The Empire State Strikes Back

This month, movie theaters suffered the latest installment of one of the ugliest trends in graphic design and shitty movies: I'm talking about 'Know1ng,' the latest crap-heap of sub-entertainment from that toolshed Nicolas Cage. I reported on the 'numbers as letters' trend last June and it's only gotten staler since.

Here's a great tale about my nemesis Cage. This week, my great Brooklyn friend Kristina saw the 'Ghost Rider' star and grade-A bonehead filming 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' on the subway in Park Slope. She reports that she and a crowd of subway passengers at the 7th Avenue stop "were asked to move to the side" when a "fellow passenger yelled: 'Fuck you, Nicolas Cage. We're not moving. Who the fuck shoots a subway scene at 7 p.m. rush hour? I am just trying to live my life and I ain't taken orders from Hollywood. Welcome to Brooklyn - go fuck yourself.'"

I wish someone would put that anonymous subway rider in a movie, because he is a true hero.

Here is another excellent tale of a famous actor being cursed at by a New Yorker. My friend Mike reports that he saw Tim Robbins crossing the street in Manhattan with a friend. Robbins was cut off by a trash truck passing through a yellow light. Robbins began hollering at the truck when one of the garbage men leaned out the window and shouted, "Shut the fuck up, Shawshank!"


No Crybabies

I saw this image on a sticker for a local Brooklyn laborer's union (it's on the fridge in Carmine's pizzeria). The world would be a much cooler place to live if every time someone complained, they thought of this image, shut their trap, asked themselves "What would Eastwood do?" and then took care of business.

I am strongly considering plastering this image on the door of the studio just so people know where I stand on the issue of crybabies.


Trend Alert!

The movie posters for both Doubt and the new Sin Nombre combine two fonts in their logos: one blackletter-style font and one sans serif. The two fonts are so drastically different that the contrast is striking and the letterforms suggest a clash of the old and the new.

Sin Nombre (a new film already inspiring comparisons to City of God) uses Linotext for its blackletter-style font and Doubt (the kids just can't get enough of these brooding church dramas these days!) uses Goudy Text. These fonts are late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century updates of the blackletter font style that was popular from about 1150 to 1500. Linotext and Goudy Text add legibility to this antiquated style for modern audiences who don't normally sit down by the fireside to read a few passages from Gutenberg's 42 line Bible.

When I first saw the poster for Doubt, I was pleasantly surprised that a thoughtful graphic design treatment had been used, because most film posters are mere Photoshop Disasters. The difference between the two posters is that it's thematically powerful for Doubt to have a font with Biblical associations in its design (although I'd rather do math homework in the hottest layer of Hell than watch Meryl Streep scowl in a nun's habit for two hours). The application of the concept in Sin Nombre's design seems less relevant, although clearly sin is a theme in the film.

Anyways, I guess this isn't really a 'trend' yet; so far it's merely an incident of one designer ripping off the Doubt design. I'll be damned if there isn't more to come, though.


Burton on Palance

Jack Palance (left) with Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's 'Batman.'

The best stories in filmmaking are when the old-timers let the rookies know who's boss (read William Friedkin's awesome Hitchcock story here). These moments are part genuine anger, part rite-of-passage hazing. Below is director Tim Burton's story about the legendary Jack Palance (Shane, Panic in the Streets) on the set of Batman.

"I think it was the first day of shooting Batman. It’s probably the only time I’ve ever been terrified of anybody. I was nervous – you know, I’d never really done a big film before. It was a shot of Jack Palance coming out of the bathroom. So we set up the shot. I think my voice was changing - I was just going through puberty then, so I went, kinda like, (in high-pitched voice) ‘Action!’ Jack didn’t come out of the bathroom. And I go, ‘Okay, so… Cut! Come out of the bathroom…’ I probably wasn’t a good people person at the time or whatever, but he started to get angry with me. He started going, (in icy Jack Palance voice) ‘I’ve made over a hundred films. How many have you made?’ I literally left my body. I had a white-out experience that I will never forget. In fact, the hairs on my neck… when I think about that story, I still start to get freaked out." -Tim Burton, DVD commentary, Batman


Lookin' Sharp

I don't know what the musicians known as N.A.S.A. were thinking when they chose the same name as the space guys, but I do know that they hired someone cool to design their logo. This thing is all angles and it causes your eye to bounce around the letters feverishly. The matching slots in the 'a' and the 's' are quite clever. I love the near-symmetry of the composition and the bold, sharp shape of the outline.

As for the tunes, the track with ODB and Karen O ('Strange Enough') is funkier than toe jam and I recognize the sounds from Spike Jonze's skate video 'Yeah Right' (I assume this is a reworking of the same song; one of the musicians in N.A.S.A. is related to Jonze). ODB posthumously rhymes, "Mo money mo problems my ass." True indeed.

Another N.A.S.A. track features a mind-boggling collaboration between Tom Waits and my man Kool Keith. Waits' chorus is a lot of fun, but otherwise the pairing inspires about as much indifference as Keith's collaboration with Mike Patton on the latter's Peeping Tom project.

Regardless, I am impressed with this extraordinarily stylish logo. The space guys (aka the real NASA) must be jealous; their logo is at least a couple decades past its expiration date.


Shield of Man, Hand of God

Here are my two favorite items I've come across while researching various projects this week.

