Designing reality

Designing reality

Ripping Open the Set: French Film Design, 1930–1939

by Ben McCann

Peter Lang, US$68.95 pb, 250 pp, 9783039103119

Ben McCann’s Ripping Open the Set begins with four epigraphs, observations of various kinds. They come from American figures – Frank Capra, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Nathanael West – and they express a range of notions, none of them particularly positive, about the place of design in cinema. McCann – senior lecturer in French at the University of Adelaide – then starts his introduction with another American voice: producer David O. Selznick sends a memo to his design colleagues during pre-production for Gone with the Wind (1939). This time, however, the observation has a different tone. Selznick canvasses, with some concern, the widespread belief that French films have ‘a quality of reality in photography, sets, and costumes’ that American movies lack. American films seem constructed – French sets looked lived-in.

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Published in February 2014 no. 358
Philippa Hawker

Philippa Hawker

Philippa Hawker is a writer on film and the arts for The Age and Fairfax Media. She is a former editor of the journal Cinema Papers.

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