Weekend links 434

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Group X, No. 1, Altarpiece (1915) by Hilma af Klint.

“Like Kandinsky, and other pioneers of abstract art, af Klint was deeply immersed in theosophy and anthroposophy. But she seems to have taken that interest much further than her male counterparts, participating in (and later leading) séances with a group of women friends. Whatever the spirits said, af Klint did.” Nana Asfour on pioneering abstract painter, Hilma af Klint.

• Four electronic artists reflect on the influence of composer Laurie Spiegel. Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe (1980) is reissued by Unseen Worlds next month. Related: Laurie Spiegel in 1977 playing the Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer.

• At Expanding Mind: Gurdjieffean writer and DuVersity director Anthony Blake talks with Erik Davis about dialogue, synergy, mind between brains, the trouble with teachers, and the gymnasium of beliefs in higher intelligence.

• Mixes of the week: Flashing Noise Mix by Tim Gane, Secret Thirteen Mix 268 by Bérangère Maximin, and Samhain Séance Seven: A Very Dark Place – Prologue by The Ephemeral Man.

Geeta Dayal on Broken Music (1989), a book about sound art edited by Ursula Block and Michael Glasmeier which is now available in a new edition from Primary Information.

• The Sainsbury Archive showcases the graphic design of several decades of the supermarket chain’s products.

• More of the usual suspects: Michael Moorcock and Alan Moore in 2006 discussing Moorcock’s career.

• “Karloff the Uncanny”: Joe Dante talks to Stephanie Sporn about the attraction of old film posters.

Mexico City, another preview (and a psychedelic one) of Randall Dunn’s forthcoming solo album.

• At Haute Macabre: Timeless Phantom Interludes: The Photography of Jason Blake.

Mark Valentine on the current state of Britain’s secondhand book shops.

• At I Love Typography: Unicorns, Frogs and the Sausage Supper Affair.

• “I never wanted to be a cult film-maker,” says John Waters.

• Artist Arik Roper chooses some favourite album covers.

Broken Head (1978) by Eno, Moebius, Roedelius | Broken Horse (1984) by Rain Parade | Broken Aura (2000) by Coil

Weekend links 400

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Le Répit (La Mort allaitant une chauve-souris) (1895) by Valère Bernard.

Playhouse 90 presents Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. An American TV production from 1957 starring Boris Karloff, Roddy McDowall, Eartha Kitt and others; introduced by Sterling Hayden. It’s bizarre. Acidemic goes into the detail.

• Erik Davis talks to occult writer and drug geek Julian Vayne about Baphomet, the (sur)reality of spirits, evolution, ritualizing entheogens, and his new book Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony.

• “Unsurprisingly, 1. Outside was the record that the #BowieBookClub readers most readily associated with Hawksmoor.” Anna Aslanyan revisits Peter Ackroyd’s architectural mystery.

The Flowers of Dorian Gray: part one of a series of posts examining one of Oscar Wilde’s favourite symbols.

• At Haute Macabre, an interview with Michael Locascio & Heather Jean Skawold of Dellamorte & Co.

One Minute Art History, an animated film by Cao Shu.

Film posters at the Harry Ransom Center, UT-Austin.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 639 by Black Milk.

Susanna‘s favourite albums.

• Welcome to The Spoodoir.

• Flowers Of Evil (1983) by Cortex | Baphomet (1989) by Foetus Inc. | Heart Of Darkness (1989) by Syd Straw

Psychotronic Video

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I was going to wait until the weekend to mention this but it’s too good to be lodged in a collection of links. Michael J. Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (1983) has long been one of my favourite film books, a collection of reviews by Weldon and friends written for Weldon’s NYC fanzine, Psychotronic TV. “Psychotronic” was Weldon’s umbrella label for the low-budget fare that would usually be avoided by other reviewers: “horror, exploitation, action, science fiction, and movies that used to play in drive-ins or inner city grindhouses.” A small handful of actors were considered psychotronic enough (on account of their appearing in many psychotronic films) that Weldon claimed their presence in any film made it psychotronic even if it contained no overt genre or exploitation content. So the Encyclopedia lists Fellini’s 8 1/2, for example, simply because Barbara Steele appears in it. Likewise, Casablanca is psychotronic because of Peter Lorre. As I recall, the other psychotronic actors were John Carradine (“the greatest PSYCHOTRONIC star of all time”), Vincent Price and Boris Karloff.

