Weekend links 639

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Japanese poster for Alphaville (1965).

Peter Bogdanovich: I think we’d better have your thoughts on Godard.

Orson Welles: Well, since you’re so very firm about it. He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvellous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.

• RIP JLG. I was watching Alphaville again just two weeks ago after a DVD turned up in the local charity shop. Still the only Godard film I like 100% but “liking” seems beside the point. His influence today is everywhere, so fully absorbed into the language of cinema that people barely notice it.

• “The things that cause my gaze to linger are usually the portraits or landscapes that spark a feeling of unease, disquiet and discomfort. A shadow amongst the summer trees, a lurking silhouette reflected in a perfect blue iris, a vibrant flower in the early stages of decay.” S. Elizabeth talking to Beautiful Bizarre about her new book, The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre.

• Allow John Waters (again) to dictate your film viewing with a Letterboxd list of his favourite films, based on comments in his writings and interviews. On the subject of Godard, Waters’ Crackpot book contains a whole chapter about Hail Mary.

• Astor’s Electrical Future: Iwan Rhys Morus explores a vision of the year 2000 recounted in A Journey in Other Worlds (1894), a “scientific romance” by John Jacob Astor IV, with illustrations by Daniel Carter Beard.

• Strange Attractor has announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of an Austin Osman Spare Tarot deck.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Parrot, the Unicorn and the Golden Dragon: Some 17th Century Booksellers’ Signs.

• At Bandcamp: Andy Thomas on Chris Watson‘s post-Cabaret Voltaire career in nature recordings.

• A new outlet for cinematic obscurities: Radiance Films.

Alphaville (1978) by Klaus Schulze | Alphaville (1979) by The Monochrome Set | Alphaville (1999) by Scanner

Invasion revisited

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More Borges. Recent posts about the Venerable Jorge had me searching again for a subtitled copy of Hugo Santiago’s Invasion, the feature film he made in Argentina in 1969 from a script co-written with Borges and the latter’s friend and frequent collaborator Adolfo Bioy Casares. Subtitled copies of Invasion are now easier to find than they were when I wrote about the film back in 2014; there’s one here although this wasn’t the copy I was watching at the weekend so I can’t vouch for the quality of the subtitles. As before, this is the précis:

In 1957, a small group of middle-aged men fight a clandestine battle against forces quietly invading and taking control of their city, Aquilea. Enigmatic in its story-telling, Hugo Santiago’s once-lost film obscures the motivations of either side, leaving only a series of moves and counter-moves that evokes past dictatorial oppression and those still to come.

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Don Porfirio (Juan Carlos Paz).

“Aquilea” is Buenos Aires masquerading as a fictional city, with a name borrowed from Roman history. For Borges readers the views of the city are fascinating in themselves since they show us the streets and café interiors which are settings for many of the writer’s stories; we also see one of his books, El Hacedor, prominently situated on a shelf. Beyond this, the fictionalising of the city pushes the story away from Argentina’s turbulent political history towards the fantastic and the mythic, as does the lack of any background information about the life-and-death struggle we’re witnessing.

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The writer visits the set. Left to right: Hugo Santiago, Ricardo Aronovich, Jorge Luis Borges and Lautaro Murúa.

This was Hugo Santiago’s debut feature, made after several years working in France as an assistant to Robert Bresson. For a debut it’s an impressively assured piece of work, a fast-moving thriller of a type you wouldn’t expect Bioy Casares and Borges to be involved with; less time is devoted to dialogue than there is to gunfights and assassinations. Reviewers tend to compare Invasion to Alphaville but this is misleading; Aquilea may be an invented setting but there’s nothing about the place that’s futuristic or unreal beyond the surreptitious invasion which is being staged and resisted in the midst of an oblivious citizenry. A direct influence was a long-running and very popular Argentine comic strip, Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s The Eternaut, in which the surviving inhabitants of Buenos Aires fight against alien invaders; but this is a typical science-fiction scenario, with most of the human beings wiped out and the survivors battling a variety of monsters. Santiago’s film is more elusive than this, although Lautaro Murúa as Herrera, the leader of the resistance, physically resembles the stern protagonist from the comic. Invasion is deadly serious in a way that Alphaville never is, free of the quotation marks that frame all of Godard’s fictional excursions. The photography by Ricardo Aronovich is the high-contrast chiaroscuro of a late film noir like Kiss Me Deadly, as is the atmosphere of doom, paranoia and escalating urgency; characters are shown continually marching or running towards their destinations. Murúa strides through his scenes with the grim determination of Lee Marvin in Point Blank; in fact Boorman’s film is a better comparison than Alphaville, a spare and elliptical neo-noir that was one of the first Hollywood features to embrace the innovations of the Nouvelle Vague.

