Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
Salvador Dali is the indisputable Grandfather of the Surrealist Movement, a man who had the genius and power to transform his dreams into the universal language of art. What continues to make Dali’s work so awe-inspiring and compelling? What continues to push his audience to want to know more? During the last 50 years of his life, Dali’s work was sharply controversial, as critics and followers tried to make sense of the integration of science and religion into his own personal landscape. In the Dali Renaissance, Taylor (Philadelphia Museum of Art) strives to make sense of the artist and his maverick consciousness, showing us how Dali’s deep fascination with odd elements of popular culture came to inspire the motion of his muse (with his vast body of work coming to influence aspects of film, photography, poetry and international fashion). Engrossing and exhaustive in nature, this treatise is notable for the amount of ground it covers, including careful introspection into Dali’s famed Nuclear Mysticism tour of the United States. Also, two of Dali’s companions (Ultra Violet and Amanda Lear) offer keen insight into the man behind the art, as we are offered the rare privilege of peering into his work-studio to examine his routines and habits.
This volume would be an outstanding choice as a supporting class text in advanced Art History courses that delve into the driving forces of the period.
In this text from Yale University Press, Stephen Eskilson (Associate Professor of Art at Eastern Illinois University) has created a ground-breaking resource that surveys the complete history of graphic design (spanning its genesis and evolution and extending from the late 19th century to the present day). Here, Eskilson’s vast knowledge takes center stage as he dissects the symbiotic relationship between design and manufacturing (in addition to discussing ways that technology and the marketplace have shaped the latter-day face of design). Eskilson approaches his subject chronologically in an effort to carefully escort the reader through the sprawling labyrinth of his topic (connecting the way that design movements often reflect changes in both social and business perspectives). In turn, chapters carefully illuminate the particular style of the period that’s on display (while each illustration helps to bring the narrative into full and brilliant bloom). Basically, Graphic Design seeks to explore the various modernist design styles prevalent in the early days of the 20th century. As a result of Eskilson’s treatise, readers are able to absorb the depth of these major design movements while gaining a deeper understanding of how they helped to chronicle changes simultaneously taking place within our society. Standout chapters include discussion of the history of the Bauhaus and the rise of the International Style (as well as the postmodern movements of the 1970s and 1980s).
In sum, Graphic Design serves as an authoritative text appropriate for both the classroom and the practicing professional, with information on the history of design effortlessly blending into data on advancements in the field, this major addition to the annals of academic literature.
Now in its Sixth Edition, this excellent text contains two essays of particular interest which place cinema in the context of mirror, mirroring the values of the culture which created it.
Specifically, Tania Modleski’s essay, “The Terror of Pleasure,” examines the contemporary horror film and its post-modern theory. Modleski begins her piece with Karl Marx’s metaphor of capitalist cast as a werewolf in the Grundrisse:
“Marx tells us that the capitalist’s werewolf hunger, which drives him continually to replace living labor with dead labor (that is, human beings with machines), will lead to a mode of production in which labor time is no longer the sole measure and source of wealth….”
In her essay, Modleski also notes an observation by Jacques Ellul, who asserted that as urban life becomes more intolerable, it becomes necessary to make the suffering tolerable by furnishing the masses with amusements, thus giving rise to the “monstrous motion picture film industry.”
If Ellul’s observation is indeed correct, then those social institutions which promote the continuity of Western urban culture and industrialization (“the individual and the family”) are now literally being dismembered and dismantled before the eyes of a contemporary audience:
“Many of these films are engaged in an unprecedented assault on all that bourgeois culture [and]… A few of these films, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, have actually been celebrated for their adversarial relation to contemporary culture and society. In this film, a family of men, driven out of the slaughterhouse business by advanced technology, turn to cannibalism. The film deals with the slaughter of a group of young people traveling in a van and dwells at great length on the pursuit of the last survivor of the group, Sally, by the man named Leatherface, who hacks his victims to death with a chainsaw. Robin Wood has analyzed the film as embodying a critique of capitalism, since the film shows the horror both of people living off other people and of the institution of the family, since it implies that the monster is the family. [fn.]”
