Saturday, 18 March 2017

Wood

Wood
St Henry's Chapel
Wood, by William Hall, is an international survey of wooden architecture, published by Phaidon. Like his previous books - Concrete and Brick - it has an embossed dust jacket, full-page photographs with extended captions, and chapters themed according to concepts such as form, light, and landscape.

The book includes buildings dating from the Middle Ages, though the emphasis is on modern and contemporary architecture. Most of the 170 examples are wooden structures, though there are a few exceptions, including some bamboo buildings and a chapel (St Henry's in Turku, Finland) with a copper exterior and a wooden interior.

Architecture In Wood is more comprehensive than Wood, though its photographs were all taken by its author, Will Pryce. Hall's book, on the other hand, features images from various sources. Wood: The World Of Woodwork & Carving, by Bryan Sentance, is a guide to wood as a medium for art, craft, and design.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Book From The Ground

Book From The Ground
Book From The Ground: From Point To Point, by Xu Bing, is a novella composed entirely of emoji, pictograms, logos, and other symbols (including 7x8mm reproductions of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain). Though there have been previous translations of texts into emoji, this is the first example of original fiction in emoji form.

The book contains no text (except on the back cover), and punctuation marks are its only concession to conventional typography. The concept is original and fascinating, though the potential for emoji as literature seems limited. The first wordless novels, with narratives depicted in Expressionist woodcuts, were created by Frans Masereel after World War I.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Osamu Tezuka Story

The Osamu Tezuka Story
The Osamu Tezuka Story, by Toshio Ban, was originally published in Japanese (手塚治虫物語) from 1989 to 1992 as a weekly serial in Asahi Shimbun magazine. Last year, it was translated into English for the first time, by Frederik L Schodt, who introduced manga to Western readers with his excellent Manga! Manga! and wrote the introduction to Manga Kamishibai. (Schodt's The Astro Boy Essays and Helen McCarthy's The Art Of Osamu Tezuka are among the few English-language surveys of Tezuka's life and work.)

As Schodt explains in his introduction, "Tezuka was the main force in the creation of the long-arc, story manga format... and in 1963, by animating his own Astro Boy manga for television, he also created the framework for Japan's entire modern manga-anime". He also notes that, in Japan, Tezuka is known as "manga no kami-sama" ("God of Manga"). In Cartoons, Giannalberto Bendazzi calls Tezuka "the 'God of comic-strips'." In The World Encyclopedia Of Comics, Maurice Horn calls him the "King of Japanese Comics".

At more than 900 pages, The Osamu Tezuka Story is a comprehensive biography of Tezuka in manga form. One of Tezuka's recurring characters, the mustachioed Higeoyaji, appears as a narrator. Interestingly, excerpts from Stanley Kubrick's 1965 letter to Tezuka are included, translated from Tezuka's autobiography, Baku Wa Mangaka. There is an invaluable appendix listing the Japanese titles of Tezuka's manga and anime works.

Schodt writes that, although the book "could have turned out to be a crude hagiography - a biography depicting Tezuka in only a heroic light", it offers instead "a realistic portrait of a very complex and unique individual." However, because it's an official Tezuka Productions release, created as a posthumous tribute to Tezuka, an element of hagiography is unavoidable.

The translation of The Osamu Tezuka Story (unlike the Astro Boy Omnibus series, Schodt's translation of Tezuka's Mighty Atom) preserves the original Japanese format, without the Westernised 'flopping' (left-to-right conversion) of some manga translations: "Pages and panels are read in Japanese order from right-to-left, but text in word balloons is read from left-to-right. And "sound effects," especially when part of the original art work, are often left as-is, with unobtrusive translations."

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cat People

Cat People
Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur in 1942, was the first in a cycle of atmospheric horror films produced for RKO by Val Lewton. The studio had recently cancelled its contract with Orson Welles - after releasing his first two films, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons - and was looking for a commercial horror vehicle to compete with Universal's cycle of monster films (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.).

