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Grand Magical Illusions: Movie Sets & Imagery!


MovieProfessor
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*One of the things we can?t overlook when watching a movie are the sets on the studio lot and backgrounds. While most movies might have interior filming, leading to everything from a grand palace to a famous landmark, the best remembered are those outdoor standing sets and exteriors that impress upon our imagination to be whisk away from our present reality as we watch the movie. There are many memorable movie sets from classic films that have remained embedded in our minds. Some of which are actually grand illusions and not having really been constructed from the ground up. Still, most of the extravagant movie sets we will remember have all been part of the success and legacy to so many classic movies of our past. All I can really do here is list my personal favorites and reflect upon the excitement and the exaggerated way that I like so many who went to the movies was fooled into thinking that something grandiose had been brought to life. I will also reflect upon those movies that have had a misconception from the method in which they were created as to illuminate us on the idea that a lot of time and money was spent to create a lavish atmosphere. Although in general the movies are a visual experience that forces us to used something of our imagination, there are those few films that in the end deliver a reality to the whole aura of their creation that will forever convince our minds we aren?t sitting in a darken theater. And, its makes no difference if the film was a box-office flop, after having had vast amounts of money spent to create its illusion of time and space. There are simply some films, especially the old epics that will have an overwhelming and exciting identity that we can?t overlook or deny, no matter how bad we feel the movie really was or didn?t become a noted success. Even in failure there is a rather special situation to a movie that can still make it a classic. This comes about, due in large part to the visual impact the film has made upon us. And, there are certainly plenty of movies that we know are terrible, but we will remember something that caught our eye and gave us a bit of unexpected astonishment to experiencing the movie.*

 

*It?s best to start at the very beginning of the movie business. But, I won?t start in Hollywood or even the East Coast of America, where the movie business really began at the turn of the 20th Century. No, this category has to begin at the time and place where movies really began to expand upon the limitations of their technical means to create what essentially is a visual escape. It was in Europe, during those early years of the 20th Century where movies found an enormous expressive character to their visual sense. Here in America, we simply didn?t have the overall resources or talents to pour upon a film project, something grand and beyond the confined efforts of those early American pioneers of the nickelodeon. The fact was that movies were for a time in this country, simply a sideshow and nothing to be taken so seriously. Well, the Europeans certainly woke up the fledgling movie business in America. It was just before the First World War and the major move from the east coast to Hollywood, that things in America changed and have never really left us. So, here?s my list of famous movies with their grand visual sense of time and place . . .*

 

*1. If there was an early, epic pioneering movie that set a standard for the world to follow, it was the Italian production of ?Cabiria.? Before The First World War, the Italian film industry was the one that most everyone looked towards in the guise of expecting something special. Director Giovanni Pastrone delivered a film in 1914 that to this day is studied and admired for the sear way the movie created such a strong impact. When the film opened in New York City at ?Times Square,? the long lines to get into the theater clearly defined the movie?s success in America. Audiences now hammered for a movie experience on a grandiose level. The film was an historic look-back at ancient Rome and its war with Carthage. This movie had everything to expect along the lines of epic battles, huge standing sets and vast scores of extras. The most momentous part of the movie is the enormous sacrificial temple that created a sensation when first viewed. It was an amazing achievement to have built such a huge standing set. On a technical standpoint of filming, unlike any of the other filmmakers of the era, the Italians were the first to utilize such methods of wide moving shots and the use of unusual camera zooms. This issue gave their film industry a step way above what all others were achieving at the time. There can be no doubt that the Italians single handedly influenced such American filmmakers as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille for their epics to come.*

 

 

*2. Well, I guess it had to be Griffith to finally give the young American movie going public its first, truly grand scale movie experience from Hollywood; and I?m not talking about ?The Birth of a Nation.? While Griffith?s 1915 civil war epic is considered America?s first real big movie, it didn?t really have such an elaborate look, let alone had cost Griffith so much money. Any diehard, movie buff or fan will agree that in 1916, Griffith created what for many is a masterpiece of American epic filmmaking. I?m not exactly a fan of Griffith, due in large part to his social thinking, pertaining to his rather brazen 19th Century prejudices that stem from his first big epic, ?The Birth of a Nation.? But, I have to give the man some credit for attempting something that no one in their right mind ever thought about doing at the time he was at the height of his career. This relates to his grand creation of ?Intolerance.? Anyone seeing this movie will always remember, what for numerous movie fans is the greatest movie set ever constructed, the fantastic Babylon set. The opening shot of the Babylonian sequence takes one?s breath away. Built in three massive sections, the heights of some walls were over 100 feet! It?s never been made clear just how many extras Griffith employed, but the most important members in the grand Babylonian court yard scene were the famous ?Ruth St. Denis? dancers. The Babylon set has now become part of movie folklore and perhaps the most influential symbol of any epic film ever conceived in America. ?Intolerance? remains a movie that is on most film buffs list of ones to have to watch!*

