Weekend links 545

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Colour wheel from The Natural System of Colours (1766) by Moses Harris.

• The Vatican’s favourite homosexual, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, receives the ludicrously expensive art-book treatment in a huge $22,000 study of the Sistine Chapel frescos. Thanks, but I’ll stick with Taschen’s XXL Tom of Finland collection which cost considerably less and contains larger penises. Related: How Taschen became the world’s most famous erotic publishers.

• “In a metaphorical sense, a book cover is also a frame around the text and a bridge between text and world.” Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth on what a book cover can do.

The Night Porter: Nazi porn or daring arthouse eroticism? Ryan Gilbey talks to director Liliana Cavani about a film that’s still more read about (and condemned) than seen.

What is important about reading [Walter] Benjamin’s texts written under the influence of drugs is how you can then read back into all his work much of this same “drug” mind-set; in his university student days, wrangling with Kant’s philosophy at great length, he famously stated, according to Scholem, that “a philosophy that does not include the possibility of soothsaying from coffee grounds and cannot explicate it cannot be a true philosophy.” That was in 1913, and Scholem adds that such an approach must be “recognized as possible from the connection of things.” Scholem recalled seeing on Benjamin’s desk a few years later a copy of Baudelaire’s Les paradis artificiels, and that long before Benjamin took any drugs, he spoke of “the expansion of human experience in hallucinations,” by no means to be confused with “illusions.” Kant, Benjamin said, “motivated an inferior experience.”

Michael Taussig on getting high with Benjamin and Burroughs

• “Utah monolith: Internet sleuths got there, but its origins are still a mystery.” The solution to the mystery—if there is one—will be inferior to the mystery itself.

After Beardsley (1981), a short animated film about Aubrey Beardsley by Chris James, is now available on YouTube in its complete form.

• Mix of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XXIII – An Ivy-Strangled Midwinter by David Colohan.

Charlie Huenemann on the Monas Hieroglyphica, Feynman diagrams, and the Voynich Manuscript.

Katy Kelleher on verdigris: the colour of oxidation, statues, and impermanence.

• A trailer for Athanor: The Alchemical Furnace, a documentary about Jan Svankmajer.

All doom and boom: what’s the heaviest music ever made?

• At Strange Flowers: Ludwig the Second first and last.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Krzysztof Kieslowski Day.

Ralph Steadman’s cultural highlights.

• RIP Daria Nicolodi.

Michael Angelo (1967) by The 23rd Turnoff | Nightporter (1980) by Japan | Verdigris (2020) by Roger Eno and Brian Eno

Raoul Servais: Courts-Métrages

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“Courts-métrages”, the French term for short films, is one of those phrases like “bande dessinée” that I prefer to its English equivalent. Among the weekend’s viewing was this double-disc DVD release devoted to the animated films of the Belgian director Raoul Servais. Some of the films are very familiar and have been the subject of previous posts, but the set comprises 14 films in total, and includes many I’d not seen before. Like Jan Svankmajer, Servais is generally the writer/director of his films rather than the animator which accounts for the great variety of graphic styles, although both directors helped animate their early works. The Servais art styles range from the flat UPA-derived idiom of the 1950s, through a variety of drawing techniques, to the later films which deploy “Servaisgraphy”, a process that combines live action and animation with drawn or photographed backgrounds. The last two films in the collection use digital technology.

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Harpya.

If there’s a common thread to this oeuvre it would be the Belgian brand of Surrealism, which might seem like a lazy comparison when so much animation can be described as superficially “surreal”. In the case of Servais, however, the connection is made explicit in Nocturnal Butterflies, a film dedicated to the Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux, whose paintings also inspired the director’s flawed feature film, Taxandria (1994). The Servais masterwork, Harpya, which won a Cannes Palme d’Or for best short film, is Surrealist to the tips of its feathers, a dark and absurd dream that’s a world away from his moralistic early works. One of the films I’d not seen before, November Diversion, resembles a Svankmajer live-action short, a wordless piece about a man trying to escape from an automobile cemetery. All the shorts have been restored by Cinematek, the Belgian film archive. I ordered my DVDs from Potemkine, Paris.

