Steven Heller, noted design critic, author, educator and Design Observer contributor, spoke to a crowd of approximately 100 people at UCLA's Design and Media Arts department on Wednesday. A former art director of the New York Times, Heller presented a slide lecture on his latest book, Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State, the first illustrated survey of propaganda art, graphics, and artifacts created by the totalitarian governments of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Communist regimes of the USSR and China.
He opened his presentation with the observation that it was good to be in warm L.A., far from frosty Manhattan where "snow makes people angry." In addition to sharing insights into the dark side of branding, as evidenced by its continued use in North Korea and other totalitarian regimes, he had opinions on our current state of affairs during the Q&A session. When asked about the proliferation of digital billboards and L.A.'s battles with obtrusive signage, he noted how typography and design must be radically altered to keep up with electronic, immersive environments as we are forced to perceive symbols more quickly-- like reading the side of a moving bus. He shared that one of his students at the School of Visual Arts has "created a new typeface for moving displays, which demand letter forms that are clearer and easier to perceive."
When an audience member asked him about the Obama election branding campaign, Heller said that he had interviewed the campaign designers often. Their responses showed that they understood the power of graphics and gave design elements a lot of thought. They selected typography and colors to communicate that the campaign was optimistic and not old fashioned. The icons of Obama and the campaign shifted subtly upon Obama's election to the presidency, communicating more majesty.
Given his impressive knowledge of L.A. design history, I button holed him after the lecture, asking how he came to know so much local media lore. He explained that while he was based in New York, he has many connections to our city through his research on the influential design legend, Alvin Lustig, who spent much of his career in Los Angeles. Lustig's book jackets for publishers like New Directions during the 40s and 50s reconfigured publishing norms. Indeed, Lustig will be the topic of Heller's next book project.
You can read more about Steve Heller's impressions of his visit to LA at the Daily Heller column on Printmag.com.
Eddy Hartenstein said all the right things when he met with the staff of the LA Times soon after being named publisher last August, that he's a local guy devoted to local coverage, that, having been lured from a lucrative retirement, he wouldn't stand for Tribune-style micromanaging. In the Q&A that followed, Hartenstein clearly knew the names and bylines of the staffers who rose to question him. He smiled and joked and offered praise, acted like a star-struck fan. Now, this hometown guy has delivered a devastating blow to his hometown paper by shuttering the California section, shunting the coverage in with world and national news. Kevin reports that editors at the Times fought him every step of the way but lost, which means we readers have lost as well.
The frustrating thing is there's a better answer, an innovative answer, a choice that tweaks the traditional newspaper model and helps tell the real story of what's happening to us right now -- merge business and local news. As the economy tanks, as California goes broke, as we LA Times readers lose our jobs and homes and, as things get worse, our sense of hope, is there any doubt that every bit of business news is local news?
A free-standing business section at this point in time is a head-in-the-sand luxury. A free-standing California section, bolstered by financial and industry and economic news reported in context to what's happening to you and me, right here and right now, that's a necessity.
This time it's the Washington Post, folding its stand-alone review section, Book World, and shuffling coverage into the paper's commentary and arts sections. Here's the story in the NY Times:
In another sign that literary criticism is losing its profile in newspapers, The Washington Post has decided to shutter the print version of Book World, its Sunday stand-alone book review section, and shift reviews to space inside two other sections of the paper.
The Post said in a statement Wednesday that in the printed newspaper, Sunday book content will be split between Outlook, the commentary section, and Style & Arts. Book World will occasionally appear as a stand-alone print section oriented around special themes like summer reading or children's books.
Book World was one of the last remaining stand-alone book review sections in the country, along with The New York Times Book Review.
Book World, which will continue online as a stand-alone section, takes its final print bow on Feb. 15. Happy (day after) Valentine's Day.
photo credit: Manitoba Museum of Finds Art
The party, which included a terrarium raffle prize, free beer proffered from a hole in the floor, tamales and tours of the space's secret basement, was the culmination of Executive Director Mark Allen's efforts to find financial support for the space when a $35,000 grant was unexpectedly canceled at the end of 2008. Forced to find $9,000 a month to cover operating expenses, Mark sent an uncharacteristically serious email out to patrons on December 16, 2008 asking his community to donate funds or sign up for yearly memberships in the amount of $128 in order to keep the organization going. Without membership support, the space would not have been able to program the 80 to 100 free events it shares with the neighborhood each year.
