Monday, 31 October 2011

Prabhat Kiran

Prabhat Kiran
Indian cartoonist Harish Yadav has been arrested after the newspaper Prabhat Kiran published his cartoon of politician Narendra Modi on 20th September. Yadav, who uses the pen name Mussveer, drew a caricature of a naked Modi, with a taqiyah strategically positioned to cover his buttocks.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

20th Century Pattern Design

20th Century Pattern Design
20th Century Pattern Design: Textile & Wallpaper Pioneers, by Lesley Jackson, was originally published in 2002, and an updated edition was issued this year. There seems to be only minimal revision of the previous edition, with no new examples from the past decade, though the comprehensive bibliography has been updated.

The book's chronological survey begins with Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau, though cultural appreciation of wallpaper and domestic decoration flourished a decade earlier during the Aestheticism movement. ("Modern wallpaper is so bad", the aesthete Oscar Wilde famously observed, "that a boy brought up under its influence could allege it as a justification for turning to a life of crime".)

Jackson's coverage is almost exclusively British, European, and American, and she profiles the key designers and studios of each decade. Her approach is largely ismatic, and she identifies trends such as Functionalism, Ruralism, Revivalism, and (more contentiously) Giganticism. She also links pattern design to the major cultural paradigms of the 20th century: Proto-Modernisn, Modernism, and Post-Modernism.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Man Who Owns The News

The Man Who Owns The News
Judging by the volume of information he controls, and the amount of money and influence he has accumulated, Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's most powerful individuals. His company, News Corp., was one of the first media corporations to vertically integrate media production and distribution, and is one of the most powerful global media conglomerates.

Murdoch is the last of the press barons, with a portfolio of prestigious (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal) and popular (The Sun, the New York Post) newspaper titles. At a time when digitisation threatens the existence of print journalism, Murdoch remains reassuringly committed to his newspapers. Indeed, his forays into digital media (selling MySpace at a loss; the underwhelming The Daily) are uncharacteristic misjudgements, while his television businesses (including the outrageously biased Fox News) remain highly profitable.

Michael Wolff was given unprecedented access to Murdoch, his executives, and even his family. As he writes in the current issue of GQ: "I know what he is thinking; I know how he is thinking it; I know the rhythms of the way he talks about what he thinks; I know what he remembers and I know what he forgets. What's more, all of the people who are as obsessed with Murdoch as I am talk to me about him. I am the father confessor of Murdoch obsessives. If there is anything that can be known about him, I know it. Where he is at any given moment, his mood, his health, his diet, the state of his various relationships, I know. And, of course, Rupert knows that I know all of this and more".

Wolff charts the rise of Murdoch's international empire since the late 1960s, though the acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, the thread that runs throughout the book, receives such close attention that it marginalises other events. Wapping and the print unions, for example, are covered in a single page. Despite the hours of interviews Murdoch granted, Wolff quotes him only sparingly; also, Wolff has a strange habit of writing every sentence in the present tense, even when describing historical events: "Murdoch is born in 1931...".

The book (and its expanded paperback edition, with Wolff's personal account of Murdoch's reaction to the original version) came out prior to this year's revelation that Murdoch's News Of The World hacked into the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. Incredibly, the scandal led to the closure of the News Of The World, and a "humble" Murdoch's appearance before a House of Commons committee.

Monday, 17 October 2011

In Glorious Technicolor

In Glorious Technicolor
Francine Stock and Stephen Hughes (credited as co-author on the title page but not on the jacket) have selected three films from each decade of cinema's history for their book In Glorious Technicolor: A Century Of Film & How It Has Shaped Us. Their title comes from Cole Porter's song Stereophonic Sound, from the musical Silk Stockings:

"Today to get the public to attend a picture show,
It's not enough to advertise a famous star they know.
If you want to get the crowds to come around
You've gotta have glorious Technicolor,
Breathtaking CinemaScope,
And Stereophonic sound".

The list includes a handful of essential classics: The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, Nanook Of The North, The Searchers, 2001, and Annie Hall. Some titles - for example, Top Gun and Basic Instinct - were seemingly chosen because they are representative of cinematic trends, rather than for their artistic merit.

The obscure Afgrunden is a surprising first entry, though it's good to see semi-neglected films such as Flesh & The Devil and Gold-Diggers Of 1933 on the list. It's odd that Hitchcock is represented by Spellbound when he directed so many superior films, and I can't fathom why Carrie, by Hitchcock-obsessed Brian de Palma, is included.

The triumvirate from the last decade is arguably the most appropriate. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Avatar, and Uncle Boonmee are all excellent films reflecting different trajectories of contemporary cinema.

Despite the book's title, almost half of the films are black-and-white, and the landmark Technicolor films (The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Gone With The Wind, The Wizard Of Oz) are not included. Also, the list of thirty films actually features thirty-two, because the Three Colours trilogy is counted as a single entry.

