Ben CarrÉ - Writer

Art Director. Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 1883; emigrated to the United States, 1912. Education: Studied scenic painting at Atelier Amable studios, Paris. Family: Married Ann (Carré). Career: 1901–06—scene painter at Paris Opéra, Comédie Française, and other theatres; 1906–12—designer and scene painter for Pathé Gaumont Studios, Paris; 1912–18—designer for Eclair Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey; associated with Maurice Tourneur; 1918–37—art director for various Hollywood studios; 1937–69—background designer and painter for MGM; 1964—designed murals for General Motors Pavilion, New York World's Fair; 1969—retired to become easel painter. Died: In Hollywood, California 28 May 1978.

Films as Art Director:


La Course aux potirons ( The Pumpkin Race ) (Cohl)


Le Huguenot (Feuillade); La Mort de Mozart (Feuillade)


Le Festin de Balthazar (Feuillade)


Aux lions les chrétiens (Feuillade)


The Dollar Mark (Lund); Mother (Tourneur); The Man of the Hour (Tourneur); The Wishing Ring (Tourneur); The Pit (Tourneur)


Alias Jimmy Valentine (Tourneur); Hearts in Exile (Young); The Boss (Chautard); The Ivory Snuff Box (Tourneur); A Butterfly on the Wheel (Tourneur); The Pawn of Fate (Tourneur); Camille (Capellani)


A Girl's Folly (Tourneur); The Hand of Peril (Tourneur); The Closed Road (Tourneur); La Vie de Bohème (Capellani); The Rail Rider (Tourneur); The Velvet Paw (Tourneur); The Dark Silence (Capellani); The Deep Purple (Young); The Rack (Chautard)


Trilby (Tourneur); The Cub (Tourneur); The Undying Flame (Tourneur); The Whip (Tourneur); The Law of the Land (Tourneur); Exile (Tourneur); Barbary Sheep (Tourneur); The Rise of Jenny Cushing (Tourneur); The Pride of the Clan (Tourneur); Poor Little Rich Girl (Tourneur)


The Blue Bird (Tourneur) (co); Rose of the World (Tourneur); Prunella (Tourneur) (co); A Doll's House (Tourneur); Woman (Tourneur); Sporting Life (Tourneur)


The White Heather (Tourneur); The Life Line (Tourneur); Victory (Tourneur); The Broken Butterfly (Tourneur)


Stronger than Death (Bryand and Blanché); The River's End (Neilan); In Old Kentucky (Neilan and Green); Go and Get It (Neilan and Symonds); For the Soul of Rafael (Garson); My Lady's Garter (Tourneur); Treasure Island (Tourneur) (co)


Don't Ever Marry (Neilan and Heerman); Dinty (Neilan and McDermott); Man , Woman , and Marriage (Holubar); Bob Hampton of Placer ( Custer's Last Stand ) (Neilan); The Wonderful Thing (Brenon)


The Light in the Dark (Brown); When the Desert Calls (Smallwood) Queen of the Moulin Rouge (Smallwood); What Fools Men Are (Terwilliger)


Wife in Name Only (Terwilliger)


Thy Name Is Woman (Niblo); The Goldfish (Storm); Cytherea ( The Forbidden Way ) (Fitzmaurice); Tarnish (Fitzmaurice); The Red Lily (Fitzmaurice); In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter ( So This Is Hollywood ) (Green)


Lights of Old Broadway ( Merry Wives of Gotham ) (Bell); The Phantom of the Opera (Julian) (co); The Masked Bride (Cabanne and von Sternberg) (co)


Mare Nostrum (Ingram); La Bohème (K. Vidor) (co); The Book ( The Yokel ) (Wellman) (co); Don Juan (Crosland); The Better 'ole (Reisner); My Official Wife (Stein); When a Man Loves (Crosland)


The King of Kings (DeMille) (co); Old San Francisco (Crosland); Soft Cushions (Cline); The Jazz Singer (Crosland)


