Weekend links 491

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The Weirdness is Coming, an illustration by Robert Beatty for an NYMag feature about the near future.

• I’m slightly late to this news, but better late than never: The Doll’s Breath is a 22-minute animated film by the Brothers Quay, shot on 35mm film and with a soundtrack by Michèle Bokanowski. It may take a while before it’s available to view outside the festival circuit but it’s good to know it’s in the world. Related: Filip Lech on the Polish inspirations of the Brothers Quay.

• More from Swan River Press: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s disturbing horror tale, Green Tea, is published in a 150th anniversary edition, with an introduction by Matthew Holness, two essays and a CD containing a theatrical adaptation of the story by the Wireless Mystery Theatre.

• Luca Guadagnino, Olivia Laing and Sandy Powell, Tilda Swinton and John Waters choose favourite pieces of writing by Derek Jarman. Related: Protest!, a Jarman exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Fairport [Convention]’s revolutionary impact came in doing precisely the opposite of what the folklorists had intended when they began collecting the songs. By taking the old songs and setting them down on paper, they had largely believed they were preserving them in the form in which they must remain, ignoring the fact that songs passed through generations orally will always evolve. Fairport, though, played extremely fast and loose with the source material, matching tunes from one source with lyrics from another. As Rob Young put it in his book Electric Eden: “It threw into question the spurious ‘authenticity’ of the folk versions studiously set in stone by the Victorian and Edwardian collectors. Fairport’s electrifying act preserved and restored the guts and spontaneous vigour to the folk continuum.”

Michael Hann on the 50th anniversary of Fairport Convention’s Liege & Leaf

• More Patrick Cowley: PC’s megamix of Hills Of Kat Mandu by Tantra. And the mix of the week: a Patrick Cowley tribute from 1981 by DJ Jim Hopkins.

• The seventh edition of Wyrd Daze—”The multimedia zine of speculative fiction + extra-ordinary music, art & writing”—is out now.

5 Mishaps: A 32-page hardbound handmade book of short stories by Tamas Dobozy, with collage illustrations by Allan Kausch.

• At Dangerous Minds: Lovely Bones: The transfixing skeletons and dreamlike nudes of Belgian painter Paul Delvaux.

• From 1979: a very early TV appearance by Virgin Prunes (their first?) on Ireland’s The Late Late Show.

• Fists of fear: Anne Billson on 10 films featuring severed (and frequently vengeful) hands.

Adrian Curry at MUBI selects his favourite film posters of the 2010s.

Tea For Two (1956) by Duke Ellington | Tea For One (1976) by Led Zeppelin | Tea In The Sahara (2001) by Simon Shaheen & Qantara

Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague

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“Surrealism is not aesthetics. It is a philosophy,” says Jan Svankmajer in James Marsh’s short (25 mins) portrait for the BBC from 1990. This was broadcast at a time when Svankmajer’s films were receiving more attention in the UK than they had before or since, thanks in part to Channel 4’s screening and funding of animation, and to the late Michael O’Pray, a film writer and champion of avant-garde cinema. O’Pray is the main commentator here apart from Svankmajer himself, and his name was a regular fixture of any writing about Svankmajer or the Brothers Quay in the 1980s. Svankmajer’s films were featured in at least two of the touring programmes of short films that O’Pray put together for Film and Video Umbrella in the late 1980s, so its good to see his enthusiasm memorialised in this way, even if it is stuck on a rather temperamental Korean website. In addition to discussion of the influence of Bohemian emperor Rudolf II on Svankmajer’s work we also see the director filming his latest short, The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia; a rare glimpse behind the camera. (Note: the video wouldn’t load for me but the stream is downloadable if you’re determined to see it.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Svankmajer, Director
Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska
The Torchbearer by Václav Svankmajer

Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges

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Given the time of year, and last week’s Quays-themed post, this seemed like a good follow-up. Opera North’s production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges was broadcast by the BBC during the Christmas holiday of 1989. The opera isn’t quite as saccharine a Christmas entertainment as The Nutcracker Suite but the libretto is still light-hearted fare, being based on a Neopolitan fairy tale in which the son of the King of Clubs is afflicted by melancholy after reading too much tragic poetry. The King stages an entertainment to cheer the Prince but the only thing that makes him laugh is the witch, Fata Morgana, falling over and revealing her underclothes. This humiliation provokes the witch into cursing the Prince to fall in love with three oranges. These he immediately sets off to find, and thereby hangs the tale. Richard Jones directed the production, with the English Northern Philharmonia providing the music. The opera is also sung in English, the translation being by David Lloyd-Jones.

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The stage decor for the Opera North production was designed by the Quay Brothers, one of several operas they worked on around this time. The opera may be a comic one but the design emphasis is on gloom and decay, a feature that extends to Sue Blane’s costumes, many of which seem to have been styled with the Quays’ films in mind. In addition to a Nosferatu-like Leander (the sinister Prime Minister), a company of children appear from time to time wearing masks which make them look like the Quays’ doll-headed puppets. The chorus, meanwhile, wear antique gas-masks of a style which people would now refer to as steampunk. The most overt reference to the Quays films occurs during the King’s entertainment when a vast mutant creature is wheeled onto the stage, the creature’s head being the colossal cousin of the twitching cyclops from Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies. The cumulative effect of the grotesquery combined with absurd comedy is of an opera equivalent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, all of which makes me wonder what the BBC’s Gormenghast might have been like if the corporation had hired the Quays and Sue Blane to work the same magic they do here. (There is a Gormenghast opera by Irmin Schmidt but I’m not keen on the music and what I’ve seen of the staging it looks a lot less like Peake than this one does.)

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Decor aside, the most notable feature of this production, and the broadcast itself, was the scratch-and-sniff card which was provided to every member of the audience, and to any viewers who bought a copy of the BBC’s Listener magazine before the screening. Each time a numbered card appeared on the stage the audience had to scratch and sniff the relevant panel. The scents—which include orange, of course—are less offensive than those for John Waters’ Polyester (1981) although the audience is still surprised into sniffing the farts of the demon, Farfarello.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Punch and Judy, Michel de Ghelderode, and the Brothers Quay
The mystery of trams
Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013
Holzmüller and the Quays
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Punch and Judy, Michel de Ghelderode, and the Brothers Quay

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The Quay Brothers’ first animated film, Nocturna Artificialia, was released in 1979. Prior to this there had been some short experiments but since these are always described as “lost” it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see them. The artistic success of Nocturna Artificialia prompted the Quays and producer-colleague Keith Griffiths to consider fresh outlets for their talents, and resulted in funding from Britain’s Arts Council for two arts documentaries combining live-action film with animated interludes. Nocturna Artificialia has long been available for home viewing on the various Quays DVDs but the two early arts films, Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy (1980) and The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898–1962 (1981), are omitted from the reissue canon for reasons that have never been very clear. Both films have been impossible to see unless you’re an academic or film programmer, at least until now. Once again, YouTube has provided an outlet for exceptional rarities.

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Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy

Now that finally I’ve watched these films it’s understandable why they don’t fit so easily with the Quays’ more personal output. Punch and Judy has obvious superficial parallels with Jan Svankmajer’s Punch and Judy (1966) but Svankmajer’s film is his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the murderous puppet. The Quays film is much more straightforward, devoting most of its running time to a history of Mr Punch and the other puppet characters. The story of Punch himself (narrated by Joe Melia) is intercut with a contemporary performance of the play by a genuine Punch and Judy man, Percy Press. Animated sequences are limited to small inserts between the documentary material before a lengthier section at the end that illustrates Harrison Birtwhistle’s Punch and Judy opera. This last section shows how much the Quays had developed their animation techniques since their first film, and is reminiscent of the opera sequences in their later film about Leos Janacek. Animation aside, there’s little else that’s recognisably Quay until the credits which are lettered by the brothers. (For this film and the following one they credit themselves as the “Brothers Quaij”.) Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy was of sufficient quality to be screened by the BBC in 1981 as part of the Omnibus arts strand.

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The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898–1962

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Michel de Ghelderode was a Belgian playwright whose grotesque and macabre works, many of which feature masks and puppets, are favourites of the Quays. This is a shorter film than the previous one (30 minutes rather than 45) but the territory is closer to the Quays’ own concerns. The animated sequences are fewer but they’re marvellous pieces, especially the longer central sequence which animates Ghelderode’s Fastes d’enfer (Chronicles of Hell). The figures in the latter piece may depict Ghelderode’s characters but the decor is 100% Quay, with a nocturnal cityscape and shadows from one of the trams that drift through their early films. A bonus for me was the music by Dome (Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis), a duo for whom the Quays later designed a record sleeve.

