Character Actor: Modern Architecture in Popular Cinema pt. 1

On June 18, 2014 Dwaine Carver gave a presentation on modern architecture in popular cinema. Below is a filmography of examples he gave. Idaho Modern has included additional links to where the films may be viewed. 

This post (part one of two) covers the films discussed from 1924-1950


L’Inhumaine, 1924, L’Hebier, production design: Leger, Mallet-Stevens, Lalique, Charreau… 

Synopsis: Famous singer Claire Lescot, who lives on the outskirts of Paris, is courted by many men, including a maharajah, Djorah de Nopur, and a young Swedish scientist, Einar Norsen. At her lavish parties she enjoys their amorous attentions but she remains emotionally aloof and heartlessly taunts them. When she is told that Norsen has killed himself because of her, she shows no feelings. At her next concert she is booed by an audience outraged at her coldness. She visits the vault in which Norsen's body lies, and as she admits her feelings for him she discovers that he is alive; his death was feigned. Djorah is jealous of their new relationship and causes Claire to be bitten by a poisonous snake. Her body is brought to Norsen's laboratory, where he, by means of his scientific inventions, restores Claire to life.

additional reading

have yet to find this available to watch online


Aelita: Queen of Mars, 1924, Protazanov, design: Alexandra Exter 

Synopsis: Based on Alexei Tolstoy's novel of the same name.  Though the main focus of the story is the daily lives of a small group of people during the post-war Soviet Union, the enduring importance of the film comes from its early science fiction elements. It primarily tells of a young man, Los (Russian: Лось, literally Elk), traveling to Mars in a rocket ship, where he leads a popular uprising against the ruling group of Elders, with the support of Queen Aelita who has fallen in love with him after watching him through a telescope.

additional reading

available on archive.org as a silent film, and with an updated musical version. A third version (with a soundtrack) is available on Amazon Prime Instant. 


Man with a Movie Camera, 1929, Vertov, Ed.: Svilova, Odessa, Kiev, Moscow 

Synopsis: An experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors, by Soviet director Dziga Vertov, edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. The film presents urban life in the Ukrainian cities of Odessa, Kharkiv and Kiev. From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. To the extent that it can be said to have "characters," they are the cameramen of the title, the film editor, and the modern Soviet Union they discover and present in the film.

available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant


Metropolis, Lang, 1927, Eric Kettelhut, F. Lang, Thea von Harbou, production design 

Synopsis: Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city's ruler, and Maria, a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city.

In 1984 Oscar-winning composer Giorgio Moroder restored Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi classic and adds songs by the biggest names in 1980s pop.

available on Netflix


Things to Come, 1936, Menzies, sp., H.G. Wells, art dir: Vincent Korda 

Synopsis: Things to Come speculates on the future of society in the aftermath of a global war in 1940. A war which continues for decades reducing what is left of society to small isolated groups struggling to survive. One such community is visited by a stranger determined to impress his vision of a new, better and progressive civilisation.

available on archive.org and Amazon Prime Instant 


Just Imagine, 1930, David Butler, set: Stephan Goosson 

Synopsis: Just Imagine is a 1930 science fiction musical comedy directed by David Butler. The film is probably best known for its art direction and special effects in its portrayal of New York City in an imagined 1980.


Follow the Fleet, Swing Time and Shall We Dance, 1936, ’36 and ’37, set design, Van Nest Polglase 

have yet to find these films available to watch online in full


Perisphere at 1939, New York World’s Fair, Harrison and Fouilhoux, Democracity by Henry Dreyfuss 

"Perisphere leo" by Bvhwiki - Leo Husick, photographer. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Perisphere_leo.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Perisphere_leo.jpg

"Perisphere leo" by Bvhwiki - Leo Husick, photographer. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Perisphere_leo.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Perisphere_leo.jpg


The Fountainhead, King Vidor, 1949, Edwin Carrere, set designs 

Synopsis: Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Ayn Rand, who wrote the screenplay adaptation. Howard Roark, an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision, following his battle to practice what the public sees as modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress, or both, allow the film to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work. Roark is Rand's embodiment of the human spirit, and his struggle represents the struggle between individualism and collectivism.


stay tuned for part two, the 50's and beyond