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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

A mix for Halloween: Unheimlich Manoeuvres

Unheimlich Manoeuvres by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Presenting the ninth Halloween playlist, and another mix of my own. The one last year was pretty abrasive so this year I’ve put together something that’s more concerned with atmospherics and dynamics than jangling the nerves. There’s some continuity in the presence of Roly Porter who brought things to a thundering conclusion last year and does the same here with the final piece from his tremendous Life Cycle Of A Massive Star.

Some of the other music is a bit more obscure than usual, even by my standards. A few people will know that Lull is the name used by Napalm Death’s Mick Harris when fashioning doomy ambience; The House In The Woods is Martin Jenkins aka The Head Technician from Pye Corner Audio; Isnaj Dui is British musician Katie English; Mandible Chatter is (or was) a US duo, Grant Miller & Neville Harson who recorded several uncategorisable albums in the 1990s. Blessings From The Kingdom Of Silence is from their fifth release Food For The Moon (1997), an album I picked up secondhand which I’m surprised to find was a limited edition of 100 copies. As a consequence you may not hear this piece elsewhere.

As before, the tracklist is on the Mixcloud page but I’m repeating it here with dates added for each recording.

Jerzy MaksymiukTitle music from ‘The Hourglass Sanatorium’ (1973)
CyclobeWounded Galaxies Tap At The Window (2010)
Larry Sider & Lech JankowskiSounds & music from ‘Street of Crocodiles’ (1986)
LullThoughts (1994)
LustmordThe Cell (2002)
Robin Guthrie & Harold BuddHalloween from ‘Mysterious Skin’ (2005)
Popol VuhOn The Way from ‘Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night’ (1979)
The House In The WoodsDark Lanterns (2013)
Sussan DeyhimPossessed (2008)
Isnaj DuiNorth (2013)
Mandible ChatterBlessings From The Kingdom Of Silence (1997)
Paul SchützeThe Rapture Of The Drowning (1993)
Roly PorterGiant (2013)

Previously on { feuilleton }
A mix for Halloween: Ectoplasm Forming
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween

 


Fuseli’s Nightmare

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The Nightmare (1781).

Christopher Frayling’s Nightmare: The Birth of Horror (1996) opens with a prologue examining Henry Fuseli’s most celebrated painting:

Henry Fuseli, who later wrote that “one of the most unexplored regions of art are dreams”, and who was said to have supped on raw pork chops specifically to induce his nightmare, made his name with this painting. And engraved versions, produced in 1782, 1783 and 1784, distributed the image across Europe, until Fuseli’s masterpiece became the way of visualising bad dreams.

Although The Nightmare was painted just before the Romantic craze in Western Europe—which revelled in peeling back the veneer of rational civilisation to reveal the “natural” being or the raw sensations beneath, sometimes through the gateway of dreams—it was well-known to the writers and painters of the early nineteenth century. One of them wrote that “it was Fuseli who made real and visible to us the vague and insubstantial phantoms which haunt like dim dreams the oppressed imagination”.

The Nightmare was fascinating—and scary—because it operated at so many different levels at once. It was set in the present (the stool and bedside table are “contemporary” in style), and it was concerned not so much with an individual’s nightmare—the usual subject-matter of dream paintings, often involving famous individuals and their prophecies—as with nightmares in general. It was not A Nightmare, but The Nightmare; not a vision but a sensation. This gave it a direct impact, unmediated by history, which put a lot of critics off.

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The Nightmare (1791).

Later generations of critics have had no such problems, of course, nor have the legions of artists and cartoonists who’ve plagiarised and parodied this memorable scene. I had a vague notion of collecting some of the derivations but a quick image search reveals an endless profusion of squatting figures and thrusting horse heads. Wikipedia did provide two of the engraved versions, however. Of the two paintings above I’ve always preferred the later one: the incubus, or “mara” as Frayling calls it, looks more sinister, and the horse head has become an almost unavoidable sexual symbol. No wonder that Siegmund Freud had a copy of The Nightmare on the wall of his waiting room.

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Engraving by Thomas Burke (1783).

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Nightmare: The Birth of Horror

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Nightmare: The Birth of Horror (1996): Dracula (and Louis Jourdan again).

Christopher Frayling, like Marina Warner, is that rare thing: a British academic with an enthusiasm for popular culture, and a talent for communicating that enthusiasm to a general audience. Both writers also have more than a passing interest in the darker areas of fiction, whether that means Gothic romance or contemporary horror films. One of Frayling’s first books was The Vampyre: Lord Ruthven To Count Dracula (1978); the same year he contributed an excellent Lovecraft essay, Dreams of Dead Names, to George Hay’s The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names, one of the two Necronomica published in the 1970s (three if you count Giger’s art book). Frayling’s essay, and another by Angela Carter are among the highlights in Hay’s curious volume.

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Nightmare: The Birth of Horror was both a book and a television series produced by the BBC in 1996. The year before, Frayling had written and presented Strange Landscape, an examination of the culture and philosophy of the Middle Ages. Nightmare looks at the creation of four British horror novels: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Two of these stories—Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde—were famously the product of nightmares so Frayling stretches this coincidence to include the others; I’m still not sure the case is properly made for Bram Stoker but it hardly matters.

Another aspect of Frayling’s thesis is the extraordinary power of these works, all of which have had a lasting global influence. The book is naturally more detailed than the TV series, delving into the fiction for the subtexts that contribute to the power of the stories. The Dracula section is a tour-de-force of condensed information, sketching a history of fictional vampires then looking at Stoker’s career as assistant to actor Henry Irving, a man whose outsize personality was an inspiration for that of the vampiric count. There’s also some interesting speculation about Stoker’s sexuality; a letter he wrote to Walt Whitman is (to borrow a phrase from Sherlock Holmes)…suggestive. The rest of the chapter looks in detail at the slow creation of the novel. In the TV series what you lose in the literary specifics you gain in visits to some of the locations mentioned in the story, so for Dracula that means windswept Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. The same applies to the other novels: for Frankenstein there’s a visit to the Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva, a journey to Dartmoor for Hound of the Baskervilles, and so on.

I was hoping the whole series might be on YouTube but for the moment the Frankenstein episode seems to be missing. The Dracula one is the best quality, the other two look a little rough. In the meantime copies of the book may still be found at reasonable prices.

Nightmare: The Birth of HorrorDracula | Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde | The Hound of the Baskervilles

 


Albin Grau’s Nosferatu

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For many directors a film like Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) would have been a career peak, but Friedrich Murnau went on to make The Last Laugh (1924), Faust (1926) and Sunrise (1927). All those films improve cinematically on Nosferatu but the vampire film continues to cast the longest shadow: quoted, remade, and with even its production fictionalised in Shadow of the Vampire (2000). The lasting success of Nosferatu wasn’t all Murnau’s doing, however.

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It’s arguable that without the preliminary work of production designer Albin Grau (1884–1971) the film might have been little more than a curious precursor of the Universal Dracula (1931). Grau was responsible for the set design and the extraordinary appearance of Max Schreck’s Count Orlok; Grau also created the film’s memorable poster and advertising imagery in which the vampire’s appearance hints at something even more terrible than the figure that stalks before the camera.

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A great deal of German silent cinema is labelled “Expressionist” even if the films themselves show little in the way of overt Expressionism. Nosferatu isn’t very Expressionist at all but Albin Grau’s sketches and posters certainly tend in that direction, so much so that they make me wonder how different the film might have been if it had been as stylised as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). In addition to his artistic pursuits, Grau was an occultist which explains the attention to detail in the bizarre contract drawn up between Knock and Count Orlok, a document that looks more like a page from a grimoire than anything used by an estate agent. There’s a quote from Grau in his occult capacity in John Symonds’ Aleister Crowley biography, The Great Beast, complaining in 1925 about Crowley’s ascension to the heights of the Ordo Templi Orientis.

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Nosferatu: The Knock-Orlok contract.

Nosferatu comes out of the occult preoccupations, having been Grau’s project from the beginning when he formed a film company, Prana-Film, with Enrico Dieckmann. The pair announced plans for three films: Dreams of Hell, The Devil of the Swamp, and a drama about a vampire. Only Nosferatu materialised then sank the company almost as soon as it was finished: Prana-Film had spent more on publicity than on the film itself, and went deep into debt. The success of the film might have helped their finances but the death blow was struck by Florence Stoker and the British Society of Authors who won a court case against the company for filming Dracula without permission. The efforts of the Stoker estate to destroy Nosferatu are recounted in detail in David J. Skal’s fascinating Hollywood Gothic (1990). Many of Murnau’s minor films were lost through various misfortunes, and it’s a fluke that a handful of prints of Nosferatu survived. Happily for us, it’s not only vampires that manage to remain undead.

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Count Dracula

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Vampires: if they’ve never been very scarce they didn’t used to be quite so commonplace. The fortunes of Dracula, on the other hand, seem to have diminished in recent years following a centenary peak in 1997. The surprising spike of interest in the 1970s might explain the BBC’s decision to adapt Bram Stoker’s novel for television in 1977. I often used to wonder why the corporation didn’t turn some of its costume-drama prowess to more generic material. Anthony Trollope’s The Pallisers sprawled over 26 50-minute episodes in 1974 but you’d search in vain for an adaptation of HG Wells. The closest was the yearly Ghost Story for Christmas most of which were period pieces.

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Louis Jourdan bares his fangs.

Gerald Savory’s Count Dracula, subtitled “A Gothic Romance”, was broadcast a few days before Christmas, 1977, in a single 150-minute programme. Repeat screenings broke the drama into two episodes so it’s often referred to as a mini-series. I’d read Dracula for the first time earlier that year so it was a thrill to see the story presented in such a faithful manner after all the liberties taken by feature films and derivative dramas. Count Dracula may seem primitive when compared to lavish Hollywood productions but 37 years later it’s still the adaptation that most closely adheres to Stoker’s epistolary novel.

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Louis Jourdan and Bosco Hogan (Jonathan Harker).

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Coulthart Calendars

    Heaven and Hell Calendar
    Steampunk Calendar
    Cthulhu Calendar
    Psychedelic Wonderland Calendar
    Through the Psychedelic Looking-Glass Calendar

 


 

Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

Previously on { feuilleton }

    spectres.jpg   verlato.jpg

 


 

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School Daze by Patrick Cowley

 

Somnium by Steve Moore

 

Strange Attractor Journal Four

 

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

 

A Humument by Tom Phillips

 

Schalcken the Painter

 

Berberian Sound Studio

 

Quatermass and the Pit

 

The Stone Tape by Nigel Kneale

 

Beasts by Nigel Kneale

 

A Field In England

 

Blood on Satan's Claw

 

Enter the Void

 

David Lynch Collection

 

Children of the Stones--The Complete Series

 

BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas (Box Set)

 

The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome

 

L'Ange by Patrick Bokanowski

 

Piotr Kamler--A La Recherche du Temps

 


 




 

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