‘Chicago’ (2002) is an exciting and dramatic musical directed by Rob Marshall. Originally on Broadway, this story of two women on murderers row was transformed into a Hollywood movie that received 56 awards, including 6 Oscars.

This musical is set in the 1920’s’. Two women, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart find themselves on death row after casually murdering their lovers. The womens’struggle to win their court cases for freedom is told through musical numbers and cleverly choreographed dances. Other secondary characters include Billy Flynn, a charming lawyer and Matron Mamma Morton, the ‘mother hen’ of all the jail-birds.

'Roxie Hart'
‘Roxie Hart’

The film is very exciting and visually stunning. So much precision was put into every scene and costume that one could take incredible photos from the stills of almost any scene in the film. One such song is ‘Roxie Hart’. The song shows the ambition of the self- obsessed protagonist and her dream to become a star. There is a very clever sequence where she interacts with mirrors to replicate herself. This portrays her vanity clearly and emphasizes that only she should be in the spotlight and that she only needs herself to become a celebrity.

'Both Reached For The Gun'
‘Both Reached For The Gun

Another fantastic song is ‘Both Reached for the Gun’. The actors perform in a puppet theatre where Billy Flynn acts as a ventriloquist, using Roxy Hart as his puppet. This makes a witty reference to the idea that lawyers feed their clients their words. At one point you see Billy Flynn controlling all the puppets from above, even the reporters, which shows he is completely in control of how the case will play out.

The ‘Cell Block Tango’ is an incredible musical number as it artistically tells the story of the prisoners’ crimes through the dance and song. With complex dance routines and passionate back stories a dramatic and thrilling sequence is made. They all sing ‘He had it coming’ making it clear they show no remorse for their crimes. One striking visual is the women dancing behind bars, backlit with a red light to create dramatic silhouettes. The costumes are very revealing and only use black materials. There are references to flapper girls through some fringing and the shapes created with the straps and necklines. Only the Hungarian prisoner pleads not guilty, and so her costume is a white ballerina tutu, portraying her innocence.

'The Cell Block Tango'
‘The Cell Block Tango’

Having seen the stage performance years ago, I still prefer the film. I feel the movie captures the drama and atmosphere brilliantly through careful editing, amazing costumes and sets, and very talented actors. I find the images created very inspiring and feel this film is a work of art. I appreciate and admire this film more and more every time I watch it.


Adam McCauleys’ Book Covers

book covers copy

I thought it would be interesting to look at book covers for one of my reviews as the way a book looks is extremely important. The cover has to portray instantly what the story is about, the genre or tone of the book and be eye-catching to encourage a reader to pick it up and buy it. I haven’t tried to design one myself yet, but it is a challenge I look forward to.

One series of novels that I have always been drawn to by the covers is the Isabel Dalhouse series. The novels are written by Alexander McCall Smith and the Cover Illustration and Design are by Adam McCauley.

McCauley has designed really effective book covers for this series, as they work really well as individual books but also as

book 2 a series. He uses a similar layout for all the book covers; the titles are spaced over 3 individually coloured lines and the illustrations use only black, white and one other strong colour. Each covers illustrations are quite simple and stencil- like. McCauley makes good use of negative shapes and block colours. This can clearly been seen in the skyline along the top of ‘The Comfort of Saturdays’.

I think the covers may have been layered up digitally but McCauley may have also used screenprinting to achieve the covers, or a combination of both. The stencil like illustrations are placed carefully on the covers to create strong compositions that make the most of the simple shapes.

McCauley uses bright and bold colours which are very eye- catching. He uses only black and white for the illustrations and varies the third colour, which makes the background. The colours are very flat but McCauley adds depth through perspective and ‘cut- outs’ through to the colour behind, as seen in many of the buildings.

book 1 copyThe typography is very fun and the scratchy quality of the letters give a nice contrast to the clean cut lines and shapes of the illustrations. The spines feature a single illustration form the front cover which are very attractive when lined up on a shelf. The back covers also have either an illustration from the front on them which creates a nice continuity throughout the book cover.

I think these book covers by Adam McCauley are very successful. I admire his use of block colours from his limited palette and stylised illustrations which work really well for an adults novel. They are very appealing covers, and my favourite thing about them is how well they work together as a series.

Where My Wellies Take Me…

Growing up in the Highlands most of my childhood days were spent outside exploring the countryside and wildlife, gathering up an array feathers and stones that looked like little faces. This is probably the reason why Clare and Michael Morpurgos’ picture book ‘Where My Wellies Take Me…’ is so dear to me. The book tells the story of Pippa, a little girl going for a walk in her wellies, observing everything she sees and making notes and sketches of her discoveries. Along with the narrative, the book contains a collection of poems which weave into the story as Pippa makes discoveries.

Scan 3
The End Papers
Front Cover
Front Cover

Great care has been taken whilst creating this book. Everything from the endpapers to the paper quality has been thought out carefully. The hardback cover, along with the spine and corners being covered in book clothe, makes this book a very high quality and gives it the feeling of being a special item.

Michael Morpurgos’ story is written from Pippas point of view. He includes childish observations and opinions, which gives the story a very innocent and friendly tone. It is written very simply but beautifully. The way the story changes subject and focus so often reflects a child’s attention span and creates a sense of nostalgia, like remembering small snippets from your childhood. Michaels’ sister Clare selected the poems from some of her favourite poets; Shakespeare, William Blake and Ted Hughes. They add another dimension to the book by expanding on what Michael has written.

Olivia Lomenech Gill designed and illustrated the book. Each page is exciting in terms of composition, colour and subject. She uses a variety of techniques and materials to create a ‘scrapbook’ look, although it is very clear that each aspect has been considered carefully. Olivia uses collage in many of the spreads, which creates a lovely textured surface. I especially like the effect the newspaper gives. She also makes use of mono- printing for some of the sketches, but predominately uses inks, paints and pencil.

Scan 5
The page on the right opens out…

The mixed media creates exciting textured illustrations which work perfectly alongside the text. Olivia also included fold- out pages, flaps and tracing paper layers. These features make reading the book a fun and interactive experience, and gives it that something extra. The story is written in handwriting and the poems in a computer font, which helps separate the two.

The colour palette for the illustrations is perfect for the story. Olivia used muted and muddy colours to convey the countryside and used brown papers frequently. The book has a very natural quality to it through the colours.

Scan 7
…to this spread.

I think this book is aimed at older children as it is quite a long story and there is a lot of text per page. However a younger child could easily appreciate the illustrations and read the notes beside them.

‘Where My Wellies Take Me…’ is a really successful book as it is finished to such a high quality and all aspects of it have been carefully tied together. It is a charming and accurate account of a childhood growing up in the countryside and is even enjoyable for a nostalgic older reader like me.

Scan 4
One of my favourite double spreads.