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Hollywood’s Des Moines connection


art pimp 012413It’s red carpet season in Des Moines. No fewer than five bridal shows are scheduled this month, Bravo Greater Des Moines’ Awards Gala dresses up Hy-Vee Center on Feb. 2, and Des Moines Metro Opera’s Wine and Food Showcase returns to the downtown Marriott on Feb. 15. Those are just real events. The serious work of persuading men and women to dress to the best of their fantasies takes place vicariously, channeling Hollywood’s awards hoopla.                

This year, for the first time, the Des Moines Art Center (DMAC) is coordinating exhibition and programming schedules to accommodate a month of virtual red carpet experiences. In conjunction with the new exhibition “Double Feature – Art and the Movies,” seven film-related events have been arranged. They range from showings of all Oscar-nominated short films to Oscar parties and a lecture by “Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction” author Cathy Whitlock.                

All this Hollywood love was inspired by surprising Des Moines connections to blockbuster Hollywood hits. When John Steuart Curry’s “Tornado Over Kansas” was exhibited at DMAC three years ago, Burkhalter learned that Curry’s drawings for that painting had inspired sets for “The Wizard of Oz.” In their book “The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy,” authors Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pouroy revealed that director Christopher Nolan instructed his costume designers to use DMAC’s prized “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” by Francis Bacon, to create Heath Ledger’s look for his role as The Joker.                

“Nolan said that he wanted the same edgy, unsettled image as Bacon created. He also said that the painting convinced him The Joker could wear purple,” explained Burkhalter.

DMAC Programming Director Jill Featherstone added that a DMAC “Oscar Party” had already been established and that additional events could be arranged to jive with the exhibition which shows how Hollywood has been influenced by art and vice versa.                

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Burkhalter searched the DMAC archives and found seven works that fit that theme: Andy Warhol’s “Grace Kelly,” Cindy Sherman’s film stills No. 44 (1977), No. 50 (1979) and No. 56 (1980), John Baldesari’s “Paradise” (1989-90), Varvara Stepanova’s “Charlie Chaplin” (1922) and Edward Hopper’s “Night Shadows” (1921). The latter painting was borrowed by filmmaker Cameron Crowe for his “Singles.” Academy Award-nominated short films became available for the first time, and Whitlock was convinced to extend her book tour to Des Moines.                

The examples in the DMAC exhibition are classical but influenced by contemporary filmmakers’ fine art? Kristian Day (“Capone’s Whiskey: The Story of Templeton Rye”) thinks so, citing the “fragmented reality” of Salvador Dali, Genesis P. Orridge and Stan Brakhages as personal influences.                

Brakhage painted directly onto reels of film. Sometimes he would even scratch words directly into the frames.

“That’s always reminded me that people go to the movies to be temporarily transported from reality,” he explained.                

We asked Whitlock about her favorite painting-inspired film designs.

“The idyllic period set designs for the Stanley Kubrick 1975 film ‘Barry Lyndon’ were inspired by the works of the English landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough,” she said. As with most costume dramas, the atmosphere often played a third character, as each frame resembled an oil painting. Many films such as the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ (paintings from the Hudson River School) and the play-turned-film ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ that used a Kandinsky painting as a major plot device also come to mind.”

Before Oscar nominations were revealed, we asked Whitlock to predict this year’s Production Design winners. She nailed all five nominees (“Les Miserables,” “Anna Karenina,” “Life of Pi,” “The Hobbit” and “Lincoln.”) For those who play Oscar pools, she touted “Les Miz” to win the Oscar. What about “The Dark Knight?”               

“There is always a mix of fantasy, period and contemporary. Sadly the latter never wins,” she explained. CV

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