L’Innocente

September 21, 2014

jupiter-and-io

The other day, I watched L’Innocente, Visconti’s film of 1971 based on a story by D’Annunzio.  It was his last film, and certainly not up to the level of Senso.  A narcissistic, decadent, fin de siecle rich guy, Giancarlo Giannini, likes to have affairs, despite being married to a woman who is nearly goddess-like in her voluptuousness, i.e., Laura Antonelli.  (She, by the way, turns in a fine performance here:  not what I expected from the Queen of Italian soft-core sex farces of the 1970s.)

When his wife, oppressed by her desperate situation, takes a lover, he suddenly rediscovers her attractions.  Her lover dies on an African expedition, but she is pregnant with his child.  Her husband, now infatuated with her, demands that she have an abortion, and she refuses, ostensibly on religious grounds (He’s an atheist and freethinker.) but really because she wants the child of her dead lover, whom she mourns secretly.

Possessed by old fashioned jealousy and self-absorption – “I’m a man sick with melancholy, and I enjoy my sickness,” he says – the husband murders the baby.  He thinks that his wife has been seduced into loving him again by his vigorous and slightly kinky erotic ministrations to her, and that she will accept the death of the baby, and move on, with him.  He is wrong – she sees through him and realizes that he killed the baby, and she reveals her measureless hatred of him, confessing that she only pretended to love him again to protect her baby whom she loves as she did his father.

He confesses all to his former mistress, an icy countess (Jennifer O’Neal) and says he is ready to take up with her again. She, despite her relative lack of conventional morals, and her rather cavalier way of dealing with his infanticide, says she’s no longer interested.  She calls him a monster, in a nice way, of course.

Having nothing to live for now – only mere existence stands before him – our existential ‘hero’ shoots himself in the heart while the countess looks on. He wanted her to see how he stands by his principles.  Ho hum…

The costumes are fantastic, and the stifling perfume of the period’s opulence, for this particular class of beings, is, of course – after all, this is Visconti – overpowering in its presentation.  But the story is rather mechanical, and for me, D’Annunzio’s stories are simply a bit ridiculous.

Since I spend so much time looking at old art, I sometimes see things in films…

  

I guess Visconti knew Italian painting as well as I do.  The painting of Jupiter taking on the form of a cloud in order to possess Io (at top, by Correggio) must have been in his mind when he filmed the scene of Giannini carefully and deliberately arousing his wife while making clear his complete (so he thought) dominance of her (below).

Clipboard01

Advertisements

Massimo Vignelli – Design Gone Rogue?

May 28, 2014

vignelliobit2-superJumbo Massimo Vignelli, the designer of this “iconic” NYC subway map died today, and was written up in the NYTimes.  Paul Goldberger, former architecture critic for the Times, rhapsodized about it as  more than beautiful.”  I’ll say.  Goldberger goes on:

Vignelli’s 1972 map wasn’t just lovely to look at. Its obsessive clarity turns out to be the perfect basis for digital information. It’s more modern looking than any of the maps that followed it. 

More modern looking than its successors, yes.  Is that a clear-cut virtue?  Obsessive clarity?  Not sure what that means.  Or is it obsession with the appearance of clarity?  Basis for digital information?  Pleeez…

As a frequent visitor to the city in the 1970s, I found the map confusing and practically illegible.  It’s resemblance to a circuit design made it worse for me, a colorblind male.  Many riders felt the same way, and the map was replaced with a more cartographically realistic, and less geometrical design.

The map may be a wonder, an icon, a fetish, an object of worship for modernist designers, but if so many people found it hard to use, what good is it?  Doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose of graphic design?  Nothing against his work as a whole, mind you, as I love the brochures he did for the National Park Service that are still in print. 2014-0527-Vignelli-SS-1401209851899-superJumbo

I admire his spirit.  The article reports:

 Mr. Vignelli said he would have liked the job of developing a corporate identity for the Vatican. “I would go to the pope and say, ‘Your holiness, the logo is O.K.,’ ” he said, referring to the cross, “but everything else has to go.”