In this text, Western society is depicted in cinema as being encircled in the remnants of colonialism and racism as memorialized in the Battle of Algiers forty years ago. Although images of that film now probably reside only in the memories of the most dedicated film connoisseur, Robert Stam and Louise Spence make some noteworthy comments about the movie in their essay, “Colonialism, Racism, and Representation.” And they write:
“One of the crucial innovations of Battle of Algiers (directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) was to invert the imagery of encirclement and exploit the identificatory mechanisms of cinema on behalf of the colonised rather than the coloniser…”
Stam and Spence also observe that Battle of Algiers exposes how a Western dominated media has formed many of our subconscious impressions, training us to view dissimilar people:
“Western attitudes toward non-Western peoples are also played out here. Hassiba is first seen in traditional Arab costume, her face covered by a veil. So dressed, she is a reminder of Arab women in other films who function as a sign of the exotic. But as the sequence progresses, we become increasingly close to the three women, though paradoxically, we become close to them only as they strip themselves of their safsaris, their veils and their hair. They transform themselves into Europeans, people with whom the cinema more conventionally allows the audience to identify. At the same time, we are made aware of the absurdity of a system in which people warrant respect only if they look and act like Europeans.”
Though an examination of the cinema, these essays explore the very underbelly of Western oppression, documenting its insanity and its failures and its stark aimlessness. In Film Theory, Braudy and Cohen have done an exemplary job in creating a multi-layered textbook that speaks to different aspects of the discipline in thought-provoking and relevant terms, in turn creating a text that will be of long-term value to both students and commentators (as well as film buffs intent on sharpening their perspective on the history of this ever-evolving art form).
Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.
THE FILM EXPERIENCE. An Introduction. Second Edition. Timothy Corrigan. Patricia White. Bedford/St. Martin’s. Name me a college student that does not like to go to the movies; in point of fact, I don’t think one exists. Accordingly, the cinema can provide a perfect vehicle for instructors to enlighten and teach students (while simultaneously exposing them to a wide-array of sociological issues that impact their day-to-day existence). Here, Corrigan and White have created a ‘go-to’ text that presents a sound introduction to the study of film, dissecting the ways that movies are made, conceived and viewed. Outstanding chapters on film structure and organization underscore the fact that all movies serve as moving-pictures: Pictures spanning vast swatches of time, suspending the viewer in a heightened state where-by all parts of the story can be experienced by each of the senses. One tour through this book and you’ll see that Corrigan and White are tremendous academic writers whose style identifies with the eye of the 21st-century-student (characteristics helping to elevate this title to ‘authority’ status).
ART ACROSS TIME. Second Edition. Laurie Schneider Adams. McGraw-Hill. Art Across Time is a wonderful art history text and, with proper exposure, should come to be adopted in many courses which teach the history of the world through the eyes of its artists. Here, Adams (her stunning resume includes a Ph.D. from Columbia University; she is presently on faculty at John Jay College, CUNY) looks at the history of art in a clear and compact way, formatting her book so that the student coming straight from high school (and without previous exposure to such a course of study) will not be intimidated by this material. Examination of the major periods of art incorporates a review of the different styles that have been used, along with comment and analysis of both the work and its creator. The rich illustrations and color plates serve to teach the student in a multi-dimensional way — analyzing the pieces in words and then providing the reader with an immediate visual example so as to foster awareness of both technique, style and environment. This edition includes the vibrant world of Mesoamerican art (including striking examples of the art of the Aztec world).
As stated, should be considered as a cost-effective primary text for introduction to art history courses. Also recommended to all academic libraries as a general reference text.
INTERPRETING ART. Reflecting, Wondering and Responding. Terry Barrett. McGraw-Hill. This slim text uses graphics and illustrations along with erudite analysis to teach the beginner how to interpret a piece of art and critically analyze both its successes and failures. Barrett is a very good writer, and he accomplishes his goal here without a lot of pontificating; instead, he communicates in a simple and effective way, teaching the young reader a variety of methods that should enable them to begin to think critically rather than passively.
Should be strongly considered as a supporting text in art history courses and would serve as seamless companion to the Adam’s text (see above). Also recommended as a general reference text in all college-level libraries.