22 Going on 50
Half a century later, the world is full of Catch-22s.
On November 11, 1961, readers of the New York Times were confronted with a huge advertisement for a novel, published the previous day, by a little-known writer named Joseph Heller. Running from the top to the bottom of the page and covering five of the paper’s eight columns, the ad showed an angular, panic-stricken figure, apparently in military uniform, in flight from some unspecified threat. “WHAT’S THE CATCH?” the caption screamed – a reference to the novel’s title, which, in itself, threw no light on the matter. Readers would have to buy the novel and work their way through 50-odd pages in order to find the answer to that question. I dare say it was worth the effort.
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
No doubt Heller’s early readers experienced a similarly awed reaction on encountering the logical paradox, or sinister bureaucratic dodge, delineated in this wonderful passage. Indeed, it’s rather sad to think that for most of the novel’s subsequent readers, no such gratification was forthcoming, the element of surprise having been removed by the fact that the novel was so successful. Certainly we can all think of versions of the dilemma, even if we haven’t read the book. How many times do we hear of someone who cannot get a job because he has no address and cannot get an address because he has no job? Who has not heard of the trials by ordeal where death is the only firm proof of innocence? And is there not a whiff of Catch-22 about George W. Bush’s determination to protect American liberties by eroding them through the Patriot Act? With the possible exception of George Orwell’s “doublethink,” no concept so neatly describes these phenomena as the one first set out in Heller’s novel. Yes, that’s some catch, that Catch-22.
Though it seized the public imagination with a force that is rare in literary fiction, Catch-22 was not unanimously praised when it first appeared in 1961. Whitney Balliett, writing in the New Yorker, declared the novel a facetious mishmash: “Heller wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior the children fall into when they know they are losing our attention.” Similarly, a reviewer in the New York Times described the novel as “an emotional hodgepodge” and declared that it “gasps for want of craft and sensibility.” Of course, these were just the initial reactions of those whose job it was (and is) to churn out short reviews on deadline, a discipline that doesn’t always favour the kind of high-end literary novel that reveals its riches gradually.
But even today there are many critics, some of them of no small reputation, who regard Catch-22 as grossly overrated. Of these, perhaps the most distinguished is the American critic Harold Bloom, who, in his preface to a collection of essays dedicated to Heller’s novel, wrote: “It is neither apocalyptic nor a masterpiece, but a tendentious burlesque, founded upon a peculiarly subjective view of historical reality.” (In a later edition of the same book, he added: “It will not last, and there’s an end on it.”) Nevertheless, Catch-22 has sold millions of copies and gained the endorsements of many fine critics. Why, then, does this remarkable novel elicit such divergent reactions?
The answer is partly literary and partly ideological, and is bound up inextricably with what we think Catch-22 is. Do we, for example, read it as a war novel or as a novel of political protest? As a satire on World War II or as a satire on the 1950s? As an ontological investigation or as a simple bureaucratic farce? For my part, I think the novel partakes of almost all of these descriptions and that it contains one fundamental flaw that no amount of subtle misreading or critical casuistry can ultimately disguise, though that hasn’t stopped some critics from trying. For all that it is a comic novel, Catch-22 has a serious intention, and that intention, it seems to me, is undermined by the novel’s setting, which entrains a failure of moral logic almost as conspicuous as the logical paradox on the book’s front cover. Heller’s novel is a breathtaking performance but the performance is rather let down by the conception. Or that, at least, is how it looks to me, 50 years after its publication.
But let us reacquaint ourselves with Heller’s topsy-turvy world, with its double binds and double vision, its ludicrous set pieces and verbal brilliance. This world is, to be sure, a zany place. Its presiding genius is John Yossarian, a U.S. bombardier of Assyrian extraction stationed on the island of Pianosa in Italy’s Tuscan archipelago toward the end of WWII. As a fighter in the Italian Campaign, it is Yossarian’s role to fly missions over Italy, a role he is ambitious not to fulfill on account of his “morbid aversion to dying.” When he takes to the air it is with profound reluctance. “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive.” His mission, once down, is to avoid going up again. In this, he is generally unsuccessful, not least because of the bizarre provisions of the piece of bureaucratic sophistry from which the novel takes its title. His only hope is to fly enough missions in order to qualify for a military discharge. But Colonel Cathcart, the group commander of the Pianosa base, constantly raises the number of missions Yossarian must fly in an attempt to endear himself to top brass. Faking the symptoms of various diseases, Yossarian takes refuge in the Army hospital. When not in the hospital, and not flying missions or thinking up ways to avoid flying missions, he spends his time on leave in Rome sleeping with Italian prostitutes.
The novel’s structure is sedimentary. That’s to say that particular events are described repeatedly and from different angles and only slowly acquire solidity. The plot is notoriously difficult to follow. Heller’s narrative style is digressive, such that he will often begin by describing one event or character and then drift off and describe another. Moreover, it’s often quite difficult to know in what order key events take place, as the narrative jumps around in time. (As with Homer’s Iliad — a story to which Catch-22 constitutes a sort of comic parallel — the novel begins in media res.) This situation isn’t helped by the fact that there are no dates in the book (the only clue to the passing of time is the increasing number of combat missions the airmen are required to fly) or by the fact that many incidents and conversations echo one another (déjà vu is a key motif). Many of the early reviewers complained about the book’s repetitiveness, and one can certainly see their point, even if one doesn’t share their judgment. Catch-22 does sometimes read as a cross between Beckett and Abbott and Costello.
