Saturday, 18 March 2017

Wood

Wood
St Henry's Chapel
Wood, by William Hall, is an international survey of wooden architecture, published by Phaidon. Like his previous books - Concrete and Brick - it has an embossed dust jacket, full-page photographs with extended captions, and chapters themed according to concepts such as form, light, and landscape.

The book includes buildings dating from the Middle Ages, though the emphasis is on modern and contemporary architecture. Most of the 170 examples are wooden structures, though there are a few exceptions, including some bamboo buildings and a chapel (St Henry's in Turku, Finland) with a copper exterior and a wooden interior.

Architecture In Wood is more comprehensive than Wood, though its photographs were all taken by its author, Will Pryce. Hall's book, on the other hand, features images from various sources. Wood: The World Of Woodwork & Carving, by Bryan Sentance, is a guide to wood as a medium for art, craft, and design.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Book From The Ground

Book From The Ground
Book From The Ground: From Point To Point, by Xu Bing, is a novella composed entirely of emoji, pictograms, logos, and other symbols (including 7x8mm reproductions of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain). Though there have been previous translations of texts into emoji, this is the first example of original fiction in emoji form.

The book contains no text (except on the back cover), and punctuation marks are its only concession to conventional typography. The concept is original and fascinating, though the potential for emoji as literature seems limited. The first wordless novels, with narratives depicted in Expressionist woodcuts, were created by Frans Masereel after World War I.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Osamu Tezuka Story

The Osamu Tezuka Story
The Osamu Tezuka Story, by Toshio Ban, was originally published in Japanese (手塚治虫物語) from 1989 to 1992 as a weekly serial in Asahi Shimbun magazine. Last year, it was translated into English for the first time, by Frederik L Schodt, who introduced manga to Western readers with his excellent Manga! Manga! and wrote the introduction to Manga Kamishibai. (Schodt's The Astro Boy Essays and Helen McCarthy's The Art Of Osamu Tezuka are among the few English-language surveys of Tezuka's life and work.)

As Schodt explains in his introduction, "Tezuka was the main force in the creation of the long-arc, story manga format... and in 1963, by animating his own Astro Boy manga for television, he also created the framework for Japan's entire modern manga-anime". He also notes that, in Japan, Tezuka is known as "manga no kami-sama" ("God of Manga"). In Cartoons, Giannalberto Bendazzi calls Tezuka "the 'God of comic-strips'." In The World Encyclopedia Of Comics, Maurice Horn calls him the "King of Japanese Comics".

At more than 900 pages, The Osamu Tezuka Story is a comprehensive biography of Tezuka in manga form. One of Tezuka's recurring characters, the mustachioed Higeoyaji, appears as a narrator. Interestingly, excerpts from Stanley Kubrick's 1965 letter to Tezuka are included, translated from Tezuka's autobiography, Baku Wa Mangaka. There is an invaluable appendix listing the Japanese titles of Tezuka's manga and anime works.

Schodt writes that, although the book "could have turned out to be a crude hagiography - a biography depicting Tezuka in only a heroic light", it offers instead "a realistic portrait of a very complex and unique individual." However, because it's an official Tezuka Productions release, created as a posthumous tribute to Tezuka, an element of hagiography is unavoidable.

The translation of The Osamu Tezuka Story (unlike the Astro Boy Omnibus series, Schodt's translation of Tezuka's Mighty Atom) preserves the original Japanese format, without the Westernised 'flopping' (left-to-right conversion) of some manga translations: "Pages and panels are read in Japanese order from right-to-left, but text in word balloons is read from left-to-right. And "sound effects," especially when part of the original art work, are often left as-is, with unobtrusive translations."

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cat People

Cat People
Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur in 1942, was the first in a cycle of atmospheric horror films produced for RKO by Val Lewton. The studio had recently cancelled its contract with Orson Welles - after releasing his first two films, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons - and was looking for a commercial horror vehicle to compete with Universal's cycle of monster films (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.).

The result is a suspenseful B-movie about Irena, a sexually repressed woman who transforms into a panther when she experiences arousal or jealousy. (Almost fifty years later, Michael Jackson transformed into a panther in his Black Or White music video.) The film begins with a meet-cute at the zoo, and compresses the couple's courtship and marriage into a few hurried minutes. Irena's husband, Oliver, is impossibly patient despite her rejection of any intimate contact. Eventually, and more realistically, he falls for his co-worker, Alice, who describes herself as "the new type of other woman" and is the film's only truly likeable character.

The film's Expressionistic lighting is by Nicholas Musuraca, who also photographed the Film Noir classics Out Of The Past (directed by Tourneur) and Stranger On The Third Floor. There are several striking visual moments: Irena scratching a sofa with her claw-like nails, Oliver in silhouette holding a T-square as a crucifix, and Irena's face under a psychiatrist's spotlight. The sound design is also impressive, especially the use of silence and subtle animal noises. These elements are all combined in the film's most effective sequence, when shadows on the wall and a growling panther frighten Alice in a swimming pool.

Cat People has interesting connections to a couple of other films of the period: it utilises the staircase set from The Magnificent Ambersons, and it was parodied in The Bad & The Beautiful, with Lewton as the model for the Jonathan Shields character. Kim Newman wrote a BFI Film Classics monograph on Cat People in 2001: "each viewing has revealed some new aspect, some unnoticed detail carefully crafted, some resonance perhaps unintended. I would happily watch it again this evening, which may well be the highest praise I can give any film."

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Visions Of Music

Visions Of Music
While there are numerous histories of album covers (including Album: Classic Sleeve Designs, The Art Of The Album Cover, and Art Record Covers), sheet music design is a relatively niche field of interest. Visions Of Music, by Tony Walas, is a history of sheet music covers.

Despite its subtitle (Sheet Music In The Twentieth Century), the book includes examples from the Victorian era onwards, demonstrating that illustrated sheet music covers existed long before Alex Steinweiss designed the first pictorial record sleeves. The covers in the book are only from the author's collection, though it's the first survey of the subject to feature covers from all genres.