Bibliomania!

April 22, 2014

The Tell-Tale Heart$_57 (2)The Cask of Amontillado

I can try to blame it on the fantastic blog 50 Watts, or on this fine exhibit at The Morganbut in fact, it’s all on me:  I’ve loved books with woodcuts since I was a boy, and I recently went on a bit of a spree getting illustrated and limited editions of a few of my literary favorites.  None of them are particularly valuable, but all are, as they say, “collectible“.

Above, is an edition of Poe’s tales that was issued in the 1940s, although I recall these images from a library book, perhaps a reprint, when I was in school.  The book is in great condition, and I re-papered the tattered slipcase, one of my new hobbies.  I love that Fortunato and Montresor!

This collection of Poe stories (remember the old song from Mad Magazine?) is part of a series of woodcut-illustrated classics published in paperback by Penguin Books, and featured in the Morgan exhibition.  Found it online, but it has not arrived in the mail yet.

image1

Of course, when it comes to Poe, my favorite, after Amontillado, and distiguished by being his only novel, is the Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym.  I bought a few editions in French, all translated by Charles Baudelaire, who introduced Poe to France in the 1850s.  This is a nicely illustrated copy from the 1970s.

10324066187 10324066187_2

And here is a first edition of Pym’s Adventures, first edition in French, that is, published in 1858.  Why is it that the French were so far ahead of everyone else when it comes to paperbacks?  The book on the mantle of this well-known painting by Magritte is Arthur Gordon Pym, although I can’t make out the date.

$_12 (1)Reproduction Prohibited

Finishing with Poe, I got this selection of tales, again in French, because I liked the wonderful lithographic illustrations.

$(KGrHqRHJBQE8e25Stv0BPP4YE!t)g~~60_57 $(KGrHqRHJBIE8e0EUlkcBPP4YObR!Q~~60_57

Done with Poe!  Candide is one of my all-time favorite books, so I have many copies of it, including a variety of cheap paperpacks, but I decided to upgrade my collection.  This French edition is illustrated by the Italian Umberto Brunelleschi using stencils, or pochoirs.  It was published in the 1930s – quite a racy little paperback.

cadide

Back to woodcuts with this 1920s edition, also heavy on the erotic aspect, as is par for the course with Candide, and why not!

$_57 (3)  $_57 (4)

Not in the greatest condition, this one, but it was cheap, and get a load of that volupté

$(KGrHqFHJFIFEFp)BrwUBREw!ILgow~~60_57 $(KGrHqNHJE!FEN1l02ggBREw!ZLrDQ~~60_57

And a tiny little softcover edition from the 1920s, complete with woodcut illustrations and vignettes.  Did I mention that one of my Internet passwords is Pangloss?

$_57 (5)

I have a few editions of Candide with illustrations by Rockwell Kent – it was such a popular production that it was issued several times in different formats, but I had never even seen a copy of the Kent Moby Dick.  (I read that it was a big deal that Melville’s name wasn’t on the cover, as if you needed it!)  This Random House edition from 1930 is the first reissue of the Kent illustrated version, originally published in a very limited three-volume set.  (There is also a fancy gold and blue covered version of this book from 1933.)  Kent’s pictures are fantastic, but they are ink drawings, not woodcut prints, although they are almost always referred to as such.

$_12

$_57

$_57 (1)

I like Barry Moser’s art work a lot, and I have a few trade editions of his books – Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein – so I figured I should get a copy of his Moby Dick.  It’s often cited as a superlative example of book design and production, and the original letterpress edition goes for many thousands of dollars:  I settled for the hardcover University of California reprint.  I like it, but it just doesn’t excite me the way Rockwell Kent’s does.

