Cocteau and Lovecraft

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This one arrives via Tentaclii, via ST Joshi’s news page. Jean Cocteau paying homage in pencil to HP Lovecraft is both unlikely and almost too good to be true. But the drawing, circa 1951, is from a Beverly Hills gallery where other Cocteau artwork is up for sale so it can be accepted as the genuine article.

Cocteau’s enthusiasm for Lovecraft’s fiction doesn’t seem to be news either, even though this is the first I’ve heard of it. Another of Joshi’s links is to this newspaper feature from 1954 in which Cocteau together with various notables of the time are asked to choose their books of the year. While the other contributors list the kinds of titles you’d expect, Cocteau has a book about Atlantis by Denis Saurat, books about parapsychology and “les soucoupes volantes” (flying saucers), plus the first French collection of Lovecraft’s stories, translated by Jacques Papy. I knew that Cocteau had a mystical side—you’d expect nothing less from the director of Orphée—but this combination of Lovecraft and full-on crankery is a surprise. He lived just long enough to see the first publication of Pauwels and Bergiers’ Ur-text of the 70s’ crankosphere, The Morning of the Magicians, so I can imagine him lapping up that one as well.

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As for the doodle, this is Cocteau’s version of a sea-monster illustration from Conrad Gessner’s Historia Animalium (1551–1558), a five-volume study which includes a number of fantastic creatures among its descriptions of the animal life known to 16th-century Europeans. Gessner has a page or two about the so-called “sea bishop” which includes this illustration together with another one I adapted myself in 2010 for the Neil Gaiman story in Lovecraft’s Monsters. Good to know that Cocteau and I were on the same page, as it were.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Cocteau drawings
Querelle de Brest
Halsman and Cocteau
La Belle et la Bête posters
The writhing on the wall
Le livre blanc by Jean Cocteau
Cocteau’s sword
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Cocteau at the Louvre des Antiquaires
La Villa Santo Sospir by Jean Cocteau

Weekend links 567

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Cover art by Roger Dean for Woyaya (1971), the second album by Osibisa. Dean’s flying elephants made their first appearance on the group’s debut album, and have been an Osibisa emblem ever since.

• Many of Roger Dean’s early album covers are better creations than the music on the albums they decorate. This isn’t the case with Osibisa, however, a Ghanaian group based in London whose discography includes (uniquely, I think) two covers by Dean together with one by Mati Klarwein. The group’s first two albums, Osibisa and Woyaya, are exceptional blends of Ghanaian music with rock, funk and jazz whose omission from the generally reliable Kozmigroov list is a serious error. Garth Cartwright talked to Teddy Osei and Lord Eric Sugumugu about Osibisa past and present.

• “The antiheroes of Angry Young Men cinema railed against the limited life opportunities available to them. Wired and frustrated, they especially chafed against girlfriends, wives, domesticity. Yet they never questioned heterosexuality itself. Not, at least, until The Leather Boys (1964), a relatively little-known film directed by Canadian expatriate Sidney J. Furie.” Sukhdev Sandhu on a film about gay life in pre-decriminalisation Britain that offered a slightly more positive view of its subject than the justifiably angst-ridden Victim (1961).

• “Brian Aldiss once confided to me that the big problem with American science fiction writers was that they loved to write about Mars but knew nothing about Indonesia.” Bruce Sterling on the attractions of being an expatriate writer who adopts a foreign persona, as he did for the stories collected in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

• New music: Fire Tower by The Grid / Fripp. Dave Ball, Richard Norris and Robert Fripp have been collaborating on and off since The Grid’s 456 album in 1992. Fire Tower is a preview of Leviathan, a new album out in June on CD/DVD and double vinyl.

• RIP Michael Collins, the astronaut who orbited the Moon alone, listening to Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz in the Command Module of Apollo 11 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the satellite’s surface.

• “‘Walking with a thesis’ could easily function as the subtitle for a significant number of Iain Sinclair’s books.” Tobias Carroll on Iain Sinclair and the radical act of walking through a city.

• “‘Plain speaking, like plain food, is a puritan virtue and thus no virtue at all,’ Meades pronounces.” Steven Poole reviews Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades.

• Building a panorama: Clive Hicks-Jenkins‘ latest progress report on his Cocteau-inspired illustrated edition of Beauty and the Beast.

• At Unquiet Things: Groovy Goddesses From Dimension X: Gene Szafrans’ Kaleidoscopic Book Covers.

• From leather boys to leather men: Miss Rosen on the little-known photography of Tom of Finland.

Alexis Petridis attempts the impossible again, with a list of Grace Jones’ best songs.

• At Dennis Cooper‘s: Cars.