 

*3. Itt was in 1921, an apprentice of D.W. Griffith began to make his mark in the movie business as a director. He was later to be considered a mad, lost genius of early American filmmaking. He was Erich von Stroheim! If anything set apart Stroheim from all other early filmmakers of the silent era, it was the way in which he spared no expense to make a movie. Always demanding a sense of extravagant authenticity to his movies, he set out to create what for him would be the grandest of all films made up to that time. His astounding production of ?Foolish Wives? was one that created a stir within the film industry, simply because Stroheim spent around an estimated 2 million dollars to recreate the casino plaza of Monte Carlo! This set was truly something awe aspiring. Every time I see the movie, I can?t believe it?s been shot on the back lot of Universal Pictures! Even more remarkable was Stroheim incorporating real street lights and electric lighting for shooting scenes at night! While all of this made for an exciting movie experience, this project marked the beginning of Stroheim?s career going astray in Hollywood. He would have one more chance with another classic film ?Greed.? But even on that project he went way over budget and shot too much film. Anyway, ?Foolish Wives? and its Monte Carlo set is a sight to behold!*

 

 

*4. There?s no doubt that the 1920s became ?The Golden Age of the Silent Movie.? Hollywood virtually took over the movie industry on a world wide basis. One of the biggest of all figures, aside from Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith was the mighty and exciting Douglas Fairbanks. By the time Fairbanks became a partner of the new studio United Artists, he was already, together with his wife, actress Mary Pickford, an institution to the movie business. This allowed Fairbanks an incredible amount of flexibility that few early movie stars had in the business. After a series of successful adventure and comedy films, Fairbanks set his sights on creating an epic movie. This also turned out to be the decade that introduced ?big movies? out of Hollywood on a regular basis. For 1921, Fairbanks chose to star and play the lead role of the legendary outlaw character of ?Robin Hood.? This project resulted in what was the biggest film production seen up to that time. At least three elaborate medieval sets were constructed, nearly to scale. They were so big and huge; they could be seen at a long distance, creating something of a magical atmosphere around the area of the studio. The film was in every respect a tribute by Fairbanks to all the storybooks and legends he knew as a boy growing up in Canada. This film would be one of the greatest of all successes in movie history, thus leading to perhaps the finest epic film Fairbanks ever made, ?The Thief of Baghdad,? several years later.*

 

*5. ?The Hunchback of Notre Dame.? Filmed in 1923, this just might be considered an incredible banner year for Hollywood. Universal Pictures nearly built to scale the cathedral of Notre Dame. About one quarter of the lower portion of the building was constructed, with the upper half optically printed into the film. The rest of the set surrounding the cathedral consisted of a convincing replica of medieval Paris. While most fans will want to talk about Lon Chaney?s incredible performance as the tragic ?Quasimodo,? the standing set of middle-age Paris built on the Universal back-lot has become something of a legend towards the imagery Hollywood. This was also the time Cecil B. De Mille found his roots to create what for some have made him the premiere director of epic films in America. Although over the years it?s been assumed by most critics today that De Mille?s later movies with sound weren?t really all that good, he did have a vivid style and spectacle to the silent films he made that can?t be denied. It was with his first directed version of ?The Ten Commandments? in 1923 that historians believe he came into his own. Paramount Pictures now entered the field of epic biblical films with De Mille becoming the studio?s guiding light. De Mille had ready directed a few ?big movies? for Paramount, but none on the scale of this film that had state-of-the-art special effects, the biggest sets built for a movie up to that time and a cast of thousands. In 1956, De Mille actually out did himself with his now famous remake of ?The Ten Commandments? that also had all the trappings of a really good polished spectacle. What a year 1923 was with such classics as ?The Covered Wagon,? ?Greed? and ?Safety Last.?*

 

