Delicia Chocolate Packaging (via Keri Thornton // Graphic Designer)

I’ve enjoyed stumbling on Keri Thornton’s blog today (and too as a result). And in her latest posting she presents a smashing example of brilliantly executed (fictitious) brand design she’s recently worked on.

Her design stirs the heart. Possibly because it reminds me of the design work done around the Festival of Britain in 1950 which permeated so much futuristic design in British domesticity. The epitome was the atomic graphic – itself a sign of the bright future in the 1950s. In so much of Morris’ work, that futuristic iconography is often juxtaposed with elegant line drawings.

Similarly in Thornton’s brand design hooks into my perception almost rose-tinted view of the 1950s. The hand-drawn texture and delicate yet glamouress script of the product name reminds me of Holly Golightly’s donning her little black dress and pearls.

Quite apart from the design being used for chocolate bars, there is a delicious reliability about the finished look. I want the packaging. And fictitious as they might be, I want the product inside.

Delicia Chocolate Packaging It is two weeks today that I shall be leaving FIT and  New York City and going home to England for Christmas. I am very excited to go home, but first I must tackle my last two weeks, which could be described as the hardest run of the stretch so far…so much to do, hence why I’ve not blogged yet this week. Here are some images of my last packaging project – Branding and packaging for fictitious confectionery brand Delicia. It was suggested that w … Read More

via Keri Thornton // Graphic Designer

The Print & Pattern blog shows I’m not the only one with a weakness for 1950s design.

Christmas: The Box of Delights

The music accompanying the opening sequence of the 1984 TV adaptation of John Masefield’s fantasy novel The Box of Delights captivated me when I saw it for the first time as a kid.

However, it was another ten years after that working at the Aldeburgh Music Festival when I finally learnt what the music was called.

The sequence accompanying the opening credits of The Box Of Delights is a small part of a longer setting of the First Nowell, itself one movement of a four movement ‘Carol Symphony’ written in 1927 by Victor Hely-Hutchinson, a conductor, pianist at accompanist at the BBC. It’s a shameless collection of christmas carol settings guaranteed to warm the heart of those in need of some instant Christmas cheer.

I only learnt the excerpt’s true identity by accident as well. A friend working in a music shop at Aldeburgh at the time handed me a CD and told me to listen to it. I put it on the CD player and carried on with my work. I zoned out, only to be jolted back to my childhood when the First Nowell melody kicked in. It’s now inextricably linked not only with memories of my childhood, but of Aldeburgh in the winter and of my friend.

Today the First Nowell variation is every bit a part of my Christmas playlist thanks to it’s easily discernible tunes and the effortless way Hutchinson conjurs up a Christmas scene in music. It’s as though he’s writing for TV long before TV programmes were being made. The regularity Classic FM has played it during the festive season makes it a must-listen because of it’s a crowd pleasing properties. And, despite having heard it endlessly year in year out, it still manages to give me goosebumps. That’s quite some achievement.

If the opening offers all of the anticipation of Christmas, then the conclusion of the First Noel variation is the ultimate climax for those of us with drama queen tendencies. Just listen out for the final thundering chords towards the end of this sequence, assuming you can stick with this recording of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing it. It is a little hissy.

It’s also a guilty pleasure. Bite me.

:: Variety reported in April 2009 that Mike Newell is behind a film version The Box of Delights.

Olympics: First Cultural Olympiad commissions announced

Now the first commissions for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad have been announced, the two weeks of sporting competition which had hitherto seemed liked an ordeal worth leaving the capital for now feels like something to look forward to.

The Cultural Olympiad’s goals are clearcut. And it has an impressive list of board members too. And the broad range of commissions across art, theatre, dance, opera and music does much to emphasis the aspiration of connecting with as many members of the population as possible, it will be interesting to see how the events are marketed and how they’re received both critically and in terms of advance ticket sales and walk-up. And with the total cost of the 2012 Olympics likely to be in excess of £9.3bn, is £16m sufficient investment to transform what some might regard as nothing more than a sideshow into a creative opportunity producing lasting cultural contributions?

