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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

Topic: Film

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TOPIC / Film

Director Samuel Fuller

Director Samuel Fuller
Amazing director and writer. He directed one of my favorite film noirs Pickup on South Street and one of the most interesting and bizarre westerns Forty Guns. Considered one of the first "independent" directors.

Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor and Forty Guns






This article is taken from www.senseofcenema.com

"PRIMITIVE DIES." That was the bald headline which disgraced the tiny item in an Australian newspaper declaring the passing in 1997 of Samuel Fuller - accompanied, of course, by a mugshot of the filmmaker chomping on a cigar. How does a great, influential director get to be encapsulated, by some copy writer who may have known little and seen less of his work, as a 'primitive'? A primitive like Ed Wood (deranged Z-movie bungler), or a primitive like Steven Spielberg (unreflective entertainer for the people)? A primitive like Robert Aldrich ('classical' action, violence, machismo) or like Gaspar Noé (a 'modern' confrontationalist, sensationalist)?

To answer these questions properly would probably require a book-length detour through the fields of cultural studies, reception studies, Bourdieu-informed studies of social taste and distinction, comparative histories of American and European cinema, and last but far from least the variegated national histories of film criticism itself. And the effort would not be wasted. For the artist who dies a 'primitive' is an artist unknown, undigested, a mystery hiding under stereotype and cliché and posturing.

Most of us who love film 'know' something about 'Sam' Fuller. We know that he stood against a wall during a luridly-filtered party scene in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965) and told Jean-Paul Belmondo and us that cinema is "like a battleground: love, hate, action, violence, death. in one word, emotion" - even if we haven't yet seen Pierrot le fou. We know that his films evidence a 'tabloid' aesthetic (inspired by his youthful days in the newspaper game) and wallop a 'kino-fist'; that they are, above all, dynamic, kinetic, visceral. From A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), we know about the bold long takes, the wild and woolly camera movements, the disorientating close-ups (the first of which was the first shot in his first feature, I Shot Jesse James [1949]), the starkly angular comic-book compositions, the furious montages. We know whom he has influenced, the contemporary directors who cite him lovingly, from Jim Jarmusch to Leos Carax.

And maybe we've also heard about the 'bad' B-movie acting (delivered by Gene Barry or Constance Towers), the 'excruciating' dialogue alternating heavy-handed slogans and hard-boiled retorts, the 'lurid' plots. (My vain attempt, once upon a time, to explain the 'serious' premise of White Dog [1982] - "a metaphor for racist socialisation" - to a Literature Professor led only to his superior mirth and my peeved discomfort.) We know he had something to do with politics, and that political statements are made in his films - but whether he was arch-conservative or anarchist, or something weirdly Liberal in-between, seems to be a murky call (1) - especially if you haven't yet seen the films for yourself. And I don't mean that as a lofty rebuke: one of the principal reasons there's a fog around Fuller is that, in many places, his films remain very hard to see, on big or small screens. I myself still await, after 25 years on the trail, an opportunity to see the hallowed titles Park Row (1952), a celebration of the newspaper industry and Fuller's personal favourite, and Fixed Bayonets (1951), one of his many projects (across film, novels and TV) devoted to war.

Fuller is a filmmaker who - maybe more than any other filmmaker - calls forth pithy encapsulations. Jean-Pierre Coursodon and Bertrand Tavernier, in their massive 50 ans de cinema américain, consider for a few lines Christian Viviani's suggestive formulation - "by pushing the ridiculous just a little too far, he attains poetry" - and end up reversing it: by pushing poetry just a little too far, he attains the ridiculous. (2) Criticism surely needs its encapsulations flung back and forth in the course of debate and cinephilic formation; but in the case of Fuller, the summary verdicts for or against tend to replace actual, in-depth analytical work on the films themselves.

