Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Metropolis' - A future of the Past

In 1925, while F. Scott Fitzgerald was getting the now famous “The Great Gatsby” published in the States, in Europe, the wife of a German director was having visions of the future and the husband began shooting a very bizarre film. Two years later, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh was making his famous non-stop flight from the United States to Europe and Shorty Snowden was naming this crazy dance he had been doing, the “Lindy Hop”, after Lindbergh’s “Hop” over the Atlantic; in Europe, Fritz Lang was having his premiere. 

The futuristic Metropolis, set in 2026, a future which is future even for us, opened in Berlin impressing the audience but leaving most critics of the time rather unimpressed. In Wikipedia, I read something quite interesting regarding the film’s reception. Apparently, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels was impressed by the film saying that "the political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission." 
Later in an interview, Lang, maybe because of the Nazi Party's fascination with the film, said that he was in fact dissatisfied with the result. In Lang’s own words: "The main thesis was Mrs. Von Harbou's [his wife's], but I am at least 50 percent responsible because I did it. I was not so politically minded in those days as I am now. You cannot make a social-conscious picture in which you say that the intermediary between the hand and the brain is the heart. I mean, that's a fairy tale – definitely. But I was very interested in machines. Anyway, I didn't like the picture – thought it was silly and stupid…” (from an interview with Peter Bogdanovich in Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors, published in 1998). His wife who had written the script “became a passionate member of the Nazi Party in 1933" and Lang divorced her the following year.
Regardless of the film's socio-political naiveté and questionable political messages, Metropolis is, still, one of the greatest examples of German Expressionism and one of the first futuristic, science-fiction films in film history which would influence many artists and film-makers to come. A small note: Metropolis is not a movie celebrating machines and technology since one of its major themes is the worker's enslavement by the machines and the film's villain is a female robot. Still, the film remains one of the most awe inspiring visualizations of the Machine Age!

The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly influenced by the Art Deco movement, and it was born " evening in October 1924...whilst [Lang was] gazing out at the flickering, neon-lit New York skyline from a vantage point on board the ship which had brought him and fellow UFA officials to America. That skyscraper-dominated skyline would come to define progress and the city of the future. Its adoption by Lang as a central motif for his film was indeed prophetic" ( Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that "the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize" (Wikipedia).

Lower Manhattan Skyline in the 1920s at Night © E.O. Hoppé/CORBIS
You can find everything you need to know about the film in this exceptional electronic archive: Metropolis Film Archive 2011. The posters & the still come from the same site. 

DJ Fellow Hopper will be hosting a Metropolis inspired swing event 
@ Floral on Saturday, January 26, 2013 
taking us back to a time when the future could still inspire awe...

Art Deco vs. Art Nouveau

Alphonse Mucha, "Princezna Hyacinta", 1911
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Art Nouveau, probably because I grew up in a house decorated with Alphonse Mucha posters [Mucha was the “father” of Art Nouveau]. I love the flowery, flowing, asymmetrical patterns in Art Nouveau architecture and design and how they try to blend in with the natural surroundings. I mean look at these examples!! 

Casa Battló, restored by Gaudí, Barcelona
La Fermette Marbeau, Paris

[images: Tiffany Studios Double Poinsettia table lamp, / 
Hector Guimard furniture / Door by architect Emile André]

Chrysler Building © Bettmann/CORBIS
Art Nouveau, however, was a style popular from 1890 to 1910 and unfortunately it did not coincide with my favorite decade in fashion, which was the 1920’s and which was defined by another movement called Art Deco. During the 1920's, in the same way the flappers reacted to the austerity of the previous generation’s morals and fashion, so did Art Deco artists react to the flowery, ornamental, nature loving, romantic style of their predecessors. Art Deco was all about angles, symmetry and geometry; it celebrated machinery and technology; it used aluminum, stainless steel, chrome and plastic. One of the most famous Art Deco buildings and one that absolutely fascinates me is the Chrysler Building in New York, designed by architect William Van Alen. However, I cannot say that I am a big fan of Art Deco in general. 

Art Deco was a movement in the decorative arts, design and architecture that originated in the 1920s in France and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.   

Deco emerged from the Interwar period when rapid industrialization was transforming culture, therefore it's not surprising that one of its major attributes was an embrace of technology. Deco drew inspiration from Machine Age and streamline technologies, such as modern aviation, electric lighting, radio, ocean liners and skyscrapers. Art Deco also came to represent luxury, glamour and exuberance, especially in the United States which were booming materially, if not spiritually...

Chrysler Building Entrance
Inspiration also came from abroad. During the 1920s, the ability for long-distance travel and the consequent encounter with foreign cultures, but also the popularity of archeology due to excavations in Pompeii and Troy and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, influenced artists and designers who used motifs from other cultures than their own - ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Asia, Mesoamerica, and Oceania. Here are some fetching pieces of jewellery with evident influences...

[images: Pendant Brooch, Charlton 1925, Christie's / Egyptian revival comb, circa 1923 / No information / Aquamarine Pendant, 1930s]
Deco was also influenced by Cubism, Constructivism, Functionalism, Modernism, and Futurism, but while most of these design movements have political or philosophical beginnings or intentions, art deco was purely decorative.