Such movement (as there is) is tonal and emotional. The early chapters are crammed to bursting with instances of linguistic lunacy, brought off with exquisite rhythm and poise. Heller’s language is a game of snakes and ladders in which the snakes and ladders are one and the same. Sentences unpick themselves; propositions are self-negating: "Nately had a bad start. He came from a good family … And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier … People who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was …” These oxymoronic utterances mirror the almost Escher-like world in which Yossarian finds himself, a world where the safest place is the hospital (as long as nobody tries to cure you), where superiors refuse to see you if they’re in but are perfectly willing to see you if they’re out, and where a pilot cannot be grounded as insane unless he asks to be grounded as insane and cannot be deemed insane if he does so. In the back-to-front world of Catch-22, even grammar is complicit in the madness.
As the novel progresses, its humor darkens and the atmosphere of antic hilarity is joined, though never entirely supplanted, by a tone of sober desperation. Yossarian’s casual misanthropy gives way to flashes of fellow feeling, such that by the end of the book he begins to seem like a frustrated idealist. Certainly his fear of death is revealed as related to the deaths of his comrades, for which he feels some responsibility. On one mission, he fails to drop his bombload and decides to fly back over his target, a maneuver that costs one man his life. (In an attempt to cover up the debacle, Yossarian’s superiors give him a medal.) Then there is the case of Snowden, who is killed on a mission over Avignon, and whose death forms the emotional centre of the book. “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?” Yossarian asks the idealistic Clevinger toward the beginning of Catch-22, a question that elicits understandable puzzlement. Not long thereafter Snowden’s fate is revealed, though the details of the young man’s evisceration are vouchsafed to us very gradually. Only in the last few pages of the novel is the incident described in full. The following passage comes as Yossarian is treating Snowden for a wound in his leg:But Snowden kept shaking his head and pointed at last, with just the barest movement of his chin, down toward his armpit. Yossarian bent forward to peer and saw a strangely colored stain seeping through the coveralls just above the armhole of Snowden’s flak suit. Yossarian felt his heart stop, then pound so violently he found it difficult to breathe. Snowden was wounded inside his flak suit. Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden’s flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden’s insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out. A chunk of flak more than three inches big had shot into his other side just underneath the arm and blasted all the way through, drawing whole mottled quarts of Snowden along with it through the gigantic hole in his ribs it made as it blasted out. Yossarian screamed a second time and squeezed both hands over his eyes. His teeth were chattering in horror. He forced himself to look again. Here was God’s plenty all right, he thought bitterly as he stared — liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten that day for lunch.
This is the novel’s heart of darkness, but there are many other distressing passages. On the whole, prostitution is treated light-heartedly, though very occasionally the scene will darken to reveal the grim reality at its core. (“Vengeful neighbors had shaved her hair to the gleaming bone because she had slept with Germans.”) Then there is Yossarian’s walk through Rome toward the novel’s end — a scene of appalling squalor and cruelty that draws explicitly on Dostoevsky. Finally, there is the subtle way in which Catch-22 is redefined, or defined more widely, as the novel progresses — transformed, in fact, from an expedient dodge to an unchangeable law of human history. The vaudevillian back-and-forth of Yossarian’s attempt to have himself grounded becomes, eventually, an old woman’s assertion: “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Catch-22 is not just a rule; it is the hinge in Heller’s unhinged universe.
This darkening of tone in Catch-22, and the way in which Yossarian’s character is imbued with greater depth and subtlety, allows us to discount immediately one criticism that is sometimes made of the novel — namely that it is nihilistic. In fact, the novel is profoundly moral, though whether or not it is morally profound is a question we will touch on later. Nor is it an anti-war novel, though many are the readers who have assumed that it is, for perfectly understandable reasons (another problem we’ll touch on later). Heller has said on several occasions that he was not against WWII, in which he served as a bombardier, and also that he never had a bad officer. So what was Heller trying to say in this crazy epic — this Sillyad — and did he succeed in saying it?
At its simplest level, Catch-22 is a sort of existential satire, one in which war is employed as a metaphor for the struggle for meaning in a meaningless universe. Yossarian’s most important relationship is with R. O. Shipman, the base chaplain, who is present on the first and last pages of the book. Provoked in part by Yossarian’s example, the chaplain suffers a crisis of faith, the narrator’s thrilled description of which is an eloquent statement of one of the book’s themes: “Where the devil was heaven? Was it up? Down? There was no up or down in a finite but expanding universe in which even the vast, burning, dazzling, majestic sun was in a state of progressive decay that would eventually destroy the earth too.” This “progressive decay” is of particular concern to Yossarian’s hospital buddy, Dunbar, who is named, I suspect, for William Dunbar — the 15th-century Scottish poet whose “Lament for the Makars” employs the refrain Timor mortis conturbat me: “fear of death disturbs me.” Dunbar’s ambition is to prolong his life, a goal he pursues by “cultivating boredom.” (“Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his life span that Yossarian thought he was dead.”) “The spirit gone, man is garbage,” thinks Yossarian, as Snowden lies dying in the plane. The consciousness that man is alone in the universe suffuses the novel’s bleaker passages.