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The harsh separation between black and white extends to the white raincoats of the invaders and the black suits of the resistance, the latter being directed by Don Porfirio (Juan Carlos Paz), an elderly man who spends most of the film in his apartment where he plans operations while talking to his black cat and drinking maté tea (a South American habit frequently referred to in Borges’ stories that you seldom see on screen). Most surprising of all is the soundtrack by Edgardo Cantón, a musique-concrète assemblage of animal cries, metallic shrieks and electronic tones. The inexplicable presence of these sounds complements the inexplicable nature of the scenario while resisting easy interpretation.

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Invasion‘s ambiguities may help the film sidestep an overtly political reading but they were deemed threatening enough by the Argentine dictatorship of the 1970s for the negative to be seized and kept from circulation for many years. (Parts of the film are also disturbingly prophetic: the invaders base their operations—which extend to torture and murder—in the city’s athletic stadium; a few years later similar South American stadia were being repurposed as venues for mass execution.) Restoration work on the film in 1999 led to the copies that circulate today. Borges wouldn’t have seen anything of this during his lifetime, his blindness was almost total by 1969, but we’re more fortunate. If you enjoy unusual thrillers this is one I recommend.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Goodfellow and Borges
The Rejected Sorcerer
The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges on Ulysses
Borges in the firing line
La Bibliothèque de Babel
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Weekend links 226

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Fly (2012, detail) by Zhao Na.

• This week in psychedelia: the UK now has its own Psychedelic Society (just in time for the mushroom season), and is using some of my psychedelic Wonderland/Looking-Glass artwork for its headers and things. Over at The Quietus John Doran asks what makes music psychedelic in 2014, while a number of the site’s writers offer suggestions for a survey of modern European psychedelia (bonus points for using the alien head from the cover of Heldon 6: Interface at the top of the page).

Rick Poynor looks at posters by Hans Hillmann for Jean-Luc Godard’s films while at the BFI site four directors pay tribute to Hillmann. “…poster art has stagnated over the last 30 or 40 years,” says Peter Strickland. “It’s an embarrassment for film when one considers how the music industry has completely embraced the graphic form.” Related: lots of Hans Hillmann at Pinterest.

• More psychedelics (and more of the usual suspects), neurologist Andrew Lees on William Burroughs’ experiences with yagé and apomorphine, and DJ Pangburn on a word-search puzzle containing “every word Borges wrote”. The life and work of William Burroughs is celebrated in London next month with a one-day event, Language is a Virus from Outer Space.

• At Dangerous Minds: Kenneth Anger – Magier des Untergrundfilms (1970), a 53-minute documentary by Reinhold E. Thiel. The subtitles are obtrusive but the material itself, which includes footage of Anger filming Lucifer Rising, is priceless.

• 73 minutes of Pye Corner Audio playing in Ibiza last month. More electronica: Colm McAuliffe talks to former members of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983, an excellent story by Hilary Mantel who talks about her own assassination fantasies here.

• Mixes of the week: Cosey Fanni Tutti‘s 2014 Mix for Dazed Digital, and Secret Thirteen Mix 128 by DSCRD.

Pond i, a video for a new piece of music by Jon Brooks.

Tomorrow Never Knows (1966) by The Mirage | Tomorrow Never Knows (1976) by 801 | Tomorrow Never Knows (1983) by Monsoon

Patrick Bokanowski again

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“A prolonged, dense and visually visceral experience of the kind that is rare in cinema today. Difficult to define and locate, its strangeness is quite unique. That its elements are not constructed in a traditional way should not be a barrier to those who wish to cross the bridge to what Jean-Luc Godard proposed as the real story of the cinema—real in the sense of being made of images and sounds rather than texts and illustrations.”—Keith Griffiths