This is the In Glorious Technicolor list, in chronological order:
  • Afgrunden
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Nanook Of The North
  • Flesh & The Devil
  • The General
  • Scarface
  • Gold-Diggers Of 1933
  • La Bete Humaine
  • Bambi
  • In Which We Serve
  • Spellbound
  • La Strada
  • The Searchers
  • Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
  • Peeping Tom
  • Bande A Part
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Aguirre: Wrath Of God
  • Carrie
  • Annie Hall
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Top Gun
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Basic Instinct
  • Three Colours: Blue/Red/White
  • Natural Born Killers
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
  • Avatar
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Friday, 14 October 2011

501 Must-See Movies

501 Must-See Movies
The third edition of 501 Must-See Movies contains only minor changes compared to last year's second edition. Three films (Gremlins, Serenity, and Children Of Men) have been deleted, and four new films (Avatar, Monsters, Brokeback Mountain, and The Proposition) have been added. There are 501 entries, including the combined entry for Kill Bill I and II.

PDF

Spy Kids: All The Time In The World

Spy Kids: All The Time In The World
Aroma-Scope
Spy Kids: All The Time In The World is another film in the Spy Kids franchise, directed by Robert Rodriguez. The director is more famous for his ultra-low-budget debut, El Mariachi; his impressive teen-horror, The Faculty; and his violent comic-style noir, Sin City. He has also collaborated with Quentin Tarantino, on From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse.

Rodriguez is known for his technical experimentation, and Spy Kids is one of several films he's directed in 3D. In fact, this film is advertised as a 4D release, with the extra dimension provided by a process billed as Aroma-Scope. This feature requires a scratch 'n' sniff card, featuring eight scents intended to complement the viewing experience. Unfortunately, most of the smells are indistinguishable, and scratching the card is a distraction from the film. Nevertheless, the concept is introduced by Ricky Gervais, in a hilarious voice-over cameo role, at the start of the film. (The film is also showing in 2D with Aroma-Scope.)

It's a gimmick, of course, inspired by the Odorama cards John Waters produced for his bad-taste comedy, Polyester. The first experiments with scented cinema occurred fifty years ago, when smells were wafted through cinema air-conditioning vents to accompany the documentary Behind The Great Wall (via the Aroma-Rama process) and piped to cinema seats during the thriller Scent Of Mystery (using the rival Smell-O-Vision system). Like Cinerama and 3D, they were Hollywood's attempts to lure audiences away from television.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Hitchcock: Piece By Piece

Hitchcock: Piece By Piece
The text of Laurent Bouzereau's Hitchcock: Piece By Piece - brief chapters discussing Hitchcockian themes and motifs - is largely superficial, though the book's main attractions are its rare photographs and document facsimiles. It's an authorised project: Bouzereau was granted access to the Alfred Hitchcock archives, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia wrote a foreword to the book.

Previously unpublished material - family portraits of Hitchcock and studio pre-production paperwork - is included, resulting in an interesting visual celebration of Hitchcock's films. Hitchcock's Notebooks, by Dan Auiler, also benefitted from authorised access to Hitchcock's archives, and contains substantially more material than Bouzereau's book, though Bouzereau focuses on Hitchcock's most famous films whereas Auiler's selection was more obscure.

Bouzereau has also written Cutting Room Floor, about censorship and director's cuts. He has directed over 200 making-of documentaries, including Exploring The Tree Of Life, Capturing Avatar, Minority Report: Future Realized, Revolution!: The Making Of Bonnie & Clyde, Raging Bull: Before The Fight, The Lady From Shanghai: A Discussion, Making Taxi Driver, and The Making Of Jaws. He has also made various featurettes about Chinatown, Minority Report, AI, and other films. He directed the Hitchcock documentaries The Making Of Psycho, All About The Birds, Saboteur: A Closer Look, Beyond Doubt: The Making Of Hitchcock's Favorite Film (about Shadow Of A Doubt), Rope Unleashed, Rear Window Ethics, The Trouble With Harry Isn't Over, The Making Of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Obsessed With Vertigo, The Trouble With Marnie, Topaz: An Appreciation, and Torn Curtain Rising.

Expanded Cinema

Expanded Cinema
Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film, edited by AL Rees, David Curtis, Duncan White, and Steven Ball, is a historical survey of film beyond conventional, theatrical, narrative features. The title is borrowed from Gene Youngblood's 1969 Expanded Cinema, a utopian manifesto for the future of film as an immersive, multi-media experience.

Youngblood's title was itself inspired by Stan van der Beek's essay Culture: Intercom & Expanded Cinema, and Rees et al. credit van der Beek as a pioneer of ambient filmmaking (and reprint an illustrated version of Culture:Intercom). They also profile New American Cinema founder Jonas Mekas, and early video artist Carolee Schneemann, amongst others.