Such gods as exist in Heller’s world are more like the gods of Greek mythology — capricious, jealous, violent, competitive — and their part is taken by the colonels and generals who send the soldiers into battle. Thus we come to the principal target of Heller’s satire in Catch-22: the nature of power and conformity. It is the battle of the individual against society — or “the contemporary regimented business society” as the author termed it in a subsequent article — that Heller seeks to explore in the book, which is, again, no more anti-war than Moby-Dick is anti-whaling. Rather, it is intended as a satire on the age of affluence that succeeded the war, and of the kind of mind-set that went along with it — a mindset represented in the novel by the ludicrous Milo Minderbinder, the squadron cook who rises to become a renowned entrepreneur and racketeer and whose frankly Byzantine business practices are the source of much of the novel’s comedy. More generally, Heller wants to satirize the nature of bureaucracy, which he takes to be a dehumanizing influence. Two characters are crucial in this regard: Mudd, who is officially alive, and Doc Daneeka, who is officially dead. In fact, Mudd is dead and Daneeka alive, though the system is so inflexible that neither can escape his official designation. When, toward the end of the novel, the revolting Aarfy murders a prostitute, the police arrive and arrest Yossarian for failing to carry the proper papers. In Catch-22, the flesh-and-blood person has less reality than his official file.
Needless to say, these themes emerge from a specific political and social context. The book is peppered with anachronisms such as loyalty oaths, IBM machines, and agricultural subsidies. One obvious target is McCarthyism, the perverted moral logic of which — guilty until proven innocent — is immediately recognizable in the novel’s interrogation scenes, which, like much else in Catch-22, darken as the novel progresses. But if the book is relevant to what happened in the 1950s, it is equally relevant to what was about to happen in the ’60s. To a 1960s counter-culture predisposed to question all forms of authority and the U.S. war in Indochina, Catch-22 was a lucky dip of philosophical insight and political penetration, while Yossarian’s desertion, which occurs in the last chapter, seemed to grant a moral amnesty to those considering draft evasion. It is, I think, to this co-option of Catch-22 by the counter-culture that conservative critics such as Norman Podhoretz are really responding when they seek to dismiss it as an anti-military jeremiad. To be fair, the author did precious little to discourage this co-option himself, perhaps on the understandable assumption that to do so would be bad for business. But if the popularity of Catch-22 with the counter-culture was good for sales, it also served to throw its failings — and one failing in particular — into relief.
For the novel is not set in Vietnam, or indeed in corporate America. It is set in the Tyrrhenian Sea. More important, it is set in the midst of a conflict the moral justification for which, on the Allied side, should not be in doubt, though that is not to say that immoral things were not done in its name. (They certainly were, and I note in passing that Catch-22, like Slaughterhouse-Five, the novel with which it has most in common, deals with the bombing of civilian targets.) For the U.S. in particular, the notion that the Second World War was a “good” war is partly retrospective, but it is a judgment that most U.S. citizens (and non-U.S. citizens) would now accept as true. And herein sits the problem for Heller. If the Second World War saw the U.S. at its best, why would he choose to set his vision of the U.S. at its worst in the Second World War?
To say that this projection backwards unbalances the novel is to put it mildly. Despite the obvious artfulness of its plot, or the skill with which such plot as it has is revealed over nearly 600 pages, Catch-22 seems irrevocably split between two different visions of the world — a dislocation that no invocation of “tragicomedy” can quite disguise. Nor is this a question of characterization, of the juxtaposition of “flat” and “round” characters that occurs throughout Catch-22. This, in itself, is not a problem, though there is, I think, too great a gap between, say, the highly improbable Milo, who barely exists in two dimensions, and Yossarian, whom three can barely contain. The real problem is not with the way Heller chooses to describe his world but with the nature of the world described — a problem connected to the uneasy fit between his novel’s setting and its intention.
Let us stay with Milo for a moment. One crucial bit of ridiculousness emerges when the business-savvy cook bombs the base on Pianosa in order to fulfill a business contract (at this point he is fighting for both sides of the War). The action leads to many deaths. Milo is court-martialled but permitted to go free after invoking the logic of capitalism and revealing how much profit his actions have made for the “syndicate” in which “everyone has a share.” Not a subtle instance of satire, but not entirely out of key with the novel’s more absurdist passages. Now consider the following strophe, not devoid of physical comedy but certainly not subsumed by it, in which an underage flyer is cut in half by the wing propeller of a B-25 while fooling around on a raft in the water:Even people who were not there remembered vividly exactly what happened next. There was the briefest, softest tsst! filtering audibly through the shattering, overwhelming howl of the plane’s engines, and then there were just Kid Sampson’s two pale, skinny legs, still joined by strings somehow at the bloody truncated hips, standing stock-still on the raft for what seemed like a minute or two before they toppled over backward into the water finally with a faint, echoing splash and turned completely upside down so that only the grotesque toes and plaster-white soles of Kid Sampson’s feet remained in view.
What follows is a scene of panic and mayhem. Bits of Kid Sampson rain down from the sky and the chapter ends with the fearless McWatt, the pilot of Yossarian’s plane and the man responsible for Sampson’s death (he was flying dangerously low over the coast), crashing his B-25 into a mountain in a fit of suicidal guilt. The scene is comic, but traumatically so, and in point not only of the things described but also of the men’s reactions to them (“Everyone on the beach was screaming and shouting”) broadly realistic in tone. To be sure, the chapter appears to exist in a different physical and moral universe to the one in which Milo bombs his own men (none of whose deaths is described at all) and contrives thereafter to beat the rap with some unlikely bluster about the American Way — a chapter that may strike us as a failure of decorum when set against the scenes involving the gruesome deaths of Kid Sampson and Snowden, with their heavy emotional toll on the men. What, then, is the source of this incongruity?
