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

Fourth Worlds: A Jon Hassell Mix

As noted in the previous post, Jon Hassell has a new and very well-received album out this month, his first in several years. To honour the occasion I thought I’d finally post the Hassell mix I’ve had in mind for some time. The delay was mainly a consequence of not settling on a final version, so the album release has at least forced my hand. This still doesn’t feel completely satisfactory but it has the benefit of not being a recycling of familiar works.

About ten years ago I made a CD compilation of Hassell-related odds and ends: one-off works from compilations, interesting collaborations and the like. The CD set forms the basis of this mix although I’ve blended everything into a single piece rather than present separate tracks. Some of these pieces are either rare or overlooked so even those familiar with the Jon Hassell discography may hear something new.

Note: I only noticed after uploading the mix that the presence of more than five tracks by the same artist means that people in the US may not be able to play this one. Sorry about that: blame your laws/politicians, etc.

Malay (edit) (1981) by Jon Hassell

Shadow (1982) by Brian Eno
From Eno’s On Land.

Ba-Benzélé (1982) by Jon Hassell
A different version to the piece from Possible Musics which appears on Music And Rhythm, a WOMAD compilation album.

Passaggio A Nord-Ovest (1982) by Jon Hassell
One of several unique pieces on Sulla Strada (1995), a collection of music created for an Italian stage work based on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Map of Dusk (1982) by Jon Hassell
A special commission for Myths 3. La Nouvelle Sérénité, a Sub Rosa compilation.

Sketch Pad With Trumpet And Voice (1985) by Peter Gabriel
From the soundtrack to Birdy.

Heroin (1993) by Ry Cooder
More soundtrack work, this one being for Walter Hill’s Trespass which features Hassell’s trumpet timbres throughout. I always regard this album as a darker, nightscape parallel to Hassell’s sunnier City: Works Of Fiction, not least for the way both albums are hip-hop related. There’s more from Trespass later in the mix.

Tycho City (1997) by Bluescreen Project
From The Vertical Collection (Sketches). Bluescreen Project was a collaboration with Peter Freeman which remixes works from the Hassell catalogue to create new hybrids.

Pygmy Dance (1993) by Jon Hassell
Another unique commission, this time for Ai Confini / Interzone on New Tone Records.

Slow Loris Vs. Poison Snail (1997) by David Toop
A guest appearance with tabla player Talvin Singh.

Power Malay (1997) by Bluescreen Project

Anima (1991) by Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses With Hector Zazou
A collection of Corsican songs given contemporary settings by Hector Zazou.

A Day For Trade Winds (2000) by Ronu Majumdar, Ry Cooder & Jon Hassell, Abhijit Banerjee

Amsterdam Blue (Cortege) (2000) by Jon Hassell, Gregg Arreguin, Jamie Muhoberac And Peter Freeman
From a soundtrack for a film that few people have a good word for, Million Dollar Hotel. It does, however, feature a Jon Hassell cameo and this excellent piece of music.

The Seeds Of Fate (1998) by The Insects & Richard Grassby-Lewis Featuring Jon Hassell
From the soundtrack to Richard Kwietniowski’s film of Gilbert Adair’s funny and touching novel, Love and Death on Long Island.

Weekend links 358

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Painted beetle (2016) by Akihiro Higuchi.

David Horbury: The Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition ignores the pioneering scholarship of Emmanuel Cooper, author of The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the last 100 years in the West (1986).

L’Androgyne Alchemique is an exhibition at the Azzedine Alaïa Gallery, Paris, by pascALEjandro, a collaboration between Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

• At Strange Flowers: an interview with DJ Sheppard, biographer of poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871–1933), one of the models for Max Beerbohm’s hapless Enoch Soames.

Eloise or, the Realities is a new 122-page comic book by Ibrahim R. Ineke “inspired in part by Children of the Stones and The Owl Service“.

• Cormac McCarthy hasn’t published a novel for over ten years now but this new piece of writing addresses the mysterious origin of language.

• “…she invented a kind of symbolic code that channelled the occult and the Renaissance masters”. Yo Zushi on Leonora Carrington.

John O’Reilly on the Samuel Beckett cover designs created by Russell Mills and Gary Day-Ellison for Picador.

Porter Ricks (Thomas Köner & Andy Mellwig) have announced their first album in 18 years.

• At The Daily Grail: Alan Moore on science, imagination, language and spirits of place.

• All 66 issues of Performance Magazine (1979–1992) are now available online.

• The Throbbing Gristle catalogue is being reissued (again).

Lost Soul In Disillusion (1967) by The Power Of Beckett | Liquid Insects (1993) by Amorphous Androgynous | Biokinetics 2 (1996) by Porter Ricks

Weekend links 288

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Untitled drawing by Jean Gourmelin.

• Yet another book featuring my design work (interiors this time) has been published in the past week. Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction is an 850-page selection of novels, novel extracts and short works from a prolific Finnish author of the fantastic. Many of the selections are being published in English for the first time:

From cities of giant insects to a mysterious woman claiming to be the female Don Quixote, Leena Krohn’s fiction has fascinated and intrigued readers for over forty years. Within these covers you will discover a pelican that can talk and a city of gold. You will find yourself exploring a future of intelligence both artificial and biotech, along with a mysterious plant that induces strange visions. Krohn writes eloquently, passionately, about the nature of reality, the nature of Nature, and what it means to be human. One of Finland’s most iconic writers, translated into many languages, and winner of the prestigious Finlandia Prize, Krohn has had an incredibly distinguished career. Collected Fiction provides readers with a rich, thick omnibus of the best of her work—including novels, novellas, and short stories. Appreciations of Krohn’s work are also included.

• “Not only is the nature of Rollin’s choice of images close to [Clovis] Trouille’s, the director structures his movies in a similar fashion, crowding his movies with dreamy horror iconography. Rollin has specifically cited the influence of Trouille’s paintings on his work alongside that of other Surrealist painters working in a figurative style.” Tenebrous Kate explores the influences (and influence) of Jean Rollin’s erotic horror films.

• “[Morton] Subotnick might just have been the first person to get a club full of people—including the entire Kennedy family—dancing to purely electronic music when he played his Silver Apples Of The Moon at the opening night of New York’s legendary Electric Circus.” Robert Barry interviews the pioneering composer.

• “What I actually wanted to do was make music that contained all that was new in the 20th century,” says Irmin Schmidt in an interview with Bruce Tantum. Good to read that Rob Young is writing a biography of Can.

• “…gay mainstream culture was never really about expressing individuality, for me. It always seemed very conformist,” says Bruce LaBruce in conversation with Mike Miksche.

• At Dangerous Minds: Paul Gallagher on the making of Ken Russell’s The Devils, and Martin Schneider on the return of Paul Kirchner’s wordless comic strip, The Bus.

• Two years ago a group of Russian urban explorers climbed the Pyramid of Cheops at night. They’ve just returned from South America, and have a report here.

• In the wake of their new album, Kannon, Jason Roche asks “Are drone-metal icons Sunn O))) the loudest band on the planet?”

Junji Ito returns to horror with two new titles. Related: Fuck Yeah Junji Ito.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 527 by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Anna von Hausswolff‘s favourite albums.

Touch (Beginning) (1969) by Morton Subotnik | Rapido De Noir (1981) by Irmin Schmidt & Bruno Spoerri | The Gates of Ballard (2003) by Sunn O)))