Art, Books

One Thing Leads to Another

While The Last Bookstore is my favorite Los Angeles bookstore, Stuart Ng Books has the better signal-to-noise ratio when it comes to shelf-space. This small bookshop in Torrance specializes in subjects of particular import to me, namely illustration, comics, and animation, and particularly known for having the biggest collection of European graphic novels and sketchbooks in the US.

I spent a glorious few hours there last Saturday, poking through well-arranged shelves of bandes dessinées, pinup art collections, artist’s monographs, and various out-of-print paraphernalia that had me hyperventilating. One corner had a section of signed Hellboy graphic novels from Mike Mignola‘s personal collection – Mignola lives a few miles from the store, after all. It is not everyday that one sees a book signed by Jackie Chan a few paces away from a signed and numbered collection of Moebius graphic novels. Above the shelf are two framed illustrations by Fortunino Matania, and a giant pen-and-ink work by James Montgomery Flagg, and other illustrations that my brain refuses to process because sensory overload. Out in front you see multiple editions of posters from this year’s Angouleme, drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo; previous years’ posters are around too, what catches my eye is Bill Watterson’s version from last year. Stuart Ng is also known for having a great relationship with animation studios, so you have books like The Art of Inside Out, signed by part of the creative team on the movie, and also Sanjay Patel‘s beautiful books on the Ramayana and his very own animated short Sanjay’s Super Team. Signed, of course.

What I ended up buying that day was an art book by Dean Cornwell, an illustrator from the time when photography had not taken over the fields of advertising and magazine and book illustration yet. Cornwell’s art makes me gasp every single time I see them online, and when I heard of this new edition that collects the best of his work, I had to pick it up. It also helped that I saw a preview of the complete book online, made available by the publisher Illustrated Press, though in low resolution. Their books have extremely limited runs, and I have had my eyes on the volumes of Golden Age Illustration that they keep bringing out. Unfortunately volume 1 has gone out of print, but hey, you never know.

What you hear is the sound of neurons sizzling.

But it was while wading through the print bins at Stuart Ng that Baader-Meinhof played its role again in my life. There it was, a beautiful limited-edition poster from Under The Skin, drawn by (as I found out later) Yorkshire-based artist Tula Lotay, known to me for her work on comics like Supreme: Blue Rose and Swords of Sorrow. I picked it up, marveled at it and put it back, because I am completely out of wall space.

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Tula Lotay – Under the Skin, signed and numbered edition

Another connection that amuses me: William got me the DVD of Under The Skin from the Los Angeles Public Library, and I have not been a library person in quite some time now. I keep intending to go visit the Central Branch downtown, and now I have an added impetus to do so. You see, I found out that Dean Cornwell painted a mural in one of the rooms there, and it’s considered one of the finest works of his career.

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Movies, Music

On watching and listening to Under The Skin

Pal William handed me a DVD of Under The Skin last week, a movie that we had talked about before and which he recommended with such enthusiasm that I bumped it up my queue. Took me a while to finally pop the disc in, but glad I did. The movie is bizarre and unsettling and wonderful, and Scarlett Johansson’s character makes me afraid and aroused at the same time. In the beginning, it is a strange mix of what feels like candid, unscripted moments of Ms Johansson driving around a strange land and picking up strangers. Scenes of seduction that make you hold your breath while waiting for the pay-off. When it ended, two-odd hours later, I found myself tingling with excitement, the kind  that comes from consuming something that is beyond what you expected. 1

Nowadays, I prefer to go into movies without the burden of expectations that the publicity machine brings along. Oh, I am not talking about the big-budget franchises. That’s an infinite hype train subway where the exit doors lead to yet another platform and yet another ride. But it’s films like this, that come sans trailing numbers or colon-separated sub-phrase in the title, that bring me the most joy. Not just the way they play with the monotony of the three-act structure, but the way they give an actor like Johansson a role beyond the mundane.

But therein lies the problem – not boarding the hype train also makes it hard to pick a journey, and sometimes the ones you pick prove unworthy of your time. My criteria for this is simple – if I pause or get distracted while watching a 2-hour movie, I rethink whether it’s really worth my time. One of the ways to get around that is to watch movies only in someone else’s company, but that brings down the opportunity to watch a film at home by a large degree. I realized, after having finished Under the Skin in one non-stop sitting, how rare it had become for me to switch on my TV after I get home.

What also got me about that movie was the judicious use of music throughout the nearly-wordless sequences. Violins that play like cancerous lungs gasping for breath; creepy pitch-bends that make me feel as if there are glitches in my audio-spatial perception; the steady thump of a muted drum. This is music that truly lives up to the idea of the movie, the musical accompaniment to an anomalous entity exploring herself (itself?). The composer is a British lady named Mica Levi, stage name Micachu, and this is the first time she has worked on a soundtrack, can you believe that?

Parts of the music reminds me of both classic horror scores – mostly Bernard Hermann’s flamboyant use of the violin and Morricone’s intense giallo works. But the album that I had to go revisit, after the movie, was Wojkiech Kilar’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula; at first glance, there isn’t much of a similarity between Skin and Dracula, but my brain somehow established a connection between Levi’s keening violin scrapes and Kilar’s old-school orchestral maneuvers. In case you are wondering, there isn’t much of a resemblance. It was probably a resonance of the feeling in my gut when I watched Dracula for the first time as a kid.

 

Notes:

  1. I have yet to watch Her and Lucy – two very unlike films, I know, but part of ScaJo’s recent filmography that convinces me that this lady is one of the finest actors in the business today both in terms of skills and the choices she makes. I loved the short appearance in Chef, for example, and her New York Jewish girl in Don Jon
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