The answer lies, in my opinion, in Heller’s own experiences of the War, which, while indispensable to the novel, serve to some extent to unbalance it. Heller, like Yossarian, was a bombardier in the closing phases of the Italian Campaign. One only has to read the vertiginous passages in which the bombing missions are described — passages that, like the whaling scenes in Moby-Dick, bring the book alive – to sense just how clear those experiences were in Heller’s mind. (“With a grinding howl of engines, he flipped the plane over on one wing and wrung it around remorselessly in a screaming turn away from the twin spires of flak Yossarian had spied stabbing toward them.”) But there is one scene that comes straight from Heller’s experience, and it happens to be the key scene in the book. Here is Heller in 1967, in an article for Holiday Magazine:On August 15, the day of the invasion of southern France, we flew to Avignon again. This time three planes went down, and no men got out. A gunner in my plane got a big wound in his thigh. I took care of him. I went to visit him in the hospital the next day. He looked fine. They had given him blood, and he was going to be all right. But I was in terrible shape; and I had 23 more missions to fly.
This, of course, is the source of the scene in which Snowden is killed by a chunk of flak. And while the real-life gunner was not fatally wounded, it’s clear that this incident had a huge effect on the author of Catch-22, who, for many years after the War, refused to fly in an airplane. Nor do I think it outlandish to suggest that this incident, which became the novel’s centerpiece, was not, in the end, amenable to or congruent with its satirical vision. It was an open psychological wound that would seep through the author’s satirical flak jacket.
Most novelists write from experience, and it is clear from his statements that Heller needed the experience as a bombardier to spur him into a serious and sustained creative effort. But the novel he wanted to write was a satire, to which that experience proved resistant. In Catch-22, in other words, the satire and the setting are fundamentally at odds: the playfulness of the scenes with Milo, which are really a kind of moral slapstick, does not sit well with the book’s darker passages. In a sense, its author is in a double bind, a victim of his own Catch-22: He wanted to write a novel protesting the moral chaos of the 1950s but the only experience vivid enough to carry such a novel forward was a time of (relative) moral clarity. The American critic Robert Merrill has written that Heller has done everything possible to dissociate his satire from the war against Hitler — an odd thing to argue when you consider that the novel is set in the midst of the war against Hitler! And while necessity is not nobility and many ignoble things were done by the Allied powers in the course of the war effort, you won’t find many people these days willing to argue that that effort was wasted. In his final chapters, Heller attempts to give Yossarian’s desire to desert — a desire on which he follows through, inspired as he is by the ingenious Orr, who has faked his own death and fled to Sweden — a dignity that the act itself does not warrant. Indeed, he even attempts to paint it as an act of solidarity. Suffice it to say, the effort doesn’t convince.
In Heller’s second novel, Something Happened, the absurdity and alienation of Catch-22 is relocated to corporate America. Its embodiment is the novel’s protagonist Bob Slocum, who is lost in a world of pointless bureaucracy. Like Heller, and like Yossarian, Slocum was a flyer in the Second World War — a bombardier in the Italian Campaign — and this experience is sharply at odds with the sense of existential drift that has overtaken him in subsequent years. (“It was after the war that the struggle began.”) It is tempting to conclude that the essential problem with Heller’s first and greatest novel is that it attempts to transfer this sense of alienation to the very time in the author’s life when no such sense of alienation existed. The result is a sort of ungainly crossbreed. Catch-22 is a magnificent novel, but an oddly disjointed work of art.
Nevertheless, it continues to resonate, and has resonated since it first hit the shelves in November 1961. When Nixon’s attorney told the Supreme Court that you cannot impeach a president without evidence, and that collecting such evidence is a Federal crime, one knew where to look for the appropriate analogues, just as one knows where to look today when politicians attempt to justify the curtailment of our civil liberties in the name of the struggle against intolerance. Catch-22 is a tool to think with, to press into service whenever the cause of political perspicuity demands it. Heller has given us a concept, and a language, with which to lampoon obfuscation. In that sense, the novel does hit its target and will go on hitting it for centuries to come. For if there’s one thing the powerful cannot abide, it’s the feeling that they are not taken seriously. • 20 July 2011
July 21, 2011
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May 18, 2003
¶ Amelia is first and foremost Stan Davis' daughter, born when he designed the typeface in 1964 for an international typeface contest. The contest was sponsored by the Visual Graphics Corporation (VGC) and judged by some of the leading designers of the day. While sometimes linked to (so called) "liquid" typefaces, MICR or chequebook fonts, Amelia's structure sets it apart from all others, before or since. As Stan, who now lives in Saugerties, NY, writes: "Somehow, Amelia has imparted meaning. It was simultaneously used by the Beatles and others as a rock anthem, a symbol of the sixties, science fiction, the corporate world, psychology and (among a host of others) computers, to which, I might add, in hindsight, it anticipates."
¶ Stan is upset by the fact that MyFonts is selling bastard versions of Amelia, designed by Linotype and Bitstream. In his own words, to me: "Bitstream and Linotype have stolen my "Amelia" font (their renditions of it are pathetic). My digitized version of Amelia and other fonts I designed are available at email@example.com." He provides more information later: "As for how Bitstream and Linotype came by my fonts, I have no direct knowledge but I can give you some idea of the formative process of Amelia and other fonts I have designed. Some time after I digitized Amelia (in Fontographer) from my original drawings, I compared the letter forms with the pirated versions and, not surprisingly, found them wanting. It's strange and ironic that these bastard versions apply the same typographic tricks Amelia was designed as a departure from. Amelia was conceived in the early sixties at a time when hope was in the wind. It looks to the East for inspiration but is firmly rooted in the classical tradition it turns on end." So, here we have an original designer thoroughly upset by the piracy [in his own eyes] of two large foundries.
