Architecture for the Screen

A Critical Study of Set Design in Hollywood’s Golden Age


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About the Book

Most of us have never found ourselves trapped inside a burning skyscraper or entombed within an Egyptian pyramid—but we probably have some idea of what it would be like because of their portrayal on screen. The movies have overcome the constraints of time and place by bringing us images of diverse and otherwise unfamiliar settings.
This work covers the many applications of art and architecture appearing in the movies produced in Hollywood from the very beginning until the fifties. The first chapters deal with the process of design, construction, physical characteristics and immediate functions of a wide variety of architectural sets. The remaining chapters examine the great number of styles shown in those movies and take the reader up to the final triumph of modernist architecture in the aftermath of the Second World War.

About the Author(s)

Juan Antonio Ramírez, professor of art history at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain, is the author of several books on architectural history, modern art, and visual culture.
The late John F. Moffitt authored, edited or translated numerous books about art history. He was an art history professor at New Mexico State University.

Bibliographic Details

Juan Antonio Ramírez
Translated and with a Foreword by John F. Moffitt
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 255
Bibliographic Info: 108 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012 [2004]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6930-7
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9191-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword: Architecture in the Movies and Elsewhere in History ( John F. Moffitt)      1
Preface to the English Edition: Ten Lessons About Architecture in the Movies      5
Preface to the First Edition (1986)      11

1. General Introduction
Film Architecture and the Crisis of Modernism      13
From Shooting on Location to Filming in the Studios      16
The Architecture of Movie Theaters and Architecture in the Movies      21
Film Architecture vs. Ordinary Architecture      23

2. Set Design
The First Advances in Art Direction      26
Architect vs. Director: Joseph Urban      27
The “Illustrators”: Anton Grot and William Cameron Menzies      32
Stage Designers and Painters: Wilfred Buckland and Ben Carré      36
Supervising Architects: Hans Dreier, Van Nest Polglase, and Cedric Gibbons      38
Other Art Directors      42
The Design Process      43
Background Research      45
Additional Aspects of Design      49
The Imaginary Client and the Viewing Customer: Scale Models      49
Working Conditions and the Studio Styles      51

3. Set Construction
Techniques, Materials, and Architectural Machinery      54
Tricks of the Trade      59
The Impact of Sound      67

4. From Furniture to Artificial Landscapes
Set Dressing and the Accessories Departments      69
Wardrobes vs. Sets      72
The Construction of Landscapes      72
Artificial Oceans and Creative Ship-Building      76
Heavenly Effects      79

5. Architecture and Desire: The Character of Film Constructions
Six Distinctive Qualities      81
Color and Lighting      90
A Driving Functionalism      93

6. The Death and Resurrection of Sets
Methods of Destruction: Fire, Burial, Abandonment      97
The Ruins of Hollywood      101
Architectural Metempsychosis: The Permanent Sets      102
Some Statistics      109

7. Architectural Styles from Antiquity
Mesopotamia and Palestine      114
Egypt      122
Greco-Roman Architecture      127

8. From Medieval to Renaissance Architectural Styles
Castles and Palaces      132
The Gothic of Terror      135
Church, Cloister, Street…      141
Examples from the Renaissance      143

9. The Provinces of Exoticism
From Legendary Arabia to Contemporary Legend: Moorish Spain      146
An Archetypal Spain      151
India      153
Pan-Slavic Architecture and/or the Jungle      156
The Far East      157
Pre-Columbian America      160

10. From Colonial Baroque to Contemporary Eclecticism
The “Spanish Style” and the Bourgeois Baroque      162
Did a Cinematic Neo-Classicism Exist?      170
“American” Architecture, Frontier to Urban      171
Other (Old World) Countries      176

11. Modern Architecture Conquers Hollywood
The First Moderns: Urban, Rambova, et al.      179
Art Deco and Zigzag Geometrization      186
The Ocean Liner and “Streamline Moderne”      190
The International Style      194
Rationalist-Surrealist Architecture in Musicals      201

12. Epilogue
Some Omnipresent Elements: Staircases, Bathrooms, Bedrooms      206
Partial Conclusions      213

Notes      217
Bibliography      227
Index      241

Book Reviews & Awards

“fascinating…highly recommended”—Choice; “fascinating review of Hollywood set design”—C&RL News.