Film buffs, meet your eye candy. Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction is a gorgeous new collection of stills and sketches from the history of American films. Linger over the sheer scale of early epics such as The Thief of Baghdad, the shadowy motifs of Hitchcock films, and the ravages of battle depicted in Saving Private Ryan. Opulent sets and careful staging serve both as setting and character, adding to the emotional experience of movies at their best. You’ll learn which roles the art director, production designer, and set decorator each take, but most of all you will be in awe at the worlds they create.
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Andrew Moore’s Detroit Disassembled documents Michigan’s crumbled industrial culture from the broken windows and rusted roof of Michigan Central Station to the mold-ridden shag carpeting at the abandoned Ford Motor Headquarters to entire brownstone ruins covered in mounds of vinery. It’s as gorgeous as it is depressing.
A railroad track leaves off into the wide open prairie. A hostler cleans the fires with a cigar stub clamped between his teeth and leather gloves to protect his hands. The depot is wood paneled with hard pew seating and an empty ticket office. David Plowden had an eye for the working world of steam locomotives. He photographed the grunts, the engineers, the slow trail of freight cars across empty Midwestern fields, the brakemen and the grit of the train yards. Plowden’s Requiem for Steam is the result of a man riding the rails, impassioned on capturing a dying industrial culture.
Berthold Steinhilber photographs abandoned buildings and long forgotten locations in the blue world a blink before dark. Twilight is his muse. Lightning strikes the distant night-shadowed mountains as a brick chimney stands sentry over a busted wagon on the prairie. Dusk-splayed bottles and flags collect dust in Gold Point, Nevada. A ramshackle Colorado water mill slowly falls into the river. All are edged in darkness, but painted with light. Some towns died when the train tracks were tore up, others when the gold and silver was gutted and done from the hills. In Ghost Towns of the American West, Steinhilber records the last gasps of settlements founded on industries that have faded away.
Can’t fit Cameroon into your schedule to watch the mandrills? Don’t want to deal with the heat of the Serengeti to safari with the lions? No time machine to hitch a ride to Saratoga, Wyoming to watch the bison crossing the plain? The life-size habitat dioramas of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History peak into the disappearing environments of these animals and many others. Stephen Christopher Quinn features a full-color examination of over forty of the AMNH’s dioramas in Windows on Nature. The genesis of each diorama is presentedwith never-before-seen archived images of the explorers, painters, sculptors, conservationists and eccentrics who made these educational, compelling artworks.
Meryl Streep won all sorts of attention for her ice-queen portrayal of Miranda Priestly, the impossible boss in The Devil Wears Prada. That character is widely believed to be not-so-secretly based on Anna Wintour, one of the most powerful women of fashion. Curious to know how close to real life the caricature is? Check out The September Issue, a film by R.J. Cutler that follows the planning and production of a landmark issue of Vogue magazine. The focus may start on Wintour, but it is soon stolen by Creative Editor Grace Coddington, a genius of imagination and composition who fights for her ideas. Just wait for the scene where she makes the documentary cameraman part of a high-profile fashion spread. Even Wintour cracks a smile.
Ray Harryhausen is an originator and compulsive creator in the field of special effects. He’s most well known for his stop motion animation. Dinosaurs, fairy tales, skeleton armies, giant bees, ancient mythology, mechanical owls, Sinbad and cyclopses – Harryhausen has made them all. The Art of Ray Harryhausen showcases the development of Harryhausen’s career. Early inspiration points – like the 1925 film The Lost World and architect Joseph Gandy – are explored. Harryhausen’s own work is divided into categories (aliens, creatures, prehistoric, etc.) wherein personal essays accompany preliminary sketches, storyboards, models and more. Once you’ve seen the still frames try one of Harryhausen’s films; The Clash of the Titans is a classic.
Rhinestones, construction paper, sequins and glitter cover a house in McComb, Mississippi. Mystical sculptures took over a dilapidated country house in France. There is a concrete park along Highway 13 in Wisconsin that houses visual representations of everything from the chariot race in Ben Hur to Abraham Lincoln. Self Made Worlds is a photographic examination of obsessive environments and those that create them. Religious inspiration, dream instruction and eccentric insight are often the cause of these meticulous, passionate forms of outsider architecture. Brief, respectful essays tell the background of each shell garden, art yard, mosaic home, windmill park and modern, teetering castle, making this book more art review than “freak-show.”
‘Round the beginning of the twentieth century the railroads stitched an iron track out West. The government assigned railway companies millions of acres of land for transportation development. Railroads then had excessive land and track, but were short on folks to use it. So the railroads advertised and sold land near their routes to homesteaders for next to nothing. All the homesteader had to do was contract to be on the land for at least five years and “improve it.” Only Nebraska, Montana and the Dakotas were harsh lands. When the railroads died out so did the small towns every ten miles down the track. Tony and Eva Worobiec document these forgotten towns in their eerily beautiful photography book, Ghosts in the Wilderness: Abandoned America.