¶ Always on the side of the artists and creators, I decided to dig a bit further, and discovered various versions of Amelia on the market. I have not seen the original, but it seems that A770Deco (shown below) is closest to it. The versions are:
¶ A quick look at the basic alphabet shows that Amy stands out by its gross deviation from the original: it has thicker strokes, and loses it completely in letters such as the K. In fact, the principal thread in Amelia is the rounding of all corners, the liquid effect. That principle is not applied uniformly in most versions: the numbers 5, 6 and 9 show that Amy, and the Linotype and Bitstream versions are inconsistent. The overall color suggests that we have four groups, A770Deco and BarbarellaSF in the front group (truest to the original, and consistent in their applications), PerkleDisplaySSi (related, but as we will see below, lacking in the details), AmeliaBT and LinotypeAmelia (probably developed from the same source, but bastard liquid faces), and Amy (all by itself, a Corel monster).
¶ Stan must have liked the octagonal look of B's bowl. The Bitstream, Linotype and Corel versions take the liquidism too far here, and round out the bowl.
¶ The corners of the bridge are more "liquid" in the A770Deco group.
¶ The square angle in the first three faces show a lack of understanding. PerkleDisplaySSi fumbles the ball by not having a truly vertical leg of the P.
¶ This letter clearly shows who is related to whom. SSi's tail did not survive Paul King's outline manipulation. Amy's tail is too short as well.
¶ It is inconceivable that these fonts were developed independently---there are too many coincidences. I must agree with Stan Davis that the Bitstream, Linotype and Corel versions are unacceptable bastards, that lower the value of his creation. MyFonts claims that the Bitstream font it is selling was created by Stan, yet the version sold is the imperfect Bitstream bastard. I am sure Stan wants it removed, but what can he do? Does any of the Bitstream profit go to Stan--I doubt it. Same comments for the Linotype face, but Linotype goes a step further---it has trademarked the name of Stan's daughter, and uses it for its own bastard. They have thus made the bastard immortal. So, if you want the original face, and if you want to support its creator, please get it from directly from Stan Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How come no one told me this existed? I may be a year late to the game, but this seems to be the longest video/film work David Lynch has directed since INLAND EMPIRE.
Filmed as a commission for Dior, Lady Blue Shanghai stars Marion Cotillard in a work that strongly continues the stripped down "amateur" digital aesthetic introduced by Lynch's 2006 masterpiece, working in a vein closer to video art / avant-garde video than his feature film-films.
What does this mean? For one, it pushes Lynch's characters further away from the ostensible psychological naturalism that makes the stories of films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. accessible despite continued forays into the "unexplainable." Characters in INLAND EMPIRE and in this video are more like suspended ghosts than "real people," abstracted echoes of Americana, cinematic genre tropes, psychic impressions and resonances. Most concerns here are not those of conventional storytelling; I think for a good portion of this film Lynch is as interested in the way Cotillard's massive, round eyes blink more than the symbolist meaning so many people search for in his films (a blue bag! — I have a meaning for that one: Dior). Or how spoken words, uttered in a certain cadence, have the magic to create things: memories, fears, yearning, new spaces.
It also means the film's use of awkward video, through a combination of extreme wide-angled lenses, stark lighting, severe editing disruptions, and, eventually, in a wondrous scene that ranks with some of the best things Lynch has ever shot, the smeary wonderland of some kind of slomo digital distortion, the filmmaker teases and encourages the collapse of a line his storytelling has danced around for decades: that between the light and the dark, the known and the unknown. It is clear Lynch has found his medium; nowhere but in the digital indeterminacy of the pixel, and, most affectingly, the obvious-pixel, the pixelated-pixel, the distorted and artifacted and unreal pixel, does it seem like there's a camera capturing something and at the same time a camera capturing something else, something...not quite there.
As an unrelated note, this film called to my mind two recent digital works by Chris Marker: one, in its particular digital look, Marker's recent photography exhibit PASSENGERS; and the other, in its expressive navigation around a hotel, the cryptic re-edit spy film Stopover in Dubai.
Carroll Baker's gialli
I think I made more films in Italy than I made in Hollywood, but the mentality is different. What they think is wonderful is not what we might.
A Roman Tale is my first novel. It’s about the film industry in Italy, when it was the hottest industry in the world. It was too hot to handle, so I made it a novel.
Check out 6:20-8:15.
(Carroll confuses The Sweet Body of Deborah with one of the two Paranoia films at 7:15.)
- 01Romolo Guerrieri
- 02Umberto Lenzi
- 03Umberto Lenzi
- 04Umberto Lenzi
- 05Umberto Lenzi
- 06Gianfranco Piccioli
Live the Language: Paris
EF conveys the spirit of language and culture with type.Posted by Stephen Coles, Apr 7, 2011
As an educational corporation willing to invest in beautiful things to promote their language courses around the world, EF (Education First) is a typographer’s dream client. Albin Holmqvist was the lucky designer to take on their latest campaign, letting type do the talking in four short films produced by Swedish firm Camp David. The videos romanticize Paris, Barcelona, Beijing, and London in a genuinely sweet way, showcasing their respective languages with simple, pitch-perfect typographic overlays.
Holmqvist made great typeface choices in each of the films, but I think Paris got the best treatment. The opening title (see video above) is set in a very obvious Parisian, but it sets the tone so perfectly.
Patterned after the lettering of an American architect Neutraface isn’t necessarily French, but its quaint italic and deco-inspired lines certainly feel appropriate. Homqvist embellished the face in subsequent titles, adding decorative frames and shadows.
