Monthly Archives: August 2011

Photography: Nathan Farb – Russians

These photos are from the 1978 book Russians by Nathan Farb. The photos are great but the story surrounding them is just as interesting. Nathan Farb was a New York photographer who would wander the streets of NY taking Polaroids of tourists for a dollar. He later became friends w/ Diane Arbus and was invited to accompany her at a show of American photographers in Russia. The show was attended by thousands of Russians eager to see what the Americans were up to. Farb took Polaroids of the attendees and gave them the prints. What they, or the authorities, didn’t know was that Nathan had figured out a way to make negatives from the Polaroids. He then smuggled them out of the country in a diplomatic pouch through the US Embassy. This was 1975 – the middle of the cold war – and Farb would have been in serious trouble trying to take these out of Russia. He felt if everyone could see that Russians were just as normal as Americans that it might alleviate some of the tension between the two countries.

As an aside, Farb mentioned that although many famous photographers were on display, the Russians were most interested in pictures from magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Vogue.

“The US government put those mags on display to show how much better life was in a capitalist state. But what seemed to interest the young people looking at  them most was the fashion. They came to the exhibition in their home-sewn clothing, and after the show they ran home to copy the clothes they saw on their  sewing machines.”

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Design: Blaxploitation Movie Posters

Coffy - 1973

The term Blaxploitation would lead you to believe that someone black was being exploited in these films. I never thought of it that way. Even though a lot these films were made by white directors and white studios it always seemed like the stars were super-cool and in control. I always thought these were made for black people not just about them. It seemed like when a mainstream “white” movie did well there would be a “black” version to cash in. Black Shampoo was basically Warren Beatty’s Shampoo w/ a mostly black cast, “The Black Six” was most likely “The Magnificent Seven” starring football players – and who the fuck knows what “Black Gestapo” was about. Eventually these films did fall out of favor with the NAACP when the heros became mostly pimps or gangsters.  All I know is the music was  great, Curtis Mayfield (Super Fly), James Brown (Black Caeser), Isaac Hayes (Truck Turner), etc and the poster art was bright, loud and sexy.

Black Shampoo - 1976

Blackenstein - aka Black Frankenstein - 1973 Blacula - 1972

Black Gestapo - 1975

Cleopatra_Jones - 1973

The Black Six - 1974

Dolemite - 1975

Photography: Roller Derby

Roller Derby started in the early 1900’s as simple roller skating endurance races around a flat oval track with no contact or teams. Well, that’s pretty boring. Much like stock car racing, the crashs would be the most interesting part of the event, so why not play it up. Roller Derby reached it’s popularity in the 60’s and 70’s as a full contact “sport”,  but by this time it was more of a staged event like Big Time Wrestling with clearly defined good guys and bad guys and predetermined winners and losers and lots of fights. For awhile in the the 70’s it was huge. For my brother and me, Saturday afternoon meant Roller Derby on Channel 50 – Detroit. A 1972 movie  – “Kansas City Bomber” starring Raquel Welch and a young Jody Foster did pretty well at the box office. And now it’s back  w/ most major cities hosting  womens Roller Derby teams.

The Art of Packaging: 80’s VHS

I’ve seen “Die Screaming Marriane” – there is no screaming and if I remember correctly, Marrianne didn’t die, but who cares. Look at that cover. You know it’s gonna be good. My assumption is, that each of the hundreds of distributors like Unicorn Video, VidMark, Wizard Video, etc had their own staff (of probably one) artists that would create each cover. Some were straight to video releases and had no proper promotion art created for it, others were main stream movies but their art just wasn’t exciting enough so new covers were created  – it was all about competion for shelf space. Usually these were acompanied by a brilliant tagline, these are mostly tagline free for some reason, although The Savage Intruder boasts; “She loved him and trusted him, UNTIL HE CUT OFF HER HEAD”.

Set Design: Andre Chenier Stage – Bergenz Opera 2011

This is really amazing. It’s hard to believe that this is an actual 3-dimensional stage set, and it huge, over 60 feet high. Every second year a different opera is performed on an ellaborate stage built into the waters of Lake Constance in Bergenz, Austria.  For the 2011-2012 season director Keith Warner and set designer David Fielding chose The Death of Marat, an iconic painting by the revolutionary artist Jacques-Louis David, as the symbol and inspiration for their staging of the opera, André Chénier. The waterproofed set is built directly into Lake Constance, mounted upon a concrete core anchored into the base of the lake. Fielding’s design for ‘André Chénier’ is dominated by an oversized face and torso, from the left eye streams a series of stairways. An open book to stage right of the figure is frequently highlighted throughout the. At water level, a floating platform, ‘carried’ by what appears to be the hand of the statue, moves in response to plot action. Other mobile set pieces rise in and out of the water over the course of the performance. The proscenium itself seats 6,800 persons in stadium seating. If you’ve seen the last James Bond movie, The Quantum of Solace, a few scenes take place at the Bergenz Theater and the 2007-08 production of Tosca.

Everybody Loves: Young Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda (born Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda; December 21, 1937)

Jane Fonda begins and ends for me with Barbarella (and maybe Klute). All the political activism, Ted Turner, and  workout videos can be forgiven for those few years when Jane was in her early 20’s. There’s not one film you could call a great movie or even a great performance, (though she did when 2 Acadamy Awards) but she sure was pretty. She’s still attractive and at no point was she overly embarrassing – (maybe the work out tapes) but it was the early years when she truly shined.