*6. Strange, that Douglas Fairbanks? 1924 ?The Thief of Baghdad? doesn?t get as much notice as his big swashbuckler, ?The Black Pirate? that came two years later in 1926. Fairbanks probably never produced a film as big and expensive as ?The Thief of Baghdad.? But, what probably hurts the film is the simple fact that it wasn?t the overall box office success Fairbanks was use to acquiring from the movie going public. In hindsight, this is why ?The Black Pirate? usually gets more attention; its success was so overwhelming. As great an adventure movie is ?The Black Pirate,? it pales in comparison to all the work and time spent by Fairbanks and his associates to create ?The Thief of Baghdad.? This was a fantasy movie produced with an immense amount of grand illusions. There?s no doubt when viewing ?The Thief of Baghdad,? one can tell it?s a spectacle beyond one?s imagination. In fact, this movie introduced the greatest movie set designer in history, William Cameron Menzies. When Fairbanks first met Menzies and saw his drawings, the immortal movie star hired Menzies right on the spot! The results are some of the most elaborate and beautiful sets ever devised for a major film. While some argue that the sets Menzies created are a bit exaggerated to the point of any reality, the truth is that his designs added to the whole magical aura of the movie, thereby recreating a myth and bringing it to life!*

 

*7. It was in the middle of the 1920s, came what was probably the most historic and biggest movie company merger in Hollywood history. The year of 1925 marked the beginning of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and their predominance over Hollywood. MGM began its illustrious imagine as a dream-factory under a bit of stress. Just as the studio got underway with various productions, their biggest project that had been shot partially in Italy, a massive production of ?Ben-Hur? was in trouble. So, a few of the new studio?s officials headed over to Rome, where it was first thought money could be saved by shooting half of the picture overseas. This however, proved to be too troublesome, especially after a spectacular naval battle was filmed and a few extras nearly lost their lives. MGM officials who arrived on the scene had enough and decided on ending the chaos. It?s amazing that the front office, headed by legendary Louie B. Mayer, decided on saving the project, by extending every financial resource the studio had left to finish the rest of the filming in Hollywood. Mayer, with the support of some studio officials acted pretty much that any failure would result in the studio?s demise. It?s never been so clear if MGM was really in so much trouble, but from a prestigious standpoint, a lot was riding on making ?Ben-Hur? an important successful showcase for the new studio to prove itself worthy of having joined the Hollywood community. While most people are caught up in remembering the 1959 remake, the silent version is probably a better movie in its depiction of those ancient Roman times. But, the real core to the overall success of the 1925 version was the massively produced chariot race. The set turned out to be the size of three football fields. It was by that time in Hollywood, all massively produced epic films were being publicized as bigger than the last one. Every major studio was now on a binge to say they had the next biggest movie of them all. The 1925 original first version of Ben-Hur would turn out to be no exception to this new marketing ploy that made Hollywood the undisputed leader in worldwide cinema. This is a movie that simply is ?one of a kind,? having truly influenced the whole idea of what a lot of money and time can produce.*

 

*8. ?Sunrise? is for me the greatest silent movie ever made! This 1927 production, that came from Fox Studios was a project devised all on a prestigious level of thinking. William Fox was in terrible financial trouble. His once successful studio needed a big hit bad. So, instead of creating something exploitive, Fox managed to hire one of the greatest directors the movies have ever known, the mighty legendary F.W. Murnau. This was a movie that had innovation written all over it! One can only imagine what might have happened to the movie business in Hollywood, had Murnau not been killed in an automobile accident several years later. Certainly, what Murnau created was a melodrama that was of epic portions not expected for such a type of movie. The most memorable aspect to this film was the ?city set? that was built on a shoestring budget and turned out to be astoundingly spectacular! Murnau spoke very little English, having to use interpreters along the way of making the movie. His film crew that consisted of mostly Germans, managed to construct a set on the back-lot of Fox Studios that became one of the grand illusions of movie making. This set was actually smaller than it appeared, having a perspective that in the distance became smaller than what it really should have been. Murnau then had children dressed as adults in the background, complete with miniature cars, buses and street signs, all appearing as if it was some vast expansive street scene. It was on all counts a remarkable achievement that to this day has never been equaled in the annals of motion picture production.*

 

