Category Archives: Film

Reference Library Update – Twentieth Century-Fox

December, 1935 Fortune.

Fortune Magazine, December, 1935.

Driving For Deco’s last reference article update looks into the newly created Hollywood studio, Twentieth Century-Fox. The studio was a merger of the Fox Film Corporation of 1915 which was struggling through the 1930’s and highly successful independent production company, 20th Century Pictures. Darryl F. Zanuck (1902 – 1979), production head, made the studio one of the most successful in the American film industry. To read the article click on the cover above.

Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, ‘Tiquen Guys)

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Antique stores, Barnegat through Smithville, NJ

With the beautifully temperate February weather (69 degrees, to be exact) Anthony and I spent the day exploring antiques stores, Barnegat through Smithville, NJ.  We’re hitting the road again and getting back to our roots – Driving for deco!

Bay Avenue Antiques and Antiques, Barnegat, NJ

Bay Avenue Antiques, Barnegat, NJ. Antiques is just visible. It is the white house on the right edge of the picture.

Heading south toward Barnegat, NJ, our first stop was Bay Avenue Antiques. A mix of old and new items of good variety greeted us. Prices were fair and the owner was willing to bargain with her patrons. We did contemplate purchasing a vintage Fiesta comport but decided against it. If you’re in the area, it is well worth the stop.

Across the street within viewing and walking distance was another shop. I don’t remember the name although we both believe it called Antiques. Full of curiosities, it seemed to specialize in “smalls”. The nicest thing Anthony saw was a 1948 RCA Victor TV, possibly designed by John Vossos. While the store didn’t have what we generally collect, for those of you on the hunt, it might be a place to check out.

We lunched at Doyle’s Pour House right next door to Bay Ave Antiques. Part pool hall, part restaurant, we devoured the delicious signature Pour House hamburger and enjoyed it with the beer of our choice. We will definitely go back when in the area.

Our next stop was completely unexpected and the gem of the day. Unshredded Nostalgia was not on our plan but was a real find. Just south of Bay Avenue Antiques, it is jam packed full of military, household, photographic memorabilia both still and movie related and ephemera. Greeted by piles of film canisters, the proprietor and Anthony found they had a mutual acquaintance in the film world. Although packed with narrow aisles, the store is well organized. Collectors of postcards will love the back room; magazines in another room, household in yet another. Venture upstairs and a world of film, movie and music occupies the entire space. Vintage posters, sheet music, books about stage and screen as well as star related novelties abound.

Anthony was tempted to buy several 1930 Fortune magazines but at $40 each, they were a bit out of reach, He did find set of vintage movie stars pictures – part a collection he already has – at very reasonable prices. Originals from 1934, they were sold at newsstands as an inexpensive way for people to own an 8×10 of their favorite stars. Though not easy to find, they are not an expensive collectible and are always exciting to see. As usual, I bargained the price down.

Heading further south, we stopped at the Tuckerton Emporium. Mostly candles, jewelry and modern fireplaces, you won’t get bogged down at Cedar Bog Antiques. This small corner did have antiques of the household variety.

Days of Olde Antiques, Smithville , NJ

Days Of Olde Antiques, Smithville, NJ (Photo from their website)

Our final stop of the day was Days of Olde Antiques in Smithville, NJ. A large variety of goods of varying quality and prices await within. Though there were many items of interest we didn’t make any buys. A pair of very stylish deco horse statues called to me but I resisted. I received some bad news while shopping that a vintage panther statue I inherited from my father broke while being packed. Undaunted and working through my tears, I found a replacement – charged to the estate of course!

 

It was good to get back on the road again and better to locate a gem of a store previously unknown to us. If the weather holds, we’ll be doing some more Driving for deco!

 

Hope we inspired you to get out and explore.

Chris & Anthony (the Freakin’ ‘Tiquen Guys) 

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Swing Time – The Pinnacle of a Series

The opening title for Swing Time (1936)

Swing Time Main Title

 

On August 27, 1936, swarms of people lined up outside the Radio City Music Hall. They stood patiently to see the latest film of the greatest dance team the movies had created, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Swing Time, would be their sixth pairing in less than three years.

