Weekend links 618

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O Superman (1981), a seven-inch single on One Ten Records. Design by Laurie Anderson and Perry Hoberman.

• “…I was painting a picture of a garden at night. It had a lot of black and this green kind of coming out of the black, and I sat back, probably to take a smoke, looking at this painting, and I suddenly heard a wind coming from the painting, and the green started to move. And I thought, ‘Oh, a moving painting.’ And that experience led to cinema.” David Lynch talking to Josh Hitchens about living in Philadelphia.

• “This is the time and this is the record of the time.” Big Science, the album that propelled Laurie Anderson from performance artist to pop star, is 40 years old this month. Mat Colegate recalls his confused impression that the album was the work of a West Country folk singer, while Studs Terkel talked to Laurie Anderson about the album shortly after its release.

• At Public Domain Review: Kensy Cooperrider explores a millennium of “hand mnemonics”, “the variety of techniques practised by Buddhist monks, Latin linguists, and Renaissance musicians for remembering what might otherwise elude the mind.”

Ghosts in the Machine is an exhibition being hosted by Bower Ashton Library, Bristol, for World Book Night, 2022. 93 participants contributed ghost-related images for an accompanying artist’s book [PDF].

• “Sixty years after Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition, world’s fairs have largely fallen out of fashion in the US.” Grant Wong charts the rise and fall of world’s fairs.

• A trailer for Ennio: The Maestro, a feature-length documentary about Ennio Morricone by Giuseppe Tornatore.

• “The film Putin doesn’t want the world to see: Firebird, a gay love story about fighter pilots.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Andrei Tarkovsky Day.

• New music: Intersections by Specimens.

Schöne Hände (1977) by Cluster & Eno | Hands 2 Take (1981) by The Flying Lizards | Red Hand (1996) by Paul Schütze

Arena: Andrei Tarkovsky

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More slow cinema. The Antonioni documentary was broadcast by the BBC in their regular Arena arts strand, as was this 50-minute profile from 1987. Andrei Tarkovsky is a favourite Arena of mine, one I’ve watched many times over the years, whether original broadcast, VHS tape or digitised copy. As with the Antonioni film it’s one of many such episodes which functions as an ideal introduction to its subject.

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1986 was the year of Tarkovsky’s untimely death so Charlie Pattinson’s documentary served as a memorial as well as a celebration of a director whose reputation had been growing throughout the decade. I love the way this one starts cold with a series of clips from all seven of the feature films; no comment required. Further clips follow but the real value is in the extracts from interviews and talks given by the director which punctuate the biographical chronology. The first of these is a declaration of Tarkovsky’s belief that film-making is a unique medium in its ability to capture and assemble temporal moments, something he explored in depth in his book, Sculpting in Time. In his talks and his writings he can often seem overly serious when discussing his work, especially in a world where film-making is largely regarded as merely another division of the entertainment industry. But he regarded both art and film-making as serious affairs, and many of his films required considerable effort to be made at all. Hollywood has long been notorious for confounding the endeavours of maverick directors but the apparatchiks at Goskino were seldom better, continually rejecting new proposals or interfering with the films after they were made; Tarkovsky’s diaries are filled with accounts of his struggles with the bureaucrats who oversaw film production. When he wasn’t fighting censorship attempts or refusals to release a new film he was dealing with other refusals to approve his projects altogether. We’re fortunate that Stalker exists at all when most of the exterior footage needed to be reshot after the negative was ruined by incompetent processing. This calamity wasn’t the director’s fault but Goskino were reluctant at first to let him finish the film. These constant struggles eventually compelled him to leave the Soviet Union in order to make films elsewhere, a painful decision which is discussed in the final part of Pattinson’s documentary by the director’s wife and production assistant, Larisa. The pair were allowed to leave the country but they were also forced to do so without their young son, a typically cruel and petty punishment by the Soviet authorities.

