Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966

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The Cut-Ups (1966).

More of the present preoccupation. Choosing Brion Gysin as a subject seems like a detour but the shots above are from Antony Balch’s 1966 film The Cut-Ups which also features William Burroughs, Ian Sommerville and someone-or-other’s cute boyfriend of the time who’s only ever credited as “Baby Zen”, a person about whom I know nothing at all.

I first saw The Cut-Ups in video form projected on the screens of the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester during their Final Academy evening in 1982, an event at which Burroughs and John Giorno both gave readings. The film on that occasion was mixed with some of the other Antony Balch shorts including Towers Open Fire, and together they made a strong (and bewildering) impression. The Cut-Ups, as noted a few days ago, may have inspired some of the flash edits in Performance, although Nicolas Roeg had been cinematographer on Petulia for Richard Lester the year before, a film which uses similar Resnais-like flashbacks and flash-forwards. In Balch’s film several sequences each a foot in length are cut together at random, a process which was a lot more radical in 1966 than it looks today. The opening sequence shows Brion Gysin walking out of a shop, along a street, down an alley and into the Rue Git le Coeur where the Beat Hotel was located at no. 9, and into whose door he disappears. I visited the street the last time I was in Paris, and took a few snaps whilst there, but it wasn’t until I rewatched The Cut-Ups a couple of years later that I realised I’d made the same walk as Gysin, having inadvertently discovered the narrow passage (the Rue de L’Hirondelle) which connects Git le Coeur with the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

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The corner of the Boulevard Saint-Michel where Gysin’s walk begins.

The route can be traced (after a fashion) using Google’s Street View where the photos have the usual drawbacks of being positioned high in the air and with a field-of-view which makes narrow spaces look a lot more cramped than they seem when you’re there. For those who can’t visit Paris, however, you at least get a sense of the Latin Quarter, even though the area is a lot more gentrified today than it was in 1966. The Beat Hotel, as I’ve noted before, is now the expensive Hotel du Vieux Paris whose website makes no mention of their establishment having once been cheap lodgings for depraved writers, artists and junkies. As for the Gysin film, I still wonder where he began his walk: was it at the Tabac Saint-Michel or elsewhere? You can judge for yourself at Ubuweb which has a copy of The Cut-Ups in its Burroughs film collection.

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Rue de L’Hirondelle from the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

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Rue de L’Hirondelle from Rue Git le Coeur.

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Rue Git le Coeur looking towards the Seine. The former Beat Hotel is down the street on the right.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

William Burroughs interviews

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With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker (1982) by Victor Bockris. Design by Neville Brody.

If it’s interviews you want, some of the most entertaining are in Victor Bockris’s collection of conversations between El Hombre Invisible and the various New York notables ferried round to sit at Burroughs’ table in his Bowery Bunker. The British edition published by Vermilion was always preferrable for its Neville Brody cover design beside which the US original looks very dull indeed. The encyclopedic Burroughs site Reality Studio has copious lists of earlier Burroughs interviews. They also note the occasions when he put on his journalist hat and went out to interview someone equally famous, usually at the behest of a music magazine. A couple of those pieces are online thanks to the diligence of various fans.

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Diamond Dogs (1974), a blend of Lou Reed, George Orwell and William Burroughs.

One such is the 1974 interview with David Bowie for Rolling Stone in which Bowie discusses Burroughs as an influence while Burroughs informs the singer that the heroes of his latest novel, The Wild Boys, favour the Bowie knife as a weapon:

Bowie: Nova Express really reminded me of Ziggy Stardust, which I am going to be putting into a theatrical performance. Forty scenes are in it and it would be nice if the characters and actors learned the scenes and we all shuffled them around in a hat the afternoon of the performance and just performed it as the scenes come out. I got this all from you Bill… so it would change every night.

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A year later Burroughs got together with Jimmy Page for Crawdaddy magazine where the discussion circles around some of the same subjects, notably the writer’s obsession with sound as a weapon. There’s also this comment from Burroughs which is the kind of thing that always gets my neurons firing:

Antony Balch and I collaborated on a film called Cut-Ups, in which the film was cut into segments and rearranged at random. Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell saw a screening of the film not long before they made Performance.

Roeg later directed Bowie, of course, and is one of the dinner guests in With William Burroughs, while Jimmy Page and Donald Cammell both appear in Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising. The connections go round and round… Read the whole piece in a post I made a few years ago at the late, lamented Arthur magazine site.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

The art of Ed Emshwiller, 1925–1990

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Another item brought to light during the Great Shelf Re-ordering and Spring Clean is this 1950 Lancer paperback of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, a slim collection of six short connected stories, and another favourite book. Despite the sf label this is far more a work of fantasy (science fantasy, if you must), being tales of the bizarre and occasionally grotesque inhabitants of the last days of the earth. Magic is the order of the day, not advanced technology, although Vance hints that the book’s elaborate spells may be a higher ordering of mathematics capable of manipulating reality. I like the simple cover layout of this edition, and Ed Emshwiller’s illustration manages to be sparing yet fully representative of a key scene.

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French sf portal Noosfere has recently revamped its artwork showcase and has a substantial collection of Emshwiller’s cover paintings. I’d prefer to see more of his earlier style but the collection includes some striking designs.

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Sunstone (1979).

Emshwiller was a very prolific illustrator but from the 1960s on also developed his own style of experimental filmmaking, some examples of which can be found at YouTube. I’d actually seen Sunstone—a very early piece of computer animation—years ago without registering the credit. In addition there’s also Thanatopsis, a strange b&w short which is remarkably similar in tone to some of the films which William Burroughs and Antony Balch were making at around the same time.

The genre artist | Jack Vance profiled in the NYT

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The King in Yellow
Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers
Clark Ashton Smith book covers
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others
The World in 2030
The art of Virgil Finlay, 1914–1971
Towers Open Fire

The Final Academy

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The event booklet, designed by Neville Brody.

William Burroughs’ reading in the city of Manchester took place on the 4th of October, 1982, at Factory Records’ Haçienda club, as part of the Manchester “edition” of The Final Academy, a Burroughs-themed art event put together by Psychic TV (Genesis P Orridge & Peter Christopherson) and others. A recent posting on the Grey Lodge is a torrent of The Final Academy Documents, the shoddily-produced DVD made from the low-grade video recordings that captured the event (originally an Ikon Video production from Factory). The DVD is so badly presented by Cherry Red that no one should feel guilty about downloading this.

I’ve always been grateful that a record was made of this event, however poor, since I was in the audience that evening, very conscious of the fact that this was my one and only opportunity to see Burroughs in the flesh. His appearance was the magical part of a scaled-down version of the larger two-day Final Academy that had taken place earlier that week in London. The rest of the event was either strange or underwhelming, not helped by the chilly and elitist atmosphere of Manchester’s newest and most famous club. In the days before “Madchester” and the rave scene (the period that gets excised from the city’s cultural history), the Haçienda was a cold, grey concrete barn with terrible acoustics and a members-only policy that required the flourishing of a Peter Saville-designed card at the door. The place was usually half-empty and the clientèle tended to be students living nearby.

Continue reading “The Final Academy”

Quite a performance

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As mentioned earlier, I designed the jacket for this excellent biography of Donald Cammell some time ago. The book is reviewed in today’s (London) Times by Barry Miles.

Quite a performance
review by Barry Miles

DONALD CAMMELL: A Life on the Wild Side
by Rebecca and Sam Umland
FAB Press, £24.95 hardback, £16.95 paperback; 304pp

THERE IS A PERSISTENT rumour that after shooting himself in the head the filmmaker Donald Cammell lived on in a delirious, euphoric state for 45 minutes. The story is that he asked his wife China to place a mirror so that he could watch himself die and said: “Do you see the picture of Borges”? This is a reference to the death scene in Performance, his best known film, when the gangster Chas (played by James Fox) shoots the rock star Turner (played by Mick Jagger).

In a profoundly shocking sequence, the camera follows the bullet into his brain, only to find there a photograph of the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges who is much quoted in the film. This is but one of the many myths surrounding Cammell that these authors debunk — he died the instant the .38 bullet entered his skull.

Continue reading “Quite a performance”