The result is a suspenseful B-movie about Irena, a sexually repressed woman who transforms into a panther when she experiences arousal or jealousy. (Almost fifty years later, Michael Jackson transformed into a panther in his Black Or White music video.) The film begins with a meet-cute at the zoo, and compresses the couple's courtship and marriage into a few hurried minutes. Irena's husband, Oliver, is impossibly patient despite her rejection of any intimate contact. Eventually, and more realistically, he falls for his co-worker, Alice, who describes herself as "the new type of other woman" and is the film's only truly likeable character.

The film's Expressionistic lighting is by Nicholas Musuraca, who also photographed the Film Noir classics Out Of The Past (directed by Tourneur) and Stranger On The Third Floor. There are several striking visual moments: Irena scratching a sofa with her claw-like nails, Oliver in silhouette holding a T-square as a crucifix, and Irena's face under a psychiatrist's spotlight. The sound design is also impressive, especially the use of silence and subtle animal noises. These elements are all combined in the film's most effective sequence, when shadows on the wall and a growling panther frighten Alice in a swimming pool.

Cat People has interesting connections to a couple of other films of the period: it utilises the staircase set from The Magnificent Ambersons, and it was parodied in The Bad & The Beautiful, with Lewton as the model for the Jonathan Shields character. Kim Newman wrote a BFI Film Classics monograph on Cat People in 2001: "each viewing has revealed some new aspect, some unnoticed detail carefully crafted, some resonance perhaps unintended. I would happily watch it again this evening, which may well be the highest praise I can give any film."

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Visions Of Music

Visions Of Music
While there are numerous histories of album covers (including Album: Classic Sleeve Designs, The Art Of The Album Cover, and Art Record Covers), sheet music design is a relatively niche field of interest. Visions Of Music, by Tony Walas, is a history of sheet music covers.

Despite its subtitle (Sheet Music In The Twentieth Century), the book includes examples from the Victorian era onwards, demonstrating that illustrated sheet music covers existed long before Alex Steinweiss designed the first pictorial record sleeves. The covers in the book are only from the author's collection, though it's the first survey of the subject to feature covers from all genres.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
Gone With The Wind
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Rebel Without A Cause
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
Following the Festival Of Classic Movies (2007) and เมื่อครั้งเสด็จฯ ทอดพระเนตร ภาพยนตร์ (2016), there will be another season of Hollywood classics showing in Bangkok this year. World Class Cinema will feature nine films, all screened at the Scala cinema, beginning with Victor Fleming's Gone With The Wind on 12th March. Other highlights include Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on 9th April; Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without A Cause on 2nd May; Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on 17th September; and Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly on 15th October.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Art Record Covers

Art Record Covers
Art Record Covers, written by Francesco Spampinato and edited by Julius Wiedemann, features over 500 album covers designed since 1955. Rather than a guide to the greatest album covers (such as The Art Of The Album Cover by Richard Evans, or Album: Classic Sleeve Designs by Nick de Ville), it's the first survey of covers created by artists as opposed to graphic designers. Appropriately, this lavish and comprehensive book is almost the same size as a 12" LP.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

"BECKS C-WORD FURY..."

The Sunday Times
The Sun
An injunction against The Sunday Times has been partially lifted after details of the case appeared in other publications at the weekend. The injunction, granted in December 2016, prevented The Sunday Times from revealing that David Beckham's email account had been hacked. On 5th February, the newspaper printed a brief notice on its front page: "The Sunday Times has been gagged by an injunction preventing it from reporting details about a celebrity's personal and professional life. The judge anonymised the individual using initials."

Beckham's emails were among thousands leaked to the German news magazine Der Spiegel earlier last year, and Beckham's publicist applied for an injunction after The Sunday Times planned to publish them. Like other anonymised injunctions (such as those relating to PJS, NEJ, RA, and D), the restriction applied only in England and Wales. Unusually, the injunction was granted solely against The Sunday Times, enabling The Sun (despite being owned by the same company) to publish the story on 4th February.

