Saturday, November 3, 2018

Diana Rivera's Ghost Waltz Series- Requiem for Valentino

Diane Riveria, a wonderful photographer, has been documenting NYC in neighborhoods, where the people seem a blur of ephemera in a timeless world of buildings and light filled with spirits.
Below is a link to the complete photo essay, her Requiem to Valentino.  Enjoy.

Original 1 - The entrance to the New York Polyclinic Hospital, where Valentino died of a perforated gastric ulcer 

Original 2 - the opening header, with Valentino ghostly juxtaposed against my picture of the ornate lamp of the Roosevelt Hotel, built in 1924.n 1926

Waltzing With Valentino
Worlds, and Worlds to live in, and so few do. – Rudolph Valentino (Day Dreams, 1923)
I am a silent movie fan; a quirk inherited from my father, who loved Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and the Mack Sennett films. I'm also a photographer with a particular way of documenting the world around me. The younger generation today knows of Rudolph Valentino through the show American Horror Story: Hotel (2015). Of course, I have heard of Valentino throughout my life but wasn’t particularly acquainted with his cinematic work or his biographical history. However, I was familiar with the legend surrounding his mystique and his untimely death. Starting in April 2018 I began documenting my hometown, New York City, through a series of black and white photographs which I call Ghost Waltz. The premise of the series is an examination of time - to capture the past and the present existing simultaneously with each other. I shoot places and people going about their business but presenting, through slow shutter, how our actions indicate the exact moment in which we pass from present to past. We are in essence, through our movements, living spirits.

Original 3 - 52 Vanderbilt, built in 1916. The interior is an example of the opulence of the buildings created during the Gilded Age, in particular those around Terminal City.

Original 4 - West 45th Street (George Abbott Way), with theaters dating back to 1913.

Original 5 - Times Square, looking north. Much of Valentino’s activity during the final month of his death takes place around Times Square.
What has emerged with Ghost Waltz is a body of work that, for me, captures the border between the physical realm and the metaphysical dimension of time, and questions what it means to exist. The following photo essay documents not only Valentino's history and last days within Jazz Age New York but also my experiences in shooting this specific work, in particular what it feels like coming close to an energy 90 years strong, and continues to be terribly misunderstood. It was also my way of coming to terms with the meaning of life and death, of rise and fall, since the Jazz Age itself would meet it's end right here in New York City in October of 1929.

Tonight You Belong To Me

Film has a way of capturing a city and cementing it in a specific time. I often reconcile my nostalgic longing with my love for photography, as it allows me to experience - for a moment - a past world that seems to simultaneously exist within today, yet, when creating the image, remains entirely of my own making. However, with this project an element of the macabre remains. I have heard the stories of people who have gone to try and piece together the mystery of Valentino, and have come back reporting some pretty strange coincidences or events that were out of the ordinary. But is any of that true? Can Valentino really be that powerful to have such a hold on people? How close could I get to uncovering what is behind the mythology? 

As it turns out, pretty close. But I had to be careful, because with Valentino there was a fine line between observation, obsession, and madness. It was important to remain objective at all times, and jettison the myth(s) if I was to look for the real thing.

Original 6 - Lamps, Times Square. A reflection of the dark nightlife atmosphere of the Jazz Age. 

Original 7 - The Apollo Theater, West 42nd Street. Valentino caught his last performance of George White’s “Scandals” the night before he took ill. 

The Sound of Silence
“There's nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark.” - Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard, 1949.
On August 23rd, 1926, 92 years ago, one of the most public displays of grieving in New York City history was witnessed by the lenses of newsreels and still cameras from all over the world. The spark that lit the fuse was the demise of the uber-popular homme-fatale—silent screen star Rudolph Valentino, dying of peritonitis at the tender age of thirty-one. He has since passed into immortality, both in the minds of his fans and in history. 

Original 8 - The Algonquin Hotel, where Valentino met with HL Menken a month before his death.

Original 9 - 925 Park Avenue. Valentino attended a raucous all night party at this apartment house hosted by his friend, louche socialite Barclay Warburton the II.

