That Perfect Day

George Hurrell, Errol Flynn

Every few months one of the news channels does a story about the unethical practice of Photoshopping models. "They send the wrong message." "Nobody could meet that level of perfection." "It's dishonest and false." Yes, these are all true. But it's not a new concept realized by the power of Adobe tools.

The Greeks slowly refined their sculpture of the human body over several hundred years. The first figures of gods and goddesses were more realistic than Egyptian stylized sculpture. By the Classical period, they managed to perfectly recreate a human body in marble. The figures were perfect anatomically. But nobody liked these. So the sculpture moved toward an idealized version of the human form. Take a couple of ribs out, reposition the oblique, create stances that defy gravity, all good. People liked these.

In the 1930s, George Hurrell mastered a technique that reframed the movie stars of the period as the gods. He posed them in romanticized settings, added flawless lighting, and retouched the images creating a marble like appearance while holding the sharp detail. Other photographers have attempted to recreate this technique, but there is an extra spark in the Hurrell images. Again, the public opted for the fantasy of perfect creatures living in paradise, free from disease, poverty, and depression. 

My headshot has been heavily retouched. I'm rather wrinkled and aged so I demand this. Of course, it's a shock when people meet me in real life. It can be demoralizing when someone shrinks back kind of throwing up in their mouth, but at least the photo is nice.

Veronica Lake

Joan Crawford, unretouched left, retouched right

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/ 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.

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.”


Happy, Happy, Golly Gee, Glad Game

My friends and family are typically in awe of me. Every so often, someone approaches me and says, “You’re the nicest designer in the business.” Or a friend may read something that says that I’m the eternal optimist, always doing good for the industry. They aren’t in awe because they are impressed. As I’ve been told at family dinners, “Really? Really? People actually think you’re nice? That’s unbelievable.”

Yes, there is a side of me that tries to play the “Glad Game” from Polyanna, but I’m not a blithering idiot. I don’t walk around the world with a smile on my face and only good in my heart. I admit it here. I can be cranky. I sometimes like off-color jokes. I have a twisted sense of humor. At last year’s Academy Awards there was a salute to horror films. When a gruesome and violent scene from Halloween was played, I laughed. When Bette Davis was kicking Joan Crawford, as she lay helpless on the ground in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I laughed. Unfortunately, I was the only person laughing. Angry glances were sent my way from others in the audience.

Therefore, it is logical that I love, love, love the title cards for Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time. One of the absolute smartest people in the world is Fred Seibert. Yesterday, Fred sent me his new book, Original Cartoon Title Cards: From Frederator Studios (Volume 1). There are too many fantastic images to share at once, so I am starting with the Adventure Time cards. How can you not love the sad evicted characters lost in the cold, the disemboweling of a cartoon character, or the aftermath of an angry tantrum? Disturbing and wrong, yes. Genius.

Free Love and the Swedes

I’m usually on the wrong side when it comes to choosing villains in a movie. For example, if you’ve ever seen Mommie Dearest, you may think Joan Crawford is a brutal monster. But, if you ask me, that little girl was willful and defiant. And just how did she get the wire hangers? Clearly, she intentionally brought them home as a passive aggressive act.

I feel the same way about A Summer Place. The storyline follows Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as they find love. It’s all quite romantic, and I know Sandra Dee’s mother is supposed to be a terrible and cold person. But, she isn’t too far off. Sandra Dee insists on walking in front of open windows knowing that Troy Donahue is watching. That’s exhibitionism and is wrong. She does let him kiss her within moments of meeting. The Swedish do engage in communal bathing. There is nothing wrong with insisting your daughter have a complete physical examination after a date. You can never be too sure. And, finally, I have an artificial tree, and it will last for at least ten years. In this instance, Constance Ford is decades ahead with her concern for deforestation.

And, by the way, to prove my point, Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue sneak away one evening and let their teenage passions run rampant. Guess what? She gets pregnant. All the hard work her mother did to keep her from her wanton ways, and she still ends up an unwed teenage mother. What can one do? It seems that a harsher approach was necessary. Perhaps a Carrie closet.