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


 

Cracked Actor

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This is one of those TV documentaries that it’s tempting to think everyone must have seen by now, but if it’s over-familiar to me it’s undoubtedly new to others. Cracked Actor: A film about David Bowie was broadcast by the BBC in their Omnibus arts strand in January 1975. Director Alan Yentob followed David Bowie around the US during the Diamond Dogs tour, and while it’s good to see some of the numbers from that album being performed live, I’ve always found it odd that Bowie’s stage persona is that of the Young Americans album, all big hair and padded shoulders; it’s a look that doesn’t work with Diamond Dogs‘ theme of dystopian futurism. Despite Yentob’s directorial coup this was one of many BBC documentaries that were screened once then not shown again for a long time, so that viewers such as myself who saw the original broadcast would be left to reminisce about memorable moments.

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The most significant moment for me was Bowie demonstrating his own application of the cut-up method as he applied it to lyric writing, a sequence that was not only my first exposure to William Burroughs’ writing techniques but also my first introduction to Burroughs’ and Gysin’s names. Subsequent viewings confirmed that Bowie was as drug-addled as people claimed at the time (confirmed by the man himself in later years), especially in the limousine scenes which prefigure those in The Man Who Fell To Earth.

The amount of music in this film attracts the attentions of the YouTube copyright police so the upload linked here may not be around for long. Watch it while you can.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Strange fascination

 


Strange fascination

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Another single sleeve (and missing the “?” in the title). Released 22nd June, 1973.

Music reinforces memory, and an enduring memory is of discussing the lyrics to Life On Mars? with a friend in the blissful summer of 1973, when the song was in the charts after being released to capitalise on Bowie’s success with his Ziggy Stardust persona. “Blissful” here isn’t rose-tinted nostalgia, that summer gave us two months of heat and sunshine, something British summers don’t always manage; you can see the evidence in the sunlit evening shots of DA Pennebaker’s film of the final Ziggy Stardust concert, and in the field scenes in Penda’s Fen which was being filmed at the time for broadcast the following year. (And while we’re forging links, Penda director Alan Clarke later directed Bowie in the TV production of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.)

Weather aside, the summer of 1973 was particularly enjoyable for being the one that separated my last year at junior school (which I enjoyed) with my first year at secondary school (which I loathed); in that respect it was the last perfect summer of childhood after which my home and school life went down in flames. I spent most of July and August with friends: climbing trees, playing on bits of waste ground, and going on long bike rides. I don’t remember much about the bike excursions apart from the one I made with Martin C to Skippool Creek, a tributary of the River Wyre outside Blackpool where old boats are moored. This was the occasion of the Life On Mars? discussion, and it was the discussion that lodges the event so persistently in the memory, an unresolved puzzling over the strangest lyrics we’d ever heard. I mark this moment as the first time I began to regard music as a vehicle for a quality of strangeness that I’ve been pursuing ever since. And I still think of that afternoon when we went to look at the boats every time I hear the song.

Some links:
50 David Bowie moments
Some thoughts by Momus
The Magic and Mystery of David Bowie by Peter Bebergal

 


Single sleeves

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A septet of 7-inch single sleeves from Eastern Bloc Songs, a small but well-selected repository of sleeve art from the record labels of the Eastern Bloc. I’d looked at the album art before but had missed the singles, some of which feature more impressive designs than their 12-inch counterparts. Of special interest are designs that show how the psychedelic styles of the decadent West were transmuted for a Communist audience. The Nautilus sleeve above dates from 1969, and uses the lettering adapted by Wes Wilson from a much earlier design by Alfred Roller. Elsewhere the generic sleeves from venerable Czech label Supraphon stand out for their modish graphics. (Via Record Envelope and Things Magazine.)

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Weekend links 291

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Femme avec des fleurs (1912) by Romaine Brooks.

• This week’s anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo murders was noted by some of those who defended the magazine last year. “I don’t write about Charlie Hebdo in France,” said Robert McLiam Wilson, “they have plenty of people who can do that. But I’ll do almost anything I’m asked to do in the anglosphere. Why? Well, two reasons. Because none of the other Charlie people bothers to do it. And because, really, that’s where all the bullshit lives.” A year on, and the bullshit-mongers seem to have fallen silent, what with knee-jerk outrage being a short-lived affair, and the Bataclan massacre having demolished one of the main criticisms, namely that the magazine wouldn’t have been attacked if the artists and writers had shown some respect. “[Charlie Hebdo's] real crime is not racism but its challenge to what has become an unbreakable commandment for many contemporary liberals: ‘Thou shalt not cause offence’,” says Kenan Malik. At Literary Hub Adam Gopnik explored the same issue in a foreword for Stéphane Charbonnier’s Open Letter.

• “Immersion in the past is no escape from the present, but it supplies a constant corrective to the narrative spit out daily by media, advertising, politics, and all those other forces that attempt to mould our thinking like jelly in a pan.” Luc Sante (again) talking to Simone Wolff about his books, Low Life and The Other Paris.

• “…throwing a lot of money behind vintage equipment? Well, that’s just a millionaire’s game. Dave Grohl can do that, but David Bowie doesn’t care about that. Just stick a microphone in front of him and he’s really happy.” Tony Visconti talking to Allyson McCabe about the music business and producing Bowie.

• “Nico Hogg’s photography captures the transformation of urban London,” says George Kafka who talks to Nico about a collection of his work, Sign & Signifiers, which I designed late last year.

• At Strange Flowers: James Conway talks to Cassandra Langer about her recent biography of artist Romaine Brooks (1874–1970).

• At Dangerous Minds: Godzilla, girls and guns, the science-fiction art of Noriyoshi Ohrai. There’s more at Pinterest.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 420 by Andrey Pushkarev, and Secret Thirteen Mix 172 by Julien Bayle.

• Alan Moore’s magnum opus, Jerusalem, will be published later this year. Gosh Comics has a teaser.

New York Public Library makes 180,000 high-res images available online.

Prints of darkness: macabre vintage posters

Scarfolk Television is coming

Godzilla (1977) by Blue Öyster Cult | Giant Robot / Machines in the Modern City / Godzilla (1992) by Praxis | Free-Bass (Godzillatron Cush) (1995) by Axiom Funk

 


Hollyhock House

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The Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Art Park was the only Frank Lloyd Wright house I got to see up close when I was in Los Angeles. The park on that occasion was the venue for the Arthurfest music festival so the house was omnipresent but was closed to visitors. After renovation the building was opened to the public last year, and in November was filmed by Houzz in this short video which includes drone shots of the exterior. Rain Noe at Core77 notes that the house was one of Wright’s notoriously poor constructions but a leaking ceiling doesn’t seem so bad if your home looks as spectacular as this.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Remembering Arthurfest

 


 



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tracker

 


 

“feed your head”

 

Below the fold

 

Penda's Fen by David Rudkin