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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Weekend links 326

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Anchoress by Judith Schaechter.

• The publication of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is imminent so the NYT asked him about his favourite books and writers of the moment. For the next post I’ll be writing about my own involvement with Moore’s novel.

Chris Campion on David Bowie and the missing soundtrack: the amazing story behind The Man Who Fell to Earth. Related: cinematographer Anthony Richmond on his memories of shooting the film.

Mr Beatnick on how the B-side of Change The Beat by Beside became the most sampled song of all time.

Lisa Hix on An Un-Conventional Thirst: Collecting 7Up’s most beautiful, hallucinatory billboards.

Rub Out The Word: Steve Buscemi & Elliott Sharp present texts by William Burroughs.

• Opening next month at the Corridor Gallery, Brighton (UK): An exhibition of art by Ian Miller.

• Folk singer Shirley Collins will be releasing a new album, Lodestar, her first for over 35 years.

A trip to the mythical Isle of Tiki, Polynesian Pop and A/C Eden.

• Mix of the week: Harvest Hymns by Melmoth The Wanderer.

• Wandering In Space: composer Jherek Bischoff interviewed.

Heavy Water is a new short film by Adam Scovell.

• “When will New York sink?” asks Andrew Rice.

The World’s Largest Synthesizer

The Thai Occult by Jenx

• RIP Richard Neville

The Other Without

We Are Cult

Heavy Rock (1976) by Sound Dimension | Heavy Charm (1995) by The Ear | Heavy Water (2008) by Crackle

 


Bikers and witches: Psychomania

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Among the film viewing this past week there was Psychomania (1973), another advance Blu-ray courtesy of the BFI. Americans may know this as The Death Wheelers, a more accurate (if clumsily literal) retitling, although Psychomania does a better job of grabbing the attention. In the micro-genres of the horror film the occult biker picture is a niche with few entries; offhand I can only think of Werewolves on Wheels (1971), a low-grade American production. Most biker films are American so Psychomania is unusual for being British (with an Australian director, Don Sharp), and with a pitch that’s memorable if nothing else: biker gang kill themselves then return from the dead so they can cause mayhem with impunity. The script was the work of Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet whose only other credit is for a curious chiller made the year before, Horror Express. This was a British/Spanish period piece with a good cast (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas) that’s notable—and often overlooked—for being another film based on John W. Campbell’s SF story “Who Goes There?”.

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The Seven Witches and The Living Dead.

Psychomania also has a decent supporting cast despite its frequent swerves into absurdity. Since the subject is a Home Counties’ bike gang, the leader, Tom Latham (Nicky Henson), has a mother (Beryl Reid) who lives in a country house with a very modish interior: all abstract art, scatter cushions, leather furniture and Trimfones. Mrs Latham is the local table-tapper and may also be a witch, although it’s never clear whether the scene of her offering her son to the Devil is Tom’s hallucination or a replaying of past events. Tom’s father has died after some unspecified supernatural encounter in a mysterious locked room where Tom later has the vision of his being sold to the Devil. Then there’s Shadwell (George Sanders), ostensibly the butler of the household but devilish enough to shrink from a cross when it’s offered by grateful séance attendees. Reid and Sanders lend the proceedings some gravitas, even if Sanders (in his final role, and not well at the time) seems to have stooped far below his usual level. Nicky Henson makes a charismatic leader of bike gang The Living Dead, although his tight leather pants, and the shiny leather gear worn by the others, belong to an earlier decade. This is biker gear as imagined by people remembering The Wild One or The Leather Boys, and a long way from the reeking, never-washed denim “originals” favoured by Hell’s Angels and their ilk.

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Chopped Meat (Harvey Andrews) sings Riding Free while Tom is being buried.

It’s probably too much to expect of a low-budget horror film, but watching Psychomania again had me thinking that an opportunity was missed to more accurately reflect the real bike gangs of Britain in the 1970s. Biker culture was a country-wide phenomenon at the time; boys I was at school with were too young to own motorbikes but many had brothers who did, and had picked up from them the fetishising of dying British manufacturers such as Triumph, Norton and BSA. (The Living Dead all ride Triumphs.) A few years later I was hanging around with the bikers who were always present among any group of metal-heads, many of whom were too poor to own British bikes but behaved as though they did. The bikerdom of the 70s had little to do with the bike groups of earlier decades even if the bike brands remained the same. The new model, of course, was California’s Hell’s Angels whose first British chapters appeared in London in the late 1960s, and whose legend was popularised by Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1967). Every biker seemed to have read to Thompson’s book, and the presence of Hell’s Angels on British soil led to the swift founding of many imitation groups, forbidden from using the name without Californian approval but grouping themselves under similar handles. A measure of the culture’s appeal to the popular British imagination may be found in the many biker exploitation novels published by New English Library through the mid-70s.

