When I look at the romantic comedies of the 30s, it strikes me how many of the American-made films are set and a kind of fantasy Europe. I don’t know if this is because so many of the creative minds in film, particularly in the 20s and 30s, were first and second generation Europeans, harking back to what they remembered of European society. Some of the most brilliant of those filmmakers imbued their films with a kind of continental sophistication that ran orthogonal to strata in American culture.
The picture up top is from Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful Trouble in Paradise, in which we not only have an impossible perfume factory in Paris, but the film opens in a Hollywood take on Venice that is as peculiarly history-less as the ‘Venice’ in the Astaire and Rogers Top Hat.
Of course most of these films were made for escapism, for reality in the USA was Depression and the Dust Bowl. But not a lot of that is visible to today’s reader/viewer of period stuff.
Someone now who only watched American films of the thirties that were set in Europe could come away with this sense that it was a sunshiny period filled with rich people having fun. That Europe was a gigantic Disneyland, only with glamorous theaters, restaurants, and houses as settings for fabulous parties instead of rides.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t all that stuff going on, while storm clouds brewed. I’ve even heard it said that the thirties were the last of Europe’s glamour period, that once the war ended, glamour was gone forever, except in dress-up parties that hearkened to the past.
If you read (or watch) a lot of history, what’s your take on the thirties in the West?