Stage Sets, Christmas and Cozy Fires

December 20, 2015

Old movies provide an extraordinary view into periods of history, social norms, and the interior design of the times. Watching old movies exposes lifestyles and context like a text book. Whether capturing modest environments or posh extravagances, they depict with accuracy – if not exaggeration – exciting opportunities to transport the viewer into another world.

From my perspective, I drink in all of this creativity as I scan the sets, peek around the actors and study the minutia of the many varied interiors. I marvel at the sensitivity and attention to detail and decorative arts required to create effective set designs.

When movies are in color they illustrate such interesting decisions for artistic contrast and combinations; but in black and white, the imagination must fill in the blanks. The emphasis on the chiaroscuro adds a very  different focus. Scenes in color are often exaggerated realism stretching the art. While black and white scenes are rich with tonal values, shading and bathed with the art and drama of lighting.

Perfect for this season the 1942 classic film Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds shown here by the fireside, allows the viewer to feel the cozy setting,  the warmth and take in the details of the room all without benefit of color. It’s fun to wonder what is the color of the walls, fabrics, accessories and other accents could be. The possibilities are endless – but probably not really  – if one is to design with accuracy for the time period.  movie Holiday Inn Bing Crosby Marjorie Reynolds   Try it with this still shot from the movie…imagine the colors…it’s fun!

Tis the season to light fireplaces and enjoy the flickering light, golden white colors sparked with jewel-toned color bursts, the visual and physical warmth that come in many forms. Step into the scene and feel the temperature, textures…see the colors and combinations.

I recently said – as sexist as it might sound – that I would never have a gas-log fireplace as long as there was a physically capable, self-respecting man around to fetch the wood and haul it home and stack it up, go outside in the frigid air to lug in the logs and of course clean it out from all the wonderful timber turned ashes.  Spoiled? Yes. I love a REAL fire in a fireplace – you bet…the crackle and smoky aroma of distinctly different species, real fire dancing and real wood “combusting” – natural elements that create a concert of sensory experiences and evoke so many memories. Is it working? Can you imagine it?

Fantasy mirroring reality, with the creativity of set design replicating accurate portrayals of life, provides another tool for historical markers and study outside of a museum setting. Perhaps you will find yourself scanning the sets and peering around the actors to see what you can discover surrounding and beyond the action.

And as this movie has so emblazoned in our holiday  traditions…I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Thank you Bing.

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