Weekend links 517

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Edward James by René Magritte; La Reproduction Interdite (1937).

• “James was filmed in the late 1970s, striding round Las Pozas in a sweater and a tattered dressing-gown, surmounted by parrots (The Secret Life of Edward James can be seen on YouTube). When asked what motivated him, he replied: ‘Pure megalomania!’ He was having his second childhood, he said, though he wasn’t sure the first had ever ended.” Mike Jay on lifelong Surrealist, Edward James (1907–1984), and the concrete fantasia he built in the Mexican jungle.

• “I found the roots of electronic music in a cupboard!” Musician Paul Purgas (one half of Emptyset) on the discovery of early electronic music from India’s National Institute Of Design. Related: Purgas talks about his discovery with Patrick Clarke.

• RIP Phil May. Here’s The Pretty Things in their guise as psych band “Electric Banana” for an appearance in What’s Good for the Goose (1969). A decent moment in an otherwise terrible film.

• Music is a memory machine: David Toop explores how the transmission of music between disparate cultures can be a tool against populism and prejudice.

• Kraftwerk’s remarkable journey, and where it took us: Bob Boilen and Geeta Dayal discuss the tanzmusik of Düsseldorf.

• At Dangerous Minds: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy: Fifty years ago The Cockettes turned drag upside down.

Hua Hsu on the secret lives of fungi: “They shape the world—and offer lessons for how to live in it”.

• The great writer who never wrote: Emma Garman on the flamboyant Stephen Tennant.

• Cult 1998 PlayStation game LSD: Dream Emulator is finally playable in English.

Jim Jupp of Ghost Box records talks about the Intermission compilation album.

Jonathan Moodie on psychoactive cinema and sacred animation.

Alex Barrett on where to begin with Akira Kurosawa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Skeletons.

Skeleton Makes Good (1982) by Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band | Red Skeletons (1996) by Coil | Kids Will Be Skeletons (2003) by Mogwai

Weekend links 316

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Stasis, the second album by Pye Corner Audio for the Ghost Box label, will be released at the end of August. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• “In the modern internet world you have what I talk about as the ‘War of the Certain’: people insisting that their absolutist viewpoint, in 140 characters, is exactly the right way to think, and anyone who doesn’t agree with them is terrible. If you’ve grown up reading Robert Anton Wilson this is awful. Having all of these certain people with no nuance or doubt, and no understanding of multiple-model agnosticism, is not going to go anywhere good.” Writer John Higgs talking to Ben Graham about RAW, Discordianism and related matters. A related matter: Higgs talks to Alan Moore about virtual-reality mysticism, creating a new counterculture, reinventing magick, and the eternal nature of time.

• Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is out this month so features and interviews are proliferating. I’ve been avoiding them for the usual spoiler-shunning reasons, but this was worth noting: Refn’s mood-establishing playlist for the production. More Neon Demon: Cliff Martinez talks about working with Refn.

• ” ‘Paint me like one of your French girls” takes on a whole new meaning in Nicole G. Albert’s book Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature in Fin-De-Siècle France,” says Rachel Wexelbaum.

The decaying low-baroque tableau of conjugal tenderness, features eaten away by the syphilis of time, played so well, on an anvil of whitewashed cement, alongside a municipal bowling green, that it became the provocation for a pedestrian expedition testing the Brexit boundaries of a timeless mead-hall England, before the fleet of plundering Papist Normans came sailing over the horizon. Just as tabloid gangs of Albanian drug-trafficking white slavers were now reputed to be sneaking ashore on Romney Marshes, at Deal and Camber Sands, on their Rigid Inflatable Boats, kayaks and leaking air mattresses. Could anyone bring themselves actually to cast a vote for Brexit, a commodity that sounds like a cereal bowl of Nordic cattlecake manufactured from wood shavings with an added ingredient to purge the bowels?

Iain Sinclair and company head south in turbulent times

• At Dangerous Minds: a video recording of Psychic TV live in Manchester, 1983 (I’m in the audience but up on the balcony so you won’t see me), and an interview with dub maestro Adrian Sherwood.

The Columbia Years, 1968–1969: fabled recording sessions by Betty Davis are to receive an official release by Light In The Attic.

We’re Here Because We’re Here – Jeremy Deller’s silent commemoration of the soldiers of the Somme.

• Inside Las Pozas, Edward James’ Surrealist Garden in the Mexican Jungle.

• The body as amusement park: A history of masturbation by Barry Reay.

Nicholas Olsberg on the mirage of an ideal metropolis.

The Strange World of…David Toop

Static Electrician (1994) by ELpH | Static (1998) by Redshift | Static (2001) by Monolake

Monsieur René Magritte, a film by Adrian Maben

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Until the end of his life, [Magritte] preferred to take the tram.

Now there’s an attitude I approve of. George Melly in his BBC film about Surrealism mentions visiting Magritte at his home in Brussels, and we see Magritte’s house at the beginning of Adrian Maben’s 50-minute film about the artist’s life and work. Maben’s film was made in 1978 as an Franco-German TV production but the narration, by Maben himself, is in English. Surrealism seemed to be back in vogue in 1978: as mentioned yesterday, the Hayward Gallery in London staged an exhibition of Surrealist art that year, the BBC commissioned George Melly’s film as a result of this, while over on rival network ITV there was the marvellous documentary about Surrealist patron Edward James who modelled for one of Magritte’s most famous paintings, La reproduction interdite (1937).

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Adrian Maben’s name will be familiar to Pink Floyd obsessives as the director of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972), and if you’re familiar with that film you can recognise the same shooting style in his Magritte film which deploys similar slow zooms, tracking shots and images sliding in and out of the frame. The music is credited to a surprising combination of Béla Bartók (mostly piano) and Roger Waters, although some of the pieces from the latter are actually by Pink Floyd, there’s even some of the opening of Obscured By Clouds. In style and content the film is as good as anything the BBC were producing at the time, with extracts from a TV interview with the artist, and also some of Magritte’s high-spirited home movies made with his wife and friends.

Magritte and Pink Floyd are a fitting match, some of the Floyd’s album covers could be Magritte paintings rendered photographically: two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire; a giant pig adrift over a power station. Storm Thorgerson always acknowledged the debt that Hipgnosis owed Magritte’s example, it’s there in the title of the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René, and in this short Tate interview from 2011 where he mentions the Wish You Were Here album as being a very conscious Magritte homage.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

The Secret Life of Edward James

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From the earliest days of YouTube there were two films about Surrealist art that I’d been hoping would one day be posted somewhere so I could watch them again. One was José Montes-Baquer’s collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Impressions de la Haute Mongolie – Hommage á Raymond Roussel (1976), which eventually turned up at Ubuweb; the other was Patrick Boyle’s The Secret Life of Edward James, a 50-minute documentary about the wealthy poet and Surrealist art patron that was screened once, and once only, on the UK’s ITV network in 1978. Boyle’s film, which was narrated by James’ friend and fellow Surrealism enthusiast, George Melly, was my first introduction to a fascinating figure who was one of the last—if not the last—of the many eccentric aristocrats that these islands have produced. I knew James’ name at the time from Surrealist art books where the Edward James Foundation was credited as the owner of paintings by Magritte and Dalí, but had no idea that James was the model for three of Magritte’s paintings, including La reproduction interdite (1937), that he’d abandoned his huge ancestral home to create a Surrealist house at nearby Monkton, and had also commenced the construction of a concrete fantasia, Las Pozas, in the heart of the Mexican jungle at Xilitla. Boyle’s film explores all of this in the calm and uncondescending manner that used to be a staple of UK TV documentaries. I’ve been telling people about this film for years, hoping that somebody might have taped it (unlikely in 1978) but no one ever seemed to have seen it.

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In 1986, two years after James’ death, Monkton was up for sale so Central TV sent George Melly and director Patrick Boyle to revisit the place. Monkton, A Surrealist Dream, was the result, a 26-minute documentary which relied heavily on the earlier film to fill out the details of James’ life. The original resurfaced for me again, albeit briefly, in Brighton in 1998. A Surreal Life: Edward James (1907–1984) was an exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery which featured many works from the James art collection, including major pieces by Leonora Carrington (who appears in Boyle’s film), Dalí, Leonor Fini, Magritte, Picasso, Dorothea Tanning, Pavel Tchelitchew and others. A tape of the 1978 documentary was showing on a TV in one part of the exhibition but the people I was with were reluctant to stand around for an hour so all I got to see was a minute or so of Edward in his jungle paradise. Happily we’re all now able to watch this gem of a film since it was uploaded to YouTube earlier this month (my thanks to James at Strange Flowers for finding it!).

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For anyone whose interest is piqued by all of this, two books are worth searching for: Swans Reflecting Elephants, My Early Years (1982) is an autobiography which George Melly compiled from conversations with its subject (and which apparently finished their friendship). James’ propensity for invention means it can’t always be trusted but then that’s the case with many memoirs. A Surreal Life: Edward James (1998) is the 160-page exhibition catalogue which explores James’ life and aesthetic obsessions in a series of copiously-illustrated essays. Both books can be found relatively cheaply via used book dealers.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Las Pozas panoramas
René Magritte by David Wheatley
Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí
Mongolian impressions
Hello Dali!
Return to Las Pozas
Dirty Dalí
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Las Pozas and Edward James

Palais Idéal panoramas

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The oft-recounted story behind the extraordinary Palais Idéal in Hauterives, France, is that rural postman Ferdinand Cheval (1836–1924) found an unusually-shaped stone on his route which compelled him to spend the next thirty-three years building an elaborate architectural fantasy from cement and more stones collected on his rounds. The structure is aptly named if you consider it the ideal to which Edward James may have been aspiring with Las Pozas. James could hardly be unaware of Cheval’s work since it was praised as a Surrealist precursor by André Breton, admired by Picasso and inspired a collage by Max Ernst.

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These panoramas came via a link at the official Facteur Cheval site. As usual, Flickr is the place to go for detailed views.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The panoramas archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Las Pozas and Edward James