The Glamour of Deco by matthew c. hoffman


Screen Deco the series is more than chrome and glass brick, Lucite and Bakelite. It’s more than architecture. It’s about an attitude of sophistication and a high style that went beyond the elements of set design. The decor helped glamourize the stars, and so did the great portrait photographers of the era who captured their immortal quality. These photos often featured modernistic sets and props. Studios were creating a dream with stars like a Greta Garbo who embodied it. The image was carefully managed by the studio, and this added to the mystique of the stars. Theirs was a radiant light that poured out from the darkness of the movie palace.

Today, “they don’t make stars like that anymore” because we don’t. We don’t believe in them and they are not part of our dreams. There’s a cultural cynicism that brings everyone down and destroys the mystique. That can be said of society at large; we bring down what we can’t live up to. Gone are the fan magazines as they once were– replaced now by tabloids with reality TV stars on the cover. There are no Garbos, Crawfords or Lombards because there is no longer that alluring mystery that is part of stardom.

We’ve lowered our standards in society–  everything from how we dress to what we eat to the things we watch. It’s a culture of excess for the wrong things. That carries over into pop culture itself. Perhaps there’s an emptiness at the core of our society and an obsessive need to fixate on the most insignificant of celebrities, Bachelors, Survivors, and unwed teenage moms. There is an excess of attention and press coverage paid to these vapid personalties. It’s an American sideshow. What’s the attraction to “actress” Jennifer Aniston’s marriage or Angelina Jolie’s kid count or Kim Kardashian (whatever it is she is known for) or a thousand others no one will remember when history turns its page? You can access Hollywood, but there is nothing there now. No dreams. Only memories. The current celebrity culture is another world from the one I bring to audiences each spring.

In recent months, I’ve been viewing a lot of films to prepare for the next series at the Park Ridge Public Library, and I’ve seen several with Greta Garbo. What I’ve come to appreciate about her, in particular, was her star power. Like her other contemporaries, she had allure. Her persona was removed, distant. It didn’t exist in the common realm– nor did it operate at the base level of today. She really was like some untouchable sphinx. There was an elusive mystique about her, and the filmmakers and photographers captured that on film.

There is no one even remotely like that today, and that absence has made me appreciate vintage glamour all the more. Today’s Hollywood will attempt faux-glamour with recreations of the past– usually around Oscar time– but there are few actors with stature who can carry that off and look like a star on the red carpet. The Deco actors of the golden age like a Fred Astaire or an Adolphe Menjou or a Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. all had style, and the women had glamour. Fans went to bed in the 1920s and 1930s wanting to be like them because of their incomparable beauty. Movie stars were larger than life then because they represented our hopes and dreams.


Joan Crawford


Carole Lombard


Greta Garbo


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