The cutaway: The bisected sets of Anderson, Godard, Lewis, Berkeley, Keaton and Parrott

In a recent issue of The New Yorker, a Goings On listing written by Richard Brody noted that the Museum of the Moving Image was screening the Jerry Lewis film, The Ladies Man. In the movie, Lewis plays Herbert H. Heebert, “a high-strung and wounded young man who seeks a secular sanctuary from sex and ends up in Hollywood, as a handyman in a women’s boarding house.” Brody goes on to write, “The house where Herbert lives and works is one of the greatest and most influential sets of all time,” which got me thinking about where else have I seen this “colossal dollhouse-like cutaway” approach before and, for that matter, since.

A recent example of an epic “dollhouse effect” is Wes Anderson’s set piece for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which featured a fantastic cutaway/bisected research vessel dubbed the Belafonte. The Belafonte, complete with mini-sub and helicopter, is of course a loving homage to oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s vessel, the Calypso. And yes, Harry Belafonte played calypso music on an album called Calypso. Seu Jorge, on the other hand, is a Brazilian Samba musician and the Belafonte’s resident recording artist who performs haunting David Bowie covers at intervals throughout the film. But I digress. The point is, after doing a little research on the making of the Belafonte set I stumbled upon Anthony Balducci’s blog, which itemizes a half-dozen examples of this visual trope, which apparently has been around for at leat 95 years.

Here are some examples, traveling back in time from the present:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

Tout Va Bien (Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard; 1972)

Tout Va Bien (Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard; 1972)

The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)

The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)

Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley; 1933)

Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley; 1933)

The High Sign (Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline; 1921)

The High Sign (Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline; 1921)

Ship Ahoy (Charles Parrott, 1919)

Ship Ahoy (Charles Parrott, 1919)


See also: Symmetry and one-point perspective in the films of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson

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