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Archive for December, 2016

 harpers-vertes-dec1943

© 2016  James Clark

 

Long before there was Cyber Monday there was the more direct World War II, presenting, among other things, a weighty Christmas shopping dilemma. Wrapped up in the glorious Christmas shopping number seen above, we bring to you here (with its surreal Christmas tree by by that same Marcel Vertes who oversaw the visuals and won a couple of Oscars in connection with John Huston’s film, Moulin Rouge [1952]), a true feast of struggle to make merry at death’s door.

In this season when designer Tom Ford has cropped up in the capacity of an auteur, with his Nocturnal Animals, the many forerunners in our pages here, of inflected celebration, give us their own incisive take on the nocturnal.

To continue the blog: http://www.idesirevintageposters.com/blogs/christmas-1943-near-and-dear/#more-3952

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rudas-1

by Sam Juliano

During the closing act of Nino Wrestles the World,  readers learn against all reasonable odds that the only way to handle Las Hermanitas is to join ranks with them.  After death defying but ultimately triumphant battles against some of Lucha Libre’s  most terrifying opponents, the irrepressible youngster Nino finds more than he can handle with two toddlers who never play by the rules.  Mind you this was a crafty marauder who put down the Guanajuato Mummy of Muarggg! and Whaaarrg! fame with the pulverizing, if intoxicating “Tickle Tackle!;” completely neutralized the mysterious Olmec Head with the debilitating “puzzle muzzle;” confounded the benign space explorer El Extraterrestre with his adept play at “Marble Mash” and sent the king of temptation himself, El Chamuco slip sliding away on ice pop slicks.  But our intrepid freebooter is way over his head against the tag team who possess double the irreverence and audaciousness.  These feisty ninas are totally natural – no masks, no hiding behind alternate identities, just a comprehensive embrace of the old adage “where there’s a will there is a way”.  In the equally raucous and deliriously irresistible Rudas: Nino’s Horrendous Hermanitas these rattle waving Lucha Queens really hit their opponents below the belt with their irascible toddler antics and gassy implications.  Nino’s celebrated Mexican-American Caldecott Honor winning author-illustrator Yuyi Morales won superlative reviews for her endlessly delightful Lucha Libre prep course, prompting her to stage a second act in this unmissable circus show, one even more boisterous, animated and colorful in its inimitable comic book style. (more…)

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jesus-1

by Sam Juliano

     Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus is electrifying in theme, design and font scale.  Though the subject is perhaps the most visited of any in world history, the approach here is unique in that it showcases the most dynamic interplay between words and illustrations that any picture book could rightly be expected to achieve.  The book’s sole creator, John Hendrix eschews a straight biography of Christianity’s Messiah to focus on the aspect of his life that has fascinated historians and humbled the devout most of all.  In an afterward Hendrix states: “I have aspired to render him as a man of his time and place and not as a construction of western idealism” and urges readers to “momentarily forget about the trappings of religion around (the story) and see the man at the center.  Hendrix also qualifies the decision to abridge the story as the Bible tells it so that the Miracle Man can be the prime focus.  As a result characters like Mary Magdalene and Martha are left out.  Hendrix himself declares he is a follower of Jesus since a very young age, and that his words as documented in the Bible were soul-stirring.  Hence it is clear enough that Miracle Man is a labor of love for the author-illustrator, who begins the story at the time Jesus launches his run of seemingly supernatural phenomenons, and ends it just before the Resurrection.

First up is a swirling tapestry of decay evoking a dusty terrain overcome by drought, famine and disease, a place in dire need of divine intervention.  Hendrix ushers in this harrowing scene after the bleed over of the title – crafted with tree branches, and it exerts some visceral power.  The Miracle Man is then seen in a glorious double page spread that evokes St. Francis of Assisi, who was born almost twelve-hundred years later, but who revered flowers and insects.  The word “alive” is formed by a stunning five letter configuration of butterflies and birds in a metaphysical demonstration of the special power of his words.  This swarm of colorful wings is an ultimate expression of the transience of nature.  A bevy of hungry fisherman, including Simon -later known as the apostle Peter- have nothing to show for their efforts but empty nets, but the Miracle Man tells them “Cast Your Nets on the Other Side of the Boat!” with conviction, and they end up with more fish than they can handle.  The man continues: “Follow me and You’ll Catch Fish of a Different Kind.”  What is amazing in these panels and subsequently throughout the rest of the book is the spectacular word enlargements which are made to look like rock cuts, shapes of buildings, wood formations, and bolts of lightening.  These is not the tame typography one reads in the Bible or in religious stories, these are Christ’s words, imbued as they are with the all-knowing and all-encompassing authority of God.  There is a finality to what is being said and the certainty it will all come to pass. (more…)

