Toute la mémoire du monde, a film by Alain Resnais

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Before he directed his first feature, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Alain Resnais had distinguished himself with a succession of short documentary films. His half-hour history of the Holocaust, Nuit et brouillard (1955), has always been the most prominent of these, although as a history it’s since been superseded by Claude Lanzmann’s exhaustive Shoah (1985). Toute la mémoire du monde, a study of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, was made in 1956, and includes a certain Chris Marker (listed as “Chris and Magic Marker”) among its credits. The combination of drifting camera movements, and an interest in architectural space seems like such a precursor of Last Year at Marienbad that the film has found a new life as an extra on Marienbad DVDs. The Criterion people have very generously made it available in HD here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Marienbad hauntings
Terminus by John Schlesinger

Marienbad hauntings

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Last Year in Marienbad (1961). Via.

In our age of cultural plenitude it can be salutary to remember the time when many things were easy to discover but often impossible to experience; albums, books, and especially non-American films could all too frequently exist as rumours, referenced but always out of reach. Two films in particular dogged me for years in this remote manner: The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) by Wojciech Has, and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the film that Alain Resnais made from a very novelistic screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Philip Strick alerted me to this pair of films with tantalising descriptions in a time-travel chapter of his book-length study, Science Fiction Movies (1976). Marienbad isn’t a time-travel film as such (a later Resnais film, Je t’aime, je t’aime [1968] does deal with the subject, however, and even features an actual time machine), but it is sufficiently open-ended to allow a science-fictional rationale into its enigmatic spaces. Strick’s book covered all the familiar SF territory as well as looking beyond the clichés of Hollywood and the SF genre, hence the inclusion not only of Marienbad and Saragossa, but also Je t’aime, je t’aime, Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf (1968), Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), and Buñuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). Most of these films, which were seldom shown on TV, I had to wait years to see.

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Marienbad page from Strick’s Science Fiction Movies.

I was reading Strick’s book in 1979, and since I was bored with generic clichés, and also reading a lot of reprinted stories from New Worlds magazine, I became a little obsessed with these inaccessible films, Marienbad especially. It’s difficult to say what was so fascinating about a few words of description, and a single photograph, but the picture seemed an unlikely inclusion amid so many pages filled with robots and spaceships. It promised a film that approached the themes of science fiction at the same oblique angle as many of the stories in New Worlds. A couple of years later I found a copy of the Robbe-Grillet screenplay whose pages of dogged description read like the kind of forbidding and formal exercise that Brian Aldiss had attempted in Report on Probability A (1967), a novel that first appeared in New Worlds. Among other similarities, both works share a dismissive attitude to character, presenting a trio of ciphers indicated by no more than their gender, and some initial letters. This confluence of influences, Marienbad included, fed into the chunks of New Worlds-derived prose I was writing at the time, trying to fix inchoate impressions on the page. I always failed each time I returned to that photo from Marienbad, the real charge—as I didn’t see at the time—being a result of the gap between the promise of the image and the inaccessible film itself. Finally seeing Marienbad in the late 1980s was a curious thing, like meeting somebody face-to-face after years of remote correspondence; the same readjustments needed to be made to accept that this was the reality of the work of art, not Robbe-Grillet’s embryonic version, or my own baroque imaginings.

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Screenplay book, 1962. Cover design by Roy Kuhlman.

If the above seems to strain for association by hauling a celebrated work of the Nouvelle Vague into a disreputable area then this essay by Thomas Beltzer is worth a read. Beltzer’s “Intertextual Meditation” compares Marienbad to The Invention of Morel (1940), a science-fiction novel by Adolfo Bioy-Casares which Jorge Luis Borges described as “perfect” (and which I really ought to read). If I’ve not written much about Marienbad itself that’s because it really needs to be experienced rather than described or explained. It’s a film that’s easier to admire than actually enjoy—I need to be in the right mood to accept its formalities—and given the choice I’d often sooner watch Providence (1977). But where Providence and other Resnais films have inevitably dated, Last Year in Marienbad remains out of time, a 20th-century dream held captive in 18th-century architecture where the airless rococo chambers might easily share a labyrinth with the hotel waiting-room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• Alain Resnais obituaries: The Guardian | The Telegraph
Last Year in Marienbad at film|captures
Marienbad (2012) by Julia Holter

Weekend links 169

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Cover illustration by Gray Morrow, 1967. One of the less exploitative examples from a collection of hippy book covers.

• Ten Photographs by Alain Resnais: Mise en scène of Memory, Aesthetics of Silence by Ehsan Khoshbakht. In the comments to that post someone shows an old Penguin book with cover photos by Chris Marker. This confirms that the “C. Marker” whose name I found on the back of another Penguin book was indeed Monsieur Chat.

• There’s more (there’s always more…): Cornelius Castoriadis interviewed by Chris Marker in 1989, the complete footage of an interview edited down for Marker’s TV series L’héritage de la chouette (The Owl’s Legacy). Watch the series itself at YouTube.

• “A generation of innovators want to change the way we have sex and consume porn, but Google, Apple, and Amazon won’t let them,” says Andrea Garcia-Vargas. Related: Sam Biddle on how Tumblr is pushing porn into an internet sex ghetto.

• Mix of the week: the Chop Quietus Mix, “a jagged journey all the way from Broadcast to the uneasy thrum of Suicide, kosmische flavours from Popol Vuh and Cluster, Alexander Robotnik and many more.”

Strange Flowers looked back at The Student of Prague: “the first art film, the first horror film and the first auteur film”, and now a century old.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins talked to animator Barry Purves about the pleasures and difficulties of creating animated films for adults.