*9. The Coming of the Big Flood! Film historians have said that the last great, big silent movie produced in Hollywood was the 1929 biblical story of ?Noah?s Ark.? This was truly a big production that had with its original release a running time around three hours, but was later cut down for general release. Warner Brothers spent an astounding several million dollars to produce the film as their biggest prestige picture of the year. The look and scope of this silent epic had its roots from D.W. Griffith?s ?Intolerance? and De Mille?s ?The Ten Commandments.? The production ended up with really good, expensive impressive standing sets, together with huge numbers of extras. Of course, most of the scenes concerning the flood utilized special effects. However, there was one scene were several extras tragically drowned, when a large tank filled with water was unloaded to recreate a massive wave over the helpless extras in the role of pagans. This scene created such a phenomenon, the studio decided on keeping it in the motion picture! The adverse or critical publicity that resulted from this event, only added to the interest in seeing the film. Years later, ?Noah?s Ark? had another release with sound effects and still had a visual impact on audiences.*

 

 

*10. Well, as the sound era commenced into the 1930s, the movie industry really got technical with little or no need to be so bent on reality. In other words, now a lot of special effects could be incorporated along the lines of optically printing in lots of scenes and even scores of people. By the middle of the decade, numerous epic films didn?t have to rely so much on costly location filming or the construction of massive sets. This leads us to an issue that for the most part hasn?t been addressed on a routine level of thinking. It concerns the whole aura and excitement behind the decade?s most anticipated movie, ?Gone with the Wind.? While most will agree the 1939 movie had the fabric of a spectacular production, it was in many ways a rather routine sort of collective project. There has always been something of a misconception about ?GWTW? to believe it was so epic and had massive scenes. There were of course, a few parts of the motion picture that did deliver a sort of spectacle, but for the most part, it didn?t have much in the way of massive scenes and a big battle. It only had the burning of Atlanta, Scarlet O?Hara walking through thousands of wounded soldiers at the train depot and finally its beautiful Technicolor photography that at the time was what really made the movie rather special. It?s only fair to give credit to the remarkable work designer William Cameron Menzies did it making audiences feel they were witnessing something on the grand scale, when all along the motion picture was made up of scraped sets and leftover materials from a dozen or so previous films. ?GWTW? was certainly marketed in a big way, becoming a legend in the category of promotion and lots of publicity. Yet, I can?t help but think that the real underlying core to the whole ?GWTW? aura and the grand illusion surrounding so much of the motion picture includes all the fuss about the movie before the cameras starting rolling! The publicity behind the movie had a lot to do with creating such a spectacular explosive atmosphere that no film, at least coming out of Hollywood, has ever had. Clark Gable was right when he said behind the scenes, ?This is nothing more than a big woman?s picture.?*

 

*11. By the time the war years rolled in, Hollywood had to rely even more on a good amount of special effects that didn?t warrant so much the use of standing sets and exteriors. Some of the best examples of this era are the films from MGM that while there was a sizable studio back-lot of various sets, most of the time the studio special effects department matted-in a lot of backgrounds. Westerns seemed to be the only type of films that had a pretty good amount of standing sets and outdoor shooting. Yet, from an overall technical standpoint, most westerns were not major films. So, there was an easy economy to filming a western that for most part could utilize sets on a reasonable cost affective level. The same might be said for the various serials and low-budget adventure films, most of which came out of Hollywood B-studios.*

 

*12. Then It Happened! A return to Italy on the part of MGM! After a 26 year period, Hollywood was by the post war era, a bit in trouble. Every studio in town that had once enjoyed a monopoly with theater co-ownership had been broken up by the government. Also looming in the shadows was low theater attendance that was blamed on the new medium of television. So, in a move that was rather interesting, MGM decided on banking with an overseas unit that cut a deal with the big Italian studio of ?Cinecitta.? The idea was to now save money, especially on creating something of a tax shelter. The Cinecitta studios offered an enormous amount of flexibly, especially when MGM decided on making the big biblical epic of ?Quo Vadis in 1950. Producer Sam Zimbalist and director Mervyn LeRoy, surprised the whole movie industry, when they brought in the huge spectacle for under 7 million dollars, using scores of extras and some of the finest, most beautiful, elaborate standing-sets ever created for a motion picuture. Some friends of mine in the movie business argue that a lot of ?Quo Vadis? has matted-in scenes and backgrounds. While this is true, I say these matted, optical printed sequences are limited or make up only 40 percent of the film. The rest of the backgrounds were all built by the technicians at Cinecitta. Some of the sets were leftovers from other epic films made during the 1930s. In a clever move, MGM then had the standing Roman sets modified or changed for a whole new look. The two best remembered sets are Nero?s palace and the Roman arena, where the Christians were sacrificed. After three years of planning, MGM finally brought its long awaited new version of the story to the screen in a highly successful release.*

 

*13. Misconceptions and going to the real thing. Two years later, after the big success of ?Quo Vadis,? came the widescreen era and the biblical epic film was ?king of the screen!? It?s funny that the most noted filmmaker of biblical epics, at least in Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille, didn?t join in so quick on this frenzy that had taken hold of American movies. Certainly, with a large budget to consider when making a biblical epic, issues of creating a good amount of authenticity kept a careful, cautious level of thinking around Hollywood. One of my favorite of all misconceptions about grandeur to any Hollywood epic is that of the 1953, first Cinemascope widescreen film, ?The Robe.? This movie made over at 20th Century-Fox, didn?t have very many standing-sets or nothing as elaborate as was MGM?s ?Quo Vadis.? Still, ?The Robe? with its impressionable widescreen presentation, manipulated audiences in a clever way towards a realistic grandeur, while all along most of the film utilized matted backgrounds. The following year of 1954 came its sequel, ?Demetrius and The Gladiators? that simply used most of the sets from ?The Robe.? In the sequel, there was a nice, but small gladiatorial arena that looked big in Cinemascope, but really wasn?t built in the round and actually had less than several hundred spectators in the scene. The third and big ancient epic for the studio that same year was ?The Egyptian,? based on a successful novel. This film used more optical imagery than the two previous Roman epics. A few of the sets for ?The Egyptian? were convincingly beautiful, but they turned out to be rather low-keyed, when compared to the studios previous efforts. This film turned out to be both a critical and financial disappointment. One has to wonder had 20th Century-Fox taken MGM?s lead and made their epics overseas, would their three widescreen epics been more formidable with a good amount of standing (real) sets? It was over at Warner Brothers in 1955 that the MGM method was taken up. Warner?s decided on utilizing the facilities of Cinecitta. The American production team, with the help of the Italians, recreated ancient ?Trojan War? with their widescreen epic production entitled ?Helen of Troy.? This film was an international production that although wasn?t such a critical success, managed to bring in a decent profit. The ancient city of Troy was impressively recreated on the Italian studio lot. The various battle scenes directed by the great Robert Wise were pretty good as ancient epics go. But, Warner?s wasn?t finish yet, when the studio also released that same year, another widescreen ancient epic, this time in the form of telling the story of how the pyramids came to be. Director Howard Hawks, production of ?Land of The Pharaohs? had most of its principal photography shot on location in Egypt. This of course, gave the production an interesting and a high level of authentic atmosphere that actually helped in marketing the motion picture. While the on location filming was impressive, director Hawks didn?t have much in the way of any really big standing sets constructed. An Egyptian film company, just outside of Cairo already had a few ancient movie sets built, but they weren?t really so formidable along what the American film crew felt would be adequate. Hawks then opted to use some real areas or archeological sites for some of the filming. There?s never been any doubt in my mind that this production led to the next biggest ancient Egyptian epic to come the following year!*

 

 

*14. Finally, C.B. returns! Although, most everyone knew Cecil B. DeMille?s track record in creating big movies, it was something of a surprise that he chose to remake his 1923 ?The Ten Commandments.? Unlike the first version that had a contemporary story, along with the ancient one, DeMille chose to just film the ancient account of The Exodus for his 1956 version. This was a wise decision, allowing DeMille more flexibility than he could have ever wished for! He gathered up all the best technicians of Paramount Pictures, some of which had been with him throughout his celebrated career in the movie business. Nothing was left to chance, with DeMille deciding on taking a huge gamble by going to Egypt, building one of the largest sets ever and the casting of thousands of extras. Later on, the rest of the film was shot at others studios in Europe, finally ending up back in Hollywood. The total count was probably the biggest on record in movie history of 30 soundstages used! Of course, the typical movie-magic of optical printing made up for the rest of the picture. What we will all remember is the ?parting of the Red Sea? that to this day is as impressive as it was over 50 years ago.*

 

