been obliquely pointed out by Suchet himself. I merely note this as something that interests me.)

It began simply by noticing that the letter that Poirot was writing to Hastings looked an awful lot, but not quite, like Suchet’s own handwriting. Curious, because the letters all looked like he wrote them, but something seemed a bit off about it. Then I remembered the quote from his book. Do you notice?

Font-lovers may notice what is so curious about the FIRST sentence of Poirot’s writing here: what we’re looking at is essentially a “David Suchet’s Poirot” font. Zoom in (click on the picture) and look at any single letter– try the lower-case “h,” “y,” “m,” for easy examples. Every one of those letters looks exactly the same as every other in that sentence! That’s what looks unusual– the first part of the page is uncommonly smooth and regularized. Now starting at “But really, my friend,” look at the rest of the words. Those are hand-written by Suchet himself, and contain variations on the letters rather than uniformity, appearing much looser that the words that came before. The camera had to show him actually writing with his own hand for these shots, but a font was made of his handwriting for the first part of a paragraph so he wouldn’t have to write it all out each time. Presumably print-outs were made to which he added. This is what his quote at the top of the post meant. If you look carefully, you may even notice that the color of the ink appears slightly different between the “font” and the true handwriting.

Once you see this pattern, you can’t un-see it in the other paragraphs of writing shown. I’ve highlighted the real handwriting in blue brackets; the rest is a printed font.

There are at least two possible reasons I can think of as to why the art department would go to the bother of creating this font in the first place. Either it really was merely to convenience their actor; or it might be that doing too much handwriting in those arthritis-heavy prosthetics does not-nice things to them. There may have been other reasons.

The font works perfectly well for the few moments it appears on screen. If, however, you really wish to forge someone’s writing successfully (or even to create a slightly more believable handwriting font for closer scrutiny, though it is far more expensive to do so), always remember to use multiple variants of letters.聽 Poirot himself knows enough about forgery to let you in on that.聽 馃槈

Black Coffee at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Last week, Alex and I took a spin up to Winnipeg’s Exchange District to see Black Coffee, Christie’s first play (and her only one with Poirot). The Royal MTC put on this play in contribution to the 17th annual Master Playwright Fest, which this year featured Agatha Christie (dubbed ChristieFest). Many Winnipeg theatre companies tried their hand at Christie plays, including The Mousetrap and The Hollow. Free events during ChristieFest included public viewings of the PBS documentary The Mystery of Agatha Christie (with David Suchet) and the films Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.

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Now, I was very excited, as this was my own first Christie play. I’d read both the script of Black Coffee as well as Charles Osborne’s novelization– but of course, plays really do need to be seen! The reviews had been a bit lackluster, but their critique was more directed toward a perceived dullness in Christie’s play itself, not the performance. Well, knowing what to anticipate, I could live with that.聽 馃檪

The cast included Lorne Kennedy as Poirot, Arne MacPherson as Hastings, Ross McMillan as Sir Claud Amory (and Japp), and Claire Armstrong as Lucia Amory. Kennedy gave an especially good performance of Poirot– sometimes, I swear, channeling Suchet. And MacPherson was a likeable, if highly excitable, Hastings. 馃檪聽 One particularly noticeable deviation from the original play is that the secretary Raynor was changed to a woman– “Edwina,” played by Miriam Smith. This was perhaps to balance the male/female ratio.

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The pince-nez and lapel vase are distinctively Suchet’s Poirot. But Lorne Kennedy wore them well.

The set and lighting were really beautiful. Having myself specialized in trompe l’oeil in university and having done some set painting, I was particularly interested in the forced perspective garden scene beyond the French windows. For some reason, I was also mesmerized by the reproduction of a painting of Samuel Johnson high on the wall. It seemed to lend a comfortable, fitting, 18th-century “Sir Joshua Reynolds” sort of air to the distinguished country house set.

