Diamonds

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I’ve finally found time to update the website a little so here are the last two book covers I was working on last year. In the Coils of the Labyrinth by David Annandale is another tale of Lovecraftian horror for Aconyte:

Professor Miranda Ventham is having bad dreams—nothing new in 1920s Arkham—but hers are horrifying glimpses of a dark future. Now seriously ill, she books herself into the new sanatorium, Stroud Home. With luck, the town’s eldritch taint won’t reach her there. And yet the nightmares worsen. Aided by her friend, Agatha Crane, they delve into the background of the sanatorium’s enigmatic director, Donovan Stroud. Plagued by doubts, delusions, and terrifying visions, Christine must unravel the shrouded history of the Strouds before she is trapped in a labyrinthine nightmare. Something sinister lurks at its heart, and it longs to be set free.

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Otzi’s Odyssey by Neil Perry Gordon is a metaphysical drama which posits a fictional life and afterlife for the neolithic iceman whose body was discovered in the Alps:

Ötzi’s Odyssey – The Troubled Soul of a Neolithic Iceman, opens in the year 1991 with the remarkable sighting of a mummified man, half frozen in glacial ice, whom two hikers stumble upon. Along with this profound archeological discovery, the soul of this five-thousand-year-old iceman is awakened.

?Ötzi the iceman’s adventure takes him to the modern era, where his observant soul tries to comprehend why it remains tethered to the frozen mummy, as well as to make sense of a technologically advanced world. The story then returns to 3300 BCE, to the life and times of clan chief Bhark as he lives with his family in a peaceful village upon stilt homes clinging to the shore of the great Lake Neith, located in the shadows of ominous Similaun Mountain.

Both these covers use an elongated diamond shape in their designs, a repetition that I wasn’t intending. I did this first on Otzi’s Odyssey since the story has four infernal realms that the character’s soul travels through. A diamond shape subsequently became necessary for In the Coils of the Labyrinth when a central panel was required that wouldn’t cover too much of the background imagery while also connecting the upper and lower levels and providing a graphic link with my previous covers in this series. There’s a similar shape on my cover for The Voice of the Fire so I should probably avoid doing this for a while…

Still to be announced from last year is an album cover design that I managed to fit in despite several months of serious overwork. This was my first proper album cover for some time (as opposed to the layout I’m usually doing on albums where the artists provide their own art) but the release seems to have been delayed for some reason. More about that one when/if it appears.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Devourer Below
Litany of Dreams
The Last Ritual

Dreyer’s dark dreams

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“Almost every time one takes a closer look at a film that is world-famous one has to face the sad fact that the film does not really exist in a form that seems acceptable.” Martin Koerber discussing the physical condition of Vampyr. Carl Dreyer’s film is now 90 years old, and has suffered more than most from the ravages of time and censorship, but after several years of restoration (or should that be resurrection?) by Koerber and others it looks as good today as it’s likely to get; not perfect, when many excisions remain lost, but still the best print I’ve seen.

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Watching this again I’d forgotten how deeply strange it all is, a sketch of conventional horror motifs borrowed from Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, overlaid with inexplicable events from the imaginations of Dreyer and screenwriter Christen Jul. “Surreal” is the word that comes to mind, not least because the film was being shot in locations around Paris while the Surrealists were busy creating their aesthetic scandals inside the city; the Surrealist quest for “the marvellous” and the iconography of dreams is fully realised in Dreyer’s revenants and ambulatory shadows. Vampyr manages to look as primitive as an early silent film—the diffuse photography and stilted acting—while also being sophisticated in its visual style and directorial technique; something else I’d forgotten was the restlessness of Rudolph Maté’s camera, continually moving about the actors or roaming the rooms and corridors. Dreyer’s shoot was almost finished when the Tod Browning version of Dracula was going into production, a film which is equally stilted but with few redeeming features. Where Browning’s film is inert and devoid of atmosphere Vampyr is thoroughly cinematic, with a startling, original score by Wolfgang Zeller that’s nothing like the classical pastiches of Hollywood in the 1930s.

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Kim Newman compares Dreyer’s actors to the hypnotised cast of Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass, an astute observation. I’ve never regarded the somnolent performances as a flaw, not when they suit the mood so well. More of a deficiency is Vampyr‘s title which raises expectations of a traditional tale of the undead that Dreyer never delivers. The English and French versions were originally titled The Strange Adventure of David Gray but it’s the German version that provides most of the materials for the restored print, and this was retitled Vampyr: The Strange Dream of Allan Gray. (The dual name of the central character is another complication.) The distributors held over the release in Germany until Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein had opened there which must have pressured them to present the film (unsuccessfully as it turned out) as a conventional horror story. “Strange Dream” is evasive but also more accurate. It reminds me of the only description that David Lynch would provide when asked what Eraserhead was all about: “A dream of dark and troubling things”.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Universal horror
Undead visions
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

All the Things

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Over the weekend I braved repetitive strain injury and solvent delirium from the fumes emitted by metallic markers while autographing this stack of signing sheets. The weighty pile is now on its way back to PS Publishing which means that the forthcoming illustrated edition of Needful Things is closer to being with its needful purchasers.

