Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Illustrated Thank-You Card, for Starters

It's like 200 degrees in my studio, at 1:30 in the morning. I'm due to board an international flight tomorrow, and I have junk to do before I can leave. But amid the sweat and the hustle, there is something I have to do. Which is foreshadow an awesome visual artifact, courtesy of Francesca R., the charming and prodigiously talented daughter of a dear old friend of mine (among other things, a China specialist; details for another day).

As I was preparing to send my friend, with whom I had been out of touch for 18 months or so, a few issues of Spartan Holiday, I emailed him to make sure I had the right address. When he replied, he made the observation that the energetic Francesca, whom I have met, was furiously making booklets and textual-visual items. So informed, I sent extra copies, for her to tear apart or do whatever she liked with them.

Months ago, in the midst of major family transitions of several sorts, this card arrived (quelle une sharp reader!) along with a stapled opus about a snowflake with a magnificent sense of self. I'll be getting back to her soon, and will also be giving GT readers a peek at the work in question.

The dotted line that leads to the arrow near Santa's butt is traceable to a bee-like insect. I am hopeful that Santa is meant to be distinguishable from Professor Red. (Judgment call.)

Francesca's narrative begins:

I am a Snowflack.
I am made of Woter. 
I am pritey. I come at winter. 
I am the best snowflack in the world. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Four Score and Five, Maurice

Today's Google Doodle celebrates what would have been Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday. A nice little piece, that prompts a click on Sendakian everyman Max, then follows him through the creative landscapes of several of his books. At the end, everybody shows up for the party. I'm guessing that Sendak would have been a handful at his own party. A prickly man.
A related subject: having complained about the pointless digital fakery in The Great Gatsby, it's important to note that CGI has its place in film. Particularly, when it's used to show us something that can't otherwise be shown, like fantastical characters (assuming good judgment about which ones).

The Spike Jonze feature film version of Where the Wild Things Are (2009) is a wonderful case in point. I loved that film!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Gatsby Lays a West Egg

Last night, I went to see an audiovisual presentation of The Great Gatsby, which some have mistaken for a movie. Seldom have I reacted so viscerally and negatively to a film. Rarely have I been trusted less as a viewer to put the narrative (and symbolic!) pieces together.

From the earliest moments, the film signals its contempt for the story–as opposed to What the Story Means. Ironically, Baz Luhrmann's film lacks a perspective on Fitzgerald's novel. It satisfies itself with spectacle and "updating," particularly musically. But for all that it's weak, because it leans too heavily on the text of the novel, read aloud to us by Nick Carraway from his sanitorium (a narrative conceit, marred by handwriting–then "typing"–superimposed on shots of the freaking sky). Really, I'm reduced to sputtering.

The pulsing green light on the Buchanans' dock is the very first thing we see, and between that and the maddening, crappy-looking billboard of the oculist, we are battered by symbols. That billboard

and the bleak landscape it overlooks are described in the novel thusly:

Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight. But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

Leaving aside the heavy-handedness (which takes many forms, including mock-campy film tropes, like silhouetted men with shovels–leaden spades!–working on silhouetted mounds) I would like to say this: if you are going to spend this much time grabbing us by the ears and thrusting us before this billboard, for Christ's sake, would you please build the goddamn thing and paint and weather it? The synthetic crap in this film was too much to bear. CGI is a plague on the art of film.

Just find a mansion! A real mansion; not this ersatz digital Christmas ornament.

Oh, and the camera work. We zoom around like miniature drones in the pixelated falsity of this world. From the first moment, as the camera raced over Long Island Sound toward the Buchanans' mansion, I thought, I don't believe that water.

Weirdly, it recalled an extremely dim memory of a shot over water, skimming toward Miami Beach, in the opening sequence of The Jackie Gleason Show, circa 1964 or 65.

The best thing in the movie, by far, is Leonardo DiCaprio, who really is a persuasive Gatsby. (Joel Edgerton's Tom Buchanan is also very good, contemptible in-the-round; alas, Daisy and Nick are thinly realized.) Back to DiCaprio: I believed Daisy when she said he looked like "the Arrow Collar man," that actual, historical marketing franchise of J.C. Leyendecker outfitted with the visage of J.C.'s lover, Charles Beach.

The movie integrates the Arrow Collar man into its synthetic Times Square (top; complete with misspelled Ziegfeld Follies, though presumably that was corrected after this image got out, months in advance of the film.)

Leyendecker lived and worked in the 1920s illustrator's haven of New Rochelle, which hosted its own share of Gatsbyesque parties at the time. Norman Rockwell, then a successful up-and-comer doing business in New Rochelle, said as much. (I am mentally footnoting Laura Claridge's Norman Rockwell: A Life as I write that. Need to reread...)

Finally, the film makes a point of getting Tom Buchanan's racist musings about "the colored races" into the script, and then, despite the involvement of Jay-Z, makes no effort whatsoever to invest any humanity in the black house servants! Why not create minor character as a foil?

I could go on, but luckily for you (and me) the day has ended. (So I beat on, boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into this ghastly Gatsby...)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Sloth from Outer Space + Girls Dancing!

I'm trying to stay focused on long form writing these days. Working on a manuscript for a book of essays. More to come on that. But it pains me to leave this space unattended. So I offer a diversion:

A cinematic treat from 1965: aliens, deformed astronauts, pool parties, a bald dude with pointy ears, a galactic breeding program, and some excellent onscreen typography. Directed by Robert Gaffney.