Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NOIR CITY 6—Diego Rivera's Cargador de Flores

The wonderful thing about watching noir films back to back at Noir City is that you spot associations you might otherwise not make. Armor Marlowe—set decorator for the opening night feature Repeat Performance (and a noirish name if ever I've heard one)—and Jacques Mapes—set decorator for the following night's feature The Prowler—both used Diego Rivera's painting "Cargador de Flores (1935)" as a set dressing. This struck me only because I recall seeing it in one of the Val Lewton films I recently reviewed for the Lewton blogathon. Now I have to go back and find out which Lewton film and somehow satisfy my curiosity concerning how many times Rivera's painting has been used as a set decoration and why? Aware that Hollywood was crucial in introducing Mexican art to the American public (Edgar G. Robinson was one of the first to buy Frida Kahlo's paintings, for example), I'm wondering if the usage of modern Mexican art in the 40s and 50s isn't comparable to the role of "Japanese taste" in films of the silent era; as a barometer of cultural sophistication? Discussing this with Alan Rode, he cautioned that I might never be able to secure clear answers. But I toss it out as a trivia question: have any of you seen this painting in a movie?

Coincidentally enough, this painting is part of the collection in San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art and
on their website Chicano artist Rupert Garcia—comparing "Cargador de Flores" to the Kahlo hung beside it—comments that in Rivera's painting "the people are insignificant; they're just like props." (Emphasis added.) The painting's formal attributes, he concludes, makes the painting "monumental."

Cross-published on Twitch.


Steve said...

Haha! Armor Marlowe. It doesn't get much more noirish than that, does it?

Just off the cuff, it seems like there's an aesthetic affinity between Rivera's work and film noir. I want to say it's colloquialism, because they both use images that are closer to the average viewer's experience, not burdened with the formal conventions of bourgeois art. Rivera's big, simple shapes and bright colors are like noir's stark blacks and whites and simple compositions. But that's just the four years I didn't go to art school talking. In fact, your explanation seems more plausible. I recall that the Caesar salad, supposedly invented in 1924, became well-known because of celebrities from Hollywood who liked to make the short trip down to Tijuana and Caesar Cardini's restaurant.

Michael Guillen said...

Steve, thanks for the comment! Whether backed up by art school or not, you've some entertaining propositions there! And I love the bit about the Caesar salad; didn't know that was its source.

Anonymous said...

Very interested to stumble across this dialogue on Rivera's "Flower Carrier", as I've actually written an article on the use of this painting in film noir in the book "Unamerican Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era". It can be found here:
Any idea what Lewton film the Rivera painting appears in?

Michael Guillen said...

Frank, this is absolutely what I love about the Internet! How fantastic that you stumbled upon this inquiry. I look forward to reading your essay in Unamerican Hollywood and I'll track down the Lewton reference for you.

Anonymous said...

I caught up with "Repeat Performance" recently and added it to my ever-growing list of movies that use this painting. Let me know if you see it anywhere else & I'll give you a credit in the revised & expanded version some time in the future.