To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser (2008)

“The purpose of art is to inform and delight”. This is a Horace quote which Milton Glaser has followed throughout his career. Within To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser this was evident in various examples of Glaser’s work explained by himself and others who note Glaser’s influence on graphic art.

Glaser explained that emotions felt from music can be incorporated into graphic art. The contributors analysing his posters for Bob Dylan and The Beatles note as a result Glaser pioneered psychedelic design. Reflecting over these designs it is easy to understand Glaser’s use of colours and composition evoked the 1960s counter-culture directing its characteristics onto the world as progressive creativity.

I was in agreement with Glaser’s idea of graphic art needing to be simple and direct. He created the ‘I Love NY’ slogan at a time when New York was in disarray. This now iconic slogan was certainly a direct engagement in promoting social unity. Glaser’s more recent campaign of buttons with political slogans i.e. ‘dissent protects democracy’ also evoked calls for social unity. The simplicity and directness of Glaser’s designs contextualises his ideal to inform the public and delight them with his directness. Throughout To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser from my perspective clarifies how art can be a tool for direct defiance whilst being gratifying for the public.

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Throne of Blood (1957)

A re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in feudal Japan, Throne of Blood visually captured the play’s self-seeking and treacherous atmosphere whereas its characterisation is somewhat left to be desired.

General Washizu and his comrade Miki come across an evil spirit who prophecies their rise with Washizu becoming Master of the North Castle and Miki will be Fort Commander. The evil spirit concludes that Washizu will eventually become Lord of Cobweb Castle, and that Miki’s son will succeed Washizu. Washizu and Miki are understandably puzzled by the evil spirits’ prophecy and initially disregards them. However Washizu with his wife Asaji become obsessed with the prophecy, leading to violent greed and malicious manipulation. Considering the heinous themes within Throne of Blood, one would expect the performances through characterisation to be riveting. Unfortunately the performances were mostly sub-par incorporating little depth to their characterisations. The performances felt as if they were being read from the script and using over-emphasised facial expressions simply because they had to. Even Toshiro Mifune’s (Washizu) performance was mostly underwhelming. His performance gave little to establish reasons for Washizu’s inevitable lust for greed and murderous desire. It is only when Washizu becomes haunted by those he’s killed that Mifune’s performance improved capturing Washizu’s mental derangement. Isuzu Yamada as Asaji gave the only consistent performance. Asaji’s subdued expressions and cold-hearted tone influencing Washizu personified her character which Yamada fully understood.

Throne of Blood‘s strength lied in its visual representation. The opening sequence contained ominous music which was unsettling emphasised through misty surroundings where Cobweb Castle once stood, creating a mysterious tone relevant for the themes which followed. The visual representation was emphasised in various well-choreographed military scenes of enthralling action along with Washizu’s climatic death scene directed with hallowing silence and long shots to encapsulate excruciating repercussions. Throne of Blood was a film that faired better in visually conveying its themes rather than personifying them through characters. However that is not to say Throne of Blood did not well adapted the origins of Shakespeare’s play and in that sense its visual representation was an acceptable substitute for flaws in characterisation.

Consolidating Studio Ghibli’s Zest For Storytelling

Studio Ghibli films rarely fail to disappoint and usually leave me feeling mesmerised and exuberant. From Up on Poppy Hill was no exception with its solid storyline and brilliantly developed characters placing itself as another triumphant piece of Studio Ghibli’s legacy.

From Up on Poppy Hill centres itself on the theme of transition within Japan from post-war to hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This transitional period is both a backdrop and incorporated into the characters’ lives with Umi’s opening monologue, “the past is not ready to let go of us either”. Umi’s tangled past formed from their Father’s death, an event she never fully recovered from. Whilst her Mother is away Umi asserts herself as the families’ dominant figure making Umi an addition to Studio Ghibli’s admirable protagonists. Some may argue themes of transition and traditionalism are over emphasised, yet the characterisations make these themes admirable. Umi as her families’ dominant figure was noble as she undertakes various household tasks. The greatness of From Up on Poppy Hill‘s writing is what is unsaid. Scenes of silence with Umi preparing meals for her family created an atmosphere where Umi is respected. Yet Umi’s characterisation also had a tragic side with her Father’s death still raw within her memory. Umi’s loyalty to her Father is equally heart-wrenching and honourable reflecting the need to understand the past if transition towards the future will succeed.