Christie herself was not particularly fond of this play, and by all accounts it’s not among her best. It’s a typical cozy mystery with conventional stock characters– the noted scientist, the misunderstood girl, the blackmailer, the vamp, etc. Anyone who is familiar with the story The Mysterious Affair at Styles will notice some pretty obvious plot-borrowing. Christie also borrowed the occasional quote from her own stories. This line in Black Coffee can be found almost verbatim in the story “The Chocolate Box.”

POIROT: Madame, it is sometimes difficult to set a dog on the scent. But once he has found it, nothing on earth will make him leave it. Not if he is a good dog. And I, madame, I, Hercule Poirot, am a very good dog!

Charles Osborne’s adaptation included even more lifting of dialog from Christie stories, including “The Adventure of the ‘Western Star'” and several others. C’est curieux! Also curious is Hastings’ apparent eagerness to be vamped, considering that he’s already been out in Argentina which means he’s already married at the time this play is set. Oh, Hastings…

It was an enjoyable evening and the audience seemed to have fun with the performance. The program was cute, too, including not only Christie facts but suggestions on how to make great coffee!

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My only real regret was not being able to get to more of ChristieFest this February. We didn’t learn of most of the events until it was too late, and being the self-professed greatest Poirot fan in at least Manitoba聽 馃槈聽 this was an embarrassing oversight on my part. But well done, Royal MTC, on an enjoyable interpretation of Black Coffee.聽 馃檪

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The Double Clue, Marc Chagall, the elusive lovers’ dream, and guilt expiation

Well… that’s the direction that my convoluted brain wanders while watching this Poirot episode… (Note: associations are my own and are not intended to reflect genuine intent on the part of script writers or art departments.)聽 馃檪

The only thing that comes as close to the awesomeness of the famously-moustachioed Dying Gaul as a focal statue in the chess tournament scene of The Big Four, is the use of Chagall’s “Feathers in Bloom” in The Double Clue.

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Before reaching the gallery interior, previous conversations with the Countess had emphasized certain points of commonality between the characters: the sad and lonely aspects of foreign exile. Despite the mutual appreciation of the painting and the reference to Chagall’s own “exile” from Russia, the gallery scene in general focuses more on the differences in personality and background between the pair. Poirot offers to take the Countess to the Tate to see the Turner landscapes– sublime, comparatively bourgeois,聽 and quintessentially English. She voices a preference for the more “exciting” and avant-garde continental Expressionists, which Poirot only appreciates “in part.” (At this point, he gently chides her for using his first name, maintaining a wholly formal address between them.) The scene concludes with Poirot demonstrating his cred as “the most famous detective in England” by hinting that he already knows of her guilt. This all resolves with Poirot maintaining himself on the side of England, as it were, while able (as a fellow foreign refugee) to grasp something of the psychology of the criminal.

That’s about as far as the episode goes with Chagall. But there are some other interesting things about it that come to bear on some of the story’s themes.

“Feathers in Bloom” features some of Chagall’s most commonly-used symbols. The moon is usually present at the meeting of lovers. The horse (in this case, with the legs of a man) represents ideas such as strength, virility, and freedom. The chicken or rooster is used throughout his work in two senses: first, in terms of fertility and also associated with lovers; secondly, as a Jewish symbol (along with the goat) for the expiation of guilt and sin, in connection with Yom Kippur. More on that later.

You can see typical examples of all of these symbols together in Chagall’s works, such as the following:

chagall montage

…But of course, those Chagalls all share another iconic visual that is (perhaps sadly) lacking in the “Feathers in Bloom” painting encountered by Poirot and the Countess. Namely, this one:

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One could, perhaps, read “Feathers in Bloom” in this context as a meeting of love interests that will not result in that idyllic, dream-like state with bride and groom flying off into the sunset.

But speaking of goats and chickens…

Chagall’s Hasidic Jewish background is one of the preeminent influences of his artwork, and the goat (or, by more modern parallel, the chicken) as symbols of sacrifice and atonement happen to come to bear on some of the story’s themes, as well. In ancient times, the Day of Atonement would involve the sacrifice of a goat, and the binding of a second goat in scarlet which would then be driven away into the remote wilderness as a sign of the expiation of guilt. This is where we get the term scapegoat. The scapegoat appears throughout The Double Clue.

