Bluebeard’s Castle, 1981

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Filmed performances of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle continue to find their way to YouTube. Clips of this film from 1981 have been around for a while but not the entire opera which I hadn’t seen until now. On a theatrical and cinematic level this performance isn’t as successful as the superb version Leslie Megahey made for the BBC in 1988; director Miklós Szinetár gives us a rather traditional Gothic reading that’s only contradicted by the slight stylisation of the sets. The climactic moment when the Fifth Door opens delivers a simple blaze of white light that can’t compete with the equivalent moment in Megahey’s version when the castle floor opens up and Bluebeard’s kingdom is revealed in miniature. The musical recording is excellent, however, with Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Kolos Kováts plays Bluebeard and Sylvia Sass is Judith. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Michael Powell’s Bluebeard revisited
Joseph Southall’s Bluebeard
Leslie Megahey’s Bluebeard

Max Ernst album covers

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The Road To Ruin (1970) by John & Beverley Martyn. Art: Un Semaine de Bonté (1934).

Having already looked at cover art featuring the work of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, a similar post for Max Ernst seemed inevitable. I did search for Ernst cover art after the Dalí post but at the time there were fewer examples. As usual there may be more than these since Discogs is the main search tool and they (or the albums) don’t always credit the artists. Despite having several books of Ernst’s work I’ve not been able to identify all the artwork so the Ernst-heads out there are welcome to fill in the gaps.

The Road To Ruin was John Martyn’s fourth album, and the second he recorded with wife Beverley. I’m surprised that this is the earliest example, I’d have expected a classical album or two to have predated it.

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Martinu’s Symphony No. 6 (Fantaisies Symphoniques) / Vorisek’s Symphony In D Major (1971); New Philharmonia Orchestra, Michael Bialoguski. Art: Bottled Moon (1955).

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Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók (1976); Tatiana Troyanos, Siegmund Nimsgern, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez. Art: The Eye of Silence (1943–44).

Bluebeard’s Castle is my favourite opera, and The Eye of Silence is my favourite Ernst painting, so this is a dream conjunction even if the match doesn’t work as well as it did for the cover of The Crystal World by JG Ballard. One to seek out.

Continue reading “Max Ernst album covers”

Monsieur René Magritte, a film by Adrian Maben

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Until the end of his life, [Magritte] preferred to take the tram.

Now there’s an attitude I approve of. George Melly in his BBC film about Surrealism mentions visiting Magritte at his home in Brussels, and we see Magritte’s house at the beginning of Adrian Maben’s 50-minute film about the artist’s life and work. Maben’s film was made in 1978 as an Franco-German TV production but the narration, by Maben himself, is in English. Surrealism seemed to be back in vogue in 1978: as mentioned yesterday, the Hayward Gallery in London staged an exhibition of Surrealist art that year, the BBC commissioned George Melly’s film as a result of this, while over on rival network ITV there was the marvellous documentary about Surrealist patron Edward James who modelled for one of Magritte’s most famous paintings, La reproduction interdite (1937).

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Adrian Maben’s name will be familiar to Pink Floyd obsessives as the director of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972), and if you’re familiar with that film you can recognise the same shooting style in his Magritte film which deploys similar slow zooms, tracking shots and images sliding in and out of the frame. The music is credited to a surprising combination of Béla Bartók (mostly piano) and Roger Waters, although some of the pieces from the latter are actually by Pink Floyd, there’s even some of the opening of Obscured By Clouds. In style and content the film is as good as anything the BBC were producing at the time, with extracts from a TV interview with the artist, and also some of Magritte’s high-spirited home movies made with his wife and friends.

Magritte and Pink Floyd are a fitting match, some of the Floyd’s album covers could be Magritte paintings rendered photographically: two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire; a giant pig adrift over a power station. Storm Thorgerson always acknowledged the debt that Hipgnosis owed Magritte’s example, it’s there in the title of the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René, and in this short Tate interview from 2011 where he mentions the Wish You Were Here album as being a very conscious Magritte homage.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

Weekend links 198

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Bum (1966) by Pauline Boty.