 

Herald-Tribune newspaper ad for Swing Time

Opening day advertisement for Swing Time. The New York Herald-Tribune 8/27/36

 

Swing Time is musical film perfection. The terrific score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields has left us with two lasting standards A Fine Romance and  The Way You Look Tonight, the 1936 Academy Award winner for best song. The supporting cast included past Astaire-Rogers’ series regulars Eric Blore, as a fussy dance studio owner and Helen Broderick as Ginger Roger’s wise cracking friend. Musical stage veteran Victor Moore, new to the series, played Fred Astaire’s bumbling magician side kick buddy. Also in the cast, George Metaxa as the band leader who rivals for Ginger Rogers affection. Betty Furness, as Fred Astaire’s fiancée and Landers Stevens the father of the jilted fiancée and off-screen the father of the film’s director, George Stevens.

 

 

Then there is the dancing.  Pick Yourself Up,  is the hot duet.  This was a  feature of their films starting with The Gay Divorcee. Where as the previous hot duets had several changes of tempo, Pick Yourself Up, has only one. A very driving, exciting tempo. The dance culminates in the pair lifting each other back and forth over the dance floor’s low railing.

 

 

Waltz in Swing Time is the dance that is up next and like Pick Yourself Up, it too is in one tempo. Arlene Croce wrote in The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book (1972) about Waltz in Swing Time:  “. . . the Waltz has no special story to tell. It is pure white: pure vision and sound. Nevertheless, it is one of those grand, impassioned moonlit dances, and it just flies – it’s the brio of romance. Two minutes  and 45 seconds of unspeakable delight.” As Fred Astaire says just before this number – “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!” And so has the audience.

 

 

Fred Astaire’s big solo dance number is Bojangles of Harlem, a tribute to the famous dancer, Bill Robinson (1878-1949). Hermes Pan, Astaire’s dance assistant since Flying Down to Rio in 1933 created this Academy Award nominated number. In a career spanning 77 years it is his only appearance in black face. Not to condone the use of black face, at least this number attempts to rise above the stereotypical caricatures of the time. The number tries to be a respectful homage of one artist to another. But it makes it difficult for present day audiences to appreciate.  Astaire gives an interpretation of not Bill Robinson but rather of John W. Bubbles (real name John William Sublett). Astaire considered Sublett the greatest tap dancer of the time. Sublett even gave tap lesson to Astaire in the 1920’s. For Bojangles of Harlem Astaire dresses and dances in the style of Sublett’s character of Sportin’ Life from Porgy and BessBojangles of Harlem is a number in three sections. First the chorus girls dance out from behind sliding doors. Another set of doors open to reveal a pair of gigantic legs, the chorus girls part the legs and we see Astaire sitting on top of a miniature “Harlem”. Astaire and the girls dance. The first section ends with the girls dancing off into the wings.

 

 

The second section starts with the last set of doors opening up to a movie screen. Onto the screen three giant silhouettes of Astaire fade into view. Astaire, in front of the screen dances in and out of synch with the silhouettes. With Bojangles of Harlem, Astaire-Pan employed trick photography for the first time in a dance routine. The shadow idea came to Pan one day on the sound stage while waiting for Astaire to arrive. Three lights at the top of stage cast three shadows on the wall. When Astaire entered the stage Pan showed him the shadows and said it would be fun to add that to the number. Astaire wondered how they could accomplish the effect. Vernon  L. Walker, RKO special effects specialist explained “All you do is get Astaire in front of a screen and photograph his shadows first. Then we take those shadows and make a split screen, and then we photograph Astaire doing the same routine in front of them.”  According to the American Film Institute Catalog entry for Swing Time: “Astaire first danced in front of a blank white screen onto which a strong Sun Arc lamp projected a single shadow. Then he performed the “foreground” dance under normal lighting and in front of another blank screen. This dance was combined optically with the shadow dance, which had been tripled optically in the lab. Simultaneity was achieved by having Astaire watch a projected version of the shadow dance while he performed the foreground dance.” Knowing the Bojangles of Harlem special effects process would require extra time, the number was shot after regular shooting wrapped.  It took three long days to film.

 

 

After the silhouettes leave the screen, Astaire begins the final section of Bojangles of Harlem. For this section Astaire taps and claps his hands in two different rhythms that are off rhythm with the music. Before the audience has a chance to grasp the complexity of all of it, Astaire wraps it up and exits the stage. It is an amazing routine.