On its front page, under the banner headline "BECKS C-WORD FURY AT 'SIR' SNUB", The Sun wrote that Beckham had criticised the committee recommending new year's honours as "a bunch of cunts" and "unappreciative cunts". This was then reported by other UK and European news websites later that day. The terms of the injunction against The Sunday Times were subsequently relaxed, allowing it to report information already in the public domain.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Daily Dose

The Daily Dose
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has ordered Voice TV to suspend broadcasting The Daily Dose for seven days. In a majority decision, the NBTC ruled that The Daily Dose, a daily current affairs programme hosted by Nattakorn Devakula, featured politically divisive content in violation of an order issued to the media by the NCPO.

The episode in question, broadcast on 23rd January, began with an assessment of the need for reform of the judiciary. (Contrary to a report in the Bangkok Post newspaper, the programme's 6th February episode was not the reason for the NBTC's ruling.) Voice TV, a digital terrestrial channel, is owned by Panthongthae Shinawatra, son of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

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100 Manga Artists

100 Manga Artists
100 Manga Artists, written by Amano Masanao and edited by Julius Wiedemann, is a revised version of Manga Design, which was published by Taschen in 2004. The new edition was published this month in a more compact format. Manga Design profiled 140 artists, while the new book features only 100. (Osamu Tezuka, of course, appears in both editions.) Also, the DVD included with Manga Design does not come with 100 Manga Artists.

Strangely, although Masanao and Wiedemann are both credited on the title page, only Wiedemann's name appears on the cover and spine. Wiedemann has edited numerous books for Taschen, including Art Record Covers, Logo Modernism, Information Graphics, and Understanding The World.

Manga! Manga!: The World Of Japanese Comics, by Frederik L Schodt, was the first English-language book on the subject. Maurice Horn's World Encyclopedia Of Comics features biographies of manga artists. Comics, Comix, & Graphic Novels, by Roger Sabin, includes an introduction to the manga industry. Comics: A Global History covers manga since 1968. (Manga Kamishibai is a history of the illustrated boards that were a precursor of manga comics.)

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Crisis In Six Scenes

Crisis In Six Scenes
Crisis In Six Scenes begins with Woody Allen's character, writer SJ Munsinger, telling his barber: "I'm working on an idea for a television series now." This is the first time Allen has directed for television, and the series of six episodes was shown on Amazon Prime Video last year.

In contrast to conventional sitcoms, the episodes are not self-contained, so the series would probably work if it was shown as a single film. In fact, each episode is only twenty-three minutes long, so the entire series is as long as a standard film.

In making a TV series, Allen is joining other directors such as Martin Scorsese (who directed the Boardwalk Empire pilot) and David Fincher (who directed the first two episodes of House Of Cards), though they are all following in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Like House Of Cards, every episode of Crisis In Six Scenes was released simultaneously.

Although Allen hasn't acted in his recent films, he appears in Crisis In Six Scenes as his familiar character, with his usual shtick. If you're already a fan (as I am), his performance will probably make the series worth watching, with the requisite one-liners about atheism, hypochondria, and neuroses. On the other hand, as episode one has virtually no plot, some viewers might stop watching before Miley Cyrus appears in episode two.

The 21st Century Art Book

The 21st Century Art Book
The 21st Century Art Book features 280 works of contemporary art, one per page, arranged alphabetically by artist. The book (which is similar to Taschen's Art Now) is effectively a sequel to The 20th Century Art Book, and follows the same format as other Phaidon titles such as The Art Book, The Photography Book, The Design Book, The Pot Book, and The Fashion Book. (It's less substantial than the others in the series, and its title is premature, because it covers only the first decade of the 21st century.)

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Reincarnate

Reincarnate
Reincarnate
Reincarnate
Thunska Pansittivorakul has produced a new version of his 2010 semi-documentary film, Reincarnate. The 2017 version, which has brighter and more vivid colour grading, was released on the Vimeo website yesterday.

For the new version, Thunska has added a haze effect in some of the point-of-view shots of the leading actor, Panuwat Wisessiri. At times, this effect represents the director's voyeuristic gaze, though later it suggests the presence of the daughter that Panuwat describes giving birth to, as if her shadow were following him.

One shot in the new version is shorter than in the original: when Panuwat says "I think I am pregnant", the film now cuts immediately to the montage sequence symbolising his labour pains. There is also a minor change to the soundtrack: the sound of crickets chirping has been added to one sequence.

The most substantial addition is a new sequence (actually an out-take from Thunska's more recent film, SpaceTime) of Nathapong Kaewprom naked in a swimming pool, filmed underwater. This scene repeats a motif from elsewhere in Reincarnate and Thunska's earlier short film, Unseen Bangkok: the director grabbing a particular part of his actor's anatomy.

Thunska's other feature-length films are Voodoo Girls; Happy Berry; This Area Is Under Quarantine (banned in 2009); The Terrorists; Supernatural; and Homogeneous, Empty Time. His early short films, including Middle-Earth, Soak, and Action!, were screened at a retrospective in 2008, followed by an exhibition of his photographs. His more recent short films include The Altar, Kiss, and 2060.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Reconstructing Strangelove

Reconstructing Strangelove
Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick's 'Nightmare Comedy' analyses the political and cultural background to Dr Strangelove, and assesses the accuracy behind the satire. Author Mick Broderick is one of a select few researchers (including Bernd Eichhorn and Jon Ronson) who had access to Stanley Kubrick's papers in situ at Childwickbury before they were transferred to the Kubrick Archive.

The book is not "the definitive work on Kubrick's Cold War comic masterpiece," as the back cover claims, though it is an authoritative account of Kubrick's collaborations with his screenwriters. It also debunks some of the legends surrounding the making of the film: "Over the years a number of myths concerning the production of the film have circulated, stories that only a forensic analysis of Kubrick's production files can comprehensively evaluate."

Broderick quotes from Kubrick's initial letter to Peter George (the author of the source novel), in which the director asks: "Why, if the Russians had built a Doomsday Machine, would they have kept it a secret?" This query found its way into the final script, when Strangelove says, "the whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret!" Numerous pre-production documents, including this handwritten letter, are quoted and reproduced, and there are extensive footnotes.

In the book's most fascinating chapter, Broderick uses daily continuity reports "to reconstitute filmed sequences that failed to make the final cut." This chapter previously appeared in Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives, though Broderick has added extra material relating to the film's missing pie-fight sequence. (Broderick criticises the Kubrick estate's refusal to acknowledge the debate surrounding the pie scene as "futile and ultimately counter-productive.")

Peter Kramer wrote a monograph on Dr Strangelove for the BFI Film Classics series, and Piers Bizony is currently writing a new book on the film. The Kubrick exhibition catalogue and The Stanley Kubrick Archives (edited by Alison Castle) also include chapters on the making of the film.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Animation: The Global History

Animation: The Global History
Animation: The Global History, by Maureen Furniss, is described by its publisher (Thames & Hudson) as "THE FIRST COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION", though it could more accurately be called the most comprehensive single-volume history of all types of animation. The UK edition was released this month, though it was published in the US last year as A New History Of Animation.

Film and television cartoons are featured in considerable depth, though the main strength of this ambitious and impressive book is its coverage of peripheral forms of animation such as computer games, advertising, music videos, and even performance art. Furniss also provides cultural context by linking trends in animation to art and design movements, and the book is visually appealing, with around 400 colour illustrations.

Furniss inevitably focusses on the American, European, and Japanese animation industries, though there are also sections on China and Russia. Unfortunately, Australia, South Korea, India, South America, and Africa are all lumped into a single chapter. There are footnotes and a glossary, though no bibliography.

The book was written more than twenty years after Giannalberto Bendazzi's Cartoons: 100 Years Of Cinema Animation (1994), which focusses largely on animated films. Bendazzi's book has less coverage of TV animation, and it pre-dates the computer-generated era and the Western popularity of Japanese Anime. Furniss, of course, discusses these extensively, though Bendazzi's book remains the definitive study of cinematic animation, unrivalled for its encyclopedic coverage of more than seventy countries.

Maurice Horn's World Encyclopedia Of Cartoons (1980) contains biographies of hundreds of animators, and Stephen Cavalier's The World History Of Animation (2011) features capsule reviews of animated films from around the world. The Anime Encyclopedia and Anime: A History provide the best coverage of Japanese cartoons, and Moving Animation is the first history of computer animation. Bendazzi's three-volume Animation: A World History was published in 2015.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Outside The Box

Outside The Box
Outside The Box: Cardboard Design Now profiles designers and manufacturers who are producing cardboard packaging, products, furniture, and architecture. Most of the featured projects are from the turn of the twenty-first century, though there are a handful of earlier examples, such as the set of cards designed by Charles Eames "with his brother Ray" [sic.] and the Wiggle chair by Frank Gehry. The book also includes two essays: a brief history of cardboard by Michael Czerwinski, and a technical guide to cardboard architecture by Santiago R Perez.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Faking It

Faking It
Leap Into The Void
Faking It, by Mia Fineman, is the first book to examine the alteration of photographs from an artistic, rather than a purely technical, perspective. As Fineman writes in her introduction: "This book traces the history of manipulated photography from the 1840s through the early 1990s, when computer software replaced manual techniques as the dominant means of altering photographs. It is a story that has never been told in its entirety," and this survey is a fascinating rebuttal of the old saying 'the camera never lies'.

As the book's subtitle - Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop - indicates, contemporary digital editing simply applies new technology to a long-established practice. Fineman's history begins barely a decade after the birth of photography, demonstrating that photographic manipulation is as old as photography itself. (Faking It also features commentaries on 200 photographs from a 2012 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

The book includes Pictorialist composite images such as Henry Peach Robinson's Fading Away (1858), novelty double-exposures similar to the trick films of Georges Melies, airbrushed propaganda portraits (including a 1937 image of Stalin, also discussed in Controversies), and Surrealist and Dadaist photomontages (covered in depth by Dawn Ades in Photomontage). The most recent examples are from the start of the computer era, such as a 1982 National Geographic magazine photograph in which two Egyptian pyramids were digitally pasted closer together.

Fineman argues that the photographic canon favours realism over artifice - in other words, the 'new objectivity' of Edward Weston and Albert Renger-Patzsch outlasted the 'new vision' of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - and she attributes this to Beaumont Newhall's "keen preference for straight photography." (Newhall's History Of Photography did "more than any other English-language publication to establish photography as a subject of serious art-historical study.") She later identifies Yves Klein's Leap Into The Void (1960) as a turning point that paved the way for more experimentation and manipulation.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

"The King may appoint
a person as Regent..."

On 15th January, the National Legislative Assembly voted to approve an amendment to the constitution, after King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) requested changes to the articles related to the appointment of a regent. Following the amendment of the interim constitution, the draft constitution will now be revised in the same way.

The articles relating to the appointment of a regent in the interim and draft charters were unchanged from the 2007 constitution: "Whenever the King is absent from the Kingdom or unable to perform His functions for any reason whatsoever, the King will appoint a person Regent" [my emphasis]. The King, via the Privy Council, requested that this be amended to "...the King may appoint a person as Regent," thus making the appointment optional rather than compulsory.

When Prime Minister Prayuth announced the amendments, he stressed that "they are not related to the rights and freedoms of the people," as if to justify altering the draft after it had been endorsed by 61.35% of voters in last year's referendum. Rama X became King on 1st December last year, seven weeks after the death of his father, King Bhumibol, on 13th October. He and his wife, Srirasmi, separated in 2014, after her parents and siblings were jailed for lese majeste.

