The pinscreen works of Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker

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The incredible animated films of Alexeieff & Parker have been featured here before, the last occasion being a post about their 1963 adaptation of Gogol’s The Nose. The Gogol film is included in this 38-minute YouTube compilation whose contents are as follows: A Night on Bald Mountain (1933), En passant (1943), The Nose (1963), Pictures at an Exhibition (1972), Three Moods (1980). The Nose is still the best of their films that I’ve seen to date but mention should be made of the gem that is En passant, a very brief illustration of a Canadian song. The precision of this piece never fails to astonish me: the pinscreen technique must be difficult enough without also being able to suddenly shift viewpoint—the moment when the squirrel jumps on the windmill blades!—and accurately convey the movements of a squirrel and a rooster. Watch that one if nothing else.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Nose, a film by Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker

The Nose, a film by Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker

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The last time I wrote about the animated films of Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker the only copies available were low-grade things on YouTube which have long-since vanished (one of many reasons I don’t embed YT players in these posts). Happily a new copy of The Nose (1963) has appeared that’s not only better quality but isn’t split into two as was the case earlier.

The Nose is based on the Gogol story of the same name, a tale of a St Petersburg official who wakes to find his nose has left his face and is masquerading as a civil servant. I’ve not read Gogol’s story but I do have Nabokov’s book about Gogol which dwells not only on the prominent nose of the author, but also his traumatic death which was hastened in part by a quack physician who treated Gogol by applying leeches to his nose. Neither story or film contain anything as horrific. The film version is a wordless animation made using the pinscreen technique which Alexeieff & Parker developed in order to create greyscale animated films without recourse to smudgy materials like pencil, pastel, charcoal, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, the most notable application of this technique is the prologue the pair created for Orson Welles’ film of The Trial (1962). What’s striking about the Alexeieff & Parker use of the pinscreen is how skilfully they use it to manipulate light and shade. Where other animators like Jacques Drouin used the technique more impressionistically, Alexeieff & Parker’s films at times give the impression of watching an animated engraving. The Nose is one of their finest pieces. (Thanks to Gabe for the tip!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker

Screening Kafka

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Kafka (1991).

This week I completed the interior design for a new anthology from Tachyon, Kafkaesque, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly. It’s a collection of short stories either inspired by Franz Kafka, or with a Kafka-like atmosphere, and features a high calibre of contributions from writers including JG Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, Jonathan Lethem and Philip Roth, and also the comic strip adaptation of The Hunger Artist by Robert Crumb. When I knew this was incoming I rewatched a few favourite Kafka-inspired film and TV works, and belatedly realised I have something of a predilection for these things. What follows is a list of some favourites from the Kafkaesque dramas I’ve seen to date. IMDB lists 72 titles crediting Kafka as the original writer so there’s still a lot more to see.

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The Trial (1962), dir: Orson Welles.

Orson Welles in one of his Peter Bogdanovich interviews describes how producer Alexander Salkind gave him a list of literary classics to which he owned the rights and asked him to pick one. Given a choice of Kafka titles Welles says he would have chosen The Castle but The Trial was the only one on the list so it’s this which became the first major adaptation of a Kafka novel. Welles always took some liberties with adaptations—even Shakespeare wasn’t sacred—and he does so here. I’m not really concerned whether this is completely faithful to the book, however, it’s a first-class work of cinema which shows Welles’ genius for improvisation in the use of the semi-derelict Gare d’Orsay in Paris as the main setting. (Welles had commissioned set designs but the money to pay for those disappeared at the last minute.) As well as scenes in Paris the film mixes other scenes shot in Rome and Zagreb with Anthony Perkins’ Josef K frequently jumping across Europe in a single cut. The resulting blend of 19th-century architecture, industrial ruin and Modernist offices which Welles called “Jules Verne modernism” continues to be a big inspiration for me when thinking about invented cities. Kafka has been fortunate in having many great actors drawn to his work; here with Perkins there’s Welles himself as the booming and hilarious Advocate, together with Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.

Continue reading “Screening Kafka”

Designs on Kafka

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Book covers of the week are a series of new Kafka designs by Peter Mendelsund for Schocken, a set comprising eight paperbacks which will be out this summer in the US. What’s notable about these designs aside from their minimal style is the way they dispense with the visual clichés which have accumulated around Kafka’s work. So no sombre author photos, ominous shadows or views of Prague, just bold colours and simple shapes to create a beautiful collection. The script typeface is Mister K by Julia Sysmäläinen, a design based on Kafka’s handwriting. Peter Mendelsund has the rest of the covers and some words about their design on his blog. Via Coudal.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Kafka’s porn unveiled
A postcard from Doctor Kafka
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker
Hugo Steiner-Prag’s Golem
Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka
Kafka and Kupka

Weekend links 3

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It’s a curious feeling when a drawing which is nearly 26 years old makes it out into the world. The image above is the cover of a new 7″ single release, Dominion of Avyaktam by metal band Orator, the picture being something I drew in 1984 entitled Mahakala after the Tibetan deity which it depicts. The inspiration was the cover of another recording, a Nonesuch Explorer album, Tibetan Buddhism – Tantras Of Gyütö: Mahakala, and also the track Mahakala by 23 Skidoo from their 1983 album The Culling is Coming. The skull is drawn from a real one I was given. Looking at this today none of the elements seem to work together—and the landscape stuff looks like a lazy way of filling in space—but it’s nice to see it find a home. Dominion of Avyaktam is out now on the Legion of Death label.

• Surprise of the week: two books I’ve worked on were nominated for Nebula Awards, Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, and Kage Baker’s The Hotel Under the Sand whose interior I designed.

• More music: a recording of Paul Schütze’s Third Site played live in 1999 (with Clive Bell, Raoul Björkenheim, Simon Hopkins & Thomas Köner’s voice) is now available as a free download on his website. More Schütze: Paul Schütze & Simon Hopkins playing a set at the Horbar in Hamburg on December 28, 2009.

• The incredible pinscreen animations of Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker are finally available on DVD. Also new to DVD, Alan Bennett at the BBC, a four-disc set of some of his TV plays including a particular favourite of mine, his Kafkaesque drama The Insurance Man.

• More Ghost Box business: Jon Brooks aka The Advisory Circle has a blog. And Ghost Box’s Jim Jupp was interviewed recently by Peter Bebergal at Mystery Theater. Related (forgot to mention this last week): The ASDA Mix, a great mixtape of spooky retro weirdness by Moon Wiring Club available for free at The Wire.

The trailer for Mellodrama, a documentary about the Mellotron by Dianna Dillworth.

• The Parajanov Festival will be screening some of the director’s films in London and Bristol.

• Lots of weird and wonderful exhibits at the ~Wunderkammer~.