If I were to base an analysis on Valentino's mystique, as it were, on my experience shooting and researching this project it would be that one does not really “see” Rudolph Valentino as much as feel him. Silence, in fact, was his greatest asset. His presence spoke to both sexes, stroking fires of a different kind in each one– in women; he stroked their long-dormant passion, squelched by the possessive, suffocating virtues of a didactic Victorian society, and was just now finding its release in the new mediums of the day, such as motion pictures. In men he stroked their long-dormant insecurity, making them come face to face with their suppressed feelings and professed weaknesses, thus incurring their hatred and latent jealousy. In doing so Valentino did what he never consciously aspired to do in his lifetime—upend an entire social order.

Original 10 - The lamp behind the Roosevelt Hotel, original to the Jazz Age.

Original 11 - Times Square as looking from the Manger Hotel, built between 1925-1926. 

In 1926, Valentino was in the middle of a promotional tour and was planning for his future as one of Hollywood's most eligible bachelors when he was struck down by a long-festering perforated ulcer, developing into the post-surgical peritonitis that eventually ended his life. This had been aggravated by a rather slanderous “Pink Powder Puff” article in the Chicago Tribune that had left Valentino’s already fragile reputation hanging by a thread, and culminated in a boxing match atop of the Hotel Ambassador at West 51st Street and Park Avenue. With a major comeback movie to promote (no doubt the article’s timely release was designed to derail this), this editorial would surely tank any prospect of the movie’s success and possibly put his career on the line. Instead, within a few weeks from the boxing match, Valentino would be dead. He never lived down the Pink Powder Puff editorial.

Original 13 - The Globe Theater (Lunt-Fontanne), where Valentino met his last mistress, Ziegfeld girl Marion Benda a month before his death. Details date back to 1910

Original 14 - Lamps, Madison Avenue. The atmosphere is similar to the Gilded Age/Jazz Age at night. 

Through a Lens, Darkly - August 23rd & 24th, 2018

Many of the historic buildings that are currently left in the city are either from the later part of Valentino’s lifetime or postdate him. I will feature some here as they form a timeline – and a point of demarcation – during a very transitional period. At the time of his death in 1926 Art Nouveau and Beaux-Arts were giving way to a new kind of d├ęcor – Art Deco. The Jazz Age itself would come crashing down three years after Valentino’s passing. It could be argued that the actor’s death was a harbinger of what was to come.


Original 15 - Carnegie Hall, built in 1891. Valentino was arrested across the street from the Hall in 1916 as part of a vice raid. 

Original 16 - Briarcliffe interior. The interior of the Briarcliffe (built in 1922) is emblematic of most apartment houses built in the 1920s. Also, Valentino was arrested behind the Briarcliffe in a vice raid in 1916.

In using monochrome film to shoot the various locations that were associated with Valentino (with the occasional color), I wanted to capture the spirit of the time in a way that was cinematic yet true to life, and imagined this project as a sort of silent documentary of stills - recalling to mind the Jazz Age with all of its danger, glamour, excitement, mysteriousness, and foreboding (Gangsters, ya know). 
Adding to the atmosphere are the ornate streetlights that hang from longstanding buildings; many of them are from the era and still work, providing a link to a lost time. In New York City, nightlife took place in an environment that was much darker than it looks in the movies, despite the lights in Times Square. With electricity being a relatively recent invention, many of the bulbs did not have the mega-wattage that today's lights do


Original 17 - St. Malachy’s Church (The Actor’s Chapel). Valentino’s funeral took place at this chapel on August 30th, 1926.

Original 18 - Interior of St. Malachy’s Church (The Actor’s Chapel). Valentino’s funeral took place at this chapel on August 30th, 1926.

The Last Waltz

While I didn't exactly fall in love with Valentino, I felt this was quite a journey into the realm of the dead, and in particular the realm of powerful legends.
I found Valentino to be a kindly spirit who asks for compassion and understanding when dealing with his memory, and he certainly deserves it when taking into account all of the injustice he had to endure in his lifetime. The early 20th century was often a deadly place for people who didn't fit a narrow, nationalistic ideal. These ideas were often exacerbated by the fledgling motion picture industry, in particular by directors like D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, who cemented these ideas into stereotypes that would take hold of the mind of a stubbornly unenlightened American public. These stereotypes would cost the lives of many Americans throughout history whose ethnic origin was not strictly Anglo-Saxon, such as Valentino, solidifying a legacy of violent injustice that new generations of Americans are still bitterly fighting against to this very day.

Original 20 - Frank Campbell’s Funeral Home, where Valentino lay in state (originally on the West Side). A hysterical mob of thousands rioted in order to get a glimpse of Valentino. 

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