In 1987, artist Lebbeus Woods took a graphite pencil and created his vision of
a chair. The chair is shown inside a large chamber with a high ceiling,
mounted on a wall in front of a suspended sphere, and with a visibly jointed
grid forming the floor and wall. Hence the self-descriptive title
"Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber".
Universal Studios released the artful film 12 Monkeys in December of
1995. Bruce Willis plays the distraught time traveler, Joe. In the beginning of
the movie, Joe is brought into the interrogation room and told to sit in a
chair which is attached to a vertical rail on the wall. As Joe sits in the
chair, it slides up the rail, suspending Joe helplessly several yards above the
floor. A sphere supported by a metal armature is suspended directly in front of
Joe, probing for weaknesses as the inquisitors interrogate him. Joe is unlucky
enough to return to the chair three more times throughout the movie.
Lebbeus Wood's Chair
Lebbeus' chair was originally published in Germany in 1987 in a catalog
entitled Lebbeus Woods/Centricity. A colorized version of the chair was
later published in the US in 1992 in a collection entitled Lebbeus Woods/The
On January 18, 1996, Lebbeus Woods went to the
theater to see 12 Monkeys. Apparently he was not amused; a week later he
notified Universal Studios that he considered the interrogation room to be an
unauthorized reproduction of his work.
The director, Terry Gilliam, admitted that he reviewed a copy of the book that
contained the drawing "Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber", and that he
discussed it with both the producer, Charles Roven, and the production
designer, Jeffrey Beecroft.
Film Imitates Art
"They believe themselves crators, or innovators, when in
actuality they are nothing more nor less than the executors of a physical and
social order designed by those institutions presently holding political
authority and power." - Lebbeus Woods, Anarchitecture - Architecture as a
The court found that a comparison of "Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber" and
the footage of the interrogation room in 12 Monkeys demonstrated that "the
movie had copied Woods' drawing in striking detail." The court cited the fact
that the wall and floor were composed of a visibly jointed grid, the walls had
the same worn texture, and a horizontal shelf and apron near the top of the
vertical rail. The chairs themselves consist of four rectangular planes,
arm-rests with diagonal supports, etching on the chair back. The court also
noted the both spheres were suspended in front of the chair from a metal
framework with similar surface designs.
This case is similar in ways to the Batman case, which involved a sculpture
which was actually filmed as part of the Gotham City ambience, and was also
reproduced in the scale models of Gotham City used for special effects.
The judge ruled for Woods, a result that would require Universal
Studios pull all copies of the movie from world-wide circulation after
only a month's run. Universal would be able to subsequently release film
after the scenes in containing the offending chair had been
excised to the cutting room floor, a fate that had befallen the Devil's
Advocate. Showing that he had a sense of humor after all, Lebbeus Woods
allowed Universal to continue distribution of the movie, chair and all, for a
high six-figure cash settlement.