Complexity and Contradiction in Los Angeles

One of my favorite films is Shampoo with Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and Goldie Hawn. You might think I like it because there are groovy hairstyles and Carrie Fisher plays a spoiled and promiscuous Beverly Hills teenager. Also, Julie Christie drives a beautiful Pagoda Roof Mercedes, but that’s not why I like the film. There is something so specifically Los Angeles in the 1970s about it. On the surface, it couldn’t be shallower. There are beautiful models and fabulous parties at houses in the Hollywood Hills. The women are obsessed with their hair, clothes, and the main character played by Warren Beatty.

But like the reality of everyone’s life here, there is a sense of desperation and isolation that permeates everyone’s actions. What begins as a seemingly light sex farce soon transforms into actual feelings and complexity that intrude on the carefully constructed lives of the characters. None of the characters seem to have any control over their individual fates. They make plans that are thwarted, are unable to effect any forward momentum, and seemingly let life carry them along.

The film opens dialogue spoken in a dark bedroom by Lee Grant. The audience is led to understand that this is a funny, yet naughty film.

Felicia:
The headboard. The headboard, honey.
You know it makes me nervous. Could you put your hand up there... ...and hold it?
That's right, because... That's... That's... Jesus! Oh!
That's right. Jesus Christ!

It ends with a conversation with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, a dramatically different tone than the start of the film.

Jackie: Lester's at the house.
George: Don't go, honey. Please don't.
Jackie: I have to go. I can't just leave him standing there. I have to go. The puppies are in the car.

The final scene is set on an empty lot at the top of a hill in Beverly Hills. The hill is shrouded in that ever-present fog (not smog) that we call June gloom. This and Paul Simon’s score are unforgettable. It is a film about artifice, hedonism, contradictions and of course groovy hair. I like that.

 

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Something Hit Us

"Something hit us...the crew is dead...help us, please, please help us!"

I like helping people. Often, another designer somewhere in the world will send me a note requesting advice on a color issue. This could be attributed to three books I’ve written about color, or the fact that I typically wear a bright pink or blue golf shirt while everyone else is in their summer black. I appreciate the compliment that I might be of some help or expertise.

I could say I spend hours deconstructing Josef Albers’ work in the 1930s or tirelessly mix gouache paint for the perfect combination to create a palette. Both of these would be half truths. Like my dining palette, I have rather plebeian tastes. Last weekend, while changing channels I stumbled onto one of my primary color inspirations, Airport 1975 (see, low-rent taste).

Twenty years ago I had two back to back epiphanic experiences. The first was watching David Hockney paint in his studio with confident and broad strokes. The second, was, of course the genius that is the palette in Airport 1975. Who cares about the plot with the standard issue of Love Boat guest stars in peril after their 747 is struck by another plane. The number one flight attendant is required to fly the plane. There is a singing nun, played by Helen Reddy. She spends time and songs with a dying girl, suspiciously cast with Linda Blair after her film, The Exorcist, when she was possessed.

 

Not Airport 1975, Linda Blair possessed and flying

The wall shag carpet

And the glorious palette

The colors are completely wrong and go against every tenet of good taste: fuchsia and brown, purple and ochre, red and avocado green. But it’s a marvelous mash-up. How wonderful to be so bad. While I have not spent days studying the late career geometry and color paintings by Herbert Bayer. I did spend an eccentric amount of time on the strange shag carpet wall colors.

 

The full palette

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Friday Viewing Pleasure

For your Friday evening viewing, some of my favorite screen grabs from other people. That's all.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The World is a Circle

When I was 8 or 9, we went to the movies in downtown Melbourne on Saturday afternoons. One movie that I thought was really cracker jack was Lost Horizon. Like many things, later on you wonder "What was I thinking?" But I saw it again this week and have reversed my opinion.

The plot is simple: a bunch of white people flee a revolution somewhere in a DC3. They crash in the Himalayas and are rescued by some Tibetan looking people in fur coats. They are taken to a beautiful tropical garden valley, Shangra La. People wear vaguely Asian caftans. The white people sing some songs, fall in love, and get healthy. One of them is grumpy and wants to leave. I won't ruin the end for you.

First, there is super cool macrame everywhere. There is even a macrame wall with candles. Second, the casting, at first seems ludicrous. How about serious actors like Peter Finch,Liv Ullmann and Sally Kellerman in a musical? Let's make John Gielgud Chinese. But oddly, it works, oddly. There is something about it, years later, that makes good sense. And finally, the strangely Asian/Indian/Tibetan/Japanese/Hawaiian theme of the costumes and sets. It kept me guessing the entire movie.

The music, by Burt Bacharach, is at first saccharine, but now I can't get it out of my head. It's a movie that makes you keep asking over and over, "Is this good, should it have been a musical, where is this geographically, and where can I get a macrame wall?"

The Meaning of a Second

Like most of you, I have a closet of plastic shoeboxes filled with printed photos. Last week began scanning many of them. One of them is the image above of my grandmother, mother, aunt, and me sitting on the steps with dappled light. It's not particularly well composed, but it feels like summer. It reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford looks through his own family photos. For a second, the light dappling on the subject of the photo he holds begins to move.

That scene has its roots in Chris Marker's La Jettée. La Jetée is the story later remade into 12 Monkeys. It was created with only still images, no motion. But there is one moment in the film when, for a brief second, one of the characters opens her eyes. Then the film continues with the series of still images.

A similar concept is used in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up. A series of black and white photographs display the sequence of events of a murder. There is no motion, but the sound of the trees is added to strengthen the narrative. The effect in all of these is an increased sense of connection for the viewer.

I may be simple, but it's those quiet moves that I like in a film. I'm okay with blowing up spaceships too, but I think Guardians of the Galaxy would have been improved with a sequence of still images and the sound of trees.

sequence begins at 1:00

Blade Runner

Blow Up, sequence begins at 1:15

Our House

 

There's an old trick to getting a song out of your head. I tried it this morning, but it didn't work. See, the problem was that The House I Live In by Frank Sinatra was going through my head all night. The trick is to sing God Bless America instead and that should knock the other song out. But it doesn't work to replace one song about America with another. So I still have it running.

It's a good song to have stuck in your head. Sinatra performed it in 1945, right after World War II. It battled racism and anti-semitism. Today, it seems like it can apply to a whole range of issues.

I used to think my grandmother was incredibly racist. Anytime I mentioned one of my friends, she'd say in her long Virginia drawl, "Now tell me Sean, what is his or her last name?" If it was a name she recognized, she then asked, "Is he one of the Burwells I know?" I now realize it wasn't about race or religion. I loved her immensely, but she was just snobby.

Tunnel of Love

People say the 1950s were uptight and squeaky clean. But if you've seen Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, it's clear that people had filthy minds. They are both filled with innuendo and shocking comments. Both have the same plot: Rock Hudson and Doris Day hate each other, but only know each other by talking on the phone; they've never met. When he sees her in person, he takes on a false identity to woo her. She falls in love with the fake version and he subtly convinces her to have sex/get married. That part's a little murky. She's a good girl and seems petrified of any sexual situation. I think she was supposed to be a virgin, since she's unmarried. But she's a little long in the tooth for that. So it appears that she has a psychological issue such as repressed memory or PTSD.

Lover Come Back takes place in the advertising world. It's one of those great Hollywood versions where campaigns are fully develop, products are redesigned, and copious research happens in an hour. I love the idea of an "Ad Council" that is a court determining ethical issues and can eject someone from the advertising world. I don't that's legal, and certainly wouldn't fly with AIGA. But, there's still time and I could do something especially heinous.

Plastic Fantastic Wonderland

I've noticed that every concept car I see looks the same; sort of a swoopy Prius like car with very little headroom. I don't think I want one of these in the future. I want the rounded car with lots of headroom in Sleeper. Granted there are problems with the tiny sliver of a window and it would no doubt bottom out on the easiest of bumps, but it's pretty swell. I also like the pod-like cars on Logan's Run. Again, the lack of a steering wheel, seat belts, or any radio could be an issue, but cool design trumps these.

Dale Hennesy was the production designer on Logan's Run and Sleeper. Both of these have that distinct glossy and slick 1970s futuristic vision. Plastic is big. Chrome is hip. All white interiors like an Apple store or the new Enterprise work well. The furniture is made for awkward lounging and would clearly pose problems when it was time to stand up. Also, it must be quite temperate in the future. The people in Logan's Run seem to wear draping silk scarves as clothing and are really into those low socks. In this story, people are killed at 30 to maintain population control. Given the lack of arch-support if you only wear socks, this is a positive. Otherwise these people would be limping around at 40.

Most importantly, I appreciate the Garanimals approach to clothes. Monochrome is big. Nobody has clashing patterns or colors. Everyone is very matchy matchy. Perhaps people go home and change into plaid pants and flower patterned shirts in private.

The Big Story

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.

The Petrified Fountain of Thought

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.

Madame, Taisez-vous!

The last time we went to Paris, Noreen had just watched Funny Face. This proved to be a mistake, as she insisted on singing Bonjour Paris everywhere we went. This is funny the first couple of times, but after awhile is trying, especially when the French stare and shout, “Madame, Taisez-vous!” I admit, however, that I love Funny Face and was tempted to sing as well. If you haven’t seen Funny Face, and think Saved By the Bell is an old classic, you need help. You are sad.

Here’s the basic plot. Audrey Hepburn is a beatnik and dowdy salesgirl at a Greenwich Village bookstore. The crew from a high fashion magazine, including the editor, Kaye Thompson, and photographer, Fred Astaire, descend upon the store for a high fashion photo shoot. Poor Audrey Hepburn, hideous and dowdy, is forced to be an extra next to the incredibly severe model. When the photos are developed, everyone agrees Audrey Hepburn should be made-over and sent to Paris as the star model. They all fly to Paris, sing the song, and shoot some fashion photos. Audrey Hepburn gets mixed up with some beatniks, and everyone is freaked she’ll miss the big fashion show.

There are a few highlights that I love. Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, is based on Richard Avedon. The art director is based on Alexey Brodovitch. The magazine decides that pink is the color of the moment. Of course, it’s impossible to see Audrey Hepburn as ugly, so that part doesn’t work.

 

Non uccidere vostra moglie

On this season’s Mad Men, Don Draper has a groovy pad in Manhattan. This is what I thought until I saw How to Murder Your Wife. Jack Lemmon’s townhouse is what it should be. The movie is probably the most misogynistic movie ever made. It’s up there with the racist Birth of a Nation on the offensive scale.

Jack Lemmon plays a confirmed bachelor (not code for gay here) who accidentally marries Virna Lisi after a drunken party. Lisi is Italian and speaks no English, and begins to redecorate the groovy bachelor pad. She also cooks big buttery Italian meals and Lemmon gets fat. As a comic strip artist, he takes out his frustration by making his alter-ego character marry a woman and then kill her. When Lisi sees this she flees, and Lemmon is accused of actually murdering his wife. There is a big courtroom scene that is unbelievably disturbing where he proposes every man be allowed to murder his wife. Scary.

Plotlines and hate language aside, the design of Lemmon’s apartment is fantastic. It’s hip and urban, with a touch of Billy Baldwin (the designer not actor) eclecticism. There is an all white modular kitchen, all black marble bathroom, modern art mixed with Victorian lamps, a brass bed that is a piece of sculpture, and Fornasetti screen bathroom doors. The core by Neal Hefti (of The Odd Couple, and 1966 Batman fame) is sublime. And then, there is Virna Lisi. Let me just say this, “Un#%*!ing beautiful!”

I was a Teenage Teenager

When you are old, you take for granted that others know what you are discussing. This is, of course, not correct. When I make a joke in the office about Gidget and get blank stares, I know I've crossed that line. Last week, I recapped the entire plot of the movie Where the Boys Are after I found that nobody had seen it. I won't go into depth here. It's not an like the Bourne Identity with multiple plot twists and turns. A group of college coeds go to Fort Lauderdale for spring beak. They share a motel room. The see lots of half naked boys. They sit on the beach that is clearly in a sound stage. Paula Prentiss is the tall girl. She says, "Do you still find me strangely attractive?" This is a good line on any date. Connie Francis sings the theme song "Where the Boys Are." George Hamilton is the super tan rich playboy. Yvette Mimieux is the naive youngest girl. There are good tips for clothing such as Jim Hutton's very cool straw hat.

The one plot twist that made no sense to me was Yvette Mimieux's bad date. She goes out one night with a boy we know is not chivalrous. I think he has sex with her, but he may have just tried kissing her. The film is rather vague here. Nothing violent has occurred. Something has happened, however. The episode leaves Mimieux in a hospital bed catatonic. We are left to imagine that her date is so bad or remarkable at love-making that she is left senseless. Or she has a horrible secret, such as disgusting full body Wolverine scars, that are discovered and that leaves her senseless. Or she has had plain old teenage sex.

The activities are unclear, but the message to all young people is clear: if you are a woman and have relations with a boy you will end up catatonic in a hospital. If you are a boy who has relations with a young lady you will be forced to flee town in shame after she becomes catatonic. For any teens reading this post, I assure you, this is true.

 

 

The Fall of Society

Grace Kelly's last film before she became Her Serene HighnessThe Princess of Monaco, was High Society. High Society is a remake of The Philadelphia Story, which is about waspy rich people who misbehave. Grace Kelly is the spoiled rich girl with an icy heart. Before her wedding to a fussy and uptight man, Frank Sinatra shows up as a writer for the trashy tabloid Spy magazine. Yes, Spy magazine, but not the 1980s one. Bing Crosby is Kelly's ex-husband and happens to be throwing a jazz festival with Louis Armstrong. It's wonderfully Hollywood. Everything in the house is brand spankin' new and big. I love the incredibly hip patio furniture that was obviously on a set in Culver City. The film looks fantastic. The songs, when not sung by Kelly, are swell.

But there is a giant elephant in the room. Bing Crosby is the true romantic interest for Grace Kelly, but he's older than her grandfather. It's creepy. And Frank Sinatra is lurking around the property leering at Kelly. The reality of a dusty old mansion with ancient broken lamps that shock you when turned on doesn't fit here.

I would like to remake High Society, but with realism, like Trainspotting. This is how it could work: The main character (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is divorced and bitter, with a filthy mouth. She lives with her hateful sister and alcoholic mother at the family estate with cat urine and a filthy kitchen. Her ancient, creepy ex-husband, who moved next door, (Harry Dean Stanton), stares at her through windows. "I liked it when you dried yourself with the pink towel," he could say. The tabloid reporter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an immoral opportunist, who spends a good deal of the film secretly playing with the family dachshund in both an abusive and almost sensual way. I'd drop the songs, they get in the way of the scenes with screaming followed by tense silences. Of course, the film cannot end with the heiress reuniting with the ex-husband. It will be left open for interpretation, with a final scene of the heiress standing on the verandah with broken rattan furniture and empty Mountain Dew cans, staring at herself in the reflection of a window.

Why I Design

I learned how to behave by Saul Bass. There seemed to be several options. I could mature into a more seasoned designer and become crankier. I could become bitter and competitive with younger designers. I could desperately try to remain young, wearing clothes better suited for a 14 year old. Or, like Saul, I could be magnanimous and helpful. Saul was enormously helpful to us when we started AdamsMorioka. He provided wisdom I still use. He sat through a long dull lecture at Aspen to wait for our talk. Saul patiently listened to my ambitions, and was always available. Now when I read his recent book, I continue to be in awe.

After Saul passed away, I went to his memorial at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. It was a truly life changing event to see the collection of his titles on a huge screen with magnificent stereo sound. When I show Saul’s title sequences to my students they are impressed, obviously, and hopefully inspired. But they cannot experience the magnificence of Saul’s work on a wide Cinemascope screen. His titles are each wonderful, but the credit sequence for West Side Story is a miracle. It is moving, eloquent, artful, and beautifully crafted. No matter how hard my day is, this sequence always reminds me why I design.

Lost in Inner Space

This morning, driving to work, I was thinking not about an upcoming presentation, but about robots. I was trying to determine why I preferred the 1960s Lost in Space robot to Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. They’re both clumsy, have difficulty navigating around a rock, and have trouble grabbing items. They make a lot of noise and have lighting effects. These would be dangerous in a stealth operation on another planet. But I like the saucer top on the Lost in Space robot. It has the style of a hair dryer at a beauty parlor. He has treads like a tank, or the vehicle used to move rockets at Cape Canaveral. Robbie, however, is like the Michelin Man. Why all the balls? The advanced civilization couldn’t smooth him out and help with his limp?

Now the vehicles are another story. When I was a kid, I loved the RV on Lost in Space. The all glass exterior is a fantastic design to drive around a planet and see the sights. The drawbacks are, of course, the weight. Schlepping that thing around in the space ship must have taken a lot of extra fuel. And it was bad dealing with falling boulders. Their spaceship, the Jupiter 2 is a great flying saucer design. It’s not as svelte as the Forbidden Planet one, or the fatter saucers from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It’s functional, though. The Forbidden Planet saucer is like a 1954 Corvette. It’s sleek and hip, but seemed to break down often. The Jupiter 2 is more reliable, like a 1964 Mustang, but had a crap navigation system.

Recherché, n'est-ce pas?

I’ve been looking forward to Todd Haynes remake of Mildred Pierce on HBO. It promised to be closer to the original James Cain novel. The new version has realism similar to 1970s and 1980s movies that were set in the 1930s: The Day of the Locust, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Last Tycoon. It all sounds swell. The problem I have is that it’s just rather boring. If I’d never seen the 1945 Joan Crawford version, I’d be all over it like white on rice.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to top the 1945 extreme film noir drama of Mildred’s spoiled daughter Vida’s dialogue:

“If you mean Mrs. Biederhof, I must say my sympathy is all with you. She's distinctly middle class.”

