Archive for September, 2012

The Big Story

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Lately, you may have noticed a longer time between postings here. Yes, of course, I’ve been busy. A new term at Art Center just began; I’m working on a new book, several time intensive projects, and heading to the Dice conference tomorrow to speak. Nevertheless, I’ve been busy for years. The saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” applies to me. The issue is graphic design. I spend all day with it. I teach, write, and yammer on about it. Lately, when I think about posting something I look at possible design pieces and think, “I am so over this.” Don’t worry. It’s a passing phase, and I’m bound to find some design I’m inspired by soon.

To escape typography, I watched Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ryan’s Daughter again recently. They are all remarkable. If you haven’t seen these, they aren’t what you think. Yes, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter are love stories. But they are played out on such a vast scale against epic times. And, they are extraordinarily and exquisitely designed.  David Lean’s vision is clear and refined. Julie Christie (who looks remarkably like Paula Scher) is the most beautiful woman who ever lived. The Panavision cinemascope and color is unbelievable. These are big, big, big movies. This is what a movie is supposed to look like.

I admit, there are some aspects that didn’t age well. Everyone’s makeup in Doctor Zhivago is a little heavy and runs toward a groovy 1965 dark eyes, light lips look. As T. E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole captures a complex and troubled character, but he should have said “no,” to the third application of mascara.

Finally, there is a scene in Ryan’s Daughter that is my favorite in any film. It’s only a moment, when Sarah Miles lies on the forest ground and looks up. The camera points up to the tree’s canopy. There is no music, only the sound of the rustling leaves and creaking of the branches as they barely move in the wind.

David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

Julie Christie, Doctor Zhivago, 1965

David Lean, Doctor Zhivago, 1965

David Lean, Ryan's Daughter, 1970

David Lean, Ryan's Daughter, 1970

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Nude Nude Girls

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Mickalene Thomas, Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2010

This week in my Communication Design 1 class, we talked about audience and allusion. I use the example of Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and the application of this painting to other projects. Whenever I try to explain this I’m sure they are staring at me and thinking, “I have no idea what he is saying. I think he’s lost his mind.” But, that’s fine because I’m not sure about my mind lately.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe was a scandal when it was exhibited in 1863. It was rejected by the Salon, and then shown at Salon de Refusés. Today it seems rather innocuous. Yes, there is a nude woman, but so what? Haven’t nude women existed in art for millennia? Yes, but in 1863, it was only appropriate when the woman appeared in a religious or mythological context. It was one thing to have a nude sculpture of the goddess Diana, but entirely different to have an ordinary woman nude. And having a picnic. With men. Shocking.

Jump ahead 120 years and the band Bow Wow Wow appropriates the image for their album cover. This is how allusion and audience works: if you know the background of Manet’s painting, you recognize it on Bow Wow Wow’s cover. You know the message here is that Bow Wow Wow is scandalous and shocking. You feel special and smart. If you don’t know the Manet reference it still works if you are a 16-year-old new wave kid living on a farm, “Nude girl. Cool.”

The album cover was in actuality scandalous because the lead singer, Annabella Lwin, was only 15 when the photo was released. This led to an uproar about child abuse and investigation by Scotland Yard. As a side note, when I was 19, I met Annabella during my time on American Bandstand. She had a wonky Mohawk, but one of the few guests who interacted with the kids.

Recently someone sent me Stano Masár’s version of Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. It’s wonderful and points to the issue of allusion and audience perfectly. With such a small amount of information, I recognize this. Yeah, I’m groovy, I know modern art history.

Edouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863

Bow Wow Wow, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet, 1984

Picasso, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet, 1962

Picasso, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet, 1961

Philip Bond, Star Wars Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet, 2009

The Simpsons, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet

Rive Gauche ad, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet

Shag, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet

Adventure Time, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet

Babar, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet

Stano Masar, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, after Manet

The Petrified Fountain of Thought

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête is one of the most beautiful films ever produced. If you think it is simply a black and white version of the Disney Beauty and the Beast, yes, you are wrong. Cocteau’s 1946 creation is soft, dreamlike, and romantic. It touches on surrealism, Jungian, and Freudian psychology. Each frame is sublime, yet compositionally erratic. Figures are askew, foreground objects hide the main action, and lighting is intentionally operatic. The intention is to create a narrative that is similar to a dream: symbols and the hidden information produce meaning.

The overt theme is that there is good in everyone. However, the characters all behave, at times, cruelly. The Cocteau version is about complex and contradictory behavior. There is subterfuge, hidden agenda, and betrayal mixed with compassion and kindness. Understanding the timing here is important. Cocteau produced La belle et la bête one year after the end of World War II. France was recovering from Nazi occupation, the puppet Vichy Regime, and years of combat. The war forced the French population into complex and unwelcome alliances to survive. The story can be viewed as one of understanding and sensitivity, or a Stockholm syndrome kidnapping. The duality mixed with the surreal set of symbols sets this apart from a simple fairy tale.

Title, La belle et la bête, 1946

La bête et La belle, La belle et la bête, 1946

Jean Marais, La belle et la bête, 1946

Josette Day, La belle et la bête, 1946

Surreal candle holders, La belle et la bête, 1946

The surreal hall, La belle et la bête, 1946

Fireplace statue, La belle et la bête, 1946

La belle et la bête, 1946

poster, La belle et la bête, 1946