Friday, 19 December 2014

The Interview

The Interview
The Interview
The release of the new film The Interview has been cancelled indefinitely by its studio, Sony Pictures. Sony had its computer system hacked earlier this month by a group known as the Guardians of Peace. The sophisticated hacking operation was apparently a response to Sony's planned release of The Interview, which was scheduled to open on Christmas Day.

The Interview is a comedy directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan, starring Rogan and James Franco as journalists who assassinate the President of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. Its premiere was held in Los Angeles on 11th December, though all subsequent showings were cancelled after the hackers warned cinemas not to screen it. The major American cinema chains all pulled out of plans to show it, and Sony announced today that it would not be released in any form.

Kim's death scene, in which his helicopter is hit by a missile and his head is engulfed in flames, had already been significantly toned down before the film's premiere. Exceptionally, Sony Corp. CEO Kazuo Hirai personally approved the modifications to the scene, insisting that images of exploding flesh and skull fragments should be reduced. Hirai also stipulated that the entire death sequence should be removed from all international prints, and included only in the domestic American version.

Sony's decision to shelve the film entirely is almost unprecedented. It's especially surprising as Kim Jong-Un's father and predecessor, Kim Jong-Il, was ridiculed and assassinated in the puppet comedy Team America: World Police (2004). In that film, Kim was impaled on a spike, and after his death a cockroach crawled out from his mouth. A fictional assassination of American President George W Bush has also been filmed, in the Channel 4 drama Death Of A President (2006).

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Gone With The Wind: A Legacy

Gone With The Wind has been the subject of two recent BBC radio documentaries. Gone With The Wind: A Legacy, part of Radio 4's Archive On 4 series, was broadcast on 14th December. An episode of the World Service's Witness series, about the film's Atlanta premiere, was broadcast yesterday.

Both documentaries are largely based on interviews with several Gone With The Wind cast and crew members, recorded by Barbra Paskin in 1981. Paskin herself presented the short Witness episode, though the longer Archive On 4 programme was hosted by Diane Roberts. The documentaries don't include any dialogue clips from the film, presumably for copyright reasons. Like Steve Wilson's book The Making Of Gone With The Wind, they mark the film's seventy-fifth anniversary.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Jakarta Post

The Jakarta Post
The editor of The Jakarta Post, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, is facing a blasphemy trial in Indonesia, after his newspaper published a cartoon by Stephane Peray (known as Stephff) satirising the Islamic State terrorist group. Suryodiningrat could be jailed for up to five years if he is found guilty.

The cartoon, published on page seven on 3rd July, depicts an armed man raising a skull-and-crossbones flag bearing the words "There is no God but Allah" in Arabic. This slogan forms part of the Islamic shahada, which has been used on black flags by various Islamic terrorist groups including IS. (This year, IS has beheaded several Western hostages on video, echoing the actions of Al Qaeda in 2004.)

The editor issued an apology for the cartoon five days later, in a front-page editorial: "We sincerely apologize for and retract the editorial cartoon... The cartoon contained religious symbolism that may have been offensive. The Post regrets the error in judgment, which was in no way meant to malign or be disrespectful of any religion."

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Art In Time

Art In Time
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Impression, Sunrise
Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?
Art In Time: A World History Of Styles & Movements, edited by Tom Melick, is a history of art in reverse chronological order, from the present to the past. It's published by Phaidon, which also published The Art Museum, The Art Book, The 20th Century Art Book, Design Classics, The Design Book, and the Themes & Movements series.

150 'isms' or artistic styles are included, each in an individual chapter. There are 600 illustrations, including most major works (though not Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Last Supper). Only a handful of the illustrations are full-page, though they're well chosen (Michaelangelo's David; Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon; Monet's Impression, Sunrise; Richard Hamilton's Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?).

The book's scope extends beyond the Western canon, to include art movements from India, China, Japan, and Africa. It also features lesser-known Western isms, such as Luminism and Photo-Secessionism. Due to its proliferation of isms, modern art receives significantly more coverage than other eras: the twentieth century spans almost 200 pages, for example, while Classical art is summarised in less than ten pages. Each chapter begins with a single-page essay, though this uniformity also seems disproportionate: the 300-year Hellenistic era receives the same space as the Young British Artists, for instance.

There are numerous other guides to art isms, including Understanding Art (by Stephen Little) and Understanding Modern Art (by Sam Phillips). Styles, Schools, & Movements (by Amy Dempsey) is particularly useful, with its mini bibliographies and comprehensive coverage of art trends since Impressionism. Art In Time has no references, though it covers a wider time period, from Classical art onwards.

The central concept of the book - placing each art movement within a historical context - isn't really effective, but fortunately it's not important anyway. Each chapter is accompanied by a timeline of key events, though they overlap rather confusingly, and there's no real attempt to make any historical connections in the essays themselves. Disregarding the 'art in time' concept, though, the book works very well as a clear and systematic introduction to the history of art.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

"We are badly in need
of a mad computer expert..."

They Used To Call It The Moon
Recently, the British Film Institute has published three letters written by Stanley Kubrick during the pre-production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The current issue of the BFI's Sight & Sound magazine includes a letter from Kubrick to David Robinson dated 9th April 1966. This week, the BFI posted two Kubrick letters on its website, both from the Kubrick Archive: one to Roger Caras dated 22nd September 1965, and one to Arthur C Clarke dated 31 March 1964.

Extracts from the Clarke letter ("the proverbial "really good" science-fiction movie") have been quoted extensively, and a draft of the letter is currently included in the exhibition They Used To Call It The Moon at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, UK. The exhibition opened on 31st October, and will close on 15th January 2015. (A 1975 letter from Kubrick to cinema projectionists was previously published online; I have a circa 1978 Kubrick Christmas card.)