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maple-1

by Sam Juliano

A family car ride to a tree farm in early December is for many holiday aficionados the purest expression of the Christmas spirit.  A real tree, cut and wrapped in mesh and mounted on the vehicle’s roof with sturdy rope is a pine smelling ritual of incomparable significance for those wanting to sustain the homespun purity of this celebratory time of good will and decorative ambiance.  For those who repeat this custom year in and year out the very thought of climbing up to the attic to bring down a dusty box with a white artificial tree is tantamount to yuletide blasphemy, somehow as fraudulent as opening unwrapped gifts on the day before Christmas.  Finding the right tree by way of height, girth and fullness is never an easy task, but if it were most of the fun would be drained away.  The trip home is an exciting time, and if the flakes are falling the mood is one of exuberance.  Most kids believe the tree that makes it to their living room is better than any other, and they invariably forge a spiritual connection to the protector of their presents and the source of that incomparably lovely smell that are privy to only once a year.  Helping to squeeze a tree through an often impregnable doorway poses a modest challenge for a young girl, but the very thought that it is her turn to put the star on top will increase her brawn ten fold.

In Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, the fourth book in a hugely popular series by Lori Nichols that launched with Maple in 2014, and continued with Maple & Willow Together and Maple & Willow Apart, this enviable scenario is played out with some wildly unexpected results.    A review of Maple was penned in December of 2014 as part of that year’s Caldecott Medal Contender series.  After the two exquisite sequels, this wholly sublime Christmas entry is again proposed as a Caldecott contender.  The first thing everybody says when they look at any of the Maple books is that the art is so beautiful.  The precise and tidy pencil on Mylar illustrations, which are then digitally colored result in captivating spreads and vignettes, a formula that repeats itself in this holiday entry.  Nichols goes with white object silhouettes on red for the end papers, and immediately sets the festive tone on the first page depicted a bare-tree winterscape populated by the two precocious sisters sledding down an incline under the watchful eye of a burrowing rabbit.  The approaching holiday is signaled on the following panel when the girls hold and tangle with the old fashioned big bulb lights, before lending their hands to a baking assignment. (more…)

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pdvd_001by J.D. Lafrance

They say that the best stories are right in front of our eyes. No one is more aware of this idea than filmmaker Gus Van Sant. In his first two motion pictures, Mala Noche (1986) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Van Sant skillfully legitimized everyday existence on film by presenting fascinating explorations into street life. Coming from a well-to-do middle class family, he became interested in the street life of Portland that he saw as “a secret world I knew nothing about.” These films never exploited or romanticized their rather seedy subject matter, but viewed the characters impartially, leaving it up to the viewer to make a value judgment. Both films, however, were based on other people’s work — a warm-up for Van Sant’s next film, My Own Private Idaho (1991). This feature is arguably his best effort to date because it is his most personal project, a labor of love that shows a filmmaker at the apex of his powers.

Idaho is an ambitious blend of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and the lives of Portland street hustlers. The film focuses on the adventures of two social outcasts. Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), a modern-day Prince Hal and a rich kid from an affluent family slumming with street folk as an act of rebellion against his father, the mayor of Portland. It is only a few days until he turns 21 years old, at which point he will inherit a lot of money. His close friend, Mike Waters (River Phoenix), is a gay, narcoleptic street hustler prone to lapsing into a deep sleep during times of stress at the most inopportune moments. Mike is the son of a mysterious waitress, (we only catch glimpses of her through his grainy, Super-8 reminiscences) and this results in a desire to track her down. It is a quest that takes both hustlers from the streets of Portland to America’s heartland, as symbolized by Idaho, and finally a trip to Italy. But the film and Mike keep returning to “both the literal Idaho of his early years and the utopian Idaho of rooted love.”
(more…)

