(Visual) Notes on Culture
SOME NEW PENGUINS
For whatever reason, I've had decent luck in finding some nice Penguin books from what I consider to be their design heyday. It does not hurt that the books themselves interest me and might be useful on upcoming projects! Note especially the awesome cover to the MERITOCRACY book.
On the Greeks:
The best part - for collectors in my area, at least - is that booksellers seem to be swimming in these things, to the point where they sell them for only a dollar or two at most, though often even less.
The Weirdest of Lon Chaney
I had the pleasure of recently watching a Lon Chaney film that had always escaped ready grasp...THE UNKNOWN (1927). A short feature from the sound era, the film concerns Alonzo (Chaney), an apparently armless man who performs circus tricks. He loves Nanon (a young Joan Crawford), a young gypsy waif who has a totally "normal" save for her otherworldly fear of men's arms and hands. That is right, she apparently had a past episode in which a man's appendages violated her - groping at least, rape perhaps - and therefore stops all advances from Malabar the Mighty (Norman Kerry). Truth be told, Alonzo is just using the circus as a front to hide out for murder. He binds his arms with a bodice to avoid suspicion...for you see, Alonzo would be easily caught for his transgressions...HE HAS TWO THUMBS ON ONE OF HIS HANDS! This is easily the most bizarre "reveal" I've encountered in a horror/thriller film in a while - all this in 1927.
Forgoing the usual "high brow" analysis, THE UNKNOWN is a very interesting, illustrative, and wholly left-field film. It is definitely worth the 45 minutes. While other Chaney is far more popular (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) and some of his films far more compelling (LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT comes to mind), THE UNKNOWN is an absolute one-of-a-kind film.
Whither the publisher?
I occasionally browse for stories related to the current state of the publishing industry. As someone who is interested in books as "things" (see my last post) and as somebody who writes on fairly niche topics, I find it important to keep abreast with what one's favorite publishers do. But as this blogger keenly points out
, most people simply don't care or even notice. For many consumers, the extensive branding that goes into the graphic design of books and their covers is dead on arrival. As some of the comments to the blog entry show, the only reasonably successful ones - Penguin, Harlequin, maybe Dover - adapt strict standards of uniformity. In most cases, a consumer can walk to a shelf and notice a book by these particular publishers from several feet away. While I am decidedly against rote sameness in most areas of life, the design wit of publishers appeals to me. Most of my favorite publishers have streamlined their process such that their books stand-out when shoved next to other titles in stores. The aforementioned Penguins have always had a certain degree of unity. Ellipsis of London (now, sadly, defunct) and Green Integer both designed smaller-sized books with a relatively uniform cover layout. Wallflower Press (an independent cinema studies press) has used a uniform font, a prominent logo, and generally designs their paperbacks to be all of the same size.
So while I'd go a long way to argue that *I* care about who publishes the book I am about to buy (and to what end), I doubt that most people care. Also, film distributors/studios generally try to do a certain amount of branding - usually from the DVD case right through to the ads, previews, and commercials that proceed a feature - but I suspect that much of this is lost as well. Branding on films is a little more obtrusive, as in most cases, and audiences has no choice but to see the logos of the makers at least one.
Branding won't go away - if anything, it will become a larger part of our lives - so I'd like to defend the practice to an extent before warning of its saturation. We are in trouble as consumers when the logo/brand/company overwhelms the text and all that we are actually buying is the brand-image. This certainly already happens in clothes (ads you can wear!) but I don't want it to happen to my books!