The Decisive Moment

The Decisive Moment
A Bible For Photographers
The Decisive Moment
The Decisive Moment, the first monograph of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, is possibly the most iconic book in the entire history of photography. It was published in simultaneous French and English editions (the French version titled Images A La Sauvette) in 1952, and became highly collectable as it was never reprinted.

The 126 photographs from The Decisive Moment have subsequently appeared in various Cartier-Bresson books, notably The Man, The Image, & The World (2003), though The Decisive Moment remains essential due to the quality and size of its images. The photographs were printed using the heliogravure process, and most were either full-page or double-page reproductions.

Cartier-Bresson's preface to The Decisive Moment has been reprinted in the anthologies Photographers On Photography (Nathan Lyons, 1966) and Photography In Print (Vicki Goldberg, 1971). It was also included, with a new post script, in an issue of Les Cahiers De La Photographie devoted to Cartier-Bresson (#18, 1986). Cartier-Bresson included it in his own anthology of his writings, L'Imaginaire d'Apres Nature (1996), published in English as The Mind's Eye (1999).

Cartier-Bresson was most often associated with photojournalism, though he was arguably the greatest of all photographers. His 'decisive moment' concept is probably best encapsulated by his most famous picture, Derriere La Gare St Lazare, a photograph of a man jumping into a puddle. He died in 2004.

More than sixty years after its original release, a facsimile edition of The Decisive Moment has finally been published. It's available in a slipcase, accompanied by a fascinating booklet written by Clement Cheroux (author of this year's Henri Cartier-Bresson: Here & Now) titled A Bible For Photographers. The reprint is a full-sized reproduction of the original folio, with the same jacket designed by Henri Matisse, though not the supplementary twelve-page Captions booklet (on which the Cheroux booklet's design is based). Curiously, some of the blemishes in the original images have been removed in the new edition (for example, in print 105).

Friday, 5 December 2014

Graphic Design
Before Graphic Designers

Graphic Design Before Graphic Designers
The term 'graphic design' was coined in the 1920s, though the printing process had always involved a significant element of design. David Jury's Graphic Design Before Graphic Designers: The Printer As Designer & Craftsman 1700-1914 explores "the printer's contribution to graphic design prior to it becoming a profession in its own right".

The book considers graphic design avant la lettre, from both technical and artistic perspectives. Jury traces the history of printing technology, from engraving and letterpress to lithography and photography. He also discusses the various design movements of the period, including Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and stylistic trends in typography. The book itself is attractively designed, with chapters alternating between essays on the development of "jobbing printing" and glossy reproductions of posters, periodicals, and other ephemera.

Jury's survey covers the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which saw the birth of mass communication after the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of advertising. Published by Thames & Hudson, it includes over 500 colour illustrations. A History Of Graphic Design and Graphic Design: A New History cover the complete history of graphic design. The Book: A Global History includes a chapter on printed ephemera. The Art Of The Print (Fritz Eichenberg) is still the best book on the art and technology of printing, though 500 Years Of Printing (SH Steinberg) and Prints & Visual Communication (William M Ivins) are also useful. Printing Types (Daniel Updike; two volumes) is the standard history of typography.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Lost Tapes Of Orson Welles

The Lost Tapes Of Orson Welles was broadcast on the BBC World Service on 30th November, as part of the series The Documentary. It will be repeated tomorrow, and it was first broadcast in two episodes on Radio 4 last year (episode one on 19th December, and episode two on 26th December).

The programme was presented by Christopher Frayling (author of numerous books, including The 2001 File, Ken Adam Designs The Movies, Ken Adam & The Art Of Production Design, Spaghetti Westerns, Once Upon A Time In Italy, and Something To Do With Death) and featured extracts of conversations between Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom. The recordings were made at the LA restaurant Ma Maison, between 1983 and 1985 (the year Welles died).

The tapes were also transcribed in the book My Lunches With Orson, and the programme includes interviews with Jaglom and the book's editor, Peter Biskind. The book's release led to a debate about how much consent Welles had given to the recording or publication of the tapes, though the programme doesn't address that issue. In fact, the background to the tapes is presented in a surprisingly cliched, simplistic way: "Jaglom met Orson... and the pair soon became firm friends".

The Jaglom tapes have a predecessor with a more reliable provenance: tapes recorded by Peter Bogdanovich, who interviewed Welles from 1969 onwards. The Bogdanovich tapes were released on four audio cassettes in 1992, and transcribed in the book This Is Orson Welles; they were edited with Welles's co-operation, and some material was redacted at his request. (Audio extracts were included on the French DVD La Splendeur Des Amberson.) In contrast, Welles had no control over the Jaglom tapes after they were recorded, and therefore they offer a more candid portrait of the director.

2001:A Space Odyssey

Free Thinking
Tomorrow's World
This evening, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a discussion about the influence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The event took place at the BFI Southbank in London on 30th November, as part of the Tomorrow's World section of the BFI's Sci-Fi: Days Of Fear & Wonder season.

The programme was presented by Matthew Sweet, and featured interviews with guests including Keir Dullea (star of 2001), Gary Lockwood (star of 2001, and author of 2001 Memories), and Christopher Frayling (author of The 2001 File). It's an episode of Radio 3's Landmarks, which is part of the Free Thinking series. A special edition of The Film Programme about 2001 was broadcast on Radio 4 last week.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Gang Bang

Gang Bang
Cunt Face
Gang Bang, a group exhibition of erotic illustrations, opened at the Toot Yung Art Center in Bangkok on 8th November and will close tomorrow. The exhibition includes two representations of vagina dentatas, both by TRK: an ink drawing titled Cunt Face, and an untitled woodcut print. The woodcut is similar to Roberto Matta's cover illustration for the Surrealist journal VVV (1944).