Made well before the vampire series of the same name, this film features a star cast (including Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman and a young Reese Witherspoon) and a famous art deco house designed and built by legendary MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons.
Gibbons is credited with introducing ‘moderne’ styling to cinema in the 1930’s. The son of an architect, Gibbons had an eye for design and recognised early that the clean stylised lines, contrasting light and shade and the striking geometric details of what is today known as art deco, would translate well to the back and white medium of the day. It was a stroke of genius - the glimpse into a monied, carefree world provided the kind of escapism audiences were looking for during the depression and arguably made MGM the most successful studio during this dark period.
When Gibbons turned his skills to designing a house for himself and new wife, Mexican silent film star Delores Del Rio, he proved that his talent applied as easily to three dimensional space as it did to a soundstage. Thanks in part to his thorough knowledge of the modern movement and the thinking behind it. With the help of architect Douglas Honnold who also worked at MGM, he applied devices of volume interconnection and directed perspective - both techniques fairly new to the architectural approach at the time. What is not surprising however, is the theatrical use of lighting throughout the house. Recessed fittings wash walls with indirect light, highlighting the play of solid against void and exaggerating patterned mouldings with shadow. Staging of the circulation spaces also gives away the house’s cinematic roots. The wide central stair against a wall of linear windows provides the perfect opportunity to make a theatrical entrance and its’ extra long transitional landing offers a position to pause dramatically mid decent (see below). This was no doubt used to full effect at the many lavish parties the couple held at the house throughout the 1930’s which were regularly frequented by Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Clarke Gable. If walls could talk then this house would have a best selling autobiography.
It is this suggestion of a colourful history that fits so well with the Twilight story. It is cast as the home of two Hollywood veterans, played by Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman. Teemed with a plethora of movie memorabilia from their youth, the house’s tarnished glamour (filmed before a major facelift in the early 2000’s) underlines a previous heyday for the pair and we discover as the film progresses that they have been managing the fallout from that time ever since. Enlarged self portraits of Sarandons character decorate the living spaces and indicate a level of self conscious ageing and the sheer number of mirror finishes displays an unusual level of narcissism.
With it’s cinematic gestures and grand statements, this is a house built for dramatics, as Gibbons possibly discovered. Gibbons and Del Rio divorced in 1941, the same year that she began an affair with Orson Welles.