Thursday, 12 January 2012

Pinups and Prophesies

The pin-up is interesting as a portrait genre, peculiar to the Second World War.

This DVD traces the evolution of the Australian pin-up, through interviews with some of the girls who posed for the pictures and some of the servicemen for whom they were true morale-boosters.

The film also gives a fascinating insight into the different social values and mores of those more innocent times.

Man Magazine first hit the newsstands in 1936 - it was based on the American Esquire, and featured excellent fiction and articles, cartoons and artwork. Some of Australia’s best writers and artists contributed to it.

At two shillings, it was a bit more upmarket than its sixpenny cousin, Pix Magazine, established two years later. Pix, as its name implies, was heavily illustrated and it featured a mix of human-interest stories, fashion and politics. Both magazines became more risqué in later years, but at the beginning of the war they were very much family fare.

The magazines ran "Beach Girl" competitions to encourage the idea of healthy outdoor living, with readers invited to send in their photographs. The chosen bathing beauties had their pictures published, captioned with their names and addresses! See what I mean by "more innocent times"?

Many of the girls received letters from servicemen abroad, and penpal correspondence flourished. One of the former pinup girls tells how devastated she was when one whole platoon, whose mascot she was, was wiped out. She had never met any of the Diggers, but the letters she exchanged with them had forged close friendships: they confided in her and she felt protective of them.

As the war progressed, so the pinup evolved from pretty picture to propaganda material. The film uses archival footage, artwork and interviews to capture the spirit and mores of the time. I particularly liked the interviews with the men and women, now in their seventies and eighties, who were pinups and soldiers at the time, with flashback photos of how they looked then. No question, good bone structure tells! Those lovely girls are lovely old ladies now.

The film runs for 52 minutes and is narrated by Claudia Karvan.

This film was made when The Da Vinci Code was a best seller. Waldemar Januszczak gets on the bandwagon by seeking coded messages by Michelangelo in the frescoes of the Sustine chapel.

His tortuous theory drags in the ark of the covenant, the invention of the printing press and the prophet Zachariah among others. I don't know why he didn't throw in alien abductions, Elvis and the Loch Ness monster while he was about it. The burden of his message seems to be that Michelangelo prophesied the massacre of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993.

Anyway, ignore all that silly stuff and you are left with a very interesting history of the Sistine Chapel. The Della Rovere family produced two Popes: Sixtus IV, who built the chapel, and Julius II, who decorated it. This is their story.

The history of the papal battles and politics of the time is quite fascinating. It is not only our own building industry that has trouble coming in on time and on budget!

Mr Januszczak had access to the Sistine Chapel during cleaning and restoration operations, so we get right up close to the frescoes, on the scaffolding of the workers. It is interesting that the surface of the ceiling is not smooth, but rather rough undulations. He points out the obscene gesture that one of the little cherubs is making: a naughty joke by the painter - it is too small to be seen from any distance. It is also really thrilling to see Michaelangelo's mucky thumbprints on the edges.

Mr Januszczak knows his subject and when he is not airing his weird theories, he is very entertaining and informative.

He puts Michaelangelo's position among the other artists of the time in perspective, and we see some lovely works by other Renaissance painters and sculptors, notably the magnificent Raphael portrait of Julius II (above). Michaelangelo lived to 89. Thirty years elapsed between his painting the first and last parts of the Chapel.

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