Like we’ve shown before, Brothers is a quintessential vintage sign font. Its chamfered corners are as at home on a baker’s storefront as they are on the butcher’s. For the French shop, though, Holmqvist employed the alternate set of Brothers with its charming kick of the ‘R’ and curved crossbars (see ‘A’).
Contorting type into a predetermined shape, especially with a curve, is a dangerous game. Many of us remember the horrors of Type Twister’s heyday. Professional hand lettering is the way to do this right. But if you’re going to do it with type, you can make distortions less obvious by keeping the curves gentle and using a font that draws less attention to the cap- and baseline. Here, the condensed Regency Gothic withstands the bends well.
Mr. Dafoe, one of the more lively scripts in Alejandro Paul’s Bluemlein Collection, reflects a vibrant produce market. This is how tomatoes were advertised — back when people could use a brush.
Original / Romaji Lyrics English Translation naze naze kokoro ga itamu to namida ni naru naze naze namida ga ochiru to hitori ni naru chiisana hiza kakae tooku o mata miageru hiroi hiroi sono sora yori motto hiroi hazu da takai takai ano kumo yori motto takai hazu da kimi no kokoro mo naze naze kokoro o hiraku to egao ni naru naze naze egao o miteru to yuuki ni naru Why oh why When your heart hurts you start to cry? Why oh why When the tears fall you become alone? Hugging small knees You will look up again into the distance Wider, wider than this sky It should be much wider Higher, higher than that cloud It should be much higher Your heart Why oh why When your heart opens you start to smile? Why oh why When you see a smile you become brave? ookina yume kakae tooku o mata miageru hiroi hiroi kono sora yori motto hiroi hazu da takai takai ano kumo yori motto takai hazu da tooi tooi ano hoshi yori motto tooi hazu da yukou yukou ryoute hiroge kitto yukeru hazu da kimi no kokoro mo Hugging a great dream You will look up again into the distance Wider, wider than this sky It should be much wider Higher, higher than that cloud It should be much higher Farther, farther than that star It should be much farther Go, go with open arms It can surely get there Your heart
Transliterated by Aoi Housen
by Paul Shaw · 33 comments
What constitutes a flawed typeface? For this article it is defined as a typeface that is perfectly fine—except for one nagging aspect, usually a single character. A flawed typeface is one that either you avoid using entirely because of this lone defect; or one that you use sparingly—and only then, after some alteration of either your design or the face itself to ameliorate the “flaw”. Flawed typefaces are not bad or even mediocre. The whole premise here is that they are good, perhaps even classic or wildly popular. And yet there is a single character that ruins them or, at the very least, causes one to pause before specing them. This article attempts to explain the flaws in 23 fonts: what they are, why they matter, and what to do about them. Disclaimer: these are opinions, not facts. Ultimately, flaws are in the eye of the beholder.
Goudy Oldstyle (Frederic W. Goudy, American Type Founders, 1916)
American Type Founders altered Frederic W. Goudy’s design to fit its common line, a measurement instituted to insure that all of its typefaces could be aligned with each other. Most of the descenders survived the abuse, but not the g. In the digital world there is no reason why Goudy Oldstyle cannot be restored to its proper look.
Bembo (Monotype Corporation, 1929; based on the 1495 roman type of Francesco Griffo)
The hot metal version of Bembo came with two versions of R, one with a short leg intended for text composition and the other with an elegantly extended leg intended for titling purposes. Unfortunately, in the phototype era the second R was the only one available and that situation continued with the PostScript version of Bembo. Both Rs are once again available with Bembo Book Pro. Unfortunately, the long-legged R remains the default character.
FF Quadraat (Fred Smeijers, FontShop, 1992)
FF Quadraat is another font with a problematic R. Its leg sticks out a bit less than Bembo’s but it also dips noticeably below the baseline. It spaces poorly and creates a visible tic in a block of text.
Centaur (Bruce Rogers, private 1914; Monotype Corporation, 1929; based on the type of Nicolas Jenson, 1470)
The R in Centaur also has a leg that juts out, but the flawed letter is the odd j with its dirk-like wiggle. This letter is a Bruce Rogers invention since Nicolas Jenson did not have a j in his typeface. Presumably, the wiggle was added to keep the j from having to be kerned. It is distracting in text, beguiling in headings and logos (see john varvatos).
DTL Dorian (Elmo van Slingerland, Dutch Type Library, 1996)
DTL Dorian, a font that I recently included in my column on underappreciated fonts, is afflicted with a bothersome S and s. The top curve ends in a bracketed serif while the bottom curves simply curls up, giving both letters a top-heavy look. They don’t fit in easily with other round letters, either.
Optimo Didot the Elder (François Rappo, Optimo, 2004; based on an 1819 type cut by Vibert for Pierre Didot)
Didot the Elder is full of weird—yet historically accurate—characters: C, G, S and s with arrow serifs; f with a “serif” on its crossbar; y with a bent descender; and g with a seriffed open loop. Most of these are fun. But the g is annoying in a lengthy text. Unfortunately, there is no normal alternate available.
Sabon (Jan Tschichold, Stempel, Linotype and Monotype, 1967; based on the types of Claude Garamont) and Sabon Next (Jean François Porchez, Linotype Library, 2003)
Sabon, one of the most beloved typefaces of the 20th century, was originally designed for three technologies: foundry, Linotype and Monotype. When it was adapted to film and subesequently to digital it was the Linotype design that was carried forward. This meant that the italic was compromised since the linotype version was duplexed. Thus the italic is wider than normal. This dismays many people, but it might be acceptable if it were not for the nearly round o. The solution is to use Sabon Next Italic instead.
