Oct 31, 2010

Repost: Seductive Espionage

One of the things I'm doing as part of this week-long blogiversary celebration is to spotlight some older posts that have slipped into the ether.  You can always explore months gone by in the Archives section on the right, but I'm aware that the Blogger format is slightly deficient in the convenience of carrying out such archaeological expeditions.  I'm working on that, but whenever I have time to spend on the blog content always trumps format and I'd rather spend that time writing a new post.  I do intend to fix that problem in the future, but for now I'll address it be re-posting certain posts that I want to showcase.  First up in this series is a review I wrote last year for an amazing art book about a series of Japanese spy movies from the Sixties that never actually existed.  Had I ever gotten around to doing a year end Best Of list in 2009, this surely would have been my top book pick.  It's a book I love dipping back into, and I could easily enjoy many more volumes of this.  Enough introduction.  Here's the original post–or at least the first half of it.  Click the link at the end to read the whole thing.

Book Review: Seductive Espionage: The World of Yuki 7 By Kevin Dart And Ada Cole

If you consider yourself a fan of Sixties spy pop culture, then you need this book!

When I first posted the link to Stephane Coedel’s fantastic animated trailer for Kevin Dart’s fictional Sixties spy heroine Yuki 7, I commented that I was dying to see the movie and that it was frustrating that A Kiss From Tokyo didn’t actually exist. Now I’ve read the book, Seductive Espionage: The World of Yuki 7, written by Ada Cole, based on Dart’s creation and overflowing with his amazing illustrations (as well as contributions from others), and as much as I’d like to see those Yuki 7 movies, it simply doesn’t matter that they don’t exist. It doesn’t matter because Dart and Cole have captured the essence of the Sixties spy genre, everything I love about it, and packed it into this book–not just a beautiful art book, but a thorough history of a series of movies that never was.

Often, the movies themselves almost feel like afterthoughts. Sometimes the poster captures the true essence of the Sixties spy genre better than the movie ever could. Take, for example, the majority of Eurospy posters. I love them. I collect them. I decorate my walls with them and I stuff the ones that won’t fit into tubes and sleeves and portfolios that litter my apartment. They’re all dripping with the best elements of James Bond: exotic locations and impeccable fashions, heroic leading men and sultry, sexy, frequently bikini-clad women clutching guns or–better still–spearguns, fast, exotic sports cars, helicopters, airplanes and even more exotic forms of transportation, amazing gadgets, exciting action and explosions galore. On paper, every movie is equal, regardless of the budget. How exciting a movie looks is limited only by the artist’s imagination, and the guys who created these posters had pretty good imaginations.

I’m looking right now at my very favorite poster in my collection, the German one-sheet for Deadlier Than the Male (or Tödliche Katzen), which hangs in my living room. Besides the gorgeous Elke Sommer, who can’t really be improved upon, there’s a man diving forward at me, out of the poster, clutching a gun. He doesn’t really look like Richard Johnson, but his pose is dynamic. There’s a man getting shot by some thugs in a car–not a scene that actually happens in the movie, but an exciting poster image. And there’s an exploding yacht and a flaming jetliner plummeting towards Earth. Those things do happen in the film (more or less), but in much less spectacular fashions. There’s a frame where a model of a jetliner suddenly stops being a model of a jetliner and is instead a modest detonation, and later on there’s a bomb that goes off, off screen, near a large-ish boat. On film, those incidents are limited by the production’s budget–but not on the poster. I love the film–love it!–but I might just love the poster even more. It’s like the director’s cut: what Ralf Thomas would have done if he’d had Broccoli and Saltzman money to work with.

Another German poster I love is the one for Lightning Bolt. After first seeing the image in The Eurospy Guide (whose caption points out the unmissable and nearly unbelievable phallic imagery of the swimsuit-clad girl perched atop the hero’s giant gun), I purchased the poster long before I’d ever seen the movie. Once again, there are explosions. There’s even a rocket launching! The poster played its own movie for me, and it was one I loved. When I finally saw the film Lightning Bolt, it certainly didn’t let me down. (I quite enjoyed it, in fact.) But it also didn’t live up to that poster image. How could it? While the second half of the film really made the most of its limited budget, the first half showcased mainly plywood sets and those ubiquitous Eurospy walls made of curtains. (There are no curtains on the poster.) The rocket launch, naturally, was a piece of grainy stock footage rather carelessly inserted into the proceedings. There are other Eurospy posters that I’ve bought and still haven’t gotten to see the movies of, but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the poster images. I sincerely doubt that Password: Kill Agent Gordon can possibly live up to the incredible one-sheet (though I’d dearly love to see it try!), and while the authors of The Eurospy Guide are fairly dismissive of Goldsnake, that didn’t stop them from using its iconic poster artwork as the cover to their book–or stop me from buying the poster! It won’t stop me from watching the film, either, whenever I finally get the chance. But for now, the poster tells its own story. Segretissimo is a poster I haven’t been able to get my hands on yet, but from the tiny, tantalizing jpegs that I have seen, I want to acquire the poster just as much as I want to see the film!

My point is that it’s possible to capture everything wonderful about Sixties spy movies in two-dimensional images, and that’s exactly what Kevin Dart has done in Seductive Espionage. The spy posters he’s created–French, Japanese and UK Quads–painstakingly capture the spirit of the Sixties spy phenomenon. Dart’s ultra-cool style, laden with jittery brush strokes and ragged line work, isn’t an approximation of famous Sixties poster artists like Robert McGinnis or Frank McCarthy, but each layout might well have been for a real movie poster, and Dart perfectly captures the nuances that differentiate the advertising from each of those different countries. He’s created an ideal synthesis of actual Sixties movie poster styles and his own style.

Click here to read the entire review and see more images from the book.

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