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Journal of Design History (2015) - Colour Magic at Pinewood: Hein Heckroth, The Archers and Avant-Garde Production Design in The Red Shoes (1948)




This article reconsiders the impact of émigré artist Hein Heckroth on production design. His designs for the acclaimed colour film The Red Shoes (1948), in particular, are interesting in that continental European and British notions of modernism coalesce, as well as different media. Drawing on previously unknown family-owned papers, the essay traces the development of Heckroth’s work at the intersection of design, film and avant-garde art in a transnational context. Having been trained as a typographer and painter, he came to design sets for theatre, ballet and eventually motion pictures. Being in charge of the design department at Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film company The Archers, he combined his artistic vision with the commercial requirements of the film industry. The outcome was a remarkable design that not only differed from the stark realism of European post-war cinema but prompts questions about the validity of film authorship concepts that tend to neglect the role of designers. The case of Heckroth thus provides a lens through which to study design in terms of shifting notions of artistic expression, displacement and modernism. This is particularly apparent through his acquaintance with important figures such as Alan Jarvis and Herbert Read.