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Monthly Archives: August 2009

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Skinny Jackson

The Jackson 5 perform “Forever Came Today” on The Carol Burnett Show. This is actually one of my favorite J5 songs, since it was the first inkling of how powerful Michael’s voice would sound later on as an adult. Not a huge hit, but I love the way Brian and Eddie Holland refashioned this lesser-known Diana Ross & The Supremes song into a disco-riffic boogie fest (this was taped just before the group left Motown, with baby bro Randy stepping in for the departing Jermaine).

Book Review: The Handy Book of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic PrintingDoug Clouse and Angela Voulangas’ book The Handy Book of Artistic Printing: A Collection of Letterpress Examples with Specimens of Type, Ornament, Corner Fills, Borders, Twisters, Wrinklers, and other Freaks of Fancy is a long-titled exploration of a relatively short-lived trend in graphic design history. This beautifully designed volume covers a roughly two decade-long design fad from the late 19th-century that has previously been given scant attention by historians. With the emergence of letterpress and other new methods in the 1870s and ’80s, printers of the era showed off their wares and attracted clients in the form of promotional specimens. These particular specimens came emblazoned with the typically Victorian visual traits of excess ornamentation, strange color combinations, eclectic typefaces, and randomly jumbled layouts. Artistic Printing delves into every possible aspect of this phenomenon — how it came to be, a representative look at sixty different printers’ samples, and the movement’s ignoble fall in the juggernaut of 20th century modernist dogma.

This was such a cool book to page through, and oddly comforting in a way. Its centerpiece is the sixty printer’s specimens, each generally getting its own page with a nifty paragraph or two of background info on the opposite page. The specimens cover a gamut from the best of their kind to the run-of-the-mill and tacky. Many have a masturbatory “look at what I can do” bravado (in graphic design, some things never change), but the finest examples leave me breathless as to the care and craftsmanship good letter press printing requires. Sure, they may be as subtle as a lady’s hat festooned with a dead bird, but even the worst samples have a giddy exuberance. This book is the kind of effort that has inspiration on every page, right down to the weird and wonderful 1800s fonts reprinted in the back. One small complaint: in contrast to the lively and informative specimen descriptions, the text in the opening and closing chapters is very dryly written and academic (interesting and comprehensive, but still dry).

The odd thing about this particular trend is that it never fully disappeared. Printers’ ornaments of the era fell into the public domain, eventually getting re-published by the likes of Dover for new generations of designers to explore. As noted in Artistic Printing’s concluding chapter, this style is no more immune from other graphic styles for revival, preferably with a postmodern twist. For a good example, check out the cover story layout in the paper edition of the August 2009 Wired magazine — retro ornamentation everywhere!

The Handy Book of Artistic Printing comes from Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at here.

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Handy Book Of Artistic Printing

Weekly Mishmash: July 25-August 1

Broken Arrow (1950). James Stewart’s return to Westerns after a long layoff, a film notable for its sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans. The principal Indian roles are played by white actors in brownface, including a scowling Jeff Chandler as Cochise. Reliable as always, Stewart plays the only man in an Arizona town who wants to peaceably mend things with the Apache tribe who has been ruthlessly slaughtering the settlers. There’s also a rather hokey romantic subplot with Deborah Paget as an Indian maiden, but it doesn’t detract from the powerful main plot. Beautifully photographed in and around Sedona, Arizona, too.
Elizabeth by J. Randy Taraborrelli. Brick-like but breezy biography of Elizabeth Taylor. This didn’t tell me too much I didn’t already know, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless. Taraborrelli does a lot of things I don’t like in biographers, making up conversations and such, but he does present Taylor’s life in an inspiring way — as a series of struggles which ultimately make her stronger as the years go by. Through all her problems with drugs, weight, celebrity, etc., she ends up coming across like a normal woman who just happened to have been a gorgeous movie star.
Grey Gardens (2009). When I first read about this movie, with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange recreating the life stories of “Little Edie” Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale, I was extremely suspicious. On paper, it sounds too cheesy to be believed. Now that I’ve seen it, however, I totally stand corrected. This was a beautifully done movie that fills in a lot of the unanswered questions from the famed documentary. Sure, it does slide into overly dramatic territory, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with everything about this movie. Chief among them are Lang and Barrymore. The two actors play the Beales at various ages from 1936 through just after the doc was filmed. Sounds gimmicky, but it’s actually fascinating to watch. Barrymore in particular is a revelation. If she wins an Emmy for this, it will be well deserved.
Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 6. We finally finished going through this, sadly the very last Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Out of all these sets, strangely enough I prefer volumes 3-6 to the first two. The reason why is that I prefer the discs that are dedicated to a theme or director, as opposed to a character (really, who wants to watch an hour plus of Tweety cartoons?). Also, the first two volumes contain all the classic cartoons that everybody has seen a million times over. Whenever I revisit these sets, inevitably I’ll pull out the later ones to view a Frank Tashlin or Robert Clampett obscurity. Volume six was pretty cool, with discs dedicated to wartime cartoons, 1930-35 treasures, and fan-picked cartoons starring an assortment of one shot characters. As much as I wish Warners would continue making these, however, it seems like they’re starting to run dry on this set. Many fans disliked the Foxy and Bosko cartoons, but I enjoyed seeing them just to check out what rival studios were offering to compete with Mickey Mouse. On the other hand, the two or three Buddy cartoons here are terrible — bland and badly animated. One has to wonder what WB was thinking when they dreamed up those. This set also has a respectful (if overlong and obsequious) tribute to Mel Blanc. I’m hoping some more Warner cartoons eventually see release, especially the ultra-saccharine musical ones from the ’30s (I can’t be the only one who wants to see Beauty and the Beast again!).
Presenting Lily Mars (1943). Lesser-known Judy Garland musical, not especially noteworthy but worth a look-see for whenever TCM needs filler for its next Garland fest. Judy is 19 and looking gorgeous as the title character, a hyper wannabe actress who would give anything to be in Van Heflin’s next show. Predictable shenanigans ensue, but MGM’s gloss make things smooth and watchable. Although Judy doesn’t sing often in this film, she does have a great little number with character actress Connie Gilchrist as a nostalgic theatre charwoman. She’s also incredibly cute and has terrific comic timing for such a young woman. The film wraps up satisfactorily enough, but then a huge production number (implying that Lily Mars became a successful actress) blasts its way in like a stampeding elephant, ending the film on a bizarre note.