Friday, 13 December 2013

BLOG SPOT #19: Letters of Note

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Welcome to the last Blog Spot of 2013. Once again I'm taking a pause from my reviews, WhatCulture! articles and other film-based ephemera to highlight the work of another reviewer or blogger that I admire. This month we're taking a look at somone who's work I've featured on the blog in quite considerable amounts already: Shaun Usher, curator of Letters of Note.

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I recognise from the word 'go' that I'm cheating with this month's entry, having already treated you to a generous portion of the work that Usher has compiled. But for all the interesting tidbits I've offered you from his site over the last two years, I've never really gone into any great detail about why I keep bringing said tidbits to your attention. I'll still highlight examples of content as we go along for those who are relatively new to my blog, but the motivations behind Letters of Note is what I'd like to focus on today.
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Firstly, I admire Usher's work because it seeks to preserve and celebrate an increasingly rare form of communication. The project is not driven by nostalgia or a Luddite-esque hatred of modern technology (it is a website, after all), but rather seeks to highlight the unique qualities that written letters have over other forms of communication. We often talk about the relationship between the medium and the message, and it is fascinating to come across exchanges from film stars, academics and politicians that may never have entered public discussion or even private conversation.
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Secondly, I'm a fan of Letters of Note because of how bespoke it is. Rather than just reprint the content in a modern, anodyne typeface, every entry includes a hi-res scan of the original documents, giving us an historical snapshot of both words and visuals. The different typefaces, notepaper, colour schemes and forms of handwriting make the site feel less like a library and more like an eccentric second-hand bookshop, the sort of thing into which one may wander and find some hidden treasure, the sort of thing you would never have consciously gone looking for.
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Thirdly, I love the site because it's a goldmine for research - specifically research for alternative perspectives. When I review a film, I tend to highlight the director's intentions and experience above those of the writers, producers, actors or other members of the crew. But many of the Letters in question have provided me with fascinating information which has brought a more rounded approach to my analysis. The knowledge that Mick Jagger was in the running to play Alex in A Clockwork Orange has made me appreciate all the more just how perfect Malcolm McDowell was in the role. Similarly, F. Scott Fitzgerald's correspondence (here and here) was illuminating when I came to review Baz Luhrmann's take on The Great Gatsby.
 
Through all the correspondence he has printed, much of which has been collected in a recent book, Usher demonstrates a great passion for communication and storytelling which is both rich and readily accessible. Both the site and the book are wonderful reference points for stories, trivia and pecularities about some of the most reverred personalities of the modern age. It's a wonderful resource and I hope that it continues growing, both in quantity and in popularity.
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You can read all of Usher's work at LettersofNote.com, from which you can also order the Letters of Note book, just in time for Christmas. You can also follow Usher on Twitter @lettersofnote. Join me in the new year for another Blog Spot, and good luck in the meantime with all your Christmas cards and letters. Make them good, lest they one day turn up on his site...

Daniel

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