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WHAT WONDERFUL times they must have been: the vintage years of Paris, Berlin and Hollywood. Following World War I and even into the Great Depression of the 1930s, these three cities were filled with art, literature, music and talented people.
Here, I describe three neat books on this.
The subtitle of Charles Riley’s book is exclamatory. “Everyone was there in the 1920s: Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Sergei Diaghilev, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Gerald and Sara Murphy, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.”
Paris had tradition, heritage and post-World War I prices. It offered enthusiastic acceptance of American Jazz—and, not incidentally—Americans of color. The Revue Négre arrived in Paris in 1925 with Josephine Baker, whose exotic dancing became quite the rage at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.
According to Riley, the decor of songwriter Cole Porter’s Paris apartment was “as far ahead of its time as Cole’s lyrics.”
Cabaret, the concept of intimate revues of sophisticated musical theater, reached its height in vintage Berlin. And the book Cabaret Berlin is a bibliophile’s—and music lover’s—celebration of this.
Archival recordings of music of the era are contained on four CDs, part of Cabaret Berlin. Performers include Marlene Dietrich, who began with gigs as an orchestra violinist, later to achieve fame through Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. For an idea of this 1930 flick, see http://goo.gl/JH5Hxe.
Songwriters of Berlin cabaret may not be familiar; Rudolf Nelson, Friedrich Hollaender, Ralph Benatzky, Warner R. Heymann and Mischa Spoiliansky. However, they were talented musicians with classical training—Benatzky studied with Antonin Dvorák; Hollaender, with opera composer Engelbert Humperdinck.
The times in Berlin were complex for these Cabaret songwriters because many had Jewish heritage. As the 1930s evolved, the fortunate ones managed to elude the Nazis—and several of them ended up in Hollywood.
“In the twenties and thirties,” note the authors of Screen Deco, “Hollywood was at its most extravagant.” The term “Art Deco” was coined in response to the Musée des Artes Décoratifs at the 1925 Paris Exposition. Its evolution into Streamline Moderne celebrated a fusion of Twentieth Century art and technology.
Movie set designers quickly caught on to the trends. Especially in the Great Depression, moviegoers wanted to dream, and they were given plenty of opportunity.
Busby Berkeley brought cinematographic wizardry to musicals. He was renowned for employing a single camera, but one that moved artfully through elaborate sets. In fact, his famed overhead shots made Art Deco images of the choreography itself.
Paris, Berlin, Hollywood. There was magic to be had in each of these. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013