Golitzen, Alexander


Golitzen, Alexander
(1907– )
   The future production designer on SPARTACUS was born in Moscow on February 28, 1907. He immigrated to America at age 16 and studied architecture at the University of Wisconsin. In 1933 he went to Hollywood, where he worked as an assistant art director. He ascended to the post of production designer in 1935. After designing sets at various studios, he became supervising art director at Universal in 1954. Among the distinguished pictures he worked on were Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945), Max Ophuls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (1947), and Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958).
   Although Golitzen was designated as production designer for Spartacus, Saul Bass, who created the title sequence for the film, was named design consultant on the film. Bass scouted locations for the movie; for example, he chosen Death Valley as the site for the mine where Spartacus and his fellow slaves work. Nevertheless, Golitzen was responsible for the major sets in the picture; he and his staff worked under the watchful eye of STANLEY KUBRICK, the director, who was a stickler for historical accuracy.
   Golitzen was uncomfortable with Bass’s title of design consultant, since it seemed to imply that Bass was impinging on Golitzen’s official role as production designer. Accordingly, Golitzen asked Edward Muhl, production chief at Universal, to change Bass’s title to visual consultant. Kubrick intervened at this point and noted that that designation seemed to suggest that Bass was poaching on his territory as director, since the director, after all, is primarily concerned with the visual dimension of the film. Bass sided with Kubrick when Muhl advised Bass that he wanted to honor Golitzen’s request that Bass be deemed visual consultant, not design consultant.
   Bass told VINCENT LOBRUTTO that he insisted with Muhl that he stick with the original title he had been given, design consultant. He maintained that he felt that he must support the position of the director, who was the creative force behind the picture. If Kubrick was uncomfortable with his being called visual consultant, then he had to insist that he be officially credited as design consultant, whether Golitzen liked it or not. To his credit, Golitzen accepted Bass as design consultant and collaborated with Bass on designing the battlefield set on the exterior location they had chosen for the climactic battle sequence; in this scene Spartacus’s slave army battles with the Roman legions sent to put down the slave revolt. Most of the battle sequence was shot near Universal Studios. In fact, these scenes, which involved masses of extras portraying the slave army and the Roman soldiers,were shot on the grassy hillsides on the edge of the Universal lot. Suburbanites who lived near the studio were awakened early on several mornings as troop movements took place almost in their back yards. (There are other reminders of Spartacus at Universal to this day. The Cinema Pavilion Museum has preliminary sketches for some of the scenes framed and hung on the walls, while close by there is a glass case containing a Roman sword and helmet. These are interesting indications of the esteem in which the studio itself holds the film. )
   The scene following the battle, in which the Roman army destroys Spartacus’s slave army, was originally supposed to be filmed on the Universal back lot. But Kubrick opted to shoot the aftermath of the battle, which shows the hillside strewn with corpses, on a soundstage, so that he could control the light better, since the scene takes place at sunset. Actually, the elaborate exterior set which Golitzen erected inside covered three soundstages. When Kubrick arrived to survey the completed set, he had a Polaroid shot made of it. After studying the photo, he decided that the set looked phony and said, “I don’t like it; I want to do it outside. ” So the studio had to absorb the cost of the huge unused indoor set, and Kubrick shot the scene outdoors, according to the original plan.
   Withal, Golitzen received an Academy Award for Spartacus. He also earned Oscars for The Phantom of the Opera (1943) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). He retired after working on Earthquake (1974), and is still regarded as one of Hollywood’s outstanding production designers.
   References
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1999).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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