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film + video

The Art and Design of Deception: Documentary Tells Story of Secret WWII ‘Ghost Army’

Bill Blass Jeep
Friendly Ghost. Bill Blass somewhere in Europe, in a photo taken by his friend Bob Tompkins.

Inflatable tanks, sound effects, elaborately painted faux convoys, carefully crafted illusions. It was all in a day’s work for the American G.I.s—including Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly, and Art Kane—who artfully mislead the Axis forces on the battlefields of Europe during World War II. “They conducted 21 different deceptions, often operating within a few hundred yards of enemy lines,” filmmaker and author Rick Beyer tells us. “Their story was hushed up for more than 40 years.” Beyer brings it to light in The Ghost Army, a new documentary that will be screened on Thursday, October 17 at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (register here to attend). Beyer made time to tell us some ghost (army) stories in advance of next week’s screening.

How did you become interested/first learn about the story of this secret WWII unit?
I first learned about it eight years ago when a mutual friend introduced me to Martha Gavin, whose uncle, John Jarvie, served in the unit. Her enthusiasm was the spark that started the whole project. I have always loved quirky history stories, the strange, “can you believe it?” stuff. In fact, I’ve written an entire book series, The Greatest Stories Never Told, that focuses on just that. The idea that American soldiers in World War II went into battle with inflatable tanks and sound effects records was so bizarre, so contrary to every image from every war movie I’ve ever seen, that it immediately attracted my attention.

On top of that was the fact that many of the soldiers in the unit were artists, who used their spare time to paint and sketch what they saw on the battlefield. In fact, the first time I met Martha at a Boston area coffee shop, she was carrying an armload of three-ring binders filled with uncle’s wartime artworks. I was captivated with the way they presented such a unique and intimate perspective of the war. And that’s how I got hooked.

How were GIs selected to serve in this unit?
The Army threw the 23rd together in a hurry, in January 1944, so they assembled it from four pre-existing units. One was the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, which had been formed more than 18 months earlier. The Army had loaded the 603rd with artists, because their initial mission was camouflage. Some were recruited from art schools such as Pratt and Cooper Union. Word quickly spread to other artists interested in finding a way to put their art skills to use in war effort. (Or interested in finding a way to avoid ending up in the infantry!)

Similarly, the Army took a pre-existing radio unit and assigned it to The Ghost Army to handle radio deception. But because they wanted only the very best radio operators to carry out convincing deceptions, they pruned about 100 soldiers from the radio unit, and then plucked skilled men from other units around the country. In general, once it was formed, The Ghost Army had a very high priority status, and could whatever soldiers it wanted.
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Carrie Mae Weems Among New Crop of MacArthur Fellows

Carrie Mae Weems

Syracuse, New York-based artist Carrie Mae Weems is among the 24 new fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Announced today, the 2013 cohort of MacArthur Fellows—selected for “their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future”—also includes choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, writer Donald Antrim, and audio savior Carl Haber, an experimental physicist developing new technologies for preserving inaccessible and deteriorating sound recordings. Each fellow will receive $500,000 in no-strings-attached support over the next five years. The MacArthur Foundation has previously bestowed its unrestricted largess upon fellows such as architect Jeanne Gang, typographer Matthew Carter, filmmaker Errol Morris, artist Tara Donovan, and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton. Click below to watch the foundation’s video of Weems at work:
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Watch This: A Gatsby ‘Old Sport’ Megamix

And now for something completely different: Baz Luhrmann‘s 21st century take on The Great Gatsby, recently released on DVD, gets a “supercut.” Editors at Tribeca Film scouted the latest cinematic adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel to find all of the utterances of the “old sport” that peppers Gatsby’s speech, turned up at least 43 (for the record, we counted 45 in the book), and strung them together into this mesmerizing video. “After a while, the ‘old sports’ start to tell their own twisted tale of lost love, delusion, and desperation—or something,” say the editors. “Enjoy! Just don’t turn this into a drinking game.” Bottoms up, old sport.

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Herb & Dorothy, Part Deux: Ubercollectors Return in 50×50

They’re ba-ack! The unlikely art world power couple of Herb and Dorothy Vogel returns to the big screen in Herb and Dorothy 50×50, a follow-up to the heartwarming 2008 documentary that brought them to the attention of millions worldwide. In the new film, which opens today in select cities, director and producer Megumi Sasaki follows the Vogels as they see the results of their national gift project, launched in 2008 with the National Gallery of Art, to give a total of 2,500 artworks to museums in all 50 states. The road movie through the art world goes from Honolulu to Fargo, visiting 11 of the museums that were on the receiving end of “The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States.”

Sasaki decided to embark on a second film about the Vogels after visiting the first exhibition of the 50×50 gift, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and realizing how little she knew about the storied collection that was at the center of Herb & Dorothy. “The artworks were so small in size yet carried such beauty and elegance,” she says in her director’s statement. “I felt as though I had been documenting a famous actor behind-the-scenes for four years without ever having seen him act onstage.” The project gained a new poignance—and took a challenging turn—after Herb’s death last year at the of 89. “My only regret is that Herb didn’t get to see the film,” adds Sasaki. “But I know his spirit has been with us this whole way, and I hope the film’s release will be a wonderful tribute to him.”
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Tim’s Vermeer Is Talk of Telluride, Toronto Film Festivals

The unlikely gang of Johannes Vermeer, an inventor named Tim Jenison, and the magical double act of Penn & Teller got critics (and everyone else) buzzing at the recently wrapped Telluride Film Festival, where Tim’s Vermeer made its world premiere before heading north to the Toronto Film Festival, which runs through Sunday.

The documentary, directed by Teller and produced by Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler, follows Texas-based Jenison who, after devouring David Hockney‘s 2001 book Secret Knowledge (which makes a case for the Old Masters’ use of camera-like devices), tries to adapt 17th-century technology for a DIY Vermeer. Part scientific investigation, part art historical mystery story, the film features appearances by Hockney, actor and artist Martin Mull, architect-turned-Vermeer expert Philip Steadman, and neurobiologist Colin Blakemore, who illuminates the optics and visual processing particulars.
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Quote of Note | Carine Roitfeld

“I’m very worried about how the movie is received. Of course I want it to do well. I hope that people won’t be disappointed watching me in my daily life, taking dancing lessons. They might feel that I’ve fallen off my pedestal. I don’t know. People think I’m some kind of fashion icon, always perfect; but that’s not always the case. What I would like is for the audience to say ‘Fashion is cool!’ at the end of the movie. Because how I live my life—with lightness and without pretension.”

-Carine Roitfeld on Mademoiselle C, the documentary by Fabien Constant that opens Wednesday in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Dallas

Rodarte and Todd Cole Debut Short Film

A still from “This Must Be The Only Fantasy,” a new Rodarte film by director Todd Cole.

Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy have long been inspired by films, and they’ve translated their otherworldly aesthetic to the screen before in “The Curve of Forgotten Things,” starring a luminous Elle Fanning. The designers have again teamed with director Todd Cole for a mesmerizing short film, produced and released by Intel and Vice Media’s The Creators Project. Scored by Beach House and set in Los Angeles, “This Must Be the Only Fantasy” (below) cinematically showcases Rodarte’s spring 2013 collection, which drew heavily from medieval-era design cues including chain-mail armor, marquetry, and corseted silhouettes. “When we conceptualize a collection, we are always thinking about how we can further create an immersive experience,” say the Mulleavys, “one that brings to life the world that we are imagining.”
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Bonjour, Mademoiselle C: Sneak Peek at Carine Roitfeld Documentary

The third issue of the chunky dreamtome that is CR Fashion Book is hot off the presses (literally) just in time to relive its gestation and triumphant launch in a new documentary directed by Fabien Constant. Opening in select cities on September 11, Mademoiselle C follows Carine Roitfeld as she bids adieu to her decade-long post as editor of French Vogue. Will New York media embrace La Roitfeld? Will the designers and advertisers follow once she has, in her words, surrendered “the crown” of French Vogue? How will she adapt to life as a grandmother?

“Fabien brought up the idea of the project when I was launching my new magazine. I had just left Vogue was starting everything over. I found that period interesting,” says Roitfeld. “I said ‘yes’ instinctively, without really thinking about what it meant.” Having worked with Constant before (“I like his sense of humor and the fact that he doesn’t look at people who work in fashion with a critical eye. He doesn’t judge us”), she was comfortable with his presence (“he just blended into the scenery”), but old editorial and styling habits die hard. “Pictures can be Photoshopped. It’s harder to do with movies,” explains Roitfeld. “I’m so used to controlling everything, the hardest part was being shot from a less-than-flattering angle.” And her favorite moment captured on film? “When I’m singing in Russian,” she says. “I’m quite proud of that. I think that I’m singing pretty well and it’s one of the lighter moments in the movie.” Voici le trailer:

Happy Birthday Andy! EarthCam, Warhol Museum Stream Live from Artist’s Grave

(Image courtesy EarthCam)

Raise your Warhol-themed bottle of Perrier, because Andy would have turned 85 today. We think the artist would have gotten a kick out of one morbid, panoptical take on a birthday party: live-streaming footage from his elaborately landscaped Pittsburgh gravesite. The footage–which is also available in high-definition 16-megapixel and pop art-style formats–is a collaboration among EarthCam, the Andy Warhol Museum, and St. John Chrystostom Byzantine Catholic Church (home to a temporary “ChurchCam” in honor of the birthday boy, who was baptized there). “I think my uncle would have been jealous. He would have said, ‘I should have been at Marilyn’s gravesite filming everything,’” said Donald Warhola, Warhol’s nephew, in a statement announcing the birthday grave webcam. “It pays homage to one of his most famous and controversial projects, the ‘Death and Disaster’ series.”

Sign Painters Documentary Continues Screening Tour

Once upon a time, creating signage involved more than Microsoft Word, 72-point Comic Sans, and an inkjet printer. Everything from storefronts to street signs were hand-lettered—with brush and paint. But all is not lost. Even as staid (and quick-and-dirty DIY) signage proliferates, there’s a revival afoot in traditional sign painting. Dedicated practitioners get their close-up in Faythe Levine and Sam Macon‘s Sign Painters, published last fall by Princeton Architectural Press. But with a subject as scintillating as hand-lettered signage, why stop at a book? The anecdotal history of the craft and stories of sign painters working in cities throughout the United States comes to the big screen in a documentary that is now making the rounds (next up: screenings in Orlando, New York, and Seattle). The trailer is bound to inspire you to drop that die-cut vinyl lettering: