Svankmajer’s cats

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Down to the Cellar.

“Black cats are our unconscious,” says Jan Svankmajer in an interview with Sarah Metcalf for Phosphor, the journal of the Leeds Surrealist Group. I’ve spent the past few weeks working my way through Svankmajer’s cinematic oeuvre where black cats were very much in evidence, although for a director who describes himself as a “militant Surrealist” there are fewer than you might imagine.

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Jabberwocky.

The first feline appearance is in Jabberwocky (1973), a difficult film for animal-lovers when almost all the cat’s appearances seem to have involved throwing the unwilling animal into a wall of building blocks. Each “leap” that the cat makes through the wall interrupts the progress of an animated line being drawn through a maze; when the line finally escapes the maze, childhood is over. Our final view of the cat is of it struggling to escape the confines of a small cage: the unconscious tamed by adulthood.

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Down to the Cellar.

The black cat in Down to the Cellar is not only the most prominent feline in all of Svankmajer’s films, it’s also carries the most symbolic weight in a drama replete with Freudian anxiety. The cat guards the entrance to the subterranean dark where its growth in size corresponds to the mounting fears of a small girl sent by a parent to collect potatoes.

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Faust.

The cat seen at the beginning of Faust (1994) appears very briefly but nothing is accidental in Svankmajer’s cinema. Two separate shots show the cat in the window watching Faust on his way to meet Mephistopheles. As with Down to the Cellar, the cat oversees the threshold to another world, in this case the doorway to a labyrinthine building filled with malevolent puppets and the temptations they offer. The cat may also be the traditional symbol of ill fortune. Faust at this point in the story still has the option to turn back but he goes on to meet his fate. (I think there may also be another cat later in the film but I was too lazy to go searching for it. Sorry.)

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Little Otik.

The cat that appears in the early scenes of Little Otik (2000) is a child substitute for a childless couple, its status reinforced by the scene of Bozena holding the animal like a baby. The arrival of the monstrous Otik usurps the cat’s position as the family favourite. Consequences ensue.

Svankmajer’s later features are catless. Insects (2018) is more concerned with arthropods and their human equivalents, while Surviving Life (2010) spends so much time inside the unconscious of its protagonist it doesn’t require a symbol. Lunacy (2005), on the other hand, is a combination of a story by Edgar Allan Poe—The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether—and the philosophical views of the Marquis de Sade. Svankmajer had already adapted two of Poe’s stories prior to this but The Black Cat wasn’t among them. Given the cruelties in Poe’s story and many of Svankmajer’s films, Lunacy in particular, this may be just as well.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague
Lynch dogs
Jan Svankmajer, Director
Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska

Weekend links 509

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The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic by S. Elizabeth. The book will be published in September by White Lion Publishing, and includes some work of mine.

• “The structure of the film as a memory palace consists of scenes intercutting different movies, depicting similar situations lived by the same actors in similar locations and, yes, similar sexual positions building over the course of its run-time.” Memory Palace: on Ask Any Buddy and the Golden Age of Gay Porn. Caden Mark Gardner writes on a kaleidoscopic, experimental archive piece of gay pornography. • Related: Paul P., the artist making dreamy paintings from vintage gay erotica.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Terry Southern The Magic Christian (1959), and Bill Hsu presents…High Anxiety: tense, dark films from 2010-2019 (for fans of Robert Aickman and Brian Evenson).

Green (1986) by Hiroshi Yoshimura, a welcome reissue of an album of minimal electronica. More green: The Green Fog by Guy Maddin has been on Vimeo for a while.

• Mixes of the week: Time is on our hands by Beautify Junkyards, and Textural Hominini Cognition by The Ephemeral Man.

• How John Waters and Mink Stole made Pink Flamingos, and Mink Stole on the inside story of John Waters’ greatest films.

Viktor Wynd: “I was offered a mummified arm—but I didn’t have €2,000 on me”.

• At Dangerous Minds: the solitary Surrealism of Gertrude Abercrombie.

Cats and Domino

Webcam in Italia

The Green Chinese Table (1988) by Seigen Ono | Green Water (1996) by Coil | Green Evil (1997) by Paul Schütze

The ceramic art of Eduard Stellmacher

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The Art Nouveau style is seldom more grotesque than in these vases and amphorae designed around the turn of the century by Eduard Stellmacher (1868–1945) for his father’s company, Amphora, in the Tur-Teplitz region of Bohemia. Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil as it was in Germany and Austria) emerged in Europe in the 1890s, and though its development ran parallel to the Decadence of the fin de siècle it wasn’t really a Decadent form in the literary sense of a dwelling on the perverse, the morbid or the blasphemous. The sinuous curves of Art Nouveau are too suggestive of vigorous life and energy to appear corrupt; Alphonse Mucha’s femmes are too healthy to be fatale, they’re nothing like the dissolute, hollow-eyed sirens seen in the drawings of Félicien Rops, an artist who wasn’t Nouveau (he died in 1898) but who was thoroughly Decadent.

