By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In the late 1990s, photographer Douglas Levere had a simple but clever idea: to go around Manhattan duplicating, down to the tiniest detail, the famous black-and-white photographs Berenice Abbott took of the city in the 1930s. If Abbott took a photograph of the northwest corner of Broadway and Ninth Street, then he would too, from the same angle and at the same time of year and day. In some (a few) cases the resulting photograph matches the original almost exactly: Nothing has changed. In others, little is recognizable. The overall impression is, comfortingly, one of approximate urban continuity. New York Changing: Revisiting Berenice Abbott’s New York (Princeton Architectural Press, 192 pages, $40) is a treat for anyone fascinated by the changing face of cities.
There’s plenty more urban grit to be found in Film Noir by Alain Silver and James Ursini (Taschen, 192 pages, $19.99), a useful, lavishly illustrated compendium of the Hollywood genre that flourished between 1942 and 1959 and has never quite gone away. (Not that we want it to.) Another Taschen anthology, Movies of the ’60s, is a true doorstop at 640 pages ($39.99) and will provide ample reminders, as well as images and plot summaries, of films you love, not to mention some you might have forgotten or omitted to see.Movies of the '60s Courtesy of Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman
Us & Them: What the British Think of the Americans/What the Americans Think of the British (Princeteon Architectural Press, 112 pages, $14.95) is a strange little volume, written and illustrated by London-based artist Paul Davis, who claims that all the comments in the book are 100 percent true. Basically, Davis went around asking Brits what they thought of America and Yanks what they thought of Britain. The remarks, which won’t win anyone the Nobel Prize, range from, "It’s so kinda like I dunno" (an American girl in a bikini) to "Awesome this, awesome that. Why is everything so awesome? It isn’t, is it?" (a Brit in a very striped shirt). What really makes the book memorable are Davis’ weird, wonderfully droll drawings, executed on odd scraps of paper — bank receipts, hotel memo pads and graph paper.
Internationalism of a much more academic sort can be found in Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film, by the somewhat forbidding Canadian film director Atom Egoyan and British professor Ian Balfour (MIT, 544 pages, $35). This is a self-consciously cerebral tome in a wide-screen format that begins with Egoyan’s observation that "Every film is a foreign film, foreign to some audience somewhere." This theme is taken up obliquely by various essayists, including Frederic Jameson, Anne Carson and (from the grave) Jorge Luis Borges. For serious cinephiles only.
There’s yet more high-flown erudition in History of Beauty, which was edited by Umberto Eco (Rizzoli, 438 pages, $40). It’s one of those wide-ranging meditations on all things good-looking that includes pictures of a third century B.C. "Crouching Aphrodite" along with a rather more recent photograph of a bare-breasted Monica Bellucci. For the most part, this is a scholarly tour of the ages that endeavors to answer such puzzlers as "What is beauty?" "What is art?" "Is beauty something to be observed coolly and rationally or is it something dangerously involving?" Flicking through the book’s thick, glossy pages, I can’t say I came across the definitive answer to any of those questions, but the sumptuous illustrations and eclectic textual selections from hundreds of great writers make this a book about literature as well as art.The Rarest of the RarePhoto by Mark Sloan
A rare pleasure is The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HarperResource, 192 pages, $23), a cabinet of curiosities which dates back to the 1700s and encompasses everything from Vladimir Nabokov’s collection of butterfly genitalia to "high society" tapeworms taken from the digestive tracts of upper-class 19th-century Bostonians. The text combines scholarship with narrative appeal, explaining the who, what, when, where and why of how all these strange objects and creatures were originally discovered. Thanks to the 70 color photographs by Mark Sloan, it’s also lovely to look at.Art of the Japanese Postcard
Even more lovely are the hundreds of 19th- and 20th-century artworks in Art of the Japanese Postcard: Masterpieces From the Leonard A. Lauder Collection (MFA Publications, 288 pages, $45), some of which are absolutely gorgeous — graceful, funny, sexy and, as you’d expect, elegant. Far superior to anything we normally associate with the word postcard, these are superb paintings (not photographs) that range from the abstract to the densely figurative and happen to be postable. Many of them come with evocative titles — "Two O’Clock at Night in the Yoshiwara: Lonely night of the prostitute quarter at deep night" reads one, produced in 1906. This is an exquisite book. Buy it for someone and, er, forget to give it.Uncommon Places:The Complete WorksPhoto by Stephen Shore
OTHER NOTABLE TITLES: The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, a laff riot — can’t go wrong with this one, unless you are seriously humor-impaired, in which case you should probably apply for some disability payments (Black Dog & Leventhal, 656 pages, $60); Treehouses of the World(Abrams, 224 pages, $35), arboreal living at its finest, from the quaint to the Gothic to the plain old quirky — but what do you do when you need to borrow sugar from your next-door neighbor and there is no next-door neighbor; Scene of the Crimes, grisly LAPD police photos — corpses ’n’ slabs (Abrams, 240 pages, $35); Manga, intricate Japanese cartoons (Taschen, 176 pages, $25); L.A.’s Early Moderns, L.A.’s modernist avant-garde — hard lines, smooth lawns, rich patrons (Balcony Press, 136 pages, $35); The Lost Border: The Landscape of the Iron Curtain, the wall that launched a thousand spy novels. Dissidents, double agents, broken hearts — Brian Rose’s photographs of the world’s most infamous ex-barrier, from its early beginnings to its joyful demise (Princeton Architectural Press, 144 pages, $40); American Cockroach, a decorative approach to the loathsome bug — photographing it makes a change from stomping on it, I suppose (Aperture, 96 pages, $30); Harold Lloyd’s Hollywood Nudes in 3D: the silent movie star took thousands of such photos, and this selection of his voluptuous subjects includes a pair of 3D glasses (Black Dog & Leventhal, 160 pages, $25); Yours in Food, John Baldessari, David Byrne, Dave Eggers and others ruminate on food culture (Princeton Architectural Press, 139 pages, $25); Horror: Poster Art, a terrific collection of horror movie posters through the decades — gorgeous gals and bloodsuckin’ fellas (Aurum Press, 192 pages, $30); The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, a new, hipper thesaurus with mini-essays by David Foster Wallace, Stephin Merritt, Zadie Smith and other word mavens (Oxford University Press, 1,088 pages, $40).