Ron Cobb, 1937–2020

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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1959.

The death of American illustrator/cartoonist/designer Ron Cobb was announced yesterday. All the obituaries are concentrating on the designs he produced for Hollywood feature films so here’s an alternative view of a long and varied career.

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After Bathing At Baxter’s (1967) by Jefferson Airplane.

Cobb’s first album cover is his most famous, and probably his most familiar work outside his film designs, but there were a few more, some of which may be seen below. The San-Francisco-house-as-aircraft always reminds me of the car/plane hybrid piloted by Professor Pat Pending in the Wacky Races cartoons.

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Some Of Our Best Friends Are (1968) by Various Artists.

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Ecology symbol, October 1969.

Cobb’s copyright-free design for an ecology symbol was published in the Los Angeles Free Press in November, 1969. The “Freep” also ran Cobb’s cartoons, some of which were later collected in The Cobb Book (1975). Satire has a tendency to date very quickly but many of Cobb’s barbs are still relevant today.

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Undated cartoon.

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Doctor Druid’s Haunted Seance (1973).

Continue reading “Ron Cobb, 1937–2020”

Weekend links 534

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Beautiful night – moon and stars, Miyajima Shrine (1928) by Kawase Hasui.

• One announcement I’d been hoping for since last summer was the news of a second box of Tangerine Dream albums to follow the excellent In Search Of Hades collection. The latter concentrated on the first phase of the group’s Virgin recordings, up to and including Force Majeure. This October will see the release of a new set, Pilots Of The Purple Twilight, which explores the rest of the Virgin period when Johannes Schmoelling had joined Froese and Franke. Among the exclusive material will be a proper release of the soundtrack for Michael Mann’s The Keep (previously a scarce limited edition), together with the complete concert from the Dominion Theatre, London. Also out in October, Dark Entries will be releasing a further collection of recordings from the recently discovered tape archive of Patrick Cowley. The new album, Some Funkettes, will comprise unreleased cover versions, one of which, I Feel Love by Donna Summer, is a cult item of mine that Cowley later refashioned into a celebrated megamix.

• “Did you know that Video Killed The Radio Star was inspired by a JG Ballard story?” asks Molly Odintz. No, I didn’t.

Casey Rae on the strange (musical) world of William S. Burroughs. Previously: Seven Souls Resouled.

• “And now we are no longer slaves”: Scott McCulloch on Pierre Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden at fifty.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Frank Jaffe presents…Dario Argento and his world of bright coloured blood.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Serpent Calls. Mark Valentine on a mysterious musical instrument.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Long-Exposure Photographs of Torii Shrine Gates by Ronny Behnert.

• Mix of the week: mr.K’s Soundstripe vol 4 by radioShirley & mr.K.

• Rising sons: the radical photography of postwar Japan.

• The illicit 1980s nudes of Christopher Makos.

• RIP Diana Rigg.

Garden Of Eden (1971) by New Riders Of The Purple Sage | Ice Floes In Eden (1986) by Harold Budd | Eden (1988) by Talk Talk

Robot Artists and Black Swans

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Four years ago I designed and illustrated a book for Tachyon written by Bruce Sterling, Pirate Utopia. Robot Artists and Black Swans is a kind of sequel, being the work of the same author for the same publisher, and with a similar geographical focus on southern Europe. The new book differs from the earlier one by being a collection of stories rather than a single piece, many of which are set in or near the city of Turin where Sterling and his wife, Jasmina Tesanovic, spend much of their time. Sterling has been living in Europe for many years, long enough to have cultivated an alter-ego, Bruno Argento, an Italian science-fiction writer who is offered as the real author of the stories in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

Pirate Utopia was an easy book to design because of the Futurist theme which I illustrated by adapting graphics by artist and designer Fortunato Depero. For the cover of the new volume I considered trying something similar with another Italian artist/designer, Franco Grignani (1980–1999). In addition to having studied in Turin, Grignani was commissioned by David Pelham to create cover art for a handful of Penguin science fiction titles in the late 1960s. Much of Grignani’s artwork is heavily indebted to the Op Art style popularised by Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, especially the early Riley formula of dazzling arrangements of parallel lines, a formula he made his own after Riley’s work evolved in other directions. Despite these favourable qualities, Grignani’s art proved too abstract for my purposes, and for Tachyon’s who wanted something more illustrative, so I ended up co-opting a very different Italian artist/designer, Leonardo da Vinci. The figure of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man has been parodied and pastiched many times so this isn’t remotely original (I’ve also used the original drawing on a pastiche book cover I designed for the Lambshead Disease Guide), but making the figure a robot was a convenient way of combining the title with Italian history. One of the stories in the collection, Pilgrims of the Round World, concerns the inhabitants of Turin during the Renaissance years, and mentions Leonardo (or “the Vinci boy”) several times, so the figure does have some actual relevance beyond being recognisably Italian. The background is, of course, the city of Turin given a slightly futuristic tweak, although it’s more Turinesque than a match for the place itself.

As usual, I’ll save discussion of the book’s interior until after publication which will be in March, 2021. Watch this spacetime.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
Futurismo!

Taking Tiger Mountain

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Another week, another obscure black-and-white science fiction film. I hadn’t heard of this one at all until it was announced in 2012 that co-director Tom Huckabee would be attending a rare screening in New York. The film is an oddity with a complicated history that I’m too lazy to try and condense so here’s the borrowed detail:

IMDB: In a dystopian future, Europe is unified under a totalitarian patriarchy, where each town is assigned a single economic purpose. In Brendovery, Wales the occupation is prostitution. Arriving by train from London is Billy Hampton, a young American expatriate and draft evader (Bill Paxton in his first lead role), ostensibly there to enjoy a sex-filled holiday. Unknown to him he is a time bomb assassin, programmed by a feminist terrorist cell to assassinate the local minister of prostitution.

Wikipedia: Taking Tiger Mountain is a 1983 American science fiction film directed by Tom Huckabee and Kent Smith, and starring Bill Paxton in one of his earliest on-screen acting roles. Originally conceived as an experimental art film inspired by a novel by Albert Camus’s 1942 novel The Stranger and a poem by Smith, the film was initially directed by Smith and shot in Wales. Aside from Paxton, the film’s cast is made up of townspeople from the areas in which shooting took place. It was filmed without sound, with the intention of adding dialogue in post-production. During post-production, Huckabee took over as the film’s director, abandoning Smith’s original concept and instead loosely basing the film on the 1979 novella Blade Runner (a movie) by William S. Burroughs. The film premiered on March 24, 1983. Over three decades later, Huckabee re-edited the film and released it as an alternate cut titled Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited.

Tom Huckabee: The story went through four distinct periods of creation:
1. Kent Smith’s original script, entitled Taking Tiger Mountain, written in 1974, based loosely on the John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping of 1973 and Albert Camus’ The Stranger. It was set in the casbah of Tangier, Morocco.
2. After Bill and Kent got ejected from Morocco before shooting even a foot of film, they drove to Wales, adapting the script significantly to the new location and the people and opportunities that presented themselves; but they ran out of film and money after shooting about half of their script.
3. After I acquired the footage in 1979, I knew I couldn’t go back to Wales, so after editing their footage to about 55 minutes, I wrote a new story with a lot of help from collaborators, like Paul Cullum, Lorrie O’Shatz, and Ray Layton. I incorporated the Burroughs material and dropped the 55 minutes from Kent and Bill’s script into it. We wrote the ten-minute introductory section with the women and shot it on a sound stage in Austin, incorporating footage from another unfinished film by Kent and Bill called D’Artangan. I also built ten minutes of scenes from outtakes. In 1980, Paxton came to Austin for a few days to “loop” all of his dialogue, as no sound had been recorded in Wales. He improvised a lot of his voice-over narration, while under hypnosis. This film, called Taking Tiger Mountain, was released on 35mm in 1983 and toured the Landmark Theater chain of art cinemas.
4.  In 2016 I got a small advance from Etiquette Pictures for digital distribution and decided to do a major upgrade. I cut out ten minutes and added five, including the new ending, which comes after the end credits, significantly changing the message of the film. I reworked the narrative, making it easier to follow.

In addition to the complications of the production it’s necessary to note that the title has nothing to do with either Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), or the Chinese opera the Eno album is named after, although we do get to hear about a tiger mountain. This reflects the equally tangled history of the “Blade Runner” title, which Taking Tiger Mountain does have some connection with via William Burroughs’ Blade Runner: A Movie. This was Burroughs’ cinematic reworking of a science fiction novel by Alan E. Nourse, The Bladerunner (1974), a piece of futurism about the very American dystopia of a nightmare healthcare system. Blade Runner: A Movie followed Burroughs’ earlier screenplay/novella, The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, although the Nourse adaptation was a much more ambitious scenario with little chance of ever being filmed. No studio in the 1970s (or today, for that matter…) would have put up the money for something that’s like a wilder version of Escape from New York with added gay sex and time travel, however attractive this may sound. As is well known by now, the treatment’s title was later purloined by another film that has little else in common with anything discussed here.

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All of which means that Taking Tiger Mountain is exactly the kind of thing guaranteed to stoke my curiosity: a Burroughs-derived science-fiction film made on the cheap by Americans in south Wales, of all places. Why Wales? Because Bill Paxton had been there as a foreign exchange student. I’m not sure I would have been as interested without the disjunctive frisson of gloomy, rain-swept Wales in the mid-1970s colliding with William Burroughs. That said, the blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome has two things immediately in its favour: for a micro-budget production the film has excellent photography (the black-and-white stock was provided by leftovers from Bob Fosse’s Lenny); and there’s a surprising amount of unsimulated sex, something that isn’t such a big deal today but certainly was in 1974. The youthful Bill Paxton is gorgeous and exceptionally photogenic, so the film is a pleasure to watch even when little of substance is happening.

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Continue reading “Taking Tiger Mountain”

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