Art theft and Art forgery go hand in glove, and both have always been of interest to me for some reason. Maybe it's the inherent sleight-of-hand in al...moreArt theft and Art forgery go hand in glove, and both have always been of interest to me for some reason. Maybe it's the inherent sleight-of-hand in all the arts -- can you really paint a woman's face without daVinci coming to mind, can you really write a tragic play without thinking of the greeks ? For the moderns, this legerdemain was taken in stride, exalted even, by the time of say, Duchamp & Pablo P. But there was theft for art's sake and theft for theft's sake, and therein lies the tale.
Dolnick's basic plot lines--- the Real Events ---- are magic; he does a fair amount with what he's got, but it would take a ridiculously bad writer to foul up this particular story.
There's a well-characterized forger, one who stands in the classic position of having his serious work shunned by the 'serious' art-world. He's the right man (a prosperous commercial artist) in the right place (Holland of the Dutch Masters), with the right science and skills (adequate painter and highly imaginative psychological warrior) and he just happens to be in the right Time, as well......
Without giving away the two or three oddities in this otherwise-conventional Forgery-Theft-&-Apprehension-By-The-Law, it's worth noting that conditions in continental Europe just before the War were astoundingly ripe for some artistic fudging of the artistic facts, and our protagonist van Meegeren played it beautifully.
So beautifully, in fact, that come his trial --and I don't want to give away why---- his entire defense was consumed by proving that he was guilty of the forgery in question, beyond any shadow of a doubt.
An art forger tale with a twist. Couple of nice chapters on the radical ingeniousness of not copying the Master too comprehensively.... kind of a be-careful-for-the-scrutiny-you-wish-for scenario .... Only the Master would take certain detours, a forger would only copy what was already done.....
Oh, and here's a brief side-anecdote, one that speaks to the integrity aspects of the artworld denizens. Here's a collector / curator named Hannema.....
He roamed Europe in search of bargains, poking into tiny galleries and wooing prospective donors. Hannema's taste was eclectic--tribal artifacts from New Guinea, old masters, Japandese swords. He pursued art wherever the trail led. In Paris one day, where he had been invited to look at a Georges de La Tour, he found a family in mourning. Perhaps it would be better to come back tomorrow ? No, monsieur, please. Today would be best; the funeral will be tomorrow. "I did not feel good about it," Hannema recalled, "but La Tour was just beginning to draw attention, and maybe I could pick it up for a reasonable price." The black-clad family pushed Hannema into a candle-lit room. The painting hung on the wall above an old, emaciated woman, lying dead in her bed. "Please, monsieur. Just look." Hannema took off his shoes, borrowed a flashlight, and climbed onto the bed. The old woman's body shifted a bit as Hannema studied the painting from different angles. It was a pleasant picture, he announced when he turned off the flashlight, but unfortunately, a fake.
Like the Dolnick book on the Vermeer forgeries, this stacks up as a compendium of art-world scam and theft alongside of the central thread, which is a...moreLike the Dolnick book on the Vermeer forgeries, this stacks up as a compendium of art-world scam and theft alongside of the central thread, which is about the Munch's Scream theft.
This time out, though, the compendium aspects outweigh the central thread, and by a long shot. The real value of the book is in the asides, the comparisons, the sidebar items. There, the depth of the research really shows, in spite of an overdeveloped appreciation of the main character, (who obviously charmed the author to pieces) the Scotland Yard investigator.
While it sounds like therefore the book isn't worth the read--- well, no, it's very worth it. It's not any less fascinating just because it's a thin story to hang the wealth of info from....
As mentioned elsewhere, there is something of a kinship in the creation of art and the forging or theft of art. Both are a kind of Confidence Game. These similarities are brightly underlined in this book and the Vermeer title; if you're intrigued by the relationship, I recommend you read both books, which are really like two volumes of the same study. (less)
Thought more of the collection itself than of the obligatory essays in the front section. But what a time, what images, what a direct affront--- to th...moreThought more of the collection itself than of the obligatory essays in the front section. But what a time, what images, what a direct affront--- to the established Ecole des Beaux Arts.
Dadaists, Post-Impressionists, Cubists, Futurists, Fauves, Primitifs, Vorticists, even Surrealists all came to the bar during these years; and something just exploded.
Duchamp, Mondrian, de Chirico, Picasso, Cocteau, Arp, Matisse, Man Ray, Apollinaire, booze, dope, broads. Not to mention le Douanier, Henri Rousseau, in the autumn of his years. They were making it all up on the fly. The squares didn't get it. THIS was the Avant Garde.
