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The Coffee Table

Go ahead, judge this book by its cover: Perhaps the single most spectacular release of the season — in terms of presentation, at least — is the 10-pound, Ultrasuede tome Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (Taschen, 381 pages, $150), created in honor of the director’s 95th birthday. Enormous in both size and scope, Hot chronicles — through hundreds of photographs, memorabilia and new interviews with Wilder, Tony Curtis and the late Jack Lemmon — the definitive story behind the legendary 1959 comedy. Also included are first and final drafts of the screenplay, with corresponding film stills running alongside each annotated page. The most unusual feature is an exact replica — down to the worn, yellowed pages — of Marilyn Monroe’s tattered personal promptbook containing handwritten notes (“pull skirt down” and “freeze like a bunny”). Pricey, yes, but Wilder and Monroe fans will find this essential.

Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao’s retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone (Getty Publications, 28 pages, $19) makes for a humbler but equally treasurable volume — a celebration of storytelling, drawing and the art of bookmaking. Each copy of the 4,000-some edition was handcrafted in India, bound with thread, and silk-screened onto paper handmade from cotton rags and wastepaper — you can still smell the ink. Featuring rich, dramatic illustrations by Indrapramit Roy, based on images lifted from ancient Greek pottery, Antigone comes in a hand-folded slipcase.



Dennis Hopper


The title of celebrity/fashion photographer Roxanne Lowit’s short, fat paperback, People (Assouline, 208 pages, $30), is a little misleading, as the cover image suggests: Pamela Anderson slumped languidly in the back seat of a car, her white panties peeking out from under a denim mini. No simple people here, and virtually no text, either — just a steady stream of high-energy, after-dark images of glitterati ranging from Iggy Pop to Paloma Picasso, prowling party circles in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Los Angeles. “My life is filled with the fabulous and the glamorous,” Lowit writes. “People, parties, fashion, models, celebrities, drag queens” — all of whom are here in this decadent and visually indulgent glam trip. A nice complement is the very tall, fat Dennis Hopper: 1712 North Crescent Heights (Greybull Press, 180 pages, $75), which offers a narrower, but no less intense, view of ’60s celebrity life. Gathered from Hopper’s own archives by his daughter Marin, the actor’s intimate and often melancholy photographs document a short but tumultuous period in his life — 1962–68, “a horrific time of alcohol and drug use,” he writes, but also a “strangely creative time” — and the circle of actors and artists who passed through the family home on Crescent Heights. Together, Hopper’s photos provide a panoramic view of that decade’s L.A. aesthetic: vintage cars and leggy ladies in polka-dot bikinis, for instance. With an introduction by Hopper’s ex-wife Brooke Hayward and a three-way Q&A featuring Hopper, Hayward and Marin, 1712 is a surprisingly honest and deeply personal journey.

The House Book (Phaidon Press, 512 pages, $45) is just that: a book of houses. And architects. And designers. And philosophies of style. The massive, slickly packaged collection showcases 500 different architects, in alphabetical order, with one page/one photo/one blurb for each, and cross-references others working in similar styles. The buildings range from a 16th-century Hindu minister’s red-sandstone palace to the decorative, bamboo, tepeelike structures of an Abelam village in northern New Guinea, to iconic Western homes such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and new LACMA architect Rem Koolhaas’ OMA house in Bordeaux. This global architectural overview celebrates not only the aesthetic and functional aspects of the home, but the concept, in general, of shelter. In the process, it serves as a resource for the architecturally knowledgeable as well as eye candy for design lovers.



Crosstown


In her introduction to Crosstown (PowerHouse Books, 192 pages, $75), the most comprehensive collection of Helen Levitt’s Manhattan-area photographs yet published, Francine Prose prophetically writes that the artist’s pictures “remind us of how rapidly everything changes, of how large a fraction of what we see won’t exist in its present form only a heartbeat from now.” Like the New York City skyline. Levitt’s stark and evocative candids capture a tender side of Manhattan that is more difficult to conjure now: a city of neighborhoods, where small children frolic in spray from street-side hydrants while leathery-faced elders watch from the steps of their brownstones. Levitt is truly an American treasure. Other influential female artists — 93 of them, to be exact — are surveyed in Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Century (Taschen, 576 pages, $40), a thick flexi-bound softcover that profiles, on equal par, both established icons such as Frida Kahlo, Marina Abramovic´, Valie Export and Nan Goldin, and nascent art-world figures like Vanessa Beecroft and L.A.’s Pae White, whose colorful More Birds provides the cover art. Each entry contains beautifully reproduced selections from the artist’s oeuvre, with commentary, but one of the most enjoyable sections is actually the table of contents, an eight-page compendium of passport-size snapshots of each artist.



