Societies of The Spectacle

 In the late 1930s, as his work on Gone with the Wind was unfolding, production designer William Cameron Menzies spoke of his personal aesthetic. “I am interested,” Menzies said, “in the photoplay as a series of pictures—as a series of fixed and moving patterns—as a fluid composition…When the art director receives the finished scenario, he begins to transpose the written words into a series of mental pictures…collecting in his mind the opportunities for interesting compositions.” Menzies—whose elaborate storyboards and groundbreaking matte designs established much of the complex, conflicted visual language of Wind—had worked for 15 years as a Hollywood designer on films like The Thief of Baghdad, and David Selznick’s epic offered a grand space to display his vision. But three years earlier, in a very different war-torn setting, Menzies’s conception of cinema as a series of interesting stills would reach its apogee, for better and for worse. 
The 1936 Menzies-directed film Things to Come,  out now on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection, balances tremulously between spectacle and speechifying, the familiarity of the old and the shock of the new. My review of the disc is up at Cinespect.


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