Weekend links 617

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Diane (1977) by Mimi Parent.

Richard Pinhas expounds upon his favourite musical choices for Warren Hatter. The influence of Robert Fripp has always been to the fore in the Pinhas oeuvre—an early track by Heldon is titled In The Wake Of King Fripp—so there was bound to be a King Crimson album on the list. But which one? Click through the selections to find out.

• Vinyl is the product of a toxic manufacturing process, as well as being difficult to recycle without releasing yet more toxins, but you seldom see these issues discussed by today’s quality-conscious vinyl fetishists. Jono Podmore talks to some of the people trying to create an eco-friendly disc.

• “…these Renaissance images shock us because they are so frequently ithyphallic: Christ has risen, but not in the way we have come to expect.” Hunter Dukes on ostentatio genitalium in Renaissance art.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on those music projects that used to be described as “hauntological”, with an emphasis on The Machinery of the Moment, a new release from The British Space Group.

• “Like Delia Derbyshire jamming with This Heat.” Jesse Locke tours the Broadcast discography.

• 50 Watts announces the birth of 50 Watts Books, a publisher of strange and/or unusual art books.

• “Black lights turn this North Carolina mine into a psychedelic wonderland.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Bill Morrison Day.

Black Lightening Light (1968) by The Shy Guys | Black Light (1994) by Material | Transmission Nine: Black Light (2013) by Pye Corner Audio

The Desert of the Tartars

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The Desert of the Tartars (1976), an Italian film directed by Valerio Zurlini, is another of those cinematic works whose description in books would leave me tantalised and frustrated. A brief entry would tell you that the film existed but when would ever get to see it? Last week I finally got to see this one thanks to a recent restoration via a French blu-ray disc which, for once, had English subtitles.

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Zurlini’s film is an adaptation of The Tartar Steppe, the most popular of Dino Buzzati’s novels, and for a long time the only book of his that you could easily find in English. I often feel a little hypocritical when it comes to Buzzati. I’ve been telling people for years to look out for his strange stories—the phrase was used as a subtitle for a Calder & Boyars edition of Catastrophe—even though the translated collections were all out of print. The Tartar Steppe has been reprinted more than most yet I still haven’t read it. I’ll be correcting this now I’ve seen the film. Buzzati’s story concerns a young soldier, Lieutenant Drogo, being posted to a distant border fortress where a small company of soldiers awaits a barbarian invasion which they believe will come from the surrounding desert. All the soldiers are eager to experience the thrill of battle yet the invasion has so far refused to arrive. Matters are complicated when officers who were determined to stay are sent back home while Drogo, who says he was posted there by mistake, finds the place impossible to leave. A Cavafy poem, Waiting for the Barbarians, is credited as an inspiration for this, but the spectre of Franz Kafka haunts any story with a deferred or inaccessible resolution, and in that respect Buzzati’s novel, which was published in 1940, may be one of the first to learn from the example set by The Castle.

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Jean-Louis Bertucelli and André G. Brunelin wrote the screenplay which was apparently criticised for not doing justice to Buzzati’s story. I can’t comment, obviously, but it wouldn’t be the first time the subtleties of a novel have been lost in the translation to the screen. Faithful or not, I was happy to be watching the thing at all, and besides which, familiarity with the source material can sometimes blind you to the other qualities of an adaptation. The film has a minimal score by Ennio Morricone, and an impressive cast that includes Philippe Noiret, Fernando Rey, Jean-Louis Trintignant and a dubbed Max von Sydow.

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It also looks fantastic, with photography by Luciano Tovoli and spectacular locations in the Iranian desert. The ancient Bam citadel at Arg-e Bam in southern Iran provided the location for the Bastiani fortress, a massive and exceptionally photogenic ruin. A note at the end of the restored print tells us that the citadel and surrounding area was devastated in 2003 by an earthquake that claimed 26,000 lives and levelled the place. The citadel has since been rebuilt, so the film also serves now as a record of its former appearance.

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As for Buzzati, it’s still a mystery why his books haven’t been made more widely available in English but matters improved recently with the republication of Catastrophe and Other Stories. He was also an accomplished artist whose illustrations are deserving of more attention. Some of these were featured at 50 Watts a few years ago, together with samples from his book-length graphic adaptation of the Orpheus myth, Poem Strip, from 1969.

The art of John Alcorn, 1935–1992

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Ad art for Seventeen magazine, August 1970.

Another member of the Groovy Set, John Alcorn was a very prolific illustrator and designer whose career included a period at Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast’s Push Pin Studios. Alcorn’s art predates the groovy look, and also extends beyond it, but since I have a taste for this quasi-psychedelic style all the examples here are from the late 1960s/early 1970s. An overview of Alcorn’s career may be found in John Alcorn: Evolution by Design, a book edited by Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi which was featured at 50 Watts. And since I keep referring back to it, I’ve added some updates to the original groovy post.