Juxtapositing Umi’s struggles with the past is Shun, a fellow student at Umi’s school who forms a close relationship with her. Shun’s youthful ambition not only attracts Umi but gives audiences vitality within themselves to respect the past. His desire to restore Quartier Latin, an ageing building housing the high school’s clubs underlined why the past has to be respected and acknowledged if transitioning into the future.”Destroy the past and you dishonour who lived and died before us” was Shun’s defence in restoring Quartier Latin. Umi’s and Shun’s relations with their past helps forge their relationship which is admirable. Through their relationship and their dealings with the past From Up on Poppy Hill affirmed the importance of preserving and understanding tradition.

Whilst From Up on Poppy Hill dealt with transition with sincerity, there was room for pleasing comedy moments. The scene where Umi and Shun first meet occurs when Shun takes part in a stunt that is whimsical and amusing. Many of the secondary and minor characters during montage scenes of repairing Quartier Latin engaged in hilarious antics and dialogue which equally stayed on course with the theme of transition. From Up on Poppy Hill takes audiences on sentimental journey to respect our pasts if the future is to be improved.

Joseph Calleja: A Night in Malta

A thoroughly enjoyable concert it’s clear why Joseph Calleja has huge ovation in his home country. An excellent operatic voice with vast range accompanied by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Malta who added magnificent instrumentals.

Singing many operatic classics including La Donna E Mobile (as a fantastic concert opener), La Vie en Rose and O Sole Mio, Calleja never failed to capture audiences’ attention with this fascinating spectacle. This concert also offered a variety of music with guest performers Zucchero and Rebecca Ferguson. I felt this was a wise decision as it gave the concert more appeal.

Adding more rock to the concert Zucchero was charismatic and energetic. He engaged audiences in full flow with his growling vocals and guitar playing. Rebecca Ferguson was clearly the commercial option (as a former X-Factor contestant) performing songs of the pop variety. Ferguson did not have influence over audiences as Calleja and Zucchero did, but her performance of I’ll Count the Days was strong enough to justify her presence.

On the production side this concert was well-produced with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Malta and Children’s Choir molding with Calleja and his fellow performers in continuous harmonic flow. The various firework displays gave extra impact to the performances concluding an impressive musical event.

‘Inspiring’ Chick-Flick… : And While We Were Here (2012)

If you asked me to summarise And While We Were Here briefly, my answer would be inspiring chick-flick. Though using the word inspiring is solely theoretical. In practice And While We Were Here does not deliver as it emerged itself in a cliché we’ve seen time after time.

Set amongst picturesque Italian locales, freelance writer Jane (Kate Bosworth) is searching to complete her first book in the company of husband Leonard (Iddo Goldberg), a touring classical musician. Though their visit to Italy takes a back seat as their relationship is explored. It’s established early that their relationship is lacking fullness from Jane’s perspective as Leonard has contrasting interests and opinions. Jane’s dissatisfaction, highlighted by an unsensual sex scene, tells us all we need to know.

This begins the build-up to Jane’s journey of life’s meaning, attempting to inspire the audience. During a day of sightseeing Jane meets free-spirited Caleb (Jamie Blackley), a younger man whose zest for life puts a spring in Jane’s step. In typical click-flick procedure Jane feels she has met the man of her dreams excited by Caleb’s knowledge of culture and life. Inevitably Caleb causes a three-way tension between himself, Jane and Leonard leading to predicable sentimentality and drama.