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mole-1

by Sam Juliano

Only the hardest of hearts would fail to fall for mole.  In the end he turned out to be not only a good skate and a purveyor of effervescence, but he proved himself that rare bird – ah mammal- who will help someone else with their disability when in fact he suffers through one of his own.  While mole will never win any animal beauty contests, though he’d surely finish ahead of the aardvark- his most pressing problem is seeing during daytime.  Whomever designed his body only gave him tiny eyes and ears to avoid them getting damaged during his subterranean burrowing.  But mole, who is technically a “boar” as a male of his species was able to overcome this short changing by avoiding any situation that would require him to surface.  Truth be said, the mole who plays the starring role in Nancy Armo’s irresistible bonding book A Friend for Mole never had the opportunity to socialize, much less stoke a friendship, being much too fond as it is to surrender the safe and cozy burrow, and the pleasing earthy scent and soft bed of leaves he could rely on day in and day….err, night in and night out.  Armo’s mole, as opposed to some others in his labour was solitary because there was almost never an opportunity to convey his basic good nature.  He was content to imagine what might be happening in the world above the earth based on “tapping rain, buzzing insects and scampering footsteps.

Perhaps better than 99% of the mole population would steer clear of the temptation to investigate all that above surface hoopla, but after a burst of loud shouting and laughter, and a subsequent near cave in, this most sensitive of his species falls pray to the idiom curiosity killed the cat by venturing out into an infinite terrain, one seemingly governed by blinding light and deafening noises -remember this mole comes physically ill equipped for this kind of bombast- and after moving around dazed while a beaver, skunk and rabbit scamper by, he realizes the error of his ways and frantically searches for the opening to return to his impregnable bungalow.  But as these kind of situations usually prove the return back is so much more difficult.  Alas, our inexperienced worldly traveler trips over a root, tumbles into a bush and is seduced into sleep by the combination of exhaustion and homey comfort. (more…)

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christmas-2016

by Sam Juliano

By the time the next Monday Morning Diary is posted Christmas will be a day old.  Hence I want to wish all our readers and staff and friends here and overseas a Merry Christmas.  On a personal note it has been the worst year in memory.  Losing the dearest of friends – one who served as a pillar of this site and as a staple in our lives – was a calamity still unthinkable.  I also lost my young nephew and a brace of people who had reached ripe old ages.  But this is the way of the world, and no doubt many others will identify 2016 as a  year to blot from our collective memories.  We can look forward to 2017 as a kind of rebound year – one where positive energy and happy events will help to alleviate at least some of the pain of the prior year.

I did see a few films this past week, but have to decided to combine the round-up with the viewings that will be negotiated over the next seven days.  I also managed a second viewing of Nocturnal Animals, and I am happy to report the result was a positive one.  (4.5)

Thanks to all those who have placed comments on the Caldecott Medal reviews.  Typically, I have gone overboard, displaying a level of obsessiveness worthy of institutionalization, but the series is moving toward its final phase.  Well, maybe not final – it does after all run until January 20th, but it is shall be say well underway. (more…)

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come-home-angus

by Sam Juliano

There is a sense of pictorial contentment on the dedication page of Patrick Downes’s Come Home Angus, as our soon to be bi-polar youthful protagonist holds on to his dachshund via a leash, while his feline watches attentively.  The cute boy Angus sports Eastern European facial features -a very young Roman Polanski is a hard image to shake – which makes sense since the picture book’s illustrator Boris Kulikov is a Russian-American.  Scarlet  for the boy’s shirt, sneaker and leash, and the red letters of the inscription  allow for a winsome opening panel but by the very first turn of the page we appear to have some Kafkian machinations at play, which by the second page morph into something more Swiftian, specifically the land of Brobdingnag.  But a spiraling emotion like anger can surely trigger a growth spurt.  Heck, Tex Avery knew that well enough when he created his satiric cartoons, some where the characters grew as a result of some out of control emotion.  One can’t help but think of “King Sized Canary” when the cat and canary grow after application of some formula since one of Angus’s pets is a canary named Pennycake.  Angus gets up on the proverbially wrong side of the bed, and as a result everything is done wrong by his pets.  Even the cat Arthur is chastised for purring too loud.  In any event, an acute psychological state of mind is translated visually on that first bedroom panel when everything in the room -the bureau, the wall photos, the lamp and even the sun itself are upside down.  Angus may not exactly fit the extreme profile of Gregor Samsa, but some drastic revisions seem to be in order. (more…)

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be-1

by Sam Juliano

The advent of the mime artist dates all the way back to ancient Greece.  The name was derived from a masked dancer known as Pantomimus, and a play by the great tragedian, Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes is often cited as the first to feature the mime.  It is said that the decadent Caligula favored mimes while Nero acted as one.  It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that the emblematic image of the silent figure in white face came into vogue.  The mimetic style of acting was used in some of the great cinematic works of German Expressionism, but the most famous single actor -the one synonymous with the style- was the Frenchman Marcel Marceau, whose stage name was “Bip the Clown”.  He referred to mime as “the art of silence” and performed  around the world for over sixty years, including a major performance to liberating troops in Paris near the end of the Second World War.  One of his most celebrated roles was that of Arlequin in the pantomime Baptiste, which was famously interpreted by Jean-Louis Barrault in one of the greatest film masterpieces of all-time, the 1945 Les Enfants du Paradis, by Marcel Carne.   Barrault played a famous Bohemian-French mime, who worked in the early 1800’s.  Marceau makes a cameo by way of a sketch drawing hanging on the inside door of a clothes closet in Salina Yoon’s extraordinarily moving Be A Friend, a picture book about a boy mime who finds himself within the seeming constrictions of this highly unconventional mode of expression.

Yoon may well be the most prolific children’s book author and illustrator in the business.  She has created nearly two-hundred children’s books, and just this year alone published four, all of exceptional quality: Duck Duck Porcupine, and three additions to her marvelous ongoing bear and penguin series: Bear’s Big Day, Penguin and Pumpkin and Penguin’s Christmas Wish.  Her bold and impassioned graphics have never ceased to delight the pre-school and younger grade students, with a Bob Shea styled immersion.  Her art is lovely, design direct without pictorial ostentation, and color captivating.  One needs only to take a look at the bed quilt, the red curtains and the rainy nocturnal sky in the first canvas of her extraordinary 2015 book Stormy Night (re-released in board book format in the current year) to see her unique mastery.  Her books are classroom staples, noted physically for their jacket-free covers and always impressive end papers that either accentuate the book’s theme, or bring vital objects from the story into special focus. (more…)

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only-lovers-left-alive-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      When is a vampire movie not a vampire movie? When it’s a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie! You want to take the blood-drinking as part of an unearthly frenzy, and you’re dead on arrival.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is, in its very title, a megalomaniac declaration—the kind of stimulant-driven delusion stemming from the likes of rock and roll gods, self-styled inextinguishable heroes for the ages. “Our powers and influence will never die,” they desperately opine. And in that distemper they are a species (a metaphorical species) of the nonsense of undead vampires, a motif winched up by Bela the New American smart guy, in Stranger than Paradise; Roberto the fixer, in Down by Law; Elvis-mad Mitsuko, in Mystery Train; a platoon of soothsayers in Night on Earth; aboriginal mystic Nobody, in Dead Man; samurai-junkie Ghost Dog, in the film taking his name; Don, the spirit of the (flabby) times, in Broken Flowers; and the think-tank-assassins, in The Limits of Control.

Adam and Eve, our protagonists, mete out their days based on Adam’s having been, years ago, one of those rare pop musical hopefuls whose every hope for fame and fortune came to pass. Having, since Day One of their partnership, an eye, a nose, a touch and an ear (sort of like Don’s IT Midas Touch) for what the cravings of their scene would lavishly reward, the first residue we see of that long-ago coup is the city of choice of each of them—Eve’s powerhouse being the erstwhile hipster litmus test, Tangiers, Morocco; and Adam’s peerless realm of funkiness as to 21st century apocalypse being the uber slum of the solar system, Detroit. (After a decades-long romp around Cleveland, now the spotlight of biting irony touches down upon Motown, already a much-despised musical target in earlier works like Mystery Train and Broken Flowers.) That they no longer live together but instead occupy widely separated and significantly differing homelands, is one thing. That the exigencies of their rage to be all the rage (forever) devolve to a diet of blood supplements is something else—being another litmus test, more about basic sanity than cool. Here our helmsman has, as the ante of discovery gets more and more subtle and rough, embarked on a grown-up form of chicken as the heart of his communicative motives. And here I am accordingly compelled to blow that rather preciously hidden clan predilection for the sake of an understanding too important to be left underground. (And, however, on the other hand, this step might be the adjunct to his very expensive and therefore populist-seeming constructions.) As we go forward with this shell game, I’ll issue a little taunt to stand as a challenge: If you really think the central figures are hundreds of years old, and have a long record of sharp-toothed murder, I’ve got some Florida swampland I’d love to sell you at a decent price. (more…)

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