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


 

Continu-discontinu 2010, a film by Piotr Kamler

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A recent film by Piotr Kamler that’s not on the DVD collection from aaa, Continu-discontinu 2010 is a short animation that’s a lot more abstract than Kamler’s earlier works although you might detect the director’s hand in the motion of some of its wandering particles. In place of the electronic scores that soundtrack many of his films there’s a recording of a viol piece composed by Marin Marais.

Previously on { feuilleton }
L’Araignéléphant
Le labyrinthe and Coeur de secours
Chronopolis by Piotr Kamler

 


The art of John Jack Vrieslander, 1879–1957

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The Darkness (1900).

Another discovery to add to the long list of post-Beardsley illustrators, John Jack Vrieslander was a German artist whose not-very-German name was a pseudonym of Hans Zarth. It took some searching to establish that a) it is Zarth, not “Zahrt” as one site has it, and b) the two were indeed one person. I’ve used the Vrieslander name here since that’s the credit used for most of these examples. Vrieslander/Zarth signed his pictures with a V or a Z according to the prevailing persona.

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As Beardsley imitations go these drawings could be better—they lack Aubrey’s natural sense of balance and composition—but they’re of interest for leaning so heavily on the style of the later illustrations which favour elegant gardens and meticulously rendered foliage. Some of the figures refer to the earlier Aubrey, however, as does the vaguely lascivious atmosphere. The phallic plant pot in the Lilly Peters picture below is the kind of detail nobody in 1901 would have dared attempt without Aubrey’s lead.

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The Edge Is Where The Centre Is

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Design by Rob Carmichael.

“I am afflicted by images, by things that are seen, pictures of things. They are extraordinary, momentary, but they stay with me.” (David Rudkin, 1964)

“The pattern under the plough, the occult history of Albion – the British Dreamtime – lies waiting to be discovered by anyone with the right mental equipment.” (Rob Young, Electric Eden)

Penda’s Fen, written by David Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke, is one of the key films in the pantheon of what has been called The Old Weird Albion. A radical archaeology of Deep England, a work of dark pastoral, a praise-song to anarchistic transformation, as militant a rejection of imperial identity as Lindsay Anderson’s If…, it culminates with perhaps the most euphoric revelation in British cinema: “My race is mixed. My sex is mixed. I am woman and man, light with darkness, nothing pure!”

The Edge Is Where The Centre Is, the first book devoted to this visionary and never-commercially-released film, has at its heart a rare and far-ranging interview with Rudkin (b. 1936), a writer who for more than fifty years has, in the words of Gareth Evans, “charted a vast topology of viscerally-realised primary narratives for our troubled times”. It also features new essays by its editors — Gareth Evans, William Fowler and Sukhdev Sandhu – that explore the film’s status as a radical horror film, an experimental topography, a work that anticipates subsequent political debates about Englishness. (more)

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What could be more essential than a book (and poster) devoted to my No. 1 Cult Thing Of All Time? My copies are already on order. Even better, this is a publication from the same team—editor and designer—that produced The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale last year, a celebration of another British television dramatist that sent me on a full-scale re-viewing of Kneale’s major works.

There’s no need to enthuse about Penda’s Fen when I did all that four years ago but there’s a couple of points worth making in the light of this publication. The first is that it’s surprising that a wider reappraisal of Rudkin and Clarke’s film has lagged behind the resurrection of so many other British TV dramas, especially those that deal with rural horror, those that share a mythic resonance or impart an atmosphere of dread. Surprising because almost all the recent resurrections—the BBC ghost films (one of which was written by Rudkin), Robin Redbreast, The Children of the Stones, etc.—are primarily entertainments with little subtextual meat on their bones. That’s not to say that a subtext can’t be found if you apply the usual academic tools but Alan Garner’s adaptation of Red Shift is one of the few films of this school that has much going on under the surface.

