The poster art of Josef Vyletal

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The Hero is Afraid (1965).

Film posters by Czech artist Josef Vyletal (1940-1989) have appeared here in the past, but after watching Juraj Herz’s gloomily Gothic Beauty and the Beast (1978) at the weekend—a film for which Vyletal not only created a poster but also provided the title sequence and paintings seen within the film—I thought the artist deserved a post of his own.

Josef Vyletal was a prolific poster artist and designer—the Terry Posters website states that he created 115 designs for the cinema—who also worked as a book illustrator. Between commercial assignments he produced paintings in a macabre Surrealist style that filtered into his commercial work, the Herz titles included. The absence of barriers between private obsessions and commercial imperatives is what makes the film posters created by Czech and Polish artists so attractive, as well as so surprising to Anglophone viewers. There’s no sense of these works being produced by committee, of a gaggle of marketing executives fretting over details behind the scenes. Some of Vyletal’s interpretations are so extreme and uncompromising by Hollywood standards it’s impossible to imagine even an adventurous chain like Alamo Drafthouse commissioning them, never mind a risk-averse studio. One of the designs I singled out for an earlier post is an ideal example, a poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds which dispenses with any visual reference to the film in favour of a liberal borrowing of the bird-headed figures from Max Ernst’s The Robing of the Bride. It’s a commonplace when discussing the films of Jan Svankmajer to situate the director in the history of Czech Surrealism which remained a clandestine movement during the Communist years. But Vyletal’s paintings demonstrate a confidence that the average Czech filmgoer could accept Surrealist imagery when being tempted by the latest fare from Hollywood.

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The Naked Eye (1966).

Given my own tastes for Surrealist imagery many of the examples shown here tend in this direction. Vyletal was a versatile artist who utilised a number of different styles, including collage and a bold graphic style of black shapes on coloured backgrounds. In addition to borrowing from Ernst he also borrowed (or swiped) figures from Aubrey Beardsley on at least two occasions (see below). Most of the examples here are collages augmented by or combined with paint, collage being a quicker solution when faced with deadlines. Terry Posters has many more examples.

(Note: the name Vyletal should include an accent but the coding on this blog throws up errors when it encounters unusual accents. My apologies to Czech readers.)

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The Black Tulip (1967).

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968).

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The Trygon Factor (1968).

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Weekend links 409

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Poster for Steppenwolf (1974), a film directed by Fred Haines (his only one) based on the novel by Herman Hesse, and starring Max von Sydow and Dominique Sanda. No artist or designer credited.

• “…in her 20s, she heard two elderly folk singers and was struck by their ‘gentle dignity’. It cemented her own philosophy: ‘No dramatising a song, no selling it to an audience, no overdecorating in a way that was alien to English songs, and most of all, singing to people, not at them.'” Laura Snapes on Shirley Collins and her memoir, All in the Downs.

• Many of the BBC’s sound effects were available for years in necessarily small collections on vinyl, tape and CD. Now you can download over 16,000 of them for free here. The interface is still primitive so try typing some words into the search box to see what shows up.

Carl Swanson on Natalie Frank’s paintings based on Pauline Réage’s Story of O, and the problems these caused when she tried to exhibit them.

• Pictures of the Jazz Age: Regina Marler reviews three books about photographer Berenice Abbott.

• “The late Juraj Herz was a one-man wave of Czechoslovak horror,” says Kat Ellinger.

Mark Dery on William S. Burroughs and the dead-end horror of the Centipede God.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 648 by Laraaji, and XLR8R Podcast 538 by Fluxion.

Kashmir by Forming The Void, and Kazakhstan by Brian Eno.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Dominique Sanda Day.

PixaTool by Kronbits.

Born To Be Wild (1968) by Steppenwolf | Steppenwolf (1976) by Hawkwind | Der Steppenwolf (2015) by Selofan

Weekend links 408

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Kujaku (2018) by Yasuto Sasada.

• “The Ernst picture [Of This Men Shall Know Nothing] has also been interpreted as depicting sexual alchemy, which also ties in with much of Peter Grey’s writing on Babalon and the goddess’ connection to sexual magic and the three ‘Fs’: f(e)asting, flagellation and fucking!” Hawthonn’s Phil & Layla Legard talk to Folk Horror Revival about their superb new album, Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing).

• South London “Psychic Circuit”: A walk with London writer Iain Sinclair inspired by cult writer Steve Moore—from Shooter’s Hill and the Shrewsbury burial mound to Charlton House then Maryon Park and the locations used in Antonioni’s Blow Up.

• Czech filmmaker Juraj Herz, director of The Cremator (1969) and Morgiana (1972), died last week. One of his later films, The Ninth Heart (1978), featured an animated title sequence by Jan Svankmajer and Eva Svankmajerova.

