Leonora Carrington and the House of Fear

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Kim Evans’ 50-minute TV profile of Leonora Carrington finally turned up on YouTube in December, in a slightly truncated copy. I taped this when it was first broadcast by the BBC in November 1992, and had the foresight to digitise it before my video recorder stopped working, but I’ve never wanted a YT account so I resisted the urge to upload it myself. If I was going to do so I’d offer things to Ubuweb instead, but I haven’t managed that either.

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Leonora Carrington and the House of Fear was shown a few months after Carrington’s paintings had been the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, two events that made nonsense of Tate Modern’s subsequent labelling of her as a “lost” artist. Most artists would be happy to be described as “lost” if it meant being given almost an hour of screen-time on BBC 1 together with a retrospective show at a major London gallery. Describing Carrington as “lost” was a convenient way for the Tate and any art critics playing catch-up to sidestep their having ignored her work for decades. (Joanna Moorhead embarrassed Tate Modern about this neglect in 2007.) Surrealism lost its avant-garde status in the late 1940s, and became increasingly disreputable thanks in part to Salvador Dalí’s prominence and self-promotion. There were Surrealist exhibitions in London prior to 1992—notably the expansive Dada and Surrealism show at the Hayward Gallery in 1978—but the British art and literary world has always been suspicious of an excess of imagination, the very thing that’s too the fore in Kim Evans’ film. This follows the standard BBC template of the time, combining a biographical sketch with a view of the artist’s day-to-day life which here includes a visit to a crypt full of mummified corpses, and a lesson in how to make egg tempera. Marina Warner championed Carrington’s art and writing throughout the “lost” years, and she turns up briefly to offer some comment.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Temptations
The Secret Life of Edward James
Leonora Carrington, 1917–2011

Weekend links 556

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Captain Edward St. Miquel Tilden Bradshaw and his Crew Come to Grips with Bloodthirsty Foe Pirates by S. Clay Wilson, Zap Comix no. 3, 1968.

• RIP S. Clay Wilson, the wild man of American comics. The scene of mayhem above is typical in being barely coherent at a small size; click for a larger view. Patrick Rosenkranz at The Comics Journal describes Wilson as “the most influential artist of his generation…creating an extensive body of work that will defy authority and offend propriety until the end of days”. When Moebius was writing in the 1980s about the founding of Métal Hurlant he had this to say about the American undergrounds: “They were the first in the world to use comics as a means of communication, to express real emotions. Before, comics were used only to do stories, entertainment. They had some great moments but they were all very conventional. The American Underground showed us in Europe how to express true feelings, how to tell something to the reader through the comics. They blew the minds of the few professionals in Europe who saw them.” Also at TCJ, the S. Clay Wilson Interview. Wilson sent me a postcard once. I wish I knew what the hell I’d done with it.

• Michael Hoenig, synthesist for Agitation Free and (briefly) Tangerine Dream, plays one of the pieces from his debut album of electronic music, Departure From The Northern Wasteland, on a radio show in 1977. Hoenig’s album is long overdue a remastering and re-release.

• “My job, which the BBC has tasked me to do, is to provoke people and ask them, ‘Have you thought about looking at the world this way?'” Adam Curtis talks to Michael J. Brooks about his new TV series, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.

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{ feuilleton } celebrates its 15th birthday today. Monsieur Chat, the mascot of this place, is happy about that but then Monsieur Chat is happy about most things.

• At Greydogtales: Opening The Book of Carnacki. A call for contributions to a collection of new stories about William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective. I’d be tempted if I didn’t already have more than enough to keep me occupied.

• “I’m being asked to talk about it a great deal at the moment, with the pandemic.” Roger Corman and Jane Asher on filming The Masque of the Red Death.

• New music: Cygnus Sutra by Mike Shannon, “a soundtrack to a fantasy/sci-fi epic not yet written”.

• A trailer for The Witch of King’s Cross, a documentary about occult artist Rosaleen Norton.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Hans Bellmer & Paul Eluard The Games of the Doll (1949).

• RIP also this week to Rowena Morrill, fantasy artist, and to Chick Corea.

• “Computers will never write good novels,” says Angus Fletcher.