Photography: A History

Photography: A History
Photography: A History
Photography: A History 1839-Now is a four-volume history of photography edited by Walter Guadagnini, translated from the Italian edition, La Fotografia. The four chronological volumes have previously been published separately, as The Origins 1839-1890, A New Vision Of The World 1891-1940, From The Press To The Museum 1941-1980, and The Contemporary Era 1981-2013.

The set contains more than 1,000 photographs, and more than 1,300 pages. The four books are housed in a luxurious box depicting the earliest extant photograph, an 1827 image by Joseph Niepce. Each volume features profiles of significant photographers (with portfolios of images from their published monographs) and photography exhibitions, written by Francesco Zanot. These are supplemented by longer thematic essays "shifting the focus from the individual works and events to a broader vision," timelines of photography and art history, and comprehensive bibliographies.

Beaumont Newhall wrote The History Of Photography, the first history of photography as an art form. Helmut Gernsheim's The History Of Photography covers photography's early development. Naomi Rosenblum's A World History Of Photography became the standard modern history of the subject. Mary Warner Marien's Photography: A Cultural History is the most recent, and most comprehensive, single-volume survey.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Pearls

Pearls
Elizabeth I
Charles I
Pearls, by Beatriz Chadour-Sampson and Hubert Bari, accompanies a 2013 exhibition at the V&A curated by the authors. The catalogue is one of the few books to examine pearls in relation to the decorative arts: "The literature on pearls concentrates on their natural history. This book aims to chronicle the changing fashions in jewellery and to show how historical events and economic developments have influenced who wore pearls."

The first two chapters, on pearl culture and pearl fishing are by Bari, while Chadour-Sampson writes the remaining six chronological chapters on the cultural history of pearls. Photographs of exquisite Roman, Byantine, and medieval accessories are included, and Renaissance paintings (such as George Gower's 'Armada portrait' of Elizabeth I) depict pearls as status symbols. A simple pearl drop earring is perhaps the book's most fascinating object, as it was worn by Charles I at his beheading.

Look Inside

Look Inside
Look Inside: Cutaway Illustrations & Visual Storytelling, written by brothers Juan and Samuel Velasco, is the first survey of cutaway diagrams, a subset of infographics defined as "illustrations in which the external layer of an object has been "peeled off," in order to reveal the interior." In addition to cutaways, the book also includes images depicting interior structures via cross sections, transparency or translucency, and exploded views.

The book begins with the history of cutaways, such as the "precise and beautiful diagrams" of Ismail al-Jazari, and Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, "whose combination of precision, artistry, and attention to detail are still unsurpassed." Andreas Vesalius' "cutaways of a kind never seen before," and JM Bourgery's anatomical studies "depicted with utmost elegance and beauty" are also discussed, though none of these works are included as illustrations.

While some historical cutaways are reproduced, including several by the pioneer Fritz Kahn, most of the illustrations are by contemporary artists. There are plenty of full-page images, and some gatefolds, though most of the works are undated. There is no contents page or bibliography.

Cutaway illustrations are also included in Information Graphics and Understanding The World. Other books on specific genres of infographics include The Art Of Instruction (on educational charts), The Art Of Illustrated Maps (on creative cartography), Cartographies Of Time (on timelines) and The Book Of Trees (on tree diagrams).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bangkok Screening Room

Dr Strangelove
Lawrence Of Arabia
Bonnie & Clyde
After a break for the new year holiday, Bangkok Screening Room will re-open next week with two five-star classics: Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Dr Strangelove, and David Lean's epic Lawrence Of Arabia. They will be followed next month by Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde.

Dr Strangelove will be shown on 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, and 31st January; and 1st February. Lawrence Of Arabia will be screened on 21st, 22nd, 28th, and 29th January; and 4th and 5th February. Bonnie & Clyde is playing on 15th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, and 26th February.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Jam Cine Club

Man With A Movie Camera
Jam Cine Club
Bangkok's Jam Cafe will be screening Dziga Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera next month, as part of its weekly Jam Cine Club. Vertov's silent classic, arguably the greatest documentary ever made, will be shown on 22nd February, and the audience can listen to a choice of soundtracks via individual headphones.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey

The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey
Burke Ramsey has filed a $750 million lawsuit against the CBS television network, claiming that his reputation was defamed by the documentary The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey. The documentary, a two-part investigation into the unsolved murder of his sister, JonBenet Ramsey, was broadcast on CBS on 18th and 19th September.

JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her family home in 2007, aged six. Her murderer has never been identified, though police initially suspected that her mother or brother may have killed her accidentally. The CBS documentary concluded that she died from a blow to the head from Burke Ramsey ("he may have struck her with that flashlight."/"I think we all agree on that"), and that her parents covered up the incident.

In October, Burke Ramsey filed a lawsuit against Werner Spitz, who participated in the documentary, after Spitz blamed him for the killing in a CBS Detroit radio interview. In the interview, broadcast on 19th September, Spitz said: "It's the boy who did it... I don't know the why, I'm not a psychiatrist, but what I am sure about is what I know about him, that is what happened here." (The interview has since been removed from the CBS Detroit website.)

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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Saul Bass: A Life In Film & Design

Saul Bass: A Life In Film & Design
Saul Bass: A Life In Film & Design, the first book devoted to the work of Saul Bass, is a comprehensive monograph on one of the greatest graphic designers of the past century. Alongside Paul Rand, Bass reinvented American corporate branding, though he is best remembered for his groundbreaking film title sequences: "With his work in titles, Saul would elevate the opening of Hollywood films to the status of an art form."

The title sequences and posters for Otto Preminger's The Man With The Golden Arm and Anatomy Of A Murder were revolutionary. For each film, Bass created a deceptively simple graphic silhouette: a hand and forearm for The Man With The Golden Arm, and the outline of a body for Anatomy Of A Murder. His poster and title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo maintained the concept of a single motif (in this case, a spiral), though Bass achieved a kaleidoscopic effect in the animated opening titles.

Bass also designed the title sequence for Hitchcock's Psycho, and he received an additional credit as 'pictorial consultant'. The extent of his contribution to the film has been in dispute ever since: Bass drew storyboards for the shower scene, and later claimed that he was largely responsible for filming the sequence, though Hitchcock's other collaborators have refuted this. (Bass's sketches are reproduced in The Art Of Movie Storyboards; for more discussion of his contribution, see Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock & The Making Of Psycho, Bill Krohn's Hitchcock At Work, and Psycho In The Shower.)

In the Bass/Hitchcock debate, the book sides squarely with Bass - "It is time for Saul's contribution to the shower scene to be acknowledged" - even suggesting that he had artistic control over the scene: "After the sequence was shot, Hitchcock insisted on two inserts... Trusting Hitchcock's vision Saul agreed." In a long footnote, the authors rightly criticise Hitchcock for downplaying Bass' contribution to the film, though they're less critical of Bass' ambiguous claims of creative input.

The book, written by Pat Kirkham and designed by Bass' daughter Jennifer, includes a preface by Martin Scorsese, who explains how Bass could "penetrate the heart of a movie and find its secret. That's what he did with Vertigo and those spirals that just keep endlessly forming - that's the madness at the heart of the picture, the beautiful nightmare vortex". Kirkham interviewed Bass for Sight & Sound magazine (February 1994) and wrote a thirty-page article on Bass and Hitchcock for the journal West 86th (Spring 2011); she also co-edited the magnificent History Of Design.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Television: A Biography

Television: A Biography
After The Big Screen, his history of cinema, David Thomson has turned to the small screen. Television: A Biography is divided into two parts, inspired by Marshall McLuhan: the medium and the messages. Instead of a chronological structure, each chapter is an essay on a particular theme or genre, such as cop shows, talk shows, newscasts, sitcoms, long-form dramas, and even presidential TV coverage.

Thomson primarily covers TV in America, though he also discusses BBC comedies and documentaries. Of the programmes themselves, his highlights include The Wire ("a critical reputation that is still unsurpassed") and Breaking Bad ("may be close to "masterpiece" status"). The book is certainly up-to-date (including the downfall of Bill Cosby: "his career is finished, for his reputation and role model have been destroyed"), though Netflix's groundbreaking distribution model for House Of Cards is barely mentioned.