Darger


Though Henrik Drescher is a renowned children’s-book illustrator, Turbulence: A Log Book (Chronicle, 80 pages, $23) is clearly intended for adults, laying out the artist’s own visual interpretation of the Hindu creation myth. Drescher lets his imagination run rampant here, working in an array of forms — pen and ink, photo collages, watercolors, paper cutouts — and this textured, dense little book is packed with dark drawings, intricate, twisted sketches, and murky illustrations that are childlike and nightmarish at once. If Drescher’s slightly psychotic style suggests the outsider, Darger: The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum (Harry N. Abrams, 128 pages, $30) is the real thing. This hardcover catalog, focused on 27 newly acquired works, serves as a primer on the untrained Chicago artist who toiled in secret for years while working as a janitor. Darger’s vivid, morally ambiguous paintings — armies of child soldiers in bloody battle, little girls with reptilian tails and small penises, naked children strapped to trees in the midst of a forest fire — are indisputably disturbing yet oddly compelling. An essay by Michel Thévoz offers insight into the artist’s reclusive life, and retells the story of how the massive, controversial body of work was discovered by his landlord after Darger’s death in 1973.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies: Conjurers, Cheats, Hustlers, Hoaxters, Pranksters, Jokesters, Imposters, Pretenders, Sideshow Showmen, Armless Calligraphers, Mechanical Marvels, Popular Entertainments (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 216 pages, $40) not only carries an impossible title but includes the complete, 16-issue set of the quarterly publication by the same name. Author and sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay provides the historical background behind fringe entertainments of the past — freak-show attractions and popular sideshow tricks such as “giant children” and “nose amputations” — and then describes how these illusions were realized. The Journal, illustrated with 19th-century woodcuts, hand-colored engravings, antique playbills and posters from Jay’s own collection, makes a nice companion to his earlier book, Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women. Another survey of the strange is Images From the World Between: The Circus in 20th Century American Art (MIT Press, 184 pages, $40), a stunning collection of more than 90 circus images found in contemporary art, from Diane Arbus’ voluptuous sword-swallowing albino woman to Kimberly Gremillion’s black-and-white abstract of a trapeze artist in midair, to Charles and Ray Eames’ eerie video stills of clown faces. A lush, vibrant contribution to the gorgeous and the grotesque “literature of the circus.”



The Last Dream-O-Rama


Bottomless Cocktail: The Art of Shag (Last Gasp, 96 pages, $25) is a poppy, colorful paperback showcasing the distinctive illustrations of notorious swank scenester Shag (a.k.a. local artist Josh Agle). The cartoonish, space-age-pop images of swinging singles, lounge lizards, beatniks and hipsters sucking down mai tais and martinis seem omnipresent on T-shirts and post cards in L.A., and in fact the book does have a section of high-end “Shag Schwag” merchandise: tiki-bar stools and handbags, silk-screened pro-model skateboards, and tiki lamps with handmade paper shades. (See the Shag show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Feliz in January.) If Shag could drive, he’d probably hook up with New Yorker illustrator-writer Bruce McCall, whose hilarious The Last Dream-O-Rama: The Cars Detroit Forgot To Build, 1950–1960 (Crown, 123 pages, $25) pokes fun at the political and social ideals of the ’50s through comic illustrations of dream cars and accompanying text. The tailor-made fantasies-on-wheels include a car designed specifically for Hollywood agents, the “Glamoramic Polo Lounger Funtop, 1954,” complete with a blinding-white toothy grin on the front grille and a convertible top that looks like a Brylcreemed hairpiece; the “Armageddon Mk1, 1958,” a “fallout shelter on wheels” equipped with an anti-radiation shield and canned bologna in the trunk; and the “Bumsmobile Gold Rush Express, 1958,” featuring built-in spittoons and topped by an L.A. Dodgers cap that electronically tips forward for pretty women.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: The World From Here: Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles (Getty Publications, 464 pages, $60) is a beautiful clothbound hardcover catalog (released in conjunction with the UCLA Hammer Museum show of the same name, up through January 13) that highlights priceless objects and artifacts from 30-some different L.A. libraries — rare books, maps, annotated Hollywood film scripts and opera manuscripts among them — as a way of paying homage to the amazing depth of special-collections material available in this city. As intriguing as it is impressive. The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century (Roth Horowitz, 320 pages, $85), handsomely compiled by writer and rare-book expert Andrew Roth, presents a spread on each of the acclaimed books, with excerpted artwork. It also includes six critical essays by experts and artists such as Vince Aletti, Neville Wakefield and Shelley Rice, who writes: “The study of photography books from the 20th century is not a simple exercise in art appreciation but a tale of our terrors, confrontations, repressions and resolutions — of our attempts to assimilate one hundred years of historical change, to calm the quaking of our social and personal lives, to decipher the whisperings of ‘things that dream and talk in their sleep.’”

Finally, a few bedside-table books that may make you talk in your sleep. Peepshow: 1950s Pin-Ups in 3-D (St. Martin’s Press, 96 pages, $25) is a small, candy-pink hardcover with 3-D glasses embedded in the cover that presents the best stereoscopic photography from that decade. The 48 full-color “cheesecake shots” evoke a nostalgic sexual standard: clean-cut and curvy near-naked sailor girls, buxom farm girls resting in tall grass, creamy bathing beauties with red lips and red nails. The requisite shots of Bettie Page were taken by model-turned-photographer Bunny Yeager, who also wrote the introduction. For those who like to watch, each of Nerve Magazine photographer Leslie Lyons’ playful, pocket-size erotic-photo flipbooks, Strip Flips (PowerHouse Books, 128 pages, $11 each), features a different female — Anna, Susan or George — performing a saucy, old-fashioned striptease.



Exquisite Mayhem


Exquisite Mayhem: The Spectacular and Erotic World of Wrestling (Taschen, 480 pages, $60) combines athletics, theater, porn and kitsch. L.A. photographer Theo Ehret has been chronicling the exploits of voluptuous, Russ Meyer–style female “apartment wrestlers,” who have gone at it in skimpy bikinis or nothing at all (“faster pussycat, pin, pin”) since the 1970s. His new, voyeuristic collection, co-edited by artists Mike Kelley and Cameron Jamie with an essay from “mythologies” by French critic Roland Barthes, leads the reader on a tour through this outrageous erotic subculture. The large-format photos are paired with Ehret’s more journalistic, testosterone-charged photos of real pro wrestlers, and the humorous juxtaposition illuminates the inherent cinema of sports spectacles — both real and fabricated.

The ultimate little black book might be The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Dating & Sex (Chronicle Books, 176 pages, $15), packaged like a Boy Scout or military training manual and complete with instructional illustrations and tips on dating and bedroom survival skills: gassy foods to avoid, how to save your date from choking, how to spot breast implants and/or a toupee, and, last but not least, how to fake an orgasm. Happy holidays!

Other notable titles: Gandhi: A Photo Biography (Phaidon Press, 320 pages, $40); Taschen’s Icons, small books on everything from ancient Egypt to latter-day tattoos (Taschen, 192 pages, $10 each); Dondi White: Style Master General, on the graffiti artist (Regan Books, 194 pages, $35); Color Photography, a sampling (Assouline, 256 pages, $65); QUESTIONS without answers, poems and photos by Duane Michals (Twin Palms, 96 pages, $60); William Eggleston (Foundation Cartier, 156 pages, $156) — see the photographer’s current show at RoseGallery, Bergamot Station; Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, David Hockney’s optical theories (Viking, 296 pages, $60); California Pop-Up Book (Universe Publishing, 14 pages, $40); Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Vienna 1898–Auschwitz 1944, the collected works of this artist/teacher (Tallfellow Press, 240 pages, $35); Dreamland, Jeff Burton’s photo/porno-graphic tour through L.A. (PowerHouse Books, 160 pages, $50).


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