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Screen Deco: A Celebration of High Style in Hollywood Hardcover – 1985
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From Publishers Weekly
Mandelbaum and Myers take the reader on an entertaining tour of the Hollywood of the 1920s through the '40s, examining the glamour of movie sets, where Art Deco flourished. Opulence in the celluloid fantasy world, they note, was popular with audiences because films created a refuge from the drudgery of their lives and the poverty of the Depression. Cedric Gibbons was the first Hollywood designer "to fully exploit the new Modernist decor" in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and the trend continued through Busby Berkeley's extravaganzas, reaching its height in the Fred AstaireGinger Rogers collaborations of the '30s. The role of the art director is examined briefly, and mention is made of the influence of the Hollywood-style on society (many stars and directors, acting out public yearnings, lived in mansions modelled after their film dwellings). Mandelbaum is co-author of Flesh and Fantasy; Myers is a motion picture publicist. Photos. Nostalgia Book Club and Movie/Entertainment Book Club selections. December 9
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
"Screen Deco" is primarily a photobook. It is a collection of beautifully shot photos taken by the movie studios. Most of the images are of movie sets and scenes from films shot during the Great Depression. The authors are essentially photo compilers. There is some analysis but none of it is especially deep. If someone wants to learn something more substantial about the era, I would recommend Donald Albrecht's "Designing Dreams." Albrecht's book does a great job in explaining Hollywood's role in spreading Modernism around the World. In the final analysis, "Screen Deco" is a pleasant book and for those of us who love the Art Deco period. Who can resist yet another photo book?
One point that I found to be extremely interesting was the idea that art deco was used to show the ultimate of luxury, within design and decoration. Despite not being rich themselves, audiences devoured films that showed off luxuries that could rarely be afforded, or even imagined, by anyone. In turn, art deco helped to make film an even more visual art, in that, sets could now be designed that exceeded the past expectations or imaginations of the common audiences. Technically, a reckless showing of luxury should alienate audiences, but in this case, it attracted them.
I hate to criticize the art deco movement, because I am very impressed by the contributions it gave us within film and design; however, there are some shortcomings. In fairness, I have not seen the entirety of many of the films that are discussed and referenced within this book - so my judgements are being made based upon film clips and pictures. With that in mind, I feel that the art deco movement did little to change cinematography within films. Because of the sweeping opulence that deco gave to an entire set, it has seemed to have caused most cinematographers to capture all of the opulence in one set frame, instead of dividing it into sets of close-up shots, that could better capture the details within the decoration and acting.
In that way, art deco lent itself to a `wide-angle' sort of existence. The design favored an awe-inspiring backdrop, that sang of beautiful layouts, interesting patterns, but few touches upon in-depth details. In turn, the costume design also lent itself to a `wide-angle' variety, in that the costumes, while matching and elegant looking, were usually very loud, as men wore perfect suits accompanied by coattails, with the women adorning white furs, suspended fabrics, or dresses that covered over two yards in circumference; the kinds of costumes that could only be appreciated when captured whole, or wide-angle.
In turn, much of the acting became `wide-angle' too, with actors and actresses raising their voices, while using a multitude of hand gestures, and putting little effort into expression through their facial looks. Thus, every action, every design, and every detail, was centered towards one wide camera perspective, as if it was being done on a Broadway stage.
With that in mind, my only criticism of art deco would be that it did not divorce itself from the idea of itself being a stage performance.
In conclusion, I wish that there were more films that had featured art deco, but with more exteriors, more emphasis on detail, and a more realistic sense of the world, in regards to acting. However, none of this is to say that art deco didn't forever change film in a great way. As mentioned above, art deco called forth an age, in which, we finally started to create worlds, within our films, that could not be imagined by the common audience. Every fantasy and special effects driven film of today has art deco to thank, for being the first type of design element, within a film, that satiated the tastes of audiences by showing something unimaginable and keeping them hungry for more.