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Román Gubern

Art déco in Film URL:

In opposition to the floral, curvilinear and recharged modernism of the Art Nouveau from the belle époque previous to the First World War, the art decó rose to become a more stylized modernity, linked to jazz, to the short-skirted flappers, to the first race cars, to the soviet construction, and in general, to the dynamism inherent to the decade of the 1920's. Its official birthplace was Paris, within the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (April-October 1925), where the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens -who would later become the first President of the Union des Artistes Modernes- built the Tourism Pavilion. Like a modern apostle of art déco, Mallet-Stevens became interested in cinema and some of his collaborations with the Frech director Marcel L´Herbier became exemplar and resulted in films like L'inhumaine (1924) and Le vertige (1926), movies that wreaked astonishment in their time. Just to point out the sophisticated scenery of L'inhumaine, we need to remember that Mallet-Stevens was in charge of the all the external scenarios, but it was the cubist painter Fernand Léger who made the laboratories, Pierre Chéreau was in charge of the furniture while Lalique, Puigforcat and Jean Luce provided the decorative objects, Raymond Templier the jewels, and Paul Poiret the wardrobe. An unusual combination of talents aimed at building scenic environments based on the division of labors in agreement with what the painter Charles Dufresne meant when he said "the art of 1900 belonged to the realm of fantasy, the one of 1925, to the age of reason".

The preferred materials of this new aesthetic were steel, glass, ceramics, noble woods, and ivory, while its canon was a geometric elegance based on simplicity. Its environments were somewhat related to futurism, cubism, to the music of Igor Stravinsky and the stylized figure of Josephine Baker, who enjoyed a great success in the scenarios of the time. Hollywood studios, always vigilant to European fashions, made their technicians study these innovative films arriving from Europe with attention, even though they were rarely premiered in public movie theaters. This way, art déco arrived to studios of the capital of the movie business and to its sceneries with representations of luxury hotels, apartments of millionaires, or to the choral performances of its musicals, while in Chicago and New York elegant skyscrapers where being built with steel and glass, as requested by Mies van der Rohe. The irruption of art déco into the film industry goes in parallel with its maturity as sophisticated art in the "Happy Twenties", which will come to an end with the Great Depression. But before this, its influence would reach the fascist Italy and their movies called "of white phones", whose actions normally took place in luxurious bourgeois environments full of amorous entanglements, and even some Spanish comedies filmed in the years prior to the Civil War. In summary, although art déco was originated in Paris, at this point it had become an international style and a universal canon of elegant aestethic.

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