However, Sabon Next is not beloved by fans of Sabon. Not only did Porchez go back to the foundry version of Sabon, but he went beyond it to the typefaces of Garamond and Le Bé which Tschichold was using as models. And then he went even further and added alternate characters (some reprising those of the original Sabon, others more fanciful), swash characters and quaint ligatures. To many, the result is a typeface that seems more Adobe Garamond than Sabon. But, on its own terms Sabon Next is a fine face—except for the alternate q. This is a capital form (common in Renaissance calligraphy) that looks totally out of place, especially with its too short tail that looks shriveled up from embarrassment. But it’s an alternate character and can be easily ignored.
CC Galliard (Matthew Carter, Carter & Cone Type, 1992) and ITC Galliard (Matthew Carter, International Typeface Corporation, 1978; based on the types of Robert Granjon)
As admired as ITC Galliard has been from the outset, its aggressive italic has not always found favor, especially the pelican-jawed g. Anticipating this, Matthew Carter designed an alternate g for such people, but when the International Typeface Corporation took the font over from Mergenthaler Linotype, it was set aside, along with other additional characters. These characters were all returned to the font when Carter re-released Galliard (the regular weight only) through Carter & Cone Type. I am not one of those who disliked the pelican-jawed g, but I am happy to have the alternate g as well.
Comenius Italic (Hermann Zapf, Berthold GmbH, 1976)
In both kurrentschrift and English roundhand the w is often made in the form of an n joined to a u. This form is usually dropped from modern typefaces—compare Matthew Carter’s Snell Roundhand to the sample alphabet by Charles Snell—but an exception is Comenius Italic by Hermann Zapf. Although Zapf has redesigned the character at least once since the typeface’s debut, the w still looks peculiar to modern eyes.
Weiss Antiqua Italic (E.R. Weiss, Bauer, 1926)
Neither Latin nor Italian use y as a letter. Thus, it does not have deep historical roots. In cursive writing it often takes two forms, one derived from v and the other from u (letters that were interchangeable in Ancient Rome). Italic typefaces often follow the v form, often to the detriment of the rhythm of the letters and thus to consistency of spacing. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is Weiss Antiqua Italic (originally Weiss Kursiv), one of the first typefaces to follow the chancery model. The y has a beautiful, sweeping left arm which makes proper spacing difficult and, in the case of ry or ty, nigh impossible.
Franklin Gothic (Morris Fuller Benton, American Type Founders, 1902) and ITC Franklin Gothic (Victor Caruso, International Typeface Corporation, 1980)
Franklin Gothic is one of the most iconic of American typefaces. It is an unusual design in that it is heavy and there was never a regular version from ATF. Instead, ATF made condensed and wide versions and then lumped Franklin Gothic with several other Morris Fuller Benton-designed gothics (Lightline Gothic, News Gothic, Monotone Gothic and Alternate Gothic) as a de facto family. This satisfied printers and designers for decades. But when ITC licensed the face they decided to not only adapt it for photocomposition but to make a proper family. Thus, we have the anomaly of ITC Franklin Gothic Book. The updating of Franklin Gothic involved a number of small annoying adjustments that chipped away at its identity, most of which can be accepted as the price paid for having a harmonious family. The one change that went too far was the mucking about with the distinctive Franklin Gothic g. In ITC Franklin Gothic it looks like a mailbox flag. This completely changes the appearance of a block of text as the ear on the g keeps popping up like a schoolchild overly eager to answer a question.
Thesis (Luc(as) de Groot, FontShop, 1994 on)
Luc(as) de Groot’s Thesis is perhaps the largest type family ever created (144 fonts at last count). Despite its widespread popularity it has one character that makes it unsuitable for certain usages, such as information design: the Q. It has a detached tail which, at best, is a distraction and, at worst, makes the letter look like an O with an accent. This is especially true at small sizes.
Syntax (Hans Eduard Meier, Stempel, 1969) and Linotype Syntax (Hans Eduard Meier, Linotype Library, 1997) (now called Syntax Next)
Revising a classic typeface is a dangerous thing, even when there is widespread agreement that the existing version needs a sprucing up. It is even more traumatic to type users when no one but when the original designer thinks that a total overhaul is required. One such instance is Syntax which Hans Eduard Meier, its designer, refashioned from scratch in 1997 as Linotype Syntax. Rather than just fix the poor digitization of the original Meier took the opportunity to return to his original 1955 vision of what the face should be. The result is a design that is more calligraphic than typographic—nice, but flawed. Two of Syntax’s hallmark letters have been ruined rather than improved. In Linotype Syntax the splayed M is splayed even more than before and the R now has an open bowl.
Carter Sans (Matthew Carter, Monotype Imaging, 2010)
Sometimes a flaw in a typeface is a very tiny thing. With the new Carter Sans the square dots on the i and j appear too large. Matthew Carter may have done this deliberately to make them hold up at small text sizes. But at display sizes they are too noticeable.
Bickham Script (Richard Lipton, Adobe, 1997; OpenType version 2004)
The PostScript version of Bickham Script had a significant flaw: the T, the second most common letter in the English language. It is designed with a very wide base that makes it ambiguous. Is it an T? an I? or even a Z? Instead of being corrected in the OpenType version, this problem has been exacerbated. There are no simpler alternate forms, only two fancier Ts, both of which have similar ambiguity. The designer of the logo for The Astor, an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, took matters into his own (or her own) hands and simply lopped off the base of the T, among other indignities.
