“Light & Noir: Exiles & Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950” to make exclusive Northern California stop at the California Museum May 16-Oct. 15
Traveling exhibit explores refugees’ influence on the Golden Age of cinema through rare artifacts from “Casablanca” (1942), “Double Indemnity” (1944), “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and 13 other classic films
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (April 25, 2017) — “Light & Noir: Exiles & Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950” will make its only Northern California stop on its national tour May 16 through Oct. 15, 2017 at the California Museum. Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the exhibit explores how the experiences of German-speaking exiles—many of them Jewish—shaped the classic films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Rare artifacts from iconic films such as “Casablanca” (1942), “Double Indemnity” (1944), “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and 13 others reveal the history of Hollywood’s studio era through the lens of the émigré experience, and demonstrate a legacy of innovation that continues to shape the industry today.
“Learning the stories of the people behind these movie classics that we all know and love reveals the films in a fascinating new light,” said Museum Executive Director Amanda Meeker. “It is a perennially relevant story that shows how exiled outsiders became Hollywood insiders, bringing a sensibility to filmmaking at once tragic and comic.”
Although the role of Jewish immigrants in Hollywood’s formative years is widely known, the stories of Jewish refugees who shaped American filmmaking during World War II are less commonly explored. When the Nazis banned Jews from the German film industry in 1933, it launched an exodus of Europe’s top talent. Over 800 movie professionals arrived in Los Angeles over the next fifteen years. Among them were directors Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann; composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman; writers Salka Viertel and Lion Feuchtwanger; and actors Marlene Dietrich, Paul Henreid, Hedy Lamarr, Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt. The exhibit features over 60 portraits of these émigrés who sought refuge in California.
Original immigration documents, sponsorship letters and fundraising materials reveal the difficulties refugees faced, and how earlier German-speaking immigrants helped their colleagues escape the Nazis and find success in California. In particular, the exhibit highlights director Ernst Lubitsch, Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle and talent agent Paul Kohner, who together formed the European Film Fund in 1938 to support new arrivals.
The émigrés made significant contributions to four distinct film genres: exile film, anti-Nazi film, film noir and comedy. The exhibit explores “Casablanca” (1942) as the ultimate example of the exile film. At its center are stories of refugees from Nazi persecution at the height of WWII, which influenced not only the characters in the story but many of the film’s cast and crew in their off-screen lives. Actors Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre were both refugees who fled Nazi Germany shortly before the film was made. Director Michael Curtiz and composer Max Steiner had worked in Hollywood for many years, but were living as exiles at the time the film was made, no longer able to return to their homelands due to their Jewish heritage. On display are original costumes worn by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid and furniture props from the Rick’s Café set, along with film clips, original posters, lobby cards and more used in the film’s production.
Warner Bros. initiated the anti-Nazi genre in 1939 with the release of “Confessions of a Nazi Spy.” Starring Polish German actor Martin Kosleck as Joseph Goebbels, the film is featured as one of many examples of actors who fled Nazi persecution and then were cast as Nazis in Hollywood due to their German accents. Also highlighted are examples of political materials revealing anti-Semitism in America during that period.
The exhibit also examines the role of Jewish émigrés in developing film noir. With its dark social and psychological underpinnings, dramatic lighting and unconventional camera angles, film noir echoed German Expressionist cinema the refugees had developed while working in their native land during the 1920s. Among the examples featured are production stills and an original costume worn by Joan Crawford in “Mildred Piece” (1945). In addition, original posters, storyboards, production stills and more from “Scarlet Street” (1945), directed by Fritz Lang; “The Killers” (1946), directed by Robert Siodmak; and “Double Indemnity” (1944) and “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), both directed by Billy Wilder, are included.
Another section looks at émigré contributions to comedy as the flip side of film noir, often with an undercurrent of deeper dimensions. Examples on view include memorabilia from “Harvey” (1950), directed by Henry Koster and starring Jimmy Stewart, along with the original costume worn by Marlene Dietrich in “A Foreign Affair” (1948), directed by Billy Wilder.
Anti-Communist materials reveal the not-always-welcoming ways of America. Beginning in the 1940s, the House Un-American Activities Committee targeted many filmmakers, including émigrés, significantly limiting their personal and professional lives. Documentary footage of composer Hanns Eisler’s hearing accompanies protest materials from the Hollywood community and émigré expressions of patriotism for the U.S.
Initially open at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles from Oct. 23, 2014 through Mar. 1, 2015, “Light & Noir: Exiles & Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950” will conclude its tour schedule at the California Museum on Oct. 15, 2017. For more information and related programming, visit http://www.CaliforniaMuseum.org/Light-Noir.
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