Art on film: Space is the Place

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Mescaline Woods (1969) by Gage Taylor.

Continuing an occasional series about artworks in feature films. This is more of a trivial example than the epic study of Providence but it seems worth mentioning when the art and the film in question aren’t so familiar.

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Encounter (1971) by Gage Taylor.

Last week my friend Jay Babcock was asking on his Substack newsletter for other examples of the utopian hippy landscape art that flourished in the 1970s. I recommended the paintings of Gage Taylor (1942–2000), an artist who was part of the loose movement known as the Californian Visionaries during that decade; paintings by the group were showcased in the Visions book published by Pomegranate in 1977, and shortly thereafter could be found in the early issues of OMNI magazine. Taylor was a prime exponent of slightly fantastic, idealised landscapes with titles like Mescaline Woods, painted in a style which, for the most part, he managed to prevent from becoming too saccharine. Encounter is a typical example: a quartet of naked hippies wandering through an Arcadian scene bordered by decorative cannabis leaves. The painting is definitely utopian in asking us to accept a clothes-free hike along a trail with no concern for sharp stones or injurious plants and animals.

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Looking through Visions again, and at this painting in particular, I was struck by the foreground group of floating alien creatures which I belatedly realised are the origin of the aliens from the opening scenes of Space is the Place (1974), the Sun Ra feature film directed by John Coney. And after watching those scenes again, details from Taylor’s paintings (including Mescaline Woods) turn up as brief establishing shots of the planet where Sun Ra has landed his spacecraft, something I’d missed entirely. Taylor is credited as one of the set decorators so I’d guess he made the alien creatures himself. I’d have been happy with more of the cosmic weirdness and less of the Blaxploitation clichés that pad out the later scenes but with films as unlikely as this we have to be thankful they exist at all. At its best Space is the Place approaches the delirium of The Holy Mountain, albeit on a much lower budget; Sun Ra and the villainous Overseer even play a game to decide the fate of the Earth using a unique pack of Tarot cards.

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Another more obvious external reference in the opening scenes is the cowled and mirror-faced individual that Sun Ra talks to, a figure taken from Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon. Deren’s film in 1974 wasn’t the cult item that it is today so this is an opportunistic swipe on the part of the film-makers, but the borrowing allows us to regard Mirror-face as the same character in both films. Watch them together.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Art on film: Providence
Art on film: The Beast
Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren

The Rejected Sorcerer

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Cover art by Ed Emshwiller.

More Borges. While checking the details of yesterday’s post I discovered this oddity, an American SF magazine that published a two-page Borges story in March 1960, and put the author’s name on the cover even though few of the magazine’s readers would have heard of him at the time. The issue, which turned out to be the final one, lacks an editorial page so there’s no indication as to how the story found its way there. The story itself concerns an encounter in modern-day Spain between two men, one of them an established magician (in the occult sense), the other a neophyte hoping to gain similar powers. The piece is as much a moral fable as a work of fantasy, and as such appears out of place in a magazine with flying-saucer artwork on its exterior and a Virgil Finlay illustration inside (not for the Borges, unfortunately).

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I thought at first that I might not have read this one before, the title wasn’t familiar but the story was one I recognised immediately. I was also surprised to find that I have it in four different collections under different titles, and with two of the printings appearing at first to disguise the author. In Black Water: An Anthology of Fantastic Literature (1983), edited by Alberto Manguel, the story appears as The Wizard Postponed, with the writer given as “Juan Manuel”; in The Book of Fantasy (1988), an updated version of the Antología de la Literatura Fantástica edited in 1940 by Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, the same piece appears as The Wizard Passed Over, with the author credited as “Don Juan Manuel”. The latter turns out to be the original author, a medieval Spanish writer, although “original” here is a debatable term when the story is Manuel’s adaptation of a piece he found in a book of Arabian tales. Borges rewrote this together with several other short reworkings which appear in the Etcetera section at the end of A Universal History of Infamy, its third appearance on my shelves (once again as The Wizard Postponed).

The fourth appearance is in the Collected Fictions (1998), or the cursed volume as I tend to think of it. I often feel bad about traducing the efforts of translator Andrew Hurley every time Borges is mentioned here but this story provides a good example of why his work is so unsatisfying to readers familiar with the stories from older editions. In its original Spanish the story is El brujo postergado, a short title for which The Wizard Postponed or The Wizard Passed Over would seem like reasonable analogues. Hurley expands this to The Wizard That Was Made to Wait, a lumbering, graceless phrase that’s typical of the lumbering gracelessness elsewhere in Collected Fictions. These tin-eared translations are the ones approved by the Borges estate so they’re present in all the reprints of the past 20 years. Fortunately for readers, most of Borges’ books were widely reprinted in English translations that the author approved, and some of which he even assisted with. Reject the conjurations of maladroit sorcerers, that’s my advice.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges on Ulysses
Borges in the firing line
La Bibliothèque de Babel
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Weekend links 625

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Hand (1940) by Jindrich Styrsky.