*15. The end of the decade came with what for many historians is the greatest biblical epic of them all, MGM?s remake of ?Ben-Hur? for 1959. The studio was in terrible financial trouble and needed a big hit bad. So, it was agreed that everything be banked on recreating a classic biblical story that could now take advantage of various technicalities not available to the first silent movie version. Once again, producer Sam Zimbalist returned his unit to the Cinecitta studios in Rome. MGM had some pretty good impressive sets built; most of them to a realistic scale. Everything about this remake turned out bigger than anything seen before. All of this leading to the immensely impressive chariot arena. To this day, there are debates among film buffs as to which chariot race sequence between both film versions is the best, if not, most realistic! Certainly, the 1959 version is bigger than its 1925 predecessor. But, it will never be fair to compare. There is one area where most will agree upon and this pertains to the issue of the sea battle. Strangely, the 1959 version used mostly models and lots of special effects; when compared to the 1925 version that used real ships! The 1959 version would turn out to be the most successful film MGM ever produced, bringing in record profits and saving the studio from financial doom.*

 

 

*16. ?My Name is Spartacus!? It had been many long years since Universal Pictures had embarked on a rather massive production. The 1960 ?Spartacus,? produced in part by the star of the movie, Kirk Douglas was mostly filmed overseas. Kirk had been one of the very first major Hollywood stars to work on a regular basis overseas. As easy or economical as it might have seemed at the time to make a major biblical or ancient story away from Hollywood, this gladiatorial epic didn?t utilize massive sets. Most of the backgrounds were matted-paintings created by legendary special effects artist, Albert J. Whitlock. His work on the movie created some very convincing imagery, thus making up for the lack of real standing sets. This standard method obviously helped keep the budget for ?Spartacus? reasonable enough for Universal to invest in the project. The biggest part of the film turned out to be the final battle between the Roman legions and the escaped slaves. This scene, shot entirely on the plains of Spain consisted of around 8,000 extras! While probably not as visually impressive as other epics of the day, ?Spartacus? is on all counts a great film that speaks clearly on a higher intellectual level than most other epics.*

 

*17. Here comes the Queen of The Nile!? If there is one film synonymous with everything from failure to lots of crazy publicity, it?s the 20th Century-Fox massive, but doomed 1963 epic, ?Cleopatra.? Just about every respectable film buff knows the story behind this film. It was a troubled project from the outset of its creation. While the studio cleverly shot the entire film in Rome, no matter how beautiful it all looked, there were simply too many overbearing flaws and a very unconvincing plot. While most fans enjoy and admire the stunning sequence of Cleopatra?s entry into Rome, the rest of the film is routine. Some of the standing sets that were built to scale, ended up not really adding so much to any excitement for the motion picture as in other ancient epics. This I think is a major flaw to the overall outcome of the film. It didn?t really appear as if the film was the most costly made up to that time. And, the big sea battle of Actium, turned out to be rather disappointing, as if it was stage in somebody?s bathtub or backyard swimming pool. It was technically obvious that the studio had to cut corners and one of them would be eliminating as many massive scenes as possible with scores of extras.*

 

 

*18. Truly the biggest of them all! Around 1960, producer Samuel Bronston decided he would become the next Cecil B. DeMille of epic movies. But only this time on an international level, never producing any of his epic films in American. Bronston instead, created what at first appeared to be a pretty good international film unit in Spain. His first really good production was the medieval epic ?El Cid? in 1961. This was followed by a big remake of DeMille?s 1927 film version, ?King of Kings.? The success of these two films, allowed Bronston a bit of leeway to then build a huge studio outside of Madrid. As good as Bronston was going with his films, he was also reckless with the way he utilized his finances. Bronston simply borrowed heavily and overextended the investments in his motion picture company. His next project in 1963, ?55 Days at Peking,? about the historic 1900 ?Boxer? rebellion in China, resulted with his film unit rebuilding the ?Forbidden City? of Peking. What to this day makes a Bronston epic so wonderful to watch was the fact that most of his movie sets were built in the round and to scale! If he didn?t build a set, his production staff utilized real historic buildings and places for filming. All of this seemed simple enough to admire, but along the way Bronston finally met his doom with what many film historians feel is as big a failure as there ever was to any film company. In 1964, Bronston planned his own ancient Roman epic in the guise of ?The Fall of The Roman Empire.? Bronston pulled every considerable technical string to hire the best technicians available from both sides of the Atlantic. All of this fuss finally led to an incredible reconstruction (to scale!) of the ancient Roman Forum. What made this standing set so remarkable was that although Bronston spent millions to recreate ancient Rome, some of the actual buildings were also interior soundstages! This was a very clever construction ploy to not only save money, but gave the Roman set an authenticity that has never been matched! This simply means that in watching a scene, where someone is standing outside in the Forum and then walks into one of the buildings, the performers are actually walking into a real interior set that?s part of the movie or subsequently the scene itself! Nothing like this had ever been attempted for any type of major film! Imagine when you watch the movie that the large buildings of Forum are in fact soundstages of what they represent! Amazing! Well, all of this excitement was sadly short lived or would never have any sort of longevity for the production company to make something further out of what was created. In the end, the set itself that could have been rented out was abandoned when Bronston?s company went bust. Upon the film?s release, it received mixed reviews, but for the most part it was a massive failure that didn?t recoup its money. It?s a shame that such an undertaking as was ?The Fall of The Roman Empire? didn?t result in more of the same that had a flare and dare of creative movie making behind its imagery. The whole ordeal behind what happened with this film has resulted in a debate to say if in fact, Bronston?s Roman Forum set was the best and biggest ever devised for a motion picture? I?ve felt over years that it does deserve this title, since the set is so vividly convincing and has never been matched! Not even the recent HBO cable series of ?Rome? that used an old standing ancient set in Italy can compare to what the Bronston team created. This is something we will never see the likes of again.*