Is no judgment on Fuller, positive or negative, celebratory or condemnatory, free from some loaded judgement implying an elaborate and unstated system of social taste? The cinematic moves that look 'primitive' to some in Forty Guns (1957) seem to others virtuosic. (I incline towards the latter verdict.) This blurry situation is exacerbated by the fact that Fuller - again, possibly more than any other director - has been sliced up very differently by successive 'schools' of criticism, creating a monstrous series of incommensurable Fullers. In one of the finest essays in the annals of English-language criticism - with certainly one of the best titles, "Tough Nuts to Crack" - Ronnie Scheib begins a study of Shock Corridor (1963) with this handy breakdown of the terrain:

        For the Cro-Magnites, Fuller is the great American primitive, swinging through the trees with a camera between his toes - he may have a pea brain but he sure got big eyes - and rhythm. For the outlying Solar Plexites, Fuller's a down-home, funky director, as American as violence and cheesecake. For the Aesthetes, he's a poetic film noir auteur, a modernist - they saw him in Pierrot le fou and scrambled off to see his films. And, by Gosh, there they were: recurrent themes, Brechtian distanciation, jump cuts, dislocation of sound and image, all you could ask for in an authentic American Artefact. For the Moralists, Fuller is either a Nasty Fascist or a Misunderstood Liberal. (3)

Fuller, after he was discovered and hailed by critics, stuck close to film culture. He gave numerous interviews, acknowledged critics who had given his career a hand, generously attended retrospective events and Film Festivals. But Fuller was also frozen within the rather coarse-grained characterisations that his successive critic-champions elaborated. At the beginning, in the early 1950s, there was the minority report offered by Manny Farber, who praised Fuller among those post-'40s filmmakers who find their "best stride in a culture-free atmosphere that allows a director to waste his and the audience's time", calling fond attention to the "episodic, spastically slow and fast" rhythm of the work, its "skepticism and energy". (4)

Seven years later, more influentially, there was the enthusiasm of Luc Moullet in Cahiers du cinéma, who praises Fuller's camera movements on the grounds that they are "fortunately, totally gratuitous: it is in terms of the emotive power of the movement that the scene is organized". (5) This notion of Fuller as an essentially 'inorganic', bits-and-pieces filmmaker, devoted to a 'cinema of the flourish', has ruled the appreciations of many since, including Scorsese (who eulogises the way a body slams into a wall and the camera movement picks up the energy of the blow) and Quentin Tarantino (as narrated in the documentary on Fuller The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera [Adam Simon, 1996]). Nowadays, when such flourishes are legion, even routine, we can easily overlook what they must have once meant to 'modernists' like Farber and Moullet in the '50s: in the context of a more conventionalised and rigid mainstream, Fuller's stylistic tics were the first signs of a personal cinema suddenly possible within the 'system' - hence Moullet's regard for these "instinctive. rough sketches" revealing "the force of the instantaneous and of the unfinished". (6)

Later, in a remarkable historic moment, British film culture in the late '60s and early '70s showed its love for Sam by producing three books in as many years: an Edinburgh Film Festival anthology, plus studies by Phil Hardy and Nicholas Garnham. (7) The last of these leans more towards a socio-political perspective than a purely aesthetic one (with Fuller positioned somewhere between the ideological myopia of Old Hollywood and the global, radical reportage offered by the various New Waves), but the first two issue squarely from the heady excitement of a 'structuralist' or 'textualist' moment in British film culture. Here, Fuller's movies are dissolved into one great corpus and become a churning Sargasso Sea of oppositions and antinomies, contradictions and reversals, striking images and juxtapositions. No movie really emerges as better executed or more vividly realised than any other - such evaluative pretensions of a 'Leavisite' period having been left behind in the wild rush to Paris - and all partake of an exhilarating 'Fuller effect'.

That's truthful to the extent that no Fuller film is entirely bereft of some interest, some idea, some moment that is captivating on some level. But his career is uneven, as even the most diehard fans would have to now admit. Past the initial blast of its colour and design elements, House of Bamboo (1955) does not sustain its drive or interest. The Crimson Kimono (1959) and China Gate (1957) offer brilliantly provocative (and prophetic) diagrams of multi-cultural/multi-racial tangles and conflicts, but little else. Underworld USA (1961) is the kind of film which is an absolute revelation to see when you're 15 years old and souped-up on cinematic spectacle - and these days, I guess, also galvanised by the Tarantino machine - but its magic doesn't last through repeated viewings. (8) Some are more like didactic pamphlets than fully or convincingly dramatised movies - for example, that bizarre patchwork of fiction and documentary concerning the rise of a 'neo Nazi youth movement', Verboten! (1958). Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973) is his most obviously strained, 'Godardian' effort at pleasing his European aficionados - going fatally further in this direction than other '50s contemporaries like Aldrich, Frank Tashlin, Nicholas Ray, even Alfred Hitchcock, whose work shifted in its 'pitch' after it had been acclaimed, feted and reinterpreted abroad. Merrill's Marauders (1962) fits the structural template of the 'Fuller war movie' down to a tee, but it's hard to get excited about in isolation, without the buzz of pro-Fuller cinephile rhetoric heightening the significance and impact of stray good scenes. Curiously, when even a whiff of 'production values' moves in, the mitigating buzz disappears fast - as is the case when watching the mediocre Hell and High Water (1954). Fuller is firmly fixed in the popular filmgoing imagination - however unfairly - as a 'King of the Bs', which is already what Farber was happy to see him stay back in 1952.

