[Image credits follow below.]
Recently I got a little sidetracked listening to director Sydney Pollack talk about his 1985 film, Out of Africa. (Despite his Oscars, I'll always remember Pollack as Will Truman's dad.) I was really just trying to find in-depth information about the movie's set decoration and costume design. From the incredible clothes worn by Malick Bowens' Somali character, Farah, to the European upholstery, the Indian marketplace in Nairobi, and the assorted African textiles representing various groups, Out of Africa is filled with beautiful fabric. Maybe I haven't picked up the right DVD (2010 marks the film's 25th anniversary) but I still haven't stumbled across a bonus interview with costume designer Milena Canonero or the late set decorator Josie MacAvin.
I'm so curious to know where Canonero found the fabrics for Farah's turbans. Interestingly, one version he wears is vaguely similar to Martyn Lawrence-Bullard's Sultan's Garden. There is a bonus documentary, Song of Africa, that features set illustrations as background, however nothing is said about them.
For Pollack, the crux of the movie is all about possessiveness, in terms of the romantic relationship between the lead characters Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) and of course the larger backdrop, European colonialism in Africa. So belongings -- crystal, china, furniture -- are strong compoments in the story. As Streep's character evolves and learns more about Kenya, African pieces make subtle appearences in her house and wardrobe. If the screengrab above isn't too small, check out the pillows above.
[Blixen, Karen; Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa. London: Putnam (1937). First edition available through Quill & Brush.]
Doing research, I did discover various vintage book jacket designs for Blixen's Out of Africa. The art for the first edition emphasizes the writer's poetic description of the landscape, looks a bit like British Tree-of-Life designs, and was probably meant to have romantic appeal to European audiences.
[Image via Turrn the Page Books.]
Moving into the 1950s, the design is more graphic and seems to take inspiration from African textiles. Not surprisingly, I love the green chosen for this version and, to me at least, the animal drawings suggest some of the work by Blixen's employee, Kamante Gatura. His watercolors and his own interpretation of "Out of Africa" were compiled by Peter Beard in the 1975 book, Longing For Darkness : Kamante's Tales from Out of Africa. (Click here for details on a current exhibition of Kamante Gatura's art.)
[Image via Peter Beard.]
In the early 80s, Modern Library published an edition of Out of Africa with a stylizd woodcut illustration by Stephen Alcorn on the cover. And around the same time Penguin published a version with a striking portrait. But, from what I can tell, after the movie release, most editions featured a still from the film. (In case you didn't know, the film is only loosely based on Blixen's stories, which offer little detail of her relationship with Finch Hatton and contain many more paradoxes.)
I'd say the evolution of the book jacket echoes the pattern observed in this post. By the way, the first edition even had a chic, imaginatively designed cloth binding with bird under the jacket (click here to see) and the 1937 Danish edition is very eye-catching. Wish I knew something about the illustrator. If you do, I'd love to hear from you.
[Image via Between the Covers-Rare Books, Inc.]Click here for an African textiles reading list.
[Image via Amazon.]