“I mean, that would have been dreadfully recherché, n'est-ce pas?”

“With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens, pies and kitchens. Everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack and its cheap furniture. And this town.... Its women that wear uniforms. Its men that wear overalls.”

“You think just because you made money, you can turn yourself into a lady. But you can't. You'll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a store and whose mother took in washing. With this money l can get away from every rotten thing that makes me think of this place or you!”

The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with your own mother, try some of these. For example your mother may say, “Betty, I just don’t know if I feel like Chinese tonight, how about Sizzler?” And then you can respond, “Sizzler? Sizzler. Well, you've never spoken of your people, where you came from, so perhaps it's natural.”

 

Tootsie Wootsie Hoochee Koochee

I can't say I really dig Christmas movies. The whole Elf, Tim Allen Santa thing just makes me cranky. I will, however, watch Meet Me in St. Louis. It's not particularly Christmas themed, but it has nifty titles, technicolor, and a happy turn of the century setting. I don't quite understand the plot. It's a family, and the world's fair, St. Louis, and a possible move to New York. This is the part that I don't understand: The father gets a better job in New York, so the family needs to move. But everyone is so whiny and spoiled that he decides to forgo this amazing opportunity and stay in St. Louis.

That's not going to end well. They're all happy at the end of the movie, but a few years later when teenage rebellion kicks in there are going to be screaming matches. "I gave up the biggest chance of my life for you girls!" says the father, "F#*k You! F#*kface" screams the teenage daughter. The titles are nice though.

A Generous and Compassionate Country

For the last couple of days, I’ve been putting together the gallery space at Art Center. But that’s another story. I stopped the insane measuring and rearranging to go down to the theater and see Lynda.com’s new documentary on Doyald Young. Yes, I put completion of the gallery before graduation at risk. But, there was no question. Doyald, Lynda Weinman, a great film: uh, yeah I’m going to that.

It’s a challenge to make what we do seem interesting to civilians. Hmm, I have a choice of watching car chases and steamy love scenes, or a documentary on someone who works with letterforms. Typically, the 3d explosions win. In this instance though, the letterform film is the right choice. I could carry on about Doyald for hours: he’s one of my great friends and mentors, has a salty sense of humor and the best jokes, is an inspiration to teach and truly help young designers, and, yes, talented as heck. But you can find all of that on the AIGA Medalist page, except the dirty joke part.

At Saturday’s commencement ceremony, he will receive Art Center’s Alumnus of the Year Award for his dedicated work as an educator and lifetime of legendary work in typography, logotypes and alphabets. At Saturday’s commencement, he’ll receive an honorary degree from Art Center, where he studied Advertising in the ’50s, and where he has taught lettering and logotype design in the Graphic Design Department for decades.

This is what made the evening so remarkable: the 2010 graduating class was in the theater also. While Doyald made a few closing remarks, they looked on with mixtures of awe, delight, gratitude, and excitement. In school, they learn how to make beautiful form and combine this with conceptual thinking. This short time in the theater is, perhaps, one of he most valuable hours of their education. This generation of designers is shown first-hand, what it means to be a “good” designer with dignity and magnanimity by one of the great masters. Fifty years from now, when they sit where Doyald is now, they will know that talent is nothing compared to kindness and generosity.

Coats and Cars

Unlike many men, I am able to think about more than one thing at a time. Well, not really at the same time, but one thought quickly follows another. Unfortunately, my dual thinking ability frequently puts the wrong things together. For example, I was explaining Sonia Delauney’s work recently, and I immediately jumped to Madeline Kahn’s car in High Anxiety. If you haven’t seen High Anxiety, Madeline Kahn’s Cadillac matches her Louis Vuitton jumpsuit. The car is covered in the same Louis Vuitton pattern. Of course it’s a sight gag. But why was Sonia Delauney’s matching coat and Citroen not funny? I know it’s not supposed to be funny because I was asked to stop laughing in Modern Art when I saw the Delauney Citroen at school.

Perhaps Delauney planned her matching coat and car as a sight gag, also. She expected great outbursts of laughter and applause, but was met with serious contemplation and intellectual deconstruction. We all need to feel the sorrow and tragedy of Delauney’s failed career as a comedian.