Archive for February, 2012

A Screen Deco Reflection by annette bochenek

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2012 by mchoffman

It’s daring. It’s detailed. It’s Deco.

Have you ever wondered what makes the films of the 30s and 40s so visually appealing? Sure, there’s the perfectly slicked and groomed style, the pale and glossy curls, the exquisite costuming, the gauzy glow of actors, the enveloping story that reels us in, the glorious grain of the film, and so on. But it’s something more than leads and lines. What’s behind them?

Well, imagine away Colbert as a striking Egyptian queen. Erase a seductive Garbo from her hotel stay. Delete a graceful dance between a swaying Astaire and willowy Rogers. And, now, look at the view.

This, movie lovers, is pageantry. This is the simple yet dramatic reduction, distortion, exaggeration, expressionism, futurism, vorticism, and overall intensity that boasts streamlining and symmetry. This is the glamour and geometry that gives shape and structure to some of the most lasting films, and grants some of our favored characters a backdrop. This is architectural and cinematic history. This is Art Deco.

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But where did it come from?

While Art Deco initiated in Paris in the 20s, it spread throughout the world and impacted just about every visual art. Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that the unique style of Art Deco was prompted by, “all the nervous energy stored up and expended in the War.” Beautiful Deco skyscrapers found themselves on various skylines, as did banks, courthouses, inns, theaters, etc., all filled with the jubilant optimism of the 20s.  All of these edifices were supremely eclectic, and bursting with a high style and energy that set them apart from the typical structures.

And it wasn’t long before it began to slip into Hollywood and onto our favorite big screen as Screen Deco. What’s more, the typical movie house was most likely an Art Deco structure. The motion picture industry was quite literally enveloped in Deco—inside and out.

Screen Deco, to me, symbolizes the incredible detail and ornateness that was poured into every 30s and 40s film. Films were more than just action and actors. Films were art. Shining sets, striking buildings, glamorous elegance, and functional modernity. Take a look at any screen still, and look behind the leads. Of course, the scenery and props will never have lines, but they certainly have presence and grandeur.

As you make your way through the film series, I know that the beauty of Deco will enamor you. It’s larger than life. Nearly everything is handmade, sculpted, painted, and fashioned to perfection. I guarantee you that no two props are alike. The spectacular scale of it all is not something that can be copied, and certainly not mimicked to perfection today. So much of what is striking, glorious Deco would probably just wind up being mere CGI today.

But, rest-assured, Deco has not abandoned us completely. It still stands in our society, and appears more often than we think. Look at the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State, the Chicago Board of Trade, the Adler Planetarium, and our own movie palace, the Pickwick Theater. You can even spot it standing in the middle of Daley Plaza, on the façade of a power station. Just be receptive to it, and chances are, you’ll find it.

While I’m a Chicago native, I’m in Indianapolis for school, and Art Deco is almost everywhere I look. The local Chase Bank I frequent is housed in an Art Deco structure, as is the Indiana State Library, various apartment buildings, and even cemetery mausoleums. It’s not necessarily common in terms of today’s newest buildings, but it still exists because of its prominent heyday.

Deco, to me, is not a shell of what once was. Rather, it’s a pat on the back that brings some of my favorite elements of the classic film industry to life. It’s literally planted in the middle of our modern world. I am grateful that I can still witness its elegance firsthand, and notice its matchless magnificence on and off the screen.

Although Deco has waned in popularity since the 20s, these many remaining buildings speak with the joy and maturity of a bygone era as they nestle with our modern structures. They, like the classic films we continue to know and love, have withstood the test of time. They stand for our enjoyment, and add the glamour of the past into our present.

