New Show on Prohibition Uses Magazines as Source

In the Times today I saw a review of the new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” which takes place during Prohibition. It stars Steve Buscemi and a number of stellar actors, and had some advisement I believe from Martin Scorsese.

The show seems to pay an unprecedented attention to accuracy of historical detail, and some of the sources were magazines. The caption to one picture in the slide show reads: “Whenever possible, John A. Dunn, the show’s costume designer, used authentic clothing from the period, either rented or bought on eBay or in vintage clothing shops; otherwise the costumes were handmade to designs of the period. He rummaged through the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum and studied old magazines catalogs and tailoring books.”

It also indicates that the soundtrack features music found in silent movie scores and old nickelodeons that hasn’t been heard for almost a century.

It would be interesting to know why the people on the production side were so interested in material culture sources for a show depicting such a symbolic period in American history (beyond the simple need for realism). I don’t have time at the moment, but I’m going to try and follow up with links to some interviews that might elucidate the creative processes behind this show. Makes me wish I had a subscription to HBO.

One response to “New Show on Prohibition Uses Magazines as Source

  1. There is a great moment in the pilot when Mrs. Schroeder (played by Kelly Macdonald) stares at the Art Nouveau cover of an issue of Vogue. We recognize in her look of dismay that she registers the gap between her pregnant body and disheveled attire and the streamlined shape and haute couture guise of the illustration. With this moment, I wonder if the writers/producers are also nodding to the gap between print culture representations and working class experiences of life in the 1920s. Even on their dolled-out flapper (Nucky’s inarticulate lover), the brassy colors and short hemlines of fashionable 1920s attire look like an ill-fitting costume that mimes luxury and achieves carnival. I like thus far that the show establishes this gap between the magazine dream and the modern reality. I think they are establishing this undercurrent of the irony of marketing with the boardwalk billboards as well.

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