Happily, many stepped up to save organization and joined as members, including this unemployed correspondent, in a scenario right out of the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." Mark (the bearded guy in the photo at the top) may have more facial hair than Jimmy Stewart but he's become the George Bailey of Echo Park. We are so lucky to live in a city harboring organizations like the Machine Project, Self-Help Graphics and the Echo Park Film Center; entities committed to the idea of a community making art together. At last, Angelenos are starting to see that a creative spirit is crucial to a community's well-being and survival.
The Machine Project welcomes donations and new members: a $128 membership yields benefits such as discounts on classes, access to members-only events and parties, a swanky membership card, free drink tickets and a complimentary hug from Mark.
That’s the question I’m pondering as I sift through stories set in L.A.’s past as editor of Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics.
Here are some authors I’m reading:
James Cain, Ross Macdonald, Margaret Millar, Charles Bukowski, Walter Mosley, Luis Rodriguez, Chester Himes, Cornell Woolrich, Leigh Brackett, Wanda Coleman, Fredric Brown, Gar Anthony Haywood, Gary Phillips, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Rechy, Budd Schulberg, Kate Braverman, Alberto Urrea, Hisaye Yamamoto, F.X. Toole, Earle Stanley Gardner, James Ellroy and Harlan Ellison.
Drop me a line if you’ve got a favorite classic L.A. crime story and I’ll try to read it. I could go as recently as the L.A. Riots of 1992 (a historic event, sadly) for the right story, but it needs to have a strong sense of place and time.
Akashic Books, my publisher, wants 14 stories with a rough 8,000 word maximum. Each story must have been published previously and must involve a murder and a sense of the past. We probably won’t be excerpting novels.
So even though I’m driving myself crazy trying to imagine how I might include a chapter of Horace McCoy’s incredibly noir 1935 novel “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” set in a Depression-era marathon dance contest on the Santa Monica Pier, you probably won’t see it in this new anthology.
Other novels that give me a strong L.A. noir feel are Yxta Maya Murray’s book “Locas,” Jervey Tervalon’s “Understand This,” many of Francesca Lia Block’s exquisite novels and Roland Jefferson’s 1971 classic “The School on 103rd Street.” T. C. Boyle is twisted enough but none of his L.A. stories include a murder. Dashiell Hammett would be a natural, but he never set any stories in L.A. African-American Donald Goines wrote gritty urban novels about pimps, hustlers, whores and killers but not in L.A., even though he and his wife lived here for awhile.
The way I see it, editing an anthology is akin to curating an art show. You want a broad spectrum of voices, some of them marquee names, some of them lesser known but equally fine. That means including women crime writers and authors of color.
But was there a Latino Raymond Chandler? How about a classic Asian-American crime writer? I’ve tracked down several mid-20th century Asian sleuths, but alas, the stories are set in Chicago. White men so dominated the crime fiction market in the mid-20th century that when Leigh Brackett walked onto the set of “The Big Sleep,” director Howard Hawks was stunned to learn he’d hired a dame to write the Chandler screenplay. Brackett, who wrote science fiction as well as crime novels, ended her career by co-writing “The Empire Strikes Back” for George Lucas.
I’d love to find crime stories set in the 19th century but L.A. was a dusty pueblo then. We simply don’t have the historic literary trove – especially short stories – of the Eastern Seaboard.
One thing I’ve noticed is that most big-time authors were eventually lured West to work in Hollywood. F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Cornell Woolrich and many others languished as studio screenwriters and eventually wrote a story or two that drew on their experience. But most of those stories are set in Hollywood and one of the calling cards of the City Noir series is that each short story be set in a different neighborhood. Which means I can only choose one.
So my search continues. Lately I’ve discovered William Campbell Gault, who wrote a fine mid-century story about an Armenian-American sleuth. I figure that to come up with my final 14, I’ll probably read at least 300 stories.
It's a crap premise for a piece of fiction, but, in reality, it works ...
Golden Girl Betty White and Guns N' Roses rocker Slash team up to battle a veritable army of fellow celebrities on behalf of Billy the Elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Weird, but true.
In the battle over whether to keep the elephant at the zoo, or to place him in a sanctuary, it's Betty White and Slash vs. Kim Basinger, Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, James Cromwell, Willie Nelson, Lily Tomlin, Bob Barker, Ed Begly, Jr., Bill Maher, Cher, Madeleine Stowe, Goldie Hawn, Bea Arthur, Tippi Hendren, Lisa Simpson ...
That's what it says at HelpBilly.org.
Southern California cartoonist and humorist Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha and The Pocho Hour of Power) has been on a roll these past few months with his Obama-inspired ethnobilia. I love his George Washington riff (above left), released in '08. Does any politician in memory have a better smile than Obama?
Now comes the Jan. 26 issue of the New Yorker, with a dour and not nearly as delightful rendition. Too bad the mag gave the commission to someone else (Drew Friedman) when Alcaraz's take is a much more accurate barometer of the nation's celebratory inaugural mood. True, serious and grave matters are pressing in, and true, the real George Washington reportedly had very bad teeth, but a moment to pause and feel the joy (and credit the guy who came up with the idea for the image first) is not a bad thing.
Lalo’s Obama image was a popular image during the 2008 presidential campaign. The Latino Inaugural Celebration Executive Committee presented Lalo’s political cartoon artwork during the Presidential Inauguration. Lalo’s cartoons were used by many activists and organizers in California and nationwide during the 2009 campaign to rally the Latino vote and recruit new voters into the political process. I understand that Lalo’s image appeared as an editorial cartoon in February/March 2008 in possibly the L.A. Weekly, and on the internet, including the popular editorial cartoon site cagle.com on MSNBC. The image also appeared in a color Sunday cartoon in his daily nationally syndicated La Cucaracha comic strip, as seen locally in the Los Angeles Times, and in over 65 newspapers nationwide. It also appeared in a YouTube video, and on hundreds of posters and magnets sold at political events in Southern California.
**Alcaraz discusses the vagaries of artistic and intellectual ownership with NYC-based cartoonist Ted Rall on the Pocho Hour of Power radio show, today at 4pm on KPFK, 90.7 FM.
This morning I got a little teary when I heard that Richard Jenkins was nominated for a best actor Oscar for "The Visitor." I met Jenkins in the early 1970's when I was a photography student at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. I had the good fortune to live in a loft one block from the Trinity Square Repertory Company, one of the finest regional theater companies in the United States. Coming from Los Angeles, one would think I'd been around actors before, but being involved with Trinity was my first exposure to actors up close and personal. My boyfriend and I photographed rehearsals and productions, and on occasion actors would come over to get their head shots done.
Jenkins was one of those actors. He was then, as he seems to be now (judging from interviews I've seen) a straightforward, down-to-earth guy. I remember a lot of intensity in his eyes that made him fun to photograph. His wife Sharon was a dancer and I recall photographing her for a news story on her company. Jenkins doesn't seem to look all that different now (ok, maybe a little less hair.)
Over the years, I've spotted several of the actors from Trinity in films and television, but no one as much as Jenkins. The guy seems to be in everything (not really, but sometimes it seems that way.) Until "The Visitor" he was known for supporting character roles. A lot more people got to know him from the HBO series "Six Feet Under."
I love the fact that he never joined the hordes of show-biz types in Los Angeles and New York and continued to live with his family in Providence. It's a city that suits him; never flashy, but always interesting. I also love that Jenkins is the antithesis of the attention-seeking Hollywood celebrity. He has quietly and consistently done great work in theater, television, and film for over thirty years. His public image is more of an "everyman" who just happens to be incredibly talented.
Whenever I see his face I'm reminded I was lucky to hang out at that theater in Providence. I will be rooting for him on Oscar night and feeling glad that I knew him way back when.
It's done. Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. Will there be the kind of run on newspapers today that there was on Nov. 5? It'll be interesting to see. Here's a small montage of what's out there, courtesy of the Huffington Post. (You can see almost every front page from almost everywhere at the Newseum's site, which is -- surprise! -- pretty much crashed.)
What I'd love to read is how everyone explains how Chief Justice Roberts managed to bungle the oath of office. I love that President Obama (he automatically became our guy when the clock hit high noon, oath or not) kind of smiled, kind of smoothed things over.
Here's that oath, 35 little words (in the right order) that mean so much:
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
And now we'll all just have to wait and see what happens next.
When Aretha Franklin took the stage in her stunning church crown at this morning’s momentous Obama inagural, a line from a Steely Dan song involuntarily popped into my head: “Hey 19, that’s ‘retha Franklin. She don’t remember the Queen of Soul.”