And similar to the likes of Colbert, Garbo, Astaire, and Rogers, we too may add our grace to the scene; exchange lines as we lead our lives, have our share of drama, grief, laugher, and romance, and be enveloped in the superb background of Art Deco.

guest contributor Annette Bochenek
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Screen Deco: Our Official Video

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2012 by mchoffman

Capturing the Eternal by matthew c. hoffman

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2012 by mchoffman

“Gods and Goddesses walked the earth in Hollywood sixty years ago, in the mythology of the movies. They walked right through the Great Depression and the worst war the world has ever seen. Much of what we think of as glamour of that time comes to us by way of the studio portrait photographers. They used light to create illusion. The stars were real people transformed into myths by the studios. Names were changed, pasts rewritten and always sweetened, faces and bodies made stunning by costumers and retouchers. The movie itself was only a passing story, while the great studio portraits were romanticized ideals caught frozen in time: lasting objects of perfection to hold in your hands.” ~ Tom Zimmerman, Light and Illusion (1998)

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(Joan Crawford by George Hurrell)

“I photographed better than I looked, so it was easy for me… I let myself go before the camera. I mean, you can’t photograph a dead cat. You have to offer something.” ~ Joan Crawford to Hollywood photography historian John Kobal

In its golden age, the Hollywood movie machine excelled at creating and marketing stars. Actors and actresses became icons of fashion, glamour, and etiquette. Their faces graced the covers of numerous fan magazines. They were representations of who we wanted to be. They were, simply, our dreams.

Tightly controlled by the studio, the image of the star was separated from the realm we live in. How actors were staged and positioned in photos tapped into something deeper within us. Behind the surface gloss was a suggestion of the immortal. Stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Carole Lombard were always unreachable– unobtainable through diffused lighting and striking poses. Their aura suggested some other plane. They had a mystique that was unassailable by common elements. What they inspired was transcendence in us.

The allure resonates in our age because there are no stars anymore– not as they once were anyway; our society no longer believes in that ethereal glow. Today’s all-too-human personalities have been lowered to reality by the modern photographer: the paparazzi. We bring people down instead of elevating them. Thus, there is nothing deeper in the digital images we see every day. The image becomes superficial and commonplace.

No one captured the mystique better than the great portrait and still photographers who operated within the studio system. All the studios– from the majors like MGM down to the minors like Columbia– used portrait photographers as part of their publicity department. The department had a Stills Photos unit which was divided into two groups: the Stills section (which took production photos, for instance) and the Portrait studio (such as the glamour portraits that often introduced new stars).

Throughout the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, their lenses captured extraordinary moments and faces. They recorded the essence of what we imagine Hollywood to be. The general public may not know the stories of the men behind those cameras, but their work is timeless. It is through these collections of photos that the studio photographer will be remembered.

The following are some of the key figures in the business who have left us a visual record of Tinseltown star-making. In their darkrooms stars were born. George Hurrell was certainly the best-known of these photographers. For those wanting to learn more, there are several books about him such as Hurrell’s Hollywood Portraits by Mark A. Vieira. Photographers like him turned Hollywood portraiture into an art form.

Ernest A. Bachrach (1899-1973)

Gloria Swanson
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Gwili Andre
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Clarence Sinclair Bull (1896-1979) Head of the MGM stills department. One of his greatest subjects, Greta Garbo, posed for 4,000 photos.

Greta Garbo
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Joan Marsh
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Otto Dyar (1892-1988)

Madeleine Carroll
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Sylvia Sidney
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Elmer Fryer (1898-1944)

Alice White
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Joan Blondell
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George Hurrell (1904-1992) Best known for his photography of MGM’s biggest stars.

John Barrymore
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Fay Wray
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Ray Jones (1900-1975) Head of Universal’s still photography. See Light and Illusion by Tom Zimmerman for more.

Claudette Colbert
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Sigrid Gurie
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Ruth Harriet Louise (1903-1940) Chief MGM portrait photographer (1925-1930) until George Hurrell replaced her.

Joan Crawford
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Eugene Robert Richee (1896-1972) Still photographer at Paramount (1925-1935).

Carole Lombard
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Claudette Colbert
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