 

 

The ultimate number in the film also became the ultimate number of the entire Astaire-Rogers series.  Never Gonna Dance is the most complex dance routine of all their films. The song itself cannot exist outside the context of the film, but it sets the mood for the dance. To quote again from Croce: “In the film it is the end of the affair, in life it is the end of Astaire and Rogers’ Golden Age. On two stage levels linked by glistening staircases there now takes place the supreme dramatic event of the series, a duet moving through a succession of darkening emotions and abrupt rhythmic changes in which we see unfold in dance the story of the film.” Because of the complexity of the dance, Never Gonna Dance became the last sequence shot for Swing Time, in the regular shooting schedule. In previous dances Astaire and Rogers had danced over furniture or up and down a few steps. With this dance they danced up two long flights of stairs on opposite sides of the set. Filming went on all day and then into the early hours of the next morning. Half way through the filming, Rogers’ feet began to bleed. All wanted to call it quits, but Rogers insisted that they finish that night so they could rest the next day. The 47th take was the charm.

 

 

At the helm of Swing Time was George Stevens. At the time Stevens was the top director on the RKO lot. The year before he successfully directed Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams. Up to this time Mark Sandrich directed most of the Astaire-Rogers films. Pandro S. Berman, RKO production head, originally intended that Sandrich and Stevens would alternately direct these films. Berman’s plan did not come to fruition and Swing Time became the only one directed by Stevens. Stevens’ began his career as a cinematography and later a director at the Hal Roach Studio. He learned his craft well and this training served him in a career that would last over forty years and include such classics as Gunga Din (1939), Woman of the Year (1942), A Place in the Sun (1951) and Giant (1956).

 

 

The floor of the remodeled Silver Sandal.

The stylized city on the floor in front of the orchestra stand in the remodeled Silver Sandal.

 

Van Nest Polglase head of the art department at RKO and his assistant Carroll Clark designed the sets of all the Astaire-Rogers film up to 1938’s Carefree. And all the films through 1937 had one huge set piece. Affectionately known as the “big white set”, this always served as the background for the big dance number. “Big white set” examples are seaside hotel of The Gay Divorcee, the fashion salon in Roberta and the Venice set of Top Hat. The big set pieces in Swing Time are loose adaptations of some actual night clubs. The Silver Sandal in the film derives its name from the Manhattan prohibition era club, The Silver Slipper. A remodeling of the club, midway through the film gives it an even more sleek, moderne appearance.

 

The first Silver Sandal set.

The Silver Sandal set as it appears in the earlier part of Swing Time.

 

On screen credit for the second Silver Sandal set and the Bojangles of Harlem costumes went to John Harkrider. That credit is only somewhat true. Harkrider only “designed” the part of the set seen in the Bojangles of Harlem number. A number photographed on a different stage from the Silver Sandal set. Credit for the Silver Sandal sets goes to Polglase and Carroll.

 

 

Club Raymond is an amalgam of two actual night clubs The Clover Club and The Rainbow Room. The Clover Club on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood did offer its patrons illegal gambling, like Club Raymond. But the obvious inspiration was The Rainbow Room, the very swank restaurant on the 65th floor of the RCA Building. Even the view from Club Raymond was the view from the Rainbow Room.

 

 

Aside from the art direction the sets featured some of the best designs in moderne style furnishings. Fred Astaire’s character’s dressing room among all the other Art Deco items has a terrific chrome tube chair. The chair made by the Lloyd Loom Manufacturing Company was a creation of the industrial designer KEM Weber.

 

Silver Sandal dressing room.

A dressing room in the Silver Sandal. Betty Furness sitting in a KEM Weber designed chair.

 

The desk lamp, prominently featured in this scene is a product of the Markel Corporation of Buffalo, New York. This lamp today sells between $500.00 – $1,000.00.

 

Markel Desk Lamp

Sitting on the desk is a rare Markel Corporation lamp.

 

Other wonderful sets and furnishings include, George Metaxa’s suite. A very sleek bachelor apartment.

 

 

And the dance studio, the obvious place for the romance to start in an Astaire-Rogers film.

 

 

Swing Time marked the artistic high of the RKO musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  But the financial high had already been hit with Top Hat the year before. Swing Time would be the last film to use the formula that had started with The Gay Divorcee (1934) and repeated in Top Hat. Roberta (1935) and Follow the Fleet  (1936) shared a different plot formula. Starting with 1937’s Shall We Dance the writers looked for inspiration outside of the insular world of the previous Astaire-Rogers films. While all the RKO Astaire-Rogers films are good at worst and near sublime at best, Swing Time marks the end of the Golden Age for the series.

