The Angel of the Revolution

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The British Library’s recent uploading of a million copyright-free images to Flickr has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s an exemplary gesture on the Library’s part, on the other I wish they’d archived their images somewhere other than Flickr where the recent interface changes have made using the site for any length of time a very frustrating business.

Complaints aside, the unsorted BL haul is being slowly sifted by those who aren’t dissuaded by Yahoo’s iniquities. A recent set labelled Science Fiction is comprised as much of science fact as fiction but it does include these illustrations from The Angel of the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror (1893), a novel of aerial warfare and anarchist revolt by British author George Griffith. This is one of several works from the late Victorian era which show how lazy it is to characterise the period as a time of unthinking imperialism:

First published in 1893, The Angel of the Revolution is a fantastical tale of air warfare in which an intrepid group of Socialists, Anarchists and Nihilists defeat Capitalism with their superior knowledge of dirigibles. Led by a crippled, brilliant Russian Jew and his daughter, Natasha, The Brotherhood of Freedom establishes a ‘pax aeronautica’ over the world, thanks to the expertise of Richard Arnold, a young scientist. Arnold falls in love with Natasha (the eponymous Angel), and Griffith builds a utopian vision of Socialism and romance.

As well as writing a cracking good story, Griffith is also remarkably prescient in predicting future technology, including air travel, tidal power, and solar energy. He also engages with timeless debates over social responsibility. Griffith imagines a world in which the wealth of the obscenely rich is sequestered, their property seized for the public good, and their businesses nationalised. Those with unearned incomes are forced to either pay punitive tax, or to undertake equivalent labour in the community. Griffith’s message lacks subtlety, but it couldn’t be more pertinent in the twenty-first century. (Précis swiped from here.)

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Griffith’s novel is essentially Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror (1886) with a helping of revolutionary politics; even the aircraft are similar, with Griffith’s illustrator, Fred T. Jane, depicting an armed sky-boat held aloft by the same vertical propellers as those used by Robur’s machine. Jane (not “Janes” as they name him on the Flickr pages) later founded the Jane’s series of warship and aircraft catalogues so it’s fitting that his illustrations combine both those craft in a single design.

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Uncharted islands and lost souls

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The pulp fiction of the early 20th century favoured remote or uncharted islands as locations for the bizarre and the fantastic; in isolated jungles all manner of savage and grotesque behaviour could take place out of sight of the civilised world. Islands are secure from interference; they can be visited by accident or intention, and later fled from when everything goes wrong. The Island of Doctor Moreau is an early example of the type although Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) pre-dates it by twenty-two years. The Island of Lost Souls (1932), the first film adaptation of the Wells novel, is one of a crop of mysterious islands that appeared in the 1930s following the success of the Universal adaptations of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). The recent Eureka DVD/Blu-ray edition of the film is the first UK release to present the film in its original, uncensored form. I watched it this weekend.

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Moreau (Charles Laughton) and Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) at work.

HG Wells famously hated the film, and his vociferous complaints helped to ensure it was banned in Britain until 1958. Even without Wells’ complaints there was enough there to bait the censors who declared it to be “against nature”: writers Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young push the erotic implications of Wells’ story to a degree that would have been impossible in 1896, and would be equally impossible two years later when the Hays Code clamped down on cinematic salaciousness. Charles Laughton’s Moreau is eager to discover whether Lota, the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), will show any sexual interest in the marooned Edward Parker (Richard Arlen). The bestiality theme continues when Parker’s fiancée arrives on the island and finds one of Moreau’s Beast People at her bedroom window. Add to this Moreau’s declaration that he feels like God (a similar line was cut from James Whale’s Frankenstein), a traditional British squeamishness towards maltreating animals (unless they’re foxes), and the Panther Woman’s skimpy outfit, and it’s no surprise that the authorities collapsed with the vapours.

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Sensationalism aside, this is one of the greatest horror films of the early 1930s, and one which follows its source material with much more fidelity than Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein. The production had been commissioned by Paramount to capitalise on the success of the Universal films, hence the presence of a very hirsute Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. Cinematographer Karl Struss had worked the year before on Rouben Mamoulian’s excellent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; prior to this he photographed Sunrise (1927) for Friedrich Murnau. The combination of Struss’s chiaroscuro compositions, some adept direction from Erle C. Kenton (including crane shots), and a tremendous performance by Charles Laughton puts The Island of Lost Souls in a different league entirely to Tod Browning’s stagey and over-rated Dracula. Laughton’s cherub-faced Mephistopheles is a performance that runs counter to the cod theatricals of the period: he’s sly, confident and completely authoritative even if he looks nothing like Wells’ white-haired doctor.

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Harry Willock book covers

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This time last year I happened to be re-reading my way through the collected short stories of HG Wells; this year I’ve been reading The Island of Doctor Moreau, not to continue the seasonal trend, I simply felt the urge. More about Moreau tomorrow.

