Weekend links 389

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I Had Sweet Company Because I Sought Out None. Collage by Helen Adam.

• Readers of The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges continue to be compelled to either illustrate the impossible archive or create virtual equivalents. The Library of Blabber by nothke is a procedural version for home computers in which each volume on the shelves contains randomly-generated content.

• The Japanese American Toy Theatre of London presents: James Bonk in Matt Blackfinger (1987). Directed by Akiko Hada, with music by David Toop, and a song from Frank Chickens’ Kazuko Hohki (who also co-wrote the script).

• Music, Time and Long-Term Thinking—The Long Now Foundation (and a fair amount of Brian Eno) by Austin Brown, Alex Mensing and Ahmed Kabil.

• A Return to Normilcy: Bernie Brooks talks to post-punk group Normil Hawaiians about their 1982 album More Wealth Than Money which has just been reissued.

• Sound artist and theremin player Sarah Angliss has reworked music by Bernard Herrmann for an upcoming stage adaptation of The Twilight Zone.

• Does the world need another reissue of A Secret Wish by Propaganda? Not really but there’s a “deluxe” vinyl and CD edition on the way.

• “What Would [Bernard] Wolpe Do?” Talking Wolpe, Albertus and book cover design with the Faber & Faber Art Department.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 629 by Idle Hands/Chris Farrell, and XLR8R Podcast 518 by Cassy.

• At Phantasmaphile: Neglected collage artist Helen Adam (1909–1993).

Collectors’ corner: photos of book and music libraries

• The Black Meat (Deconstruction Of The Babel-Tower of Reason) (1994) by Automaton | Babel (2010) by Massive Attack feat. Martina Topley-Bird | Branching (2016) by The Library of Babel

Welles at 100

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Orson Welles: A First Biography (1946) by Roy Alexander Fowler.

Happy birthday, Orson. The premature celebrity biography is nothing new, as this small volume from the Coulthart library demonstrates. Welles was only 31 in 1946 but was already the director of three feature films. If I’m less of a Welles obsessive today it’s because many of the films and radio plays that were once inaccessible can now be easily seen and heard, although a handful of unfinished projects still wait in the wings. The following is a selection of some favourite Wellesiana, old and new.

• The Mercury Theatre On The Air: Recordings of Welles’ theatre troupe at the Internet Archive and at the dedicated website. The Mercury production of The War of the Worlds is the essential one, of course, but I’m also partial to their production of Dracula which featured Agnes Moorehead playing Mina Harker, Welles as the Count, and a suitably spooky score by Bernard Herrmann. The production of Around the World in 80 Days was later expanded by Welles into an ambitious (and expensive) stage musical in collaboration with Cole Porter.

The Night America Trembled (1957) is a TV dramatisation of the alarmed reaction of some Americans to the War of the Worlds broadcast. Presented live by Ed Murrow, the drama features Warren Beatty, James Coburn, Warren Oates, and Ed Asner (who later presented the BBC’s RKO Story). Closer to Welles is The Night That Panicked America (1975) a TV movie recreation of the original broadcast with Paul Shenar as the director.

Newsreel footage of the final scenes of the so-called Voodoo Macbeth from 1936. As part of the WPA program to return Americans to work, Welles directed an all-black cast with the action of the play moved to Haiti. As usual, Welles wasn’t afraid of rearranging the Bard’s words, and this staging ends with the same lines as his 1948 film version: “Peace! The charm’s wound up.”

• My favourite Welles book is still This is Orson Welles (1992), a collection of Peter Bogdanovich’s interviews edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Bogdanovich’s interview tapes can be heard at the Internet Archive.

Orson Welles’ Horrorshow: Colin Fleming on Welles’ Macbeth, “the horror film no one likes to call a horror film”.

Peter Bradshaw on Citizen Kane and the meaning of “Rosebud”.

Six actors who have played Orson Welles onscreen

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Fountain of Youth
The Complete Citizen Kane
Return to Glennascaul, a film by Hilton Edwards
Screening Kafka
The Panic Broadcast

Ray Harryhausen, 1920–2013

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Concept art for Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

He could also draw, something the obituaries won’t necessarily mention. I wasn’t aware of Ray Harryhausen’s many detailed preliminary drawings until I had the good fortune to see him give a talk at the Preston SF Group in the early 1990s. I recall mention being made of Gustave Doré as an influence, something that wasn’t so surprising given that Harryhausen’s animation career began with Willis O’Brien, animator of the original Kong. The Skull Island sets for King Kong owed much to Doré’s illustrations, and the film also made use of equally detailed preliminary drawings by O’Brien, Byron Crabbe and Mario Larrinaga.

I was going to link to Jason and company’s celebrated fight with the skeletons but the only clips on YouTube at the moment lack Bernard Herrmann’s superb score. The Harryhausen/Schneer films always had low budgets but the producers understood the importance of music, and employed Herrmann on four of their films: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Mysterious Island (1961) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Miklós Rózsa provided the score for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) so here’s a favourite moment from that film with John Philip Law and Martin Shaw tackling Tom Baker’s sword-wielding Kali statue.

Ray Harryhausen’s production drawings can be seen in The Art of Ray Harryhausen (2005).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Swords against death

The night that panicked America

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The Mercury Theatre on the air.

Being a long-time fan of both HG Wells and Orson Welles, the latter’s radio production of War of the Worlds with the Mercury Theatre group has always held a special fascination. This was staged sixty-nine years ago today, October 30th, 1938, and famously caused panic among listeners who missed the opening and believed they were hearing genuine news reports of an alien invasion. I’ve often listened to the rather crude recording of the play around this time of year, having owned that recording on vinyl, cassette tape and CD. These days you don’t have to buy it, you can head over to the Internet Archive or this Mercury Theatre page and grab an mp3 to discover what all the fuss was about. The recording may be crude but the presentation still strikes me as decades ahead of its time, with a very astute sense of how ordinary people behave when faced with the news media. I’ve always loved the attention to detail, such as the moment when the man who’s been interviewed at the crash site wants to carry on talking and the interviewer has to shut him up. That same verisimilitude was carried over to the newsreel footage in Citizen Kane (which was pretty much a Mercury production for cinema) and it was those moments in the radio play which helped encourage people to think that what they were hearing was real, not drama.

Screenwriter Howard Koch, who later polished the rudimentary draft script that became Casablanca, is credited as writer of the play but the adaptation was a group effort according to Koch in his book The Panic Broadcast (1970). The idea of presenting Wells’s story as a series of news bulletins came from Orson Welles and producer John Houseman, with Koch scripting the scenes and dialogue. Most of the other Mercury adaptations took a more traditional approach and if you want some spooky listening for Halloween I’d suggest you try their version of Dracula, also from 1938. The story is severely truncated, of course, but Agnes Moorehead is very impressive as Mina, there’s some remarkable music from Bernard Herrmann and Welles plays both Arthur Seward and the sinister Count.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker
The Door in the Wall
Voodoo Macbeth
War of the Worlds book covers