Symbolist cinema

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Symbolist? Arguably. Decadent? Certainly. Watching Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) again this weekend I thought it worth making note of some of these resonances. The real age of Symbolist cinema was the Silent Era from around 1910 onwards, something I discussed in more detail here. That being so, several films made since can be taken as Symbolist (more usually Decadent) productions even if this was never their original intention. Kenneth Anger‘s Magic Lantern Cycle comes immediately to mind, so too Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates.

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Bram Stoker’s novel was published in 1897 at the ebbing of the fin de siècle but vampires and vampirism were already recurrent Symbolist themes. Aesthetic magus Walter Pater wrote of the Mona Lisa in 1893, “She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave…” Dracula almost demands a Symbolist interpretation, and for now Coppola’s production is the closest we get. I’ve found this makes the film more satisfying in a way: you can ignore the shoddy performances by secondary characters and concentrate on the decor and details (and the tremendous score by Wojciech Kilar). Some of the following screen grabs argue my point.

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Oh look, peacock feathers. I loved the artificiality of this film, the excessive palette, the obvious models and miniatures, the layering of images. The dissolve from a peacock feather to Jonathan Harker’s infernal train journey is a great moment.

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Kenneth Grant, 1924–2011

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Kenneth Grant by Austin Spare (c. 1951).

Kenneth Grant, writer and occultist, died last month but the event was only announced this week. He’ll be remembered for the nine fascinating occult treatises he wrote from 1972 to 2002, and for continuing the work of Aleister Crowley as head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a position which became fraught in later years as various occult factions disputed his authority. Having collected occult books for much of the 1980s I find his name calls out from the shelves more than many other writers; as well as authoring his own works he edited all the major Crowley texts with Crowley’s executor John Symonds, presenting them in authoritative editions for a new readership.

Grant proved a very loyal champion of people he admired, significantly so in the case of Austin Osman Spare whose work he collected, exhibited and republished from the 1950s on. It was Grant’s position as one of the many advisors for Man, Myth & Magic in 1970 which resulted in the part-work encyclopedia using one of Spare’s stunning drawings as the cover picture for its first issue. That effort alone gave Spare an audience far beyond anything he received during his lifetime, and Grant ensured the magazine featured Spare’s work in subsequent issues. Grant’s occult works made liberal use of unique illustrations by his wife, Steffi Grant, Austin Spare and others. The books were singular enough even without their pages of curious artwork, a beguiling and sometimes incoherent blend of western occult tradition, tantric sex magick and hints of cosmic horror which were nevertheless always well-written, annotated and crammed with technical detail. Alan Moore in 2002 examined the experience of an immersion in Grant’s mythos with a wonderful review he called “Beyond our Ken“. He notes there the influence of HP Lovecraft, another of the visionary figures who Grant championed throughout his life.

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In Spaces Between from The Great Old Ones (1999).

And speaking of Lovecraft, I’ve often wondered whether Kenneth Grant ever saw a copy of my Haunter of the Dark collection. For the opening of the Great Old Ones Kabbalah sequence which Alan Moore and I created for the book I added an extra piece of art entitled In Spaces Between, a reference to Coil via an epigraph from Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time (1980) which I borrowed for the facing page:

For there are Thrones under ground
And the Monarchs upon them
Reign over Space and Beyond

Invoke Them in Darkness, Outside
The Circles of Time

In Silence, in Sleep, in Conjurations
Of Chaos, the Deep will respond…

Coil aficionados will recognise those words as the origin of some lines from Titan Arch (1991):

There are Thrones under ground
And Monarchs upon them
They walk serene
In spaces between

Grant followed his epigraph with another quote, from Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.

In addition to Alan Moore’s Grant review, Fulgur have a detailed Kenneth Grant bibliography on their pages. They were also the publishers in 1998 of Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare by Kenneth and Steffi Grant, a memoir and celebration of Spare’s work which revealed this trio of remote astral voyagers to be human beings after all. The book is currently out of print but it’s essential for anyone interested in Austin Spare or, for that matter, Mr and Mrs Grant.

Previously on { feuilleton }
New Austin Spare grimoires
Austin Spare absinthe
Aleister Crowley on vinyl
Austin Spare’s Behind the Veil
Austin Osman Spare

Weekend links: the queer edition

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A T-shirt design by artist Daryl Vocat.

Tove Jansson: Out of the Closet. The unorthodox life and work of the woman who gave us the Moomins.

Submissions are now open for PANK’s October special online issue featuring Queer prose, poetry & art.

• More new magazines: Zeus and Made in Brazil Magazine, the latter being a spin-off from the justly-praised weblog of Brazilian hotness.

• An old magazine, called, er…Magazine: “Everything about Magazine was new, from the stark photoless cover design with its bold typeface to the way the men were photographed. The pictures weren’t overtly sexual, but proudly confronted the viewer in a different way: “To us, showing a face was the most important thing because back in 1980, gay people still had to hide their faces,” Lestrade says.” A few pictures from Magazine.

Revealed: The Tradition of Male Homoerotic Art, an exhibition at the Leslie-Lohman Gallery, NYC, from May 12th.

• The programme for the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival which is running to May 16th.

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Scissor Sisters have a new album, Night Work, out next month. The cover picture is a photo of dancer Peter Reed by Robert Mapplethorpe. Antony and the Johnsons have announced a new album (and accompanying book) for October.

• Headline of the week: “Christian right leader George Rekers takes vacation with ‘rent boy’ ”. Rekers took issue with the story; his Rentboy.com escort took issue with Rekers’ issue-taking. Then things became unpleasant. And now another escort has come forward.

Henry & Glenn Forever, “a love story to end all love stories”. “Who knew Rollins was such a caring spouse? Who knew Hall and Oates were so infernally evil—yet so considerate?”

• This week’s Tumblr silliness: Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber.

• I’m not on Facebook, nor will I ever be. If you are, however, here’s ten reasons why you should quit. The EFF has six things you need to know about Facebook Connections. Wired thinks that Facebook has gone rogue and an alternative is needed. What does Facebook publish about you and your friends? Finally, Gawker has ten reasons why you’ll be on Facebook forever.

The Prague Pneumatic Post.

How to serve absinthe.

Cthulhu is not cute.

• Song of the week: Gay Messiah by Rufus Wainwright.

New Austin Spare grimoires

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The latest Starfire catalogue has news of the unearthing of two unfinished grimoires by Austin Osman Spare both of which are due for publication later this year. The two books—The Focus of Life & The Papyrus of Amen-AOS and The Arcana of AOS & the Consciousness of Kia-Ra—date from 1905–06 and I presume the picture from the catalogue shown above is from one of these. No details yet as to price of either volume. Via Arthur.

These two grimoires by Spare are at once enigmatic and full of haunting beauty. The paintings and drawings from each notebook are here reproduced in full colour. With analytical essays by Michael Staley, Stephen Pochin and William Wallace, and an introduction by Robert Ansell, this publication adds to our understanding of Spare’s early years as an artist, mystic and philosopher, and sheds light on the early development of his sigillisation techniques.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Austin Spare absinthe
Austin Spare’s Behind the Veil
Austin Osman Spare

The art of Henri Privat-Livemont, 1861–1936

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left: Absinthe Robette (1896); right: Bitter Oriental (1897).

Henri Privat-Livemont, a Belgian artist and one of the best of the post-Mucha Art Nouveau stylists. I’ve featured his Absinthe Robette poster before but am including it again since it’s my favourite of the ones I’ve seen. All of these are from the Art of the Poster 1880–1918 collection at Lawrence University whose copies can be explored in extreme close-up.

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Biscuits & Chocolat Delacre (1896).

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Le Masque Anarchiste (1897).

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Absinthe girls