Art on film: Je t’aime, Je t’aime

resnais1.jpg

Design by René Ferracci.

Continuing an occasional series about artworks in feature films with a return to Alain Resnais. This one is less substantial than the Providence post, but 2022 happens to be the director’s centenary year, and this particular film, like Providence, is worthy of greater attention.

Last Year at Marienbad is occasionally proposed as science fiction of a very rarified sort (JG Ballard thought it was) but there’s no question about the SF credentials of Je t’aime, Je t’aime (1968), a drama that uses time travel to explore a troubled romantic relationship. Claude Ridder (Claude Rich), an unattached, suicidal man, is persuaded by scientists to assist with a potentially hazardous experiment. He agrees to a one-minute excursion into his past but the experiment doesn’t work as intended, causing him to be caught between the present—in which he can’t escape from a womb-like time machine—and his recent past, in which he relives brief moments without any awareness during the return period of their being a part of the experiment. The flashbacks that comprise most of the film’s running time show us a random sequence of the events leading to Claude’s suicide attempt, the end result of his relationship with his terminally ill partner, Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot).

resnais2.jpg

The time machine.

Despite the presence of a time machine and a script by Jacques Sternberg, a Belgian science-fiction writer, Resnais was adamant that Je t’aime, Je t’aime wasn’t a science-fiction film. This is the kind of comment guaranteed to annoy the more zealous SF reader but it’s true in the sense that the film isn’t about time travel or time machines per se; the temporal experiment is a device to allow the non-linear exploration of a human drama that’s the real concern of director and writer. Previous Resnais films had dealt with remembrance of one sort or another, often using flash cuts to juxtapose different moments or scenes remembered or imagined. Je t’aime, Je t’aime pushes these techniques to an extreme, showing us every facet of the Claude/Catrine relationship, from initial meeting to tragic end. The narrative fragmentation isn’t so surprising today but it was a radical step in 1968, one that proved commercially unsuccessful.

In addition to having a Belgian writer, Je t’aime, Je t’aime is mostly set in Brussels, so the art this time is a famous Belgian painting, one of the many versions of The Empire of Light by René Magritte, which appears in the scenes in Claude’s apartment.

resnais3.jpg

In other hands this might be an incidental decoration but, as Providence demonstrates, Resnais was a director who enjoyed significant details, even if the signification isn’t always obvious. The Magritte painting serves two functions: its slow migration from one side of Claude’s apartment to the other (and the appearance of other pictures around it) shows the passage of time from one flashback to the next.

Continue reading “Art on film: Je t’aime, Je t’aime”

Weekend links 455

brocken.jpg

• At Expanding Mind: Tarot expert Mary Greer talks with Erik Davis about Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith, the Golden Dawn, the art of illustration, Jung’s active imagination, Smith’s musical visions, and the recent study of Smith’s life and work, Pamela Colman Smith: the Untold Story.

• Almost five years have passed since the last album from Earth (if you discount the Bug vs. Earth collaboration Concrete Desert) but the band will release a new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, in May. Cats On The Briar is a taster.

Charles Bramesco on Sergei Bondarchuk’s astonishing 7-hour adaptation of War and Peace. I watched the whole thing last weekend: all superlatives are justified.

• The History of the Future: James Conway on leaving Australia for a life in Berlin and publishing. Related: Where is Rixdorf?

• At Spoon & Tamago: Keisuke Aiso‘s artworks, including the Ubume sculpture that became the face of the Momo Challenge hoax.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 282 by Tourist Gaze, and Big Sister’s Scratchy Singles Vol 1 by radioShirley.

Alexander Rose on the 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight.

Rebecca Cole and Janise Elie go in search of the Brocken spectre on Burley Moor.

M. John Harrison: Critical Essays, edited by Rhys Williams and Mark Bould.

Forest of Resonating Lamps – One Stroke, Cherry Blossoms by teamLab.

• Tour de France: Jonathan Meades selects 13 exercise-bike Classics.

• At Greydogtales: The Cthulhu Mythos for Beginners.