• DJ Food on Zodiac posters by Funky Features, 1967.

• Mix of the week: Fact Mix 794 by Lutto Lento.

Annie Nightingale’s favourite music.

Zodiac (1984) by Boogie Boys | From The Zodiacal Light (2014) by Earth | Zodiac Black (2017) by Goldfrapp

Arzak Rhapsody

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The first appearance of Arzach in Métal Hurlant, 1975.

Arzak (or Arzach, or Harzak, or Harzakc, etc) is one of the oldest of the comic characters created by Moebius, and an enduringly popular one even though the amount of pages devoted to the character is small. Moebius returned to Arzak sporadically after the first strips appeared in Métal Hurlant in 1975, where the first panel of the first story establishes the principal ingredients: the stern and resourceful explorer navigating an alien world on the back of a large white bird. Arzak’s flying companion is often described as a pterodactyl but it’s really a Moebius bird whose ancestors or cousins may be seen elsewhere in the Moebius-verse, notably the character of Deepo from The Incal.

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Arzak Rhapsody is a late entry in the Arzak mythos, a series of 4-minute animated films made for French TV in 2002, all of which were written by Moebius. The animation is crude when compared to René Laloux’s Moebius-designed Time Masters (1982), but the Moebius aesthetic is present throughout, from the desert landscapes of his early strips to the glowing crystals of his later work. The stories recycle moments from the comics, most of which concern Arzak evading one of the many lethal hazards presented by the flora and fauna of the place named in the animations as “Desert B”. All 14 episodes may be viewed here with the superfluous narration translated into English. Now when do we get to see Time Masters on blu-ray?

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Captive, a film by René Laloux
The horror
Chute Libre science fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: The Lovecraft Special

Learned Pigs and other moveables of wonder

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All moveables of wonder, from all parts,
Are here—Albinos, painted Indians, Dwarfs,
The Horse of knowledge, and the learned Pig,
The Stone-eater, the man that swallows fire,
Giants, Ventriloquists, the Invisible Girl,
The Bust that speaks and moves its goggling eyes,
The Wax-work, Clock-work, all the marvellous craft
Of modern Merlins, Wild Beasts, Puppet-shows,
All out-o’-the-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts
Of man, his dullness, madness, and their feats
All jumbled up together, to compose
A Parliament of Monsters.

William Wordsworth, The Prelude/Book VII

In the post this week, a book I’d missed buying in a charity shop a while ago which I spotted on eBay for a lot less than the usual asking price. Outside the USA the late Ricky Jay is probably known more for his occasional acting roles in film and TV than for his magic performances, although it was on British television that Jay established world records with his card-throwing act. Jay’s real business was stage magic, past and present, both performing it—sleight-of-hand and card tricks were his speciality—and operating as a historian of the art. His voluminous knowledge of conjuring and unusual stage acts was condensed into a self-published magazine, Jay’s Journal of Anomalies, and a number of books, not all of which concerned magic. Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women was published in 1986, being an account of favourite Jay anomalies from the theatres and circuses of the past. The US edition of the book was popular enough to inspire a related CBS TV film. I’d not seen this before but it reminded me about another TV film directed by Rex Bloomstein for the BBC’s Tx strand in 1996, Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters and Ricky Jay. As the title suggests, Jay himself is the subject of the latter documentary which includes contributions from friends Steve Martin (who also appears in Learned Pigs) and David Mamet. Bloomstein’s film contains two sequences that show Jay’s exceptional skill with a pack of playing cards. I have a vague idea how the trick in the second sequence might be performed but I’ve no idea at all how the wordless opening sequence is possible, where Jay unwraps a fresh pack of cards then proceeds to cut and shuffle them continually, after which all the cards are somehow still in perfect order.

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Ricky Jay is the kind of character I would have idolised when I was a magic-obsessed 13-year-old, not only for his skill as a performer but for his interest in the offbeat, the eccentric and the esoteric. We also share a taste for antique illustrations, Jay’s books and journals are littered with old playbills and engraved vignettes. In Britain in the 1970s little attention was given to conjuring on television beyond the perennial David Nixon, a decent enough magician but with a genial persona that was very English and consequently rather dull. (In Nixon’s defence, he did help finance the development of the Mellotron. Strange but true.) Jay’s character had an edge of menace and a touch of the mountebank or con artist, a quality exploited in David Mamet’s excellent directorial debut, House of Games (1987), for which Jay also acted as consultant. Jay’s most popular book after Learned Pigs is probably Cards as Weapons (1977), a typically humorous guide to the art of throwing playing cards. As with magic tricks, it’s very easy to show someone how to do the thing, but doing it well requires skill and a great deal of practice. In the Hustlers film we see Jay break a pencil in half with a thrown card.

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Cover of the 1988 reprint.

The popularity of Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, together with Ricky Jay’s prominence as a historian of magic, has given us The Learned Pig Project, a single-volume collection of 47 books about magic and related matters by some of the celebrated magicians of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is an unwieldy document of over 5000 pages but it’s a treat if you’re interested in the history of conjuring. Stage magic has a peculiar sibling relationship with ritual magic; both are dependent on texts for the recording and transmission of their workings, and both have traditionally required that those texts be kept secret, to guard against persecution on the one hand, and unwanted revelation on the other. So too with covens, cabals and, in the case of stage performers, “Magic Circles”. Serious stage magicians are often serious book collectors, mining the past for new ways to startle the present; Ricky Jay was an exemplar in this regard, as we see in the Hustlers film which shows him browsing his personal library. I don’t know what he would have made of so much knowledge being made so easily accessible via the The Learned Pig Project—the whole purpose of Magic Circles is to keep the secrets inside the profession—but there have always been books about magic tricks, and young magicians have to start somewhere. As with card throwing, anyone can be shown the secret of a magic trick but that doesn’t mean that those who learn the secret can master the performance. Talented magicians, like sapient pigs, are rare creatures.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Magicians
Hodgson versus Houdini
A London Street Scene

Tangerine Dream in concert

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I was going to call this post “Remote Viewing”, after the last track on Tangerine Dream’s Exit album, but the reference is too obscure. Having spent the past week listening to the Pilots Of Purple Twilight box I thought I’d see what concert video might be available from the period covered by the recordings, 1980–83. Thank to some recent YouTube uploads there’s more than I expected. A couple of things are notable about these TV performances: the first is that two of them feature the same annoyingly mismatched audio and video that spoiled Tony Palmer’s record of the group playing in Coventry Cathedral in 1975; the second is that all the footage is from Continental Europe. Tangerine Dream were very popular in the UK throughout the 1970s and 80s—they were on a British record label, after all, and toured here extensively every couple of years—but Palmer’s film is the only record of a British TD concert. These videos aren’t always the highest quality but they make up for the negligence of the BBC and ITV.

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Palasport, Bologna, 20th October, 1980.

Mismatched audio and video in the opening scenes, followed by an interview with the group in Italian and German. The audio and video is in synch after this, and includes rare footage from this period of Edgar Froese playing guitar on Diamond Duster, an uptempo piece that evolved into Diamond Diary for the Thief soundtrack. I’m not always keen on Edgar’s meandering live solos but this is still good to see. Also of note for synth-heads is how much of the group’s equipment was still the analogue modular gear they were using in the 1970s.

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Platz der Republik, West Berlin, 29th August, 1981.

A big concert in the group’s home city. The opening shows them playing Kiew Mission, the first time they did so in concert with a live singer providing the vocals. The audio for this piece, however, is an overdub from the Exit album.

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Lycabettus Theatre, Athens, 30th August, 1983.

A shame this isn’t better quality because it’s the best of the lot: 85 minutes of the group performing (with no overdubs) preceded by 10 minutes of an interview in English for Greek TV. The concert itself features a more elaborate light show than usual, while the first half of the show includes new compositions that later turned up on the live Poland album.

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Warsaw Ice Stadium, 10th December, 1983.

And speaking of which (and linked here before), half an hour of the two-hour Warsaw concert. The earlier YouTube copy featured additional footage of a dancer in a studio but this version is sans dancer.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
German gear
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland
Electronic Music Review
Tonto’s expanding frog men
A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode