Raoul Servais: Courts-Métrages

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“Courts-métrages”, the French term for short films, is one of those phrases like “bande dessinée” that I prefer to its English equivalent. Among the weekend’s viewing was this double-disc DVD release devoted to the animated films of the Belgian director Raoul Servais. Some of the films are very familiar and have been the subject of previous posts, but the set comprises 14 films in total, and includes many I’d not seen before. Like Jan Svankmajer, Servais is generally the writer/director of his films rather than the animator which accounts for the great variety of graphic styles, although both directors helped animate their early works. The Servais art styles range from the flat UPA-derived idiom of the 1950s, through a variety of drawing techniques, to the later films which deploy “Servaisgraphy”, a process that combines live action and animation with drawn or photographed backgrounds. The last two films in the collection use digital technology.

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Harpya.

If there’s a common thread to this oeuvre it would be the Belgian brand of Surrealism, which might seem like a lazy comparison when so much animation can be described as superficially “surreal”. In the case of Servais, however, the connection is made explicit in Nocturnal Butterflies, a film dedicated to the Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux, whose paintings also inspired the director’s flawed feature film, Taxandria (1994). The Servais masterwork, Harpya, which won a Cannes Palme d’Or for best short film, is Surrealist to the tips of its feathers, a dark and absurd dream that’s a world away from his moralistic early works. One of the films I’d not seen before, November Diversion, resembles a Svankmajer live-action short, a wordless piece about a man trying to escape from an automobile cemetery. All the shorts have been restored by Cinematek, the Belgian film archive. I ordered my DVDs from Potemkine, Paris.

Contents
Disc 1: Harbour Lights (1960) / November Diversion (1962) / The False Note (1963) / Chromophobia (1965) / Sirene (1968) / Goldframe (1969) / To Speak or Not To Speak (1970) / Operation X-70 (1971) / Pegasus (1973) / Halewyn’s Song (1976) / Harpya (1979) / Nocturnal Butterflies (1998) / Atraksion (2001) / Tank (2015)
Disc 2: Servais (2018), a 60-minute documentary by Rudy Pinceel

Previously on { feuilleton }
Papillons de Nuit, a film by Raoul Servais
Sirene by Raoul Servais
Harpya by Raoul Servais
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Weekend links 532

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An alchemical illustration from Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652) by Elias Ashmole.

• “Originally the idea was to do four parallel feuilleton stories, linked at the beginning of each episode by still shots connecting with the other episodes, rather like the old serials.” Jacques Rivette mentions a familiar word during a 1974 discussion with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky about Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating. I watched all 775 minutes of Out 1 last year, followed by a re-viewing of Céline and Julie, so this was good to read. Elsewhere: “The dizzying Céline and Julie Go Boating is apt viewing for a chaotic present,” says Phillipa Snow.

Away is a wordless feature-length animated film in which a boy is pursued by a lumbering monster after parachuting from a crashing aircraft. It was directed, written, edited, animated and scored by Gints Zilbalodis. Christopher Machell reviewed the film here. Watch the trailer.

• Jean Lorrain’s novel of Decadent dandyism, Monsieur Bougrelon, receives a new English translation by Brian Stableford for Side Real Press. (The Spurl translation by Eva Richter was reviewed here a few years ago.) The new edition includes illustrations by Etienne Drian (1885–1961).

El Topo again, among other things: Mike Soto on the anti-Western genre set in America’s surreal borderlands. Cormac McCarthy is a surprising absence from Soto’s lists despite almost all of his later work being concerned with the border region.

• “Whatever their pursuits, they were extremists who created literature that wasn’t so much great as it was relentless. Even now they make passive reading impossible.” Chris R. Morgan on Swift, Sade and the art of upsetting people.

• The best batch yet? Sean Kitching talks to Gary Lucas and Eric Drew Feldman about the recording of Captain Beefheart’s Doc At The Radar Station.

• Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich… Photographer Sandro Miller persuaded John Malkovich to recreate 41 famous photographic portraits.

• An extract from Rated SavX in which Edwin Pouncey/Savage Pencil talks with Timothy d’Arch Smith about his artistic evolution.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Pat O’Neill Day.

Siavash Amini‘s favourite music.

