Weekend links 540

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A century before William Burroughs: The Wild Boys of London (1866). No author credited.

• “Acid, nudity and sci-fi nightmares: why Hawkwind were the radicals of 1970s rock.” I like a headline guaranteed to upset old punks, even though many old punks had been Hawkwind fans. As noted last week, Joe Banks’ Hawkwind: Days of the Underground is now officially in print, hence this substantial Guardian feature in which the author reprises his core thesis. Mathew Lyons reviewed the book for The Quietus.

• “Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti each explored Pan-Africanism and diasporic solidarity their own way before their meeting in 1979.” John Morrison on the Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti collaboration, Music Of Many Colours.

• “In 1938, Joan Harrison read a galley of Daphne Du Maurier’s masterpiece. She wouldn’t rest until she had the rights to adapt it.” Christina Lane on Rebecca at 80, and the women behind the Hitchcock classic.

Each page features a distinct moment, seen from one perspective on the front, and from a diametrically opposed angle on the back, occasionally pivoting, for instance, between interior and exterior spaces. This organizing principle is complicated by the fact that a given image might be a depiction of the physical environment surrounding the camera or, at other times, a photograph of a photograph. Midway through, the scene is inverted such that the volume must be turned upside-down to be looked at right-side up. The result is an elegant, disorienting study in simultaneity that allows the viewer to enter the work from either end.

Cover to Cover (1975), a book by Michael Snow, has been republished by Light Industry and Primary Information

• At Public Domain Review: The Uncertain Heavens—Christiaan Huygens’ Ideas of Extraterrestrial Life by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.

• Penny Dreadfuls and Murder Broadsides: John Boardley explores the early days of pulp fiction and what he calls “murder fonts”.

• The lesbian partnership that changed literature: Emma Garman on Jane Heap, Margaret C. Anderson and The Little Review.

The 10th Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition is now open to entries. (Titter ye not.)

• Death Barge Life: Colin Fleming on Gericault’s grim masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…The Grand Grimoire: The Red Dragon (1702).

Music To Be Murdered By (1958) Jeff Alexander With Alfred Hitchcock | Murder Boy (1991) by Rain Parade | Murder In The Red Barn (1992) by Tom Waits

Weekend links 524

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Letter M from Abeceda (1942) by Jindrich Heisler.

• At the BFI: Matthew Thrift chooses 10 essential Ray Harryhausen films. “This is, I can assure the reader, the one and only time that I have eaten the actors. Hitchcock would have approved,” says Harryhausen about eating the crabs whose shells were used for Mysterious Island. Meanwhile, Alfred Hitchcock himself explains the attraction and challenges of directing thrillers.

“Although largely confined to the page, Haeusser’s violent fantasies were even less restrained, his writings littered with deranged, bloodthirsty, scatological scenarios.” Strange Flowers on Ludwig Christian Haeusser and the “Inflation Saints” of Weimar Germany.

• Death, Pestilence, Emptiness: Putting covers on Albert Camus’s The Plague; Dylan Mulvaney on the different design approaches to a classic novel.

• A trailer (more of a teaser) for Last and First Men, a film adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s novel by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…James Purdy: The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy.

Al Jaffee at 99: Gary Groth and Jaffee talk comics and humour.

Steven Heller on Command Records’ design distinction.

Czech Surrealism at Flickr.

Sisters with Transistors.

Solitude by Hakobune.

Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares (1974) by Tangerine Dream | Mysterious Traveller (Dust Devils Mix) (1994) by System 7 | The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra (2018) by Anna von Hausswolff

Chance encounters on the dissecting table

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In times of great uncertainty about our mission, we often looked at the fixed points of Lautréamont and De Chirico, which sufficed to determine our straight line.

André Breton, Surrealism and Painting, 1928

1: The metaphor, 1869

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You can’t read the history of Surrealism for very long before encountering some variation of the most famous line from Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont/Isidore Ducasse: “beautiful as a chance encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”. Translations vary, as do misquotations; the page above is from the Alexis Lykiard translation where you can also read the surrounding text. The context of the description is seldom mentioned when the quote is used, and reveals that the words are describing the attractiveness of an English schoolboy living with his parents in Paris. The insipid Mervyn is stalked, seduced and finally murdered by the villainous Maldoror. Lautréamont’s metaphor, like so much else in the book, carries a sting in its tail.

2: The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920

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Man Ray, like Mervyn, was a foreigner living in Paris when he created this artwork. The “enigma” may be taken as referring both to the wrapped object (a sewing machine sans umbrella) as well as to the mysterious author of Les Chants de Maldoror, who died at the age of 24 after writing his explosive prose poem, and about whose life little is known. I first encountered Ducasse’s name in art books showing pictures of this piece which is one of the earliest works of Surrealist art. For a young art enthusiast the enigma was more in the name itself: who was this Ducasse, and why was he enigmatic? The original of Man Ray’s piece was subsequently lost, like many of his pre-war sculptures, but may be seen inside the first issue of La Révolution Surrealiste. Editions of the work that exist today are recreations made in the 1970s.

3: An illustration for Les Chants de Maldoror, 1934

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Salvador Dalí created 30 full-page etchings and 12 vignettes for an illustrated edition of Lautréamont’s work published by Skira in Paris in 1934. Dalí must have seemed an ideal match for a book whose prose descriptions offer copious atrocities and mutations but, as with many of Dalí’s illustrations, the pictures owe more to his obsessions than to Lautréamont’s text, and could easily be used to illustrate something else entirely. Plate 19 does, however, feature a sewing machine.

4: Electrosexual Sewing Machine, 1935

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A Surrealist painting by Oscar Dominguez which emphasises the sexual nature of Lautréamont’s metaphor, or at least the Freudian interpretation of the same. Breton and company took the sewing machine for a female symbol, while the umbrella was male; the dissecting table where their encounter takes place is, of course, a bed.

[In Electrosexual Sewing Machine] the dissection appears to be under way. There is a strange abusive surgery being undertaken, the thread of the sewing machine replaced with blood which is being funnelled onto the woman’s back. The plant itself may even echo de Lautréamont’s umbrella. Domínguez has taken one of the central mantras of Breton’s Surreal universe and has pushed it, through a combination of painterly skill and semi-automatism, in order to create an absorbing and haunting vision that cuts to the quick of the movement’s spirit. (via)

Continue reading “Chance encounters on the dissecting table”

Weekend links 515

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A pair of Huysmans covers from 1978 designed by Gérard Deshayes.

• Friends of the great composer/musician Jon Hassell set up a GoFundMe account a few days ago to help raise money for Jon’s medical costs. It’s always dispiriting having to link to these fund-generators when they shouldn’t be required at all but until America sorts out its health situation this is how things are. For those who’d prefer to help Jon by buying his music, there’s a Bandcamp page with a handful of releases, and more available at Bleep, the online distributor of Warp Records who helped produce his last release, Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One). Related: Words With The Shaman: Jon Hassell interviewed by Chris May.

• Every time I think I must have heard all the best of the early Kraftwerk concerts another one turns up. This new posting at YouTube is taken from a recent file upload at the concert-swapping site Dimedozen, and is believed to be a radio recording of the group playing in Vancouver, Canada, in 1975. It’s very good quality (some slight bleed from other stations) and features excellent versions of their concert repertoire at that time. The version of Autobahn is especially good.

• in 2009 Dana Mattocks built a machine he called Steampunk Frankenstein, a construction which was attended by a frame containing my first piece of steampunk art. Dana’s latest creation is TILT, the Robot with Rocket Jet-Pack.

• RIP Tony Allen, the drummer about whom Fela Kuti said “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. Allen was interviewed by John Doran in 2012. Related: Tony Allen: the Afrobeat pioneer’s 10 finest recordings.

• “Robert Fripp’s ‘Music for Quiet Moments’ series. We will be releasing an ambient instrumental soundscape online every week for 50 weeks. Something to nourish us, and help us through these Uncertain Times.”

• How to avoid Amazon: the definitive guide to online shopping – without the retail titan; Hilary Osborne & Poppy Noor have some suggestions. I favour eBay for many of my purchases, large or small.

Adam Scovell on A Cinematic Lockdown: Confinement in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Liberty Realm, a book of art by Cathy Ward, is coming soon from Strange Attractor.

• One Great Reader: Luc Sante talks to Wes del Val about his favourite books.

• Oscar Wilde and the mystery of the scarab ring by Eleanor Fitzsimons.

Unica Zürn at Musée D’art Et D’histoire De L’hôpital Sainte-Anne.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 302 by Avizohar.

• Another concert: Tuxedomoon live in Rome in 1988.

Rarefilmm | The Cave of Forgotten Films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ghosts.

Ghost Song (1978) by Jim Morrison & The Doors | Ghost Song (2000) by Air | Ghost Song (2005) by Patrick Wolf

The poster art of Josef Vyletal

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The Hero is Afraid (1965).

Film posters by Czech artist Josef Vyletal (1940-1989) have appeared here in the past, but after watching Juraj Herz’s gloomily Gothic Beauty and the Beast (1978) at the weekend—a film for which Vyletal not only created a poster but also provided the title sequence and paintings seen within the film—I thought the artist deserved a post of his own.

Josef Vyletal was a prolific poster artist and designer—the Terry Posters website states that he created 115 designs for the cinema—who also worked as a book illustrator. Between commercial assignments he produced paintings in a macabre Surrealist style that filtered into his commercial work, the Herz titles included. The absence of barriers between private obsessions and commercial imperatives is what makes the film posters created by Czech and Polish artists so attractive, as well as so surprising to Anglophone viewers. There’s no sense of these works being produced by committee, of a gaggle of marketing executives fretting over details behind the scenes. Some of Vyletal’s interpretations are so extreme and uncompromising by Hollywood standards it’s impossible to imagine even an adventurous chain like Alamo Drafthouse commissioning them, never mind a risk-averse studio. One of the designs I singled out for an earlier post is an ideal example, a poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds which dispenses with any visual reference to the film in favour of a liberal borrowing of the bird-headed figures from Max Ernst’s The Robing of the Bride. It’s a commonplace when discussing the films of Jan Svankmajer to situate the director in the history of Czech Surrealism which remained a clandestine movement during the Communist years. But Vyletal’s paintings demonstrate a confidence that the average Czech filmgoer could accept Surrealist imagery when being tempted by the latest fare from Hollywood.

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The Naked Eye (1966).

Given my own tastes for Surrealist imagery many of the examples shown here tend in this direction. Vyletal was a versatile artist who utilised a number of different styles, including collage and a bold graphic style of black shapes on coloured backgrounds. In addition to borrowing from Ernst he also borrowed (or swiped) figures from Aubrey Beardsley on at least two occasions (see below). Most of the examples here are collages augmented by or combined with paint, collage being a quicker solution when faced with deadlines. Terry Posters has many more examples.

(Note: the name Vyletal should include an accent but the coding on this blog throws up errors when it encounters unusual accents. My apologies to Czech readers.)

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The Black Tulip (1967).

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968).

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The Trygon Factor (1968).

Continue reading “The poster art of Josef Vyletal”