Yet here I was, at Ground Zero coffee shop on the USC campus, jammed in with hundreds of 19-year-olds and their ilk who were not merely remembering, they were experiencing firsthand -- grooving right along to Ms. Franklin’s ardent rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
Not only that, they applauded enthusiastically for veep Joe Biden, cheered first lady Michelle Obama and – many of them – stood in silent reverence for SCOTUS chief John Robert’s fumbling swearing in of Barack Obama, the 44th person and the first African American to be U.S. president. After it was all over, they cheered some more. Some embraced. A few teared up. All for a bunch of people more than twice their age. “This is so awesome,” the young lady sitting next to me told her pal.
Jubilance, exuberance, reverence. So different from my own teenage experience of presidential politics. The moment that sticks with me is sitting in class at St. Ignatius College Prep on Chicago’s near West Side and hearing an announcement over the public address system that President Reagan had been shot. Some of my classmates cheered. No one seemed terribly concerned. Reagan was a popular president. Lots of people liked him. But my classmates and I didn't much care. We were all subjected to a stern scolding, and a letter was sent home to parents asking them to reinforce the message. I don’t think that changed many minds.
Today, the minds they are a-changing.
The Ground Zero coffee shop had been requistioned by the Unruh Institute of Politics and the Annenberg School for Communication, where I’m teaching reporting this semester. There were rows of chairs and sofas, a large-screen TV, and a buffet of coffee and breakfast burritos.
But organizers had clearly underestimated student interest in the event. By the time I arrived at 8:30 a.m., organizers were instructing a security guard stationed at the door to redirect newcomers to an alternate viewing site. “I don’t think the faculty thought so many of us would be willing to get up at 8 in the morning,” one of my students, who was turned away, observed. None of my students had ever watched an inauguration before. "I didn't even know when they were happening," one student said. "I'm going to pay closer attention from now on."
I was interested to hear the students’ thoughts about Obama’s contention that there is “a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.” First, a caveat: my students are all undergraduate journalism majors. That, in and of itself, requires no small degree of confidence that the future will be brighter than the present.
Their responses to Obama’s statement? They interpreted it as a call to action and responsibility, a need to be tough and work hard, which they said they are more than willing to do. “We just need to be realistic and not think only of ourselves,” one student told me. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to accomplish any less.”
Did the notion of thinking of anyone other than myself cross my mind even once when I was in college? If it did, I can’t remember it.
Clearly, Obama can’t change America on his own, but at least a few USC students seem to have heard the message, and appear ready to heed the call.
*Apparently the "awesomes" have it at the LA Times, too (see story on lower left of today's front page).
OK, so we can't be there, but what public parties are going on here in SoCal to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow morning as our new president?
Andy Malcolm, keeper of the LAT's politics blog, Top of the Ticket, pointed me to the Obama transition web site, where you can search for shindigs in your neighborhood. And Zach Behrens, editor of LAist, just posted a great guide to celebrations in L.A. David Markland over at LA MetBlogs weighs in as well.
A friend and neighbor is in DC right now, video blogging the inauguration scene on Random TV. And here's the public photo stream on Flickr, filled with everything (I'm loving this one) from people taking part in today's day of service to some amazingly great shots of doings in DC.
Now could someone please explain to me how Inauguration Day (to say nothing of election day) isn't a public holiday in the U.S.?
Unlike the Oscars, where security has become so tight you can't get anywhere near the venue without credentials, the Golden Globes' home is adjacent a Beverly Hills neighborhood, where a few dozen people regularly line the sidewalk to watch and shoot pictures of performers kind enough to roll down their windows and wave, as did Fey and Beyonce Knowles, and a few others.
I walked over this year to join them and put the photos online.
I've been waiting about a week for the gel-filled wrist support I purchased from Amazon.com.
It arrived today ... in a really, really big box.
I took pictures.
Although a good argument can be made about the beneficial deterrent effects of higher-priced curbside parking — specifically the increased motivation for commuters to carpool — that wasn't the reason the city hiked the fees last year. Rather, the fee hike provided a source of much-needed revenue, and that's a much bigger problem that isn't about to go away.
No one who expects to be taken seriously in this discussion would be so foolish as to suggest parking ought to be free. And, maybe 25 cents was too little to charge per hour in any part of the city. But taking rates as high as $4 an hour in some areas, in addition to increasing the hours of operation in both the morning and evening, is definitely too much too fast.
Many drivers and business owners have already complained, and more are certain to do the same in the coming weeks.