 

*19. As the 1960s moved on and the epic movie continued to have some respectable life, these numerous major road-show presentations usually ended up being filmed outside of America. Musicals seemed to be the exception to this situation, although the highly successful ?The Sound of Music? would turn out to be the only major musical film to be mostly filmed outside of Hollywood. Then, at the very end of the decade, 20th Century-Fox took a huge gamble and decided they would make a stupendous production out of a film version of the highly successful Broadway musical ?Hello Dolly.? Most of the best big musical films of the 1960s had been filmed in a soundstage or on the studio back-lot that didn?t exactly utilize anything so grand. Take the musical film version of ?My Fair Lady.? It was a beautifully produced film, yet it was all shot like the original stage show, since the entire film was made within the soundstages of Warner Brothers Studios. No one really expected that 20th Century-Fox would pull out all the stops for ?Hello Dolly? to newly reconstruct, from the ground up a portion of 1890 New York City. This consisted of at least several blocks of what was once 14th street. The whole reconstructed neighborhood was complete with trolley cars, fountains and a wonderful park. But, the big surprise to this whole project was adding a real running elevated train that could be seen in the distance at the very end of the standing movie set! Although, most of the sets were not built in the round, this was truly a remarkable achievement for a time when Hollywood wasn?t spending so much of its resources to make a big film at one of its major studios. The money spent to make ?Hello Dolly? have an authentic feel and mood paid off big, when the motion picture succeeded immensely with a very enthusiastic box office response. I?ve always believed that the look of this film had a lot to do with its success. This was to be the last great movie set ever constructed in old Hollywood. In a sad way of thinking, this whole event surrounding the making of ?Hello Dolly? once and for all marked the end of Hollywood?s Golden era of big movie making on a studio back-lot.*

 

*This is the end. . .I hope you enjoyed and can add something to this discussion about all the imagery, backgrounds and magic there was to old Hollywood.*

 

*P R O F E S S O R*

 

Edited by: MovieProfessor on Oct 1, 2009 11:34 PM

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> {quote:title=MovieProfessor wrote:}{quote}

> Anyone seeing this movie will always remember, what for numerous movie fans is the greatest movie set ever constructed, the fantastic Babylon set.

 

Here's a large photo of the Babylon set:

 

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Yes Sandy K. . .Most of these classic movie sets are all gone. Some were changed or modified, especially those on the Universal Pictures backlot. Then, to add more disappointment to this subject, there was a big fire recently at Universal that destroyed most of what was left from those bygone years. Even the various European motion picture companies that American production units utilized during the 1950s and 60s are also all gone. Though it's interesting to note that the grand Roman Forum set in Spain, built by Samuel Bronston, stood abandoned for many years, until finially getting dismantled. It's logical to say that most movie sets, at least those created on a Hollywood backlot, were always changed or modified for whatever new movie project came along. Real estate for any studio became a valuable commodity. I think Universal was the best studio as far as keeping their backlot somewhat recognizable. There were also a few sets around Culver City, that were constantly in used and rented out. Many famous television programs and movies utilized these facilities. The Culver City sets also recently caught fire and now have to be repaired or brought back to life. It's funny how most of the studios in Hollywood have all suffered from fire damage. . .Strange.

 

MP.

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