[images: Parkview Square, Singapore © Harry Tan / Carbide and Carbon Building, Chicago Illinois © Terence Faircloth]
Art Deco was a globally popular style and influenced many areas of design, including industrial design, interior design... and jewelry... 

[images: Erté / evening dress, 1928 from the Minnesota Historical Society] well as the visual arts such as painting, graphic arts and film. Fritz Lang's Metropolis is one such example. You can read more about it in the post ‘Metropolis' – A Future of the Past.

"The austerities imposed by World War II caused Art Deco to decline in popularity." In the States, society had already entered an era of Great Depression after the stock market crash in 1929 and the Art Deco style "was perceived by many as inappropriately luxurious." No wonder...


More about the distinction: Art Nouveau & Art Deco For Noobs… more about Art Nouveau: more about Alphonse Mucha: Mucha on Wikipedia, Mucha Foundation, Mucha Museum, Mucha on 


My Art Deco Board: Pinterest / Art Deco
My Art Nouveau Board: Pinterest / Art Nouveau 
My '20s Fashion Board: Pinterest / '20s Fashion
'Metropolis' poster:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Image by © Bettman/Corbis [Stock Photo ID: BE034426]
The original Balboa dance is a form of swing dance that started as early as 1915 and gained in popularity in the 1930s and 1940s.

Balboa came from Southern California during the 1920s and increased in popularity until World War II. Balboa is named for the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California, where the dance was invented.    

It is danced primarily in close embrace, and is led with a full body connection. The art of Balboa is in the subtle communication between the lead and follow, including weight shifts, which most viewers cannot see. As a result, Balboa is considered more of a "dancer's dance" than a "spectator's dance". Its exact origins are obscure, especially as most of the original Balboa dancers have since died. 

The dance was originally a response to overcrowded ballrooms where the swing-out or breakaway (a move popular in Lindy Hop at the time) was often difficult, if not actually banned by the venue. Balboa is often perceived as a restrained or introverted dance, with most movement occurring below the knees; however, part of its appeal is its variations on turns and twirls that allow the lead to show off his partner's legs—an effect that is heightened when the follow is wearing an effective skirt and high heels.

Modern Balboa dancers sometimes distinguish between two types of Balboa, "Pure Balboa" and "Bal-Swing." In Pure Balboa, dancers stay in close embrace for almost the entire time, their torsos touching, doing variations based on footwork, turning as a couple and moving as a couple. Bal-Swing, in contrast, incorporates movements in which there is more space between the partners and thus more latitude for dynamic movements, including turns for one or both partners, and so forth.

Bal-Swing: originally known as just “Swing” or sometimes “Randy Swing” in newspaper articles of the time; Bal-Swing is an eccentric dance unlike Balboa, which allows for improvisation. This dance style came from Charleston, and its earliest known use was a contest in Venice Beach in 1932.

Here's a funny short film from 1943 called "Maharaja" featuring a couple (Hal & Betty Takier) doing the Balboa or Bal-Swing along with other swing moves.

Balboa is a contemporary of Lindy Hop, so comparisons are hard to avoid. Both dances evolved at the same time with the same swing music. Both are considered evolutionary descendants of Charleston. Balboa has also typically been recognized as a regional dance done in Southern California whereas Lindy Hop was more widespread nationally, but that is no longer the case among modern swing dancers: today, most consider Balboa and Bal-swing legitimate forms of swing dance. Both Bal-Swing and Lindy Hop would have been considered dances done by jitterbugs during the 1930s and ‘40s, unlike Balboa, which was done by more mature dancers who wanted to avoid the Jitterbugs’ energetic and eccentric floor work.

“As soon as you start attracting attention to yourself, you [are] not doing Balboa anymore.” [original Balboa dancer’s quote]

Balboa is danced to a wide variety of tempos. Because the basic step takes up such a small space, Balboa can be danced to fast music (over 300 beats per minute). Balboa is also danced to slow music (under 100 beats per minute), which allows more time for intricate footwork and variations.

"Swingin' in the Promised Land" from 1938 is a really wonderful tune for Balboa which I discovered here:

For more songs suited for Balboa:

Communication through subtle weight shifts and body language is essential. The dancers stand close, touching upper front outer sides of torsos along outer edge of pectoral muscle and ribcage. Sometimes the connection extends down to knees, depending on the degree of room needed for specific variations within pure balboa. Height difference between partners can cause the connection to vary considerably. They are offset by about 1/4 of their body width, creating a slight "V" between their torsos and allowing the feet and legs to offset to a greater degree than in ballroom styles. The balboa follower often dances in heels to get the proper "forward" connection. This can be misinterpreted however. The follower still has her own weight. Foot balance is neutral with slightly more pressure on the ball of the feet for the follow, but generally across the entire foot for the lead.

The original caption for the photo on the top is: 9/8/1938 – Venice, CA: Swinging in the sandtime…on the sandy beach of Venice, CA, the jitterbugs have foregathered to put on one of the world’s greatest swing jamborees. Some of the best in the country have entered in the California championships for all classes of jittery jitterbugs. Something, however, tells me that these dancers are actually doing the Balboa or the Bal-Swing and not actually the Jitterbug. And here's a video [no audio] where you can actually see the dancers of the photo dancing. Great find whoever posted this on YouTube! I hope they don't remove it.

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