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ART DECO: AN INTRODUCTION.


THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD PICTURES DURING THE MID-TO-LATE TWENTIES AND THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRETY OF THE THIRTIES was glamourous, full of escapism in sharp designs and black-marble floors. Think of Jean Harlow in her white satin gown or Ginger Rogers shedding white feathers, dancing across a reflective black floor, and floating down Fred Astaire's tuxedoed arm. These pictures and the photographs of film star's homes of that period started the Art Deco movement, or what was called at the time, Art Moderne. Dozens of photographs were published in magazines, showcasing mansions and homes of the most glamorous of stars. One of which was the mansion of the head of the art department at MGM, Cedric Gibbons, and his actress wife, Dolores Del Rio. He was at the top of the list of art directors that imposed their own taste upon each film he worked on. 

GIBBONS HAD ATTENDED THE NINETEEN TWENTY-FIFTH PARIS EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE DES ART DECORATIFS ET INDUSTRIELS MODERNE, an event that sparked new set designs in Hollywood. He took home lots of inspiration and room designs he had seen, then incorporated them into his pictures. These sets weren't attempting a futuristic look but more of an idealized image of the home of the rich at the time, which was a great escape when the Great Depression hit. During the dark and at times low-spirited moments, millions found happiness and sense of escape during these economic pressures, being entertained as if for a moment nothing bad was happening outside these theaters and their dreams of a better time were renewed for a better tomorrow. These sets did just that.


THE GRAND HOTEL LOBBY.

THE ART DECO STYLE CAN BE TRACED BACK TO BEFORE THE FIRST WORLD WAR. WHEN DEUTSCHE WERKBUND CREATED A CHARTER TO FUTURE THE INTERRELTAIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INDUSTRY AND ARTISTS OF ALL KINDS. Come to the war, the movement was over. Postwar, however, the French revived it. America was a latecomer in this new design. This movement resurrection and Gibbon bringing it over to America coincided with the late nineteen twenties, talkies were in their infancies, and pictures were in black-and-white, and as well all know, is two shades. Enter: THE SILVER SCREEN. Costume designers, lighting experts, and of course, art directors worked together to create different hues within black and white.

THE START IN MY OPINION: WHEN IN NINETEEN THIRTY-THREE, MR. GIBBONS DRAPED THE PLATINUM-HAIRED JEAN HARLOW in glorious white satin in a space filled with wide expanses of white in the picture DINNER TO EIGHT. Audiences loved it. Another example is with the Mona Lisa of film herself, Greta Garbo. Dressed in sheaths of white as the fabric moved with her curves as she wandered, cat-like, through strange and unusual sets of her first few films. The set designs were sometimes large, grand in scale, lights and dark contrast, stark and crisp.

AN ICONIC WORK OF THIS ERA WAS THE CHIAROSCURO DESIGNS FOR THE NINETEEN THIRTY-TWO PICTURE GRAND HOTEL. WITH A BEAUTIFUL, sophisticated wonderland-esque lobby and intricate revolving-door entrance. Gibbon took pride in his film sets as well as adapting these sets and talent of his for film star residences, such as romantic lead Ramon Navarro, who keeping with the theme of his art deco home, insisted that his dinner guests wear white, black and silver to match with the color pallet.


THE GRAND HOTEL ENTRANCE/LOBBY.

THOUGH GIBBON WAS A LARGE PART OF THIS MOVEMENT OF SORTS. ONE CANNOT MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT MENTIONING THE OTHERS THAT created these sets and fantasies as well. Van Nest Polglase, the head of RKO's art department, also had a strong talent for art deco sets. As well as the masterful art deco work of the silver screen, Mr. Richard Day and William Cameron Menzies. 

IN THE LATE NINETEEN THIRTIES, A NEW MEDIUM AND TECHQINUE WAS INTRODUCED TO AUDIENCES. TECHNICOLOR. AS IT GAINED POPULARITY, the silver screen, for the most part, was over. With the coming of color, the sophisticated thirties were over. Art Deco like all fashions and designs would soon come to end. It would be revived in patches, in period films and scattered memories of the era. 

AMERICANS SURVIVED THE DEPRESSION, AT THE THOUGHTS OF DREAMS AND FUTURES, BUT AS WELL AS THEIR OVERALL BELIEF IN THEIR GOVERNMENT, but one thing cannot be written off in the history books. Pictures, set designs, and the stars that graced them created a not only a viewing pleasure but escapism that can be added to the list. And when one watches a film from that era, you can still be carried to a beautiful, crisp, and sophisticated world shimmering in white and feather, dazzling us with black marble and sharp lines, and clouds of silver. 


R.