Given all this you’d expect biker culture to be more prevalent in British cinema of the period but the examples are so few there’s really only Psychomania and Sidney J. Furie’s The Leather Boys (1964). The latter documents the pre-Hell’s Angels biker scene via a pseudonymous gay novel that makes similar connections to Kenneth Anger’s almost contemporaneous Scorpio Rising. The gay content is diluted in the film but there’s enough there to make it seem surprisingly bold for the time. Furie’s bikers are a tame bunch compared to The Living Dead, they only want to ride their bikes, not play hogs of the road, and the film as a whole is kitchen-sink-on-wheels, with a link to A Taste of Honey (1961) via Rita Tushingham.

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Abby meets dead Tom at the stone circle.

Psychomania is glossier—well, it’s in colour!—and aims for lurid AIP-style mayhem even if such antics seem out-of-place in leafy Surrey. When Tom’s mother inadvertently gives him the secret of bodily resurrection he goes out and kills himself; after his return from the grave (on a motorcycle!) his gang eagerly follow his example. The film runs out of steam when it becomes apparent that The Living Dead’s idea of making the most of their post-death freedom is the same harassing of pedestrians and other motorists as before. The only question is whether Tom’s girlfriend, Abby (Mary Larkin), will kill herself and join them in an eternity of trashing supermarkets. Abby’s equivocation is signalled by her being the only member of the gang who doesn’t wear leather. The film touches on folk horror with the location of “The Seven Witches”, a circle of standing stones which the gang use as their meeting place, and where they bury Tom after he plunges off a bridge. As with The Wicker Man, which was being filmed around the same time, there’s even an acoustic song interlude from one of the more hippyish bikers.

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George Sanders and Beryl Reid indulge in some home Satanism.

Psychomania was always a welcome sight when it used to appear on late-night television. The combination of bikers and occult rites is unusual enough to sustain the attention even if the implications of the premise go unexplored. Unlike The Wicker Man, however, or the excellent Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970), Psychomania‘s disparate threads fail to cohere, and the film is held together largely by its sense of black humour. Don Sharp’s direction manages a couple of clever single-take sleights, and the soundtrack by John Cameron is very good. Cameron wrote a great deal of library music so was adept at capturing the essence of a style. Psychomania‘s soundtrack plays on the rock grooves of the period, and the theme was issued as a single credited to “Frog” (after the possibly supernatural amphibian that Tom finds in a graveyard).

The film looks excellent on Blu-ray albeit grainier in low-light scenes than other BFI transfers. The audio is also more noise-reduced than I’d prefer. The disc includes the usual wealth of BFI extras: interviews with the surviving cast members; a short interview with John Cameron; an amateur film, Roger Wonders Why (1965), about a pair of Christian (!) bikers; and a black-and-white short for Shell narrated by John Betjeman about the Avebury stone circle. George Sanders is absent from the extras since he killed himself shortly after finishing work on the film. As Michael Weldon notes with typical drollery in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Sanders didn’t return from the dead on a motorcycle. A pity.

Psychomania is released on 19th September.

 


Weekend links 325

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08-30-16 from the Everydays series by Beeple.

• “Monsieur de Bougrelon is a unique character: loquacious, proud, a leftover from an earlier age, wearing garish outfits and makeup that drips. To his speechless audience, he waxes nostalgic about his life as an exile in Holland, as well as what he calls “imaginary pleasures” – obsessions with incongruous people, animals, and objects. These obsessions are often sexual or border on the sexual, leading to shocking, surreal scenes. Monsieur de Bougrelon also enthuses over his beautiful friend Monsieur de Mortimer, making this novella one of the rare works of the nineteenth century to broach homosexuality in a meaningful way, years before Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet.” Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897) by Jean Lorrain will receive its first English publication by Spurl Editions in November.

• “…The Future seems in retrospect to have been no more than a spectacle, created by the optimistic few for the optimistic many, the readily gulled multitudes who had faith in technological seers just as an earlier generation had had faith in Great Men.” Jonathan Meades reviews Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture by Douglas Murphy.

In the Woods & On the Heath is a collection of 48 pieces of erotic prose and poetry by 24 writers, all of them illustrated by Van Rijn.

Borneman was widely read in European literature and, once settled in London, wasted no time bringing himself up to speed with developments in English-language writing, discovering a particular affinity with Hemingway and Joyce, not to mention American crime writers such as Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett. This presumably explains the distinctive, sometimes highly eccentric style of The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor, which despite being set in an English film studio of the 1930s (which evokes images, perhaps, of genteel musical comedies performed in perfect RP accents), combines laconic, hardboiled dialogue with extended stream-of-consciousness passages, all filtered through the skewed phraseology of someone whose acquisition of English was still, to some extent, a work in progress.

