Archive for May, 2012

bizarroART- Hipgnotic…

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Hipgnotic: The Album Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis

Before the advent of music as a digitised intangible, music was a very real, physical artefact, and one of its most dynamic elements, besides the music, naturally, were the visuals of the album artwork. While it still plays an important role in the marketing of music today, during the classic era of the gatefold vinyl album cover, the 1960s through to the 1980s, album art was considered a significant movement in modern pop art development, and no graphic design group defined this more than the Hipgnosis group, led by photographer Storm Thorgerson.


Combining the talents of some of the most vital artists and photographers of post-war Britain, including George Hardie and Aubrey Powell, Hipgnosis created distinctive and memorable icons for some of rock’s timeless names, including Led Zeppelin, The Who and Peter Gabriel. Their most important, and most recognised work, was through their long relationship with Pink Floyd, defining the group’s visual style that captured and enhanced the ideas within the band’s music and lyrics. Their Dark Side of the Moon cover is considered the most iconic album cover of all time, epitomising the album’s themes of fragmentation and otherworldly auditory strangeness. Designing and defining the Pink Floyd image, including music videos and live show stage design, made Hipgnosis as distinctive and important to rock music history as the band itself.


Although the Hipgnosis group dissolved during the late 1980s, Thorgerson’s photography and album art is still being commissioned by some of today’s important bands, including Biffy Clyro, Audioslave and Muse. He also continues to exhibit the group’s original pieces in shows across the world, including a recent showing in Cape Town that coincided with the release of local rock band Machineri’s debut album, for which Thorgerson exclusively designed a jarring, but beautiful cover image.


The Hipgnosis aesthetic is rooted in photography, although more conventional graphic design ideas also feature in the pieces. The group innovated a truly advanced visual style and technique , using elements of surreal photograph manipulation, dark room decolourisation, layered exposures, early use of airbrushing and a primitive form of avant garde cut and paste methods. Thorgerson’s own style is idiosyncratic for photographing everything, even the most bizarre object or scene, in-frame, with little or no post-production manipulation, quoted in an article for Music Box website in 2004, saying, “I like to mess with reality (with photography)…to bend reality. Some of my works beg the question of is it real or not?”


Essentially, the Hipgnosis group created a graphic design template that is still used by artists and designers today, and techniques seen in the world’s top digital photography software, like Photoshop and the Instamatic app. Apart from their design innovation, the Hipgnosis ethos also contains an element of fun, using visual puns and juxtaposed imagery to amuse and confound, as seen in their designs for the later Led Zeppelin albums. Above all, the album art told a story of the musical works held within, making it a primitive, but effective multimedia experience for the listener.

For more information, and stories behind the hundreds of iconic designs throughout Hipgnosis history, check out these sites:

http://www.stormthorgerson.com/    and http://www.hipgnosiscovers.com/

bizarroTV – TV TROPES will ruin your life

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

TV TROPES – WARNING: This Website May be Harmful to Your (Mental) Health

It has been called more addictive than cocaine and Tetris put together, with the ability to ruin an entire evening with just one click of a mouse.

It is a wormhole through a looking glass, filled with interlinking mystery wrapped up in pop culture enigmas, all covered with secret sauce.

The TV Tropes website is a simply constructed wiki that unleashes one’s insatiable thirst for knowledge that will enhance, but also, in all likelihood, ruin your enjoyment of every book, film, TV show and other pop culture reference you have ever consumed.

It is like spending an evening drinking cheap wine with Abed from TV’s Community, while Quentin Tarentino continually screams “why you hitting yourself?” in your face. It can also a lot of fun, thanks to intelligent writing and a wry sense of humour.

Tropes are generally defined as literary conventions and clichés, character types and scenarios, design patterns and configurations that recur in all works of fiction and popular culture.

More specifically, TVtropes.org is a collection of essays and explorations of these conventions and devices, and consolidates all these into thousands of interlinked pages that delve into the origin, description and purpose of a trope, using specific examples, all entertainingly written and edited by online users. The style here, though, is humourous and self –referential, and while there is a specific ethos of accountability and accuracy for submissions, as a whole the site doesn’t take itself too seriously. The danger however lies in the first click away from the homepage.

Take one of the more modern and well known tropes, Jumping The Shark, for instance.  Simply read, you can understand JTS as the point of any long running series where the creators have run out of ideas and throw in an unexpected, sometimes unbelievable device that changes the show from that point on, largely to the detriment of the show’s popularity and legitimacy. TV Tropes will explore the origins of the trope; give you specific examples of practically every TV show made where it has been used. Simple. But then, due to the collaborative spirit of the site, where millions can add their own specific two-cents to the debate, the trope is then expanded into various, more specific genres of the trope.

Things like a change of actor in the show, changes in studio policy regarding the feel and look of a show, the effect of a world event on the series, each aspect is painstakingly explored on yet another page, with even more examples and more detailed critical analysis. By the end of a session, which rarely occurs, you may find yourself exploring something completely unrelated, like the character profiles of each member of the A-Team, and how they relate to and fulfil one or more formula tropes of Greek Tragedy. Shows and films that barter and generate on the power of pop culture like The Simpsons, the James Bond films and the Batman universe have literally thousands of pages dedicated to every character, every episode and every corner of its existence. The site is a fruitful minefield of information and minutiae for amateur ontologists and students of media, and just about any one with a passing interest in pop culture, how it affects the world, and, in turn, the world influences it.

Although the best place to start the TV Tropes journey would be its home page, there are a number of FAQ pages, guidelines and self-referential articles within the site that make the experience easier and more bearable, and where newbies can learn the secrets of how not to get completely sucked into its trap, but be warned, it may be a lot less fun that way.

The site is extremely text-heavy, with little or no graphical elements to catch the eye, so be prepared to read a lot, and tweak your browser specs accordingly. On the whole, seriously speaking, TV Tropes is a great resource for fun and educational reading

bizarroFILM – The Fan Film Strikes Back

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

The Fan Film Strikes Back

(article originally contributed to the CELL C blog April 2012)

Trekkies, Potter-Heads, Twi-Hards. Fans. Every generation has them, and the relationship between pop culture trends of film, television, comics and books, and their fans is a passionate and often ardently obsessive one. At comic book conventions, midnight screenings and online, these fans gather to share this passion, and none more so than through the creation of fanfiction, and in particular, the fan film.

The fan film is one of the more definitive pop culture artefacts of the technological age, by virtue of consciously blurring the distinction between the mere consumption of the products of pop culture, and being an active and creative participant in not only the expansion of these narrative universes, but also, on a philosophical level, de-constructing and re-interpreting the ideas of the original authors. Simply, the fan film, and its precursor, fanfiction, is the most extreme form of fandom, the act of being personally involved in continuing a legacy.

By no means a completely modern phenomenon (fans of Cervantes’ Don Quixote were adding to the canon when the author had long abandoned it in the 17th century, while Warhol, during the 1960s, crossed the legends of Batman and Dracula in a film that many consider the first modern example of the fan film), the art of the fan film has been greatly aided by advances in video and internet technology over the last ten to fifteen years. While originally conceived within the realm of science fiction, largely the Star Trek and Star Wars canons, today fan films can appropriate any genre, from the fantasy of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, teen dramas like Twilight and The Hunger Games and even, more popularly, the DC and Marvel comic book universes.

A random search of Youtube brings up thousands of examples of fan films, from the direly amateurish to the slickly professional, in all shapes, lengths and forms, from full length recreations such as Star Wars: Uncut (see below), original short films like Apocalypse Oz, a blend of Apocalypse Now and Wizard Of Oz narratives skewed through a distinctively Lynchian lens,re-cut and re-imagined trailers such as the legendary Shining As Romantic Comedy re-edit that turned Kubrick’s icy psychological horror into a light-hearted family romp, thanks to some cleverly edited voice-overs and Peter Gabriel’s uplifting Solsbury Hill as a soundtrack.

The most ambitious, and possibly the most participatory project of the fan film genre, is Star Wars: Uncut, the 2010/11 fan film remake of Star Wars: A New Hope (the original 1977 film), a shot-for-shot recreation made from 473 fifteen-second segments created and submitted by fans from across the world.

Star Wars creator George Lucas has throughout the years had a love-hate relationship with fanfiction. With a firm foundation for the Star Wars universe already created through the six official films, a shrewd Lucas has only signed off on various limited legitimate offshoots and explorations of his creation through books, games and TV series, but has been known to criticise and vehemently embargo most unofficial fan-made films and fictions, particular those that use his most famous character, Darth Vader. However, in recent years and due to the sheer volume of interest and fans’ willingness to add to the canon, Lucas has cooled to and even embraced fans’ contribution, not only offering a set of official rules and guidelines (most notably, the strict no-pornography rule) for fanfiction, but amazingly, even creating the Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards in recognition of some of the more worthy and original efforts. While other film studios and publishers continue to cry foul over copyright infringement and the legality of fanfiction and film, this high profile endorsement by Lucas has gone a long way to legitimise the genre as a whole.

Star Wars: Uncut was conceived by developer Casey Pugh, recruiting fans to submit recreations of specific 15-second scenes from the Star Wars film. Rules were simple: maintain the original dialogue and script direction, but everything else was fair game and free range. The response was overwhelming, and each segment a gem. While some contributions seem more professionally produced, using either computer or stop motion animation, or faithful live action recreations, the most enduring parts of the film are the everyday fans’ idea of how a Star Wars should look like. Every conceivable concept was used, from kids using moms painted gold to play C-3PO and the family vacuum cleaner as R2D2, grown men and women dressed in tin foil and swinging cardboard tubes around as light sabres, to more high-brow homages to and parodies of other recognisable pop culture iconography, like Tarentino films, the Beatles and American Idol. Whether deliberately crude and low-budget, or unintentionally Humourous and fun, the film is a joyous affair for not only the makers, but for the viewer, particularly Star Wars fans.

The film won a creative arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media in 2010, and has enjoyed over three million views on Youtube; not bad considering the film is a lengthy two hours. While George Lucas has yet to comment on the film, many consider it the Citizen Kane of fan film art, going a long way to bring the concept to the general public. Versions of Empire Strike Back and Return of the Jedi are currently in production and awaiting contributions at: http://www.starwarsuncut.com/

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