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

Weekend links 520

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Cover art by Ethel le Rossignol for To Kiss Earth Goodbye by Teleplasmiste.

• I’ve been listening to London Zoo by The Bug this week so two new releases by The Bug’s beatmaster, Kevin Martin, seem well-timed. Martin’s music isn’t all pummelling rhythms and abrasive noise, he also favours doomy ambience, as demonstrated on his landmark compilation album, Isolationism (1994). The new releases, Frequencies For Leaving Earth, Vols 1 & 2, are isolationist in multiple senses of the word, being further products of lockdown life, with the second volume described as reflecting Martin’s “ongoing obsession with scarce sci-fi scores”.

• “It was designed to run counter to formalist & Hollywood Structuralist definitions & expectations.” M. John Harrison in a discussion about his cycle of Viriconium novels and stories. Harrison’s new novel, The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, will be published at the end of this month.

• Mix of the week: 31st May 2020 (Lovecraft 2) by French Rock Sampler, a recording of Warren Hatter’s radio show devoted to French underground, synth and progressive music of the 1970s. The current season may be heard each Sunday at 3pm (London time) on Resonance FM.

This is a very important book. It may even be a historic book, one with which gay history can arm itself with more sufficient factual veracity as to start vanquishing at last the devil known as queer studies. Queer studies is that stuff that is taught in place of gay history and which elevates theory over facts because its practitioners, having been unsuccessful in uncovering enough of the hard stuff, are haughtily trying to make do. […] It is not only breathtaking to read this all in a work the likes of which so many Americans long to have written about our own gay history, but when one finishes reading it, one utters an audible huge sigh of relief. Of course this is how it was! Why did we all not know and accept this instinctively without having to create and/or buy into the Foucaultian and Butlerian (to name but two) nightmares with the obtuse vocabularies they invented and demanded be utilized to pierce their dark inchoate spectacles of a world of their own imaginings. Homosexuality did not exist because there was no word for it, say they. What bushwa.

The late Larry Kramer in 2009 reviewing Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform by Charles Upchurch

• I mentioned in April that I’d designed the CD and vinyl packaging for Roly Porter’s latest album, Kistvaen. It’s another monumental release, and it’s out now. Hear it for yourself at The Quietus.

To Kiss Earth Goodbye, the new album from Teleplasmiste, features cover artwork by Ethel le Rossignol, and a previously unheard trance recording of occultist Alex Sanders.

• “It’s impossible to completely quantify the effect of I Feel Love on dance music.” John Doran on Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s finest moment.

• More film lists: 10 great Japanese film noirs selected by Matthew Thrift, and the 15 best Czech horror films selected by Jason Pirodsky.

Mark Blacklock selects a top ten of four-dimensional novels (one of which isn’t a novel at all but a short story by Ian McEwan).

• At Dennis Cooper’s: BDSM.

Angry (2008) by The Bug feat. Tippa Irie | Insane (2008) by The Bug feat. Warrior Queen | Fuckaz (2008) by The Bug feat. Spaceape

Weekend links 518

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In Voluptate Mors (1951) by Philippe Halsman.

• “Equation to an Unknown (1980) is [Dietrich de Velsa’s] only film, and stands without a doubt as a masterpiece and the best French gay porn ever made.” Related (sort of): the US division of Amazon Prime had been showing a censored print of Francis Lee’s gay romance, God’s Own Country, until the director was informed and complained.

• “They lasted just one night as tour support for U2 before being thrown off. The outraged and hostile audience threw bottles of urine. The band responded by throwing iron bars back at them.” Daniel Dylan Wray on the wild times (and cookery) of Blixa Bargeld and Einstürzende Neubauten.

• “Japanese art evolved, in Saunders’s words, ‘from a distinctive alchemy of silk, soot, gold, fire, and fur,’ from a playful and curious fascination with the subject matter and tools provided by the natural world.” Tamar Avishai on art in isolation: the delicate paintings of Edo Japan.

To me, the Diggers were a phenomenon. I don’t know that there’s been anything like them in history—yes, history repeats itself, so there probably was somebody at some time, I’m just not aware of it—a situation where you have a group of people whose goal is to help other people, to bring them not just the basic necessities you need to survive but the things that you need for your imagination, your brain, your growth on other levels. It was like an opium dream or something.

Siena Carlton-Firestone (aka Natural Suzanne) talking to Jay Babcock for the fourth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists

• A psychic has been ordered to pay the costs of exhuming Salvador Dalí’s corpse for a failed paternity test.

• Feel the crushing steel: David Bennun on Grace Jones and the Compass Point Trilogy.

Sleep Tones by Six Organs Of Admittance, name-your-price music for insomniacs.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 645 by Juan MacLean.

Playing the Piano for the Isolated by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• David Lynch Theater presents: Fire (Pozar).

Fire (1967) by Koko Taylor | Fire (1984) by 23 Skidoo | Fire (2002) by Ladytron

Oscar (1985)

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I’ve mentioned John Hawkesworth’s three-hour television biography of Oscar Wilde in previous Wilde-related posts, but was never able to point to a viewable copy until now. Oscar was broadcast by the BBC in three parts in 1985, and if it was ever shown again I don’t recall it; I certainly missed capturing it on tape. This was frustrating because I always remembered Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Wilde as being the best I’d seen, but the only reissues for home viewing were long-deleted tapes and discs produced for other countries. Having watched the drama again I’m pleased to find it as good as I remembered, possibly more so since I’ve read a several Wilde biographies in the interim so I’m better able to judge its accuracy.

