Saturday, May 02, 2009

Cover Story

Satyajit Ray designed every single cover of the Bengali literary magazine Ekshan starting with its very first issue in 1962 until his death about 30 years later, and this little montage above is a small sample of a few of those sublime covers. Among all film makers, Ray is my personal favorite, and the empathy I feel with the body of his work is difficult to quantify or describe. Ray was my own personal film school while I was growing up in a small town with no access to international cinema, and I couldn't have asked for anyone better. In this era of specialization, he was the last true auteur who kept a detailed eye on each and every aspect of his films, from scripting and pre-production to post-production and even designing most of the publicity material. As Andrew Robinson, one of his biographers, explains: "Ray has a strong claim to be the most versatile of film-makers. He was personally immersed in every aspect of production. He wrote the scripts of all his films, which were often original or near-original screenplays. He designed the effortlessly convincing sets and costumes down to the smallest details. He acted out the roles for the actors and actresses with consummate nuance. He operated the camera throughout the shooting (after 1963). He edited each frame of the film. He even composed and recorded the music after scoring it in a mixture of western and Indian notation, for all but his earliest films." However, as if that wasn't enough, he was so much more than the complete film maker; that he was an extraordinary composer and prolific author is now somewhat well known, but many of his admirers outside of Bengal still don't know that he was an amazing graphic designer, and almost single-handedly revolutionized book cover designs in the Bengali publishing industry.

His cover designs for Ekshan never fail to amaze me to this day; working with just three letters of the Bengali alphabet and usually just two colors, he managed to build a repertoire of tremendous diversity and freshness. It almost seems to me that a parallel could be drawn between the range of these covers and his oeuvre as a film maker, in the manner in which he almost effortlessly managed to scale the heights of artistic excellence repeatedly while working under unbelievable technical and financial constraints.

More Ekshan covers here.

1 comment:

Andrew J. Leggett said...

Oh, I'd never heard of him! Another great recommendation to check out...:)