Art Director. Nationality: French. Born: Sandor Trauner in Budapest, Hungary, 3 August 1906; emigrated to France, 1929; naturalized, 1944. Education: Studied painting, School of Fine Arts, Budapest, 1925–29. Career: Assistant art director to Lazare Meerson, in early 1930s, then art director in France, Hollywood, and elsewhere; also stage designer; 1936—founder member, Cinémathéque Française. Awards: Academy Award for The Apartment, 1960; César awards for Mr. Klein, 1977; Don Giovanni, 1979; Subway, 1985. Died: 6 December 1993 at Omonville-La-Petite.
Films as Assistant Art Director:
Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris) (Clair); David Golder (Duvivier)
Jean de la Lune (Choux); A nous la liberté (Clair)
L'Affaire est dans le sac (It's in the Bag) (P. Prévert); Quatorze juillet (Clair); Danton (Roubaud)
Ciboulette (Autant-Lara); Amok (Ozep); Faut réparer Sophie (Ryder)
Films as Art Director/Production Designer:
L'Hôtel du libre-échange (M. Allégret) (co); Sans famille (M. Allégret) (co)
La Kermesse heroïque (Carnival in Flanders) (Feyder) (co)
Gribouille (M. Allégret); La Dame de Malacca (M. Allégret) (co); Drôle de drame (Bizarre Bizarre) (Carné); Mollenard (Siodmak)
Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows) (Carné); Entrée des artistes (The Curtain Rises) (M. Allégret) (co); Hôtel du Nord (Carné)
Le Jour se lève (Daybreak) (Carné)
Soyez les bienvenus (de Baroncelli)
Remorques (Stormy Weather) (Grémillon); Le Soleil a toujours raison (Billon) (co)
Les Visiteurs du soir (The Devil's Envoys) (Carné) (co)
Lumière d'été (Grémillon) (co)
Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise) (Carné) (co); Les Malheurs de Sophie (Audry)
Les Portes de la nuit (Gates of the Night) (Carné); Rêves d'amour (Stengel) (co); Voyage surprise (P. Prévert) (co)
La Fleur de l'âge (Carné—unfinished)
La Marie du port (Carné) (co)
Manèges (The Cheat) (Y. Allégret); Les Miracles n'ont lieu qu'une fois (Y. Allégret)
Juliette, ou la clé des songes (Carné); The Green Glove (Maté)
Othello (Welles); Les Sept Péchés capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins) (Y. Allégret); La Jeune Folle (Y. Allégret)
Un Acte d'amour (Act of Love) (Litvak)
Land of the Pharoahs (Hawks)
Du Rififi chez les hommes (Rififi) (Dassin) (co); L'Amant de Lady Chatterley (Lady Chatterley's Lover) (M. Allégret)
The Happy Road (Kelly); En effeuillant la Marguerite (Mam'zelle Striptease) (M. Allégret)
Love in the Afternoon (Wilder)
Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder); The Nun's Story (Zinnemann)
Le Secret du Chevalier d'eon (Audry)
Once More with Feeling (Donen); The Apartment (Wilder)
Romanoff and Juliet (Ustinov); Paris Blues (Ritt); Aimez-vous Brahms (Goodbye Again) (Litvak); One, Two, Three (Wilder)
Le Couteau dans la plaie (Five Miles to Midnight) (Litvak)
Irma La Douce (Wilder); Behold a Pale Horse (Zinnemann)
Kiss Me, Stupid (Wilder)
How to Steal a Million (Wyler)
The Night of the Generals (Litvak); La Puce à l'oreille (A Flea in Her Ear) (Charon)
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Wilder); Les Mariés de l'an II (Rappeneau)
La Promesse de l'aube (Promise at Dawn) (Dassin)
L'Impossible Objet (The Impossible Object) (Frankenheimer); Grandeur nature (Berlanga)
The Man Who Would Be King (Huston)
La Première Fois (Berri)
Mr. Klein (Losey); Les Routes du sud (Losey)
Don Giovanni (Losey); The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (Haggard)
Coup de torchon (Clean Slate) (Tavernier)
The Trout (Losey)
Tchao Pantin (Berri)
Vive les femmes! (Confortes)
Harem (A. Joffé); Subway (Bresson)
Round Midnight (Autour de minuit) (Tavernier)
Le Moustachu (Chaussois)
La Nuit bengali (Klotz)
Comédie d'amour (Gobbi); Réunion (Schatzberg) (+ ro)
By TRAUNER: articles—
Image et Son (Paris), December 1965.
Positif (Paris), October and November 1979, additions in January 1980.
Film Comment (New York), January-February 1982.
Cinématographe (Paris), March 1982.
Film Français (Paris), 13 August 1984.
Télérama (Paris), 17–23 November 1984.
Revue du Cinéma/Image et Son (Paris), December 1984.
Cinéma (Paris), September-October 1985.
Cinéma (Paris), no. 453, January 1989.
On TRAUNER: books—
Alexandre Trauner: Cinquante ans de cinéma, Paris 1986.
Alexandre Trauner: Décors de cinéma, Paris 1988.
On TRAUNER: articles—
Calibano, "Scenografia di Trauner," in Libro e Moschetto (Milan), no. 24, 1943.
Unifrance (Paris), November 1951.
Gray, Martin, "Design for Living," in Films and Filming (London), January 1957.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1967.
Film Français (Paris), 18 February 1977.
Cinéma Français (Paris), April 1980.
Film Français (Paris), 30 October 1981.
Film Français (Paris), 2 March 1984.
National Film Theatre booklet (London), October-November 1984.
Cinéma (Paris), 25 September 1985.
Télérama, no. 1894, April 1986.
Cinéma (Paris), 7 May 1986.
Film Français, no. 2077, February 1986 and no. 2087, May 1986.
Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1986.
Filmkultura (Budapest), March 1987.
Film en televisie (Brussels), no. 368, January 1988.
Première, no. 140, November 1988.
Avant-Scène (Paris), no. 374, October 1988.
Positif, no. 352, June 1990.
Film Français, no. 2848, December 1993.
Obituary, in Variety, 20 December 1993.
Studio Magazine, no. 82, April 1994.
Classic Images, no. 226, April 1994.
* * *
Alexandre Trauner's vast career is mentioned and analyzed in all books about production design, but he remained modest and disliked to talk about his skills. "I work in the shadow of the authors, and it's just as well," he said. "A designer is a manipulator, he makes believe . . . and makes audiences believe. And as a magician, he should not reveal too much of his tricks!"
What kind of tricks has Trauner used, for instance, to build houses, towns, atmospheres that have become for millions of people throughout the world, the houses, the towns, the atmospheres of Paris, London, or the Pharaohs' Egypt? Even those who do not precisely remember the docks in Quai des Brumes or the boulevard in Children of Paradise imagine them just as Trauner has designed them.
"What makes my job most interesting," said Trauner, "is that there are no two identical films, even though producers would like to repeat indefinitely the same success. Every time I start working on a movie, I try to forget all that I have experienced."
He claimed that invention is the one and only acceptable rule. That is trick number one. Another of his tricks might be called friendship. The best of his work was done with people who were his friends: poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert; directors Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Joseph Losey, composer Maurice Jaubert, designers Ray and Charles Eames, actors Jean Gabin, Yves Montand, Jack Lemmon, and others.
"Shooting a film is collective work," said Trauner, and something he enjoyed. "Each member of the team contributes, everything is important, but what's decisive for me is to have an adventure in common!"
Trauner's sets are immediately recognizable. During the Second World War, when France was occupied and he worked undercover, everyone in the profession felt his touch and knew that he had designed Grémillon's Lumière d'été and Carné's Les Visiteurs du soir, for his style is unmistakable. The basic trick was simplicity. He banished the picturesque and loathes the decorative. "It's useless," he said, "to fill the screen with superfluous things. Come to think about it, what a designer refrains from doing is almost more important than what he actually does. He's like a sculptor who eliminates material from the marble block. He cannot show everything; he chooses the significant elements, the unexpected ones, and these must look true, they must sound right."
That was how Trauner achieved the sturdiest, the most meaningful and imaginative of sets. He created the Paris that many people have in their minds, but he believed that movies become interesting when they do not stick to reality. Showing reality was not enough: the picture must be new and surprising. Only then does it become real. "It's a question of point of view, just as painting is a question of vision, and from Far Eastern to European painting, there are many different visions!" said Trauner.
Painting, since his beginnings at the Fine Arts School of Budapest, remained essential for him. He was the best known of production designers, the most ignored of painters. Only his close friends, Prévert or Picasso, knew about it, as he was always too modest or careless to do or let do anything about it; his set designs turn out to be fascinating pieces of painting. They were made with paint and a brush, just as the sets were made of plaster, wood, and sunlight. They were made by a person whose trick, all said and done, was to have no tricks—only an incisive eye, a keen understanding of people and places, and talent, as they say.
With Trauner's death in 1993, the cinema lost one of its truly international art directors. In a career spanning five decades, he served leading directors in Europe and America, winning an Oscar and three Césars for his production designs. He saw his role as helping "the mise en scène so that the spectator has an immediate grasp of the characters' psychology," and with over eighty films to his credit, there is ample evidence of his wide-ranging achievement. Comparing himself more readily to a painter than to an architect, he acknowledged the influence of Cubism and Impressionism, though it was Lazare Meerson who shaped his initial predilection for non-naturalistic designs. If in France his early career was synonymous with those of Carné and Grémillon, he was equally at home in later years with Tavernier or the hi-tech world of Besson. Outside France, his associations with Wilder and Losey were particularly creative, whether designing the huge, Kafkaesque office for The Apartment or exploiting the natural locations of Palladio to exquisite effect in Don Giovanni. From the monumental to the intimate, from fantasy 15th-century castles to 19th-century French boulevards or the London of Sherlock Holmes, from seedy hotels and working class tenements in France to exotic locations in West Africa or India, Trauner excelled in creating the necessary framework for the director's narrative to unfold. In 1986 his achievements were marked in Paris by retrospectives of his films at the Cinémathèque and of his set designs at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
—André Pozner, updated by R. F. Cousins