Friday, July 31, 2009
Zombies, they endure.
In the latest spin-off of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Seth Grahame-Smith adds zombie mayhem to the quiet happenings of Hertfordshire. Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy share the same spirit, values and now slay zombies too.
I haven't seen Resident Evil, but the promotional T-shirt is very clever!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Stencils enable a person to draw something recognizable. I wonder who felt it was important to capture Martha Washington's profile, or a seamless outline of a goat? These may have been devised to facilitate drawing, but the end result is hollow, and not a drawing at all.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
L. told me she was able to see the Independence Day fireworks from a Ferris wheel seat she shared with her girlfriends. I could tell, even if it hadn't occurred to her that she had one of those moments. The sweet and magical sort that is only made better when you're with someone you love more than anyone in the world.
In 500 Days of Summer, the directorial debut of Marc Webb, the cloying and implausible storylines of romantic comedies are shelved in favor of quirky characters who work earnestly to understand and explore their connectedness. Is it love? Is it like? Is it a temporary or forever thing?
As the lead characters Summer Finn and Tim Hansen, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt do great things with small, quiet moments. They are genuine and appealing, and believable as 20-somethings that are still finding their voices and places in the world. 500 Days refers to a timeline of their romance, although the notable moments are told in a zigzag style neglecting chronology. This is especially effective, because it resembles how a person might actually tell their love story, complete with exaggerations and omissions.
When I think of L. sitting on the Ferris wheel watching the fireworks, or the clumsy missed connections of the couple in 500 Days of Summer, I understand how strange it is to experience those delirious moments; the laughter and tenderness and memorable time with the wrong person. But it is the kind of stuff that keeps a person hopeful and maybe that's really at the root of what we call ‘romantic’.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
If you were to browse the children’s book section at a store or on an online site, you’d find thousands of items. Things have definitely changed since books were first introduced for children centuries ago. Initially, children were regarded as miniature adults and the books offered were devoted to educational instruction.
The alphabet incorporated the earliest use of illustration in children’s books. Pictured is a British Victorian era (circa 1900) alphabet puzzle. For a child just learning their ABC’s, there is a surprising amount of text. While it is completely racist and and alarmingly offensive, it is evidence of a time when materials for children were devoid of fantasy, sweetness or amusement.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Carlo Collodi was the pen name for Carlo Lorenzini (1826-1890) best known for his children’s book, The Adventures of Pinocchio. Originally released in serial form in a weekly paper for children, the story was published as a book in 1883, just a few years before Collodi’s death.
The Adventures of Pinocchio is a traditional cautionary tale, which presents a warning (for Pinocchio; listen to your parent, don’t talk to strangers, don’t run away from home) and an unpleasant outcome to those who neglect the advice.
The details have been altered over the many years, not just to update the story for contemporary readers, but also to edit the grim tone. For example, the animated version has the invented character Jiminy Cricket as a friend and conscience. In the original tale, Pinocchio throws a hammer at the nameless cricket, killing him instantly. It would be tough explaining that at story time.
(Illustration by Attilio Mussino 1878-1954 from the 1911 book The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Loving typography can be distracting; I have the tendency to read every sign. At Disney’s Epcot Theme Park, there are signs that read, ‘Kodak picture spot’. Apparently, the millions of vistors need direction in all that controlled chaos where to shoot a picture of the family.
I found the image of artist Hans-Ruedi Fricker and his enameled metal signs on the great blog http://www.swiss-miss.com/. You can purchase any or all of the blocks on his website.
If you do make a purchase, after receiving your sign he asks that you send him a photo of it placed in your home (or office) for his website. Imagine the Epcot Theme Park with a couple of these planted!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Italians and the Chinese argue about who invented pasta. I don’t think that either group would take pride in the boxed varieties available at most grocery stores; that is the stuff of convenience and lack of know how. If you’ve ever attempted to make your own noodles, you’ll know that it requires a deft hand and certain fearlessness. I’ve tried it a couple times and created the sort of noodles that look like they’ve wiggled through Desert Storm or fell out of a play-doh canister.
D.’s dad was a S-L-O-W driver, but he’d make hand-pulled noodles so quickly, whirling dough like a magnificent cat’s cradle while carrying on a conversation in Mandarin. Can you imagine?
G.’s mom makes her own noodles each week. There’s lasagna, and linguine and gnocchi just to switch things up. She can do this daunting task while taking calls and completing a crossword puzzle. No, really.
To master noodle making takes repetition and patience and will. Why take the time? Why wrestle with flour and semolina when there are now gourmet shops that sell fresh noodles as well as the many boxed and bagged varieties? We can all appreciate homemade over store-bought. If you're lucky enough to have the real thing, you can taste the love.
(G.'s mom's yummy noodles pictured reflect 50 years of practice!)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
There’s a stately old building on Fullerton Avenue in Chicago that is currently for sale. I first noticed it years ago when I lived in that area. It looks like it was once a bank, but instead of any bank name or Roman numerals engraved over the regal entrance, there is one word, ‘perfection’. It’s audacious and boastful; just reading that word provokes a person to scrutinize every detail for a possible blemish. Or not.
Otto Heino passed away last week at the age of 94. He was a brilliant master potter who with his wife Vivika (1910-1995) earned an international reputation for their sleek modernist stoneware with distinctive glazes. They were also celebrated for their gift of time, teaching and mentoring generations of ceramicists and potters.
I received an Otto vase as a gift. You can see the marks of his fingers and it is slightly asymmetrical. It has presence and personality. It is perfect.
Monday, July 20, 2009
It’s easy to find tin world globe banks; many were produced as promotional giveaways and imprinted with the names of churches or small businesses much like paper calendars. Occasionally I’ll find a ceramic bank painted with the words for my trip. The banks are so small that even stuffed with coins can hold about ten dollars. But the idea of saving for a trip…somewhere in the world, far away, exotic and mysterious, well that’s just lovely.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
I worked at a gallery that carried the artwork of Lynda Barry. Her portfolio featured published cartoons, but also random doodles and watercolors on what appeared to be discarded pages from her novel Cruddy. Pretty cool. There was no email address or phone number to contact her, just a fax number. It was an odd way of communicating but that’s what she preferred.
She made a rare appearance for an event, where she chatted with fans, signed copies of her books and also sat for an interview. She was approachable, funny and absolutely present. She mentioned her husband, and added, “I love him.” Not in a gooey way, but matter-of-factly, without pretense.
I think that both of these instances begin to describe her; she is private and soulful and protects her ‘alone’ time, and she is also open, generous and sincere. Her work in comics is full of humor and insight and also pain. In One Hundred Demons and The Good Times are Killing Me she addresses themes of loneliness, rejection and angst but also hula dancing and ‘good hair’.
Lately, she’s been teaching a writing workshop titled ‘Writing the Unthinkable’ in which she guides her students to find their inner writer. The methods and exercises explored in the workshop are the basis of her book What It Is. The book is lushly illustrated and inspiring; she emphasizes that each of us is interesting with a unique story to tell.
This week, I raise my glass to the expressive style of Lynda!
Saturday, July 18, 2009
During an interview for a position at a small company, the owner told M. that his résumé was ‘…not so impressive.’ In selecting an employee or electing a president or making any purchase we need to read the label to assess what we’re getting. Beyond that, it can be limiting.
I’m thinking of a few friends who have spent many years successfully working in creative ventures that have nothing to do with their college experience, yet each of them feels the need to post their educational background. I know it’s something they did, but I don’t mistake it for who they are.
The description of Fred Astaire after he took his first screen test read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” He didn’t agree with that label. Goody for the rest of us.
(photo by Maurice Goldberg from the Bettmann Archive)
Thursday, July 16, 2009
L. has a great sense of humor. She leans towards the ridiculous and the absurd: think, Zach Galifianakis. Pictured is a nonsense poem by Edward Lear (1812-1888), the British poet who is known for his humorous limericks including The Owl and the Pussycat.
It looks silly and simple, but I think this sort of irreverence is both subversive and brainy. As for the little pie, I would add, “Open widey”.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
You won’t find The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer linked on Amazon; they are different in every conceivable way. Keats story is a children’s picture book that follows one small boy through a wintry day, Krakauer wrote his non-fiction bestseller about the tragic 1996 Mount Everest expedition in which eight climbers lost their lives. But after reading either of these fine books, you will feel as if the experience was yours. That’s the magic of good writing; it captivates and cultivates the reader.
The Snowy Day is a perfect book. I don’t think you could change or omit a single word to improve it. With a gentle cadence and lively collage illustrations, the reader will understand ‘snow’ even if they’ve never seen it before. That is saying a lot.
Into Thin Air is truly hypnotic; in my case I literally could not put the book down. With my heart pounding, I felt the fierce wind, the blinding ice, and the intense fear and desperation of the climbers because of Krakauer’s magnificent talent as a storyteller.
It’s hot and I’m thinking about snow.
The Hurt Locker is a film about the war in Iraq like Titanic was about a doomed ocean liner. Yes, exactly and no, not really.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, it is a serious action movie that rattles your nerves while holding you uncomfortably, even painfully spellbound.
We have become familiar with war through the lens of fiction; the brotherhood, the camaraderie, the quiet moments of terror and the blood, tears, toil and sweat. This war is in Iraq, with barren bleached deserts and suicide bombers. There is no preaching or political positing. You won’t find a convenient villain or plod through boot camp. The framework is simple; these soldiers enlisted, and they’re counting the days until their rotation is done.
This story follows the bomb squad, which is brutal work anywhere, but especially when you’re in a scorching desert, need an interpreter and bombs are buried in garbage, cars and even cadavers. The camera work is phenomenal, so much so that you are in the 100 pound protective suit with the lead character Sergeant James, moving slowly as a deep sea diver as he digs his fingers through tangled wires with his face pressed against a charred casing. Maybe he’ll make it. Maybe he won’t make it. That sort of experience changes a person. Although the panic and dread is part of the process, he manages to put it aside to get the job done. But how does a person get back to ‘normal’ when the job is over? Is it even possible? That lingering, all-encompassing question is why this is such an outstanding film about war.
Monday, July 13, 2009
This image is from the 1931 book Phobia by John Vassos. He writes in his preface, “I must begin by apologizing. I am not a psychiatrist, and publishing this venture into the unreal world of phobia necessitates some explanation. However, I can only plead my keen personal interest…genius seldom springs from so-called normal minds, but from those whose imaginative power leads them along strange by-ways.”
Vassos was a graphic artist and industrial designer whose work reflected the Art Deco dazzle of the 1920’s.
The illustration, one of many, is for dromophobia (the fear of crossing the street). The photograph is a list of other phobias that was tucked within the pages. According to the list, Basiphobia (fear of walking) is common; true at least in Los Angeles!
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Bruno Munari wore many hats: a sculptor, painter, writer, filmmaker, educator and designer, he was equally passionate about his diverse interests and excelled at everything. In the Italian newspaper, Il Giorno he wrote, “The designer is the artist of today, not because he is a genius, but because he works in such a way to re-establish contact between art and the public, because he has the humility and ability to respond to whatever demand is made of him by the society in which he lives, because he knows his job, and the ways and means of solving each problem of design.”
Munari believed objects should be ordinary, without unnecessary embellishment, and that people would distinguish and value ‘real’ and ‘original’ products. He was convinced that progress was achieved through simplifying, not complicating. Though his designs were playful and elegant, that they were also useful and affordable was far from ordinary.
A collector and traveler all his life, he amassed anonymously designed goods from many different cultures and countries to inspire students of design. His personal collection includes humble items like a saw, a plastic sack, a music stand, a coffee pot, a bucket and a folding chair among other basic things. The items were selected because they are so embedded in utility that nobody knows who designed them. Munari, a recipient of the Golden Compass, the most prestigious design award in Italy, proposed awarding the medal to the ‘Unknown Designer’, who created products with purpose, user-friendliness and intrinsic value.
I lift my glass this week to the magic of Munari.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Physogs is a 1940's British board game based on physiognomy, the art of judging human character from facial features. Comprised of black and white photograph cards of eyes, noses and mouths and corresponding heads, I’m reminded of the drawings of police sketch artists. That is, the completed faces are distorted representations rather than actual people.
Reading the strange descriptions, the game expresses both the immediate reaction and the inherent inaccuracy of determining personality and character by physical appearance.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Irv Steinberg took this photo of Marilyn Monroe backstage at Madison Square Garden May 19, 1962. She is wearing the infamous Jean Louis designed, flesh-colored dress, which she was literally sewn into. She has just finished singing a breathy version of 'Happy Birthday' to President John F. Kennedy for his 45th birthday party. After she sang, Kennedy said, 'I can now retire from politics after having happy birthday sung to me in such a sweet and wholesome way!" That night must have seemed momentous to everyone there, it was such a spectacle of power, wealth and celebrity. But bigger stories would follow: Marilyn died 78 days later, and the JFK assassination took place 18 months afterward.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Henry Dreyfuss was one of the leading industrial designers of the twentieth century. You may not know his name, but you’ve likely seen or used his best-known designs like the round ‘Big Ben’ alarm clock, the Hoover upright vacuum, the 'Princess' telephone and the Polaroid instant camera. These charts are from his 1960 book The Measure of Man, which explores his extensive research on creating designs that better accommodate human specifications. For every design, the starting place was the human experience and you can see how he applied common sense with science so that an object was both comfortable and user friendly.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
After seeing the film Public Enemies that was shot in Chicago, I couldn’t help feeling a bit homesick. There may be more idyllic places to raise children, but I feel lucky having grown up in the ‘windy city’. Not the suburbs: you’ll meet lots of people who claim to be from ‘Chi-town’ (the first clue) that later reveal they’re from say, Wheaton or Elk Grove Village. It’s territorial sure, but city life with its neighborhoods and traffic and public transport flavors things in a particular way. No doubt, New Yorkers and other big city natives are quick to point out where their city begins and ends.