• Mazzy Star released a song, California, from their new album which arrives in September. Can’t wait.

Suzanne Ciani, “American Delia Derbyshire of the Atari Generation” explains synthesizers, 1980.

Christer Strömholm‘s photos of Parisian transgender communities in the 1950s.

What are These Giant Concrete Arrows Across the American Landscape?

• How Kiyoshi Izumi built the psych ward of the future by dropping acid.

Alan Moore: The revolution will be crowd-funded.

Fuck Yeah Mazzy Star

• Suzanne Ciani: Lixiviation | The First Wave—Birth Of Venus (1982) | The Eighth Wave (1986)

Petulia film posters

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Illustration by Bob Peak.

Further examples of those things you find when you’re searching for something else, these posters for Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968) are a good example of just how differently the same film can be presented by its advertising materials. Petulia (“the uncommon movie”) is a fascinating, unjustly neglected gem, a serious adult drama quite unlike the comedies (or comic dramas) Lester was making before and after. Nicolas Roeg photographed Petulia shortly before embarking on his own directing career, capturing San Francisco just after the Summer of Love in a more documentary fashion than the exploitation films of the period. There are nods to the psychedelic scene with party appearances by Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead, but the narrative concerns the flipside of hippiedom with a group of middle-class professionals ensnared in adultery and marital failure.

A commonly remarked feature of Petulia is Antony Gibbs’ fragmented editing style which flashes backwards and forwards throughout, even showing events that never happen. The technique is usually taken to be derived from Alain Resnais although Gibbs had earlier edited The Knack…and How to Get It for Lester which is often as fragmented, albeit for a more comic effect. What’s notable about the technique is that Gibbs went on to edit Nicolas Roeg’s first two features, Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell) and Walkabout, both of which take the fragmentation even further, creating the style which Roeg made his own.

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The poster that caught my attention was the marvellous one by Bob Peak who manages to depict the awkward relationship between the two leads—holding hands yet facing away from each other—whilst alluding to the psychedelic backdrop in the details. It’s difficult to tell at a small size but the sheet music design above shows that Peak’s drawing is a complex arrangement of blended faces, the reflected figure of a woman and a pattern of Bridget Riley swirls. If I was still collecting film posters I’d be sorely tempted to buy one of these.

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Illustration by Jean Fourastié.

Compared to which this pair of French designs veer off in opposite and unsatisfying directions. Jean Fourastié seems to have been under the impression that the story concerned a San Francisco flower child not a bored housewife, while Jean Mascii’s painting isn’t inaccurate but is more suited to a romance paperback. Big heads were apparently Mascii’s métier even if there were no people in the film.

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Illustration by Jean Mascii.

Petulia has been available on DVD for a while now, it’s well worth seeking out. Watch the trailer here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Lucifer Rising posters
Wild Salomés
Druillet’s vampires
Bob Peak revisited
Alice in Acidland
Salomé posters
Polish posters: Freedom on the Fence
Kaleidoscope: the switched-on thriller
The Robing of The Birds
Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009
Dallamano’s Dorian Gray
Czech film posters
The poster art of Richard Amsel
Bollywood posters
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
The poster art of Bob Peak
A premonition of Premonition
Metropolis posters
Film noir posters

Weekend links 51

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James Bidgood’s luscious and erotic micro-budget masterpiece Pink Narcissus (1971) receives a screening at the IFC Center Queer/Art/Film festival, NYC, on Monday. The film is presented by Jonathan Katz, curator of the Hide/Seek gay art show whose controversial history was recounted here in December. The NYT ran a short piece about Bidgood, now 77 and not the first artist to be disappointed by his past work; they also have a Bidgood slideshow. Hide/Seek, meanwhile, is now a touring exhibition.

• Related: the delightful Drew Daniel of Matmos (and Soft Pink Truth) posing in a jockstrap at the Club Uranus, San Francisco circa 1990; he also used to go-go dance wearing a fish.

• The Isle of Man may have one of the oldest parliaments in the world but its laws have often been out of step with its neighbour across the Irish Sea. This week the island joined the rest of the UK in granting civil partnerships to its citizens. Now the name whose punning appeal so delighted James Joyce doesn’t seem as inappropriate.

Howard Jacobson: “The novelist Yukio Mishima posed pointing a Samurai sword to his chest and ultimately had himself beheaded in public. This is what’s called taking your art seriously.”

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The Realm of the Queen of the Night (1974) by Wolfgang Hutter from Zauberflote at 50 Watts.

The revelatory operations of the chance encounter lie at the heart of le merveilleux (“the marvelous”)—the Surrealist conception of beauty. You find something marvelous in the world (an object, an image, a person, a place) that corresponds, like a piece clicking into a puzzle, to a deep inner need.

Slicing Open the Eyeball: Rick Poynor on Surrealism and the Visual Unconscious by Mark Dery.

Boy from the Boroughs: Alan Moore interviewed by Pádraig Ó Méalóid; Michael Moorcock interviewed at Suicide Girls.

• Illustrations from Quark, the anthology of speculative fiction edited by Samuel Delany & Marilyn Hacker in 1970.

The Residents, sans masks, filmed at their San Francisco home in the 1970s.

• Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor played on a glass harp.

What art can do for science (and vice versa).

• You can never have too much Virgil Finlay.

• Lydia Kiesling reviews Lolita.

Alain Resnais film posters.

Red Mug, Blue Linen.

No GDM (dub version) (1979) by Gina X | L. Voag’s Kitchen (2004) by Soft Pink Truth.