Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Atlas Maior

Atlas Maior
Atlas Maior
Joan Blaeu's Atlas Maior, published in 1662, was described by Lloyd A Brown in The Story Of Maps as "in many respects the most beautiful geographical work ever published". It contained around 600 map plates, in multiple volumes, making it the most extensive world atlas ever produced. (Even today's most comprehensive atlases, such as The Times Atlas Of The World, contain fewer than 200 plates.)

Taschen has reprinted the 1665 Latin edition of the Atlas Maior, combining the original eleven volumes into a single folio (titled Atlas Maior Of 1665: The Greatest & Finest Atlas Ever Published). Blaeu's ornate Baroque engravings are beautifully reproduced, and introduced by Peter van der Krogt. He contributed to The History Of Cartography: Cartography In The European Renaissance Part II, which describes the Atlas Maior as "a fiercely coveted status symbol among wealthy patricians" - an extravagant collector's item, now available in a more accessible form thanks to Taschen's lavish reprint.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Jay Schneider, is a collaboration between some of the most respected international film critics (including Kim Newman, Geoff Andrew, and Jonathan Rosenbaum), and it represents an outstanding canon of significant films. It was first published in 2003 (with Psycho on the cover). It was reprinted in 2004 (with the same cover), with only two changes: The Barbarian Invasions and Kill Bill I were added, and Adaptation and Far From Heaven were removed.

The new 2005 edition still has 1001 films, thus the new additions have resulted in an equal number of deletions. A handful of (mostly recent) films have been replaced, including, unfortunately, Eyes Wide Shut and Tetsuo. The new entries are all recent, too, including Hero, Oldboy, The Passion Of The Christ, and The Lord Of The Rings.

PDF

Monday, 5 December 2005

My Favourite Film

No, not my favourite film. My Favourite Film, an ABC TV show, was broadcast yesterday in Australia. The programme revealed the results of an Australian public survey to find the nation's favourite films, as follows:

1. The Lord Of The Rings I-III
2. Amelie
3. Blade Runner
4. The Shawshank Redemption
5. Donnie Darko
6. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
7. Pulp Fiction
8. The Princess Bride
9. Gone With The Wind
10. Fight Club

The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is considered as one entry, so the list has thirteen films instead of ten.

Saturday, 3 December 2005

Metropolis

Metropolis
The Murnau-Stiftung restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis features the original German inter-titles. Previously, I've seen Metropolis three times, in three different versions, though I'd never seen the original inter-titles until now.

Usually, I avoid film restorations, because many restorers take their role further than they should - they generally fiddle with things that disrupt the director's original intentions. This Metropolis restoration, though, is an example of what a film restoration should be - a meticulous attempt to restore (not enhance) the original film.

In Metropolis the concept of workers toiling underground to maintain the lavish lifestyles of the rich in their skyscrapers is a powerful metaphor (used extensively by Madonna in her Express Yourself video, an excellent homage to Metropolis). The film's Expressionist design borrows from Futurism's fetishism of machinery, though, of course, in Metropolis the images may be Futurist yet the ideology is reversed - here, machines and industrialisation are the enemy. Portraying the workers as a collective, even geometric unit effectively demonstrates their mechanised dehumanisation and deindividualisation.

Several of the actors (Helm in her saintly and lascivious roles, Rudolph Klein-Rogge as the Frankenstein/Dr Strangelove-style inventor Rotwang, and the brilliantly restrained Alfred Abel as the industrialist Joh) give excellent performances, transcending the typical histrionics of silent film acting. The same cannot be said of Gustav Frolich (as Joh's son, Freder), who seems permanently on the verge of hysteria and gives the most dated performance in the film.

However, the narrative is ridiculously simplistic. The role of woman is divided into virgin (Maria, played by Brigitte Helm) and whore (the robot-Maria, also played by Helm), with the virgin preaching peace to the restless workers and the whore persuading them to riot. The proletariat are portrayed as gullible and easily led, and the reconcilliation at the end of the film (the workers and Joh united in a symbolic handshake, the false unity of capital and labour) is quite absurd.

Despite its simplistic plot, Metropolis is absolutely one of the greatest films ever made, with its stunning futuristic cityscapes, terrifying Moloch machine, and electrifying robot-woman. The production design gives new meaning to the word 'extravagant', though maintains a strong avant-garde influence (especially in the short fantasy montages, which are almost Dadaist). It may be the greatest triumph of experimental silent film-making.

Art Of The Devil II

Art Of The Devil II
Art Of The Devil II was directed by a team of seven people: Kongkiat Khomsiri, Art Thamtrakul, Yosapong Polsap, Putipong Saisikaew, Isara Nadee, Pasith Buranajan, and Seree Pongniti. Its title positions it as a sequel to a previous Thai horror film, Art Of The Devil, though the two films are actually unrelated.

The violence was as gory as I'd expected. More so, actually, because the piece de resistance at the end, when a young man's skin is slowly flayed off with a blowtorch, was unexpected. In another set-piece scene, geckos burrow bloodily out of a man's body. The plot, in which a seemingly angelic woman is revealed to be an insane cannibal and murderer, and the protracted torture scenes, are vaguely reminiscent of Audition.

There is a clever twist at the end, and, unlike cop-out Hollywood horror films, there are refreshingly no survivors. Although the final twist is explicitly designed to explain the background to the plot, it does not offer any explanation for the utterly evil nature of three central characters. This suggests that melodrama took precedence over character motivation, though that would be my only criticism of this gruesome and fun film.