An Introduction From Your Program Host

I thought I’d have Mr. Roy Fox provide the musical prologue for the Screen Deco film series…

I’ve always been an enthusiast of all things Art Deco and Streamline Moderne– from the fine and decorative arts to architecture. A film series like this was inevitable.

We are fortunate to have great examples of this aesthetic in Chicago as well as right across the street (from the library) at the Pickwick Theatre. I’ve always wanted to do a series that combines Deco with film, and the inspiration for that– aside from the films themselves, of course– is the book Screen Deco by Howard Mandelbaum and Eric Myers. Both of whom have generously contributed to this Park Ridge Public Library program.

My role as your master of ceremonies is sort of like Al Jolson’s in our film Wonder Bar. I’m here to fill seats and keep audiences entertained– and you never know what anecdote I might tell. (Though I won’t be performing any musical numbers.) Conversely, I also want to show people that there is something better on the other side of the hill. There are grander visions for our community and society at large. In this sense, I feel like John Cabal (Raymond Massey) in Things To ComeHis future was one rooted in science and technology– not the politics that weigh us down.

Raymond Massey as “Wings Over the World” in Things To Come

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Art styles like Streamline Moderne– a later stage of Art Deco– certainly suggest progress and efficiency. But we won’t get philosophical about it as in the H.G. Wells book. I just want to show patrons that there are better films on the other side of the hill if they’d only look for them. It’s about changing a mindset with new ideas about style rooted in the past. “A celebration of High Style.”

Screen Deco the series isn’t the first time our library audiences have seen Art Deco on film. Last spring we saw Charles D. Hall’s streamlined factory in Chaplin’s Modern Times, and the year before that in our Forbidden Cinema series we screened one of the most Deco of all Hollywood films, Trouble in Paradise. Our 2012 series continues that tradition by offering some of the best examples of Art Deco in classic cinema, and I’m very excited about the structure of the program.

I wanted to open the festivities with an Art Deco-themed costume party aboard a dirigible (moored to the top of the Pickwick Theatre), but it wasn’t in the budget. So instead, we’ll open our series at the Park Ridge Public Library on the Ides of March with Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra. I played this film when I operated the LaSalle Bank Theatre in Chicago, and I really believe this will be a big Opening Night. The sets are amazing– as are the costumes. As far as I’m concerned, Claudette Colbert is our Queen, not Elizabeth (Taylor). Try sitting through that ’63 remake.

Actually, seven of the twelve films in the series I had played at the LaSalle Bank, so I feel very strongly about their content to program them yet again for this series. Rarely-seen gems like Penthouse always got good crowds at the bank, so this time, I am able to do it for a suburban audience. Other rare titles in the series include Our Dancing Daughters, Female, and Madam Satan.

I love zeppelins almost as much as I love Art Deco, so Madam Satan became a programming certainty. Yes, you have to sit through about 50 minutes of bedroom farce before you get airborne, but it’s worth it, and Kay Johnson is terrific as the titular character. Never heard of Kay Johnson? Well, that’s why you should come to the series. But it’s the Ballet Mecanique in the film that makes it an essential. In this strange musical number, man and machine merge, which is certainly one of the underlying themes of the program.

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Those themes inspire our short subjects, such as home movies from the 1939 World’s Fair. The theme of that great cultural event was a better tomorrow through technology– how man can benefit from the machine. The 1939 World’s Fair was also the culmination of the Streamline Moderne movement in America. So when you come into the first floor meeting room at 6:30 on March 29th, you’ll understand why I’m playing it.

Though I can’t provide a demonstration of Elektro, the fair’s Art Deco robot, I will be unveiling the greatest Art Deco rocketship of them all. On May 24th, we’ll see the first chapter of 1936’s Flash Gordon with Buster Crabbe… Another short subject on our program is The Women of Deco. This video is a collection of rare images of some of our favorite Art Deco actresses. Since our series has a more feminine slant, I chose to compile a video on female glamour rather than one on the Deco Actor. As in Forbidden Cinema– a sister program to Screen Deco– there are many dominating women in the series. Think Colbert, and Helen Gahagan in She, and Ruth Chatterton in Female (well, for the first 50 minutes anyway). Though our emphasis is on architecture and set design and the visionaries who designed such dreams, we couldn’t do a series like this without discussing glamour.

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When you think of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne in Hollywood film, you think of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They are, in my opinion, the heart of Screen Deco, and that’s why I chose to end the series with them on May 31st. My only regret is not showing more of their RKO films, but I want to present as diverse a selection as possible.

Finally, though not listed officially in our brochure, I hope to play additional video clips from some rare films that offer outstanding examples of set design. Many of which are posted here in this blog. I’d love to share these same clips with our Screen Deco audience. Sadly, there are so many Art Deco films that have been lost. And those that survive are not available commercially on dvd. But thanks to friends like Jackie Jones (a series regular), many great clips have been uploaded to youtube. This might not be the ideal way of seeing these movies for the first time, but right now, it’s the only way. Fortunately, many key titles in this series are available through the Warner Archive Collection.

Kay Francis and Al Jolson in Wonder Bar

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There are no giveaways this year as in years past– there isn’t exactly a box collection of “Screen Deco”– so instead we’ll be offering patrons the opportunity to purchase a Screen Deco t-shirt. All proceeds go towards future film programming at the Park Ridge Public Library. It’s important that we keep the Classic Film Series going in order to make patrons aware of all the treasures that are buried. When people are weaned on junk food– anything in your Redbox– then that’s all they know. But those are not the standards we go by in our programs. The films in this series will get you excited about cinema. Few films today can do that.

The only movie in recent years that got me excited about film itself was Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. It made me excited about our movie past as well as the future (in 3-D storytelling). Its strength lay in the fact that its director knows our cinema heritage, and he expresses that through the medium he loves. Hugo is a great film because its director wasn’t weaned on video games and music videos and television and the things that seem to inspire– for whatever reasons– the younger generation of pop culture filmmakers. Understanding film history is knowledge– as well as a powerful and transformative tool.

So please come this spring and tell your friends about the Park Ridge series. Sign our Grand Hotel-inspired guest book since you are the stars that keep the Classic Film Series going. These films were once our dreams of style and sophistication. They remain retrofuturistic visions of a better tomorrow. And they continue to provoke thought and stimulate imagination.

When Hollywood had stars… Grand Hotel will be shown on April 5th.

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One Response to “An Introduction From Your Program Host”

  1. Susan Levand Says:

    Thank you for your knowledgeable and thoughtful curation of the series. I cannot wait for it to start!

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