Modigliani lived fast and died young, leaving an astounding catalog, drawings, sculpture and paintings. Influences as divergent as Khmer figures and African masks found their Western ambassador in Paris. Montparnasse in the war years must have hummed with seething cool.
With the ur-text of Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years, "Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse" conveys the wildly improvisatory but profound sea-change that would become the Modern. (less)
As an official part of his education, a traditional European young man of means and expectations would take himself off on a 'grand tour' of the Conti...moreAs an official part of his education, a traditional European young man of means and expectations would take himself off on a 'grand tour' of the Continent, in the years of the 18th and 19th centuries. It would be understood that he would return with some acquaintance of the fine arts, the salons of society and their denizens -- the disparate and unsettling ways of the world, more or less. And then, having had a mad dash at life, the courtly, bohemian, and maybe even not-so-reputable ways of the continent-- return to promptly immerse himself in the lifelong drudgery of administering his father's concerns.
Here's the journal of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret at twenty-four, long before his self-induced transformation into the architect and design-polemicist Le Corbusier, eventually one of the founders of International Style in the 1920s.
But this is 1911, and the world is a Nineteenth Century one. And Journey To The East is most notable, I think, as a period piece, an illustration of a time we can't imagine any longer, as encapsulized by a young man who was enraptured by it (and a little by his own impressions). At the turn of the century, The East meant only Central Europe and beyond, so an itinerary starting in Berlin and headed down the Danube toward the Balkans fit the bill.
Jeanneret's voice isn't so much unique as it is of-it's-day, and highly impressionable; orientalisms abound --add to the mix the idea of who he would become, and there's an intriguing, slightly arriviste charge to the account. A world where electricity, the idea of 'traffic', and even the telephone are conspicuously absent-- becomes a kind of Conradian up-river affair for Little Corbu; the imagery becomes a bit hallucinatory at times, matched by long stream-of-consciousness passages.
But he also offers beautiful little line-drawings of what he sees all along the way, showing how he sees it, with a young man's enchantment in the framing. The sketches are well-proportioned, and draw the eye; exactly the effect a later traveller would attempt with photographs, but made by a draftsman who trusts his hand to take visual notes accurately.
It must be said, though, that all the while he really wants to go native and can't quite manage the full leap of faith. Until he sees the Parthenon that is, whereupon truth, golden dimensions, and angels singing seal the deal. Odd, though, that the resulting epiphanies are had at the shrine of the Western Ideal, in what is titled a journey to the East...
There is some discussion as to whether Jeanneret had met Gropius & Mies van der Rohe in Berlin before he left, where he had worked for an architect called Peter Behrens; whether he had yet seen the world in the stark terms of Toward A New Architecture, his vertical assualt on style. But it doesn't matter; there is also the engaging thing of seeing him come alive to the cultures he encounters in direct response to what they build. His discussion of the Hagia Sophia is still very illuminating to the western reader, and the Parthenon experience surely has resonant chords for many.
Another aspect here is that this is before the war and the Paris peace accords of 1919, which would redraw the world; rather than boundaries as we know them, Jeanneret travels through what was the Austro-Hungary of the Hapsburgs, and into the Ottoman empire of the last caliphate. Bounded on the far shore by British East Africa, and on the eastern edge by the crumbling old Persian empire, this Grand Tour takes him through long-forgotten conceptions of the world, dim memories now of a euro-centric globe.
Here's a snip of the bazaar at Stamboul in Constantinople [Istanbul:] :
Here, in effect, is Sesame, because one discovers and dislodges from beneath the piles of coarse earth the most sumptuous nuggets of the East, from the Islam of Europe to as far as the jungles, brought here piece by piece across the sands, mountains, and brush by solemn caravans. It is a labyrinth (Baedecker recommends that one carry a compass), a maze of arcades, without a glimpse of sky for several kilometers. It is closed in, suffocationg, and secluded. Here and there tiny windows pierce the low barrel vault, and yet it is well lit. It is deserted at night and frenzied during the day. At sunset, the heavy doors are drawn, enclosing the fabulous wealth, and the great clamor subsides. Upon arriving, forewarned by the cries of these strange people, I could always imagine a metal god seated on the lintel of the door, rubbing his fat gold belly with both hands. His lips would be greedy , and his forehead would recede like that of an orangutan. His nostrils would be flared, and his gaze restless. He would have long donkey's ears. The hierophant sits there and in his slimy manner overhears the glib and deafening voices; he has the same features as his master, and as for his claws he has stolen them from the oldest of the bridges tolltakers, who died of grief. He speaks all languages, badly, is dressed like us, and his hair is fuzzy... Meanwhile, carpets are not retrieved from their fall, nor embroideries from their swoon, nor pottery, now rendering every movement perilous. You are utterly seduced by a young persian girl dressed in scarlet, beneath a golden canopy in an Ishfahan garden with tulips and hyacinths everywhere.... Truly, you cannot be cold-blooded any longer; there are too many crazy things before your eyes, too many delightful evocations that throw you into a foolish stupor. You are intoxicated; you cannot react at all. This torrent, this flood, this avalanche of charlatanism brutalizes and annihilates you.