Reflecting over And While We Were Here there are criticisms to be made. Firstly Jane’s lust for the younger, exciting Caleb is a worn concept. Does life’s fulfilment always have to result in seeking adventure with strangers? This platitude continued with Jane occasionally listening to her Grandmother’s war experiences where she learnt to make the most of life in dire circumstances. We get it…

It was hard to see what Jane saw in Caleb beyond his rebellious nature. This is not to say Caleb was not portrayed well with Jamie Blackley giving an energetic performance. Despite Caleb’s personality relating to And While We Were Here‘s theme of fulfilling life, I could not to disagree with Leonard reference of Caleb as “that child”. If Caleb seems immature then why should audiences emote towards Jane?

In addition Jane and Leonard’s deteriorating relationship was one-sided. Only Jane’s side is portrayed with Leonard’s reasoning being antagonised rather than explored. His only defense comes in a revealing confrontation near And While We Were Here‘s climax. Whilst we’re supposedly meant to sympathise with Jane’s raw emotions, Leonard did make some convincing arguments which lent sympathy towards him. Rather it’s Jane who comes across as hostile. She conducted herself harshly towards Leonard and her reasoning within their argument did not deliver. Either this was the fault of Bosworth, the script or both. This only adds to my argument of And While We Were Here trying but failing to be inspirational though it was certainly a chick-flick, by no means a positive praise.

The Anonymous People (2013)

Lecturing audiences with a straight-up, honest attitude The Anonymous People aimed to challenging perceptions on alcoholism and other drug related addiction. According to The Anonymous People such addictions must be seen as an illness rather than moral weakness.

Interviewing those recovering and affected by addictions offering audiences personal insights. Every interviewee is stripped bare of inhibitions unashamedly discussing their experiences at face value. How addiction affected their lives and once in recovery forced to handle their past. Having to deal with social prejudices of addiction and in some cases political pressure to simply make good their errors by promoting progressive thinking. They have to be admired for openly sharing their experiences to further addiction awareness in spite of monumental opposition.

The historical context behind addiction and its activism to make addiction recognised as an illness was well covered. The formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, Marty Mann’s prolific campaigning, celebrities and politicians coming together. There has been extensive efforts to widely recognise addiction as a health problem which needs treatment rather than persecution. The historical knowledge The Anonymous People conveyed was compelling and delivered intelligently by comparing history with present day ethos. So with a rich historical framework why is The Anonymous People having to expose these issues?

The media is portrayed as a primary culprit for to their lust of sensationalism, “a sexy story sells” as one interviewee noted. The ‘War on Drugs’ crusade which dominated the 1980s was also referred to in formatting negative attributions upon addicts. Despite this acknowledgement The Anonymous People did not push their criticism far enough. It would have been beneficial to note the specific policies the ‘War on Drugs’ enforced that mistreated addicts and more crucially noting commercialism’s’ role in addiction. Considering The Anonymous People‘s context, from an audiences’ viewpoint it was screaming for criticism against commercialism’s relaxed approach in selling alcohol as seen in dozens of global advertisements. This was an argument sorely missing which would have evaluated The Anonymous People as a more hard-hitting documentary.

Imagine…McCullin (2013)

Being an admirer of Don McCullin’s photography, this recent BBC documentary certainly appeased my viewing satisfaction.

Chronologically charting McCullin’s career photographing local teddy boys, Cyprus’ civil war, the Vietnam war and secular conflicts in Beirut, there is a deep appreciation to be had for McCullin’s extensive work in dangerous environments. Understanding the back-story of McCullin’s photographs was key to contemplate the situation he placed himself in as McCullin explained throughout the documentary. In particular lying to the CIA was a potentially hazardous decision but McCullin got the images he wanted. Such actions emphasis what a war photographer has to be for their work to be a stories’ core. It only goes to show McCullin’s bravery.

Simply learning about the locates of McCullin’s photographs would have been interesting enough but McCullin explained his working psychology. McCullin seemed to be a conflicted personality that only fascinates my interest more as McCullin felt the thrill of being amidst violent conflict yet horrified by his subjects’ reality. As he explained “it’s a very fine line” between his work and the subject’s lives which from time to time blurred McCullin’s reasoning.

This is a compelling documentary about the psychology, morality and contextualisation of McCullin’s work that is equally satisfying as an admirer and a brilliant introduction for those unaware of McCullin.

Don McCullin