Penda’s Fen doesn’t need a subtext when so much of its polemic is out in the open. It’s one of the most interesting of these films in being so directly political on several levels at once, even when it’s also being directly metaphysical: a call for disobedience and nonconformity on a sexual as well as a social level that (unlike Ken Loach et al) manages to generate a succession of indelible images.

This leads to the second point, the comparison made above to Lindsay’s Anderson’s If…. The similarity between the two films has always been unavoidable for me when If…. is another film that sits at the top of the cult list (see this post). Both films share a rejection of school and society, and also share an approach to sexuality that was very unusual for the late 60s/early 70s. The difference between the two films lies in their conclusions: If…. ends with riot and massacre, and while this may be a cathartic moment Lindsay Anderson wrote in the published script: “It doesn’t look to me as though Mick can win. The world rallies as it always will, and brings its overwhelming firepower to bear on the man who says ‘No.’” By contrast, Stephen in Penda’s Fen defeats his mental demons. If the final shot is of him walking down the hill into darkness we can at least feel he’s on his way to a better life. “Cherish the flame.”

The Edge Is Where The Centre Is is limited to only 200 copies so if you’d like a copy I’d suggest you place you order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Afore Night Come by David Rudkin
White Lady by David Rudkin
The Horror Fields
Robin Redbreast by John Bowen
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Children of the Stones
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
If….
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

 


The Art of Gothic by Natasha Scharf

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This weekend I was at the Louder Than Words music conference in Manchester to meet Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, and Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor. By coincidence the event was hosting a discussion about goth music and culture based around The Art of Gothic, a new art book by Natasha Scharf. As mentioned last month, this book features some of my work but I hadn’t seen a copy until now.

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I’ve been fortunate recently to have my work appear in some impressive volumes but this outsize hardback takes some beating. It’s a very lavish production, 224 colour pages on heavy paper with gorgeous design by Paul Palmer-Edwards. Goth has been subject from the outset to mocking stereotypes, to a degree that many people would imagine they know exactly what a study such as this would contain. A recurrent theme of the Louder Than Words discussion was the growth of the goth subculture beyond its clichéd boundaries which is one reason my work is featured in the book. When Natasha was first in touch I thought it might be for the Cradle of Filth album covers but I’m in the chapter that examines the increasingly tangled goth/steampunk crossover. This is one development that’s come to seem almost inevitable given the roots of so much of the goth aesthetic in Victorian nightmares. Many steampunk novels tend towards the dark in their blend of science fiction and horror so the traffic goes in both directions.

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Elsewhere in the book there are chapters on Futuristic Goth, Japanese Goth, and Cybergoth, all of which maintain the requisite darkness while evolving away from the top hats, lace and veils (the latter are all present and correct elsewhere, of course). It’s a beautiful book, out now in the UK from Omnibus Press, and in the US from Backbeat Books. A few more page samples follow. There’s more at Amazon UK.

• See also: 13 Things That Prove Gothic Art Is Enchanting And Beautiful

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left: The Amazing Screw-On Head by Mike Mignola (2002); centre: the full-colour version of the ever-popular Steampunk Equation (2009), words by Jeff VanderMeer, graphics by John Coulthart; right: Dr Geof’s Medicine Lady, aka Steampunk Pinup #2.

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The mighty Giger again. I’ve got a framed print of that picture on the wall, a fact that will surprise nobody.

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Albert Weisgerber’s Grimm Fairy Tales

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Following yesterday’s artwork by Andrea Dezsö, some illustrations from a German edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from around 1900. Albert Weisgerber (1878–1915) was more of a fine artist than a jobbing illustrator—Alfred Kubin was a friend—but some of his drawings appeared in Jugend magazine as well as this book. The heavy shading and blocks of colour are reminiscent of the Beggarstaffs, while the illustration choices don’t avoid the darker moments of the tales, as with the picture of Gretel pushing the witch into the oven. 50 Watts has some of Weisgerber’s other drawings. Browse the book here or download it here.

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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin