Weekend links 430

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Il Mago from the IONA Tarot by Giona Fiochi.

• “Russia’s answer to James Bond: did he trigger Putin’s rise to power?” Andrew Male on Max Otto von Stierlitz and Seventeen Moments of Spring. The whole series is on YouTube (with subtitles).

Geeta Dayal reviews High Static, Dead Lines: Sonic Spectres and the Object Hereafter by Kristen Gallerneaux, a new book about the eeriness of sound technology.

• Published next month: Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural by Peter Bebergal.

Let me first introduce an aside: I hate the word “queer” and all its new iterations. “Gay” was awful enough. “‘Gays’ makes us sound like bliss ninnies,” Christopher Isherwood said once. “Queer” will always be for men of my generation a word of violence and hatred, and it separates generations. And while I’m digressing, let me commit blasphemy: the over-emphasis on the Stonewall riots depletes and distorts our history of resistance and the art produced, which is determinedly referred to as “pre-Stonewall.” Resistance occurred years before Stonewall (but there were lots of writers in New York at the time to write about those riots), in San Francisco, Los Angeles, other cities, powerful confrontations with the police, powerful demonstrations. “Pre-Stonewall” writers include William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, strong radical voices confronting the grave dangers of the time, violence, prison.

John Rechy talking to Eric Newman about his latest novel, Pablo!, written in 1948 but only now seeing publication

Tangerine Dream performing Identity Proven Matrix, one of the standout pieces from recent album Quantum Gate, live in the studio.

Beloved is the debut solo album by Randall Dunn, record producer and member of the masterful Master Musicians of Bukkake.

• “How will police solve murders on Mars?” Geoff Manaugh on the new frontier of interplanetary law enforcement.

Milly Burroughs on how Verner Panton changed the way the world sees furniture design.

Tim Martin on the new science of psychedelics.

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours

Next Stop Mars (1966) by Sun Ra & His Arkestra | Mars, The Bringer Of War (1976) by Isao Tomita | Mars Garden (2013) by Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald

Six Into One: The Prisoner File

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Patrick McGoohan.

Network DVD had a sale recently so I finally capitulated and bought the blu-ray set of The Prisoner which I finished watching this weekend. The picture quality is so outstanding it might have been made yesterday, and many of the extras are also essential for Prisoner obsessives, not least a restored print of the original cut of the first episode, something that was believed lost for years.

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Episode 9: Checkmate.

There’s no need to enthuse about the series when I’ve done so already; this time round I’ll note that while the Cold War background is thoroughly outmoded some of the themes of particular episodes seem more relevant than ever. The model of total surveillance seen in the Village has for some time seemed to be one that Western governments and tech corporations would love to emulate. (“The whole world as the Village?” asks The Prisoner. “That’s my hope,” says Number 2.) The Prisoner isn’t the only drama to deal with authoritarian control, of course, but it also deals with the soft tyranny of closed communities, ideology and group-think. Episode 12, A Change of Mind, concerns a process whereby disobedient Villagers are confronted by their peers, declared “unmutual” then bundled off for corrective therapy; when they return they repent their antisocial crimes in public. In 1967 such a scenario would have seemed reminiscent either of McCarthyite America, or Soviet Russia and Maoist China; in 2015 you can be declared “unmutual” for minor infractions every day on the internet, and find yourself rounded upon by a sanctimonious horde.

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The allegorical and symbolic qualities of The Prisoner have kept the series fresh for almost 50 years while the character who launched the genre that gave rise to series—James Bond—has required several overhauls in order to keep up with changing times. Bond may bicker with his superiors but he’s always been a tool of the status quo, an agent of the Control virus in Burroughsian terms. In episode 8, The Dance of the Dead, The Prisoner is lectured by a judge in a kangaroo court on the importance of “the rules”. “Without rules, we have anarchy,” she says. The Prisoner, who happens to be dressed in a Bondian dinner jacket, replies “Hear, hear.”

Continue reading “Six Into One: The Prisoner File”

Weekend links 278

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El Hotel Satina (2006) by Oscar Sanmartin.

Andrew Kötting’s By Our Selves is “a melancholy, maverick film” says David Jays. With Toby Jones following in the footsteps of poet John Clare, Iain Sinclair in a goat mask, and Alan Moore warning about the “vision sump” of Northampton.

• “Shunga means ‘spring pictures’. They depict sometimes spectacular sexual contortions and come imbued with the power of taboo. For years they have largely been out of sight—until now.” Related: shunga prints at Ukiyoe Gallery.

• “Who else could link Smokey Robinson and JG Ballard, Iggy Pop and Josephine Baker, James Bond and Stephen Sondheim, Gary Numan and Johnny Cash, Tricky and Tom Moulton…” Grace Jones is the best, says Joe Muggs.

Ballardian space – what he called “inner space” to differentiate it from the science fiction that concerned itself with distant planets and space rockets – is in fact a fusion of inner and outer space. There is no “out there” totally separate from his characters; just as there is no exclusively private, isolated inner life. His most psychologically fulfilled characters look to transcend their physical surroundings, however hostile, by embracing them.

Chris Hall on High-Rise by JG Ballard

• “In March 1984, Jorge Luis Borges began a series of radio ‘dialogues’ with the Argentinian poet and essayist Osvaldo Ferrari, which have now been translated into English for the first time.”

• “I came up with a couple of tunes, literally in my bedroom. People think of bedroom recordings as a modern, laptop invention. It wasn’t.” Daniel Miller on the accidental success of Mute Records.

• “It was in Prague that I first awoke.” Strange Flowers on Gustav Meyrink’s life in Prague.

• At 50 Watts: Stencilled ornament and illustration by William Addison Dwiggins.

• Mix of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. X by David Colohan.

Wyrd Daze, Lvl2 Issue 4, is free and brimming with the weird.

Mythology, a new series of drawings by Howard Hardiman.

Spike Jones is the best, says MetaFilter.

Peacocks at National Geographic.

Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Warm Leatherette (1998) by Chicks On Speed | Warm Leatherette (2013) by Foetus

Tarotism and Fergus Hall

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Gille Lettmann pictured in 1973 flourishing some of Fergus Hall’s Tarot cards. At the time Ms Lettmann was helping run partner Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser’s Kosmische Musik, Pilz and Ohr record labels, and thus oversaw the release of many fine albums—and a few dubious ones—before Kaiser’s empire imploded amid much bad feeling. It’s a fascinating saga, detailed at length here. Gille’s photo stood out for me in a week when I’ve been working on some new Tarot designs (about which more later) whilst listening to the latest Deutsche Elektronische Musik compilation from Soul Jazz Records which includes among its tracks a couple of Kosmische and Pilz recordings. Gille’s Tarot cards will have been a result of Kaiser’s most ambitious project, a double-disc concept album entitled Tarot (1973), and credited to Swiss artist Walter Wegmüller whose narration is backed by Ash Ra Tempel and members of Wallenstein. The album came in a lavish metallic silver box with a sheet of cut-out-and-keep Tarot trumps of Wegmüller’s own design, not the Fergus Hall cards Gille is holding. Wegmüller’s Major Arcana was expanded into a deck he calls the Gipsy Tarot. (I have the later CD box which included a complete deck of the Tarot cards.)

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The Tarot of the Witches by Fergus Hall.

All of which gives me the opportunity to draw attention to Fergus Hall, an idiosyncratic Scottish artist who achieved worldwide prominence in 1973 when his Tarot designs were used on the cards seen in the James Bond film Live and Let Die. A complete deck called The Tarot of the Witches was later published as a spin-off from the film. I like his naive painting style which seemed a surprising choice for a blustering Bond movie; the production people could easily have used the Waite deck or something which suited the film’s vague Voodoo theme.

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Robert Fripp liked Fergus Hall’s paintings enough to buy some of them. Two of these can be seen on the sleeve of the vinyl-only compilation A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson (1975), while a third appeared a decade later on a King Crimson tape compilation. Despite this attention the artist’s only other major work is a book for children, Groundsel (1982), which features many more of his strange paintings. The compilations and the children’s book are all long out of print but decks of the Tarot of the Witches are still being published. As for Hall himself, his Wikipedia page says he’s now a Buddhist monk.

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A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson (front).

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A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson (back).

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The Compact King Crimson (1986).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Giger’s Tarot
The Major Arcana by Jak Flash
The art of Pamela Colman Smith, 1878–1951
The Major Arcana

Jon Finch, 1941–2012

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Macbeth (1971).

There are few actors I’ve ever felt sufficiently cultish about who could make me watch films or TV dramas I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. Orson Welles would be one (up to a point, he was in a lot of crap in later years), Patrick McGoohan another and Jon Finch most definitely a third. Having watched Finch just over a week ago in Roman Polanski’s superb adaptation of Macbeth it’s been a shock to discover that he’d died shortly after Christmas, the news of his funeral only being announced this week.

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Frenzy (1972).

The cult status stems from the remarkable run of lead roles he was offered in the early 1970s: playing Macbeth for Polanski, the “wrong man” role in Hitchcock’s last great film, Frenzy, and a perfect Jerry Cornelius in Robert Fuest’s adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme. There were plenty of other roles, of course, but those three are standouts which also show something of his range: suitably brooding, weak and malevolent in Macbeth, in Frenzy a hounded man who seems disreputable enough for his friends to suspect he may be a murderer, in The Final Programme as smart and insouciant as Moorcock’s Cornelius ought to be.

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The Final Programme (1973): Finch with Jenny Runacre (Miss Brunner).

I’m happier that Finch played Cornelius instead of James Bond, a role he was offered after Sean Connery quit. Jerry Cornelius, “the English Assassin”, in the first novel in Moorcock’s Cornelius quartet is a kind of anti-Bond, and there were few actors around in 1973 who would have possessed the necessary charisma and intelligence for the part. Mike Moorcock was friends with Finch around the time the film was being made so when I was visiting the Moorcocks in Paris a few years ago I asked him why Finch hadn’t done more with his career after such an impressive start. Mike says he was one of those actors who often preferred to be doing something else with his time.

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Finch and Ronald Lacey (Shades) in The Final Programme.

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On the set of Alien (1978).

Obituaries will no doubt regard Finch’s rejection of the Bond role as a missed opportunity but I wish we could have seen him as intended in Ridley Scott’s Alien where he’d been cast as Kane but had to drop out after contracting a severe case of bronchitis once shooting was underway. The photo and screen grab below are seldom-seen images from the Alien DVD extras. I’ve nothing against John Hurt in the role but with Finch playing the part it would have made a cult film a little more special. He did get to act for Ridley Scott eventually with a small role in Kingdom of Heaven in 2005.

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An outtake from Alien.

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As Count Sylvius in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994).

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Update: Found on an archive disc, this rare photo from the set of The Final Programme showing Finch as Jerry Cornelius facing off with his creator, Michael Moorcock. (Click for a larger copy.) That’s the Space Ritual line-up of Hawkwind in the background. Band and author appear for a fraction of a second in a shot during the film’s arcade scene. Considering how common it was to have rock bands in feature films during this time it still surprises me that Fuest and co. went to all this trouble then left them on the cutting-room floor. The photo was Moorcock’s own, as I recall, something we ran in one of the Savoy books.

Guardian obituary
Independent obituary
Telegraph obituary
Macbeth trailer
Frenzy trailer
The Final Programme trailer

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner