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Monthly Archives: July 2009

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Auto Fixation

Years ago, I remember seeing a Morrissey music video that was filmed along Van Buren Street here in Phoenix. Lo and behold, here’s “My Love Life.” I can understand Van Buren’s appeal for a foreign-born someone like Morrissey. Filled with sun-baked old motels with ginormous signage, the stretches of road along either side of downtown are pure examples of kitsch Americana. Sadly, many of the motels in this video have either decayed further or gotten torn down since the video was filmed. The brief shot of the Kon Tiki hotel and lounge was particularly bittersweet. The dramatic, Polynesian-style landmark was leveled in the mid-’90s to make way for — a used car lot.

Also noticed: the YMCA building at left in the mid-point screen shot is actually the gym where I work out twice a week!

Weekly Mishmash: June 28-July 4

The Group (1966). I always wanted to see this filming of Mary McCarthy’s popular “dirty book” from the ’60s, and was delighted when it showed up on TCM’s schedule saluting director Sidney Lumet. The film follows a clique of 1933 graduates from a women’s college as they get jobs, fall in love, marry, gossip, etc. An interesting film enlivened by a young and attractive cast, many of whom (Candice Bergen) were making their film debuts. Some of the then-shocking topics dealt with haven’t aged very well, though, and the film completely fails at capturing the feel of the ’30s. I also thought the film came across as shrill when it needed a more naturalistic touch. There are a few noteworthy performances in its favor, however. Jessica Walter as the Group’s gossip was the best. I also enjoyed Joan Hackett as the modern one, Elizabeth Hartman as the political one, and Shirley Knight as the traditional one. Not quite as campy as I though it would be, which in this case is a good thing.
Dusty Springfield — Reputation And Rarities. A treat. Released in 1990, Reputation was Dusty Springfield’s first album in eight years and her umpteenth comeback attempt. Although it spawned several hits in the U.K., it frustratingly wasn’t released in the U.S. until this expanded version came out in 1997. The first single was the beautiful Pet Shop Boys collaboration “Nothing Has Been Proved” from the film Scandal. With lush arrangements by Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti, I remember being wowed by the tune and its video when it got (infrequently) shown on VH1 in 1989. Being associated with a British art film didn’t help its fortunes, however. I believe the song was just too sophisticated for U.S. consumption. Luckily, it was successful enough in the U.K. to warrant a full side of Dusty/Pet Shop Boys collaborations for Reputation. Their five tunes are all brilliant, probably because Dusty seems game enough to do anything. Second single “In Private” is a retro-flavored delight, as is her cover of the vintage Goffin-King tune “I Want To Stay Here.” Album closer “Occupy Your Mind” takes her into the kind of electro-experimental territory that Madonna would later take on with Ray Of Light. She even raps on “Daydreaming” — and pretty well, too! The album is fleshed out with an a-side of nice contemporary pop produced by Dan Hartman and others. Recommended. Below, the stylish video for “In Private”:

When A Woman Ascends The Stairs (1960). Poignant Japanese melodrama about an aging prostitute (aren’t all Japanese melodramas about prostitutes?) played with understated grace by Hideko Takamine. Fearing that her career as a bar hostess may be coming to an end, Takamine desires to open up her own bar. She doesn’t have the money, however, which causes her to weigh the option of marriage with one of her clients. She also has to deal with family members taking advantage of her. This film sometimes played itself out like a soap opera, albeit a bleak and absorbing one. It also boasts a nifty, jazzy score and lots of lovely night scenes of a city in transition.

The Life and Career of Abner Graboff

Among modern children’s book illustrators from the ’50s and ’60s, Abner Graboff ranks as one of my personal favorites. Strangely enough, he’s not as well-known as some of his contemporaries, however. Wanting to shed some light on the now deceased man, the indefatigable Ward Jenkins contacted the artist’s son, Jon, and published an insightful interview on his weblog. Here’s part one and part two. Read and be inspired by all the artwork (like the spread from 1961’s I Know An Old Lady, below).

Abner Graboff spread from I Know An Old Lady

Incidentally, Ward’s first illustrated children’s book has just been published — How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals by Michael Phelps and Alan Abrahamson. Congrats to him!

Hole in Termite Terrace

Tin Pan Alley Cats is a jazzy 1943 Merrie Melodie directed with Bob Clampett’s usual outlandishness — and one of the Warner Bros. “Censored Eleven.” From the parade of jivey cats on display I can see why, but that’s still no excuse to just pretend the thing never existed. Watching the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6 ignites my curiosity for these “lost” cartoons. Thanks goodness for YouTube.

Book Review: Seymour

Seymour Chwast - CoverSurely you must know the name of Seymour Chwast, right? As the co-founder of legendary graphic design studio Push Pin, he was a prime mover in deflating the pomposity of modernism and ushering in the freer, more whimsical visual styles that defined the ’60s and ’70s. On a personal note, he was also one of the first artists whose work I noticed in books such as American Illustration 1982-83. One look at Chwast’s charming yet sophisticated imagery made me say “I want to do that” (side note: I’m still attempting to do that). Several decades of Chwast’s art, both commercial and personal, have been assembled in a handsome new book titled Seymour: The Obsessive Images Of Seymour Chwast.

This is one cool book. Most of its 262 pages are just what the title says: images, one to a page or spread, with annotations confined to the back few pages. Everything is grouped thematically in topics such as war, food, fashion and sex. There’s also the occasional oddball subject, such as a series of Mexican Wrestler pieces Chwast did in 2002. Although the art dates from as early as the 1960s and encompasses a wide variety of media (dig the cut sheet metal plates of food), certain things have remained constant in his work. A sense of whimsy is first and foremost. The re-purposing of various early 20th century design styles is also ever-present. Chwast also seems to have a constant fascination with exploring humankind’s frailties in a lighthearted way. The uselessness of war and the attraction of consumption are themes that come up over and over again in his work. The biggest impression I get here is that the man is a non-stop art machine. The introductory essay by famed Push Pin designer (and Mrs. Chwast) Paula Scher confirms it. I wonder if he ever has times when he turns the creativity switch “off.”

Seymour: The Obsessive Images Of Seymour Chwast is published by Chronicle. Buy at Amazon.com here.

Seymour Chwast - Spread1

Seymour Chwast - Spread2