Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.
We were poking around the architecture forum skyscraperpage.com and ran across this interesting photo of a billboard advertising the film Chinatown. This was located in Los Angeles at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Marmont Lane, and as you can see it touts the opening of the film today in 1974. We lived on the west side of L.A. for four years, and used to pass this spot occasionally. Marmont Lane winds to the right toward the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel, where luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean once made the scene, and a couple met their ends, including Helmut Newton and John Belushi.
We knew the intersection was one of the city's most important billboard spots and wondered what else had been advertised there. So we had a look. We expected to find an assortment of examples, but it turns out the locale was so coveted a relative few companies monopolized it. The first was the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which erected a sign there in 1957, complete with a rotating showgirl and an illuminated marquee listing the headlining acts.
The sheer novelty of the sign helped establish the heavily trafficked intersection as one of L.A.'s go-to spots for promotion, and the sign itself became a landmark. In fact, in 1961 Jayne Mansfield unveiled a Rocky and Bullwinkle statue across the street that was inspired by the Sahara showgirl. It was commissioned by Jay Ward, producer of the television series Rocky and His Friends, for the opening of his office complex.
After the Sahara moved on in 1966 the location was divided into two-tiered advertising. For almost three decades the iconic Marlboro Man towered above the intersection on the higher billboard, first on a horse, and later sans mount. During the time Chinatown was advertised Mr. Marlboro was standing vigil above. The lower location hosted ads for Stroh's and numerous other products, but was a particularly popular home for movie billboards. We found shots of billboards for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Black Sunday, and other popular films of the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of billboards dot the Los Angeles landscape, especially around Hollywood. An uptick of political billboards has some Angelenos considering whether these objects are more akin to visual pollution. They're already illegal in entire U.S. states, including Hawaii and Maine. We always thought they further cluttered an already chaotic landscape, but we imagine they will survive in Los Angeles longer than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Tinseltown is a place where you don't get people's attention unless you scream for it. Nothing screams better than a well placed billboard.
In mid-century action magazines trouble always has a woman at its center.
Adventure for Men is new magazine for us, part of a group a friend couriered over from the U.S. last year. The art in this April 1968 issue is uncredited in the masthead, but two spreads are signed by Howell Dodd. The stories range from tales of wild 1890s San Francisco to uncharted Madagascar to your nearby nudist camp. And of course, par for the course for such publications, all the adventures seem to revolve around women, which makes them miss-adventures, so to speak. But we'll admit we haven't read all of the magazine yet. The piece “Sex Mistakes Most People Make!” for example. We figured we're better off not knowing.
But we did read the story on the sex camps of the Red Chinese. In times of stress people will believe anything, and there was no greater time of stress than the Cold War, a period during which most people feared they were seconds away from nuclear incineration. We're all still potentially seconds away from nuclear incineration, but back then those fears were openly exploited for political gain and monetary profit by con artists as diverse as the U.S. government and the New York City tabloid industry. Adventure for Men joins in the fun with its China sex camps tale.
During the 1960s, when Chinese were already suffering from both famine and widespread state violence, many were sent to prison camps to work and be re-educated. Conditions were generally awful, and often life threatening. Inmates were cold, underfed, besieged by vermin, and physically abused. As terrible as all that is, it still isn't enough for Adventure for Men, as journalist Alexander Ford takes the harrowing story of Chinese dissident Kuo Chung-hsaio and his wife and inflates it into sleaze fiction. Oh yeah. Political imprisonment can be erotic. All Reds are perverts. But the “sex camps” trumpeted on Adventure for Men's cover refers not to any state sanctioned sexual abuse. That accusation is never made. No—it refers to a specific voyeuristic prison official.
This official would not let Chung-hsaio see his wife unless the couple had sex while he was in the room watching. Chung-hsaio describes through Ford how humiliating and horrible the experience was, though he neglects to explain how he and his wife were even able to sexually function with their tormentor staring from the corner. Naturally, in the end it's the official's deviancy that creates the opportunity for the couple's daring escape. Do we buy this titillating tale of how a jailer got his rocks off, let his guard down, and ended up permanently cooled by Chung-hsaio's righteous hand? Not even a little bit. It's right from Hollywood's b-movie playbook—smash cut and they're out. But we'll admit that for short form sleaze it's actually pretty good. Scans below.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
Post-noir classic's reputation keeps soaring even as its director's keeps falling.
Nearly ten years into this website we've mentioned Chinatown only once—when we wrote a few lines while sharing two Japanese promo posters. The above poster was made for the film's Australian run, which began today in 1975. The film has been discussed everywhere, which means we can't add much, so let's just call it an all-time masterpiece, and one of the most watchable and re-watchable movies ever made, filled with details you notice over time. For example, it didn't strike us until after a few viewings that Jack Nicholson does his own stunt in that culvert scene, the one where the water rushes down the sluiceway and pins him against a chain link fence. You wouldn't see many modern day stars get wet and cold for a moment that lasts five seconds onscreen. We also failed to notice the first few times that the police lieutenant, Escobar, is Mexican-American. It just didn't strike us. But he would have been an extreme rarity in the 1937 L.A. of the film, and the writing and/or casting choice there was certainly deliberate. Other details continue to emerge, and we've seen the movie five or six times.
As far as director Roman Polanski goes, we've talked about him before. But we'll add that art stands on its own, and people stand on their own too. Having created superior art should not absolve someone of crimes; having committed crimes should not serve to denigrate superior art. That's just our opinion. Plus, a director isn't the only one responsible for a film. The hundreds of others involved, including the select group pictured below, and especially the unpictured screenwriter Robert Towne—who is just as responsible for Chinatown as Polanski and won an Oscar for his screenplay—deserve credit. We will always criticize art for being inaccurate when it pretends to be truthful, or for promulgating false or harmful beliefs. Chinatown doesn't do that. Quite the opposite—it offers sharp insights into how and why Los Angeles became what it is. Meanwhile its subplot somewhat foreshadows Polanski's own crime, which makes the film ironic in the extreme. If you haven't seen it you simply must.
Don't worry, dude. I got your back.
The BBC has an interesting report today about a man who has an elaborate full-back tattoo that, though it's attached to his body, he's sold to an art collector. Yeah, that's one's hard to wrap your head around. Let's put in another way. The man, Tim Steiner, earned $161,000 from German art collector Rik Reinking for rights to the piece. As part of the deal Steiner is required to sit shirtless in a gallery three times a year as a piece of living art, which isn't a bad way to make extra cash, we suppose. Especially when some of the exhibitions have occurred at the Louvre in Paris, Civita di Bagnoregio in Rome, the Art Farm in Beijing, and the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania.
And as befits all good art, the exhibitions will continue even posthumously. After Steiner shuffles off this mortal coil, Reinking takes full ownership of his skin, which will be removed so the tattoo can be framed and displayed. Some people, not surprisingly, have called the unusual arrangement ghoulish, but those people perhaps have no idea how strange modern art can get. Steiner, who sees himself as merely a temporary mounting for the tattoo, is happy, if not exactly eager, to be immortalized on museum walls. He considers tattooing the ultimate art form. “Painting on canvas is one thing,” he says, “painting on skin with needles is a whole other story.”
The creator of the piece, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, would doubtless agree. He's known in inking circles, not only for tattooing humans, but also pigs, whose skins he peddles. So Steiner's sell-off of his ownhide isn't really new. The pigs may be getting the better deal, though. They get to root around in mud and slop to their heart's content until they die of old age. Steiner still presumably has to earn a living a somehow. He probably should have had the pigs' lawyer negotiate his agreement.
We like tattoo art, but this skinning business is obviously a practice that's legitimized by social status. Put someone's framed epidermis on your wall at home and you're anything from seriously weird to a psychopath/subject of a murder inquiry; hang it in a gallery and wine swilling upper crusty types call you a collector. But that's sort of an encapsulation of how the entire world works, isn't it? Rob an old lady at a cash machine and you're a thief; take away her pension and you're a politician. Heavy drug usage in the ghetto is a crime wave; heavy drug usage in suburbia is a public health problem. We can do this all day, but we'll move on.
Yes, I’d like to order a pair of curtains, immediately please.
The French had a wide array of nudie—er, we mean, art—magazines during the mid-century period, including Paris-Hollywood and Folies de Paris et de Hollywood, which are the two we’ve focused on up to now. Regal was another popular publication—digest sized, light on text, and put together by Éditions Extentia, an outfit based out of 38 Rue du Monte-Thabor in Paris that also published Sensations, Chi-Chis, Paris-Broadway, and Paris-Tabou. It was a far-flung enterprise, even distributing issues in distant French Indochina via the loftily named Société Franco-Asiatique located in Saigon. Or if one preferred, issues could be obtained direct from France through the use of “envoi discret,” or discreet shipping, by which we expect they mean in a plain brown wrapper. This issue of Regal, with its voyeur themed cover photo suggesting a woman spied through an open window, was published in 1952. We have twenty-five scans below.
Being on the Lam doesn't sound so bad after all.
Chinese actress Lam Fung, aka Patricia Lam Fung, came to international notice by starring, beginning at age sixteen, in the films of Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers. Working with them she became known as the “Jewel of Shaw,” and many of the movies she made until her surprise retirement at age twenty-seven were huge hits, including 1960's Lian ai yu zhen cao (Love and Chastity), and 1961's Yuan yang dao shang ji (The Mandarin Swords). Fung died in 1976 from an overdose of sleeping pills, a sad end often speculated to be suicide. No date on this awesome image, but figure around 1965.
Chaos and carnage from coast to coast.
Fotocrime is another offering from Digest Publications, Inc., the NYC outfit that gave the world Exclusive, He, and other newsstand treats. The above magazine appeared this month in 1954, was the premiere issue, and is exactly what its title says—a compendium of crime photography and the stories behind them, spiced with a bit of celebrity content. Because it's digest sized the text scans at a readable size, so we don't have to explain much. You can have a look and see what it's all about yourself. Of special note are the crime movie reviews, the anti-handgun article, and the True Detective-style feature entitled “Fotoclue” that challenges readers to solve a hypothetical murder. Forty scans below. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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