So what makes Fuller a great director - that is, beyond the myth and the hype? My proposed pantheon: Pickup on South Street (1953), Run of the Arrow (1957), Forty Guns, Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss (1964), The Big Red One (1980), White Dog. How many directors manage seven films of that calibre? Fuller's best work attained its combustible powers in the '50s, in the company of a 'new generation' that included Aldrich and Nicholas Ray. These filmmakers can be thought as melodramatists , but not like Douglas Sirk or Vincente Minnelli, who mined the 'woman's' domestic melodrama, to some similar ends, in the same period. Fuller is on the side of action-melodrama or, as so many critics called it down the years, 'lyrical violence'. His films were part of a loose movement that upped the ante on violence and tension, heightened a certain noir romanticism (the individual against society, lovers on the run.) and explored new forms of psychological characterisation. Fuller's films are all about drives, impulses, emotional states that are imprinted on the social being, as traces of ideological socialisation, as much as they issue from within the hearts, minds and guts of individuals. All Fuller's characters are divided and twisted creatures (the most oft-cited emblematic character being the demented black man who shouts KKK slogans in Shock Corridor): it is the clash of inner and outer states that fuel his narratives and shape the actions - and also, as a by-product, equalise the genders. These characters hammer out their problems by bashing themselves against each other and the world - hence the intense, even obsessive physicality of this cinema, and (as in all melodrama) its 'lurid' taste for grotesque bodily metaphors of social conditions.

Although it sounds like a slightly old-fashioned description nowadays, Fuller's films embody and exhibit 'ideological contradiction' - but in a game, vivid, virtuosic, frequently perverse way. (Underworld USA, for example, was made to show how organised crime took taxes from government - which "made me very happy" - and how someone could use the FBI as a tool of revenge: "I thought it would be very funny".) (9) His tales of identity-in-flux are strikingly prescient of what gets called nowadays postcolonial cinema, especially in Run of the Arrow. And Fuller's films - with their heterogeneous mixes of footage, their hallucinatory dream sequences (especially in Shock Corridor), their plot trajectories of reporting and transmission, their clashes of sound and image - are also prophetic of the role of 'the audiovisual' in our modern world. According to Scheib, ". what TV homogenizes, deadens, disconnects radically and connects trivially, Fuller electrifies, forcing his audience to confront the impossible juxtaposition of absolutes, of consciousnesses that cannot, yet do, share the same frame, and the multiplicity of absent syntaxes which could articulate their coexistence and their consecutivity." (10)

But where Fuller is definitely not a prototype of postmodernism is in his insistence on a few absolute values, values which are the pumping heart of his cinema. Perversity and amorality may be plentiful, but this storyteller will not abide injustice, hypocrisy ("getting involved in something emotionally and doing nothing about it"), (11) or the corruption of innocence. Underworld USA, The Naked Kiss and The Big Red One give us the impression that nothing was more sentimentally sacred to Fuller than childhood, and nothing more despicably evil than its desecration.

Thanks to tireless researchers who have trailed through studio archives and interviewed surviving crew members, we have some idea now exactly what Hitchcock, Ray or Fritz Lang actually did in the process of directing a movie - how they worked on the script and pre-production, how they staged and re-shaped a scene on the set, how they edited and completed their work. With Fuller we (as yet) know virtually nothing of this. Like most directors, he never talked about the nitty-gritty of his filmmaking. Everything was aphorisms, broad strokes, spontaneous advice to young, aspiring filmmakers - such as counselling that the start of any movie has to give the viewer an erection. In a characteristically tub-thumping 1964 essay titled "What is a Film?", Fuller gets no closer to technicalities than this: "What other medium can take us into the eye of a character, probe through his mind, catch a look that would take a dozen words to describe?" (12) As a result, there has been little appreciation of Fuller's true craft as a director - in fact, there has been precious little serious writing on him at all since the Anglo fever of the early '70s died down.

