Book Reviews: A Film Of Joan Of Arc At Varsity, Or Dream Of Daylight

April 14, 2019

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Minimal Film by Matteo Civaschi

Messenger: The Legend Of Joan Of Arc by Tony Lee and Sam Hart

Your First Year Of Varsity by Shelagh Foster & Lehlohonolo Mofokeng

The Dream House by Craig Higginson

Kingdom Of Daylight: Memories Of A Birdwatcher by Peter Steyn


Matteo Civaschi is an Italian graphic designer who has created a number of books based around the idea that distilling a complex, intricate subject – a person’s life; an historical event; or, in this case, a famous film – into a series of simple icons can make that subject more engaging, not less. The lateral thinking inspired by his artworks make his books, collected under the Shortology label, stimulating and often hilarious to read. Minimal Film takes a slightly different tack, focusing on a narrower topic and also adding a greater emphasis on the graphic elements of Civaschi’s designs, in particular the range of shapes he uses in the designs made to represent the films he’s chosen for this project and the exact palette of colours he matches to both the films’ themes and the other graphic elements in the poster-sized glossy pages of this book. For fans, there are three of the narrative-distilling, Shortology-style icons on each page as well. Along with “secret numbers” in the top-right corner of each page (explained in a list at the end of the book), these extra tidbits provide each alternative film poster with a formula for enjoyment, for readers with an interest in either film or design. Like films or design in isolation anywhere else, personal taste will play a role in the greater or lesser appreciation of each individual design, but there are a few that are immediately striking. You expect the design for The Godfather to feature the horse’s head, but the overlapping Venn diagram-style perspective hides it for a little while until it leaps out at you, thereby having an even greater impact. A single poster brilliantly summarises all of the Star Wars films to date in one page, while Civaschi’s precis of the sprawling The Lord Of The Rings saga is hysterically simple – but spot on. It’s just one tiny detail in the design honouring Alien that gives readers the heebie-jeebies, while the Fantasia motif evokes a warm nostalgia and the Titanic layout is a magnificent piece of draughtsmanship. While certainly a niche publication, Minimal Film offers the kind of material that invites regular revisiting, as much to appreciate the art Civaschi has created as to consider cinema culture and the particulars of graphic design. – BD


One of history’s most compelling stories, the tale of Joan Of Arc is, relatively speaking, less circulated than many other iconic historical dramas, As such, particularly for young readers, a visual sense of what the young French peasant went through in 1424 – when she first supposedly had a vision that she would lead the French to victory against the English in the Hundred Years’ War – and the following years is hard to imagine. Graphic novel Messenger: The Legend Of Joan Of Arc helps to bring the story into the spotlight for a new generation and, thanks to Sam Hart’s edgy Watchmen-esque illustrations, it provides an idea of landscape of the time. The suspicion that a graphic novel might not include a level of detail that could do justice to Joan’s achievements – as a teenager, she led armies and made great strides in the name of her compatriots’ freedom, before being captured and executed for heresy while still only 19 – is disproved early on, with ongoing conversations throughout ensuring that readers get to know characters well within just a few pages. And the design of some of the pages, with unpredictable diagonally-slanted sections and different-sized blocks that mirror film edits, adds an energy to the telling of the story that makes it difficult to put the book down. An exciting, entertaining, insightful history lesson. – BD


The leap from high school to university is, for almost everyone who makes it, far larger than imagined. Superficially, it’s just a step from one sort of school to another, but that is of course never the case, with the real challenge being the sharp curve from child to adult that takes place during this period. Shelagh Foster and Lehlohonolo Mofokeng have taken cognisance of the simplicity the former requires while covering enough ground to set the latter up for the trials to come. For someone not planning on leaving home and needing to take care of themselves for the first time, the text may be a little dry. But for a teenager whose pride might be hurt by asking for advice or who will need a regular reference as they determine their new routines, this compact book is a goldmine. Everything from time management to budgeting and what should be expected from lecturers is covered, including a tranche of details that will seem incredibly obvious – until you face a situation for the first time and find you have no context to help you make your decision. Your First Year Of Varsity is useful: get it for anyone you know who needs to learn these skills. – BD


Craig Higginson has worked in theatre and is a talented painter. He’s a man who understands shades: of colour, tone, mood and pace. As such, it’s perhaps fitting that this book deals with issues of black and white – South Africa’s eternal colour clash – and confirms that there is all manner of murkiness between extremes. All of the action takes place in and around a single farmhouse in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands which a now elderly white couple, Ruchard and Patricia have lived for decades. They are about to surrender the property to developers and move to a smaller, more manageable place in Durban, and the ramifications of this decision are being keenly felt by their black staff past and present – housekeeper Beauty; handyman and driver Bheki and promising-youngster-made-good Looksmart. Higginson counters the claustrophobia of the setting with the poetry of his writing, which incorporates the rhythms and lingo of the broken English spoken by the farm employees and the entitled cadences of the old couple. For all this elegance, though, the author doesn’t pull his punches, exposing a convincing example of the microcosms that exist throughout South Africa and which continue to cause so much pain and damage. The interactions between his characters are tough to read at times, an indictment of much of its readership as just about everyone involved fails to provide an ideal example, and some of the protagonists present, ultimately, as downright repulsive. The Dream House is not a book that provides any lasting clarity in the miasma of South African race relations, but it does confirm that the pace of change is frustratingly slow because everyone implicated is broken and impaired. And it makes strong statements without preaching, being a stirring, elegiac read. – BD


Kingdom Of Daylight: Memories Of A Birdwatcher is an autobiographical account of Peter Steyn’s lifetime spent observing, researching and photographing birds. He shares experiences that span some 70 years and his story starts and ends in Cape Town. In between, we read about the 17 years he spent in Zimbabwe; his worldwide travels in a quest to study birds; trips from the Arctic to the Antarctic; travels to the USA, South America, Australia New Zealand and Ethiopia – all in pursuit of birds. This is a book for everyone’s  collection, whether a serious birder or not. The fact that Steyn became a serious birder at a very young age should encourage those of us with young children or grandchildren to get them interested in the birds around them both garden and veld. This detailed and fascinating memoir captures the author’s great enthusiasm for birds and their role in shaping his life and experiences.  It is well illustrated and features more than 400 photographs. Apart from birds, he includes photographs he took of mammals and reptiles in various countries in the world and photographs of places he visited, such as St Helena. – MH[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]