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.

Madonna: Rebel Heart

Madonna: Rebel Heart
Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour was broadcast on Showtime on 9th December. The concert film, Madonna: Rebel Heart, was directed by Danny Tull and Nathan Rissman. (Tull has edited three previous Madonna tour videos: The Confessions Tour, Sticky & Sweet Tour, and MDNA World Tour.)

Unapologetic Bitch included a montage of the special guests who appeared at each venue, though the entire film felt like a mosaic of shots from different concerts: footage of Madonna wearing different costumes was intercut without continuity. The end credits featured brief backstage footage (and Madonna performing If I Had A Hammer).

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Everything Store

The Everything Store
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & The Age Of Amazon, by Brad Stone, is the first in-depth account of the rise of Amazon, the e-commerce pioneer that survived the dot-com bubble. In his prologue, Stone summarises Amazon's trajectory: "The company started modestly as an online bookseller and then rode the original wave of dot-com exuberance in the late 1990s to extend into selling music, movies, electronics, and toys... Amazon redefined itself yet again as a versatile technology firm that sold the cloud computing infrastructure known as Amazon Web Services as well as inexpensive, practical digital devices like the Kindle".

Amazon has transformed itself from a retailer into a technology business, though since the book was first published (in 2013), it has also become a media company: it produces original television content, such as The Grand Tour, for its Amazon Prime subscribers. It is now competing with digital giants Google, Facebook, and Apple in artificial intelligence and other areas of consumer technology. (Books about those companies include Googled by Ken Auletta, The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli.)

Stone describes visiting Amazon founder and CEO Bezos "to solicit his cooperation with this book," and while Bezos didn't agree to participate personally, he did authorise his colleagues to speak to the author. Bezos is undoubtedly an innovator, though perhaps not an especially pleasant person. His characteristic "hearty laugh" doesn't necessarily indicate a sense of humour: "the laugh... rocks its targets back on their heels. More than a few of his colleagues suggest that on some level, this is intentional - that Bezos wields his laugh like a weapon."

Sumida Hokusai Museum

Hokusai Returns
The Sumida Hokusai Museum opened in Tokyo on 22nd November. It's inaugural exhibition, Hokusai Returns: A Long-Lost Scroll & Masterpieces From The Collection, runs until 15th January 2017. The Museum's mirrored exterior is impressive, though its gallery space is quite limited. The gift shop sells mainly novelty items, but there is a library in an adjacent building.

The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see Katsushika Hokusai's most famous woodblock prints, 神奈川沖浪裏 (known as The Great Wave) and 凱風快晴 (known as Red Fuji), from his Thirty-Six Views Of Mount Fuji series. (Generally, ukiyo-e prints are not exhibited for an extended period, as their dyes are sensitive to light.)

The exhibition catalogue includes a gatefold reproduction of Hokusai's Sumida River scroll. Gian Carlo Calza's book Hokusai (published in Italian in 1999, and in English in 2003) is the most comprehensive monograph on the artist, and Richard Lane's Images From The Floating World (1978) is the classic survey of ukiyo-e prints.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

โปรแกรมมรดกภาพยนตร์ของชาติ

Citizen Dog
Blissfully Yours
The National Film Archive's classic Thai film season (โปรแกรมมรดกภาพยนตร์ของชาติ ประจำปี พ.ศ. ๒๕๕๙) continues this week with screenings of Wisit Sasanatieng's Citizen Dog and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours. Citizen Dog (previously shown at the Archive in 2012) is on 9th December, with Blissfully Yours (unfortunately in its censored version) on the following day.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Tears Of A Clown

Tears Of A Clown
Madonna's Tears Of A Clown cabaret show debuted in Melbourne earlier this year, and she performed her second Tears Of A Clown concert (wearing a less gothic clown costume) yesterday in Miami. (It was also streamed online via Facebook Live.) Both shows began with a cover version of Send In The Clowns and ended with a ukulele version of Holiday, her traditional encore, though in other respects the two performances were entirely different.

The first show was rather maudlin, while the second was much more upbeat. A revised set list, with ballads replaced by Beautiful Stranger, American Life, and Express Yourself, gave the second show much more energy than the first. Despite the Tears Of A Clown title, the second version was more angry than sad, and the melancholic introspection of the first show was gone. Instead, Madonna admonished the audience (for crowding the stage) and criticised Donald Trump (during a cover version of Britney Spears' Toxic).

Yesterday's show also seemed more rehearsed and choreographed than the first. The clown jokes were as corny as before, though there was some comic timing instead of the first show's awkward silences. The only misfire came when Madonna gave $100 bills to members of the crowd, seemingly for no reason. The audience (who had paid $5,000 each for this charity event) was fairly quiet, and Madonna complained: "There's no excitement in this room!" The set list was: Send In The Clowns, Like It Or Not, Toxic, I'm So Stupid, Beautiful Stranger, Easy Ride, American Life, Don't Tell Me, Express Yourself, and Holiday.

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Friday, 2 December 2016

Zunar

Zunar
Zunar
Zunar
Zunar
Zunar
Zunar
Zunar
Malaysian cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque (known as Zunar) has been arrested and charged with sedition, after an exhibition of his cartoons was disrupted by protesters. Zunar has faced similar charges in the past, and several of his books have been banned, as his cartoons highlight Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's corruption. (Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that $1 billion was transferred from the state-owned company 1MDB to Najib's personal bank account.)

Zunar's exhibition opened on 26th November at Komtar (the modern shopping complex in Johor Bahru, not the dilapidated Komtar skyscraper that dominates the Penang skyline). A group of fifty protesters stormed the exhibition on its first day, and it was closed for security reasons. Zunar was arrested after the protesters, a group of activists called Unmo Youth, reported the exhibition to the police.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Derek Jarman Month

Lolita
Lolita
Bangkok's Jam Cafe is hosting a short Derek Jarman retrospective this month. Derek Jarman Month begins on 7th December with Sebastiane (1976), which was the first (and perhaps only) film with dialogue spoken entirely in Latin. Sebastiane caused a minor scandal in the UK when Channel 4 accidentally broadcast its erection scene uncut, during the documentary Sex & The Censors (1991).

Derek Jarman Month is programmed by Brian Curtin. Jam's previous seasons have included Seduction Month, Dreams Month, Forking Paths Month, Resizing Month, Banned Month, Doppelganger Month, American Independent Month, Anime Month, 'So Bad It's Good' Month, Philip Seymour Hoffman Month, and Noir Month.

Bangkok Screening Room

Rear Window
Casablanca
Bangkok Screening Room, which opened in September, is showing two classics this month: Casablanca (arguably the greatest example of classical Hollywood cinema, directed by Michael Curtiz) and Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Both films were also screened last weekend: Casablanca on 26th November, and Rear Window and Casablanca on 27th November.

Rear Window will be shown on today, and on 3rd, 6th, 9th, 11th, 14th, 17th, 20th, 21st, and 23rd December. Casablanca continues tomorrow, and on 4th, 7th, 10th, 11, 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 22nd, and 24th December. Casablanca was previously shown (in 35mm) during the Festival of Classic Movies in 2007 at Lido.