There is some overlap with new-media art and video art (discussed by Michael Rush in his books New Media In Art and Video Art). Underground filmmaking (Subversion) and art cinema (Art Cinema; Film As A Subversive Art, by Amos Vogel) are also closely connected.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Conversations With Woody Allen

Conversations With Woody Allen
Eric Lax has interviewed Woody Allen regularly since 1971, for his book On Being Funny and an authorised biography; these interviews are collated in Conversations With Woody Allen: His Films, The Movies, & Moviemaking. It's Allen's third book-length interview, after Woody Allen On Woody Allen by Stig Bjorkman and Woody Allen: A Life In Film by Richard Schickel.

Surprisingly, Allen regards Match Point as one of his best films. More reasonably, he also rates The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Husbands & Wives very highly. He places Stardust Memories and Zelig in the second tier. He reveals that fans seem to like Broadway Danny Rose the most, and he admits that The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion may be his worst film. (No argument there.) It's clear that his priorities have changed: his personal favourites are the more substantial mid-period films rather than the "early, funny" ones (such as Love & Death and Sleeper); tellingly, he (unfairly) dismisses Scoop as "wasting my time with this little comedy". (Personally, I think his masterpieces are Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes & Misdemeanors.)

Allen also reveals "my list of the best films ever made", which contains only one American film and only a single comedy:
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Rashomon
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Grand Illusion
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Wild Strawberries

  • Amarcord
  • Throne Of Blood
  • Cries & Whispers
  • La Strada
  • The 400 Blows
  • Breathless
  • Seven Samurai
  • Shoeshine

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Lolly Pope

Lolly Pope
A photograph by Parastou Forouhar, titled Lolly Pope, was censored by Lebanese authorities exactly a year ago. The photograph, taken in 2008, shows a woman licking a lollipop which contains a portrait of Pope Benedict.

Lolly Pope appears in the book Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life, & Death In Iran, edited by Rose Issa. When it was published last year in Lebanon, the General Security office insisted that its publishers, Saqi Books, cover the image of the Pope with black ink and glue the Lolly Pope page to the previous page, so that the photo could not be seen.

The book is widely available, though only in its censored form. The uncensored Lolly Pope photograph has not been widely circulated, though it is featured in the current issue of Index On Censorship (The Art Issue).

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Confidence Men

Confidence Men
Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, & The Education Of A President, by Ron Suskind, reveals how Barack Obama's advisors dealt with the aftermath of the recent global economic crisis. It could have been called All The President's Men, but that title has already been taken by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Like Woodward (Obama's Wars), Suskind had top-level access, including an Oval Office interview with Obama; also like Woodward (and Game Change), Suskind's sources are mostly quoted anonymously.

Suskind depicts Obama as over-reliant on his aides, who take the opportunity to manipulate and even disregard the President. National Economic Council director Larry Summers, for example, is quoted complaining that "There's no adult in charge". Suskind's biggest scoop is his allegation that, after Obama instructed his economics team to find a way to restructure Citibank in 2009, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ridiculed the idea and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner simply ignored it. (Geithner denies the allegation, and in his Suskind interview Obama side-steps the issue of Geithner's potential insubordination.)

Cars II

Cars II
Cars II, the sequel to Cars, was directed by Pixar's John Lasseter. The sequel shifts its focus from Lightning McQueen to his hick friend Mater, a goofy character surely of interest only to very young children. Consequently, there's not enough of the appealing Owen Wilson (who recently starred in Midnight In Paris, and is most famous for the Frat Pack films Zoolander, Wedding Crashers, and Meet The Parents). An espionage sub-plot with cameos by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer adds interest.

Unusually for Pixar, the original Cars was critically and commercially underwhelming, and Cars II, like most sequels, is inferior to the original. Cars was one of Lasseter's pet projects, which may explain why the sequel was green-lighted, though unfortunately the franchise's toy and merchandising potential may be another explanation. I saw it in 2D, but it has also been released in 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Penguen

Penguen
Cartoonist Bahadir Baruter is facing prosecution in Turkey after denying the existence of God in one of his cartoons. In the background of a recent cartoon, the writing on a mosque wall reads "There is no Allah; religion is a lie". The cartoon was published by the satirical magazine Penguen in February.

Other cartoonists have suffered censorship in Turkey. Two cartoonists were charged after their caricatures of President Abdullah Gul were published in Cumhuriyet, and another was fined for his caricature of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a cat in the same newspaper. Michael Dickinson faced a long legal battle relating to Best In Show and Good Boy, his collages of Erdogan as a dog.

Das Krapital

Das Krapital
Adult comic Viz originally issued Profanisaurus in 1997 as a cover-mounted booklet, credited to the pseudonym William H Bollocks. It was later retitled Roger's Profanisaurus, in reference to Viz's profane character Roger Mellie (and punning on Roget's Thesaurus). The Profanisaurus entries, collated in Das Krapital, are all slang terms for bodily functions, and are submitted by Viz readers. As such, the terms defined within are comical nonce words rather than genuine neologisms.

Das Krapital (with an anti-intellectual title punning on Das Kapital) is an expanded version of previous editions, Profanisaurus Rex and The Magna Farta. It's unashamedly (and post-ironically?) sexist, and full of inventive invective.