Pickup on South Street would be a good place to start such a project of recovery, since it is his most classical film, demonstrating what V.F. Perkins has described as a "strategy of style", a "rhetoric more or less constantly in play which is nevertheless not a particularly obtrusive rhetoric" (13) - a far cry from the usual kino-fist reveries. In both Pickup on South Street and The Big Red One we see Fuller's mastery with using dialogue-less, action-based scenes to advance narration and express complex arrangements of milieu and theme - as in the wonderfully economic colliding of bodies, looks, gestures, characters and narrative lines in the former (culminating in the immortal opening exchange: "What happened?"/"I'm not sure yet"), and the heartbreaking scene of Lee Marvin carrying a dying child on his solders in the latter (an autobiographical account of his wartime experience), an extended passage structured delicately around mechanical, toy music. In Fuller's more modernist mood, Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss (twin peaks of '60s cinema) generate their complex effects of disquiet from what he described as "a European tempo, that to me is a superior tempo. If you make any scenes with violence the contrast is excellent". (14)

Fuller directed five films of varying lengths after White Dog, as well as writing novels, an autobiography (soon to appear), a travel book on old Manhattan, even a comic book - but in the 15 year period until his death (having relocated to France) he mainly moved in the larger-than-life realm of his own myth. As Coursodon and Tavernier point out, he was one of the few filmmakers ever to benefit consistently from the support of truly cinephile producers (Peter Bogdanovich, Jon Davison, Jacques Bral). (15) Street of No Return (1989) is typical of the work of this period - some wild and outrageous scenes, mostly referring back to his past glories, but swamped by awful attempts at emulating rock-video mannerisms. In the meantime, he acted for Amos Gitai (Golem, the Ghost of Exile, 1992), Aki (La Vie de bohème, 1992) and Mika (Tigrero: A Film That was Never Made, 1994) Kaurismäki, Wim Wenders (The State of Things, 1982, plus a spookily touching envoi in The End of Violence, 1997) and Larry Cohen (A Return to Salem's Lot, 1987) - Cohen being a close artistic cousin of Fuller, an equally uneven 'melodramatist' of special distinction, whose great ideas occasionally outrun his capacity to depict them legibly on screen.

For me, the best testament to Fuller from this final period is John McNaughton's cable telemovie Girls in Prison (1994), from a script by Fuller and his wife Christa Lang; this wonderfully straight politicisation of a pulp movie from the '50s hurls in everything - blacklist, war, media corruption - and binds it to the collective hysterias of women who find solidarity behind bars. It's Shock Corridor with a happy ending - the final, in-concert reprise of the lilting country'n'western tune that structures the whole story, "Endless Sleep".

Great documentary about Fuller "The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera"

Samuel Fuller at IMDB

Samuel Fuller illustration by Amazing Ameziane
 

May
05

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

Topic: Film

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TOPIC / Film

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies
.

After the discussion with Michael on the Kye Sakamoto inspiration, I thought I would post this.


From Wikipedia.

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) is a 1988 anime movie written and directed by Isao Takahata for Shinchosha.[1] This is the first film produced by Shinchosha, who hired Studio Ghibli to do the animation production work. It is an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, intended as a personal apology to the author's own sister.

Some critics—most notably Roger Ebert—consider it to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made. Animation historian Ernest Rister compares the film to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and says, "it is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen."

Taking place toward the end of World War II in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies is the poignant tale of the relationship between two orphaned children, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko. The children lose their mother in the firebombing of Kobe, and their father in service to the Imperial Japanese Navy, and as a result they are forced to try to survive amidst widespread famine and the callous indifference of their countrymen (some of whom are their own extended family members).