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The trouble with books of film reviews is that the passage of time makes them increasingly subject to omissions, so I was delighted when Weldon launched Psychotronic Video magazine in 1989. Not only was this a continuation of the encyclopedia’s film listings it was also filled with related features: interviews with character actors, cult figures and interesting stars; a regular music column which mostly covered the kinds of bands who would watch psychotronic films; a regular obituary feature; and pages crammed with bizarre and curious graphics: film ephemera, ads from old magazines, headers by comic artist Drew Friedman, and mermaid drawings by Weldon’s girlfriend, Mia. One of my favourite features, which ran from the first issue, concerned Weldon’s obsession with The Rivingtons’ Papa Oom Mow Mow and The Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird, an ideé fixe which had Weldon cataloguing as many cover versions or film inclusions of the songs as he could find.

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Psychotronic Video ran for 41 issues until folding in 2006. I bought the first 23 or so then lapsed after the one comic shop selling it in Manchester was closed down by the IRA bombing of the city centre in 1996. Back issues are increasingly scarce (and not always cheap) so it’s good to find all 41 issues at the Internet Archive together with 10 issues of the even more scarce Psychotronic TV. The quality isn’t perfect—some of the scanned pages are subject to blurring—but I can now see what was in the rest of the magazines, and finally get to read the Timothy Carey interview in the one issue I missed, no. 6. Many of the actors interviewed with enthusiasm by Psychotronic Video have since died so the magazine is even more valuable for its insights into careers ignored by other publications.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bikers and witches: Psychomania
The Cramps at the Haçienda

Dracula and I by Christopher Lee

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Impossible, not to say foolish, to attempt a brief summary of Christopher Lee’s incredible life and career. Rather than compete with the obituaries, here’s something you won’t find elsewhere, a short piece by Lee himself about his relationship to the role that made him famous. This is taken from The Dracula Scrapbook, a collection of Dracula and vampire-related cuttings assembled by Peter Haining for New English Library in 1976. The Lee piece was originally written for Midi Minuit Fantastique, Éric Losfeld’s film magazine which, we’re told, ceased publication in 1971. Haining dates Lee’s article as 1973 so I’ve left it undated, although it does seem to have been written around the time he was making (or had made) Dracula AD 1972. To compound the confusion, the poster above is for that very film but titled Dracula 73. Lee preferred Jesús Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) to the two final Hammer Draculas but the latter have their enthusiasts.

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DRACULA AND I by Christopher Lee

I should certainly be pleased to play the part of Dracula again on the screen (surely it is the immortal role par excellence?), although I have many times refused to accept it. Nowadays I think the public identifies me with this part, and if I have sometimes refused it, it was for fear that, like the unfortunate Bela Lugosi, I should spend the rest of my life unable to play anything else. However I would willingly play it again, always provided that the production and scenario of this great subject satisfied me to the full. In any case, I have no intention of playing it to gain some sort of cheap publicity or for the financial benefit of a group of individuals incapable of appreciating or understanding the great power and the classical style of this great subject.

The part is one which needs to be played with respect and dignity, although one must always consider the commercial angle, which nowadays cannot be ignored.

I wrote recently that a true actor ought to be able to play a great diversity of parts. I think I have proved this as far as I am concerned, and that consequently there is no danger for me of being ‘typed’. But I am first and foremost an actor and must earn my living, and if the occasion arises again I shall he delighted to play the part of Dracula again under conditions which satisfy me.

Above all I should wish my interpretation to be more faithful to the novel of Bram Stoker. It seems to me that in the film Horror of Dracula (which, by the way, was excellent and a great success) the scenario left in the shade some aspects of the novel which, if they had been retained, would have improved the film as a whole considerably. For example, the sequences with the wolves and the capital scene with Jonathan Harker and the mirror, not to mention the boat sailing for England. The omission of Renfield was also very regrettable.

I believe that these scenes were not shot for financial reasons; they would have made the film considerably longer and therefore called for a great increase in the production budget.

It may surprise you to know that I have not seen any of the other versions of Dracula. Most of them were produced when I was very young and my age did not allow me to go to see them. But I think this is an advantage in my case, for above all I should not like to be influenced in my approach to the part by those who preceded me, even by the great Bela Lugosi. It will always be a cause for great regret to me that I never met him, whereas I know Boris Karloff very well and have a great admiration for him.