Contents
Disc 1: Harbour Lights (1960) / November Diversion (1962) / The False Note (1963) / Chromophobia (1965) / Sirene (1968) / Goldframe (1969) / To Speak or Not To Speak (1970) / Operation X-70 (1971) / Pegasus (1973) / Halewyn’s Song (1976) / Harpya (1979) / Nocturnal Butterflies (1998) / Atraksion (2001) / Tank (2015)
Disc 2: Servais (2018), a 60-minute documentary by Rudy Pinceel

Previously on { feuilleton }
Papillons de Nuit, a film by Raoul Servais
Sirene by Raoul Servais
Harpya by Raoul Servais
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Satan’s Saint

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Digging in a box for an errant paperback turned up this volume which I’ve owned for years but never read. Having recently watched Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy, which has a Sade-like character among its cast, I thought I should give it a proper look. Sade’s irreligious and libertine philosophies haunt the Surrealist world, hence Svankmajer’s interest, Jean Benoît’s performance art and so on. Surrealism didn’t have any saints but it did maintain a pantheon of precursors, with Sade accorded the status of “Genius of Wheels” (ie: revolution) in the Surrealist deck of playing cards.

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Guy Endore (1900–1970) wasn’t a genius, a satanist or a saint but he was an interesting character, an American writer best known today for The Werewolf of Paris, another novel I own and have yet to read. He was a vegetarian and a socialist at a time when both these pursuits were regarded with suspicion or outright hostility (his Communist sympathies later caused him to be placed on the Hollywood blacklist). He wrote a great deal of historical fiction—in addition to Satan’s Saint there are novels based on the lives of Casanova, Voltaire and Shakespeare. And his Hollywood credits include work on scripts for Tod Browning (Mark of the Vampire, The Devil-Doll), writing the source novel (Methinks the Lady) that became Otto Preminger’s psychological film noir, Whirlpool, and, with John Balderstone, adapting Maurice Renard’s The Hands of Orlac into the screenplay that became Peter Lorre’s Hollywood debut, Mad Love. The latter is a great film that I’d love to see again. Satan’s Saint was first published in 1965. This Panther edition appeared in 1967. Now I just have to find the time to read it…

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Peake’s Insects

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Having recently watched Jan Svankmajer’s self-reflexive film of the Capek Brothers’ Insect Play I was intrigued by a mention in one of the Mervyn Peake biographies that Peake had created costumes for two stagings of the play in London in 1932 and 1936. “Mr Mervyn Peake’s costumes could not be bettered,” said James Agate in the Sunday Times, but my sole book of Peake artwork doesn’t mention the play at all, and these drawings are the only examples to found after a web search, not the photos I was hoping for. The one below is a more original conception than those used by the amateur actors in the Svankmajer film.

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My own workload is gaining momentum just now so posting here may be sporadic for a while. I’m also recoding my website from scratch which doesn’t help when you already have more than enough plates spinning. Having refreshed the blog with a flexible template that resizes itself for different devices I decided it to do the same for the rest of the site. I last attempted anything on this scale in 2005 so I’m having to educate myself all over again in the mysteries of cascading style sheets. And I have hundreds of pages that need working on… This will take some time.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bookmark: Mervyn Peake
The Web by Joan Ashworth
Peake’s glassblowers
Mervyn Peake in Coronation Street
The Worlds of Mervyn Peake
A profusion of Peake
Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs
Peake’s Pan
Buccaneers #1
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
The Illustrators of Alice

Zemania

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Invention for Destruction (1958).

In addition to Jean Kerchbron’s Golem my weekend viewing involved a fresh immersion in the semi-animated fantasies of Karel Zeman, one of which, Invention for Destruction, I’d not seen for many years. It hadn’t occurred to me before how closely Zeman’s technique on these films matches some of my own recent illustration when it applies original drawn elements to settings constructed from old engravings. For Zeman, combining actors with animated models and pictorial backgrounds was an economical way of bringing to life the worlds of Jules Verne, Rudolf Erich Raspe and others while retaining the feel of the original book illustrations. These films are also closer to the Max Ernst school of engraved collage than they may at first seem. The mansion at the beginning of Invention for Destruction could easily have been an illustration of a single building but Zeman offers a hybrid construction with unrealistically conflicting perspectives; later on we see a desert cavalry of camels on roller skates. It’s no surprise that Jan Svankmajer admires Zeman’s films. And having recently watched all the Svankmajers it’s good to know there are several Zeman features still to see.

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