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Ripping Open the Set

French Film Design, 1930–1939


Ben McCann

French film design throughout the 1930s was not just descriptive, but also expressive: sets were not merely part of the background, but were vital components of a film’s overall atmosphere, impact and critical afterlife. This was a period when sets were ‘ripped open’, as painted backdrops were replaced by three-dimensional constructions to ensure greater proximity to reality. Accomplished set designers such as Alexandre Trauner, Jacques Krauss and Eugène Lourié crafted a series of designs both realist and expressionistic that brought out the underlying themes of a film’s narrative and helped create an exportable vision of ‘Frenchness’ that influenced other European and American film design practices.
This book details the elaborate paraphrasing tendencies of French film design in the 1930s. The author explores the crucial role of the set designer in the film’s evolutionary process and charts how the rapid development of studio practices enabled designers to become progressively more ambitious. The book examines key films such as Quatorze juillet (1932), Un Carnet de bal (1937), La Grande illusion (1937) and Le Jour se lève (1939) to demonstrate how set design works at establishing time and place, generating audience familiarity and recognition and underpinning each film’s visual style.


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Career Overview The following summary is a selection of films designed by Jacques Krauss, Eugène Lourié, Lazare Meerson, Alexandre Trauner, and Georges Wakhévitch. The films are listed in reverse chronological order. The list is by no means definitive, of fering instead a list of the most renowned and celebrated ef forts by the individual designer. Much of this information has been taken from the Internet Movie Database ( Jacques Krauss (1900–1957) Élisa (1957) Le Fils de Caroline chérie (1955) Caroline chérie (1950) Et moi j’te dis qu’elle t’a fait de l’oeil (1950) Les Aventures de Casanova (1946) Le Fugitif (1946) Sylvie et le fantôme (1945) La Fiancée des ténèbres (1945) Le Voyageur sans bagages (1944) Douce (1943) Monsieur La Souris (1942) Le Mariage de chif fon (1942) La Charrette fantôme (1939) La Fin du jour (1939) Accord final (1938) Entrée des artistes (1938) 218 Appendix Pépé le Moko (1937) La Belle équipe (1936) La Bandera (1935) Monsieur Sans-Gêne (1935) Eugène Lourié (1903–1991) Bronco Billy (1980) The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969) Custer of the West (1967) Bikini Paradise (1965) Battle of the Bulge (1965) The Strangler (1964) Shock Corridor (1963) Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962) So This Is Paris (1954) Limelight (1952) The River (1951) A Woman’s Vengeance (1948) Song of Scheherazade (1947) The Long Night (1947) The Strange Af fair of Uncle Harry (1945) Fausse alerte (1945) The House of Fear (1945)...

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