9780520045484 moser-whales 2011-01-MobyDick-240241

And while I was on this Herman Melville theme, I read this book about the slave trade, by a local historian.  The facts of the trade are unspeakably appalling, a veritable holocaust that played out over centuries.  Even the language of the traders is similar to what we know of Nazi organizers of the death camps:  the main difference was that slaves were expected to reproduce, rather than simply work themselves to death.  One of the benefits of a pre-industrial age.

download

It’s a discussion of the Atlantic slave trade, using Melville’s novella, Benito Cereno, as unifying narrative device for the history.  Until I read this book, I had thought that Melville based his story on facts from the Amistad case, but actually, there really was a Captain Delano!  He was an ancestor of FDR, and quite a few other people as well, and he was involved in the slave trade himself, fine old New Englander that he was.  The story is based on his memoir which recounts in detail his encounter with the historical Don Benito.  I purchased this limited edition illustrated edition of Benito Cereno with woodcuts by Derrick Palmer, published by the Imprint Society.

The pictures below show Delano being rowed to the captive slave ship, and Babu’s head on a pike, after the truth has been revealed.

photo_44477_carousel Benito-Cereno-Head

 


Little Big Apple

March 31, 2014

20140329_115136

Enough said about him…

And about this capital, down below, I like the way the  corner is turned with one beast that has two bodies, maybe a good side and a bad side, depending on where you stand.

20140329_114830

A bit of Nature/Nurture.

20140329_113628


Lost Wax

February 4, 2014

download

The “lost wax” (cire perdue) process has been used for millenia to produce cast metal sculptures, usually  bronze, that are hollow. Making them hollow is essential, because otherwise, the piece would be enormously heavy, even if small, and too expensive to produce.  The clever technique for producing a thin-shell casting can also, with a few additional steps, produce a master that can be reproduced at will.

Considering how important this process is in the history of art, I am amazed at how difficult it is to find a decent explanation of it. Without clear diagrams, the lengthy narratives of the process are impossible to follow, and among the many illustrations I found, all seem to leave out one crucial step or the other!

Just to keep my own thinking on the subject straight, I created my own diagrams.  Click to enlarge them.

Direct Lost Wax Process:  no multiples
Slide1

Indirect Lost Wax Process:  multiples
Slide2


Adam and Eve…revealed

January 22, 2014

hb_19.73.1
Her 2 and 1/2  minute blurb on Durer’s masterwork is great!  Check it out, and the other quick takes by curators on 100 works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It’s a marvelous series.
efb_freyda_spira_0339


Piazza d’Italia – New Orleans

November 28, 2013

IMG_5628 IMG_5627

I remember when this …er..ensemble was created, and the incredible press it got.  “The End of Modernism!!” shouted the critics, and the bravos of the Post-Modern wave.  Eh, what..?

Created to commemorate the contribution of Italian immigrants to New Orleans, not the most prominent group in NOLA consciousness, it’s true, it was declared a masterpiece by some.  What I did not know was that barely a few years later, it was decrepit and unused, a lonely architectural joke in a location where the expected development did not occur.  Some quipped it was the world’s first post-modern ruin.

This self-conscious pastiche has learned a bit too much from Las Vegas and Robert Venturi’s take on it, for my taste.  Fine for the backyard of a trendy summer house or an architect’s getaway, but as a node in a downtown urban redevelopment scheme?  As this interesting recap of the birth, death, and rebirth of the plaza quoted:

 Lake Douglas, a New Orleans resident and a long-standing contributor to this magazine, may have said it best 25 years ago in a piece for Architectural Review. “[The piazza] is a wonderful, capricious architectural joke that one cannot appreciate unless one has a sense of humor to match the architects’, one understands the elements of classical architecture and the confused state of contemporary architecture, and one is privy to the customs of New Orleans,”

Douglas wrote. “Perhaps with the Italian Piazza, pop architecture has advanced into elite architecture, and that may be the ultimate architectural joke.”

It’s all been refurbished now, to the tune of one million dollars, and it looks pretty much as when it was unveiled.  It sits in a lot  between a giant hotel and, I think a parking lot.  Not exactly an eye-catching spot.  Maybe in better weather there is more life to it, but for me, happening on it by chance and instantly recalling the picture of it on a magazine cover years ago, it was as if Disneyland had just landed in front of my car in New Orleans.