The movie begins in Sannomiya Station, and shows the second main character: Seita, dying from starvation there in rags. A janitor comes and digs through his things, and finds a candy tin, containing Setsuko's ashes. He throws it out, and from there springs the spirit of Setsuko, Seita and a group of fireflies. The two spirits provide narrative throughout the story. The film is, in effect, an extended flashback to Japan, at the end of World War II during the Kobe firebombings. Setsuko and Seita, the two siblings and protagonists, are left to secure the house and their belongings, allowing their mother, suffering from a heart complaint to proceed to a bomb shelter. They are caught off-guard by a batch of bombs dropped in their vicinity, although survive unscathed. Their mother, however, is caught in the air raid and dies from burn wounds. Having nowhere else to go, Setsuko and Seita go to live with their aunt, and write letters to their father. On the second day that they stay there, Seita goes out to get the left over supplies which he had buried in the ground to preserve before the bombing which killed their mother. He gives all of it to his aunt, but hides a small tin of fruit drops. This tin of fruit drops later proves a recurrent icon in the film. Following cruelty from their aunt, who gives them barely enough food, insults them and sells their mother's kimonos for rice, which she keeps for herself. Seita and Setsuko finally decide to go and live in an old, abandoned bomb shelter. Gradually, they begin to run out of rice, and Setsuko begins to starve. In desperation, Seita removes all the money from their mother's bank account, when he learns of his father's death. He buys a large quantity of food, and rushes back to the shelter, where he finds Setsuko hallucinating. She is sucking marbles which she believes are fruit drops and offers him 'rice balls' which are really only made out of mud. Finally, she dies of starvation. Seita cremates her, using supplies donated to him by a farmer and leaves her ashes in the fruit tin, which he carries with his father's photograph, until his death.

At the end of the film, the spirits of Seita and Setsuko are seen - no longer raggedy and etiolated but healthy and well-dressed - sitting side by side as they look down on the modern-day city of Kobe.

 

May
01

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

Topic: Video

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TOPIC / Video

Kyu Sakamoto singing Sukiyaki

Kyu Sakamoto singing Sukiyaki
.


The Japanese title is "Ue O Muite Aruko," which means "I look up when I walk." This is a vintage video of Kyu himself singing this international hit on a TV show in 1963 called "Shall We Meet At 7". Sung in Japan by Kyu in 1961, then retitled by an English Record Company "Sukiyaki" which is a Japanese food dish and nothing to do with the song itself, because a DJ couldn't pronounce the Japanese name, and became internationally famous from then on as "Sukiyaki". This is the only song by a Japanese artist to ever become a Number 1 music hit on the charts in America.

Kyu Sakamoto tragically died in a Japan Airlines plane crash in 1985 at age 43, one of 520 passengers, but his classic megahit will continue to live on for generations.

The song is about sadness and isolation in a post WW2 Japan. The Japanese lyrics and the English translation are below:

Ue o muite arukoo------------I look up when I walk
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni----So the tears won't fall
Omoidasu haru no hi---------Remembering those happy spring days
Hitoribotchi no yoru----------But tonight I'm all alone
Ue o muite arukoo------------I look up when I walk
Nijinda hoshi o kazoete------Counting the stars with tearful eyes
Omoidasu natsu no hi--------Remembering those happy summer days
Hitoribotchi no yoru----------But tonight I'm all alone
Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni-Happiness lies beyond the clouds
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni--Happiness lies above the sky
Ue o muite arukoo------------I look up when I walk
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni-So the tears won't fall
Nakinagara aruku-------------Though my heart is filled with sorrow
Hitoribotchi no yoru-----------For tonight I'm all alone
(whistling)----------------------(whistling)
Omoidasu aki no hi------------Remembering those happy autumn days
Hitoribotchi no yoru----------- But tonight I'm all alone
Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni-Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars
Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni--Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon
Ue o muite arukoo--------------I look up when I walk
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni--So the tears won't fall
Nakinagara aruku---------------Though my heart is filled with sorrow
Hitoribotchi no yoru-------------For tonight I'm all alone
Hitoribotchi no yoru-------------For tonight I'm all alone
(whistling)------------------------(whistling)
 