According to heraldica.org, "the family of Coglione, in Naples, bore three pairs of testicles counterchanged" on their charge (the image on their shield). Ballsy! Why bother with the predictable rampant lion (I'll tell you about him next week) or three dexter arms conjoined at the shoulder when you can cut to the chase and tell your enemy what you really mean? I salute you, Coglione family, for your most heroic sense of humor. Unless those are actually reversed hearts.

You've probably seen this symbol around before; it is commonly known as the Hamsa and it seems to have corresponding mythologies in both the Judaic and Islamic cultures. In Islamic, it's called the 'Eye of Fatima' or the 'Hand of Fatima,' in reference to Fatima Zahra, the daughter of Muhammad. In Hebrew, it is the 'Hand of Miriam,' in reference to the sister of Moses and Aaron. In both cultures, it is meant to ward off evil, especially in the form of the 'evil eye' or 'stinkeye,' as I prefer to call it. Some evidence suggests that the Hamsa predates both religions, and some have used it to represent the common origins of Judaism and Islam. I've seen it described as having a thumb and pinky pointing outwards, but to me, that looks like a hand with two thumbs. Perhaps it originally signified two hands atop one another, in a spirit of offering or receiving? Or maybe, since this is sometimes referred to as the hand or eye of God, this represented God's hand? It would make sense if God had two thumbs on each hand, as the opposable thumb is a symbol of human evolution.


More Filmmaker Quotes

"Decent films are just disappearing. Everything's being made for kids." -Robert Altman (from his audio commentary on The Player)

"To be or not to be. That's not really a question." -Jean Luc Godard

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." -Woody Allen

"The Universal backlot is where I first met Mr. Hitchcock... I directed the very last episode of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour'... Hitchcock would come in one day a week... And I was a young man in my twenties that had never made anything on a sound stage, but had made a documentary film that impressed Hitchcock and his producer. I remember one day when Hitchcock came on the set, and he was introduced to me, and he held out his hand with his fingers sort of drooping as if I were supposed to kiss his hand rather than shake it, and I was kind of put off by this but I said, 'Mr.Hitchcock, what an honor it is to meet you!' And he looked at me rather critically, and he said, 'Mr.Friedkin, usually our directors wear ties.' And he was off - he took off - and he didn't say another word to me at that time. Then about four years later, I had just won the Directors Guild Award at the ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and there was Hitchcock at a table with his family right below where I was standing to accept the award. I made my acceptance speech and then I walked down the short flight of steps, and I had on one of those snap-on bow ties, and I was holding the DGA award, and I snapped the tie at Mr.Hitchcock and I said, 'How do you like the tie now, Hitch?'" -William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, on his relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, from Friedkin's feature-length audio commentary on a new version of Hitchcock's Vertigo

"People love seeing violence and horrible things. The human being is bad and he can`t stand more than five minutes of happiness. Put him in a dark theater and ask him to look at two hours of happiness and he`d walk out or fall asleep." -Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Robocop, Starship Troopers)


Two Shirts, Same Subject

'Dead Rabbits' t-shirt by Rugby. The Dead Rabbits were a gang in New York in the 1850's. According to Wikipedia, The name has a second meaning rooted in Irish American vernacular of NYC in 1857. The word 'Rabbit' is the phonetic corruption of the Irish word ráibéad, meaning 'man to be feared'. 'Dead' is a slang intensifier meaning 'very.' Thus, a "Dead Ráibéad" means a man to be greatly feared. I just revisited Scorcese's Gangs of New York, in which Liam Neeson plays the leader of the Dead Rabbits. I admire Scorcese's attempt to imagine the city during the time when it "was not yet a city, but a furnace where a city might be forged." However, the resulting film is so stagy and overindulgent. The set and costume design look like a Broadway musical version of the filthy, crime-infested hellhole that the Five Points area was. The casting blows, too. Cameron Diaz, for example, belongs in Ashton Kutcher movies, not Scorcese movies. But I digress.

The 'Dead Rabbit' shirt by Peter Conway is available from I Dress Myself ("the eco-friendly screenprinters"). I don't know if Conway's shirt was inspired by the Dead Rabbits gang, but the concept of his design is clever nonetheless. According to the BBC, Conway's I Dress Myself company "are still getting plenty of orders" despite the crap economy due to the unique nature of his business, which prints "onto ethically-sourced T-shirts and are one of the only UK commercial printers to use water-based inks."


The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

Last week I nearly went spastic when my favorite band Faith No More announced their reunion. Bassist Billy Gould says the band is "still young and strong enough to deliver a kick-ass set" and hinted that they might consider writing new material. My obsession with Faith No More once led me to deliver a speech about their song 'Land of Sunshine' (in eleventh grade English class), and later to write an essay called 'The Holy War for Faith No More.'

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through some design-related books when I stumbled across something that surprised me. It turns out that the Faith No More song 'The Gentle Art of Making Enemies' (from their greatest album, King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime) was not the first work to bear that name. It is also the title of a book by the painter James McNeill Whistler, published in 1890. Below is a photocopy of what I assume was the title page of the book.

The page reads, "THE GENTLE ART OF MAKING ENEMIES as pleasingly exemplified in many instances, wherein the serious ones of this earth, carefully exasperated, have been prettily spurred on to unseemliness and indiscretion, while overcome by an undue sense of right"

According to Wikipedia, "the book contains Whistler's letters to newspapers chronicling his many petty grievances against various acquaintances and friends." As for the Faith No More song, it is a wild pastiche of absurdity, including the infamous line "Happy Birthday, Fucker!" and also "If you don't make a friend now, one might make you / so learn the gentle art of making enemies."