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.

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Morning of the Magicians book covers

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Éditions Gallimard, France, 1960.

Yesterday’s post proved popular so it seemed worthwhile taking another look at the book that birthed Planète magazine. The main problem The Morning of the Magicians presents for an art director is how to encapsulate such wildly diverse contents in a cover design. To judge from the examples here, most people seem to have either given up or gone for vaguely symbolic designs which at the most correspond to the contents in a minor way. The biggest surprise for me was seeing the cover of the first edition above, one of those typically sober French titles which gives away nothing of the intellectual fireworks within. Few of these designs have any credits, and this is nothing like a complete list (more editions may be seen at Goodreads). More recent editions have been avoided altogether since they’re pretty terrible.

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Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Italy, 1963. This edition, which runs to 476 pages, includes three translated stories inserted into the text: The Nine Billions Name of God by Arthur C. Clarke, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr, and The White People by Arthur Machen.

A hardback edition showing an alchemist at work.

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Stein and Day, USA, 1964.

You know a cover is failing when it could easily be applied to any number of other titles.

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Planète magazine covers

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Planète was a French magazine of “Fantastic realism” which ran throughout the 1960s. I’ve never seen a copy but sight of the immediately recognisable covers has always fascinated because this was the magazine established in the wake of the huge success of The Morning of the Magicians (1960), a unique “Introduction to Fantastic Realism” by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. Rather than enthuse at length about The Morning of the Magicians I’ll simply point you to this piece by the late RT Gault from his now-defunct website.

Pauwels and Bergier’s book was oft-imitated but never equalled during the 1970s. Where later authors such as Erich von Däniken tended to plough a single, narrow furrow, Pauwels and Bergier leapt breathlessly from one subject to another: alchemy in the 20th century, Forteana, a lengthy examination of the occult preoccupations of the Third Reich, speculations about nuclear physics, speculations about biological mutation, Hollow Earth theories, etc, etc, all the time dropping quotes from HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen and Albert Einstein. It’s a very heady mix which is great fun to read even though there’s nothing like a solid argument that comes out of it all.

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Planète continued the blend of Futurology and fringe philosophy while using the magazine format to print translations of science fiction and fantasy stories; among other things it was notable for bringing the stories of Jorge Luis Borges to a wider audience in France. The magazine’s name may have been science fictional but the magazine as a whole is closer to the kind of borderline sf/art magazine that New Worlds became under Michael Moorcock’s editorship in the late 1960s. I’ve never seen Moorcock or anyone connected with New Worlds mention Planète but the covers at least pre-empt the style adopted by New Worlds during its large-format run: consistently bold typography and imagery that only obliquely relates to the contents.

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All these covers are from Noosfere where the story contents for each issue are also listed. No credits for the designer, unfortunately. If anyone knows who was responsible for the magazine design then please leave a comment.

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Gilles Rimbault revisited

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I posted a few examples of work by French artist Gilles Rimbault last year, and was hoping at the time that further drawings might come to light. We have D.R. Tenge to thank for posting these and other scans from Plexus magazine on the same LJ page where I found some of the earlier works, together with text that accompanied the pictures. “He pursues an endless search in the ‘erotisme fantastique'” Plexus tells us, and that’s a great description of this curious sub-genre which I’ve previously referred to (following Philip José Farmer) as “the pornography of the weird”. From what I know about Plexus it specialised in this typically late 60s/early 70s blend of science fiction, fantasy and erotic exploration, being a spin-off from Pauwels & Bergier’s magazine of “fantastic realism”, Planète; it also wasn’t the only magazine doing so which makes me wish that Taschen (or somebody) would delve into this sorely neglected area.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Ran Akiyoshi, 1922–1982
The art of Gilles Rimbault
The art of Jim Leon, 1938–2002
The art of Sibylle Ruppert
The art of Bertrand

The art of Pierre Clayette, 1930–2005

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The Library of Babel (no date).

Another French artist who specialised in fantastic architecture, Pierre Clayette’s work came to my attention via the picture above which illustrates a Borges story. This leads me to wonder once again what it is about French and Belgian artists which attracts them more than others to this type of imagery.

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Whatever the reason, there isn’t a great deal of Clayette’s work online and biographical details are few. This page (the source of the untitled picture above) reveals that he worked as an illustrator for Planète magazine, the journal of “fantastic realism” founded by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels in the early Sixties. Some readers may know that pair as the authors of a { feuilleton } cult volume, The Morning of the Magicians (1960), whose vertiginous blend of speculative and weird fiction, occultism and futurology Planète was intended to continue.

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Clayette also worked as a theatre designer and book illustrator. Le Chateau (above) is an illustration from Songes de Pierres, a 1984 portfolio depicting scenes from Pierres by Roger Caillois. That writer has his own significant Borges connection, being responsible for introducing Borges’ work to France via his editorship of the UNESCO journal, Diogenes. (Pauwels and Bergier later published Borges in Planète.)

Finally, there’s a less extravagant Flickr collection of some Clayette covers for Penguin Shakespeare editions. All of which only scratches the surface of what was evidently a prolific career; I’ll look forward to more examples of his work coming to light.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Michiko Hoshino
The art of Erik Desmazières
The art of Gérard Trignac
The Absolute Elsewhere