April
15

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

Topic: Photography

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TOPIC / Photography

The Photography of William Eggleston

Link: http://www.egglestontrust.com/

The Photography of William Eggleston
A native Southerner raised on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, William Eggleston has created a singular portrait of his native South since the late 1960s. His large-format prints monumentalize everyday subjects. Although he began his career making black and white images, he soon abandoned them to experiment with color technology. The Museum of Modern Art's groundbreaking one-man show of 1976, William Eggleston's Guide, established his reputation as the pioneer of modern color photography. The appreciation of Eggleston's work has come a long way since the 1976 exhibition. He has been called the "father of color photography" - although he did not of course invent it - and since the 1990s he is widely regarded as the leading and most influential color photographer of the 20th century. William Eggleston at Masters of Photography

William Eggleston at Artnet
 

March
30

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Last Updated: November 26, 2011

Topic: Book Design

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TOPIC / Book Design

Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far by Stefan Sagmeister

Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far by Stefan Sagmeister
 

March
26

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

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TOPIC / Graphic Design

FFFFound Image Bookmarking

Link: http://ffffound.com/

FFFFound Image Bookmarking
FFFFOUND! is a web service that not only allows the users to post and share their favorite images found on the web, but also dynamically recommends each user's tastes and interests for an inspirational image-bookmarking experience!!
 

March
12

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

Topic: Fine Art

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TOPIC / Fine Art

Juan Francisco Casas

Link: http://www.juanfranciscocasas.com/galeria.aspx?c=1&idm=es

Juan Francisco Casas
Juan Francisco Casas does amazing large scale photo realistic drawings with ballpoint pens. Article in the Daily Mail Flickr Gallery
 

March
04

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

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TOPIC / Book Cover Design

Roy Kuhlman

Link: http://www.roykuhlman.com/

Roy Kuhlman
Bio from The Art Directors Club Pursuing his childhood dream to become the next Rembrandt, Roy Kuhlman studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and, after moving to New York in 1946, the Art Students League. After a number of years, however, he realized he was looking for something else. This he found when he ran into Arnie Copeland, a friend from California who had just become art director at Lockwood studios. Copeland introduced Kuhlman to Lockwood’s bullpen as a troubleshooter and paste-up expert. Knowing practically nothing, “except on which side to smear the rubber cement,” Khulman proved a quick study and soon lived up to his presumed reputation. At night he taught a basic design course at the School of Advertising and Editorial Art, alongside such professionals as Eugene Carlin and Jerome Snyder. Another big break came for Kuhlman when he was offered a job at Sudler & Hennessy, where he worked with Carl Fischer, Art Ludwig, and Ernie Smith, as well as the consummate designer and teacher Herb Lubalin. In 1954, Neil Fujita asked him to take over his position at Columbia Records. There, he gradually pooled a staff of young designers such as Ivan Chermayeff and Al Zalon, producing some of the period’s most innovative work. One year later, Kuhlman was hired by Ruder and Finn to establish an in-house art department. The budget was low and the graphic pieces sent out were small in number. Kuhlman worked with Ed Brodsky, and together they began to gain