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On "CODED" messages in illustration...

I just watched the documentary "CODED: THE HIDDEN LOVE OF J.C. LEYENDECKER" on Paramount+, which profiles the art of America's first superstar illustrator -- or, more accurately, the not so subtle "coded" homosexual themes within his illustrations. The film is less than 30 minutes, but even in that short running time, it only glosses over Leyendecker's life and influence. Most of the focus is placed on his relationship with model/muse/lover Charles Beach, which is understandable, and there is some mention of his tutelage of Norman Rockwell. But the film's unforgivable sin is that it makes no mention of Leyendecker's brother, Francis Xavier -- also an artist, also gay, and whose likely suicide by overdose had a profound effect upon his older brother.

The film makes comparisons between Leyendecker's male subjects, and coded messages within contemporary marketing campaigns. It's an interesting subject, but a rather limited one within the larger context of Leyendecker's profound influence on illustration and advertising. Leyendecker's life story also warrants much more detail, and the film feels like a CLIFF'S NOTES version of a CLIFF'S NOTES version.

In the film's defense, there's only so much you can do in less than 30 minutes. But to face that kind of challenge, you have to be selective in what you show. The film features only 4 interview subjects, none of whom are illustrators themselves. Instead we get testimony from trans model Jari Jones, who strikes me as having nothing more than the most rudimentary knowledge of the film's subject matter. What should have been little more than filler has instead been promoted to considerable misplaced prominence.

Naturally, I'm a bit biased in my opinions, as I'm also making a documentary about a gay illustrator, and will be addressing the artist's homosexuality and lifestyle as well as his work.

While I'm editing through over 50 interviews and countless hours of footage filmed over the course of six years, I can't help but be jealous that this short probably had at least ten times my budget, and considerably more creative resources. What I'd give to have such a legal and clearance team, to have scores of post production editors and mixers...and especially elaborately animated sequences to offer something more than just footage of talking heads.

This project is taking me forever, but I could have had it done in just a few months with resources like that.


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