Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Superman sock puppets in the Victorian era!

There are tiny, mysterious sections about the shop that are very easy to miss. I didn't even realize, for example, that we have sections on Etiquette and Horsemanship until a good five or six months after I first started working here. Another example is the tiny little subsection of drama on Puppetry! In a recent attempt at tabulating all the sections in the store, I found that Puppetry is (perhaps it has become) small enough that the books ought simply to be distributed into the general Drama section. But before we do that, gentle readers, I thought I'd show them to you as this week's Favorite.

The first thing I found in Puppetry was a book on mimes, which isn't quite relevant, but is interesting anyway. Written by a famous early 1900s mime, it contains a log of her attempts to teach her art ($15.00). The next was a circa 1940 book on masks and puppets -- a beautiful how-to, containing instructions on construction using everything from paper to socks to plaster to sticks and strings. It puts me in mind of adorable pranks I could play on everyone in the store ("I bet you didn't think your socks could do this!"); you could save my coworkers by taking this book away ($20.00)! Next we have Remo Bufano's own book on puppetry: apparently an acknowledged master of the craft, he shares all his puppetty secrets. You could know them for $25.00! Last comes a $15.00 book on marionettes, which has endpapers patterned with Indonesian shadow-puppets and many internal illustrations. It details Medieval, Italian, Spanish, Old English, and all manner of Oriental marionettes (from Burma to India to Turkey and back again!), and then talks about modern marionette artists and describes marionette scripts! (Punch and Judy are mentioned, of course.) As the author says in her opening Note, "One cannot write of marionettes without saying more than one had intended and less than one desired: there is a piquant persistency to them."

(All this reminds me of a filmmaker I simply must tell you all about, gentle readers! Kihachiro Kawamoto (click here) is a brilliant Japanese artist who has made many short films and one or two longer ones -- featuring only puppets. His work, though it might sound ridiculous, is painfully touching and exquisite and perfect and remarkable. It's very difficult to see his films because they are so obscure, but sometimes they're showed in obscure movie-showing places like the Gene Siskel Film Center. Please, gentle readers, for your own sake, see if you can watch a Kawamoto film sometime.)

Now that we've hit our obscurity quotient for the day (there aren't many subjects more random and obscure than puppetry!), we can safely move on to something incredibly famous. Take this week's Affordable and Interesting item:

It's hard to find someone or something more famous than Superman, is it not, gentle readers? Comic aficionados can tell you that there have been zillions of takes and retakes on that particular legend (and this site -- click here -- can answer any possible question you might come up with). This large-format item is in an attractive watercolor-esque style, stereotypically "classier" than the usual comic style, and with an unusual story: Superman decides to use his powers to fight -- not bad guys -- but world hunger! It's a strange kind of story, with really beautiful panels:

... and perhaps more shades of grey than an old-style Superman comic might have had. A must, I think, for any true Superman fan, and only $10.00!

Superman can pick up trains. That's the only possible segue I can come up with to this Collector's Item:

Today, I think nothing of traveling unattended by rail. In the late 1800s, it was quite a different matter! The four young ladies of this book's account were being a little daring by going, all alone, by train across ten thousand miles. They took all kinds of photos:

... and seem rather scandalously proud that they were unaccompanied by men. Indeed, the title page boasts first of all that this was "An Unattended Journey"! I had hoped that there would be some kind of exciting romance in the pages, but it appears that there isn't. (Perhaps that makes it better. After all, who needs a man to have a fun journey by rail? In fact, I guess it's rather refreshing that such a narrative would exhibit itself without too much evidence of the patriarchy.) At any rate, the whole makes an extraordinarily charming travel narrative, piquant with Victorian turns of phrase and bedecked with detailed description of each locale. Anyone who loves trains, Victoriana, and young ladies would surely be excited about the $150.00 book!

Perhaps I will make a sock puppet play about the four Victorian young ladies, and have them saved by Superman during a railway accident. Stay tuned, gentle readers -- I probably won't do it, but you wouldn't want to miss it if I do!


finestjava said...

My Gentle Bookseller,

Here is a link to some of Kihachiro Kawamoto films that are on UTube.

Your blog is as usual very informative and entertaining.

I appreciate and delight in your way with words.

Have a sweet weekend and be well

O'Gara and Wilson said...

Thank you Harry! I can't believe it never occurred to me to check YouTube for Kawamoto! You have made my day!

Harry said...

My pleasure M'Lady