Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homage to Lou Dorfsman / “I’m Not There” — the movie

Frame from the film “I’m Not There.”

Picture of a CBS news program advertisement designed by Lou Dorfsman, which ran in the The New York Times, Tuesday July 2, 1968. The subheadline reads: First of a seven-part series, “Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed.” 

“I’m Not There” (2007) is a film made by writer/director Todd Haynes that speaks enigmatically of Bob Dylan’s life, poetry, performances, and music. Haynes discusses in the DVD introduction to the film that he wanted to give the audience a flavor of the 60s period through a collage of inventive and iconic juxtapositions of story and images that convey Dylan’s artistic content and convictions.

In a surreal chapter, the movie character William (Billy), played by Richard Gere, portrays one of the Dylan’s personas as outlaw/hero. The scene illustrated by the frame shown above is on screen for only two seconds and can be easily missed, but the portrait in the background has dramatic impact. An astute observer can recognize the profile as a re-creation of Lou Dorfsman’s 1968 newspaper advertisement for CBS Television news. Perhaps it’s Haynes’s gesture to Dorfsman’s skill as an important graphic designer and art director of that tumultuous 60s era.

Understanding the context of CBS’s ad is helpful as the series was broadcast in the summer of 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the race riots that followed, and the death of Robert Kennedy in early June.

The first paragraph in the ad highlights the hidden conversation: “America has camouflaged the black man. For three hundred years the attitudes of white Americans to black and black Americans to white have been subjected to misunderstandings, erasures and distortions damaging to both. The black American’s achievements have been misplaced, his contributions obscured. He has been told so often who he is not that he no longer knows who he is. And frustrations of his search for identity and recognition underlie much of today’s crisis of alienation in American society.”

Philip Meggs in A History of Graphic Design describes the 60s advertisements for CBS Television this way: “Dorfsman program ads were simple and direct, but executed with distinction” and he assembled image combinations that “carried tremendous shock value and gained viewers for important news programs.”

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