Eleanor Birne on Pauline Boty, “the only prominent female Pop artist among a generation of famous men”. Ken Russell’s Pop Art documentary, Pop Goes the Easel (1962), which features Boty, may be seen here. Two years later Boty was back with Ken Russell playing the part of the prostitute from The Miraculous Mandarin in a film about Béla Bartók. That’s something I’d love to see. There’s more about her painting, and the work of other female Pop artists, here.

• Why Are We Sleeping? Mark Pilkington on the music world’s recurrent interest in the philosophy of GI Gurdjieff. Pilkington’s most recent Raagnagrok release with Zali Krishna, Man Woman Birth Death Infinity, was reviewed by Peter Bebergal.

• Cinematic details: Frames-within-frames in The Ipcress File (1966), and the typography of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

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A Jay Shaw poster for Ben Wheatley’s forthcoming film of High-Rise.

• “…a large cavity must be dug in the bird’s shoulder and filled with ball bearings.” Christine Baumgarthuber on the dubious delights of The Futurist Cookbook.

• Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again: Rick Poynor on the difficulties of finding a definitive representation of an artwork online.

Jay Parini reviews Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris by Edmund White. At AnOther Donatien Grau talks to White about fashion.

• At Bajo el Signo de Libra (in Spanish): the homoerotic and occasionally Surrealist art of Pavel Tchelitchew.

• At 50 Watts: Kling Klang Gloria: Vintage Children’s Books from Austria.

• The motorbike girl gangs of Morocco photographed by Hassan Hajjaj.

Geoff Manaugh on how LED streetlights will change cinema.

Stylus “is an experiment in sound, music and listening”.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen mix 106 by Senking.

• At Pinterest: JG Ballard

This Is Pop? (1978) by XTC | Pop Muzik (1979) by M | Pop Quiz (1995) by Stereolab

Michael Powell’s Bluebeard revisited

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Yesterday’s post prompted me to look again for one of Michael Powell’s scarcest films, his television version of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle made for  Süddeutscher Rundfunk in 1963. Sure enough, it’s now on YouTube in a watchable copy taken from VHS tape. Herzog Blaubarts Burg (to use its German title) was made post-Peeping Tom when the director’s career was at its lowest ebb, and while the production values don’t match those he’d been used to in the 1940s he was no doubt happy to be working at all after being vilified by the UK press. Norman Foster is Bluebeard and Ana Raquel Satre plays Judith, with the libretto being a German translation with English subtitles. I ought to note here that I’ve not read the second volume of Powell’s biography (mea culpa) so the only information I have about this comes from Ian Christie’s Arrows of Desire: The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1985). Christie doesn’t have much to say about it other than pointing out that Norman Foster financed the film, and that it’s seldom been screened in Britain: IMDB has the first UK screening as 1978, just prior to the time when Powell and Pressburger began to receive to some belated recognition.

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The YouTube copy suffers in the sound department by being a muffled mono transmission but it’s the visuals which will be of most interest to Powell aficionados. Powell & Pressburger’s regular production designer Hein Heckroth created the multi-coloured labyrinth which serves as the castle. The overall effect is stagey but contains some unique details, such as the rune-etched standing stones shown at the opening and close, and also some painted moments similar to those seen during the celebrated dance sequence in The Red Shoes (1948). Powell’s staging is much more vivid and artificial than Leslie Megahey’s 1988 adaptation whose Gothic gloom remains a personal favourite. Despite its shortcomings, when compared to the other Powell films that came after—the two Australian features, the Children’s Film Foundation commission which reunited him with Pressburger—this is far closer to the greatest works of the Archers era, and provides a more satisfying career coda for the man who directed The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Joseph Southall’s Bluebeard
Leslie Megahey’s Bluebeard
Powell’s Bluebeard
The Tale of Giulietta