Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Gothic

Gothic
Gothic: The Dark Heart Of Film, edited by James Bell, is the second in a series of anthologies published by the BFI. (The first was 39 Steps To The Genius Of Hitchcock, also edited by Bell.) The BFI has also organised a season of Gothic films, screening in London and around the UK.

The book's essays cover a diverse range of horror themes: monsters, the occult, ghosts, and Gothic romance. Expressionist classics (The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, Nosferatu), Universal monster films (Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein) and Hammer horrors (The Curse Of Frankenstein, Dracula) are discussed extensively, though the scope also extends to tropes such as Gothic landscapes and architecture, and a wide variety of sub-genres.

The artistic and theatrical influences on Gothic cinema are explored, though there is less discussion of Gothic literature, except in Christopher Frayling's foreword. (Frayling also wrote Spaghetti Westerns.) There are two chapters by Kim Newman (author of Nightmare Movies). Other contributors include Roger Clarke (author of Story Of The Scene), Mark Kermode (author of BFI Classics: The Exorcist) and Marina Warner (author of Phantasmagoria).

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Правители

Paintings by Konstantin Altunin were removed by Russian police from a gallery yesterday. The gallery, the Museum of Authority in St Petersburg, has now been closed by the police. The confiscated paintings were part of the gallery's inaugural exhibition, Правители (Leaders), which opened on 15th August.

Four of Altunin's paintings were seized, all of which are satirical portraits of Russian politicians and religious leaders. Радужный Милонов (Rainbow Milonov) is a portrait of Vitaly Milonov surrounded by a rainbow, mocking Milonov's anti-gay legislation. От исповеди (Confession) depicts Patriarch Kirill I with tattoos of Lenin, Stalin, the Virgin Mary, and skulls on his bare chest. The explicit diptych Эротические сны Мизулиной (The Erotic Dreams Of Mizulina) portrays the conservative politician Yelena Mizulina as a contortionist, and shows her performing oral sex. The most provocative work, Травести (Travesty), shows President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wearing lingerie.

Art satirising Putin has been censored on several previous occasions. In 2009, Alexander Shednov was arrested after projecting a collage of Putin wearing a dress, and an abstract painting inciting violence against Putin was banned in 2010.

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Monday, 12 August 2013

...Isms
Understanding Modern Art

...Isms: Understanding Modern Art
...Isms: Understanding Modern Art, by Sam Phillips, is the latest in the ...Isms series that also includes Understanding Architecture and Understanding Cinema. Phillips charts the familiar trajectory of modern and contemporary art movements, from Impressionism onwards.

There is some overlap with ...Isms: Understanding Art by Stephen Little. (Tellingly, Phillips claims that the term 'Sensationalism' was "coined for this book", though in fact it first appeared in Little's book.) To avoid duplicating the illustrations from Little's work, Phillips doesn't include iconic paintings such as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon: Cubism, for example, is represented by Gris, instead of Picasso or Braque. This makes the book less useful as an introduction to modern art.

Styles, Schools, & Movements by Amy Dempsey, 100 Artists' Manifestos by Alex Danchev, and Manifesto by Mary Ann Caws all take a similarly 'ismatic' approach to modern art. Dempsey's book, in particular, is a superior guide to modern art 'isms'.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Paradoxocracy

Paradoxocracy
Next week, there will be another chance to see the Thai political documentary Paradoxocracy. It will be screened on 17th August at the House of Commons cafe in Thonburi.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

My Lunches With Orson

My Lunches With Orson
My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom & Orson Welles was edited by Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. The book is a series of transcripts of conversations recorded at the Ma Maison restaurant in Hollywood, in the years before Welles died.

There's an obvious comparison to be made between My Lunches With Orson and This Is Orson Welles, a book of Peter Bogdanovich's interviews with Welles published in 1992. Both books are comprised of transcripts of tapes recorded years before they were published, though their contents are quite different.

