Wednesday 31 July 2013

If they weren't so notorious, this would be funny - Stasi disguises....

Really? The cardigan is not a good look
An interesting story cropped up this week when browsing through the Daily Mail's website. An article based on a feature on the Foreign Policy website looks at the attempts made by the Stasi to disguise its agents operating overseas. Looking at some of the images, you wonder how on earth the Stasi was able to maintain a network of agents, given the appallingly bad 'disguises' given to operatives.

Of course, this was the seventies and eighties, generally regarded as a time period when style took a vacation. So, perhaps their choices were inspired. I mean, four button crimson cardigans and TV-cop style glasses. That's right for the seventies, surely? Some of these photos are hilarious, until you think about the objectives of the men and women who were sent to blend in to different Cold War cultures.

The reality of the Stasi is much more serious than comical wigs and woolies. They were, along with the KGB, one of the most ruthlessly successful of espionage bodies during the Cold War. The guys at the top, such as chief Markus Wolf, were cunning and experienced practitioners and professionalised the Stasi and its overseas agents to an extent that allowed for some significant infiltrations.

As Wolf's biography reveals, they were not averse to using some pretty serious tactics to get the intelligence this most paranoid of Cold War states needed to keep its economy moving and its citizens in check.

Still, looking back, you have to laugh a bit!

Sunday 28 July 2013

A design on food - French author evidently draws inspiration from Deighton's cook strip's - FT

The book that started it all
I came across an interesting Deighton reference on Friday in that week's FT - not in the business section but in the life pages (no subscription apparently required to access).

This article by Rowley Leigh uses cartoons to illustrate a recipe for country paté, and draws its inspiration from Len's well-known cook strips from the early sixties, produced and serialised in The Observer. As Leigh observes, of course, "his cookery-book career was small beer compared with his success as the author of thrillers such as The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin."

Len's cook strips were, and until now have always been, one of the few attempts at using design to put across consistently and succinctly the key processes of cooking. This article points to efforts by French designer Chrisophe Blain to graphically recount the story of the French chef's experience using a similar approach, but this time in more cartoon format (and in French).

Sunday 7 July 2013

Michael Caine: 1960s by Graham Marsh - book review

The coffee table Caine
Who was the male face of film in the 'sixties?

Sean Connery? Tom Courtenay? Dustin Hoffmann?

All have a case to make, but in the opinion of Graham Marsh in this new book - an opinion shared by this blog's editor - you can't look much further than Michael Caine as the quintessential face and 'look' of the nineteen sixties that has defined that decade for movie goers then and since.

The erstwhile Maurice Micklewhite, south London born and raised, became an icon of sixties film-making through a little luck, talent and, undoubtedly, a single pair of black-framed glass. Through a series of wonderful, black & white and colour images in large format, Marsh charts Caine's progress from hopeful actor to global star.

And what progress it was! Caine's movies in the sixties is a roll-call of some of the most recognisable, enjoyable, iconic and profoundly British films that still resonate with audiences today.

Each chapter of photographs looks in detail at each of these films: Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie (1966), Funeral in Berlin (1966), Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and .... of course ... The Italian Job (1969), frequently cited in film polls as one of the the great films of the sixties.

With his well-cut suits, side parting, glasses and Crombie jack Michael Caine epitomises the look and feel of London in the sixties: stylish, confident, modern and a little bit risky. The selection of photographs by Marsh is impressive: many are recognisable media images, but others are candid on-set shots or off-set snaps from Caine's life in London as one of the UK's most bankable stars.

Of interest to this blog is the inclusion of images from Caine's contribution to the three films of Len Deighton's 'unnamed spy' novels, when he became, without question, 'Harry Palmer' and brought that character fully to life in a way not even the novel captured. Len and Michael became good friends through the films - and through being part of the same London dinner party set along with other London stars of the time - and there are some great images of the two of them on set, bringing Len's characters to life.

The analysis Marsh provides isn't particularly interesting for each chapter, but that's not really an issue as it's the quality of the images that make this book a winner for any film.

In the interests of the book review, I share below some images from the book. This book is very much a coffee table book - it's something you can pick up, flick through and smile as you see image after image of this great British star doing what he does best: being Michael Caine!

It's definitely worth checking out. RRP is £20, it's hardback and published by Reel Art Press.

The glasses, the overcoat, the introduction ....