Musically speaking, the first wave of commissions includes some interesting collaborations including a co-production between Manchester International Festival and English National Opera seeing Damon Albarn, Rufus Norris and Jamie Hewlett working together on a new work. Composer James MacMillan will work with Coventry Cathedral on a premiere. A co-commission between the Barbican in London and the Vienna Festival will see award-winning Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traore work with novelist Toni Morrison and theatre and opera director Peter Sellars to create The Desdemona Project.

A special production of a rare work by Philip Glass – Einstein on the Beach – is a welcome addition to the rosta, but doesn’t necessarily stand up as truly of London 2012 by virtue of it not being written for London 2012.

Perhaps that hope will be achieved by the 20×12 competition. Twenty pieces each of twelve minutes length each will be performed at least three times during 2012. The competition is open to composers, ensembles, festivals and music organisations across the UK.

There will, I’m sure, be an expectation by some that something will emerge from the Cultural Olympiad’s activities which in time becomes a torchbearer for the Games. Maybe those torchbearing acts will emerge in the fullness of time either when more commissions are announced or when the ideas have been given a little more context for audiences.

I’d certainly like to see a more grass-roots, democratic arts endeavour not just for young people like the Film Shorts competition but for the wider population which – in turn – exploits the internet in an original way. Maybe that is yet to come. Maybe there are PR types somewhere who are working on just such a thing as I type.

Whatever it turns out to be, the Cultural Olympiad had better not be boring. The artistic types amongst us will be disappointed. So too Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Culture Olympiad.

Twenty years on … Justify Your Love

In 1990 Madonna was interviewed on ABC’s Nightline defending her song  Justify My Love.

According to the then 32 year old popstar, the video – banned by MTV due to its ‘graphic portrayal of sexuality’ wasn’t in bad taste or solely about generating a revenue stream. Instead, it was a demonstration of artistic expression, highlighting on one of society’s taboos: sexual fantasies.

Twenty years on, how does the song, the video, the reaction against it and her defence hold up?

Madonna was 6 years into her mainstream career by the time she came to release a compilation album of her greatest hits. The Immaculate Collection would go on to sell 30 million copies worldwide and contained only two new tracks – Rescue Me and Justify My Love. Listen to both now and it’s difficult to not to see how they must have seemed like the poor relation to all the ‘best ofs’.

Rescue Me sounds like the epitome of the old school Madonna. Jaw-dropping ideas expressed through period daring lyrics accompanied by the highly and plausibly produced Madonna-esque sound. Twenty years on it sounds ham-fisted and vacuous.

Justify My Love is a musical challenge of a different kind. There’s nothing there. Listen to the track on its own and you’re left wanting by the end. If Rescue Me is the last chapter in Madonna’s first phase in pop stardom, then Justify My Love is the first experiment in maturity. Twenty years on, I’ve tried listening to it on its own. It leaves me cold.

Its video however elevates the song from a bonus track to a talking point. Maybe that was the point. As a piece of video – even twenty years on – it is breathtaking. It is beautifully shot and contains snippets of humour. Even so, its portrayal of sexuality still makes for difficult viewing.

What are the acceptable limits of eroticism? What are our expectations when we watch a music video? How do they differ from a drama presenting the same drama within its framework? Or … in my case … is it OK to be thinking about your own fantasies at three o’clock in the afternoon when there are chocolate brownies cooking in the oven?

As it happens, Justify My Love is beautiful. Not only do I have a weakness for beautiful men with strong jawlines, taut physiques and smoldering looks but I’m a sucker for the French art-house cinematic style too. Waist high cameras mounted on greased up camera dollys make the resulting video not only imply and champion sex and sexuality. In this multi-layered visual treat, judgment is left behind. Impartiality and objectivity presented as an aspiration. Oh yeah, and it’s erotic.

When Madonna sits down on the bed and signals to her lover to get started on things, the viewer is unwittingly led into a trick. Who’s doing what to her? Is that a drag queen? Oh .. and isn’t he watching both of them doing whatever they’re doing? Whose fantasy is whose? And when did the chocolate brownies go in the oven? Can I smell burning?

The point is that the video doesn’t date and that twenty years on it communicates something far greater than the actual track was ever going to. It is a shining example of every music or TV producer’s dream. A triumph of the visual compensating for the audio. Only in this particular example it possibly eclipsed the track. It provoked debate amid what lazy journos commonly dismiss with the cliche ‘a media storm’.

Let’s not get carried away however. Madonna is in no way the victim here. The video may have been banned on MTV, but ABC still transmitted it albeit with all the appropriate warnings to viewers ahead of the Nightline interview. The video gets the airtime.

Madonna gets a considerable amount of airtime too. So much so you’re left yearning for the time when the media had a bit more time to explore ideas and discussions.

In these two clips, the singer benefits. Indeed, she accepts she’ll probably make lots of money from the debate surrounding the song saying, “so, lucky me!” Self-deprecation goes a long way during the two clips to play down any suggestion that she’s a stroppy superstar reluctantly and nonchalantly defending her creation. Her responses fuel a robust discussion about the bigger picture as she sees it. A video which is no more than “a visual that describes a song about sexual fantasies” poses serious questions about what’s good taste, where the boundaries are and how flimsy they are.

Madonna comes off well. She’s well informed. She gives a hint of her political views. She’s feisty. And she has a sense of humour about herself. She shines as the person she projects herself to be: an artist. More evidence of the generational gap and the present day trap too many are too eager to fall into: wanting to be famous merely for being famous. And she demonstrates integrity, backing up the presentation with her values on honesty about sexuality and her desire to celebrate sex.

And she’s 32. She’s either got brilliant PR behind her – long before the rest of us were even able to detect what is real news and what’s PR – or she’s the mistress of her own destiny. I’m going for the latter.

If the Nightline interview acts as a piece of historical evidence, one rather trite question remains. To what extent are the issues the video raised twenty years still issues today?

Five years later Madonna was pushing the same line – perhaps even more suggestively – with an excursion into fetishism peppered with campery in Human Nature. The message is clear when she sings the line, “Oops, didn’t know we couldn’t talk about sex.”

Looking back on the Nightline interview now however, there is a creeping sense that no time has passed at all. The issues don’t seem like curiosities. We’re not laughing at the idea that to talk about one’s sexual fantasies – or indeed to use the mainstream media to encourage others to do so – is a bad thing. Clearly we’ve all got a bit of Catholic guilt inside of us – even those of us who haven’t had a Catholic upbringing.

Maybe 20 years is too soon. Guilt is the tough one. It’s the emotion which creates the taboos. Given that Madonna’s Justify My Love video holds up well after twenty years, maybe that’s a good thing. Because that means artists of today will have plenty of inspiration to draw upon.

Mind you, given the arrival of the internet and that airplay (or lack of it) doesn’t necessarily translate into column inches nowadays, present-day artists are going to have to find new ways use their art to provoke debate.

Christmas: BBC TV Trailer

The BBC Press Office has released a nine minute trailer of goodies for this year’s Christmas on the BBC. And what an engaging piece of editing it is too.

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The One Ronnie featuring Ronnie Corbett, Harry Enfield and Catherine Tate looks surprisingly inventive and well cast. Come Fly With Me actually made me laugh out loud. Seeing Victoria Wood in the Eric and Ernie bio wotnot is surprising given her interview with the Guardian earlier in the year. And I’m a sucker for a bit of musical theatre, so Les Mis at 25 was always going to appeal. And even though I didn’t watch Downton Abbey, I will obviously give Upstairs Downstairs a go. Whenever I see a bandwagon I find it difficult not to resist jumping on it.

I’m less excited about ‘The Big Sing‘ – I’m always dubious about pre-filmed Christmas specials. If they’re in a trailer now that means they were a filmed at least a few weeks ago. The conceit is laid bare. The audience is surely going to think that too. The same has – regrettably – to be said for Rob Brydon’s show.

As for the christmas Doctor Who,  I’ve always been a little doubtful about marrying up the festive season witha  timelord adventure. Mind you, it’s a big hitter for the Beeb, so it’s hardly surprising they’ll want to see it feature in the Christmas schedules. I suspect I’m probably caught up far too much in the past thus find it difficult to shake off the present interpretation of the thing. Which in turn suggests I should be a little less grumpy. Personally, I can’t see myself achieving that particular goal in time for the holidays.

On the whole however – and on the basis of a trailer – Christmas looks like it might be good. Let’s hope the actual programmes sustain equal amounts of engagement.