It was only two months ago that I enthused about Patrick Bokanowski’s extraordinary 1982 film, L’Ange, after a TV screening was posted at Ubuweb, and ended by wondering whether a DVD copy was available anywhere. Last week Jayne Pilling left a comment on that post alerting me to the film’s availability via the BAA site; I immediately ordered a copy which arrived the next day. So yes, Bokanowski’s film is now available in both PAL and NTSC formats, and the disc includes a short about the making of L’Ange as well as preparatory sketches and an interview with composer Michèle Bokanowski whose score goes a long way to giving the film its unique atmosphere. I mentioned earlier how reminiscent Bokanowski’s film was of later works by the Brothers Quay so it’s no surprise seeing an approving quote from the pair on the DVD packaging:

“Magisterial images seething in the amber of transcendent soundscapes. Drink in these films through eyes and ears.”

If that wasn’t enough, there’s another DVD of the director’s short films available. Anyone who likes David Lynch’s The Grandmother or Eraserhead, or the Quays’ Street of Crocodiles, really needs to see L’Ange.

Previously on { feuilleton }
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD

The art of Josiah McElheny

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Island Universe (2008).

Island Universe is a new work by American artist Josiah McElheny at London’s White Cube gallery. McElheny’s recurrent use of glass and mirrors would be enough to capture my attention anyway—I particularly like the Modernity piece below—but Island Universe also features a specially-commissioned sound accompaniment by one of my favourite musicians, Paul Schütze.

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Modernity circa 1952, Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely (2004).

McElheny collaborated with cosmologist David Weinberg for Island Universe to create abstract sculptures that are scientifically accurate models of Big Bang theory as well as illustrations of the ideas that followed the general acceptance of the theory. The varying lengths of the rods are based on measurements of time, the clusters of glass discs and spheres accurately represent the clustering of galaxies in the universe, and the light bulbs mimic the brightest objects that exist, quasars. Island Universe proposes a set of possibilities that could have burst into existence depending on the amount of energy or matter present at the universe’s origin.

I can’t help but compare that description of McElheny’s new work with another exhibition that opened this week, TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster which will be filling Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall for the next few months. Josiah McElheny extrapolates from documentary fact and creates something beautiful at the same time. Ms Gonzales-Foerster borrows from pre-existing works of written and filmed science fiction and has to rely on those works to sustain much of the interest:

It rains incessantly in London – not a day, not an hour without rain, a deluge that has now lasted for years and changed the way people travel, their clothes, leisure activities, imagination and desires. They dream about infinitely dry deserts.

This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. As well as erosion and rust, they have started to grow like giant, thirsty tropical plants, to become even more monumental. In order to hold this organic growth in check, it has been decided to store them in the Turbine Hall, surrounded by hundreds of bunks that shelter – day and night – refugees from the rain.

A giant screen shows a strange film, which seems to be as much experimental cinema as science fiction. Fragments of Solaris, Fahrenheit 451 and Planet of the Apes are mixed with more abstract sequences such as Johanna Vaude’s L’Oeil Sauvage but also images from Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Could this possibly be the last film?

On the beds are books saved from the damp and treated to prevent the pages going mouldy and disintegrating. On every bunk there is at least one book, such as JG Ballard’s The Drowned World, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, but also Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

On one of the beds, hidden among the giant sculptures, a lonely radio plays what sounds like distressed 1958 bossa nova. The mass bedding, the books, images, works of art and music produce a strange effect reminiscent of a Jean-Luc Godard film, a culture of quotation in a context of catastrophe.

There’s a list of works used in the Tate installation, nearly all of which are far more stimulating artworks in their own right than the one which is hijacking them into its “culture of quotation”. I’m sure I can’t be the only person to think that the Tate would have been better served asking McElheny and Schütze to expand their work to fill the Turbine Hall instead. Those Island Universes could only get better if they were bigger.

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Studies in the Search for Infinity (detail, 1997-1998).

A PBS feature on Josiah McElheny

Update: Writer M John Harrison reviews TH.2058 for the Guardian and fails to be impressed:

It occurred to me that the biggest disaster in that room is the disaster for art. TH.2058 seems to finalise the hollowing-out of everything into the shallowest of semiotics. Foerster’s reading list is more powerful and important than her installation. Every one of the books on those bunk beds will give you a frisson that you don’t get from the show, so you would be as well just reading them for yourself.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth
The Garden of Instruments