Jonathan Coe on the mysteries of The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor, a novel by “Cameron McCabe” (Ernest Borneman)

• How Oscar Wilde paved the way for gay rights in the arts. Wilde will be honoured with a major exhibition in Paris later this month.

Noisy Rain is a free online publication dedicated to “artists working with the male figure and homo-eroticism”.

Dennis Cooper’s blog returns. The truth about Google’s deletion of the Blogspot account has finally emerged.

Peel Away The Ivy by The Pattern Forms will be release number 26 on the Ghost Box label in October.

• Glam Rock & Yorkshire Occult: Ben Myers on his novel Turning Blue.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 195 by Jake Meginsky.

• At Phantasmaphile: Unarius: We Are Not Alone.

Blokdust is a browser-based musical instrument.

• Official trailer for David Lynch: The Art Life.

Future Dub (1994) by Mouse On Mars | Future Proof (2003) by Massive Attack | Future Past Perfect pt 01 by Carsten Nicolai

 


Holzmüller and the Quays

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US one sheet (1996).

Heinrich Holzmüller (also spelt Holtzmüller) was a German printmaker and calligrapher active during the 16th century. He may have been dead for centuries but this inconvenience didn’t prevent him from appearing as an interviewer in the catalogue for the MoMA exhibition of artworks by the Brothers Quay that ran throughout the end of 2012.

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Film tie-in edition of Jakob von Gunten (1995).

One of the more informative pieces of information to come from that interview concerned the Quays’ resurrection of typefaces designed by Holzmüller in his Liber Perutilis, a book about lettering and calligraphy published in 1553. The Quay versions were most visible around the time of the production of their first feature, Institute Benjamenta (1995): you can see them on the posters, on the cover of the Serpent’s Tail tie-in edition of Jakob von Gunten and also inside the rare soundtrack CD which the Quays designed for Lech Jankowski.

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Institute Benjamenta soundtrack booklet (1998).

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Institute Benjamenta soundtrack booklet (1998).

I’ve had the MoMA catalogue since it was published, and more than once had searched half-heartedly for Holzmüller’s book without success. A more recent search turned up the goods, however (sometimes it helps to keep following leads from one page to another): a copy of Liber Perutilis may be found online at the Universitätsbibliothek Basel.

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Liber Perutilis is only a short book compared to some in the field, but it’s also much more varied and original than others I’ve seen. Among the alphabets which the Quays digitised there are sets showing the letters doubled and tripled in the manner of monograms. The Quays have often signed themselves using a double Q so this may explain the attraction. The undoubled alphabet is especially striking for Holzmüller’s distortions of the letterforms which make them seem like characters viewed under rippled glass. At a time when most books about lettering and calligraphy were showing alphabets produced by careful and elegant hands this is a feature which to our eyes seems surprisingly advanced. The Quays have copied the alphabets fairly closely, making minor changes such as rounding off an E and adding the J and U which are always missing in Latin alphabets of the period. Elsewhere in the book there are many examples of calligraphic flourishes and some unusual pieces of decorative knotwork. As for Holzmüller’s posthumous interview, copies of the MoMA catalogue are still available, while the interview itself will be reprinted in the booklet for the BFI’s forthcoming Blu-ray collection, Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

 


Weekend links 324

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Untitled painting by Aleksandra Waliszewska. The artist is profiled by S. Elizabeth at Dirge Magazine.

• “…from my point of view, the only thing to do with any genre, any medium, is pretty much to break it, to transcend it, to find out what its limits are, and then go beyond them, and see what happens.” Alan Moore (again) talking to Heidi MacDonald about his novel, Jerusalem, which is out next month.

• A Monument to Outlast Humanity: Dana Goodyear gets the reclusive Michael Heizer to talk about his decade-spanning sculptural project, City, work on which is almost finished.

William Burroughs’ appearances in adult men’s magazines: a catalogue which includes some downloads of uncollected Burroughs essays and other writings.

• Mixes of the week: Homegirls & Handgrenades Mix by Moor Mother, Secret Thirteen Mix 194 by Kareem, and hieroglyphics #014 by Temples.

Remoteness of Light is a new album by The Stargazer’s Assistant inspired by the depths of the oceans and the vastness of space.

• RIP Gilli Smyth. “The silliness ran deep in Gong, but they could groove like mothers, too,” says Joe Muggs.

Guide to Computing: historic computers presented by James Ball as though they were new machines.

• “Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis is one of the greatest love letters ever written,” says Colm Tóibín.

• “Will You Dance With Me?” Derek Jarman films dancers in a gay club in 1984.

• Snapshots from an editor: Donald Weise on working with Edmund White.

Stupid by Wrangler (Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter and Benge).

The Rutt-Etra-Izer

Dynamite/I Am Your Animal (1971) by Gong | Witch’s Song/I Am Your Pussy (1973) by Gong | Prostitute Poem (1973) by Gong

 


 



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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin