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Monthly Archives: May 2007

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Richard Amsel’s Sparkle and Shine

Lily Tomlin Time CoverRichard Amsel is one of my favorite illustrators from the ’70s and ’80s. Amsel first came to prominence when, as a college student, he won a contest to illustrate the poster for Barbra Streisand’s Hello Dolly. His portrait of Bette Midler on The Divine Miss M has become an icon of album cover art. He also did plenty of magazine covers (like this Time issue with Lily Tomlin from 1977), but it’s his movie poster designs for which he will be best remembered. His work has a bit of an Art Nouveau influence, but the main thing I associate with him is the realistic yet flattering softness in the famous faces he paints. It’s a look so unmistakeable that I can tell an Amsel without even seeing his stylized signature in the corner.

Amsel succumbed to AIDS in 1985. Check out more of his work at The American Art Archives (including a rather appalling example of a beautiful poster made into a crappy DVD cover).

Lost Weekend

Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend arrived from Netflix last week. I kind of half-heartedly put it on my queue since we’ve seen a few of Godard’s other films (we didn’t enjoy all of them; My Life to Live is probably the best). After some more research, however, I decided I wasn’t in the mood for trenchant ’60s social commentary and put it back on the mailbox to be replaced by decidedly lighter fare in the form of Kate & Allie‘s first season. A few years ago, a similar thing happened when we rented The Pianist. The movie sat around for at least two weeks before we decided it seemed too heavy going, and so back it went. A little part of me feels guilty about these things, but to be honest we constantly watch a lot of different films — heavy and light — so a few small episodes don’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

Have you ever rented a movie, only to return it unseen?

Howard Pierce Desktop Patterns

Thought I’d share these nifty patterns I made back in 2000 — try them out for a cool “Desert Modernism” look. These are based on photos we took of the roofline borders on sculptor Howard Pierce‘s home in Joshua Tree, California. The talented Mr. Pierce, who died in 1994, made his name designing whimsical ceramic figurines of animals. Some photos of Pierce’s public sculptures in Joshua tree can be seen here. Enjoy!

Howard Pierce Desktop Pattern I
Howard Pierce Desktop Pattern II

Boob Tubing

It always happens to me. The major TV networks have all announced their Fall schedules, and the two new shows we chose to watch — Jericho and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip — have both gotten the axe.

Actually, Jericho was more Christopher’s show and I just went along for the ride; its lousy but watchable dramatics called to mind Fox’s short-lived Reunion from the 2005-06 season. Like disaster movies of the ’70s, most of its appeal lied in speculating which character would die next. I wasn’t too surprised about the demises of shopkeeper Gracie (they always kill off the over-40 women first) and whiny April, but Gerald McRaney’s death in the final episode came out of nowhere. With the citizens of Jericho rallying to defend themselves from a neighboring town at season’s end, CBS sure left loyal viewers in the lurch. And that leaves a lot of pissed off people to wonder why the network decided to put a (gag) reality show about a bunch of children running their own town, Lord of the Flies style, in its time slot.

Jericho was one thing, but it’s the inevitable bye-bye of Studio 60 that leaves me truly saddened. Here was a smart, crackling drama that started out brilliantly, then as it moved along the cracks started to show (painfully unfunny show-within-a-show skits) until Aaron Sorkin resorted to putting his characters in awful, stock situations (Danny and Jordan stuck on the studio rooftop!). Viewers complained that it was insufferably smug, but I’ll take smugness any day over the escapist pablum that dominates network TV. More than anything, I admire Sorkin (whose shows I’d never watched before) for daring to criticize the system from within. We need more entertainment like that, but while Studio 60‘s corpse rots away our airwaves are filled with the likes of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? Guess it’s back to watching Frontline, American Experience and old movies on TCM for me.

Book Review: Fly Now!

Fly Now! coverConsumer note: although
Fly Now!: The Poster Collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is published by National Geographic, it doesn’t contain a single nature photograph (the closest might be a ’70s poster showing a flock of flamingos). What it does have are dozens of gorgeous American and European poster designs from the glory years of air travel in the early- to mid-20th century.

The concept behind this book is simple: posters are presented chronologically alongside a brief history of where the aviation industry was at the time the poster was made. Early chapters on ballooning don’t quite jibe with the rest of the book (which primarily focuses on passenger-based air travel), but otherwise it’s a smooth ride. Joanne Gernstein London’s accompanying text is dry but very informative, giving historical context and commenting directly on the posters on display. It’s a relief that the words don’t exist on a separate plane, so to speak, from the corresponding posters.

As you might guess from the Deco-style cover, the bulk of the artwork dates from the years between World Wars I and II — a great period for both air travel and poster design. Interesting to note how the marketing on these posters changed throughout the years: early posters stressed the safety of air travel to a still uncertain public, the post-WWII era boasted about the technological advances in aircraft design, while in more recent years the destination (rather than how to get there) served as the main point. Relatively recent airline industry deregulations may have made traveling by plane a more mundane experience, but this book serves as a neatly designed reminder of a more exciting and romantic time.

Fly Now! is currently available from National Geographic Books. Order at

Fly Now! spread


A maintenance worker tends to Disneyland’s Primeval World exhibit in 1966, part of the UCLA Department of Special Collections searchable index of photos from the Los Angeles Times and Daily News. For old L.A. aficionados, this one’s a must-see. Another site that one could spend hours poring through, great! (first spotted on The Blackwing Diaries)

Disneyland Maintenance Worker