The Red Dance ( The Red Dancer of Moscow ) (Walsh); The River Pirate (Howard); The Air Circus (Hawks and Seiler)


The Iron Mask (Dwan) (co); The Woman from Hell (Erickson); The Valiant (Howard); The Cockeyed World (Walsh); Frozen Justice (Dwan); Hot for Paris (Walsh) (co)


City Girl (Murnau) (co); River's End (Curtiz)


Women of All Nations (Walsh) (co); The Black Camel (MacFadden); Riders of the Purple Sage (MacFadden)


Sailor's Luck (Walsh)


Dante's Inferno (Lachman) (co); A Night at the Opera (Wood) (co)


Let's Sing Again (Neumann); The Mine with the Iron Door (Howard) (co); Great Guy (Blystone)


231/2 Hours Leave (Blystone)


By CARRÉ: articles—

Film Comment (New York), May-June 1978.

Griffithiana , no. 44/45, May/September 1992.

On CARRÉ: articles—

Everson, William K., in Films in Review (New York), November 1977

Hambley, John, (ed.), in The Art of Hollywood , London, 1979.

Brownlow, Kevin, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1979–80.

Brownlow, Kevin, "Ben Carré," in Griffithiana (Gemona, Italy), September 1988.

Positif (Paris), no. 344, October 1989.

Brownlow, Kevin, "Ben Carré," in Griffithiana, May-September 1992.

* * *

Ben Carré had one of the longest careers in the history of cinema. He began his movie career as a contemporary of Méliès, Lumière, and Emile Cohl, and retired in 1969 at the age of 82. For 63 years he applied his classical training in painting and practical experience in theatre design to the production of French and American films. His expertise in trompe l'oeil painting techniques provided the early French cinema with a depth and locale the studio productions otherwise lacked. Reportedly to enliven the actors' performances, he provided sets in full color, an uncommon practice since everything was photographed in black-and-white. During the mid-1930s, Carré withdrew from his prominent role as art director because of ill health and contented himself with background painting. He also experimented with miniatures and glass paintings, and created many vivid and memorable images, especially the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz , the Smith house in Meet Me in St. Louis , and the numerous Impressionist settings for the climactic ballet of An American in Paris .

Carré was also one of the first (if not the first) Hollywood art directors. He created opulent and picturesque sets which alternated between extreme realism and bold abstraction. His 34-film collaboration with Maurice Tourneur during the 1910s represented the major peak of his career. As William K. Everson said: "Their early work together, combining stylized pictorial inventiveness with tasteful, charming storytelling, represents one of the most felicitous teamings of visual talents in all film history." Overseeing every aspect of set production for Tourneur, Carré displayed the first cohesive sense of film design seen in Hollywood and possibly the world. Films ranging from The Pawn of Fate and The Hand of Peril , through Trilby , Poor Little Rich Girl , and The Blue Bird , to Treasure Island demonstrate the two styles associated with Carré. He was best at visualizing the fantastic, employing highly stylized sets, shadowy backgrounds, glass paintings, and miniatures in an expressionistic manner. The sets for Poor Little Rich Girl and The Blue Bird seem to anticipate German Expressionism by suggesting a character's interior perspective through light and decor. Yet his designs for Pawn of Fate (an entire farm in Normandy), Trilby (the backstreets of Paris), and The Hand of Peril (a nine-room apartment set) successfully achieved a realism which influenced Rex Ingram and Erich von Stroheim.

The film most closely associated with Carré's name is The Phantom of the Opera . Combining imagination with a fond memory of the Paris Opéra, he created the haunting subterranean chambers inhabited by the Phantom. The film summarizes his encompassing talents by merging opposing sensibilities: concrete physical reality with a stylized netherworld of horror. Carré's retirement to easel painting provided a fitting closure to a career of great significance, one that is just recently being reevaluated.

—Greg S. Faller

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