"The Furniture" our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber
This week marks 50 years since the release of Is Paris Burning? (not to be confused with documentary classic Paris is Burning) an epic that hasn’t quite stood the test of time. In the tradition of The Longest Day, it harnesses a cast of thousands to tell the story of a single, crucial moment of World War Two: The liberation of Paris. French stars like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon take roles in the Resistance, while the likes of Kirk Douglas and Glenn Ford play American generals. There are cameos from Simone Signoret, George Chakiris and Anthony Perkins, to name only a few.
Directed by René Clément with a script by Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola, you’d think it would be more popular. Still, it’s worth revisiting, and not only for its two Oscar nominations (art direction and cinematography).The film’s visual ambition is often astonishing. Its commitment to accuracy caused at least one unlucky Parisian passerby that the Wehrmacht had actually returned. Everything is bold, nothing subtle.
Production designer Willy Holt, an American who mostly worked in France, later worked on Julia and Au revoir les enfants. Art director Marc Frederix designed for films as disparate as Moonraker and Love and Death, while his colleague Pierre Gufroy won an Oscar for Roman Polanski’s Tess. Clearly, the talented group was more than up to the task of winding back the clock 20 years on one of the world’s most recognizable cities.