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The rest of the film consists of archive footage of Ghelderode wandering Belgian streets, and live performance of other scenes from his plays. All of this is strange and fascinating, only spoiled a little by the picture being very dark in places. (The screen shots here have been brightened.) Keith Griffiths says that this was a result of the film not being properly exposed, a consequence of the company still learning film-making as they went along. This may also explain why the film is missing from the official canon. If so, it’s a shame since it’s closer to the Quays’ own interests than some of their later commissions.

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Now that these films have surfaced there’s one more short from the early years that’s still unavailable. Ein Brudermord (1981) is based on a Franz Kafka short story, and runs for a mere 6 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m also hoping that someone may eventually post better copies of the Stravinsky and Janacek films, both of which have been prevented from DVD reissue by the copyrights on the music.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The mystery of trams
Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013
Holzmüller and the Quays
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Weekend links 438

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Seishu Hanaoka’s Wife (1970) by Awazu Kiyoshi.

Hoodoo, Conjuration, Witchcraft & Rootwork: a colossal new addition to the Internet Archive, being a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Harry Middleton Hyatt in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia between 1936 and 1940.

• Edward Gorey is the theme du jour, so here’s some more: Gorey’s 1977 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show is revelatory, especially if you’ve never seen him talking before. Meanwhile, Laughing Squid has a previously unpublished interview in which Gorey discusses his love for his disruptive cats.

• Jeff Nuttall’s mid-century survey of the aesthetic underground, Bomb Culture, receives a fiftieth anniversary republication by Strange Attractor. The new edition is edited by Douglas Field and Jay Jeff Jones, with a foreword by Iain Sinclair and an afterword by Maria Fusco.

I have always questioned identity politics with my work. I often have characters that engage in homosexual sex but do not identify as gay (hustlers, neo-Nazi skinheads, extreme left wing revolutionaries, gerontophiles, etc.). But my films have also always been inclusive in terms of race, class, and gender. I find that the new emphasis on identity politics has really narrowed creative expression. It demonstrates a profound ignorance about sexuality, history, and human experience.

My sexual identity is pretty much fixed—I’m a Kinsey 6, if not a 7—but I acknowledge that this means I’m sexually repressed. I believe, after Freud, that everyone has some bisexual potential, and the tendency to increasingly entrench gender identity as innate and immutable is really preposterous. It also leads to strict rules about sexual representation—how gays, lesbians and transgender people “must” be portrayed, the policing of representation, a kind of proprietary stance about who is allowed to portray these characters.

It really boils down to a naivety about sexuality, and a complete failure of the imagination. It discourages people who may have the potential for some kind of sexual fluidity to express themselves. I’ve always been a “bad gay,” but now this political correctness has made me feel even more alienated from the notion of “gay identity”—particularly since the new assimilationist model is so conservative and dull.

Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce discussing art, porn and politics with Hoçâ Cové Mbede

• “Who is Barbara Baranowska? Despite the so-called Polish Poster School’s fame, certain people were seemingly forgotten. Perhaps they even wanted it that way…” Daniel Bird on an elusive artist. Related: Selected works by Barbara Baranowska.

• “I don’t think I’m ever mean-spirited and I try to understand human behaviour even though it’s impossible,” says John Waters.

Nine Dimensional Synod Of Oblique Pleasures is a very welcome new release by The Wyrding Module.

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents…The Resplendent Illegibility of Extreme Metal Logos.

Apocalypse Burlesque — Tales of Doomsday Eros: a new book by Supervert.

Rare booksellers rallied against an Amazon-owned company and won.

B. Alexandra Szerlip on the 80-year history of the ballpoint pen.

Anjelica Huston: how we made The Addams Family.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 270 by Okkre.

The Cabinet of the Quay Brothers

Hoodoo Man Blues (1965) by Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band | Evil Hoodoo (1966) by The Seeds | I Been Hoodood (1973) by Dr John