This Is Orson Welles was an attempt to preserve Welles's account of his entire life and work, one of several such projects Welles collaborated on shortly before he died. (The others were an authorised biography, Orson Welles by Barbara Leaming; and an extended BBC Arena interview, The Orson Welles Story.) The book was written with Welles's co-operation, and he redacted any material he didn't like. (Welles wrote to Bogdanovich: "I said that [name deleted] ought to be put in jail. Well, let's commute the sentence. The book doesn't need it".)

In contrast, after his conversations with Jaglom, Welles did not collaborate on the editing of My Lunches With Orson. In fact, it's debatable whether or not he even knew that Jaglom planned to publish the material. Thus, the result is far more candid than This Is Orson Welles. Welles is surprisingly frank about his associates (including Bogdanovich, who he calls "your friend", apparently forgetting Bogdanovich's previous hospitality; Jaglom reminds him: "He was your friend, too") and his personal life ("I loved her, yeah. Very much. But, by that time, not sexually. I had to work myself up to fuck her").

Welles sometimes appears pretentious: a simple question from a waiter ("And roast pork?") prompts a long quotation from The Merchant Of Venice ("Bassanio says to Shylock..."), while the waiter waits patiently to take Welles's order. Also, his inability to negotiate is extraordinary: Welles starts pitching a mini-series to an HBO executive, though he gives up almost immediately. The executive insists that "it does interest me very much", though Welles responds defensively: "You're wrong. You're really wrong. Boy, are you wrong". Ultimately, the exasperated executive walks out.

Biskind's introduction to the book is quite superficial, recycling well-known details about Welles's Hollywood productions (from Citizen Kane to Touch Of Evil), but skirting over the Shakespeare films in a single sentence. Biskind also claims that Welles "unofficially directed" The Stranger, although he was officially credited as its director. There's no index, and only limited endnotes.

This Is Orson Welles has a more formal Welles interview, and Discovering Orson Welles and Orson Welles At Work have more research about Welles's career, though My Lunches With Orson is a fascinating series of informal conversations. It's pure gossip, but it reveals another side to one of the cinema's greatest directors.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Moving Innovation

Moving Innovation
Moving Innovation: A History Of Computer Animation, by Tom Sito, is the first comprehensive history of CGI and digital animation. Sito discusses pioneering computer animators such as John Whitney, computer-game graphics, cinematic visual effects (including Jurassic Park), and animation studios such as Pixar (Toy Story and its sequels).

The book also includes recent developments such as the motion-capture technology used in The Lord Of The Rings (I, II, III), The Hobbit, the recent King Kong remake, and Avatar. It's a useful companion to Cartoons (Giannalberto Bendazzi) and The World Encyclopedia Of Cartoons (Maurice Horn), histories of hand-drawn animation. The first survey of computer art - HW Franke's Computer Graphics, Computer Art - was published over forty years ago.

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
The Creation Of A Classic

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs: The Art & Creation Of Walt Disney's Classic Animated Film
Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs: The Creation Of A Classic (subtitled The Art & Creation Of Walt Disney's Classic Animated Film on the jacket) is the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Walt Disney Family Museum in California last year. The book was written by JB Kaufman, who is also the author of The Fairest One Of All.

The catalogue contains around 200 examples of Snow White production art, though it doesn't feel quite as substantial as The Fairest One Of All. In fact, the strengths of Kaufman's other Snow White book unfortunately don't apply to the catalogue. Also, the catalogue falls into several traps that the other book avoided: chapters titled Collecting The Magic and Celebrating Walt's Genius are too close to 'magic of Disney' studio propaganda.

The Fairest One Of All

The Fairest One Of All
The Fairest One Of All: The Making Of Walt Disney's Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, by JB Kaufman, is a comprehensive account of the production of Snow White, which remains the quintessential Disney animated feature. The book was published by the Walt Disney Family Foundation, which is significant for two reasons: their imprimatur granted Kaufman full access to the Disney archives, though the Foundation is not affiliated with the Disney corporation, so the book is not a product of the 'magical world of Disney' self-mythologising publicity machine.

While not as hagiographic as expected, Kaufman still lavishes praise on the film (comparing it to Intolerance and Citizen Kane) and dismisses criticism of it. After quoting a negative review, for example, he notes that the critic "of course, was not an artist himself, nor did he have the luxury of screening the film repeatedly and studying the animation in detail, as we can do today".

