What We're Watching: Architecture and Design in Film
Week 3: Recommendations from Clive Aslet
Each week, the ICAA is soliciting members of our community for their list of recommended at-home viewing, with special interest given to films that appeal to lovers of architecture and design.
This week we are pleased to welcome Clive Aslet, noted writer, commentator, historian, novelist, editor, and lecturer, who served for many years as the editor of Country Life.
The Third Man
Carol Reed, 1949, starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard
Carol Reed’s film of Graham Greene's story, starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard, and set in immediate post-war Vienna: could there be a more formidable combination of elements? Of course the good news is that it worked: The Third Man was received with acclaim upon its release, and has never lost its incredible appeal, thanks to its wonderful narrative, photography, and acting. It also presents one of the great cinematic portraits of a city. Vienna is shot beautifully, from the dilapidated grand apartments to the famous climax that takes place in its legendary sewer system.
David Lean, 1965, starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, and Rod Steiger
This film would fascinate any enthusiast of Russian architecture, design, costuming, and history. To add to the ambition of David Lean’s epic, Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel—banned in the Soviet Union—forced production to take place outside of Russia. Entire sections of Moscow were built as a set outside of Madrid. Elsewhere in Spain, predicted snow failed to appear, and marble dust was instead employed to cover the ground. The memorable ice-covered Varykino was achieved with frozen beeswax. The film is a testament to the incredible inventiveness of David Lean and his collaborators.
Bob Fosse, 1972, starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey
Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse, recruits another European city, early 1930s Berlin, as a central character in this story based on Christopher Isherwood’s account of his time in Berlin, and the characters that populated it, in 1939’s Goodbye Berlin. As with Dr. Zhivago, producers could not easily film in 1970s Berlin (whose own decline during this time mirrored the tension of the early 30s), and locations throughout West Germany were used as substitutions.
Death in Venice
Luchino Visconti, 1971, starring Dirk Bogarde and Björn Andrésen
Set in Venice during a cholera epidemic, Visconti’s film certainly offers parallels to the present, but more significantly it is a beautifully shot meditation set amid the grand hotels of the past (in this case the Grand Hotel des Bains on the east shore of the Lido), and an elegiac remembrance of the alluring city in a former state of glory. The feeling is more acute today, as Venice has been crippled by over-tourism and is constantly threatened by the encroaching sea. Watch Death in Venice for a powerful sense of its former glamour.