Undead visions

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“…dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms, or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths.”

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

In the (delayed) mail this week: a film in which one of the characters dreams he’s being buried alive in a sequence where we experience the burial from his point of view; and a film in which the main character is shot dead in the first 15 minutes, after which we journey with him into the afterlife, passengers inside his posthumous awareness, travelling through walls and laughing at locksmiths.

(Those aren’t the only coincidental connections between the two films. Playwright and screenwriter David Rudkin wrote about Vampyr for the BFI Film Classics series, while Rudkin’s most well-known TV play, Penda’s Fen, was directed by Alan Clarke, who Gaspar Noé credits as an influence. In Enter the Void the Clarke-like mobile camera doesn’t just follow people around but takes to the air…or the ether.)

I already had a German blu-ray of Noé’s chef d’oeuvre but, you know…cult film plus quality Arrow package with lots of new extras in an iridescent case. Support the artists and outlets you value. As for Vampyr, I’m looking forward to seeing this in a much better print than the poor transfer I watched years ago. Carl Dreyer photographed his adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla through a layer of muslin to enhance its dream-like atmosphere, the kind of treatment that warrants high-definition. Another viewing may also compel me to finally broach the collection of Dreyer films that I bought in a sale a while ago and have yet to watch. I’ve no problem sitting through all manner of dour European dramas but every time I look at that brick of Danish gloom I think “maybe later”, and end up choosing something else. Maybe later is now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Enter the Void
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

Art on film: Providence

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Art by René Ferracci.

Continuing an occasional series about artworks in feature films. Most people know HR Giger’s work via his production designs for the Alien films; a much smaller number of people also know about his designs for Jodorowsky’s unmade film of Dune, but hardly anyone knows that his art first appeared in a major film two years before Alien was released. This isn’t too surprising when the film in question, Providence, directed by Alain Resnais, has been increasingly difficult to see since 1977; the film isn’t mentioned in any of Giger’s books either, a curious omission for an artist who spent his career logging every public appearance of his work.

Providence began life as a collaboration between Resnais and British playwright David Mercer, with the resulting script leading to a Swiss/French co-production that was filmed in English. The film has an exceptional cast—Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, John Gielgud, Elaine Stritch, David Warner—marvellous photography by Ricardo Aronovitch, and a sumptuous score by Miklós Rózsa. If you’re the kind of person who regards awards as designators of quality then it’s worth noting that Providence won 7 Cesar Awards in 1978, including the one for best picture. Yet despite all this, and despite being regularly described as a peak of its director’s career there’s only been a single DVD release which is now deleted. I’d been intending to write about the film for some time but first I had to acquire a decent copy to watch again; this wasn’t an easy task but I managed to “source” a version that was better than the VHS tape I used to own.

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For most of its running time Providence is a film about artistic invention, more specifically about the process of writing. Clive Langham (John Gielgud) is an ailing author spending a sleepless night alone in his huge house, “Providence”, wracked by unspecified bowel problems, painful memories and fears of impending death. To distract himself from his troubles he drinks large quantities of wine while mentally sketching a scenario for a novel in which the people closest to him are the main characters. In this story-within-the-story Langham’s son, Claude (Dirk Bogarde), is a priggish barrister whose primary conflicts are with his absent father, his bored wife, Sonia (Ellen Burstyn), and a listless stranger, Kevin (David Warner), who Sonia has befriended and seems attracted to even though Kevin won’t reciprocate. While Claude cajoles and insults the pair he also conducts an affair of his own with Helen (Elaine Stritch), an older woman who resembles his dead mother. The scenario is elevated from being another mundane saga about middle-class infidelities by its persistently dream-like setting, and by the interventions and confusions of its cantankerous author. If you only know John Gielgud from his later cameos playing upper-class gentlemen then he’s a revelation here, boozing and cursing like the proprietor of Black Books. Between spasms of illness and self-pity Langham shuffles his playthings around like chess pieces, revising scenes while trying to keep minor characters from interfering; “Providence” isn’t only the house where Langham lives but also the watchful eye of its God-like author. Meanwhile, his characters bicker and chastise each other, paying little attention to the disturbing events taking place in the streets outside: terrorist bombings, outbreaks of lycanthropy, and elderly citizens being rounded up for extermination.

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