OPENTYPE DISCRETIONARY / CONTEXTUAL LIGATURES
This digression was occasioned by the appearance of the automatic Th ligature in Bickham Script Pro when setting samples for this article. This is a contextual ligature, one that is word-dependent. It is on by default but can be turned off. Adobe has pioneered the Th ligature and the first time that I encountered it I was thrilled. It is exactly what I have always done as a calligrapher to solve the horrible gap created by h following T—one of the most common occurrences in the English language. But, when I began to see it in non-calligraphic fonts such as Adobe Caslon I found it distracting. We have become so inured to that large space that no longer notice it, especially given that we read in chunks and the most common Th words (The, This, That, There, These, etc.) are thus gobbled up easily. Ultimately, a ligature is intended to improve spacing so that the reading experience is not disrupted. A ligature that makes us stop and take notice is not doing its job. Maybe the Th ligature will become second nature, but for now I am having second thoughts about its value.
Burgundica (Gerrit Noordzij, The Enschedé Font Foundry, 2009)
Burgundica is a modernized fraktur. As such, it has several letters that are inherently problematic for modern readers, especially non-German ones. The A, D and S are all extremely difficult to recognize in frakturs. For Burgundica, Gerrit Noordzij simplified each of them, but not enough. Which one is the fatal flaw depends on the reader. For those who want to still use Burgundica, the solution is to find a compatible roman face and substitute its capitals.
Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch [Wilhelm-Klingsporschrift] (Rudolf Koch, Klingspor, 1926)
Texturas are not as difficult to use as frakturs for non-German speakers, but they still pose problems. Roman lowercase letters with diagonals in them either stick out or are adapted so well that they are not easily identifiable. The digital version of Wilhelm-Klingsporschrift (now called Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch) by Linotype was modernized to make Rudolf Koch’s masterpiece more palatable to modern designers. The k is excellent but the x is awful. Vertical rhythmn is essential in a textura and the x is a stumbling block. And, for some reason, Linotype ignored the unfamiliar A. For those used to blackletter, the x is the flaw in Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch; for those not used to blackletter, it is the A.
Univers (Adrian Frutiger, Deberny & Peignot, 1957)
Sometimes the character flaw in a typeface is less obvious. Instead of a letter, it is a figure or a punctuation mark. Univers purists like Helmut Schmid and Willi Kunz insist on Berthold BQ Univers among digital options. They disdain other cuts for being poorly digitized, for having italics with the wrong slope, and for not having the correct ampersand. However, the proper ampersand—a true et ligature—looks odd to those without paleographic or calligraphic training. So, which is the flaw?
Gill Sans (Eric Gill, Monotype, 1928)
Figures are often overlooked in discussions of a font’s attributes, but for anyone working in the area of information design or signage they are crucial. The most important figure of all is the 1 because it is the most common. Unfortunately, it is the figure that causes the most trouble. It can be confused with capital I and lowercase l in sans serif typefaces, and in all typefaces its inherent narrow width forces designers to make compromises either in its form or its set width. Eric Gill designed the 1 in Gill Sans without a flag, thus making it virtually indistinguishable from I or l. Monotype resolved this disaster in the days of machine composition with an alternate flagged 1. But it was not included in the digital version of Gill Sans. One solution to this problem was to substitute a 1 from another sans serif face. This is no longer necessary as the flagged 1 is part of Gill Sans Pro.
Franklin Gothic (Morris Fuller Benton, American Type Founders, 1902) and ITC Franklin Gothic (Victor Caruso, International Typeface Corporation, 1980)
The narrowness of 1 has forced designers to add unwanted space on either side so that it will set properly in tabular matter. This makes for loose text setting. This problem is exacerbated with sans serif faces. One solution has been to add serifs (often oversize ones) to the base of the figure, creating a character that is out of character with the rest of the font. Franklin Gothic is one such example. In a string of numbers the problem is unnoticeable since most figures do not have serifs in a serif font. But when set next to letters a seriffed 1 in a sans serif typeface jumps out like a sore thumb. One solution is to cut off the serif in Adobe Illustrator or FontLab and then kern it. Another is to use a more compatible 1 from another font—or an entirely different set of figures entirely.
Bulmer (Monotype, 1954; based on ATF Bulmer  which was derived from the types of William Martin, 1792)
Finally, the lowly punctuation mark may be the flaw in a typeface. The exclamation point and the question mark are the most obvious of these since they are the largest. Monotype Bulmer has a chubby exclamation point, resembling an exploding cigar, that is at odds with the elegance of the rest of the typeface. It belongs in a Betty Boop cartoon. On the other hand, Weiss Antiqua has an exclamation point that is so short that it looks to be in danger of vanishing entirely. It is not a bang but a whimper.
Schneidler Medieval (F.H.E. Schneidler, Bauer, 1936)
To make the question mark in Weiss Antiqua equally short E.R. Weiss cut off the bottom portion where the character either shifts from a curve to a vertical line or simply curls up. Even stranger is the question mark for Schneidler Medieval. It appears to be upside down. For those who like the typeface, the question mark is its flaw. But for those who dislike Schneidler Medieval—and there are reasons, ranging from its overtly cupped serifs to its capital O—the weird question mark is no big deal.
After all, some flaws are only blemishes to those who deeply love a typeface. But other flaws are more serious as they hinder legibility, inhibit reading, or fail to perform their expected function. Whether the flaws in a given typeface are fatal or can be worked around depends not only on the typeface but on the typographer. Caveat littera!
Do Your Boobs Hang Low
Do they wobble to and fro?
Do your boobs hang low?Do they wobble to and fro?Can you tie them in a knot?Can you tie them in a bow?Can you throw themover your shoulderlike a continental soldier?Do your boobs hang low?- as remembered from my childhood