The Black Tower (1987), a short film by John Smith.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean Rollin Day.

Ishmael Reed doesn’t like Hamilton.

Babylonian Tower (1982) by Minimal Compact | The Tower (Black Advance) (2007) by Mordant Music | The Tower (Empty Fortress) (2007) by Mordant Music

Weekend links 288

gourmelin.jpg

Untitled drawing by Jean Gourmelin.

• Yet another book featuring my design work (interiors this time) has been published in the past week. Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction is an 850-page selection of novels, novel extracts and short works from a prolific Finnish author of the fantastic. Many of the selections are being published in English for the first time:

From cities of giant insects to a mysterious woman claiming to be the female Don Quixote, Leena Krohn’s fiction has fascinated and intrigued readers for over forty years. Within these covers you will discover a pelican that can talk and a city of gold. You will find yourself exploring a future of intelligence both artificial and biotech, along with a mysterious plant that induces strange visions. Krohn writes eloquently, passionately, about the nature of reality, the nature of Nature, and what it means to be human. One of Finland’s most iconic writers, translated into many languages, and winner of the prestigious Finlandia Prize, Krohn has had an incredibly distinguished career. Collected Fiction provides readers with a rich, thick omnibus of the best of her work—including novels, novellas, and short stories. Appreciations of Krohn’s work are also included.

• “Not only is the nature of Rollin’s choice of images close to [Clovis] Trouille’s, the director structures his movies in a similar fashion, crowding his movies with dreamy horror iconography. Rollin has specifically cited the influence of Trouille’s paintings on his work alongside that of other Surrealist painters working in a figurative style.” Tenebrous Kate explores the influences (and influence) of Jean Rollin’s erotic horror films.

• “[Morton] Subotnick might just have been the first person to get a club full of people—including the entire Kennedy family—dancing to purely electronic music when he played his Silver Apples Of The Moon at the opening night of New York’s legendary Electric Circus.” Robert Barry interviews the pioneering composer.

• “What I actually wanted to do was make music that contained all that was new in the 20th century,” says Irmin Schmidt in an interview with Bruce Tantum. Good to read that Rob Young is writing a biography of Can.

• “…gay mainstream culture was never really about expressing individuality, for me. It always seemed very conformist,” says Bruce LaBruce in conversation with Mike Miksche.

• At Dangerous Minds: Paul Gallagher on the making of Ken Russell’s The Devils, and Martin Schneider on the return of Paul Kirchner’s wordless comic strip, The Bus.

• Two years ago a group of Russian urban explorers climbed the Pyramid of Cheops at night. They’ve just returned from South America, and have a report here.

• In the wake of their new album, Kannon, Jason Roche asks “Are drone-metal icons Sunn O))) the loudest band on the planet?”

Junji Ito returns to horror with two new titles. Related: Fuck Yeah Junji Ito.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 527 by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Anna von Hausswolff‘s favourite albums.

Touch (Beginning) (1969) by Morton Subotnik | Rapido De Noir (1981) by Irmin Schmidt & Bruno Spoerri | The Gates of Ballard (2003) by Sunn O)))

Weekend links 287

hugo.jpg

Cover by Valentine Hugo for Contes Bizarres (1933) by Achim d’Arnim. See Hugo’s interior illustrations here.

• “In spite of the blood-drinking pursuits of Rollin’s protagonists, there’s very little in the way of body horror to be found. His undead are sensual, romantic creatures that are frequently delicate of mind and body. These movies attempt to evoke nuanced emotional responses with their mixture of romance, loss, eroticism, and tragedy.” Tenebrous Kate on Sex, Death, and the Psychedelic Madness of Jean Rollin.

• “Late at night, [Melville] ‘turned flukes’ down Oxford Street as if he were being followed by a great whale, and thought he saw ‘blubber rooms’ in the butcheries of the Fleet Market.” Philip Hoare on Herman Melville’s time in London.

