The Blake Video

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More from the website update. One of the pages buried in the site is an appendix to my design for Angel Passage, a William Blake-themed CD by Alan Moore and Tim Perkins that was released on Steven Severin’s Re: label in 2001. In addition to designing the CD I also created a video accompaniment for the sole performance of the piece at the Purcell Room in London in February of that year. The old web page showed screen shots of the video, and very small ones at that, so as well as updating the page itself I’ve replaced the thumbnails with the original shots.

The video was created in a rush five days before the performance, and only finished the night before I departed for London, so was rather lazily done in places. I’d just taken delivery of a new G4 Power Mac without which I wouldn’t have been able to do any video editing at all. Raw material was artwork scanned from books plus a stack of VHS tapes, including a TV documentary about Blake that provided a few relevant shots of contemporary London. Another essential component was a borrowed video player that could play both VHS and MiniDV cassettes, as well as connect to the computer. The assembled footage was recorded to a MiniDV master cassette which I still have somewhere although I’ve no idea whether it’s still viewable, and have no way to watch it in any case. Those MiniDV players had a tendency to mysteriously render their tapes unplayable which I think may have happened to my tape when I came to try and archive it after the performance. This is fitting in a way, Alan was always adamant that the music-based readings he was doing at this time were one-off events, and the video was only intended to augment the reading, not be watched away from the performance. Copies of the CD still circulate so the work hasn’t vanished altogether. Alan and Tim collaborated on three readings in this series, together with two earlier outings, The Birth Caul and (with David J) The Moon And Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre Of Marvels. We’re overdue a reissue of the entire Moon and Serpent discography.

Previously on { feuilleton }
William Blake in Manchester

Peake’s Insects

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Having recently watched Jan Svankmajer’s self-reflexive film of the Capek Brothers’ Insect Play I was intrigued by a mention in one of the Mervyn Peake biographies that Peake had created costumes for two stagings of the play in London in 1932 and 1936. “Mr Mervyn Peake’s costumes could not be bettered,” said James Agate in the Sunday Times, but my sole book of Peake artwork doesn’t mention the play at all, and these drawings are the only examples to found after a web search, not the photos I was hoping for. The one below is a more original conception than those used by the amateur actors in the Svankmajer film.

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My own workload is gaining momentum just now so posting here may be sporadic for a while. I’m also recoding my website from scratch which doesn’t help when you already have more than enough plates spinning. Having refreshed the blog with a flexible template that resizes itself for different devices I decided it to do the same for the rest of the site. I last attempted anything on this scale in 2005 so I’m having to educate myself all over again in the mysteries of cascading style sheets. And I have hundreds of pages that need working on… This will take some time.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bookmark: Mervyn Peake
The Web by Joan Ashworth
Peake’s glassblowers
Mervyn Peake in Coronation Street
The Worlds of Mervyn Peake
A profusion of Peake
Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs
Peake’s Pan
Buccaneers #1
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
The Illustrators of Alice

Weekend links 517

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Edward James by René Magritte; La Reproduction Interdite (1937).

• “James was filmed in the late 1970s, striding round Las Pozas in a sweater and a tattered dressing-gown, surmounted by parrots (The Secret Life of Edward James can be seen on YouTube). When asked what motivated him, he replied: ‘Pure megalomania!’ He was having his second childhood, he said, though he wasn’t sure the first had ever ended.” Mike Jay on lifelong Surrealist, Edward James (1907–1984), and the concrete fantasia he built in the Mexican jungle.

• “I found the roots of electronic music in a cupboard!” Musician Paul Purgas (one half of Emptyset) on the discovery of early electronic music from India’s National Institute Of Design. Related: Purgas talks about his discovery with Patrick Clarke.

• RIP Phil May. Here’s The Pretty Things in their guise as psych band “Electric Banana” for an appearance in What’s Good for the Goose (1969). A decent moment in an otherwise terrible film.

• Music is a memory machine: David Toop explores how the transmission of music between disparate cultures can be a tool against populism and prejudice.

• Kraftwerk’s remarkable journey, and where it took us: Bob Boilen and Geeta Dayal discuss the tanzmusik of Düsseldorf.

• At Dangerous Minds: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy: Fifty years ago The Cockettes turned drag upside down.

Hua Hsu on the secret lives of fungi: “They shape the world—and offer lessons for how to live in it”.

• The great writer who never wrote: Emma Garman on the flamboyant Stephen Tennant.

• Cult 1998 PlayStation game LSD: Dream Emulator is finally playable in English.

Jim Jupp of Ghost Box records talks about the Intermission compilation album.

Jonathan Moodie on psychoactive cinema and sacred animation.

Alex Barrett on where to begin with Akira Kurosawa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Skeletons.

Skeleton Makes Good (1982) by Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band | Red Skeletons (1996) by Coil | Kids Will Be Skeletons (2003) by Mogwai

Shades of Darkness

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The end of the year in Britain is as much a time for ghost stories as the end of October, and this is one Christmas tradition (one of the few…) that I’ve always been happy to support. In recent years all of the best of the British TV ghost stories have appeared on DVD, along with some of the minor ones, but exceptions remain. Shades of Darkness was a series of hour-long supernatural dramas made by Granada TV in the 1980s, and so far seems to have only appeared on disc as a now-deleted Region 1 set.

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The series comprised two short seasons in 1983 and 1986, and dates from the period when Granada was in serious competition with the BBC for well-crafted period drama. Granada’s flagship production was the long-running Sherlock Holmes series, an attempt to film all the Holmes stories with Jeremy Brett in the lead, a mostly successful endeavour that was only compromised at the end by Brett’s failing health. Shades of Darkness shares with the Holmes adaptations some of the same production team (producer June Wyndham Davies and director Peter Hammond) together with well-chosen rural locations in damp and autumnal Lancashire and Cheshire.

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I’d only seen one of these films before, the adaptation by Ken Taylor of Walter de la Mare’s most anthologised story, Seaton’s Aunt. The story is a good choice for a series where the human drama is given as much space as the supernatural although the film doesn’t capture the subtleties or the insidious horror of de la Mare’s best writing. (The copy at YouTube is also blighted with Norwegian subtitles throughout.) I doubt that any adaptation of Seaton’s Aunt could satisfy me but it’s good to see Mary Morris in one of her last roles as poor Seaton’s malign and domineering guardian.

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More successful are Afterward by Edith Wharton, another popular entry in ghost-story collections, and The Maze by CHB Kitchin in which Francesca Annis’s post-war housewife is tormented by memories of a dead lover. Kitchin’s story is an odd inclusion among the familiar tales, and I wonder how it came to be chosen when it doesn’t seem to be subject to the same republication as the others. MR James biographer Michael Cox is credited as an executive producer on some of the films in the series, which suggests he may have advised on the story selections, but not on The Maze. Kitchin was a writer best known for his detective novels but he’s received more attention in recent years for a number of novels with gay themes. The Maze includes a character coded as gay who isn’t treated as an outright villain, an unusual detail in a story first published in 1954.

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Elsewhere, Hugh Grant has an early role in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Demon Lover, and there are three adaptations by Alan Plater, one of which, LP Hartley’s Feet Foremost, is another frequently collected story which Plater surprisingly mishandles. Plater’s adaptation of The Intercessor by May Sinclair is better, with John Duttine in the role of a writer trying to work in a haunted farmhouse. I saw Duttine on stage a few years after this when he played a similar role as The Actor in the first theatrical run of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. It’s possible that The Intercessor secured him the part.

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All these films are currently on YouTube with the exception of the final episode in season two, The Last Seance by Agatha Christie. Watch them here.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Return: a ghost story
Nigel Kneale’s Woman in Black
“Who is this who is coming?”

Weekend links 476

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Man’s body dish for Sashimi under the cherry blossom (2005) by Ryoko Kimura.

• Godley & Creme’s Consequences (1977) is reissued this month on CD and vinyl. Originally a three-disc concept album with a theme of climate disaster and the natural world’s revenge on humanity, Consequences was released at a time when punk and prog rock were fighting for the attention of music listeners. 1977 wasn’t the end of prog by any means (many of the vilified bands had some of their greatest successes at this time) but Godley & Creme’s transition from the smart pop songs of 10cc to extended instrumental suites was abrupt, and their concept, such as it was, lacked the drama and accessibility of Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds, even with the addition of Peter Cook providing a multi-voice comic narrative between the musical pieces. (Kevin Godley ruefully referred to the album in later years as Con Sequences.) The album flopped, and has been a cult item ever since.

• “A word of caution, though. Once you do read it, it’s hard to let it go.” Philip Hoare on Herman Melville and Moby-Dick. Related: William T. Vollmann on how a voyage to French Polynesia set Herman Melville on the course to write Moby-Dick.

Samm Deighan on The “Faraway Forest” in Peter Strickland’s Katalin Varga, The Duke of Burgundy, and The Cobbler’s Lot.

Brian Eno, Roger Eno, and Daniel Lanois discuss the recording of Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks.

John Boardley on the first fashion books, Renaissance pixel fonts and the invention of graph paper.

Melanie Xulu looks back at a time where major labels were releasing witchcraft rituals.

• “Tom Phillips’ A Humument is a completely novel project,” says Rachel Hawley.

John Foster on the evolution of Stereolab’s analogue-inspired record sleeves.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: a history of le Grand Guignol by Agnes Peirron.

Casey Rae on William S. Burroughs and the cult of rock’n’roll.

• An Austin Osman Spare image archive.

Consequences (1965) by John Coltrane | Moby Dick (1969) by Led Zeppelin | Consequence (1995) by Paul Schütze