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Stellmacher and co. created their share of delightful ceramic figures with Mucha-like tresses and flowing garments but Eduard’s designs around this time were preoccupied with ferocious creatures: bats, fish, lizards, octopuses, and a profusion of fire-breathing dragons. Even the plant forms have a diseased, unhealthy aspect. The designs may not have been intended as Decadent but they embody the quality more than anything used as vase decoration before or after this period. Art Deco also favoured predatory animals (snakes and leopards especially) but only in forms that were suitably sleek and abstracted.

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Continue reading “The ceramic art of Eduard Stellmacher”

Weekend links 462

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The next release on the Ghost Box label, Chanctonbury Rings is “a blend of folk, electronic music, poetry, prose and environmental sound” by Justin Hopper & Sharron Kraus with The Belbury Poly. The album will be available in June. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• Clumsy and insensitive translations can ruin the enjoyment of a foreign-language film. Don’t blame us, say the subtitlers pressing film-makers for more appreciation of their art. Anne Billson on the difficulties of translating for a medium of moving images.

• At Expanding Mind: Hypermedia researcher and author Konrad Becker talks with Erik Davis about algorithms from hell, the madness of rationality, media seances, and the martial art of freedom.

The HP Lovecraft Cat Book: a limited collection of Lovecraft’s writings about cats edited by ST Joshi and illustrated by Jason C. Eckhardt.

Amacher was also inspired by a short story she found in the 1986 cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades, edited by Bruce Sterling—a tale called Petra by Greg Bear, about a grand cathedral, possibly Notre Dame in Paris, in a ravaged, postapocalyptic landscape. Stone gargoyles and other statues mate with humans, creating new hybrids who wander the labyrinthine chambers of the battered house of worship.

Geeta Dayal on composer Maryanne Amacher

• The novel that wouldn’t leave Anthony Burgess alone: Alison Flood on the discovery of a non-fiction continuation of the themes in A Clockwork Orange.

Kristina Foster on photographs of Central Asia’s Striking Soviet Architecture.

Adrian Shaughnessy‘s ten favourite design and visual culture books.

William Joel on the process behind Helvetica’s 21st century facelift.

• The Stupid Classics Book Club by Elisa Gabbert.

The Haunted Generation by Bob Fischer.

Haunted Cocktails (1983) by Intro | Haunted Gate (1997) by David Toop | The Universe Is A Haunted House (2002) by Coil

Weekend links 461

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Le Stryge (The Vampire) (1853) by Charles Méryon.

Notre-Dame-de-Paris in art and photography. Related: Chris Knapp on the Notre-Dame fire, and John Boardley on the print shops that used to cluster around the cathedral. Tangentially related: Mapping Gothic France.

The Bodies Beneath: The Flipside of British Film & Television by William Fowler and Vic Pratt will be published next month by Strange Attractor. With a foreword by Nicolas Winding Refn.

• “In his new biweekly column, Pinakothek, Luc Sante excavates and examines miscellaneous visual strata of the past.”

I also gathered underland stories, from Aeneas’s descent into Hades, through the sunken necropolises of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and the Wind Cave cosmogony of the Dakota Sioux, to accounts of the many cavers, cave-divers and free-divers who have died seeking what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness inside the world”—often unable to communicate to themselves, let alone others, what metaphysical gravity drew them down to death. Why go low? Obsession, incomprehension, compulsion and revelation were among the recurrent echoes of these stories—and they became part of my underland experiences, too.

Robert Macfarlane on underworlds real and imagined, past, present and future

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 703 by Mary Lattimore, and The Colour Of Spring by cafekaput.

• A witty appraisal by Anna Aslanyan of a lipogrammatic classic and its smart translation.

• “Unseen Kafka works may soon be revealed after Kafkaesque trial.”

• “Why do cats love bookstores?” asks Jason Diamond.

Sunn O))) pick their Bandcamp favourites.

Le Grand Nuage de Magellan

Cathedral In Flames (1984) by Coil | The Cathedral of Tears (1995) by Robert Fripp | Cathedral Et Chartres (2005) by Jack Rose