Archive for July 7th, 2013

The Ambassador: A Hotel Wonder*

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

DOCUMENTARIES

The Ambassador: A Hotel Wonder

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The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times a few days after the opening of the Ambassador Hotel in 1921. Today the Ambassador is gone, destroyed by those who are without respect for Los Angeles’ glorious past. A new documentary, After 68, by Camilo Silva is in the works to chronicle the remarkable story of the Ambassador Hotel. The producers will use this film to “raise awareness about the importance of historic preservation worldwide.”

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After 68 is a feature length documentary film that examines historic preservation through the lens of the 15-year struggle to save the famed Ambassador Hotel from demolition. This film will recount the monumental history of the Ambassador and investigate the importance of historic preservation within contemporary urban landscapes.

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To learn more about the making of After 68 and to have a chance to participate in its making, go to their website at http://www.after68.com/

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Los Angeles Times
January 20, 1921

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With the completion of the ultra-modern Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles can boast the most commodious hostelry in the West; and it is to the enterprise and vision of a Los Angeles and New York syndicate that we owe this latest and most welcome addition to the city beautiful.

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Placing $5,000,000 in a hotel project at a time when the finances of the country and the world were swaying a bit unsteadily, when the pessimists were noisy and the optimists were dumb, required both courage and foresight. Such projects have been promoted repeatedly by local speculators, but on paper. At one time, a ge3neration ago, they went so far as to build a foundation for a metropolitan hotel down on South Main Street; but they made it so big that their money was all spent by the time the basement was finished. It never rose even so high as a first story.

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Only those who have passed through the portals of that palace of comfort and pleasure can form an adequate idea of what the last word in hotel construction really says. The location is unsurpassed; the lawns, grottoes and gardens form a charming bit of landscape that might have escaped from a canvas of Corot or Monet; the architecture of the building is of that classic Latin type that awakens visions of the best works of the Italian and French masters of the eleventh and twelfth centuries; the furnishings combine modern comfort with antique charm.

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It was with faltering footsteps and longing glances backwards that the greater number of the 3,000 guests of the opening night retired after the music ceased and the lights were turned low, like fairies fleeing at the approach of dawn. Visiting the Ambassador while in Los Angeles is like being received at the palace of the Queen. It recalls the sigh of the Arab poet, “It is easier to enter the enchanted gardens of Hadjiz than to depart again.”

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Click here to learn more about the making of After 68 and a chance to participate in its making.

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King Vidor tells of working on ‘The Big Parade’

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

FILM HISTORY

King Vidor tells of work in filming ‘The Big Parade’

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King Vidor, who produced The Big Parade, wrote scenes for the film and would map them out to the click-click of a metronome, varying the tempo according to the action. Vidor was methodical. He was under the spell of motion pictures since he was a boy of 12. He believed that there was a chance for a new art through the medium of the camera so he took up directing because he wanted to be engaged in something new. He was a man of vision, not only so far as the possibilities of the screen were concerned, but one who is quick to see beyond that which he is actually engaged upon, whether it was a film or a scene.

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About The Big Parade, he was rather proud that virtually all the scenes of this production, with the exception of a few that were made in Texas, were photographed on a tract of land that was about a block square. What seemed to be miles of woods and vast stretches of shell-shorn ground were filmed in this limited area.

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One day in 1926, Vidor sat comfortably in a chair in a room in the Ambassador Hotel and shared some thoughts about the making of The Big Parade:

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“I have just finished La Bohème,” Vidor said with a smile, “the period of which is 1880, and I am next going to make Bardelys the Magnificent, by Raphael Sabatini, which is even an earlier period. I have not much fear of criticism of what is put forth in these productions. But there are 2,000,000 critics of The Big Parade. I did all that was humanly possible to insure accuracy in this picture. United States officers helped me constantly, and I studied miles and miles of Government film, taken by the Signal Corps of the United States army during the fighting. These pictures were made on all sectors of the lines, so it was quite possible for any individual who concentrated his attention on the results as thrown upon a screen being able to leave the projection room after days and days of study with sufficient knowledge of what the fighting front looked like, so as to be able to put it on canvas or on the screen, possibly more accurately than a man who had been on the fighting front. Nevertheless, as I said, to safeguard against errors and to insert special ideas we fortunately had with us United States army officers, but even these men could not know everything that happened at the front, and an interesting point is one on which I lost a wager. I said that I thought that I had seen in the Signal Corps films American troops marching in columns of twos. The officers insisted I was wrong, so I paid my bet. But some time afterward I discovered no less than five reels of Signal Corps film in which our men marched in columns of two. To get my little revenge I made everybody look through these five reels when they were ready for dinner.

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“You will notice that in The Big Parade there are very few interiors. Some of our most successful scenes were inspired at the moment before the camera. You have told of the chewing gun incident and the last cigarette given to a dying German, but did you know that Slim’s chewing and spitting only flashed across our minds after we had started on the production? Karl Dane, who portrays Slim, used to report for work sucking a bit of licorice, and it suddenly occurred to us to devote two or three scenes to having him an inveterate tobacco chewer. You will remember that he expectorates when he is on a skyscraper girder just before joining up. Then he spits out the candle when the troops are leaving the farmhouse, and finally there is the contest in the shell hole to see who shall go over the top to silence the ‘toy’ gun.”

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Vidor said that he began the film by taking the scenes of the shell hole, and, to have the principals look as if they were muddy and dirty, there was a special hole half filled with mud in which the actors soaked themselves before they went before the camera. Vidor believed in a human hero, one who ducks when shells are whining by, one whose physiognomy shows the contact with mud and grime.

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An enlightening feature of The Big Parade concerns the farmhouse. It had to be depicted in the latter scenes torn and rent with shells, great holes in the roof and the walls. It naturally might be supposed that Vidor would have taken the farmhouse set and shot it full of holes, so that the original setting would be realistically damaged. This was too risky, for the all-perceiving eye of the camera is a nuisance at times, and a nice new studio wall might have been seen through one of the shell holes. To obviate such a thing, Vidor employed a special backdrop artist, a man who painted the damaged farmhouse in a day. His work looks far more like a shell-torn farmhouse than if the setting had been ripped with explosives.

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In the scene in which Renée Adorée is searching for John Gilbert, Vidor pointed out that he had three distinct tempos, besides different tempos in parts of the scene. The incident starts off with sad crying, then there is the bugle call, after which everything is hushed. Then comes the 1-2-3-4—1-2-3-4, and gradually the pace quickens. Adorée is made to seem to be running as in a dream through the difference of tempo in the heroine’s pace and that of the soldiers. Hence Vidor believed that the basis of a successful scene is tempo, and that it is the underlying secret of the screen.

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