I received a lovely gift book The Chicagoan by Neil Harris. The title refers to a long out-of-print magazine of the same name that resembles The New Yorker. The book explores those lost volumes, and flipping through its pages will take you on a ride in the way back machine with articles about local politicians, celebrities, and the jazzy nightlife of the 1920’s.
Many of the illustrations and photos of parks and buildings are recognizable. But what the images conjure is more about growing up in the nondescript areas of the city, where you develop loyalties to restaurants, schools, parks, and sports teams. You don’t notice this as it happens, but you’ll notice it one day. You may despise the weather but defend it vigorously should an out-of-towner say the same.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Public Enemies the new Michael Mann film, focuses on John Dillinger and his brief but memorable stint as the FBI’s Most Wanted poster boy. Shot in meticulously preserved historic buildings, it’s a what’s what for Chicagoans: the Board of Trade Building, the Biograph Theater, the Aragon Ballroom, the apartments precariously close to the El train—yep, all there. It’s not the first time a gangster movie has been filmed in the city, (who can forget The Untouchables, the tepid tale of Eliot Ness waging war on Al Capone?) the LaSalle street corridor as a backdrop to those well tailored, Tommy-gun toting men just works.
Johnny Depp stars as John Dillinger, Christian Bale as the dogged FBI agent Melvin Purvis and Billy Crudup as Bureau head J. Edgar Hoover (is it just me, or do these actors look like brothers?) The film centers on Dillinger as he achieves celebrity status for robbing banks and living the good life. If the writers explored the rallying that must have taken place before entering a bank for a robbery, the isolation of living on the run, or the panic of being recognized or shot at in public, it may have inspired complex performances (think of Arthur Penn’s excellent film Bonnie and Clyde, which paints a sympathetic portrait of those criminals). Instead, the characters seem to exist solely in a cycle of robbery, pursuit and escape. Despite a stellar cast, including Lili Taylor and Giovanni Ribisi who we don’t see often enough, the performances are flat and cold. If we only see the public cheering for Dillinger, the title of the movie is all wrong-- maybe Cops and Robbers would be better.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
I’m fortunate to live close to the Aero Theater, which hosts The American Cinematheque and screens classic films each night. I saw The Beaches of Agnes, an autobiographical film by French filmmaker Agnes Varda, in which she contemplates her life, her family and her years as an artist. The 81 year old was in attendance, bubbly and full of humor, she took questions after the screening.
Her voice is heard as the film begins, “If you opened people up, you would find landscapes; if you opened me up you would find beaches.” She weaves her stories, from mending fishing nets in a village to photographing revolutionaries in Cuba and China, giving much credit to serendipity. She mentions her films, which date back to 1954, but I was taken by her natural exuberance and her fascination with the world around her. We see her at flea markets, boating alone on the Seine, dressed as a potato for an installation, interviewing a collector of toy trains, and counting colorful brooms at her own birthday party. She said that she made her first film before she had seen the films of any great directors, adding that it would surely have stopped her in her tracks. She also said, “Rewrite the stories you tell yourself about what’s possible.”
I raise my glass this week to Agnes.
Friday, July 3, 2009
This delightful German chart of North America is circa 1950. I wonder if the artist ever paid a visit before creating the map, or based the drawings on the history, myths and gossip (s)he had absorbed. The animals are plump and sociable, the foliage is dense throughout, and the number of planes and boats suggest this is the continent to go to. I think about what Germany must have been like in 1950, still recovering from the war, with all the conflicted emotions of a nation rebuilding itself. Maybe the artist got it just right; America was an optimistic place where farms flourished, cities sparkled and industry thrived. Maybe this map is also emblematic of the way America saw itself at that time, bright and full of possibilities.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I love old educational materials, in particular school charts. Pictured are cutaway diagrams of Pollen from 1948. Aside from their graphic appeal, these illustrations manage to simplify an enormous universe. Old charts, flashcards, dexterity puzzles; they’re outmoded learning tools from a time that is only just out of reach.