Book Review Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction

At first you might assume that Cathy Whitlock’s book, Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction is another sumptuous Hollywood-inspired coffee table book, brimming with oodles of stunning movie stills and illustrations of iconic movie scenes.  Designs on Film, however, is so much more. A well-researched overview of the profession of film art directoion, the book profiles the top professionals who have worked in the field over the past hundred years.

Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction

Ms. Whitlock organized her work into two parts. Part one, “Architect of Dreams,” explains what it is that an art director does and how the profession has evolved over the course of film history. Ms. Whitlock also does a fine job of describing the responsibilities of the production designer and set decorator in relationship to the art director. The second part, the real heart of the book, recognizes the work of major art directors from the silent era through the early 2000s.

Designs on Film finally gives credit to the brilliant  talents whose on-screen work is so distinctly memorable, but whose names and faces are barely known. Several photos feature great art directors at work in the studio: Hans Dreier (“Sunset Boulevard”), Edward Carrere (“The Fountainhead”), Carroll Clark (“Top Hat”) and RKO’s supervising art director Van Nest Polglase.

Designs on Film, one gains a greater understanding and appreciation of the work of the innovative designers responsible for Hollywood’s most iconic backdrops, those folks who were part-architect, part-artist, part-military leader and part-dreamer.

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