At some point, we're going to have to ask whether this is parking skulduggery because, once the dollars start to flow into city coffers, the meter-revenue claim is sure to smack of bureaucratic doublespeak. As the source of the increased revenue is revealed we'll see that they really meant "meter-maid revenue." We can already guess from whence a lot of this money will come, not in quarters from the meters, but rather from the checks we'll all write to pay the parking citations we'll find tucked beneath the windshield wipers on our cars. And that doesn't seem fair, or just.
Many drivers won't notice that the meter fees have changed. Nor will it register that the hours of operation stated on the sign have been altered. They'll pump that quarter into the meter like always expecting to get an hour in return, or they'll park thinking the space is free after 6 p.m., like it's always been ... until now ... and the cost of that education will be the fine stated on the ticket.
Who parks at the meters? It's not the Lincoln Town Cars with chauffeurs at the wheel. It's the rest of us.
It's part-time students at UCLA who are taking just one class and can't afford a parking pass. It's people using the Central Library downtown, where the parking garage used to be reasonably priced, but now can cost as much as $9 for three hours, and another $4 for every 10 minutes after that, up to $36.50!
It would be one thing if LA had the public transportation system of San Francisco, or New York, but we don't. For some trips, the bus makes sense, but for most of us, it's just not practical. We have to drive to get where we need to go in the time that we have to get there.
For the City Council to now be asking for a study about all of this is completely backwards, and, because it was the council who approved this in the first place, I can't help but assume that the study is merely a way to buy some time, to allow things to cool, because for a matter such as this, three months is longer than the limits of the public attention span.
The Broadway tunnel photo above is a unique view of our city because that hill was demolished in the 1940s to make way for the freeway.
(Todd told Gail Shister at TVNewser that, without the whiskers, he'd be just "another pasty white guy.")
Lo and behold, the whiskers remained, as promised.
As a devotee of my own goatee, I take peculiar pleasure in seeing someone of Todd's stature flout the facial hair line.
Can a man wear a beard in 2009 and not be summarily dismissed as a miscreant, or forlorn beatnik?
Yes he can.
In December the LA Weekly celebrated its 30th anniversary with a series of reminisces from eras past. Here’s my contribution.
A Matter of Life and Death
Sara Catania, staff writer, 1996-2004
In the spring of 1998, LA Weekly editor Sue Horton assigned me to write about Horace Kelly, a mentally ill man on California’s death row who faced imminent execution because his attorneys had missed the filing deadline to argue him mentally unfit to be put to death.
The piece recounted the tortuous trajectory of the case and details of Kelly’s grim life. It also included, at Sue’s insistence, reaction from the family of Kelly’s victim, a young boy.
I resisted talking with that family. I knew the story I was writing would in the end argue against execution of the mentally ill man who killed their kin. Did advocacy journalism really require balance? Sue said yes. How could one win anyone over to one’s argument if one did not present one’s case honestly and completely? Only then could one claim the moral high ground, she said.
After the story was published – the first and only coverage of the case at that point— Kelly’s execution date was canceled and he was granted a sanity hearing, which I also covered for the Weekly. The hearing took place in Marin. Sue sent me up there and urged me to stay until the proceedings—which dragged on for several weeks-- were done. Though the jury found Kelly sane for execution, through the vagaries of the court system, his life was spared. He is alive on death row to this day.
I can’t say with any certainty what role my work played, but that first big feature was the story all the other reporters who showed up for the sanity trial carried with them, and when Ted Koppel addressed the case on Nightline, as part of a discussion on execution of people with mental illness, he held up a copy of the LA Weekly article to illustrate his point.
In the end I filed six stories about Kelly, a series which shed at least some small light on the complexities of capital punishment in California. It was (and is) a thorny and difficult topic that everyone needs to know about. LA County has more people on death row than anywhere else in America, some since before the LA Weekly was founded. But it's an issue that was (and is) of little interest to most people. Still, Sue didn’t hesitate to run every single piece. That dedication, that commitment to work that was valuable and meaningful -- advertisers be damned -- made working at the Weekly a reporter’s dream.
I snapped this shot of one of the new signs with my cell phone camera on Thursday in Westwood Village [see inset], where metered parking used to be free daily until 10 a.m.
Not that any municipality would intentionally try to make parking ridiculously complicated, but ... it might take a minute or two to decipher what the new terms mean, and to figure how not to get ticketed.