Friday, February 17, 2012

Am Set / On the Set (an exhibition)

Am Set / On the Set: Paris – Babelsberg – Hollywood, 1910–1939. Deutsche Kinemathek, December 15, 2011 to April 29, 2012. - Bonus: On the Set: Berlin – Babelsberg, Today. Viewed at the Filmhaus in Berlin on 17 February, 2012.

The official exhibition introduction: "Two collections form the starting point of this project: the extraordinarily rich Photothèque of the Cinémathèque française, comprised of more than 500,000 photographs, and the collection of Gabriel Depierre (1929-2004), a leading film connoisseur and collector. After 1951, Depierre was an assistant and friend to the still photographer Roger Corbeau, whose work is now preserved in the archives of the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine. In addition to their outstanding quality, these images were also chosen because of the information they contain about the amazing metamorphosis that swept filmmaking in three decades and across three countries, namely in France, Germany and the USA."

"Only thirty years went by between wooden hand-cranked cameras and powerful electric Mitchells, packed in soundproof casings. However, for the history of film, this interval can be compared to a jump from the Stone Age to the dawn of the modern day. Lighting also rapidly developed. The differences between the trompe-l’oeil paintings of the early days of cinema and the gargantuan Hollywood sets of the 1920s and 1930s is staggering. The first talkies, in 1927, ushered in another radical change both for films and the movie theater experience. Everything was affected, from filmmaking techniques to aesthetics, and particularly economics."

"The photographs in this exhibition are invaluable documentation of the hierarchy on a film set, showing how film crews work with one another and how directors interact with their teams. Some of the images have been created by great masters, such as Roger Forster, Raymond Voinquel, Walter Limot, Roger Corbeau and Sam Lévin in France, Horst Von Harbou, Rudolf Brix and Curt Oertel in Germany, and George Hurrell, Ruth Harriet Louise, Clarence Sinclair Bull and Laszlo Willinger in the USA. Others, however, will undoubtedly remain anonymous. Professional portrait and still photographers appeared on sets at the beginning of film history, but became essential in the 1910s when “film publishers” were also responsible for printing posters and catalogues, and the star system was starting to flourish, particularly in the specialized press."

"These photos take us right to the core of those image factories, to a day and age when cameras inspired genuine awe and were considered to be “intelligent machines,” as the director and theoretician Jean Epstein once expressed it."

A brilliant exhibition about film production in film studios from the early days to the present (Polanski, Tarantino, and Szabó in the bonus section). Although the film-makers and stars are famous (including Asta Nielsen, Jean Renoir, Abel Gance, Fritz Lang, Erich von Stroheim, Cecil B. DeMille, and Ernst Lubitsch), most of the many excellent photographs I had never seen before. The photographs are on display as originals, not as enlargements. Rewarding from the viewpoints of the art of still photography, the history of the film studios, and the history of the cinema.

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