Anyway, a little bit trying at times, irrationally exuberant at others, the reader who wants to enjoy this has to go with the flow, both of the journey, and Jeanneret's purplish rendering thereof... Well worth the trip, worth relaxing overly-strict tolerances for tight prose, allowing, even appreciating, the self-conscious persona of Youth. "Have a look at this, I'm in on the joke, I get the picture", the narrator tells us again and again. Well, yes, nearly that. Lovely period-travel memoir, in the knowing voice of youth.
Nicely thought-out, a serious analysis of the non-urban Urban Center without-a-center that is LA. Or was L.A. Necessarily compartmentalized, Banham's...moreNicely thought-out, a serious analysis of the non-urban Urban Center without-a-center that is LA. Or was L.A. Necessarily compartmentalized, Banham's study takes an unrelated set of parameters and relates them from an overhead perspective on history, development, design, influences. What are now a deeply tangled set of cultural aspects were a little less so in 1971, when this was published. So something of a time-capsule, but one that looks imaginatively toward the future too.
It's not really fair to look at 2009 Los Angeles and pronounce judgements on Banham's vision; but it's fair to say that his optimistic and buoyant post-urban parsing of the course ahead hasn't evolved quite as he foresaw so long ago. Banham wanted to lay the foundation, it would seem, for the new direction in The American Lifestyle, it's minimum requirements, glories, idiosyncracies, conveniences and goals. But he pictures a world of wonder, a sunny, urban encyclopedia accessible by friendly freeway off-ramp, to each fortunate, smiling everyman of the future.
From the intriguing buildings of RM Schindler to the cartoon / drive-in schlock, Banham seems to have counted it all as fairly benevolent, a wealth of profuse intermingling, leading to an unpredictable if inevitable synthesis that would gel sometime in the future.
His vision of "Autopia", however, must leave the contemporary reader mystified :
"The banks and cuttings of the freeways are often the only topographical features of note in the townscape, and the planting on their slopes can make a contribution to the local environment that outweighs the disturbances caused by their construction..."
Surely, even thirty-eight years ago, the insight of this statement must have been fairly shallow :
"Furthermore, the actual experience of driving on the freeways prints itself deeply on the conscious mind and unthinking reflexes. As you acquire the special skills involved, the Los Angeles freeways become a special way of being alive, which can be duplicated on other systems ... but not with this totality and extremity."
L.A. was always a vast, epicurean Doughnut and Hole experience, though, so Banham can't really be faulted for a smart if otherwise all-doughnut perspective. To his credit, he's a shrewd judge of individual projects and architecture, rendering certain aspects of the city-in-the-making with deft & critical detail. It's on the Urban Planning And Design side where he might've wanted to hedge his bets a little more broadly.
Absolutely pick this up if you live in Los Angeles. It's a hard city to read, maybe not a city at all, and any solid attempt at getting an overall picture is a worthwhile one. Just maybe, the urban-center without-a-center IS a doughnut, after all.
As those post-ironists in Randy Newman's band will tell anyone who asks ---- "L.A. ! We love it !!"
Short but factually-loaded history of the explosive years between the wars when Harlem Jazz bloomed in the boîtes of Montmartre. Thoroughly researched...moreShort but factually-loaded history of the explosive years between the wars when Harlem Jazz bloomed in the boîtes of Montmartre. Thoroughly researched but drifts into personnel lists, itineraries and schedules a little too often.
A longer book might have delved more into the evocation of place and time, which are sketched here, but kept to a documentary minimum. Of particular interest is the zazou movement, which was a wildly radical group of musicians and jazz music fans who spared no effort keeping jazz alive under the Occupation. For a further discussion of the zazou, Wikipedia's page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zazou is good. See also "Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend" by Michael Dregni.
Jazz in Paris in the twenty years between the great wars deserves a larger, full-blown exploration in the Gary Giddins vein, and hopefully someone is at work on that right now. Wonderfully rich cross-section of thematic material, and Paris in the Twenties & Thirties as a stage. William Shack's Harlem In Montmartre only hints at the possibilities of a larger work.
Short and somewhat overlooked book on the Sixties and Beatles era, by the well-regarded record producer of all the Beatles records, George Martin. Rat...moreShort and somewhat overlooked book on the Sixties and Beatles era, by the well-regarded record producer of all the Beatles records, George Martin. Rather than focus directly on the fab-4 phenomenon, Martin takes the long view, building the story solidly on what happens on the way to sitting in the control booth one day saying, 'right then lads, more lively on the yeah-yeah-yeahs this time'... It is certainly reasonable to say that Martin was the fifth beatle, his contributions to the sound and content of that body of work incalculably influential. But the old-school British restraint runs deep here, so (although supported by most other accounts) he's not about to confirm that, or tell tales from behind that curtain, which draws some of the life out of this story. But we know, nonetheless. (the closest he comes to this is in stating that Lennon and McCartney were the guiding lights of the musical output, and that Harrison, Starr and Martin were the support team. Well said, humble, truthful, but still adds up to five, doesn't it....)
In the mid fifties the Producer was less involved with constructing sound montages than with the everyday business aspects of his label & studio, connecting artists with repertoire to suit, and making sure the charts for the string section integrated with the vocalist's lines. It would be a long way from there to the experimental musique concrete, eight-hands-on-one-piano & circus-calliope of 'Sergeant Pepper', but Martin affably & creatively went along for the ride, and ended up shaping a lot of it to make musical sense. And to fit into the grooves of the Lp records the world would line up to purchase.
At the Emi-Parlophone studios, suits and labcoats were the order of the day for the producers and engineers. This was the era of non-automated vacuum-tube mixingboards, enormous tape transports, and huge lathes for mastering-- which required a full staff of knowledgeable technicians, to prep a recording session hours ahead of time. Martin's book does a nice job in the middle chapters with describing musical sound, sound itself in fact, and how it came to be translated to an analog 'record' of the original event by these means. As the actual Lp record was the end product in the Beatle era, a clear explanation of how they work & how they were cut fits in here as well. Most of these are now lost arts, or at least specialty pursuits that never really gain any public notice, so it's a valuable little tour, conducted by the master of ceremonies circa 1965 or so. For anyone with a slightly technical ear, invaluable to read.
Also interesting is Martin's take on the transition of Recording from simply a documentary, where a faithful record would mirror the events unfolding in the studio--- to a completely abstract art. A medium where sonic events and background washes could be built up like paint on a canvas, where sound effects & music recorded all over the world at different times could morph into the middle of an instrumental solo, in a sonic environment created in the imagination, rather than in soundproof booths.
The lapses in this account are the track-to-track details, the instrumentation and improvisation involved, and for that there is a better book, written by Martin's Engineer Geoff Emerick. Beyond that, Martin sort of glosses the golden age-- he goes rather quickly from the fast, rock-and-roll early era right into the psychedelic era and then promptly wraps that with a tip of the hat to the awards, golden records and the rest. As much as the coverage of the early years is fascinating, the post-beatle era is contrarily tedious. For the remainder of the book he goes on about his distinctly non-golden era, and the account suffers in his effort to cover the periods in like fashion. No one cares in the least any more whether Martin recorded the group 'America' or had a hand in the filmscore for the Beegees version of Sgt. Pepper, and Martin of all people might have seen that in advance.
You can't fault a book for what it's not, though, and having the man who added string quartets to Yesterday, the man who ran all the recording sessions for the Beatle era music-- set down some thoughtful commentary, even briefly, is well worth the read. What comes across between the lines of the narrative here, as in the recordings themselves, is the qualities of reserve and taste that George Martin brought into what might otherwise have been a brief, one-hit-wonder scenario.
Geoff Emerick's book is called "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles" and is the preferable account for the non-completist.
From the Uk based Rough Guide series, a compilation that strives to make some sense of the six decades or so that were the crucible of Soul Music, R&B,...moreFrom the Uk based Rough Guide series, a compilation that strives to make some sense of the six decades or so that were the crucible of Soul Music, R&B, and much of what now comprises any kind of Pop heard anywhere in the world.
A slight translation problem here is that when the author refers to Northern Soul, he's referring to a sensation in the north of England, a tumultuous reappraisal by British enthusiasts of the big dancefloor numbers and rave-ups coming in from the US in the 60s, so-- a kind of Uk retro scene, albeit featuring American soul music. But-- when he refers to Southern Soul, he's referring to the original US soul music from the south, as in the Stax/Volt or Muscle Shoals sounds. Whereas, Us Northern regional sounds are referred to as Chicago or Philly soul, for example. Bit confusing for the North American reader, and probably the Brit one too.
First the quibbles : there is a full entry, well deserved, for Louis Jordan, but not Slim Gaillard ? Little Willie-John, but not Little Richard ? Janet Jackson but not Mahalia Jackson ?
Hmm. Shalamar, Klymaxx, and Rose Royce each somehow qualify for a full, stand-alone entry. Where are the full entries for Willie Dixon ? Dinah Washington ? Muddy Waters ? The Shangri-Las ? The Ronnettes ? Slim Harpo ? Chubby Checkers ? Howling Wolf ?
Overall, quibbles aside, there are layers & layers of great info here, filtered thru a real connoisseur's sifter, that should start any Soulster on their way... Not just the artists, but (some of) the backstage movers as well .. Quincy Jones, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Phil Spector get full entries, as do the iconic sounds of every era -- Ike & Tina, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Prince, and an entry on Parliament / Funkadelic that is larger than those on Aretha & Stevie Wonder combined. (Obviously the writer/editor has his favorites, though it's good luck that he also has good taste.)
What you want out of your Rough Guide is to be able to find, immediately, what happened to star-crossed soul martyr Johnny Ace....(clowning backstage with loaded pistol)... Or the facts that Tommy Browder as August Darnell and Andy Hernandez as Coati Mundi founded what would come to be known as "Kid Creole And The Coconuts".... Or that Ruby & The Romantics charted first with "Our Day Will Come" in'63 but not with "Hey There Lonely Boy" which had to wait for a '69 remake to chart. These are the kind of facts that the Guide is filled with, and if you need help sorting out your Houstons & Warwicks, Womacks & Womacks, or any combination of Nevilles, this book can help.
One improvement would be a second Index, to follow the generic one, of Titles for tracks & albums, especially since many listeners may know the song rather than the name of the group or the artist.
Last, as a Philadelphia native, I'm also glad to report that the objective Uk-based Peter Shapiro sees fit to include the Soul City of Philadelphia way more often than New York, and about as often as Motor-City Detroit. And rightfully so. But he'd best not ever again include the late Soul Man Lou Rawls in the same sentence as the disparagement 'supper-club-soul'... even in passing. Just saying.
Overall a great book, great resource, and should suit beginner to advanced-intermediate Soul Men & Soul Women. Now, who did the first version of "Land Of A Thousand Dances"... ? "Mickey's Monkey" ? It's in there... (less)
Jazz The Topic, amongst it's enthusiasts, (as compared to Jazz The Music), is one tough jurisdiction to stake out. No one agrees on what it is. No one...moreJazz The Topic, amongst it's enthusiasts, (as compared to Jazz The Music), is one tough jurisdiction to stake out. No one agrees on what it is. No one allows all candidates without asterisk, distinction or stipulation. Louis Armstrong peaked with the Hot Five / Hot Seven units and eventually sold out; Sarah Vaughan was great until the live Tivoli set, maybe not afterwards; Chet Baker was a great horn player, until he decided he was also a vocalist. The Ken Burns documentary called "Jazz" is excellent. Or it's completely wrong most of the time. Some of these assertions may be true, or true-ish, but not all. (Sarah had a kind of second bloom, in the late seventies on Pablo records, mature & vivid, no matter how you cut the deck).
For myself as a jazzfan, the music that matters has it's beginnings in the late 19th century and the viable history comes to a dead halt in, oh, say ...... precisely 1964. When Coltrane did A Love Supreme and afterwards changed his personnel to Mssrs Dolphy, Shepp, Pharoah Sanders et al, and when Miles changed his crew to the Herbie Hancock / Wayne Shorter unit, recording only a string of live dates. There are exceptions and exclusions, certainly, but fusion and further developments were a grand waste of time and good vinyl, in my slightly hardline view. Which is entirely true but only one opinion.
This being the case, it's hard to judge just what degree of inclusivity something like a Guide to Jazz should have, and when you pick up this one, it's a little mystifying at first. Nearly nine-hundred pages, and more than 2000 entries.... Surely Jazz isn't that elaborate, or maybe the completist instinct has gone haywire, something like the cinema credits that list caterers & personal drivers....
But looking closer you get the picture. If you grant that something like Jazz continued to be played in the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond, and if you grant that new, central-euro and far-east participants among others shouldn't be ignored, you end up with this kind of gigantic encyclopedia, half of it focussed on marginal streams that take space away from the monumental pillars of the art. Let's have a look.
Originally I looked for a few favorites, and found that they were represented very compactly by tiny entries....
Dexter Gordon 0.5 pgs. Lennie Tristano 0.5 Bill Evans 0.5 Tadd Dameron 0.5 Jimmy Giuffre 0.5
This didn't seem fair to the artists, but they weren't widely known, I guess. How about some of the big names ?
Louis Armstrong 2.0 pgs. Charlie Parker 2.0 Dizzy Gillespie 2.5 Duke Ellington 2.25
Okay, that's somewhat better, but what about these guys, giants in anybody's estimation ...
Ben Webster 1.0 pgs Sidney Bechet 1.25 John Coltrane 1.5 Lester Young 1.5 Johnny Hodges 1.0 Django Reinhardt 1.25 Thelonius Monk 0.75
This didn't seem right. I looked at the entry for Miles. Four pages here, but seriously. Let's look for a few lesser-knowns. They're all here, true enough, but represented by short, short blurbs.
Bix Beiderbecke 1.0 pgs Ron Carter 1.0 Max Roach 1.0 Milt Jackson 1.25 Eddie Lang 0.5 George Wallington 0.25
All that would be okay if the buyer of this Guide wasn't also signing on for entries on Louis Prima, Astrud Gilberto, Ray Conniff, Kevin Eubanks and Harry Connick Jr. Something out of balance there.
In the end, not a bad generic encyclopedia of Jazz, really, that tries at least to err on the side of inclusion. And, there is a really great Glossary covering everything from 'circular breathing' to Free Jazz, a personal favorite of mine, referencing
"... the agressive anarchism of, eg., Peter Brötzmann and his associates which expressed itself in Violent, Non-Tonal, Collective Improvisation ... "
You don't need to be able to play two saxophones at once to enjoy many of the numerous entries in the Rough Guide To Jazz. But you need to be willing to ignore half the entries. Good quick reference, not deep or discerning enough. (less)
"... While scripting Lolita in Hollywood, the Nabokovs attended a dinner party at David Selznick's luxurious house. Billy Wilder was there, and Gina Lollobrigida, too. "She speaks excellent French," says Nabokov. "It wasn't that good," interupts Mrs. Nabokov. They were also introduced to a tall, rugged fellow. "And what do you do ?" inquired Nabokov. "I'm in pictures," answered John Wayne ..."
Alfred Appel's 1974 "Nabokov's Dark Cinema" has been out of print for some time, but it's well worth a look. Getting lost in the pages of a book like this one would have been the delight of my college years; but only if it wasn't a required read for the curriculum, which of course would have tamped the urgency to read it in the first place, and could have dispelled any magic that might have been lingering. But on a curricula-shirking clandestine basis .... oh yes.
Attempting to lash together the developments in the Modern Novel and the rise of Cinema as artform, Appel has enlisted Vladimir Nabokov as official interpolator, second-story-man, executive chef and concierge. Which he amongst very few others is credentialled to do, having interviewed Nabokov numerous times since his own college days, taking literature courses from Mr N. at Cornell.
Packed with very well selected film stills, the book explores relations between the Silents, Radio, Newsreels, the 'Funnies', Serials, Comicbooks, Studio Features, and the way that they are distilled and mirrored in Nabokov's satirical view of pop culture. Appel leads with a nice historical buildup, with Movies democratizing the classes, winning the wars, and enduring the depression; he has a very good grasp of the cinema period that would have been Nabokov's hunting grounds, during his era. The German expressionism of Lang, Murnau, Lubitsch, the detectives & 'underworlders', along with the visceral comedic works of Harold Lloyd, Chaplin, and the very-favored Laurel & Hardy.
All along, Appel brings his considerable understanding of Nabokov as literature to bear upon the devices and stratagems of both fictive worlds, whether celluloid or printed-page. His deep research into the Nabokov oeuvre is always on tap, noting the layers, lists, shadows, overlays and inlays that appear throughout Nabokov's work.
It's hard to know if this is a history of Cinema that uses a revered modern author to articulate it's points, or an in-depth cross-study of Nabokov's writing as based on his deft rendering of pop-culture in film. So a very meandering volume, really, in spite of the constant rush of apparitions and unbounded bloom of ideas.
In Appel's defense, there is much to support his non-thesis; Nabokov's work is laced through with millions of pop-culture threads, half of them related to the worlds of the Cinema. Appel explores a few million of them. But there is little or no navigation here, not any kind of path through the woods, enchanted though they may be. Confusing, maybe, Appel would say, but isn't unreliability and uncertainty part of the very grain of 'the modern' ?
One distinct thread worthy of mention is the idea of Émigré Literature, it's unique vantage & voice. This line of inquiry suits the Nabokov canon to the ground, in that Mr N was dislocated from his Czarist Russian background, then from Berlin, then from Paris and all the way to California by the circumstances of history. And most notably for this book, to Hollywood.
There are good chapters on Nabokov's Lolita the novel and Nabokov's Lolita the screenplay, versus Kubrick's Lolita the shooting-script and finally, his finished film. My recommendation is that Appel's The Annotated Lolita should be read as a preparation for all this, but regardless of the complicated provenance, any study of Nabokov & Cinema will regard this as central.
Like big-city directions for reaching the theater on foot, Nabokov once wrote, "Tonight we shall go to the movies. Back to the Thirties and down the Twenties and round the corner to the old Europe Picture Palace..." And while getting lost in Appel's considerations of these matters, the reader will tend to agree; the violent, technicolor drama of the 20th century was mirrored, if not accurately reported, by the movies. Nabokov savored the disconnect of that particular fracture.
Finding this on a semester break in a city bookstore, smuggling it back to a snow-drifted room on campus in the distant mountains, would have been nirvana for the film student of the seventies. Something this engrossingly elaborate would have been a long winter's night's perfect companion, along with a nice pipe of something exotic to smoke....
Sometimes the stars method of rating books doesn't quite make sense. As described by hovering the mouse, they are classifications that describe variou...moreSometimes the stars method of rating books doesn't quite make sense. As described by hovering the mouse, they are classifications that describe various levels of 'like'. Did, didn't, really did, did a lot. Sometimes that is the most important thing about a book, and we'd 'like' to think that if we approved, that the book must ergo be a good book. Sometimes though, verifiably good is more valuable than liked-- there are gaps between good and liked.
Modigliani, What I See There is no significant light source in a Modigliani portrait. There are no beams or motes of dust caught in shafts from window or lamp or the heavens; this is not to say there is no light. Similarly, there is no significant meaning-- no overriding event or drama that shapes the content or execution, because it is nearly always the same content, and similar execution. Elegant line-drawings render well-massed re-imaginings of the human figure, generally relying on simplification, elongation, and some variation on the age-old beauty of the 'S' curve in their composition. Palette is amber-red and gold against green-grays and touches of delfty blues, and the tube of Umber must have always been squeezed out first.
Deceptively simple, and to be honest, never any real challenge to the Cezannes, Matisses or Picassos that were the front line of the School Of Paris of his day.
Not for Modi the wild reinvention of conception that Painting would undergo in these years; his subject was a tranquil, unsmiling, pared-down head-and-shoulder portrait, each and every one a sibling, another constant in his life's unvarying work. Male or female, a quiet sitter in an artist's studio, background just out of focus. Never would there be a Guernica, and Modi was a student of his contemporaries, as well as a big admirer of Picasso.
Rather, there is a taste and discretion that captures the small tensions and sometimes the turmoil of his subject; and there is the beautifully somber palette and graceful line that describe things that are innermost secrets, yet face the world every day.
There are small abstractions, the twists and gentle contortions of mass, the conscious allusion to masks, the reluctance to go too deeply into the eyes (sometimes abstracted to blank orbs). The anxiety in the hands, the rake of the shoulders, the turmoil in the glance remove the need for a storyline. There is the quiet moodiness in the illumination, contrasty and yet soft; there is the gentle palette of the surroundings, never featured but always a modifier. There is the Italianate sensuality of the forms and the line, rather than the furious French modernism of the day.
Modigliani's worst can sometimes seem like outdoor café-table caricaturing given the finearts razzle; there's no reason to dispute that, since quite often that was the beginning of one of his compositions. But his best, and most of it is his best, is single-mindedly sure, a purist vision of the human comedy --painted in the middle of a cyclone of the obstreperous modernism to be seen eating it's own tail for breakfast, daily, in Paris.
How The Book Sees It I don't think author Seacrest would disagree very much with the way I see the work, and yet, as biographer, she has an agenda to keep, dragons to slay.
Amedeo Modigliani is often portrayed as one --a ringleader, even-- of the unstable, unwashed, absinthe-soaked madmen that terrorized Montmartre in the name of Art. Modern Art. Great serial-womanizing egotists leading lives of impropriety, scandal and worse. Ms Secrest wants to emphasize that as a lifelong tubercular, Modi had no choice but to kill the pain with drink and drugs, and thus his Legend is misleading. Fine; this is one of those distinctions that always surround a Maestro; was Mozart such a genius because he wrote under the gun in poverty, or because he could write under the gun... was Shakespeare influenced by others or was he ... does it shift the work any ? If it can't be established, is it not a wild goose chase ? Once a controversy or inconsistency is mentioned, it's covered; but Secrest labors on.
There's no real need to deny any of the biographical facts, and certainly no real way to pin particulars of the artist's work on any given aspect. Don Modigliani may have been a grand old padrone with a huge family back in Livorno Italy if he hadn't had tuberculosis; he might have lived to the age of a hundred. But he didn't, his life was short, a supernova, the very grail of Paris School mad artist, and his paintings are exquisite.
Kenneth Wayne's Modigliani And The Artists Of Montparnasse structures itself that way, and still doesn't miss the point of the artist himself. I think it's the better way to approach things, since it ties together so much of the spirit of the place and time.
Secrest's book does fairly well by the Parisian underground it depicts; the lofts and lavoirs are the kind where you hang your bicycle from the ceiling, so the rats don't eat the tires. Still, it wants to downplay the absurdist modernist madman theme whenever possible, and if the paintings were the only evidence, she'd have a fair point; unfortunately, we know way too much about him and his world to call an entire subculture accidental. Her book is very well populated with family and descendants who wish the madman legend was not so. But. Modigliani was both genius and self-destructive madman, very likely willfully so in the face of the death sentence of tuberculosis. Unfortunate that there always has to be a new wrinkle to validate any new biography.
Not a mystery, not even a very complex story, but somehow has a subliminal, addictive quality. Maybe a bit like Strangers On A Train, this grim busine...moreNot a mystery, not even a very complex story, but somehow has a subliminal, addictive quality. Maybe a bit like Strangers On A Train, this grim business insinuates it's way into your consciousness. Determination & desperation at a Mildred Pierce pitch. (less)
Apollinaire, Satie, Rousseau and Jarry. Never the central figures, not Picassos or Cezannes perhaps, but more reliable practitioners cannot be found....moreApollinaire, Satie, Rousseau and Jarry. Never the central figures, not Picassos or Cezannes perhaps, but more reliable practitioners cannot be found. I don't think you get to Duchamp without these industrious kiddies setting the tone ...
A mad-hatter's tea-party, an atheist's rosy cross, a flaming arrow in the forehead of the status quo. Visit, for the logical dissonance, but stay for the majestic squalor.
Four absolute madmen and their relentless pursuit of the avant in all the itchiest, most wine-dark and vomit-crusted arrondissements of the City Of Light. Ooh la la.
Mostly this kind of large-format color-plate extravaganza is good for having the visual material on hand for a side-by-side read of a biography. That'...moreMostly this kind of large-format color-plate extravaganza is good for having the visual material on hand for a side-by-side read of a biography. That's what I used it for, and it works beautifully in that way.
As time goes by, though, I've found that it's often also worth reading the essay material in these kinds of big-graphic volume; often, but not always. Sometimes the text is what you might expect, filler, meant only to fluff the size of an otherwise thin publication.
The five essays in the current Modigliani collection are in the worthwhile category, especially if the reader is unacquainted with the material at hand. A wealth of biographical, analytical, historical and compositional examination is covered, and from various viewpoints.
It does seem, however, that the guiding light of art-historical writing is the reach for a new angle, regardless of the actual value of said angle or approach. The quest for being the new Revisionist, the critic that turns the accepted paradigm upside down, seems overwhelming, impossible to resist.
Critics and analysts are falling all over themselves to re-evaluate Modigliani as a French citizen rather than a native Italian; to reclaim the Italian Frenchman as the Jew that he was born; to contrast that identity with his tendency to paint dolorous madonnas in the christian tradition; to rethink that by citing non-western influences; to re-examine his reputation as a womanizer; to refute the standard story of wild bohemianism that conventionally frames his biography. No matter how unfortunately true any of those may be.
I suppose that once you have an era whose history we can reliably trace, an artist's accepted biography, and a vetted portfolio-- an oeuvre standing the test of time-- there's precious little to add ... But that can't be allowed to happen or the art-historical combine would come to a standstill. You can't really just fill books with murmurs of appreciative acceptance, after all. Not only critics and academics, but wave after wave of graduating art-history specialists would have nothing to look forward to, no conventions to break down and rebuild.
For this reader, the Modigliani myth, although inconsistent, is factually coherent, credible. The "received notions" counted here in Maurice Berger's essay seem persuasively influential, hard to ignore :
..preeminently that of the tragic bohemian, but also such notions as the tortured genius, the narcotized dreamer struck down in the prime of his life, and the satyr smitten by his muse...
Any of those are going to have bearing on the work, and whether presented in caricature in earlier art history or not, can't really be disproved or ruled out.
After the million --modernist, expressionist, marxist, feminist, structuralist- analytical modes, someone needs to come up with something that is a Post-Revisionist discipline. All the paradigm-shifting earthquakes of successive, relentless revisions become, with time, tedious. To this interested amateur, anyway.(less)