• “I love very much Symbolist painters like Odilon Redon, Ferdinand Knopf or Léon Spilliaert. Or Nordic European painters such as Munch or Gallen-Kallela. I like the way they often mix nature and mythology. Some Surrealist painters are very inspiring too: De Chirico, Tanguy, Toyen, Styrsky, or Dorothea Tanning, for instance.” Lucile Hadzihalilovic talking to Mark Cousins about her new film, Earwig, and her approach to cinema.

• “It was no accident that Mishima chose to experiment with science fiction. It was a genre he had long admired. He adored Arthur C. Clarke, and lavished praise on Godzilla…” Alexander Lee on Yukio Mishima’s sole venture into science fiction, Beautiful Star.

• Old music: Roforofo Fight by Fela Kuti, a great favourite round here, is receiving a 50th anniversary reissue.

Readers of Berlin’s Third Sex were confronted with a whole fête galante of misfits, deviants, and sexual mutineers cavorting on the legal edgelands of society. There’s the “gathering of obviously homosexual princes, counts and barons” discussing Wagner, the women-only ball where a “dark-eyed Carmen sets a jockey aflame”, the drag act burlesquing Isadora Duncan, a café in the city’s north where Jewish lesbians play chess, gaggles of gay labourers meeting up to gossip before tending to their needlework, the Russian baron distributing alms to hustlers in the Tiergarten, a canal-side tavern where soldiers from the nearby barracks find gay men only too willing to pick up their tab, and the encrypted classified ads with which the lonesome and horny sought to make the vast metropolis just a little smaller.

James Conway on the pioneering sexology of Magnus Hirschfeld

• At Aquarium Drunkard: The Miles Davis Septet playing live at Chateau Neuf, Oslo, in 1971.

Industrial Symphony No. 1 by David Lynch & Angelo Badalamenti featuring Julee Cruise.

• Mix of the week: Ghosts & Goblins 1 by The Ephemeral Man.

• New music: The Homeland Of Electricity by Scanner.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Pufff.

• Galerie Dennis Cooper presents Ilse Bing.

• RIP Paula Rego and Julee Cruise.

Teacher Of Electricity (1970) by Old Gold | Electricity (1980) by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark | Night Electricity Theme (2017) by Dean Hurley

Victor Valla book covers

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Lancer Books, 1971.

Victor Valla’s cover for The Dunwich Horror has appeared here before, and his cover for The Colour Out of Space is very familiar, but I hadn’t gone looking for anything else of his until this week. There isn’t much to be found on genre titles, just the rest of these covers plus a handful of undistinguished paintings for Gothic dramas and Dracula novels. His Lovecraft and Derleth covers are the kind of thing I always like to see more of, however, being less illustrations of story details than renderings of the feelings the story generates when you read it. This is especially the case with The Colour Out of Space, a story that suggests far more than it shows, and whose central motif—a colour alien to the Earth—is impossible to depict at all. In the 1970s it was easier to get away with this on paperback covers; Lovecraft was still a niche author and there wasn’t the legacy of imagery there is today. Incidentally, the Richard Lupoff book below isn’t as anomalous as it may seem if you know that Lupoff later wrote a novel, Lovecraft’s Book, with HPL as one of the main characters.

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Lancer Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Illustrating Lovecraft again
Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space

Weekend links 622

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Testa Anatomica (1854) by Filippo Balbi.

The New School of the Anthropocene is “…an experiment. But it is also an act of repair. In partnership with October Gallery in London, we seek to reinstate the intellectual adventure and creative risk that formerly characterised arts education before the university system capitulated to market principles and managerial bureaucracy… (more)”

• “Every once in a while, you come across old music that generates a shock of new excitement.” Geeta Dayal on Oksana Linde whose electronic compositions are being released in a retrospective collection next month.

• More Walerian Borowczyk: Anatomy of the Devil, a collection of Borowczyk’s short stories, newly translated into English by Michael Levy, and with a cover design by the Quay Brothers.

• Washing machines, garden snails, and plastic surgery: A stroll through the Matmos catalogue. Related: “Why scientists are turning molecules into music.”

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor: Boogie Down Predictions, Hip Hop, Time and Afrofuturism, edited by Roy Christopher.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Exploring Japan’s historical landmarks and shrines in the middle of streets.

• New music: Adrian Sherwood Presents: Dub No Frontiers, music by female dub artists.

Winners of the 2022 Milky Way Photographer of the Year.

• A Vision In Many Voices: The art of Leo and Diane Dillon.

Molecular Delusion (1971) by Ramases | DNA Music (Molecular Meditation) (1985) by Riley McLaughlin | Pop Molecule (Molecular Pop 1) (2008) by Stereolab