3 Times Hollywood did Art Deco Right


Who doesn't love a good movie? The chance to get transported into another world with people whose lives are extraordinary, frightening, magical, inspirational, saddening or enlightening... it's an art form that has thoroughly dominated for more than a century, drawing in young and old, rich and poor alike to get swept away into the imagination of screen writers, directors and our favorite – set decorators.

We'll admit, sometimes the movies don't get it quite right, placing objects from the wrong era or style, but sometimes they get it really right too, creating such a perfect replica of an era that nothing stands in the way of us believing we are right there with the characters. We're taking a look at three times Hollywood did Art Deco right and the fantastic movies that resulted.

Bugsy Malone (1976)

There's nothing about this Alan Parker mid-seventies smash hit that we don't love – the daring casting of children in adult roles, the stark realities of gangster life so neatly juxtaposed with their innocence; the costumes that so perfectly capture the styles of the 1920s; and, of course, the incredible Art Deco styling of the film sets. They created a perfect atmosphere for these talented youngsters to bring a bygone era to life – albeit with custard pies and ping-pong ball guns.

Our favorite set in the movie? Fat Sam's Grand Slam, the infamous nightclub owned by notorious gang boss, Fat Sam and featuring Jodie Foster as singer Tallulah, his dame and the club's lead act.

The Great Gatsby (1974/2013)

This F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about the slow disillusionment of a hopeful young man amid the grandeur and opulence of 1920s society life has been adapted for the stage and screen many times throughout the world and every time, set and stage decorators have relied on classic Art Deco styling to bring the decadence and melancholy of the era alive for movie and theater-goers.

Five separate full-length movie adaptations have captured the era and the story, starting in 1926 and all of them have done the story and the stylings of the time justice. We're not going to lie, it's impossible to choose just one here, so we're going to call it even between Jack Clayton and Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 version, and Baz Luhrmann's 2013 masterpiece.

What? We have to choose a favorite set? Ok, then, Daisy's sitting room in the 2013 version, with the billowing curtains, plush white furnishings and strategically placed accent pieces that made us drool just a tiny bit. And we're not even going to get started talking about that carpet...

Swing Time (1936)

Is it cheating to pick a movie that's not only set in the era, but was filmed during Art Deco's heyday? We think not! Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire famously glided, tripped, skipped and swayed their way together across the silver screen in no less than ten musical comedies between 1933 and 1949.

1936's Swing Time is widely touted by dance enthusiasts as including some of the pair's best dancing performances in their careers together and features the Oscar-winning song, "The Way You Look Tonight," still a beloved classic. There's nothing quite like the sheer authenticity of a movie masterpiece that was filmed during the Art Deco era to appreciate the true style and grace behind it.

Everything about this film sweeps us away into an Art Deco paradise – but our favorite (and we're sure it's the favorite of many, many others, too) is the Silver Sandal with its impeccable attention to detail, gorgeous symmetrical step-repeat patterns showing up simply everywhere, its dazzling use of metallic fabrics to create shimmer and a sense of opulence in this black-and-white film, the lighting that's just perfectly on point... we could go on and on!

We can't recommend it often enough – if you love Art Deco even half as much as we do and you want to start dipping your toe into it, make a weekend of it. Line up a few good movies that bring Art Deco to life and immerse yourself in the world of gangsters, disaffected youth and swinging dance partners. We're convinced you'll find the inspiration you're looking for.

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  • Matthew Pillet
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