Film: Design & Architecture

Star of Midnight (1935)

This still really doesn’t hint at the wonderful sets that I’m about to show you.
This still really doesn’t hint at the wonderful sets that I’m about to show you.

The bachelor apartment is the real star of this film, not William Powell or Ginger Rogers. It’s interesting that stripes and plaids (refer to my past posts here and here) were generously used to decorate masculine quarters in many films from this era. Today’s male seems to prefer a more cavelike atmosphere populated with massive furniture upholstered exclusively in dark leather.

Film: Design & Architecture

The Age of Innocence (part two)

In Edith Wharton’s day, those who had extensive collections of silver flatware patterns, a catalog such as this one, would have been extremely helpful in planning a dinner party.
In Edith Wharton’s day, those who had extensive collections of silver flatware patterns, a catalog such as this one, would have been extremely helpful in planning a dinner party.

This film is a visual feast of details with the dining experience playing a major role. From the table settings to the multiple courses, Martin Scorsese has meticulously recreated the lavish displays of Old New York society in the late Victorian era. When comparing Edith Wharton’s text with the film’s visuals, I was unable to identify the porcelain, silver, and crystal. Perhaps someone out there, who has happened to stumble onto this blog, will be able to identify some of the pieces and leave a comment with clues to their identity. Otherwise just enjoy the visuals.

Film: Design & Architecture

One Hour with You (1932)

Instead of a movie poster to introduce the film, this will have to do. None were large enough.
Instead of a movie poster to introduce the film, this will have to do. None were large enough.

This film is a very silly musical comedy starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. For me it’s the sets and costumes that are the prime attraction. I’ve seen this film several times and yet, when I rented it from Netflix to capture the following stills I had already forgotten the plot. And the same thing happened again when it came time to put this blog post together. So I hope you don’t mind if I don’t provide captions. It’s really not worth it. Just enjoy the eye candy.

Film: Design & Architecture

Baby Face (1933)

“She had it and made it pay”. This salacious tag line caused some controversy in those days.
“She had it and made it pay”. This salacious tag line caused some controversy in those days.

Forbidden Hollywood at its best. This Pre-Code film follows Barbara Stanwyck as she climbs her way to the top one floor at a time. From her father’s speakeasy to the final scene’s lavish penthouse apartment, the interiors mirrored her own transformation. If you want to find out more about Baby Face go here, but I’m only interested in showing you the intriguing and telling interior spaces.

Film: Design & Architecture

Trouble in Paradise

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This gem of a film, a 1932 pre-Code romantic comedy, was selected in 1991 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Just the set décor alone makes this film a must see. The director, Ernst Lubitsch, felt this was one of his best, and the critics agreed. Because the film contains adult themes and sexual innuendo, after the Code went into effective enforcement, it was not approved for reissue and was not seen again until 1968. The film stars Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall, and the wonderful Art Deco sets were designed by the head of Paramount’s art department, Hans Dreier. Hans would later win an Academy Award for Best Art Direction for Sunset Boulevard (1950). Click on the link below to view the wonderful sets.

Film: Design & Architecture

Vatel (2000)

Louis XIV portrayed by Julian Sands
Louis XIV portrayed by Julian Sands

Impressive sets for the Sun King as only Hollywood could imagine it. Repeat viewing of the film Vatel is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve referred to it once before on my blog, but this time I would like to focus on the elaborate sets designed, as imagined by Hollywood, to entertain Louis XIV and win his favor during an historical event in 1671. I feel confident that nothing as elaborate as these sets in the film were ever created for those three days of revelry, but they are still fun to look at. The historical genius behind the festivities was François Vatel, who was the Master of Festivities and Pleasures in Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé’s household. You see, it was the Prince who desperately needed to win over the sun king, hoping for a commission as a general and an end to his financial struggles. Vatel was already renowned for having served Louis XIV’s superintendent Nicolas Fouquet in the splendid inauguration fête at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte ten years earlier, but that occasion lead to the unfortunate Fouquet’s downfall.

Film: Design & Architecture

Fred, Ginger, and Some Bad Ballet

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Shall We Dance from 1937 has some very stylized sets. Several scenes feature custom designed hotel rooms for each sex, which is common in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. I’m pretty sure that in reality, this never happened. Here’s a list of common design trends used for contemporary film interiors during the 1930s and 40s: padded and/or studded walls, curving walls, lots of built-ins, wall murals, bare-bulb sconces, heavy usage of fluorescent wall and overhead light fixtures. The following photos will show you what I’m referring to.

Film: Design & Architecture

Flying Down to Rio

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This film is a 1933 RKO musical noted for the first screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. For some reason I remembered seeing a lot more cool sets while watching it on Turner Classic Movies, but when I rented the DVD from Netflix, the above photo was the only interesting still showing 1930’s interior design. This set does look staged, but some of the details are interesting. Built-in window seating was big in those days, and this one takes that theme to another level. Then there’s the circular rug with its fluffy edging details and the satin upholstered chaise. I think we all know how popular satin upholstery was in films those days — especially in feminine bedrooms.