Haunted by Books, a new collection of writings by Mark Valentine, “explores the more curious byways of literature.” Full details at the home of the esoteric, Tartarus Press.

I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work, or a good carpenter chopping dovetails, or someone tying a Bimini hitch that won’t slip.

Art critic Robert Hughes quoted in a review by Siri Hustvedt of The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings of Robert Hughes

• “Art, art – I couldn’t give a crap about art.” Oscar Wilde’s nephew, Arthur Cravan, puts in another appearance at Strange Flowers.

• “The Tarot is utterly fascinating,” says Evan J. Peterson discussing his Tarot-inspired writing with Tarot Poetry.

Manuel Göttsching: “A lot of crazy music happened at the end of the ’60s, very strange, and very curious…”

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 169 by Chra, and 28th November 2015 by The Séance.

Czech Artists’ Radical Book Designs of the Early 20th Century

• Ten things you might not know about Yayoi Kusama.

• More megaliths: Francis Pryor on ritual landscapes.

Peaches gets wild in the desert: Rub (uncensored).

Irmin Schmidt‘s favourite records (this week)

Mount Etna erupts

Rituals (1981) by Bush Tetras | Ballet For A Blue Whale (1983) by Adrian Belew | Etna (2006) by Boris & Sunn O)))

Saga de Xam by Nicolas Devil

saga01.jpg

Saga de Xam, a large-format comic book published by Éric Losfeld in 1967, is another example of French erotic psychedelia that remained off my radar until I got my hands on the exhibition catalogue for the Musée d’Orsay’s Art Nouveau Revival show in 2010. The glorious drawing below was used as the background for the exhibition poster, and appeared inside the catalogue with two more pages from this rare and sought-after book, described in the catalogue as “the best and most precocious example of French BD directly inspired by American psychedelia”.

saga02.jpg

Éric Losfeld is a fascinating character, a kind of pop-culture equivalent of Maurice Girodias, the founder of Olympia Press. Both men published erotic novels, and both had problems with the authorities as a result; but Losfeld also found a niche in art and graphics, producing albums of erotic comic strips—Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella, Guy Peellaert’s Jodelle and Pravda, Guido Crepax’s Valentina, Philippe Caza’s Kris Kool—and lavish portfolios from the weirder end of the erotic art spectrum, showcasing work by Raymond Bertrand, Jean-Marie Poumeyrol and others. It’s common for Brits to consider France a more enlightened nation where sex and comic-art is concerned but in the 1960s comics in France were considered an unsuitable medium for sexual material. Many of Losfeld’s comic-books of the late 60s and early 70s endured the kind of censure that was occurring in Britain and elsewhere. An early non-erotic title was Lone Sloane: Mystère des Abîmes in 1966, the first Lone Sloane story by Philippe Druillet. This no doubt explains Druillet’s involvement with Saga de Xam a year later.

saga16.jpg

Saga de Xam: les créateurs.

The comics by Forest, Peellaert and Crepax all featured attractive (often naked) woman as their lead characters. Saga de Xam continued the trend, a story in seven chapters that reads like an amalgam of all the comics Losfeld had published up to that point, Druillet included. The book is credited to Nicolas Devil, and based on a scenario by film director Jean Rollin. (Druillet would later design some posters for Rollin’s vampire films.) Devil, aka Nicolas Deville, was one of Rollin’s art directors who also worked for a time as a comic artist and illustrator. For Saga de Xam Devil was the principal artist in the first six chapters, and wrote most of the text and dialogue. In the final chapter other hands are involved: Jim Tiroff, an actor from Julian Beck’s Living Theatre, provided a poem in English, while the artwork is an unusual exercise in the Surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” technique with Devil, Druillet and several other artists—Barbara Girard, Merri, Nicolas Kapnist—collaborating on a series of improvised splash pages. The final chapter also features arrangements of text that resemble layouts from avant-garde art magazines. Druillet’s contributions are easy to identify since they resemble invasions from his Lone Sloane series, even including references to the Necronomicon.

Continue reading “Saga de Xam by Nicolas Devil”