In the Antonioni post I mentioned that Tarkovsky’s present popularity is sustained by Solaris and Stalker much more than by his other films. People who only know the director from his excursions into science fiction may be surprised to hear him dismiss Solaris as his least successful feature on a personal level. Documentaries such as this may encourage some of those viewers to explore the rest of his filmography.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Zone music
Sine Fiction
Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker”
The Stalker meme

Dear Antonioni…

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Sit through the credits for Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and you’ll be rewarded at the very end with a written suggestion: “If you have enjoyed this film, why not go and see La Notte?” The joke being that a notoriously sombre offering from Michelangelo Antonioni is the antithesis of a laugh riot. In 1983 you could still poke fun at a director whose films were acclaimed as well as derided for being slow and serious; in 2022 this no longer seems likely. Antonioni hasn’t exactly been forgotten but his visibility as a cultural signifier has deflated considerably since his final feature in 1997, and the cinematic landscape has changed a great deal since 1983. The most significant change where Antonioni’s films are concerned is the way in which the techniques that once set him apart from many other directors have been thoroughly absorbed into the language of cinema. His predilection for sustained shots, for posing his characters in striking landscapes or architectural spaces, for refusing to offer simple explanations for the behaviour of those characters; none of this seems as radical as it did in the 1960s. We have a sub-genre today known as “slow cinema“, a form which Antonioni’s films helped make possible. It’s easy to characterise these aspects of the Antonioni oeuvre as running counter to a Hollywood that prefers everything to be swiftly delivered and comprehensible. But Antonioni’s techniques have followed the course of any aesthetic innovation which in time becomes a part of the available range of options for an artist, wherever that artist may be situated.

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In 1963 Stanley Kubrick put La Notte on a list of 10 favourite films, and there’s a case to be made that 2001: A Space Odyssey is science fiction filtered through Antonioni’s sensibility; or there would be if Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were more concerned with human beings. A better candidate for SF Antonioni-style is Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and there’s a further case to be made that the continued popularity (or visibility) of Tarkovsky’s films is one of the main reasons we hear less today about the man Tarkovsky named in his diaries as “the best Italian director working today”. The first film Tarkovsky made after he left the Soviet Union was Nostalgia, a drama about a Russian writer in Italy that was co-written with Antonioni’s regular screenwriter, Tonino Guerra. (The pair began work on the Nostalgia screenplay while staying at Antonioni’s house.) Tarkovsky’s films are just as serious and slow as Antonioni’s, more so in most cases, but Tarkovsky remains visible because we’re living in a world where once-disreputable genres, science fiction in particular, are now a dominant form, and Tarkovsky just happened to make two cult science-fiction films. It’s difficult to imagine Antonioni being nakedly generic but Blow-up is partly a murder mystery, albeit one that refuses satisfactory explanation, while The Passenger is an extenuated thriller with all the dynamics pared away, and with the climactic event taking place while the camera is looking elsewhere. In Il Deserto Rosso Monica Vitti loses her mind in the industrial wastelands of Ravenna accompanied by the buzzes and whines of Vittorio Gelmetti’s electronic score. There’s nothing overtly science fictional about this but the film would make a fitting companion to a screening of Stalker.

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All of which brings us to Dear Antonioni…, a 90-minute documentary by Gianni Massironi which serves as an ideal introduction to the director and his works. The film was a co-production with the BBC, made to coincide with the release of Antonioni’s final feature, Beyond the Clouds, in 1997. Dear Antonioni… is also the title of an open letter to the director by Roland Barthes, passages from which are read by several of Antoninio’s actors. The readings punctuate a chronological examination of the director’s career, from his early documentaries and excursions into Neo-Realism to the features that established his reputation. If it had been made ten years earlier it might have hastened my appreciation of his films.

During my erratic self-education into the works of European directors I had a hard time getting used to Antonioni. I liked The Passenger very much, had a grudging respect for Blow-up, hated Zabriskie Point until the final 20 minutes or so, and for a long time regarded L’Avventura as over-rated. But my old video lists tell me that I taped this documentary anyway because I felt the problem was more a result of my own impatience rather than anything in the films themselves. A further problem was getting to see some of the films at all. I’ve mentioned before how difficult it used to be to appraise the work of directors outside the Anglosphere if you weren’t living in a city with a decent arts cinema. Il Deserto Rosso was never on TV, neither were La Notte or L’Eclisse, two major features which I still haven’t seen. The latter pair are mentioned in Dear Antonioni… but no clips are shown which makes me wonder if they were subject to a rights dispute like the one that kept several Hitchcock films out of circulation for many years. Antonioni himself is only present in historic interview footage but there’s plenty of production commentary from his screenwriters, Tonino Guerro, Sam Shepard, and Mark Peploe, plus more actors and collaborators including Monica Vitti, David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. I’d also forgotten that Alain Robbe-Grillet turns up to present a lucid argument for Antonioni’s films as “Modern” (or Modernist) works in contrast to the Hollywood idiom exemplified by Alfred Hitchcock. I won’t attempt a précis of Robbe-Grillet’s remarks, it’s easier to suggest you hear them for yourself. Whether you’re a neophyte or an aficionado this is an unfailingly intelligent and absorbing study.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1912–2007

Weekend links 566

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The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaido Road. From the series A Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces (c. 1832) by Hokusai.