My personal idea of the interpretation of Count Dracula was of course based on the novel which I have read over and over again, and within the framework of the scenario and the production I have tried to give my personal view of its interpretation.

Bram Stoker’s grand-daughter came to see me on the set during the shooting, and was kind enough to assure me that my interpretation was excellent, and that she was sure her grandfather would have appreciated it.

Of course there was a great difference between the scenario and the novel, but I have always tried to emphasise the solitude of Evil and particularly to make it clear that however terrible the actions of Count Dracula might be, he was possessed by an occult power which was completely beyond his control. It was the Devil, holding him in his power, who drove him to commit those horrible crimes, for he had taken possession of his body from time immemorial. Yet his soul, surviving inside its carnal wrapping, was immortal and could not he destroyed by any means. All this is to explain the great sadness which I have tried to put into my interpretation.

Another problem was involved in the interpretation, a problem of a sexual nature. Blood, the symbol of virility, and the sexual attraction attached to it, has always been closely linked in the universal theme of Vampirism. I had to try to suggest this without destroying the part by clumsy over-emphasis. Above all, I have never forgotten that Count Dracula was a gentleman, a member of the upper aristocracy, and in his early life a great soldier and leader of men.

Of course it was impossible, within the limits of the scenario, to show this, but it is still possible by one’s interpretation to suggest the facts of the past without actually showing them.

As I have already told you, I am quite in favour of the idea of playing the part of Count Dracula again, always provided that the period and the Gothic atmosphere of the novel are respected.

I believe it is perfectly possible for a production of a film on this subject to be made in a modern setting, but there is only one Dracula, and his period must not be changed under any circumstances.

I have not read the whole of Bram Stoker’s work; I have only read (apart from Dracula) The Lair of the White Worm and one of his shortest stories, The Squaw. The first could not be screened, but the second in a shortened form would make an extraordinary film. The Squaw is, moreover, one of the most terrifying stories that Bram Stoker ever wrote.

The part of Count Dracula was one of the great opportunities of my career, and earned me a worldwide reputation.

It is one of the greatest parts ever created, one of the most famous and fantastic…no actor can ask more.

Midi Minuit Fantastique

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Dracula Annual
Nightmare: The Birth of Horror
Albin Grau’s Nosferatu
Count Dracula
Symbolist cinema

Rex Ingram’s The Magician

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The Magician (1926), Rex Ingram’s curious occult horror film, receives a rare screening with live music accompaniment at the Brighton Fringe Festival on Tuesday, 22nd May. The film is notable for being based on the 1908 Somerset Maugham novel of the same name whose modern-day magus character, Oliver Haddo, was modelled on Aleister Crowley. The screening will feature an introduction by Gary Lachman, and a live soundtrack by the fabulous Ragged Ragtime Band, featuring members of Blondie, Indigo Octagon, Raagnagrok and Time. Booking details and other information here.

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Maugham’s book has always been easier to find than Ingram’s film, more’s the pity when the film—despite some flaws—is the superior article. Read today, the novel comes across as a template for the standard Dennis Wheatley tale of middle-class innocents imperilled by grandiloquent villainy. A young couple, Arthur Burdon and his fiancée, Margaret, are pitted against Haddo’s extravagant diabolisms; for assistance they have a friend, Dr Porhoët, a Van Helsing type, older than the couple and with a convenient (but purely intellectual) interest in the occult. Haddo kidnaps Margaret and forces her with hypnosis into an unconsummated marriage. Haddo’s goal is to create artificial life—homunculi—and for that he requires a virgin’s blood. Maugham later described his novel as “lush and turgid”, an honest and accurate appraisal. Aleister Crowley was amused at being portrayed as a “Brother of the Shadows” but pretended to be scandalised by Maugham’s alleged plagiarism which he condemned in a Vanity Fair review that he signed “Oliver Haddo”. The best parts of the novel certainly owe something to other authors, usually the scenes concerning the sinister magus and his occult activities; the rest of the characters are lifeless by comparison. Some of the better passages read like HP Lovecraft writing Dorian Gray, and Maugham not only quotes from Walter Pater but also (uncredited) from Wilde’s Salomé.

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Paul Wegener as Oliver Haddo.

Continue reading “Rex Ingram’s The Magician”