Weekend links 230

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Cover art by Arik Roper.

Peter Bebergal’s Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll was published this week. Articles about rock music’s occult preoccupations have been a recurrent feature of music magazines, especially around Halloween, but Bebergal’s book is the first attempt at a wide-ranging, full-length study. Despite the subtitle, the scope goes beyond the familiar—David Bowie’s Golden Dawn references, Jimmy Page’s Aleister Crowley obsession—to take in the pagan nature of the blues, pre-Beatles rock’n’roll, and the byways of electronic music. My old employers, Hawkwind, provide a title (Space Ritual) for one section, and I was pleased to see the Krautrock scene receiving some attention: years ago you couldn’t have counted on this from an American music study. As Bebergal notes, Can’s Aumgn on Tago Mago (1971) isn’t the hippy Aum/Om but originates in a mantra defined in Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice.

• “We don’t just have skeletons in our cupboard, we have an ossuary.” Another week, another Alan Moore interview, but Tim Martin‘s piece is as much a portrait of the man as a conversation about the usual subjects: art, science, magic, etc.

• “Europe’s history of penis worship was cast aside when the Catholic Church realized Jesus’s foreskin was too potent to control.” Stassa Edwards on venerated members.

Gays and horror actually have  somewhat of a lost history. FW Murnau, the director of Nosferatu, was openly gay. Frankenstein’s real creator, James Whale, was also out. Given the talent involved, and the illicit nature of the genre, amateur and professional critics have been divining queer themes from horror films for decades.

Patrick Rosenquist on Gory, Gay & Loving It: Why Homosexuals Heart Horror

• “I thought that fine art was fairly dishonest as an industry. It pretends to be about culture but it’s really about money.” Andy Butler interviews designer Neville Brody.

• Snapping, Humming, Buzzing, Banging: Richard B. Woodward on the creative partnership between David Lynch and sound-design genius Alan Splet.

• Also published this week: Discovering Scarfolk, Richard Littler’s guide to the occult-obsessed, rabies-infested English town.

• More rock music: When Art Rocked: San Francisco Music Posters, 1966–1971 by Ben Marks.

• The trailer for 808, a documentary about Roland’s celebrated drum machine.

• At The Millions: Devin Kelly on the collaborative art of words and images.

• More Crowley: Strange Flowers goes looking for Aleister Crowley’s Berlin.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 130 by Gábor Lázár.

• Yello’s Boris Blank on his 10 favourite electronic records.

Richard Hirst‘s Top 5 Robert Aickman Stories.

I Put A Spell On You (1968) by Arthur Brown | I Put A Spell On You (1992) by Diamanda Galás | I Put A Spell On You (2004) by Queen Latifah

Tuxedomoon: some queer connections

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UK poster insert by Patrick Roques for Desire (1981).

Yes, more Tuxedomoon: there’s a lot to explore. It’s always a pleasure when something that you enjoy one medium connects to things that interest you elsewhere. From the outset Tuxedomoon have had more than their share of connections to gay culture—to writers especially—but it’s more of an ongoing conversation than any kind of proselytising concern. This post teases out those connections some of which I hadn’t spotted myself until I started delving deeper.

The Angels of Light: Not the Michael Gira group but an earlier band of musicians and performers in San Francisco in the early 1970s. The Angels of Light formed out of performance troupe The Cockettes following a split between those who wanted to charge admission for their shows, and those who wanted to keep things free to all. Among the troupe there was Steven Brown, soon to be a founding member of Tuxedomoon:

The group began as an offshoot of The Angels of Light, ‘a “family” of dedicated artists who sang, danced, painted and sewed for the Free Theater’, says Steve Brown. ‘I was lucky to be part of the Angels—I fell for a bearded transvestite in the show and moved in with him at the Angels’ commune. Gay or bi men and women who were themselves works of art, extravagant in dress and behaviour, disciples of Artaud and Wilde and Julian Beck [of the Living Theater] … we lived together in a big Victorian house … pooled all our disability cheques each month, ate communally … and used the rest of the funds to produce lavish theatrical productions—never charging a dime to the public. This is what theatre was meant to be: a Dionysian rite of lights and music and chaos and Eros.’

Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

(Special Treatment For The) Family Man (1979): A sombre commentary from the Scream With A View EP on the trial of Dan White, the assassin of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. White’s “special treatment” in court led to a conviction for manslaughter which in turn resulted in San Francisco’s White Night riots in May, 1979.

James Whale (1980): An instrumental on the first Tuxedomoon album, Half-Mute, all sinister electronics and tolling bells as befits a piece named after a director of horror films. Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not only the best of the Universal horror series, it’s also commonly regarded as a subversive examination of marriage and the creation of life from a gay perspective. (Whale’s friends and partner disagreed, however.)

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Cover art by Winston Tong.

Joeboy San Francisco (1981): The Joeboy name was lifted from a piece of San Francisco graffiti to become a name for Tuxedomoon’s DIY philosophy. It’s also a record label name, the name of an early single, and a side project of the group which in 1981 produced Joeboy In Rotterdam / Joeboy San Francisco. The SF side features a collage piece by Winston Tong based on The Wild Boys by William Burroughs, a key inspiration for the band which first surfaces here.

In one piece, the band cites its influences as: “burroughs, bowie, camus, cage, eno, moroder”. Can you say what you admired or drew on vis-à-vis these artists?

William S. Burroughs — ideas concerning use of media — tapes, projections, his radical anti-control politic in general as well as his outspoken gayness. Early on we duplicated on stage one of his early experiments projecting films of faces onto faces.

Simon Reynolds interview with Steven Brown

Continue reading “Tuxedomoon: some queer connections”

Lynd Ward’s Frankenstein

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Mary Shelley’s novel illustrated in woodcuts by the great Lynd Ward (1905–1985). This edition appeared in 1934, a couple of years after the release of James Whale’s first Frankenstein film whose popularity may have led to its commission. It’s good to see Dover Publications keeping this one in print when first editions go for hundreds of pounds. VTS has more of the illustrations (there’s also this site), and many more examples of Ward’s work.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Two Brides
Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein
Cain’s son: the incarnations of Grendel
Gods’ Man by Lynd Ward

Uncharted islands and lost souls

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The pulp fiction of the early 20th century favoured remote or uncharted islands as locations for the bizarre and the fantastic; in isolated jungles all manner of savage and grotesque behaviour could take place out of sight of the civilised world. Islands are secure from interference; they can be visited by accident or intention, and later fled from when everything goes wrong. The Island of Doctor Moreau is an early example of the type although Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) pre-dates it by twenty-two years. The Island of Lost Souls (1932), the first film adaptation of the Wells novel, is one of a crop of mysterious islands that appeared in the 1930s following the success of the Universal adaptations of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). The recent Eureka DVD/Blu-ray edition of the film is the first UK release to present the film in its original, uncensored form. I watched it this weekend.

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Moreau (Charles Laughton) and Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) at work.

HG Wells famously hated the film, and his vociferous complaints helped to ensure it was banned in Britain until 1958. Even without Wells’ complaints there was enough there to bait the censors who declared it to be “against nature”: writers Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young push the erotic implications of Wells’ story to a degree that would have been impossible in 1896, and would be equally impossible two years later when the Hays Code clamped down on cinematic salaciousness. Charles Laughton’s Moreau is eager to discover whether Lota, the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), will show any sexual interest in the marooned Edward Parker (Richard Arlen). The bestiality theme continues when Parker’s fiancée arrives on the island and finds one of Moreau’s Beast People at her bedroom window. Add to this Moreau’s declaration that he feels like God (a similar line was cut from James Whale’s Frankenstein), a traditional British squeamishness towards maltreating animals (unless they’re foxes), and the Panther Woman’s skimpy outfit, and it’s no surprise that the authorities collapsed with the vapours.

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Sensationalism aside, this is one of the greatest horror films of the early 1930s, and one which follows its source material with much more fidelity than Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein. The production had been commissioned by Paramount to capitalise on the success of the Universal films, hence the presence of a very hirsute Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. Cinematographer Karl Struss had worked the year before on Rouben Mamoulian’s excellent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; prior to this he photographed Sunrise (1927) for Friedrich Murnau. The combination of Struss’s chiaroscuro compositions, some adept direction from Erle C. Kenton (including crane shots), and a tremendous performance by Charles Laughton puts The Island of Lost Souls in a different league entirely to Tod Browning’s stagey and over-rated Dracula. Laughton’s cherub-faced Mephistopheles is a performance that runs counter to the cod theatricals of the period: he’s sly, confident and completely authoritative even if he looks nothing like Wells’ white-haired doctor.

Continue reading “Uncharted islands and lost souls”

Two Brides

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Ah, sweet serendipity… What are the odds, dear reader, of two blogospheric friends posting equally splendid pictures of everyone’s favourite hand-stitched and reanimated woman within days of each other? (It helps that Evan P and Monsieur Thombeau share a number of interests but let’s not spoil the moment.) The Gray’s-like dissection above is the work of illustrator Martin Ansin, while the painting below is by Michelle Mia Araujo, or Mia, as she prefers. Both artists have produced a quantity of other work which demands your attention. As for James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, it is, of course, one of the great cultural artefacts of the previous century; if you’ve never seen it there’s a Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester-shaped hole in your life which needs to be filled without delay.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Mask of Fu Manchu
Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein