Art and Artifice
Art Deco and Film
"...although modernistic set designs and architecture had featured in avante-garde European films throughout the 1920s, it was not until towards the end of the decade that Art Deco began to enter the stylistic vocabulary of American film-makers. The Art Deco idiom in film, however, tended to carry negative associations, as in the use of Modernist or modernistic surroundings as a sign for the sinister (this was an inheritance from European cinema, from such films as Marcel L'Herbier's L'Inhumaine and Fritz Lang's Metropolis). Robert Mallet-Stevens was one of the keenest European Modernists to promote visual modernity in the cinema, but in his 1928 book Le Decor moderne au cinema, he lamented that the style was used 'exclusively for places of debaucher: night-clubs or boudoirs of the demi-monde, which would allow one to suppose that the admirable efforts and researches of painters, decorators, and architects are good to surround drunkards or those of ill-repute."
In American cinema, Art Deco kept its disturbing edge. It was used to display the decadence of independent women (Greta Garbo in The Single Standard, Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight) or exotic bathrooms (Dynamite, 1929) and bedrooms (The Easiest Way, 1931), while Paul Fejos used stylistic sunbursts and a giant skyscraper mural to create a zig-zag Art Deco interior to the night-club in his 1929 film Broadway. In addition to suggesting hedonistic luxury, the style was used in industrial or big-business settings to symbolize financial power, the male world of work, and often the perceived unsuitability of women in such an environment (Big Business Girl, 1931 and Female, 1933).
Nevertheless, the use of the style as material expression of luxury , even though a decadent one, would have helped establish Art Deco in the hearts and minds of the vast movie-going American public. Women's magazines regularly provided patterns enabling readers to copy the fashionable dress of their favorite film stars, suggesting that cinema was an important taste-maker, providing inspirational role models for its audience. But it was the environment in which these movies were shown which, as much as the films themselves, enhanced the exotic allure of the luxury and decadence of Art Deco. It was inside these buildings that architects of the period could indulge themselves and their public in an orgy of decorative excess. In many theatres, the audience were required to suspend their sense of reality and belief for the building as well as for the film."
From the Book Art Deco Style, by Bevis Hillier and Stephen Escriptt, pages 72-73. Published by Phaidon Press, 1997.
Friday, June 29, 2007
ART DECO ON FRIDAY
[Below] A 1925 poster by F. C. Ferrick.
Cover to Vogue Magazine by George Plank 1912
Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice - AMAZON Published by Watson-Guptill, 256 pages
Updated July 2020