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building with film

June 10, 2013

NxNW

From Benjamin

With the Museum of Modern Art about to open their largest-ever exhibit devoted to the work of Le Corbusier, it’s worth looking at some of the movies – some well known and others perhaps not so – in which the modern master’s work appears.

We can start with the United Nations complex in New York. While the design was developed in 1947 by a committee of architects, Corb’s guiding hand can be seen both explicitly, as in the planning of the buildings on the site, and the concave shape of the General Assembly; and implicitly, as in the cantilevered concrete curves of balconies in Oscar Niemeyer’s own Secretariat Bldg. 

None of it, of course, was made accessible to director Alfred Hitchcock for the shooting of his own masterpiece, North by Northwest [1959]. To get his shots, Hitch resorted to surreptitious camera work & the ingenuity of other artists – his own design-by-committee. So when ad exec Cary Grant leaves a taxi and runs up the steps on First Avenue, the shot was “stolen” with cameras hidden in a van parked across the street, with no licenses, no extras and no notice given to actual passersby.  As he enters the public lobby, those swooping balconies he passes under are a mixture of full-scale sets reproduced on a studio soundstage in the foreground, with an enormous, canvas matte-painting by special effects genius Lee Leblanc in the background.  And when a tiny figure is seen escaping the building from an impossible, vertiginous aerial view, down the side of the glass curtain wall, Corb’s neo-plastic geometries of plantings & paths are rendered in paint onto glass in another trick shot whose artificiality only enhances our pleasure.

As the Moderns’ exhibit is up through the summer, and covers the breadth of the Swiss architect’s multifarious work & far-reaching influence, we hope to feature highlights – from furniture to urban design – that found their way to film.   

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