Get Away (1970) by Ry Cooder | Running Away (2002) by Radar | Fly Me Away (2005) by Goldfrapp

Weekend links 531

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Cover art by Ian Miller, 1979.

• Ray Bradbury was born 100 years ago today. Emily Temple expresses surprise that Truman Capote encouraged the publication of a Bradbury short story at Mademoiselle in 1946. I’m more surprised that Bradbury was paid $400 for his work; no wonder he was so eager to write for the non-genre magazines. Elsewhere: Ray Bradbury—The Illustrated Man: the BBC’s Omnibus arts strand profiled Bradbury in 1980 with enthusiastic assistance (narrating/reading/performing) from the man himself; Ray Bradbury book and magazine covers at Flickr.

Anna Smith asks whether Linda Fiorentino was the greatest femme fatale ever in The Last Seduction (1994). A substantial claim, especially for a neo-noir playing so self-consciously with the theme, but it’s a very good film, and one I’d like to see again.

• “Bad as a work of art, and morally bad…” Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita being reviewed by Kingsley Amis, a writer who preferred the peerless prose and stainless morals of Ian Fleming. Dan Sheehan looks at other contemporary reactions to Nabokov’s novel.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Mary Ellen Bute Day, and (how could I avoid it?) ClicketyClack presents…Brothers Quay Day.

• More from The Art of the Occult: S. Elizabeth offers a glimpse of the contents of her forthcoming book.

• Make the letter bigger: John Boardley on the development of the illuminated capital.

• In 1987 Anne Billson talked to Nicolas Roeg about his latest film, Castaway.

• Five controversial arthouse features from Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono.

• It’s that group again: Joe Banks on the strange world of Hawkwind.

C82: Works of Nicholas Rougeux.

Fahrenheit 451 (1982) by Hawkwind | Something Wicked This Way Comes (1996) by Barry Adamson | The Martian Chronicles (2007) by Dimension X

Zemania

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Invention for Destruction (1958).

In addition to Jean Kerchbron’s Golem my weekend viewing involved a fresh immersion in the semi-animated fantasies of Karel Zeman, one of which, Invention for Destruction, I’d not seen for many years. It hadn’t occurred to me before how closely Zeman’s technique on these films matches some of my own recent illustration when it applies original drawn elements to settings constructed from old engravings. For Zeman, combining actors with animated models and pictorial backgrounds was an economical way of bringing to life the worlds of Jules Verne, Rudolf Erich Raspe and others while retaining the feel of the original book illustrations. These films are also closer to the Max Ernst school of engraved collage than they may at first seem. The mansion at the beginning of Invention for Destruction could easily have been an illustration of a single building but Zeman offers a hybrid construction with unrealistically conflicting perspectives; later on we see a desert cavalry of camels on roller skates. It’s no surprise that Jan Svankmajer admires Zeman’s films. And having recently watched all the Svankmajers it’s good to know there are several Zeman features still to see.

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Continue reading “Zemania”

Weekend links 524

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Letter M from Abeceda (1942) by Jindrich Heisler.

• At the BFI: Matthew Thrift chooses 10 essential Ray Harryhausen films. “This is, I can assure the reader, the one and only time that I have eaten the actors. Hitchcock would have approved,” says Harryhausen about eating the crabs whose shells were used for Mysterious Island. Meanwhile, Alfred Hitchcock himself explains the attraction and challenges of directing thrillers.

“Although largely confined to the page, Haeusser’s violent fantasies were even less restrained, his writings littered with deranged, bloodthirsty, scatological scenarios.” Strange Flowers on Ludwig Christian Haeusser and the “Inflation Saints” of Weimar Germany.

• Death, Pestilence, Emptiness: Putting covers on Albert Camus’s The Plague; Dylan Mulvaney on the different design approaches to a classic novel.

• A trailer (more of a teaser) for Last and First Men, a film adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s novel by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…James Purdy: The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy.

Al Jaffee at 99: Gary Groth and Jaffee talk comics and humour.

Steven Heller on Command Records’ design distinction.

Czech Surrealism at Flickr.

Sisters with Transistors.

Solitude by Hakobune.

Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares (1974) by Tangerine Dream | Mysterious Traveller (Dust Devils Mix) (1994) by System 7 | The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra (2018) by Anna von Hausswolff