Abstract Cinema

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Good to see this documentary turn up at last even if it is on a private YouTube channel affiliated to a site that hosts cinematic rarities. Abstract Cinema was made in 1993 for Channel 4 (UK) at the tail end of the period when the channel could be relied upon to screen resolutely uncommercial fare. The documentary was another production by Keith Griffiths, producer of many films with the Brothers Quay, and producer/director of a number of documentaries such as this, exploring the cinematic zones that television seldom acknowledges.

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I’ve mentioned this programme a few times before because I taped it at the time, and still regard it as an excellent introduction to an idiom that many enthusiasts consider to be the purest form of cinema, as opposed to the theatrical storytelling that dominates the medium. Peter Greenaway has complained for years about the formulaic nature of contemporary feature films yet his own films, which are supposed to be an alternative to what he calls “dominant cinema”, aren’t so very different from the Hollywood norm in their reliance on actors, narratives, sets and the like. Abstract cinema avoids all of these things. Stan Brakhage is one of the filmmakers interviewed, and his own productions not only shunned sound, they even shunned the camera when he was painting directly onto the film strip. At the time of Griffiths’ interview Brakhage was doing this again using the comparatively larger canvas of Imax stock.

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Griffiths’ documentary runs through the history of cinematic abstraction, from Oskar Fischinger and Len Lye (both the subjects of earlier Griffiths studies) to the 1990s when several of the interviewees had taken to programming computers to create their visuals. Griffiths made his documentary at just the right time. As well as having access to a TV channel that would present such work to an audience (albeit late at night), he was also able to interview a number of the leading practitioners while they were still around; in addition to Brakhage there’s John Whitney, Jules Engel, Pat O’Neill, Malcolm le Grice, Michael Scroggins and Vibeke Sorensen. Notably absent is Jordan Belson, possibly because he’s always been reluctant to discuss the production process that created his ethereal imagery, although film historian William Moritz discusses Belson’s work while guiding us through the history. What you don’t get here is the additional 25 minutes of abstract films that were broadcast after the documentary, an unprecedented event, and one that wouldn’t be repeated.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The abstract cinema archive

Weekend links 571

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Habit d’Astrologue (c. 1700) by Gerard Valck.

• “The Appointed Cloud begins with the high-pitched, keening sound of many bagpipes noisily playing at once—and then the music slowly coalesces, approaching a peaceful, tranquil hum. This gives way to fast-paced repetitive pulses, reminiscent of the minimalist works of composers such as Terry Riley and Philip Glass. Then the bagpipes join in once more, in a ferocious swarm of energy.” Geeta Dayal on the music of Yoshi Wada.

• “How can we conceive of the time of climate change, the time of planetary death? The House on the Borderland tried to conceive of exactly this a century ago. Yes, the narrator’s acts are fruitless. He gets haplessly carted about the universe to witness the end of time, which never really ends, is always at the edge, nearing an asymptote, on the borderland.” Namwali Serpell journeys through space and time with William Hope Hodgson.

• The Bureau of Lost Culture: DJ Food hosts a podcast discussion with Tony Bennett, founder and publisher of Knockabout Comics.

• Mixes of the week: Isolated Mix 111 (plus interview) by Ian Boddy, and a Wire mix (plus interview) by Teresa Winter.

• Fantastic visions and unknown worlds: Edwin Pouncey on Van Der Graaf Generator’s sleeve art.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Sculptor Kenichi Nakaya reconfigures ubiquitous Japanese rural crafts.

• My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields: “We wanted to sound like a band killing their songs.”

• At Wormwoodiana: More earth mysteries are explored in Northern Earth magazine.

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The Exotica Project: One Hundred Dreamland 45s

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hans Richter Day.

Mdou Moctar‘s favourite music.

Earth Floor (1985) by Michael Brook | Earth Tribe (1993) by Transglobal Underground | Earth Lights (2012) by Belbury Poly

Weekend links 562

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Teenage Lightning (Les Éclairs au-dessous de quatorze ans) (c. 1925) by Max Ernst.

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Tom of Finland: Pen and Ink, 1965–1989 is an exhibition at the David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, which runs to 1st May. The website includes a virtual tour.

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• At Spoon & Tamago: Shizuoka is installing monuments inspired by their plastic model industry.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jordan Belson Day.

Museum of Everything Else

• RIP Bertrand Tavernier.

Teenage Lightning 2 (1991) by Coil | Teenage Lightning (1992) by Skullflower | Teenage Lightning (Surgeon Remix) (2001) by Coil

Weekend links 550

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Illustration by Moebius for Les Robinsons du Cosmos (1970) by Francis Carsac.

Notre Dame des Fleurs is a collection of art based on or inspired by the Jean Genet novel. The book, which includes some new work of mine, will be published in February. Editor Jan van Rijn has a trailer for it here. It’s limited to 150 copies so anyone interested is advised to pre-order.

• Books that made me: William Gibson‘s influential reading. Good to see him mention Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, an outstanding novel that might be better known if it wasn’t for the gravitational pull of McCarthy’s other works.

• Zagava have announced a paperback reprint of The Art of Ilna Ewers-Wunderwald, a collection of neglected Art Nouveau drawings and designs compiled by Sven Brömsel.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Black_Acrylic presents…He Stood In The Bath And He Stamped On The Floor: A Joe Meek Day.

• More yearly roundups: Our Haunted Year 2020 by Swan River Press, and The Year That Never Was by blissblog.

• New music: Spaceman Mystery Of The Terror Triangle by The Night Monitor.

Ralph Steadman’s guided tour through six decades of irrepressible art.

• At Greydogtales: Valentine Dyall: Mystery and Mesmerism.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Esoteric in Britain, 1921.

• At Strange Flowers: Marie Menken’s Lights.

I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974) by Richard and Linda Thompson | Neon Lights (1978) by Kraftwerk | Lights (1980) by Metabolist

Weekend links 547

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Anti-Vanitas (2018) by Carrie Ann Baade.

• RIP Richard Corben, an artist whose work I wasn’t always keen on but whose enthusiasm for pulp weirdness and cosmic horror was matched by a pulp vitality of his own. Corben’s Den was the first story in the first issue of Heavy Metal, a strip in which Den’s ever-present penis provided some rare equality of nudity in American comics. Corben was also a lifelong Lovecraftian; his 1972 adaptation of The Rats in the Walls is one of the earliest Lovecraft-derived comic strips.

• “Wit was the great man’s defence. Once, crossing Leicester Square with a friend, he looked up and saw a cinema marquee advertising a new film: Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them. Coward turned to his friend and said: ‘I don’t see why not. Everyone else has.'” Philip Hoare on Noël Coward’s private lives: the photographs that could have landed him in jail.

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It’s not an easy life, but for Layne it is better than the alternative. “There is a generation of writers who think that it is a perfectly acceptable thing to accumulate a couple of hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt and go write “takes”—contrary opinion on things like ‘Why Dogs Are Actually The Worst Pet.’” None of it is new, he says, “it’s what people were doing when Rome burned.” But it has left us worse off, he says.

“I feel like we are post-language now,” he says. “Things are more symbolic. The relationship between words and facts and objectivity and their impact seems to have separated to the point where most of the writing that I see, especially on something like Twitter, is by people baffled that people don’t get what they are trying to say. It’s depressing.”

Dominic Rushe on how Ken Layne created an alternative to clickbait in the desert

• “Underworlds, otherworlds, so many passageways on this earth to elsewheres, especially during these weeks of the year.” Nina MacLaughlin on The Shadows below the Shadows.

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of 2020. Thanks again for the link here!

• The week in strange worlds: The Strange World of Colossive Press, and The Strange World of Robbie Basho.

• The Images Wish To Speak: An interview with artist Carrie Ann Baade.

Jackson Arn on why so many filmmakers have paid homage to Pieter Bruegel.

Physicists nail down the “Magic Number” that shapes the Universe.

Dreams, Built By Hand

Shadow (1990) by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan | Shadows (1994) by Pram | Shadow Of A Twisted Hand Across My House (2001) by I.E.M.