Le Golem, 1967

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There are always more Golems…

Le Golem is a 110-minute film based on Gustav Meyrink’s novel which hasn’t received as much attention as you’d expect considering the dearth of Meyrink adaptations. The production was for French TV so its obscurity may be a result of unavailability as much as anything else, television being a medium notorious for burying its own history. The DVD I was watching is an official release from INA with no subtitles (merci!), but English subs may be found online.

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Meyrink’s novel isn’t an obvious choice for film or television adaptation despite the popularity of the Golem theme. His story is an uneven blend of mysticism and melodrama related via many digressions and rambling conversations. The title and the Prague setting suggest Paul Wegener’s Der Golem (1920), with the ghetto monster dominating the proceedings, but Meyrink’s Golem remains in the shadows (if it exists at all), being more of a symbol for the mystical and psychological challenges that beset Athanasius Pernath, the novel’s protagonist. Given all this I’m curious to know who decided to adapt the story when there’s so much about the film that would confuse an audience who hadn’t read the novel. The opening scenes move rapidly from a stylised city of the 1960s to the Prague ghetto of the past while omitting the attempts of Meyrink’s narrator to make sense of his situation. A note on the DVD states that the film was broadcast at 8:30pm on the national channel, ORTF, which makes its peculiarities even more surprising.

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The director, Jean Kerchbron, spent much of his career filming adaptations of classic plays and stories for French television, ranging from adventure serials to Molière and Shakespeare. Writer Louis Pauwels was co-editor with Jacques Bergier of the popular Planète magazine, a journal of fantasy, science fiction and scientific speculation, but had little experience in the film world; Le Golem was his first feature for which he supplied the dialogue and adapted the story with Kerchbron. Pauwels and Bergier are names familiar to Anglophone readers of Fortean literature for The Morning of the Magicians (1960), their discursive treatise on “Fantastic Realism” whose success launched Planète and later gave David Bowie some ideas for lyrics. The pair refer to Meyrink in their book as a “neglected genius” prior to running an extract from one of the author’s later novels, The Green Face. Pauwels and Kerchbron manage to condense the work of the neglected genius without doing too much harm to his story, compressing some sections (a request for an explanation in a later scene is wisely rejected as “too complicated”) while omitting the overly mystical episodes that might have posed problems for a limited budget. Pauwels moves what’s left of the mysticism to Pernath’s philosophical voiceovers. Kerchbron’s direction is lively and much more elliptical than is usual for the plodding television medium. Novel and film only depart near the end when various plot threads are hastily tied together.

Continue reading “Le Golem, 1967”

Gustav Meyrink’s Prague

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The Prague Ghetto, 1902, by A. Kaspara.

I looked away from him, and gazed instead at the discoloured buildings, standing there side by side in the rain like a herd of derelict, dripping animals. How uncanny and depraved they all seemed. Risen out of the ground, from the look of them, as fortuitously as so many weeds. Two of them were huddled up together against an old yellow stone wall, the last remaining vestige of an earlier building of considerable size. There they had stood for two centuries now, or it might be three, detached from the buildings around them; one of them slanting obliquely, with a roof like a retreating forehead; the one next to it jutting out like an eye-tooth.

Beneath this dreary sky they seemed to be standing in their sleep, without a trace revealed of that something hostile, something malicious, that at times seemed to permeate the very bricks of which they were composed, when the street was fllled with mists of autumn evenings that laid a veil upon their features.

In this age I now inhabit, a persistent feeling clings to me, as though at certain hours of the night and early morning grey these houses took mysterious counsel together, one with another. The walls would be subject to faint, inexplicable tremors; strange sounds would creep along the roofs and down the gutters—sounds that our human ears might register, maybe, but whose origin remained beyond our power to fathom, even had we cared to try.

(Translation by Mike Mitchell)

Watching Jiri Barta’s films again, and thinking about his unfinished adaptation of The Golem, prompted me to return to the source.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Stone Glory, a film by Jirí Lehovec
The Face of Prague
Josef Sudek
Das Haus zur letzten Latern
Hugo Steiner-Prag’s Golem
Karel Plicka’s views of Prague
Barta’s Golem

Jiri Barta: Labyrinth of Darkness

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A new purchase. It’s excessive and wasteful to order DVDs from South Korea but when this is the only available option you have no choice. Jiri Barta: Labyrinth of Darkness is a Korean clone of a deleted disc that was originally released in the US by Kino, and which I’d managed to miss when it was still easy to find. The collection gathers all of the Czech animator’s short films from 1978–89 plus his 53-minute masterwork, The Pied Piper (1986), a film whose Expressionist puppets and decor steal the familiar folk tale away from picture-book cuteness and return it to its darker roots. The subtitle “Labyrinth of Darkness” suggests that all the films tend towards horror which isn’t really the case, although anyone disturbed by animated shop mannequins may be unnerved by Club of the Discarded (1989). Barta’s films can be dark but they’re also wry or quirky: The Design (1981) is a wordless fable about the imposition of social uniformity by contemporary architecture, while The Extinct World of Gloves (1982) cleverly uses anthropomorphism to pastiche a range of cinematic genres. Barta is still active today but most of his recent films have been advertising commissions and a child-friendly feature, Toys in the Attic, the marketplace being resistant to animation that’s too strange or personal. I still hope we might one day see his feature-length film of The Golem but there’s been no news about this since a preview was released in 2002:

“Everyone is expecting a fairytale about that legend. Our interpretation is a little bit different, because we start from another point of view, which is Gustav Meyrink’s Golem…It is much more interesting, but I think that this is the reason why we have not moved forward, why the whole project has stopped, why some producers have disappeared, appeared and disappeared again.” (via)

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The unavailability of the Kino disc of Barta’s films is part of a worrying trend for those of us who like to own physical copies of scarce films. Many DVDs released ten or more years ago are now deleted and—in the case of my precious Piotr Kamler collection—impossible to find, while the films they contain are of such minority interest there’s little hope of seeing them on blu-ray any time soon. In the hierarchy of cinematic value, feature-length dramas always receive the most attention while documentaries, shorts, animations and experimental films are subject to the greatest neglect. Yes, “everything is now on YouTube” (except when it isn’t), but invariably compromised by low resolution, a lack of subtitles, or blighted by TV watermarks. And everything on YouTube is only there for as long as the uploader maintains their channel or until someone files a copyright complaint; previous posts here are filled with links to videos that are now deleted, so the Koreans are doing everyone a service by keeping Barta’s films in circulation. The same goes for the great René Laloux whose science-fiction features, Time Masters (1982) and Gandahar (1987), are currently available with English subs only from South Korea. The quality of this Jiri Barta disc leaves much to be desired but it’s still better than YouTube.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jiri Barta’s Pied Piper
Gloves
More Golems
Barta’s Golem

Weekend links 490

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An engraving from The Geometric Landscapes of Lorenz Stoer (1567).

• Curtis Harrington’s cult horror film, Night Tide (1961), receives a lavish blu-ray reissue from Powerhouse in January. The limited edition will include an extra disc of Harrington’s early short films which encompass Poe adaptations and also Wormwood Star, his portrait of occult artist (and actor in Night Tide) Marjorie Cameron.

• “He was the first American representative of an electronic sound that was largely coming from Europe, from bands like Kraftwerk, or producers like Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte…” Jude Rogers on Patrick Cowley.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins examines Hans Poelzig’s and Marlene Moeschke’s work on Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of The Golem. Wegener’s film is released this month in a restored blu-ray edition by Eureka.

• “Conrad was uncompromising in his beliefs until the end, sticking to his ideals with tenacious fervor.” Geeta Dayal on Tony Conrad: Writings, edited by Constance DeJong and
Andrew Lampert.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 47 dead films. One of the films, Hu-Man (1975), a French science-fiction drama starring Terence Stamp, isn’t as dead as was assumed.

• The Danske Filminstitut has made a collection of Danish silent films available to watch for free online.

• The Last Time I Saw John Giorno, an Extraordinary Performance Poet by Mark Dery.

• “Like looking through butterfly wings”: Ira Cohen’s Mylar chamber—in pictures.

Callum James reviews the Early Poetical Works of Aleister Crowley.

• Drawing the Gaze: Revisiting Don’t Look Now by Jesse Miksic.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 745 by Visible Cloaks.

Mind Warp (1982) by Patrick Cowley | Go-Go Golem (1986) by Golem Orchestra | Night Tide (1995) by Scorn

Weekend links 317

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Alphonse Mucha’s Le Pater, a book of mystical Symbolism written, designed and illustrated by the artist, was published in a limited edition in 1899. The book has been out of print ever since but Thomas Negovan at Century Guild will be reprinting it later this year.

• “Five axioms to define Europe: the coffee house; the landscape on a traversable and human scale; these streets and squares named after the statesmen, scientists, artists, writers of the past; our twofold descent from Athens and Jerusalem; and, lastly, that apprehension of a closing chapter, of that famous Hegelian sunset, which shadowed the idea and substance of Europe even in their noon hours.” George Steiner explores his idea of Europe.

Journey To The Edge Of The Universe by Upper Astral, 43 minutes of cosmic ambience, is a cassette-only release from 1983. The album has never been reissued so secondhand copies command excessive prices but it may be downloaded here.

• Mixes of the week: Three hours of ambience by Gregg Hermetech, XLR8R Podcast 446 by [Adrian] Sherwood x Nisennenmondai, and Secret Thirteen Mix 190 by Shxcxchcxsh.

Today [Angela] Carter is well known, widely taught in schools and universities, and much of what she presaged—in terms of recycling and updating (“old wine in new bottles”, she called it), or gender role play and reversal—has become commonplace in the culture. Despite this, many critics find it difficult to situate her work properly. This is partly because Carter is so sui generis (she has literary offspring but few antecedents), and partly because many struggle with the relationship of politics and aesthetics in her writing.

Kate Webb reviews two new books about Angela Carter

• Words that will forever pursue us: Tim Page on the late Michael Herr, “rock’n’roll voice of the Vietnam War”.

• From 2015: Luigi Serafini on how and why he created an encyclopedia of an imaginary world.

James Campbell on Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs: celebrating the Beats in Paris.

Fragile Beasts, an exhibition of grotesque print ornaments at Cooper Hewitt, NYC.

• Not before time, Guy Gavriel Kay wants to see an end to the plague of writing tips.

• David Bowie and Buster Keaton by Steve Schapiro.

Tom Charity on the films of Michael Cimino.

Alison Goldfrapp: photographer.

Golem Mecanique

European Man (1981) by Landscape | Europe After The Rain (1981) by John Foxx | Trans Europe Express (1994) by The One You Love