 

 

The final clinch.

Swing Time – The final clinch.

 

 

End Credit

Swing Time End Credit

 

Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)

 

If you liked this post, you might enjoy these earlier posts:

Art Deco meets Italian Futurism

Modernistic Background for Zaniness

 

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Why can’t they get it right!

Genius, 2016

 

Movies have the ability to transport us anywhere past, present or future. And with today’s CGI technology the past can be recreated with astonishing accuracy. So it boggles my mind that they can’t get things right.  Let me state up front that I will go to see Genius, the film about story editor Max Perkins and his working relation with author Thomas Wolfe, when it gets released next month. The cast is great, Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Guy Pearce and Laura Linney (my favorite actress in movies today). I love films that take place in the 1930’s, but nothing takes me out of the moment faster when the details are wrong. And the trailer for Genius had enough inaccuracies to get me upset enough to write this post.

 

 

Train station

I don’t know where the scene above is suppose to take place, from the trailer I assume it is somewhere in the United States.  And the steam engine makes it old timey, but why couldn’t the filmmakers use an American locomotive instead of a British one. I will update this post if by some chance this scene takes place during a trip to England.

 

 

Genius, lower 5th Avenue

Judging by the placement of the CGI’d Empire State Building in the shot above this is supposed to be lower 5th Avenue. What is wrong with this image, oh let me count the ways . . . first, contemporary London street lights in front of buildings that are nowhere near Manhattan.  And speaking  of street lights, only two are on the street. Don’t walk down this 5th avenue after dark, unless you bring a flashlight. Compare the above to a photo of the actual 5th Avenue, in 1948.

5th Ave & 14th St. 1948

Ok, even if you are shooting the film in the UK, do some research to at least know that 5th Avenue was a two-way street in the 1930’s. It didn’t convert to one way until January 14, 1966. Just take the two minutes to Google “5th Avenue, 1930’s” it will provide answers.

 

 

Here is the shot that annoyed me the most –

Genius

Max Perkins and Thomas Wolfe gazing at the 1930’s Manhattan skyline?

There is not much in this shot and yet what is there is all wrong!!!!! For comparison here is a photo of the actual 1930’s mid-town Manhattan skyline –

Notice that none of the buildings are illuminated with flood lights.

Notice that none of the buildings are illuminated with flood lights.

 

Since Driving For Deco’s last blog post was celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Empire State Building let’ s take a look there first and work our way to the right.

Genius version of the Empire State Building

Above is the fiction, below the real –

Empire State Building, night time, 1930's

In the 1930’s only the spire of the Empire State Building was illuminated at night. The floodlighting of the building from the 72nd floor went into effect with the opening of the New York World’s Fair in April of 1964. NBC always had a television antenna atop the building right from its opening in 1931, but they were a lot shorter, no more than 20 – 30 feet.

 The 200 foot tall antenna seen in Genius was not added to the top of the building until 1950-1951.

 

 

New York Life Insurance Building

Because of the location of this, between the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Life Tower, I have to assume that the above gray blob is supposed to be the New York Life Insurance Building. In reality it is a very elegant building designed by Cass Gilbert that opened in 1929. None of that style and elegance is evident in its CGI incarnation.

The actual New York Life Insurance Building.

The actual New York Life Insurance Building.

 

 

Moving on, the Metropolitan Life Tower, located at 24th Street and Madison Avenue is seen in all its illuminated glory.

 

Metropolitan Life Tower?

And the truth –

Met Life Tower night

Notice, that the light at the very top of the building and the clock are the only exterior lighting on the Met Life Building. It wasn’t until 1970’s that the roof of the building was lit up.

 

And the best for last – The Chrysler Building. Now here is one of the jewels, if not the jewel of the Manhattan skyline and one of the most famous buildings in the world. Genius does not get it right, but it is not the only film to depict it wrong, off the top of my head it wasn’t correct in Benjamin Button or Revolutionary Road either.

WRONG!

I guess it seems inconceivable that a building as magnificent as this would be left in the dark. The setup for lighting plan for all the triangular windows was actually in place from the opening of the Chrysler Building in 1930 but was not implemented until 1981. Until then it was just a dark silhouette, as seen in the photos below, taken over a 30 year period.

 

 

All this wrong in a two and half minute trailer. I can’t wait to see the film and see what else might be there that is anachronistic. There just might be a follow up post.

 

Anthony (the period picky half of the Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)

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