I’m A Leather Boy (1967) by The Leather Boy | Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Leather Bound (2017) by Patrick Cowley

Notre Dame des Fleurs: Variations on a Genet Classic

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Another week, another book release. Notre Dame des Fleurs is a collection of artistic responses to Jean Genet’s debut novel, compiled and published by Jan van Rijn, for which I contributed three pieces:

Based on the English translation of the unabridged original edition, published in 1949 by Edition Paul Morihien, it is by no means a consistent illustration of the book nor is it a cohesive interpretation in form of a graphic novel. It is a truly personal collection that throws highlights on a beautiful piece of literature, printed in a run of 150 signed and numbered copies. The participating artists in alphabetical order: Michael AmpersantAntoine BernhartWim BeullensSusie Bright – John Coulthart – Lauri ElexsenRinaldo HopfAnja MolendijkBrane MozeticJohn Thomas ParadisoRexApollonia Saintclair Jan van RijnVilela Valentin

Genet’s novel caused a considerable stir when it was first published in France in 1943. Part memoir, part fiction, part masturbation aid, the book was famously written by Genet on sheets of wrapping paper in his Paris prison cell, and is probably the first account of homosexual lives—especially of homosexual erotic lives—lived on their own terms, without any apologies made to straight society or, for that matter, the straight reader. (“Straight” here applies to criminality as much as sexuality.) Antecedents exist, like Teleny Or the Reverse of the Medal, but Teleny is more assertively pornographic, which means it wanders into the fantasy world that porn always creates, a place where desire is everything and introspection doesn’t exist. Genet was writing about the people he knew in Paris before the war, the thieves and pimps and male prostitutes of Montmartre, and doing so in a manner that had to be considered as literature however transgressive the content might be for the literary establishment of the day.

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The unique qualities of the novel present difficulties for an illustrator. Literary fiction tends to look inside its characters much more than genre fiction, summoning thoughts, moods and feelings which resist easy depiction in a visual form. I’d first been asked to consider illustrating Notre Dame des Fleurs several years ago for a Graphic Classics collection of crime fiction, a request to which I agreed then had to turn down after deciding that the task of condensing the book into a few pages was a near impossibility. For Jan’s book, rather than illustrate a scene or two from the novel I opted for a conceptual approach. My three pages are intended to be promotional materials from a parallel universe in which Notre Dame des Fleurs was made into a French feature film some ten years or so after its publication, complete with hardcore sex scenes. The latter may seem unlikely but Genet was in the vanguard of presenting gay sex on the cinema screen in Un Chant d’Amour, the 26-minute silent film he made in 1950. He subsequently disowned the film, as he disowned—or “forgot”—many of his creations in later years, but it remains a pioneering and influential work.

Continue reading “Notre Dame des Fleurs: Variations on a Genet Classic”

Weekend links 541

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Virgil Finlay illustrates Hallowe’en in a Suburb by HP Lovecraft for Weird Tales, September 1952.

• Literary Hub does Halloween with an abundance with Draculas, a lazy option but the pieces are good ones nonetheless: Olivia Rutigliano attempts to rank the 50 best (screen) Draculas, and also recalls the Broadway production designed by Edward Gorey. At the same site, Katie Yee discovers that The Addams Family (1991) is really about the importance of books.

• The inevitable film lists: the always reliable Anne Billson selects the scariest ghosts in cinema; at Dennis Cooper’s, TheNeanderthalSkull curates…DC’s Weirdo Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, a list featuring a couple of oddities which have appeared in previous weekend links.

• More books bound with human skin: Megan Rosenbloom, author of Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin discusses the subject with S. Elizabeth.

Beyond all this, however, readers are most likely to read De Quincey for his compellingly strange writing on opium and its effect on the mind. For it is opium, rather than the opium-eater, he writes in Confessions, who “is the true hero of the tale”. He explains the drug cannot of itself create imaginative visions—the man “whose talk is of oxen” will probably dream about oxen. But for De Quincey, with his love for reverie, it gives “an inner eye and power of intuition for the vision and the mysteries of our human nature”. Wine “robs a man of his self-possession: opium greatly invigorates it”. It “gives an expansion to the heart and the benevolent affections”. “This”, he claims, “is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium: of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member.”

“Thomas De Quincey’s revelatory writing deserves greater attention,” says Jane Darcy

• New music: Weeping Ghost by John Carpenter is a preview of the forthcoming Lost Themes III; Moments Of Clarity is a new album of psychedelic(ish) songs from Professor Yaffle.

• “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!” Sean Connery (RIP) was often playing kings in later life but he started early with this performance as Macbeth in 1961. (Ta to TjZ for the link!)

• Mixes of the week: a (non-Halloween) guest mix by Paul Schütze for Toneshift, and the by-now traditional Samhain Séance Mix from The Ephemeral Man.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ big new adventure: an illustrated “reinvention” of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.

Drew McDowall (of Coil, et al) talks Musick, magick and sacred materiality.

• “No one loves the smell of a Kindle,” says Thomas O’Dwyer.

Brüder des Schattens (1979) by Popol Vuh | Nosferatu (1988) by Art Zoyd | Vampires At Large (2012) by John Zorn

L’Autoportrait d’un Pornographe

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L’Autoportrait d’un Pornographe (1972) is a short film co-written by director Robert Swaim and Roland Topor in which Topor’s Surrealist cruelties and black humour are tempered to present a sardonic and sentimental tribute to a dying breed, the small-time Parisian pornographer. Daniel Langlet is the photographer who also sells his views of unclothed women from a coat whose lining is pocketed with prints.

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Swaim and Topor compare this declining trade to the vanished street merchants of the city; the film dates from a time when “le sex shop” was a new arrival on the streets of Paris, and a competitor with which a purveyor of black-and-white soft porn could never hope to compete. Topor himself makes a cameo appearance, and there’s a possible reference to Cocteau’s Orphée (and another vanishing trade) in the glass cutter we see in the street.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les Temps Morts by René Laloux