recognition until Kuhlman felt it was time to move on and try his hand at something new. Having decided to go out on his own, Kuhlman rented a studio above Fischer’s, on East 54th Street. Influenced by his friends’ photographic skills, Kuhlman began solving design challenges with photography. This led to an introduction to Bill Buckley at Benton & Bowles, who gave Kuhlman the most challenging assignment of his career up to that time—the famous IBM series “Mathematics Serving Man,” which won the AIGA Best Ads of the Year Award in 1958. Although Kuhlman cites Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand as influences, it was the Abstract Expressionists, particularly the “strong, simple” style of Franz Kline, that truly inspired him. Kuhlman was one of the first to apply Abstract Expressionist ideas to design. His approach was loose, spontaneous, and serendipitous, and he worked quickly and instinctively. Because he felt there was a loss of quality if art was resized, he prepared comps in the same size as the final mechanical. Kuhlman developed a graphic language of his own, and anything within reach became part of the developing visual pastiche: old engravings, the insides of bank envelopes, his own photography, photograms, Zipatone sheets and collages, and odd pieces of letterpress type left over from other jobs. In 1962, Kuhlman entered the movie industry. His film colleagues at Elektra Films, Jack Goodford and Lee Savage, described him as “the first film primitive.” After two years, he returned to “motionless” graphics, as creative director in charge of corporate literature and sales promotion at U.S. Plywood, where he remained for almost five years. Then, on a recommendation from Kuhlman’s friend Henry Wolf, IBM invited Kuhlman to create an educational seminar on the concepts and technologies behind the development and the future of the computer. In three years, he produced 700 slides and 52 live-action and animated 35-mm shorts. After this challenge, Kuhlman decided to concentrate on special effects for film animation. Just as he completed his sample reel, video special-effects generators made his newly acquired skills redundant, and he chose to retire. “In this business, if you have a ten-year life span, you’re lucky—mine lasted 35 years.” One of Kuhlman’s fondest memories of his career took place in 1951, in a small Greenwich Village office of Grove Press, the fledgling publishing company that eventually brought to national prominence the writers, art, and artists of the avant-garde. He showed his portfolio of illustrations and comps, “mostly bad black-and-white photos, clumsy type, mostly sans-serif,” to publisher Barney Rosset, who was not impressed. Just as Kuhlman was about to close the portfolio, Rosset caught a glimpse of doodles Kuhlman had been planning to show to record companies. When Rosset, who numbered among his friends Willem de Kooning, Kline, and Jackson Pollock, saw them, he said emphatically, “This is what I want.” For the next twenty years, Kuhlman produced some of his most brilliant work for Grove Press. His designs were the perfect counterpoint to the texts Rosset was publishing. Story of O, the erotic novel by Henry Miller, for example, was packaged in a plain white jacket to camouflage what was inside. After Grove—the first to publish third-world titles in the United States—began publishing foreign titles in 1966, Kuhlman produced such covers as The Brave African Huntress by Amos Tutuola and The No Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley, which demonstrate his ability to reach both conceptual and abstract solutions. Rosset rejected only a few cover ideas. “I usually had five seconds to get a yes or no from Rosset. So, I walked slowly across the office toward Rosset’s desk, holding the comp up so he’d have some [extra] time to look at it,” Kuhlman says, adding, “Barney was the greatest client I ever had. He gave me the freedom to explore, to fail, and to win.” Roy Kuhlman and the Grove Press Covers Obituary from the New York Times
 