Overall, though, this is a scholarly study of Snow White, not merely a studio puff piece, and Kaufman is careful not to perpetuate the myths associated with the film. He acknowledges, for instance, that "there had been other animated features before this one", and includes two stills from The Adventures Of Prince Achmed.

The book features hundreds of large and full-page colour illustrations of production sketches and other concept art. (Many of these also featured in an exhibition - Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs: The Creation Of A Classic - and its catalogue, also by Kaufman.) The illustrations are accompanied by an extensive history of the film's production, with surprisingly detailed footnotes and appendices.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

101 Greatest Films Of All Time!

Barry Norman's 101 Greatest Films Of All Time Barry Norman's 101 Greatest Films Of All Time
Last year, Radio Times magazine published 101 Greatest Films Of All Time!, a list selected by veteran film critic Barry Norman. Norman chose 100 films, and the 101st entry was selected by the magazine's readers.

The list was categorised by genre and published in two parts, on 21st January (thrillers, romance, family, drama, comedy, and war) and 28th January (action/adventure, musicals, horror, sci-fi, and westerns). The 101st film was announced on 29th February.

Norman previously compiled a 100 Best Films Of The Century list, published in 1992. Radio Times produced a 100 Landmark Films list in 2006, and it publishes the Radio Times Guide To Films annually.

The Landmark Films list, and Norman's own list from 1992, were both far more wide-ranging than Norman's current selection. There are only two foreign-language films in the present list, and it has no silent films at all.

The 101 Greatest Films Of All Time are as follows:

Thrillers
  • GoodFellas
  • Dirty Harry
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Godfather
  • The Silence Of The Lambs
  • LA Confidential
  • North By Northwest
  • Chinatown
  • Psycho
  • The Third Man
Westerns
  • Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • High Noon
  • Unforgiven
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Shane
  • Red River
  • The Searchers
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Magnificent Seven
Horror
  • Halloween
  • The Exorcist
  • Frankenstein
  • Rosemary's Baby
  • Night Of The Living Dead
Romance
  • Romeo & Juliet
  • Casablanca
  • Gone With The Wind
  • A Matter Of Life & Death
  • Brief Encounter
  • It Happened One Night
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • I Know Where I'm Going!
  • Gregory's Girl
  • The Graduate
Family
  • Mary Poppins
  • Great Expectations
  • Toy Story
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Bambi
  • Shrek
  • The Railway Children
  • The Jungle Book
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Harry Potter I-VIII
Musicals
  • Cabaret
  • Moulin Rouge!
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • West Side Story
  • Chicago
  • The Red Shoes
  • My Fair Lady
  • High Society
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • Kiss Me Kate
Action & Adventure
  • Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
  • The Adventures Of Robin Hood
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Jaws
  • Gladiator
  • Seven Samurai
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Deliverance
  • The Dark Knight
  • Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World
War
  • The Great Escape
  • Apocalypse Now
  • To Be Or Not To Be
  • The Bridge On The River Kwai
  • Dr Strangelove
  • Paths Of Glory
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Shoah
  • The Cruel Sea
  • Schindler's List
Drama
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Raging Bull
  • Bad Day At Black Rock
  • 12 Angry Men
  • All About Eve
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Sci-Fi
  • Alien
  • Blade Runner
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
Comedy
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Annie Hall
  • Groundhog Day
  • Ninotchka
  • Airplane!
  • Duck Soup
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Kind Hearts & Coronets
  • Bring Up Baby
  • Monty Python & The Holy Grail
101
  • Pulp Fiction
There are more than 101 films on the list, as all eight Harry Potter films are listed as a single entry. Note that Frankenstein is the James Whale version from 1931, not the earlier Thomas Edison silent version. Also, Some Like It Hot is the Billy Wilder classic from 1959, not the obscure 1939 film of the same name. There have been numerous adaptations of Romeo & Juliet; the one listed here is the Baz Luhrmann version from 1996.