These covers are from a series of Penguin reprints which first appeared in 1967 and went through several editions. Harry Willock was the cover artist, and may also have been the designer of the Wells and Verne titles, other text-only Penguin covers from around this time being credited to Willock. The Penguin Science Fiction site describes the obtrusive “A Penguin Book” legend as the “panic top”, a heavy-handed attempt by Penguin’s management to reinforce their brand. Later reprints dropped this but it’s stamped across most of these editions.

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This edition of The War of the Worlds was my first encounter with the novel so the cover has always been very familiar, a factor which probably prevented me from seeing how effectively all the Willock Wells covers work as a set. The Martian war machines aren’t very menacing—especially when they seem to have done little but arouse a pair of butterflies—but I do like the type layouts and the way the illustrations are concentrated into a circle. Willock’s drawings so closely imitate the style of Victorian engravings it’s easy to take them at first glance for the genuine article.

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Stone Tapes and Quatermasses

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Quatermass paperbacks from Jovike’s Flickr pages.

This may be another occasional series in the making since there’s already been a post about Roadside Picnic/Stalker music, and one about music inspired by the cosmic horror of William Hope Hodgson. I was going to write something earlier this year about music derived from the works of Nigel Kneale after rewatching all of Kneale’s major works. The reappraisal was prompted by the publication in January of The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, an excellent anthology of essays/speculations (and a China Miéville interview) about Kneale’s film and TV dramas. The delay in writing was a result of having to wait several months after ordering a CD of the Tod Dockstader album (see below) which for some reason the distributors couldn’t manage to get in the post.

In the Twilight Language book there’s a piece by Ken Hollings about electronic music, some of which has material connections with Kneale’s work, notably the Radiophonic Workshop’s creation of sound effects for Quatermass and the Pit. Early copies of the book came with a bonus cassette tape of Kneale-inspired music; more about that below. The men and women of the Radiophonic Workshop are the godparents of the following Kneale soundworks, most of which are British, and inevitably tend towards the grinding, droning and doom-laden end of the electronic spectrum. Given the enduring influence of Kneale’s work, especially the Quatermass serials and their film equivalents, it’s surprising there isn’t more Knealesque music to be found. (I’m avoiding the obvious film soundtracks, and any bands such as Quatermass who may be named after Kneale’s work but whose music doesn’t reflect it.) If anyone can add to this list then please leave a comment.

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Quatermass (1964) by Tod Dockstader

The American master of tape manipulation here processes hours of recordings of cymbals, pipes, tone generators, a vacuum hose and rubber balloons to create what he calls “a very dense, massive, even threatening work”. Dockstader hadn’t seen any of the Quatermass films or serials when he chose the name but he said that it sounded right. It certainly does, as does the unnerving, shrieking morass of sound he manages to craft using the most primitive equipment. The Starkland CD containing the Quatermass suite includes two further edits of the source material entitled Two Moons of Quatermass.

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The Séance At Hobs Lane (2001) by Mount Vernon Arts Lab

Mount Vernon Arts Lab is Drew Mulholland and various collaborators. The Séance At Hobs Lane is an abstract concept album based on Mulholland’s lifelong obsession with Quatermass and the Pit (an idée fixe he writes about in the Twilight Language book), plus “Victorian skullduggery, outlaws, secret societies and subterranean experiences”. Among the collaborators are Coil, Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, Barry 7 of Add N to (X), and Adrian Utley of Portishead. The album was reissued in 2007 on the Ghost Box label.

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Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann

And speaking of Ghost Box… This album has been mentioned here on several occasions, a one-off release that’s the most consciously horror-oriented of all the works in the Ghost Box catalogue. The artist “name” and track titles reference Lovecraft and Machen but it’s included here for the dialogue quote in the insert from Kneale’s ghost drama The Stone Tape. In addition to the Mount Vernon reissue other Ghost Box references to Kneale can be found in the samples from Quatermass and the Pit (TV version) on The Bohm Site from We Are All Pan’s People by The Focus Group, and the title of the track which follows: Hob’s Rumble. Continue reading “Stone Tapes and Quatermasses”

De Profundis

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De Profundis (2012).

The title is nothing to do with Oscar Wilde’s famous epistle from prison, but then that should be obvious looking at my latest piece of tenebrous artwork. “De Profundis” means “From the depths” which in this case is applied to another piece with a Cthulhu theme. I made a decision earlier this year that my calendar design for 2013 would comprise a collection of all my Cthulhu portraits to date, from The Call of Cthulhu on. I didn’t have 12 pictures, however, so I’m currently making up the numbers between other jobs. This is the first completed piece which steals a background from the illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou for Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1871). The voyagers in the Nautilus encountered some fearsome creatures but nothing quite like this. I can’t say at the moment when the calendar will be ready but I’m hoping to have it finished before the end of the month.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
Cubist Cthulhu