"I came to television from movies," Thomson explains, and there are film references throughout the book; even the cover photograph is from a movie (Poltergeist). His previous books include A Biographical Dictionary Of Film, Have You Seen...?, Moments That Made The Movies, and The Moment Of Psycho. (Television: An International History, edited by Anthony Smith, is a global survey of TV history.)

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Godfather Notebook

The Godfather Notebook
The Godfather Notebook
The Godfather Notebook
Before writing and directing The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola compiled what he called The Godfather Notebook, a binder containing pages from Mario Puzo's novel and Coppola's treatment, with wide margins for further annotations. It was a scrapbook of Coppola's typed and hand-written thoughts on the film's key themes and characters, divided into fifty scenes.

Peter Cowie reproduces a page from this "massive tome, biblical in proportions" in The Godfather Book (1997). The Annotated Godfather (2007) reproduces two pages from it, and Jenny M Jones notes that Coppola "relied on the notebook rather than the shooting script for inspiration." Another page is reproduced in Cowie's The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives (2012).

A complete facsimile of The Godfather Notebook has now been published, with a new introduction by Coppola ("The notebook was a kind of multilayered road map for me to direct the film") and photographs by Steve Schapiro (from The Godfather Family Album). There are almost 800 pages of Coppola's notes and marginalia, such as his comment in underlined capitals that Michael Corleone's opinion of his father ("He doesn't accept the rules of the society we live in") is "THE ENTIRE CREDO OF THE BOOK".

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Ways Of Pointillism

Ways Of Pointillism
A Sunday On La Grande Jatte
Ways Of Pointillism is the catalogue to a current exhibition in Vienna, and also the first book specifically devoted to the history of Pointillist art. (The Guggenheim staged a similar Neo-Impressionism exhibition in 1968, with a catalogue edited by Robert L Herbert.)

Editor Heinz Widauer notes that there are numerous labels to describe the Pointillist style and its variations, citing terms such as "Neo-Impressionism, Divisionism, Chromoluminarism" and "dot-ism". Pointillism was first developed by Georges Seurat, and is best represented by his large (2x3m) painting A Sunday On La Grande Jatte. Seurat and Paul Signac are the artists most closely associated with Pointillism, though Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and Mondrain also experimented with the technique.

The catalogue features full-page reproductions of the 100 paintings in the exhibition, and smaller illustrations of other Pointillist works (such as La Grande Jatte). There are essays on Pointillism's origins, its spread throughout Europe, and its influence on later art movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, and Luminism.

The Silhouette

The Silhouette
Etienne de Silhouette
The Silhouette: From The 18th Century To The Present Day is Augusta Dorr's translation of Georges Vigarello's La Silhouette, which was first published in French in 2012. The book examines the origins of silhouette portraiture: "Etienne de Silhouette created highly distinctive profile portraits by tracing the outline of a shadow." (Vigarello also includes what he claims is a silhouette by de Silhouette himself, though his work has not been reproduced in other books on the subject.)

Vigarello writes in his introduction that "there has been no work to date dealing with the history of this subject... the images it evokes and the practices related to it have not been analyzed, either in the context of their long iconographic or lexical course, or of their cultural journey." In fact, there are two previous histories of the silhouette: E Neville Jackson's Silhouette: Notes & Dictionary (1938) and Emma Rutherford's Silhouette: The Art Of The Shadow (2009). Jackson, in particular, conducted pioneering research into the subject, and the first edition of her book is essential.

As a study of monochrome silhouettes, Vigarello's book is less comprehensive than Jackson's or Rutherford's. However, it's significant as it extends the discussion of silhouettes beyond shadow portraits, examining the artistic representation of the human profile in fashion and popular culture. Its illustrations are also more diverse, ranging from satirical caricatures to advertising posters.