Thank you, Sy Tomashoff.
So, I always saw the name, although I was only very, very vaguely aware of what he did. It was only when I was studying scenic design that it all fell together. My mentor was a NYU grad who’d worked on soaps and had actually been on the DARK SHADOWS soundstage… many years after the show was gone. But he attested to it’s minute dimensions. Nevertheless, Sy Tomashoff was the genius behind cramming in all of those magnificent sets into that almost-bowling alley. No small feat, especially when you consider how often he had to redress them to take on the look of other eras and dimensions. Collinwood, the Old House, the Crypt, and the Blue Whale are characters themselves, and are as vital and iconic as the 4077’s swamp or the bridge of the 1701.
The 1990’s series always fell a bit flat for me, visually, but I blamed that on Greystone Manor, the location in which much of Collinwood and the Old House were filmed. Fine house, don’t get me wrong, but so overused. To me, it will always be Whispering Glades. And I thank you if you know what I’m talking about. Yes, Dan had money and wanted to make it bigger. And that’s not the point.
Clarifying that is number #598 in the cavalcade of mistakes known as DARK SHADOWS (2012). The sets. Yeah, guys, let’s make it big! We’ll really show it off!
To you, I say, “Banana oil.”
If you guys had missed the point any more, you might as well have set it on the moon.
It’s vital to establish that Mr. Tomashoff was doing the best he had with the limits given. But I’m a great believer in “situational judo.” That means using the weaknesses of your circumstances as advantages by rewriting needs and expectations. Mr. Tomashoff did that in spades. The establishing shots of Seaview Terrace told me what a large house it was. Just like the establishing shots of the Enterprise tell me of its enormity.
Within Collinwood (and the Old House), Mr. Tomashoff crafted an amazing trick. Combining warm colors, a two-story (but no more) entry hall, a level, stained glass, an ominpresent (and vital) clock, and a judicious mix of wood and stone, we were given a Collinwood that had no need to semiotically brag of its grandeur. Were there larger areas elsewhere in the house? I’m certain. But they were impractical for the everyday needs of the family. What we got was a set that was indubitably impressive while still having a sense of home. It had a livable humanity, and this made it a sympathetic character. Over the show, Collinwood is as stalwartly defended as is the family for which it is named. Of course you;d fight for that home. Yes, it can be forbidding and mysterious, but only in certain light, until it’s understood.
Just like the people who inhabit it.
In the film, however, it is a looming, impersonal, vast, and cold void. It’s trying way too hard.
Don’t try hard. Make me feel like a Collins by giving me a haunted palace whose chambers are both grand and curiously cozy.