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Oscar examining Aubrey Beardsley’s Salomé illustrations.

As a writer and TV producer John Hawkesworth specialised in period drama, creating and writing episodes for The Duchess of Duke Street, Danger UXB (about wartime bomb disposal), and the celebrated Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series featuring Jeremy Brett’s definitive portrayal of the detective. Oscar was based on biographical books by H. Montgomery Hyde, an MP who lost his seat for his campaigns in the late 1950s and 1960s against the British laws forbidding homosexual acts. Knowing this it’s significant that Hawkesworth’s opening scene in the first episode is a brief parliamentary discussion about the notorious Labouchere Amendment of 1885 (“The Blackmailer’s Charter”) which the narrator informs us would send Oscar Wilde to prison ten years later. Hawkesworth divides his drama into three distinct phases: Gilded Youth (concerning Wilde’s relationship with Alfred Douglas, his artistic success and the ire of the Marquess of Queensberry); Trials (the personal as well as legal variety); and De Profundis (imprisonment and its aftermath).

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In the dock at the Old Bailey.

The arc of tragedy is a familiar one, of course, but other dramatisations are seldom as well-balanced as here. Feature films about Oscar Wilde generally have shorter running times so devote their larger budgets to a recreation of the glamorous fin-de-siècle rise and the terrible downfall. Oscar is a typical BBC production of the period, mostly recorded on video in studio sets with occasional film work for exteriors. What we see of Victorian London appears sparse compared to the Sherlock Holmes episodes which were being filmed at this time. Hawkesworth may have been restricted by budget but three hours allows him to pay greater attention to the later episodes, especially the trials. Oscar was the first screen biography to give us include the discussion of sexual details in the courtroom, as well as to show Wilde alone with a naked boy. This was a considerable advance at a time when gay sex of any kind was a rare sight on British television, and when even the straight variety could cause problems, as it did for Gambon and co. a year later when Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective inspired the contemptible Mary Whitehouse to complain to the BBC. Hawkesworth also runs through the later years to the very end, a period of decline usually avoided or, as in Brian Gilbert’s Wilde (1997), disingenuously truncated so as to provide a “happy” resolution. Given this, I would have preferred some of the earlier scenes to be longer, and to offer a sense of Wilde’s status as a serious thinker about art and aesthetics. Wilde’s flamboyant persona made him famous but he was influential not for his dandyish manner but for his ideas and their articulation in essays, lectures and the plays; his aesthetic theories were the foundation of all his writing. The most famous line from his final poem is still a statement of philosophic principle: “Yet each man kills the thing he loves”.

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Oscar and Bosie.

Aesthetics aside, the public perception of Oscar Wilde presents a hurdle for dramatisations which risk the representation being a mere caricature, like the Monty Python sketch about Wilde and his cohorts. Michael Gambon’s performance shows Wilde as a human being, not merely a charming dispenser of witty aphorisms. This has always seemed to me crucial for any actor; it’s not enough to merely look like Wilde—as Robert Morley and Stephen Fry did—but you have to be able to convey the horrors, the indignity (and, with regard to his wife, the culpability) of his later years. Stephen Fry is a good comic actor but he never could have played the Singing Detective. Gambon’s seductively purring voice is another plus, and he even allows a hint Irish brogue to slip through now and then. Of the other actors, Robin Lermitte looks more like Alfred Douglas than does Jude Law in Brian Gilbert’s film, but Law is better at conveying Bosie’s mercurial and tempestuous character; likewise Tom Wilkinson made the Marquess of Queensbury seem a little more human in Gilbert’s version, at least in the beginning, whereas Norman Rodway presents the man from the outset as a perpetually furious goblin. Missing from Hawkesworth’s drama are Wilde’s good friend Ada Leverson, and his mother, Speranza, whose urging him to stand tall and remain in England when the police were coming for him was one of the factors that sealed his fate.

Oscar may be seen here: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

For now, and possibly the foreseeable future, this is the only way to see this drama so I’d suggest downloading it if you can. It’s a rare work that could easily vanish once again.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Importance of Being Oscar

The Bomb Squad

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This is the second book cover I’ve designed for Neil Perry Gordon, the first being for The Righteous One which was published in August last year. Both novels have New York City as a location but The Bomb Squad differs substantially from the metaphysical drama of The Righteous One by opening with a real event, the bomb attack in 1916 by German agents on US munitions being stored on Black Tom Island in New York harbour; the bomb squad of the title is the group of men who lead an investigation to prevent further outrages.

Rather than take a figurative approach with this design I opted for a collage of historical details. This seemed a good way of immediately establishing the period and location as well as reflecting the piecemeal nature of police investigations, the accumulation of evidence and so on. Collage also made it possible to include references to some of the locations in the story such as Black Tom Island (from a map at the Library of Congress showing the extent of the bomb damage), the Dakota Building, Ellis Island, etc. The five symbols below the title are from a book of heraldic designs, and relate to the Jungian archetypes which one of the detectives assigns to each member of the squad. The symbols aren’t labelled so the reader can decide which symbol relates to which character.

The Bomb Squad is available now from the usual outlets.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Righteous One