Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Capra Stairs

Forbidden (1932)

Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

None of the early 1930s Frank Capra films has credited any person as set designer, and strange enough, they all have credits for costume designer, and makeup artists, but not for the creators of these elaborate sets. This imaginative architect must be Stephen Goosson, Capra's designer at Columbia and of course, an unlucky fellow from the historic point of view.

10 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Ehsan Khoshbakht ,

    Those are some remarkable shots of stairs: parallel or intersecting planes creates some strange dynamics, especially from the point of view of staging, and they are always interesting to look at. Sirk and Welles (Magnificent Ambersons) pop in mind, but also Max Ophuls, who makes extravagant use of them in many of his films (such as Reckless Moment). Fritz Lang used stairs very often, but these were not so much interior staircases for the characters to disappear behind than bare steps which lead outside and these were often points of danger (Woman in the Window, Clash by Night and, especially, M, where Lorre is thrown down the stairs).

    Since you mention Capra, let me add Miracle Woman, where Stanwyck slowly descends the stairs to get onstage with the lions in the cage (I think you know the scene I'm talking about), and this staging ties in with the anticipation Capra creates.

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  3. You're right, and I must say you're a man (or woman) of details. That's what we need in re-reading the cinema of the past. I also did something on Sirk stairs, since you mentioned its significance.
    http://notesoncinematograph.blogspot.com/2010/02/stairways-sirk-style.html

    Ehsan

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  4. Ehsan K.,

    I looked at all your other posts on stairs, including the Sirk shots. You could also have mentioned the staircase in There's Always Tomorrow, which becomes an important from a staging point of view. There is an interesting post by Glenn Kenny where compares that film with Nick Ray's Bigger than Life (but you may be aware of it).

    http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2010/03/the-dark-at-the-top-and-at-the-bottom-of-the-stairs-or-theres-always-bigger-than-life.html

    I've not seen Final Accord, yet, but I dearly want to (I think its Jonathan Rosenbaum's favorite Sirk film), so this brings me to ask: how did you get hold of a copy? Even if the website is a little nifty, I don't mind.

    Also, I'm not a woman. At least, not yet.

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  5. Also, there is nothing like an ill-chosen or ill-designed staircase that can make a set look patently fake: you look at some of the stairs in the MGM productions and you know that the stairs don't lead anywhere. Its very distracting: some of the perils of using staircases.

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  6. About Jonathan's love for that Sirk film you're right. And also I know that it is a hard to find title, which is a pity, because Final Accord is a great film.

    I have a PAL DVD of it, recorded from a digital French channel called CineCinemaClassic (like TCM of France), but unfortunately it is in Iran at my parents, and at the moment I'm in London and I can't share it with you, at lease not till the end of this year.

    It is funny that pictures of Final Accord in Jonathan's post on Sirk ("Sirk's Work"), come from that very same DVD!

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  7. Well, Ehsan, hopefully it'll be out on DVD by then; or at least, a TVrip posted on the net by some kindly soul.

    I've read JR's post (he seems slightly disenchanted with Sirk and generally appears to prefer Todd Haynes' and Fassbinder's versions to Sirk's original): possibly he took whatever images of the movie he could find floating on the web, which I guess, is not that many.

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  8. :) no, I meant that I gave them to J.R.

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  9. Oh, well, in that case...
    I had no idea that you knew Jonathan Rosenbaum personally.

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  10. Let add that I've spent the last couple of years trawling through fairly irregular sites (or worse) looking for obscure movies thanks to J.R. or rather the list of his favorite films: its a terrific list. (Probably the most obscure one on that list I've managed to watch is La Nuit du Carrefour.) At this rate, I'll manage to see Tih Minh yet: in a few hundred years.

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