Weekend links 525

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Polish poster by Franciszek Starowieyski, 1970.

• Tony Richardson’s Mademoiselle (1966) is one of those cult films that’s more written about than seen, despite having Jeanne Moreau in the lead role as a sociopathic schoolteacher, together with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras and Jean Genet, plus uncredited script-doctoring by David Rudkin. John Waters listed the film as a “guilty pleasure” in Crackpot but it’s been unavailable on disc for over a decade. The BFI will be releasing a restored print on blu-ray in September.

“While the hurdy-gurdy’s capacity to fill space with its unrelenting multi-tonal dirge is for some the absolute sonic dream, for others it is the stuff of nightmares.” Jennifer Lucy Allan on the pleasures and pains of a medieval musical instrument.

• “I truly believed”: Vicki Pollack of the San Francisco Diggers talking to Jay Babcock for the fifth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists.

• “If you want to call yourself a composer, you follow every step of the instrumentation.” Ennio Morricone talking to Guido Bonsaver in 2006.

Dutchsteammachine converts jerky 12fps film from the NASA archive to 24fps. Here’s the Apollo 14 lunar mission: landing, EVA and liftoff.

• New music: Suddenly the World Had Dropped Away by David Toop; Skeleton and Unclean Spirit by John Carpenter; An Ascent by Scanner.

Peter Hujar’s illicit photographs of New York’s cruising utopia. Not to be confused with Alvin Batrop‘s photos of gay New York.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 651 by Dave Harrington, and Mr.K’s Side 1, Track 1’s #1 by radioShirley & Mr.K.

Simon Reynolds on the many electronic surprises to be found in the Smithsonian Folkways music archive.

The Gone Away by Belbury Poly will be the next release on the Ghost Box label.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ed Emshwiller Day.

Shirley Collins’ favourite music.

Mademoiselle Mabry (1969) by Miles Davis | Hurdy Gurdy Man (1970) by Eartha Kitt | Danger Cruising (1979) by Pyrolator

The Immortal Story, a film by Orson Welles

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The Immortal Story (1969) is an oddity in the Welles oeuvre, an hour-long adaptation of an Isak Dinesen short story originally made for French TV but subsequently released as a feature. Plans to film two more Dinesen stories foundered when the promised funds disappeared. This was the first of Welles’ films in colour—he always preferred black-and-white—and the last dramatic film to be successfully completed and released during his lifetime. After this there was the “film essay” F for Fake (1973), and many years of unfinished projects.

Welles wrote and directed The Immortal Story, and also plays the manipulative Mr Clay, an aged businessman who wants to see a story he was once told enacted in real life. Jeanne Moreau is Virginie, a woman paid a large sum of money to spend a night with a penniless sailor (Norman Eshley in a blond wig); Roger Coggio is Clay’s assistant, Levinsky. Jeanne Moreau had earlier played Miss Burstner in Welles’ The Trial, Doll Tearsheet in Chimes at Midnight, and would have been in The Deep if Welles had completed it. She’s the liveliest presence in a film that’s rather slow and sombre by Welles’ standards. The Immortal Story is set in Macau but was shot in Spain; Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes contribute to the somnolent atmosphere. Watch out for an uncredited (and dubbed) Fernando Rey in the opening scenes.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Welles at 100
The Fountain of Youth
The Complete Citizen Kane
Return to Glennascaul, a film by Hilton Edwards
Screening Kafka
The Panic Broadcast

Flowers: A Pantomime for Jean Genet

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Flowers (1986) by the Lindsay Kemp Company. Photos by Maya Cusell.

Weidmann appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, his head swathed in white bands, a nun and yet a wounded pilot fallen into the rye one September day like the day when the world came to know the name of Our Lady of the Flowers. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Paris and all of France, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: murder one, murder two, murder three, up to six, bespeaking his secret glory and preparing his future glory.

A little earlier, the Negro Angel Sun had killed his mistress.

A little later, the soldier Maurice Pilorge killed his lover, Escudero, to rob him of something under a thousand francs, then, for his twentieth birthday, they cut off his head while, you will recall, he thumbed his nose at the enraged executioner.

Finally, a young ensign, still a child, committed treason for treason’s sake: he was shot. And it is in honour of their crimes that I am writing my book.

(Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet. Translation by Bernard Frechtman, 1963)

Lindsay Kemp’s all-male version of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé has been the subject of several earlier posts, a production staged in the mid-70s with Kemp himself playing the part of Wilde’s femme fatale. Kemp’s company produced a related work in 1974, Flowers: A Pantomime for Jean Genet, a stage adaptation of Genet’s first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers (1942), in which Kemp played the part of drag queen Divine. Wilde and Genet aren’t so far removed from each other artistically although I can’t imagine them getting on in person. Both men were prisoners, of course, and Our Lady of the Flowers was famously written in prison, the first copy being discovered by a warder and destroyed. There’s a more direct connection in Fassbinder’s Querelle during the scenes where Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau) sings “Each man kills the thing he loves”, the most famous line from Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol which refers to (among other things) one of Genet’s obsessions: the prisoner condemned to death. Wilde would no doubt appreciate Genet’s poetic reimagining of his fellow prisoners, and his use of flowers as symbols; what Genet would have made of Lindsay Kemp’s typically extravagant and rather camp stage creation is anyone’s guess. He did write several plays but in later years evaded questions about them or his novels by claiming to have forgotten all his works. By the 1970s Genet was much more interested in the political struggles of the Black Panthers and the Palestinians.

Much as I like Wilde’s play, given the choice I think I’d prefer to see the Genet staging. Salomé is familiar enough from various stage and film adaptations whereas Flowers was unique. There is a video record of the latter from 1982 but the copy uploaded by Lindsay Kemp has had its soundtrack removed following the usual annoying copyright complaints about the music. So there’s the frustrating choice of watching the whole thing with no sound or watching this 28-minute video compilation of still photos by Maya Cusell from a 1986 performance with music that may be the original live score. One thing the photos show is how close in appearance is Kemp’s Divine to his dancer at the beginning of Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane (1976). In 2012 Kemp talked to Paul Gallagher about his film and stage career, Flowers included.

Update: As noted by radioShirley below, there is a copy of the 1982 performance with full soundtrack!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Querelle de Brest
Jean Genet, 1981
Un Chant d’Amour (nouveau)
Jean Genet… ‘The Courtesy of Objects’
Querelle again
Saint Genet
Emil Cadoo
Exterface
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Un Chant D’Amour by Jean Genet

Screening Kafka

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Kafka (1991).

This week I completed the interior design for a new anthology from Tachyon, Kafkaesque, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly. It’s a collection of short stories either inspired by Franz Kafka, or with a Kafka-like atmosphere, and features a high calibre of contributions from writers including JG Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, Jonathan Lethem and Philip Roth, and also the comic strip adaptation of The Hunger Artist by Robert Crumb. When I knew this was incoming I rewatched a few favourite Kafka-inspired film and TV works, and belatedly realised I have something of a predilection for these things. What follows is a list of some favourites from the Kafkaesque dramas I’ve seen to date. IMDB lists 72 titles crediting Kafka as the original writer so there’s still a lot more to see.

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The Trial (1962), dir: Orson Welles.

Orson Welles in one of his Peter Bogdanovich interviews describes how producer Alexander Salkind gave him a list of literary classics to which he owned the rights and asked him to pick one. Given a choice of Kafka titles Welles says he would have chosen The Castle but The Trial was the only one on the list so it’s this which became the first major adaptation of a Kafka novel. Welles always took some liberties with adaptations—even Shakespeare wasn’t sacred—and he does so here. I’m not really concerned whether this is completely faithful to the book, however, it’s a first-class work of cinema which shows Welles’ genius for improvisation in the use of the semi-derelict Gare d’Orsay in Paris as the main setting. (Welles had commissioned set designs but the money to pay for those disappeared at the last minute.) As well as scenes in Paris the film mixes other scenes shot in Rome and Zagreb with Anthony Perkins’ Josef K frequently jumping across Europe in a single cut. The resulting blend of 19th-century architecture, industrial ruin and Modernist offices which Welles called “Jules Verne modernism” continues to be a big inspiration for me when thinking about invented cities. Kafka has been fortunate in having many great actors drawn to his work; here with Perkins there’s Welles himself as the booming and hilarious Advocate, together with Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.

Continue reading “Screening Kafka”