The Fall of the Magician

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From contemporary Belgian Surrealism to an older variety (Dutch/Flemish rather than Belgian per se, but it’s close enough). I’d seen prints of The Fall of the Magician before but not the earlier picture from what turns out to be a two-part set depicting an occult encounter between Saint James and the magician Hermogenes. Both prints were engraved in 1565 by Pieter van der Heyden from drawings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the prints being published by the print-maker with the unforgettable name, Hieronymus Cock.

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Both pictures show an episode from the life of Saint James recounted in The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Varagine, a very popular collection of hagiographies compiled in the 1200s: the magician Hermogenes is hired by the Pharisees to put a stop to the miracle-working of the saint only to be confounded by the treachery of his demons. As usual with Bruegel, the drawings are replete with details that combine wild imagination with careful observation. (The confrontation of the saint and the magus is paralleled in the face-off between a toad and a cat). Seeing Bruegel’s art as engraved lines is a reminder that the comic profusion in his drawings is the start of a tradition that runs through the prints of William Hogarth to the crowded pages of early MAD magazine; the latter connection is reinforced by artist Will Elder who referred to The Fall of the Magician as a precursor of his own crowded splash panels.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruegel’s sins
Proverbial details
Babel details

Raoul Servais: Courts-Métrages

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“Courts-métrages”, the French term for short films, is one of those phrases like “bande dessinée” that I prefer to its English equivalent. Among the weekend’s viewing was this double-disc DVD release devoted to the animated films of the Belgian director Raoul Servais. Some of the films are very familiar and have been the subject of previous posts, but the set comprises 14 films in total, and includes many I’d not seen before. Like Jan Svankmajer, Servais is generally the writer/director of his films rather than the animator which accounts for the great variety of graphic styles, although both directors helped animate their early works. The Servais art styles range from the flat UPA-derived idiom of the 1950s, through a variety of drawing techniques, to the later films which deploy “Servaisgraphy”, a process that combines live action and animation with drawn or photographed backgrounds. The last two films in the collection use digital technology.

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Harpya.

If there’s a common thread to this oeuvre it would be the Belgian brand of Surrealism, which might seem like a lazy comparison when so much animation can be described as superficially “surreal”. In the case of Servais, however, the connection is made explicit in Nocturnal Butterflies, a film dedicated to the Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux, whose paintings also inspired the director’s flawed feature film, Taxandria (1994). The Servais masterwork, Harpya, which won a Cannes Palme d’Or for best short film, is Surrealist to the tips of its feathers, a dark and absurd dream that’s a world away from his moralistic early works. One of the films I’d not seen before, November Diversion, resembles a Svankmajer live-action short, a wordless piece about a man trying to escape from an automobile cemetery. All the shorts have been restored by Cinematek, the Belgian film archive. I ordered my DVDs from Potemkine, Paris.

Contents
Disc 1: Harbour Lights (1960) / November Diversion (1962) / The False Note (1963) / Chromophobia (1965) / Sirene (1968) / Goldframe (1969) / To Speak or Not To Speak (1970) / Operation X-70 (1971) / Pegasus (1973) / Halewyn’s Song (1976) / Harpya (1979) / Nocturnal Butterflies (1998) / Atraksion (2001) / Tank (2015)
Disc 2: Servais (2018), a 60-minute documentary by Rudy Pinceel

Previously on { feuilleton }
Papillons de Nuit, a film by Raoul Servais
Sirene by Raoul Servais
Harpya by Raoul Servais
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Weekend links 532

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An alchemical illustration from Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652) by Elias Ashmole.

• “Originally the idea was to do four parallel feuilleton stories, linked at the beginning of each episode by still shots connecting with the other episodes, rather like the old serials.” Jacques Rivette mentions a familiar word during a 1974 discussion with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky about Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating. I watched all 775 minutes of Out 1 last year, followed by a re-viewing of Céline and Julie, so this was good to read. Elsewhere: “The dizzying Céline and Julie Go Boating is apt viewing for a chaotic present,” says Phillipa Snow.

Away is a wordless feature-length animated film in which a boy is pursued by a lumbering monster after parachuting from a crashing aircraft. It was directed, written, edited, animated and scored by Gints Zilbalodis. Christopher Machell reviewed the film here. Watch the trailer.

• Jean Lorrain’s novel of Decadent dandyism, Monsieur Bougrelon, receives a new English translation by Brian Stableford for Side Real Press. (The Spurl translation by Eva Richter was reviewed here a few years ago.) The new edition includes illustrations by Etienne Drian (1885–1961).

El Topo again, among other things: Mike Soto on the anti-Western genre set in America’s surreal borderlands. Cormac McCarthy is a surprising absence from Soto’s lists despite almost all of his later work being concerned with the border region.

• “Whatever their pursuits, they were extremists who created literature that wasn’t so much great as it was relentless. Even now they make passive reading impossible.” Chris R. Morgan on Swift, Sade and the art of upsetting people.

• The best batch yet? Sean Kitching talks to Gary Lucas and Eric Drew Feldman about the recording of Captain Beefheart’s Doc At The Radar Station.

• Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich… Photographer Sandro Miller persuaded John Malkovich to recreate 41 famous photographic portraits.

• An extract from Rated SavX in which Edwin Pouncey/Savage Pencil talks with Timothy d’Arch Smith about his artistic evolution.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Pat O’Neill Day.

Siavash Amini‘s favourite music.

Get Away (1970) by Ry Cooder | Running Away (2002) by Radar | Fly Me Away (2005) by Goldfrapp

Der Orchideengarten translated

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Via the latest mailing from Side Real Press, news that the world’s first magazine devoted to fantastic art and literature, Der Orchideengarten (1919–1921), is being translated into English. This isn’t the first time the magazine’s contents have been translated—Zagava printed a facsimile edition of the first issue in 2017 that included translated inserts by Helen Grant—but the latest efforts by Joe E. Bandel are going beyond the first issue with the intention of translating the entire run. Each issue will be available for purchase at Lulu.

It’s been a pleasure watching Der Orchideengarten creep out of the shadows over the past few years. When Will at A Journey Round My Skull posted interior illustrations from back issues of the magazine in 2009 the title was barely mentioned outside German genre histories or the tantalising feature in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (1978). Since then, the entire run of the magazine has been made available for free by the University of Heidelberg’s invaluable scanning programme, after which we had the Zagava facsimile. If the new translations are successful then the next stage may be the publication of an introductory collection that gathers the best work from the magazine.

Previously on { feuilleton }
• An unseasonable bloom
• Covers for Der Orchideengarten
• Der Orchideengarten illustrated
• Der Orchideengarten

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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