Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Film Series: Straight Jacket

The latest installment of my ongoing film project is from the movie Straight Jacket, starring Joan Crawford. It is a famous example of the little remembered Psycho-Biddy film genre of the 1960s which  revolves around older, often menacing women in psychological of physical peril (or the women are the perpetrators of said terror) other examples are Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Sunset Blvd. (an earlier example as it is from 1950) In the film Joans character Lucy Harbin finds her husband in bed with another women and hacks them both to pieces (described in gruesome silhouettes). She spends twenty years in an asylum.  When she gets out Lucy reunites with her daughter, but soon the two find themselves in an intergenerational sexual rivalry, and soon the bodies start to pile up.
The film uses the exaggerated language of film noir and German expressionism to build up the visual psychology, which sets the film apart from other in the same genre and puts it ahead of its time aesthetically (ironically). It has the feeling of a film that Tarentino has stolen from more than once.
The idea for the illustration was simple, take the iconic image of Joan and her axe, and somehow turn it on its head solely through the use of the medium. I cycled through several variations, which I talk more about in the previous post. What I settled on was the idea of inversion.  giving the image the effect of a negative, blue for the skin, dark flowers on a light wall, light hair instead of black. This is not a true negative, I thought that would be to simple and explicit. Instead I favored suggesting the negative, as a way of implying the inversion of Joans character from a loving mother and wife, into a psychopathic monster.

Finding the right solutions.

       Over the past several months I've been working on a series of personal illustrations based on classic Hollywood movies. The idea behind starting such a series, what I hoped to get out of the experience was a chance to explore new media and push my exploration of various mediums.  The nature of classic movies is that they are iconic, often familiar.  Drawing from stories and images that have a cultural familiarity allows a great deal of freedom in pushing both the concept and the medium, because the reference point is established.  I hope that this process would not only provide me with a platform to explore new techniques, but also strip down, or simplify the images themselves, finding the essence of the story.  The most recent illustration is from the movie Straight Jacket, starring the great and terrible Joan Crawford.  The film has one or two iconic shots that they use over and over, which is mainly the shot of Joan wielding an axe, or a shot of her stark shadow wielding the axe.  So that left my options for this illustration limited (part of the reason I chose the film).  This forced me not to consider the best image to illustrate the story, but how to treat the image to get the maximum effect,  giving me a great opportunity to explore a variety of mediums.  All in all I drew about four or five versions of Joan wielding her axe, one in pencil, one in ink, another in flat shapes, and a series that mixed all of these elements to varying degrees.  I wanted to see if more detail or less, line or shape, clean or rough, would better express the nature of the movie.  In each version I found elements that worked and didn't, line in the face but not on the hands, bold color on the arms, but grey on the dress and hair and so on. The final is a combination of what I felt were the most successful elements in each version.  What I came to realize about this process was not that there is a best solution, or even a right solution, each had their own merits and had I brought any to finish, each would have represented a different take on the film (even thought the composition was more or less the same in each) The one that made it to final simply represents the angle I felt best represented the thing I wanted to say about the film.  These are examples of some of the variations I was exploring at different stages of completion.
This one is a series of flat shapes drawn in brush and black ink, and then layered in Photoshop.

Here I took several of the hand drawn layers and scanned them simultaniously (they are drawn on vellum) So no digital here.

This is a combination of elements from the first two, with some digital color added. The ink drawing of her in the later two is the same, but never made it to the final, which is made up of the remains of a pencil drawing, and some of the flat shapes found in the top image. i also played with scanning elements of the mixing pallet I used because the rawness of it seemed to fit, but I could not find a way to integrate it without it becoming too distracting. It also felt a little redundant, like it was expressing the thing that the figure itself should be, so in the final I tried to incorporate the rough feeling of the paint smears into the drawing of the figure. One day I want to be able to use the throw away scribbles from my margins in an illustration, but it has to work, and can't be there just as decoration, so maybe next time.