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The Astrology Album, 1967.

From an astrological album to astrological covers for Sydney Omarr’s books, 12 of which were published by Signet in 1969.

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Continue reading “The art of John Alcorn, 1935–1992”

Weekend links 499

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Wild Things – Hachilympic, a poster by Tomoko Konoike for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

• Hidden Jewels in ‘The Garden of Orchids’: Steve Toase on Der Orchideengarten (1919–1921), the German magazine of fantastic art and literature. Since the article doesn’t mention it, I’ll note again that the first Anglophone appraisal of the magazine (and also the place where it was drawn to the attention of myself and 50 Watts) was in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (Thames & Hudson/Collier, 1978).

• “In its furtive, sotto-voce way, Gorey’s work is in conversation with gay history, gay literary influences, and, now and then, the gay-straight tensions of his time.” Mark Dery on the attempts by Edward Gorey’s readers and critics to ignore the obvious signs of a personal sexuality in his work.

• The Apotheosis of the Grotesque: illustrator Sidney Sime interviewed by Arthur H. Lawrence in The Idler, January 1898.

Goff would experiment with form, material, structure and ornament to almost absurd degrees. Materials he used in his buildings included aviation parts, goose feathers, oil rig equipment, orange artificial turf (on the roof), lumps of coal, and any kind of glass he could get his hands on. His 1948 Ledbetter House, also in Oklahoma, features a recurring motif of vertical lines of diamond-shaped glass studs set into doors and columns. In fact they are dime-store glass ashtrays.

Steve Rose on the restoration of “outsider architect” Bruce Goff

• At the BFI: Adam Scovell on where to begin with Delphine Seyrig; Kat Ellinger on giving Fellini’s later films their due; and Matthew Thrift on 10 great Acid Westerns.

• RIP Ivan Passer and Neil Peart. A reminder that John Patterson described Passer’s Cutter’s Way as a cinematic masterpiece. So it is.

Geeta Dayal on musician/composer Arthur Russell and yet another posthumous release.

Haunted And Known, a new recording by Six Organs Of Admittance.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hidden.

2112 (1976) by Rush | Xanadu (1977) by Rush | La Villa Strangiato (1978) by Rush

Bibliothek des Hauses Usher

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As promised a couple of weeks ago, this book-cover post is one of several that originates with Franz Rottensteiner’s horizon-expanding The Fantasy Book: The Ghostly, the Gothic, the Magical, the Unreal (1978). Rottensteiner’s study was important for me not only for its introduction to many hitherto unknown writers but also for its wide-ranging collection of illustrations and cover designs. Most of the artwork has since become very familiar but a few examples were by artists or designers I hadn’t encountered elsewhere. Hans Ulrich Osterwalder was one of these, his art for a series of German horror titles appearing inside the book and, in the case of the US edition of The Fantasy Book, on the cover. Searching for Osterwalder’s work a few weeks ago I was delighted to discover that the German covers were part of a series of horror/dark fantasy reprints for the Bibliothek des Hauses Usher imprint from Insel Verlag, for which Osterwalder created many more striking and unusual covers.

Bibliothek des Hauses Usher published 26 novels or story collections from 1969 to 1975. I thought at first that this was a paperback series but all the books were hardbacks with uniform black covers and white spines. The imprint logo is a rather ordinary looking House of Usher cracking down the middle (a nod to Arkham House, perhaps) with a slogan on the back cover borrowed from Ambrose Bierce: “Can such things be?” Each volume was printed on light green paper, at least until the paper stock ran out. The last three volumes were printed on white paper then on green again when further stocks were found.

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Osterwalder’s work on this series stands out for being innovative, surreal and free of the cliches that persist on horror titles. Most of the artwork is illustrative of the contents but it manages this without being too overt or obvious which isn’t an easy thing to do. The list of authors is an interesting mix as well (if you overlook the typically lamentable absence of women writers): many of the names are those you’d expect in a series such as this but there are also some such as Jean Ray and Stefan Grabinski who you wouldn’t find in an Anglophone series. Grabinski was a Polish writer of weird fiction who receives a mention in Rottensteiner’s book (and is a favourite of China Miéville) but whose work is still largely unknown to Anglophone readers. Just as obscure to English readers is Thomas Owen who was a Belgian writer (real name Gérald Bertot) and a friend of Jean Ray’s. Tartarus Press published a collection of Owen’s stories in 2012 but I’ve not read it so can’t vouch for their quality.

All 26 covers are shown below in their order of publication. Hans Ulrich Osterwalder still works as an artist and designer, and has a website here. Franz Rottensteiner was interviewed at 50 Watts a few years ago.

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Continue reading “Bibliothek des Hauses Usher”