I recently saw the 1970 Bertolucci film ‘The Conformist’ (Il conformista) and it was not all great, like many Italian films from that era, its muddled plot and weird angsty detours have aged badly, as has its misogyny (there are no three dimensional female characters) but it does have a saving grace, the art direction and cinematography of Vittorio Storaro is stunning.
Set a the height of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship in the 1930’s, the films first half is a series of architectural set pieces, both the airless Art-Deco domestic stylings and chunky Neo-Classicism that dominated Italy at the time are shown, part of Il Duce’s attempt to portray himself as the Roman Emperor returned: Huge white marble block edifices and grand Imperial motifs fill the screen and dwarf the shady men in square shouldered, double breasted suits, it speaks to the decadence and hubris of the fascist elite.
It’s unfortunate that the films plotting fails to live up to its wonderful imagery but its worth a look for this aspect alone.
8:59 am • 22 June 2012 • 4 notes
I always thought that this Eve Arnold photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses was staged, but then I was browsing Letters of Note and came across this letter she wrote from an asylum, which is sweet, sharp and sad (and she also mentions reading Sean O’Casey’s biography another Irish literary connection) it completely changed my perception of her and its well worth a read.
5:45 pm • 21 June 2012 • 27 notes
Poster on the street in Athens, Greece.
5:26 am • 21 June 2012 • 2 notes
I understand after reading this book why John LeCarre has a reputation elevated above other writers of thrillers and spy fiction. The novel is espionage without much action, slow burning tension with no release, and the characters rather than being flatly drawn good/evil types are just a series of morally ambiguous creeps, burnt out and paranoid former idealists and unrepentant sadists.
The other aspect that sets it apart is that it reads like a real novel, a page turning one yes but it doesen’t sacrifice three dimensional characters to the momentum of the plot, you get a feel for the damp rooms and the clothing, tics, and habits of even the smallest roles, I can see what attracted Tomas Alfredson to make a film of ‘Tinker Tailor’ (a later book in the series) it is an intensely atmospheric approach to writing.
2:58 am • 17 June 2012 • 2 notes
I think Philip Starck is an overrated jackass, and that the ghost chair is an uncomfortable, badly designed victory of style over substance but…
This ghostbuster side table is something, it seems like it would be at home in 2001: A Space Odyssey or a really decadent Italian house from the 70’s (these are good things to be at home in)
3:40 pm • 15 June 2012 • 8 notes
Kate Beaton (of the superbly funny, and smart 'Hark-A-Vagrant') illustration for The Walrus
5:12 pm • 14 June 2012
I sometimes wonder if the ‘International’ styles that took root in European design in the post-war era was a direct attempt to cleanse the memory of ethnic nationalism that almost destroyed the continent, to create design so modern so shapely, objective and logical, that it removed cultural implications and nativist insularity.
Appropriately much of this style had roots in Switzerland with the grid based graphic design of Joseph Mueller-Brockman and the monolithic industrial housing of Corbusier leading the way, the most European of European countries as well as a outward looking haven for the internationally rich and rootless, Switzerland was perfect laboratory to take the humanist innovations of Bauhaus and Vkhutemas into the latter half of the 20th century.
Among the hallmarks of the international style were several beautiful, clinical fonts derived from the German sans-serif font ‘Akzidenz Grotesk' (Helvetica among them) but for me the ultimate expression of this style is 'Univers' created the same year as Helvetica by Adrian Frutiger. Frutigers intent was as apparent in naming Univers as Paul Renners when he named ‘Futura’, Univers aimed to be universal, used perfectly even weights in all its strokes and even created a new numbering system to replace the weights system traditionally used in fonts (although this never quite caught on).
Using it lately I’ve fallen for its complete blankness and versatility it seems to work in every context with less baggage than Helvetica, less character than Antique Olive or Optima, it allows a designer to take all the focus from the style of the type and direct it to what that type says.
8:10 am • 14 June 2012 • 7 notes
Floral stuff is a big thing in Europe at the moment (probably the world, this being the internet age and all) but Liberty is the boss of this kind of thing and this fabric is why, super detailed (usually hand drawn) by the likes of William Morris, they capture a very English sense of nature.
7:24 am • 14 June 2012 • 2 notes
Since the early 1950’s, designer and entrepreneur Terence Conran has acted as a conduit between a conservative British public and the ease and simplicity of European continental life and design, whether through introducing at the time exotic kitchen goods in his shop Habitat (Garlic press!! Espresso Machines!!) or introducing the first flat pack furniture and creating his own comfortable mid-century modern designs.*
Although many of his innovations are now common place, European food goods are readily available at high street shops and to a certain extent modernism has been absorbed via. the ubiquitous IKEA, quality domestic British design* has still failed to penetrate (and by extension the same can be said for Ireland which has a similar mindset, favoring low prices and pale imitation over quality and provenance)
Despite this, Conran who turned 80 last year remains remarkably committed to producing reasonably priced quality, his latest effort is a extensive suite of furniture for the British high street chain Marks & Spencers. The set has a warm, mid century feel and though not the cheapest has prices within the range of his target audience, the middle class with a taste for quality. Among these is the 'Ruskin' chair, a reissue of a 1972 design he created for Habitat, comfortable, simple and modern its a nice encapsulation of his approach throughout the decades.
1.) there is a great guardian interview from around the time of his retrospective at the Design Museum in London last year that covers this ground here.
2.) Conrans compatriot, clothing designer Margaret Howell has a similar love of overlooked modernist British design and has recently began selling it through her shops
8:25 am • 6 June 2012 • 3 notes