• The week in psychedelic visuals: Ben Marks on Bill Ham’s San Francisco light shows (a piece from 2016), and Dangerous Minds on Astralvision’s Electric Light Voyage (1979), a light show on Betamax tape.

• “From glaciers to nuclear bunkers, photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews descends into the dark heart of the Swiss mountains that inspired Mary Shelley.”

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 250 by Sote, and XLR8R Podcast 537 by SNTS.

When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves, new music by Dylan Carlson.

Emily Temple on Edward Gorey’s illustrated covers for literary classics.

Hidden Hydrology: Coil’s Lost Rivers studio sessions.

Tube: Minimalist YouTube search

Sukhdev Sandhu is In Wild Air

• Lost Roads (1988) by Bill Laswell | Lost Sanctum (1994) by Lull | Lost Ways (2016) by Pye Corner Audio

Ikarie XB 1

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A science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem (The Magellanic Cloud, 1955).

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Illustration by Teodor Rotrekl.

A film by Jindrich Polák, adapted from Lem’s novel by Polák and Pavel Jurácek. (1963).

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A Second Run DVD (2013).

With the exceptions of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker (both in a league of their own), I’ve never been very enthused about Eastern Bloc science-fiction cinema. If I hadn’t been watching some Czech films recently, and listening to the soundtrack music of Zdenek Liska, I might not have bothered with this one despite its being promoted as a visual influence on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ikarie XB 1 won the Grand Prize at the Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival in 1963, a tie with Chris Marker’s La Jetée. (Umberto Eco was one of the judges.) Fifty years on, Marker’s film has hardly dated at all while Ikarie XB 1 seems very much of its time. But Polák’s film still has some things going for it, surprisingly so considering the director was more used to making comedies.

Ikarie XB 1 is a spaceship travelling to Alpha Centauri in the year 2163. The DVD subtitles don’t translate the name Ikarie so unless you already know it means “Icarus” there’s no foreshadowing of any possible threat, at least until the opening shots of a deranged crewman stumbling through empty corridors. Many of the scenes which follow seem over-familiar but only because the scenario of space-crew as interstellar family has become such a standard feature of filmed space opera from Star Trek on. The production design is dated, of course, but the film makes great use of black and white in the lighting patterns, on-screen visuals, clothing designs, etc. It’s easy to see why Kubrick thought it was a cut above other SF films of the period, especially with its widescreen compositions. The DVD booklet (and Kim Newman’s interview on the disc) mention Kubrick’s stylistic borrowings; judge for yourself with these screen-grabs. I was hoping the Liska soundtrack might be more electronic than it is. It’s very much a Liska score—at times you can’t help but imagine a Svankmajer puppet lurking round a corner—but with added reverb and spectral organ chords. The latter assist a sequence where two of the crew members explore an apparently derelict space station.

This page reviews the film in some detail (complete with plot spoilers). For the curious, the entire film is a free download at the Internet Archive.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fiser and Liska
Two sides of Liska
Liska’s Golem
The Cremator by Juraj Herz

Fiser and Liska

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Having enthused recently about Czech soundtrack composer Zdenek Liska, and about Juraj Herz’s The Cremator (1969), I can’t avoid mentioning the release this month of Liska’s soundtrack for Herz’s film which comes twinned on CD with Lubos Fiser’s equally distinctive soundtrack for Herz’s Morgiana (1972). Both films are available on DVD from Second Run. Having only discovered these works in the past month the soundtrack collection arrives at just the right moment, another excellent reissue from the UK’s Finders Keepers label who specialise in resurrecting neglected soundtracks, electronica and other obscure music. (Highlights from the electronic catalogue have included the reissue of Suzanne Ciani’s synth music from the 1970s and 80s.)

With Morgiana and The Cremator sharing a director it makes sense to present the soundtracks as a pair, but the films also share a macabre atmosphere that verges on outright weirdness. Where the character of the Cremator is obsessed with reducing human beings to ash, in Morgiana we have a sister plotting the slow death by poison of her twin in order to gain an inheritance. Fiser’s organ-inflected score is suitably dramatic, even melodramatic for the scenes where the poisoned sister is hallucinating, or we’re seeing everything from the point-of-view of the family cat. Finders Keepers’ albums are designed by Andy Votel who for this release has had the CD booklet printed with the Cremator pages running from the back to the centre so that—in the booklet at least—neither title is favoured.

Anyone curious about the Finders Keepers’ sound world can receive a taste via this mix by Andy Votel for Self-Titled Mag. It’s intended to tie-in with Cassette Store Day (that’s today) but really functions as a good sample of the record label’s obsessions. There’s some Suzanne Ciani in there, as well as a rare piece of Cristal Baschet playing from Lasry-Baschet.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Two sides of Liska
Liska’s Golem
The Cremator by Juraj Herz