Saturday, May 21, 2011





ON THE SHELF SPECIAL
Recently I've been thinking a lot about digital and print publications. With book shops struggling to survive (and only Waterstones left over here as the only national book shop chain) it does seem that the writing is on the wall for them. Digital does provide a more convenient experience for a lot of people. But there are specific books that, as of current technology, can only be properly consumed and enjoyed in print. I am talking about photographic and art books. Those lush hardcovers put together with extreme care and attention that showcase some of the finest work in a number of different fields.
New York based publisher Abrams has a list of great coffee table books and they were kind enough to furnish me with a few review copies of four of their recent titles.
First up is Hitchcock Piece by Piece by Laurent Bouzereau. A hardcover which is a little bit like the DC and Marvel Vault titles in that it includes pouches with detachable facsimiles of things like snippets of Hitchcock script, photos from the director's family album and even a letter from the Motion Picture Association of America, querying whether Hitch's The Birds was suitable for theatrical release with some of its contents making them feel uncomfortable. Apart from the detachable pieces, Hitchcock Piece by Piece features a selection of wonderful photos taken from various stages of his career of the director and many of his on-screen collaborators. Bouzereau's writing is informative but never dry and he manages to pack a lot of his research onto the page. The reproduction here is very good and it is quote obviously a book that its editors, as well as its writer, have taken a lot of care and consideration as to how it should be approached and assembled. Even though Alfred Hitchcock is a subject that has fascinated writers and journalists for many decades, Hitchcock Piece by Piece is an intriguing historical document of the life and career of perhaps arguably 20th Century Hollywood's most influential behind-the-camera figure…

Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From The Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg by Virginia M. Mecklenburg is another Abrams book but quite different to Hitchcock Piece by Piece. Put together in association with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Telling Stories is a book that features two extended essays looking at the cultural impact that Rockwell made on American society. Illustrated partly by posters from the collections of Lucas and Spielberg, Mecklenburg, and Todd McCarthy in the second essay, Norman Rockwell's Camera Eye, examine Rockwell's distinguished career and take a look at the cinematic techniques that he utilised in his work. Despite the familiarity that audiences have with his work, it would have been nice if some of the images here had a little more room to breathe as the illos that are run on full pages remind you of the impact that Rockwell had on modern popular culture. Interestingly, McCarthy is a more accessible writer than Mecklenburg and his essay, buried at the back, feels fresher and more interesting to the reader. But it is still evident that Mecklenburg knows her stuff about the subject and she does manage to hold the reader's attention, accompanied by the cream of Rockwell's art. It seems timely that this book was released this year when a major Rockwell exhibition took place at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London…

The Making of Avatar by Jody Duncan and Lisa Fitzpatrick, was released to capitalize on the huge worldwide success of James Cameron's blockbuster movie that dominated the world's box office back in 2010. It's not a bad book although it does seem quite light on concept art and storyboards. The writing strikes the right balance between dense techy prose and the sort of more general text that would appeal to the casual reader. Since Duncan is the editor of Cinefex, the magazine devoted to film special effects, her expertise in this field is clear to see here. But there should have been more images as the significance of Avatar was the groundbreaking visual work that Cameron, Weta and Co carried out. However this is the Making of Avatar rather than the Art of Avatar and so perhaps I am being overly critical. The Making of Avatar does provide a perceptive look at the genesis and production of this important film…

And last but not least, there's Egypt: A View From Above, photographs by Philip Plisson with text by Christian Jacq. A wonderful oversized hardback, this book contains some of the most staggering aerial photos of Egypt including a number of places that are amongst the most recognisable architectural and historical icons anywhere in the world but Plisson succeeds in investing them with a newfound power and majesty. Jacq's text is well written but it is the photographs here that are the stars of the show. Travel photography books have become so hackneyed and overly familiar but Plisson has a great eye for the unusual, finding colour and drama in what seems like the most mundane subjects. For anyone intrigued by this ancient place, Egpyt: A View From Above is a must-buy book as it is for anyone who admires great photography. And it's an experience you definitely couldn't replicate on an iPad or a tablet…

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


A BIT OF A RUM DO
Pirates of The Caribbean is a film series that rapidly went downhill. The first one was surprisingly entertaining, the second (Dead Man's Chest) was less so and the third, At World's End, was an abomination with no plot and real script to speak of. So we fast forward four years to Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and director Gore Verbinski are gone with Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane stepping into the supporting roles as Angelica and Blackbeard, respectively. Verbinksi has been replaced by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) and only Johnny Depp, back as Captain Jack Sparrow, and Geoffrey Rush, as Barbarossa, have any connection with the previous three. At World's End received quite a kicking critically but it still made $300m in the US alone. So On Stranger Tides is intended to be a little bit of a reboot with a new director and two main cast players. As with seemingly every big Hollywood film at the moment, it is getting its release in 3-D. On Stranger Tides sees Jack Sparrow in London to rescue the Black Pearl's first mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from the hangman's noose. Once he has succeeded in this, he decides to gather a crew to locate the legendary Fountain of Youth. Falling in with Blackbeard (McShane) and Angelica (Cruz), who is masquerading as Sparrow, he sails to try and track down the Fountain. At the same time, Barbarossa, who has now taken a Royal Navy commission, and the Spanish are also determined to find the fountain. The plot is fairly secondary here as the question is whether the pyrotechnics of the special effects work and the answer is that On Stranger Tides, while better than its predecessor, is a tawdry, dull and overlong affair. Depp's Captain Sparrow, charming once, is now annoying and idiotic, McShane's Blackbeard is rather wasted and Cruz is bland and uninteresting. The sub-plot of the love affair between the human and the mermaid is clumsy and unengaging. Rush must have signed up again purely for the cash as he looks bored and out of place here. The 3-D also looks really murky and the rivalry between the three parties is badly directed and the whole thing comes across like a very poor man's Indiana Jones. It will undoubtedly make buckets of gold at the box office regardless of what the critics say but On Stranger Tides is manipulative, tedious and far too long…

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Thursday, May 12, 2011






ALDISS AND MORE
The radio silence here has been because the last month has been insanely busy. As part of a book project that may or may not happen about sci fi and fantasy writers photographed in their place of work. I've been to see Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May) back in February and this week I was lucky enough to visit Brian Aldiss (Heliconia, Frankenstein Unbound) for the same project. I got some great shots and he was a gent as always. I feel very lucky sometimes that I do get to meet interesting people thanks to my job…

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