Japp: 鈥淭he Commissioner鈥檚 come down on me. He wants action. If not, he鈥檚 going to have to give them a scapegoat.鈥
Poirot: 鈥淎 goat?鈥
Japp: 鈥淢e.鈥

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In the episode, the propitiation takes the form of the Countess relinquishing her stolen goods, Poirot “covering” for her, and transferring the guilt onto the tramp as a scapegoat. However, like the scapegoat, the Countess herself must be driven away, never to return to the society.

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Yes, I know I’m reading a lot into it. Blame whoever thought to stick Marc Chagall into the script!!聽 馃檪聽 馃檪聽 馃檪聽 Where there is Chagall, the symbols start flying!

Speaking of Chagall and all the random mental associations he seems to conjure up, we could finally note a few coincidences of his family history. Born and raised in Russia, of a Lithuanian Jewish family (Moishe Shagal russified to Mark Shagalov). Found his way to Paris and its creative epicenters, where the family name was rendered as the French-sounding Chagall. From Paris, moved on again into the English-speaking world, where he settled for good. If that doesn’t remind you of a certain unnamed actor’s family history, well…

Poirot’s favorite painting was swiped from his apartment building in Brussels.

A couple of months ago I blogged about some of the reused paintings in Poirot episodes, and noted specifically that painting that resides over the fruit bowl in the Whitehaven Mansions sitting room. It was notable because it seemed to travel with Poirot, from his first residence in England at Leastways Cottage in Styles St. Mary to the (first) Whitehaven Mansions flat to his temporary retirement home of The Larches in King’s Abbot in the Roger Ackroyd era. And I speculated whether he had merely taken it away from Leastways Cottage with him, or whether it was a particularly special item he had shipped over from Belgium which came with him when he emigrated.

Well, now I know. The painting was spotted in today’s re-watch of The Chocolate Box, hanging in the hallway of his apartment building in Brussels!

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He swiped it from the building!!! Ahahahaha…

Okay, maybe he bought it. Hardly seems likely, though.

Reused paintings in the Poirot series

There’s nothing particularly newsworthy about reused props in a television series, or in more than one series made by the same people. But it’s fun to point them out all the same.聽 In Poirot, you’ve got a good 25-year span to notice them in. I recount a sampling of these occurrences…

Possibly the single most obviously reused painting is this guy, because the picture is specifically focused on in the episodes The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, where the painting features prominently at the men’s club, and Dumb Witness, in which the painting at the Arundell house dramatically falls from the wall.

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Dumb Witness

Another fairly easy-to-spot painting of a mother and her sick child appears in at least three episodes: Dead Man’s Mirror, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Third Girl. The painting functions as a major plot point in the first of the three, and this makes it easier for fans to spot the same painting appearing in Ackroyd’s home and in David Baker’s studio.

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Some recognizable paintings are not merely reused props so much as entire locations. The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly and Third Girl share a location, Wrotham Park, as shots like these indicate.

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But for me, the most interesting of all is this painting here. It is a fairly unremarkable little scene that took up residence behind the sitting room fruit bowl, so that we see it in several episodes.

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But when The Mysterious Affair at Styles is filmed, we might be astonished to discover that this very same painting hung in Poirot’s own room at Leastways Cottage, where he was living by the charity of Mrs. Inglethorp!

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More remarkable still: when Poirot retires (temporarily) to his little house in King’s Abbot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, that painting is again in his residence! (Far left)

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I guess it may be that the art department was running out of paintings of a certain sort to shuffle around. I myself like to imagine that there’s an untold story here. Did Poirot take the painting away from Leastways Cottage when he left to remind him of his humble beginnings at Styles, his generous sponsor there, and the first major case he investigated in his new country? Did the picture have sufficient sentimental value from the past that he could have even had it sent over from Belgium when he first emigrated, and subsequently installed it in each new dwelling where he lived? Ah, the unsolved mysteries…