March
04

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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

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TOPIC / Editorial Design

Swindle Magazine by Shepard Fairey and Roger Gastman

Link: http://swindlemagazine.com/

Swindle Magazine by Shepard Fairey and Roger Gastman
From the Swindle website. "SWINDLE is the definitive pop culture and lifestyle publication. We put out a timeless product in both soft cover and hard cover versions—the book is a beautifully designed coffee table piece that will stay relevant in years to come. More than just reporting on culture, SWINDLE influences it. We believe in the humanization and personalization of design, and present all our stories—luscious fashion spreads, artist profiles or social & political issues around the globe—with a cutting-edge aesthetic. SWINDLE was founded in 2004 by Shepard Fairey and Roger Gastman, who bring to the magazine their combined experiences as leaders in the fields of art, design, publishing and marketing." Review of Swindle #1 Review of Swindle #11
 

February
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Last Updated: November 16, 2010

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TOPIC / Graphic Design

Reid Miles and Blue Note Jazz

Reid Miles and Blue Note Jazz
Reid Miles’s inventive use of type, moody photography and a minimalist color palette helped Blue Note establish itself as the hippest of all jazz labels Blue Note Recordings: the name still resonates today. Synonymous with artistic flair, the label is a fading memory of jazz’s ‘golden age’. Yet for all its musical importance, Blue Note was equally significant in terms of design. Under Reid Miles, the label’s sleeves formed a cornerstone of the graphic design canon. Established in 1939 by Berlin-born Alfred Lion, Blue Note was an American label founded on love for an American art form. Intent on capturing the performances, Lion teamed up with Francis Wolff to realize his dream. Wolff was an accomplished photographer, whose moody renditions of jazz’s top cats adorned many early Blue Note sleeves. It wasn’t until the appointment of Chicago-born designer Reid Miles in 1956, however, that the label truly found its graphic voice. Lion and Wolff refused to compromise creativity, allowing pioneers such as Thelonious Monk free reign to explore jazz’s cutting edge. It’s fitting that Miles’s first notable sleeve was a Thelonious Monk reissue. Exploding onto the scene, his bold hyphenation of ‘Thelo-nious’ broke all the rules, treating the syllables as visual building blocks. Blue Note quickly became Miles’s playground; a space to challenge himself, artists and the audience. Interestingly, Miles preferred classical music to jazz, trading in his Blue Note sample copies and not even listening to the music. Given this, it’s amazing that Miles’s designs were so ‘tight’. As Felix Cromey writes in Blue Note: The Album Cover Art: “Miles made the cover sound like it knew what lay in store for the listener: an abstract design hinting at innovations, cool strides for cool notes, the symbolic implications of typefaces and tones.” Dutch designers Experimental Jetset are intrigued by this relationship, saying that it is, “interesting to see that a designer who really managed to capture the essence of his time, was also, in a way, disconnected from that very essence.” Adding that it is perhaps, “distance, not engagement, that makes the designer.” This ‘distance’ is important, and allowed Miles to experiment. He “never settled into a typeface or system”, notes Richard Cook in Blue Note The Biography. Whatever form Miles’s designs took, they bore an unmistakable power. From Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin, to Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones, Miles, Cook says, “made sure that his sleeves were as heavyweight as the music inside.” Blue Note is Miles for many, but a number of other designers, including Paul Bacon and John Hermansader, made notable contributions. Pop art god Andy Warhol even made an appearance, yet Miles’s Midas touch was predictably involved, having been behind the decision to commission Warhol to create the cover of Kenny Burrell’s 1969 Blue Lights LP. Talented as Miles clearly was, his position was uncommonly fortunate. With unrestricted access to Wolff’s atmospheric photography, combined with artistic control bordering on autocracy, the elements for great design were in place. Add the skill of the performers, plus burgeoning record sales, and it almost appears as if Miles was home and dry before he’d started. While his designs certainly benefited from a sympathetic label boss and Wolff’s superb raw material, Miles added an unquantifiable element to the mix. Like his namesake Miles Davis, his absence was felt as much as his presence. It’s not that Blue Note was visually a one-man-band, but Miles was the prodigal soloist. He galvanised the greatness around him to create legend, transforming the constituent parts into genreredefi ning symphonies of fantastic form and color. Miles’s greatest achievement was the harmonious blending of modernism with a distinct personality. His greatest sleeves, such as Dexter Gordon’s Go, were unashamedly dynamic typographic treatments. For all his compositional flair, Miles also knew when to play hands-off, letting Wolff’s expressive photography drive sleeves such as John Coltrane’s legendary Blue Train. That’s why Miles’s sleeves fit so well; they visually represent jazz. At once personal and progressive, vernacular and global – reflecting the most human of artforms. Blue Note was hit hard by the reinvention of jazz in the late 1960s and the label began to drift slowly away from the cutting edge. Dismantling began in 1967 with Lion’s retirement. A sale of the label to Liberty Records followed in 1969 and Wolff died in 1971. The new owners were bereft of invention, lacking the passion and the understanding that had informed the founders’ success. As the viability of jazz came under the spotlight, Blue Note retreated to the safety of ‘straight’ jazz, dispensing with Reid Miles in the process. Stripped of its creative heart, the label was dead in the water. Following a series of takeovers, it was strategically phased out under EMI in 1979. Hope arrived with a 1985-label relaunch, signalling a number of reissues and new releases. The label has since regained some of its commercial success, with new artists such as Norah Jones shifting thousands of records. But in an era increasingly defined by artist – and agent – power, much of what the label stood for has inevitably been lost. As current label head Bruce Lundvall conceded to Texas’ Austin Chronicle: “People ask me, ‘is Blue Note what it used to be?’ I say no, it can’t be. All the covers were designed by Reid Miles, and they were great, but the artists didn’t have much say about them. [These days] every artist wants their own cover designer.” Blue Note’s legacy is actually artistic patronage. The label’s success, and the achievements of Reid Miles, were made possible not just through Lion’s leadership, but through public support. It’s easy to look back nostalgically at the era, but there have been plenty of examples since – such as Malcolm Garrett’s 1970s work for the Buzzcocks, Vaughan Oliver’s covers for 4AD during the 1980s and labels such as Ai Recordings and Rune Grammofon, which ably demonstrate not only the importance of good cover design, but also inspire a widespread appreciative fan base. Article from Computer Arts. Blue Note Album Cover Gallery Blue Note: The Album Cover Art Blue Note: The Album Cover Art Volume 2

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