• New music: In Love With A Ghost by Kevin Richard Martin (aka Kevin Martin, The Bug, etc), a preview from his forthcoming alternative score for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). In other hands I’d probably dismiss a further addition to the trend of creating new scores for films that don’t require them. Tarkovsky’s film certainly doesn’t need any new music, and we’ve already had an album-length homage from Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason. But I like Martin’s sombre atmospherics so he gets a pass with this one.

• “[Pauline] Oliveros wrote a piece for the New York Times in 1970 titled And Don’t Call Them Lady Composers, focusing on the difficulties of women being noticed and taken seriously in her field. It’s still online and could have been written yesterday.” Jude Rogers on Sisters With Transistors, a documentary about women in electronic music. Madeleine Siedel interviewed Lisa Rovner, the film’s director. Watch the trailer.

Submissions to the 16th number of Dada journal Maintenant will be open at the beginning of October, 2021, following an announcement of the theme of the new issue in September. All you would-be (or actual) Dadaists out there have the summer to plot your potential contributions.

Our reverence for originals takes an absurdly extreme form in the recent craze for NFTs (non-fungible tokens), where collectors and traders spend huge sums of money on unique ‘ownership’ of a digital artwork that anyone can download for free. Since there’s no such thing as the original of a digital file, the artist can now certify the file as the one and only ‘original copy’, and make a fortune. Time will tell whether this is a transient fad or a new way of establishing the feeling of a relationship to the mind of the digital artist.

But our reverence for originals isn’t universal. Treating the original as special and sacred is a Western attitude. In China and Japan, for example, it’s acceptable to create exact replicas, and these are valued as much as the original—especially because an ancient original might degrade over time, but a new replica will show us how the work looked originally. And, as mentioned, there are studios in China where artists are employed to create fakes. Perhaps our culture teaches us to respond to artworks by inferring the mind behind the art.

“Works of art compel our attention—but can they change us?” asks Ellen Winner

• “What Don basically did here is find a series of one or two bar riffs, or parts, that he liked, have me write them down, and then say, in essence, ‘make something out of this’.” John French (aka Drumbo) recalls the making of Trout Mask Replica.

• From 1988 (and relevant this week because I’m reading a Pynchon novel): Thomas Pynchon’s review of Love in the Time of Cholera.

• Andy Thomas on fusion legend Ryo Kawasaki, pioneer of the synth guitar.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Dimitri Kirsanoff Day.

Gareth Jones’ favourite music.

• RIP Monte Hellman.

The Sea Named “Solaris” (1978) by Tomita | Solaris (2014) by Docetism | Solaris Return (2019) by Jenzeits

Weekend links 464

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13 Circles by Julien Picaud.

• The 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing is only two months away so it’s no surprise that Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks is being reissued. The latest release will include an additional disc of new music by Eno with his collaborators from the original sessions, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno. Related: the Apollo 11 Command Module as an explorable (and printable) 3D model.

• From the real Moon to the presence of the satellite in myth and history, the next book from Strange Attractor will be Selene: The Moon Goddess & The Cave Oracle, a volume which is also the final work by the late Steve Moore. With a foreword by Bob Rickard, and an afterword by Alan Moore.

• Guitar-noise maestro Caspar Brötzmann released a handful of thrilling albums in the 1990s then disappeared from view. Spyros Stasis talked to Brötzmann about his hiatus and his recent resurfacing on the Southern Lord label.

• A year late, but I didn’t know Paul Schrader had written an updated introduction to his 1972 study of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer, Transcendental Style in Film. I love the idea of “The Tarkovsky Ring” as a directorial event horizon.

• “Nothing written is utterly without value, as I proved to myself by reading two random works.” Theodore Dalrymple on the lasting worth of “worthless” books.

Cinemagician: Conversations with Kenneth Anger, a documentary by Carl Abrahamsson about the director/writer/magus.

• Mirror, Mirror: When Movie Characters Look Back at Themselves by Sheila O’Malley.

• From Susan Sontag to the Met Gala: Jon Savage on the evolution of camp.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 289 by Mondkopf.

• Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer: Anne Billson.

• A video by IMPATV for Religion by Teleplasmiste.

Obscure Sound ~ Cosmic: a list.

Mira Calix‘s favourite records.

Transcendental Overdrive (1980) by Harald Grosskopf | Transcendental Moonshine (1991) by Steroid Maximus | The Transcendent (1999) by Jah Wobble