Robert Tanitch reviews three books
Books do Furnish a Painting by Jamie Camplin and Maria Ranauro (Thames & Hudson £24.95). Thank God for Martin Luther and the Reformation. Reading skills are such a priority that thousands of paintings include books in their subject matter. Art and literature are clearly entwined. You can read a painting just as you can read a text. Where do you like to read? Here readers are found in chairs, at tables, in the bath, in bed, in the garden, in fields, on trains and at beaches. It is always fascinating to see what other people are reading. The further back you go, right to the 15th century, it is obvious how godly and learned the books are but by the time you get to the 18th century, women and their female servants, at least according to Fragonard and Boucher, are reading something more salacious. I like this book very much. The pleasure is increased because so many of the paintings are unfamiliar and there is so much to read in them.
Selling the Movie: The Art of the Film Poster by Ian Haydn Smith (White Lion publishing £25) is a visual history of the movie poster. I have always enjoyed looking at posters, especially the ones from the 1890s and the Art Deco period. This collection of film posters is one of the best film collections. I remember many years ago being bowled over by the Polish posters on the walls of the BFI and wondering why there were not more posters of this art quality. They were clearly too sophisticated for non-art house audiences. German Expressionism and Soviet Constructism created many dramatic images. I particularly enjoyed the art work of Saul Bass and always looked forward to his poster and credit title sequences. Ealing Studios had a special British charm. Which poster is my favourite? Impossible to say, there are just too many and the market constantly changes. I’d like to have the poster for Renoir’s La Grande Illusion on a wall in my home.
Chinese Movie Magazines: From Charlie Chaplin to Chairman Mao 1921-1951 by Paul Fonoroff (Thames & Hudson £35). Fonoroff’s collection of magazines, which includes a whole series of photographs of mainly top Mandarin and Cantonese stars, is drawn from over 500 publications which were aimed at the popular market. So many of the covers are dull, ugly, messy and poorly coloured and only interesting because they are Chinese. There is little here to make you actually want to see the film. Occasionally a famous Hollywood face, such as Chaplin and Garbo, leaps off the page. But the photography is so unimaginative. The best covers are the Art Deco drawings and graphics from the 1920s and early 1930s.The most dramatic image is an A-bomb montage; but this originated in Time Magazine.