Art on film: Je t’aime, Je t’aime

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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).

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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.

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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 636

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Untitled painting by Oliver Frey based on The Wild Boys by William Burroughs.

• RIP Oliver Frey, a prolific illustrator and comic artist whose art for UK computer magazines in the 1980s made a lasting impression on a generation of games players, hence this obituary at Eurogamer. On this site, however, Frey is also remembered for his artistic alter-ego “Zack” (previously), an equally prolific creator of comic-strip erotica for Britain’s few gay-porn mags at a time when any such material being sold in the UK ran the risk of police seizure or even a court appearance. For a while, Zack’s Rogue and Tom of Finland’s Kake were rare examples of assertive, unashamedly lustful gay characters with strips of their own, which makes Oliver Frey something of a pioneer, and a daring one at that.

• “The title characters were a trio of boys named Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews, who live in the fictional California town of Rocky Beach, not far from Hollywood, on the coast…” Colin Fleming on the satisfyingly spooky adventures of Robert Arthur Jr’s Three Investigators. I was never as obsessive as Fleming was but I read all of the books about the trio that I could find in our local library.

• “Though its inimitable visual style has safeguarded it as a quintessential cult film most at home behind a shroud of pot smoke, the influence of Koyaanisqatsi has been sweeping.” Josef Steen on 40 years of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi.

• “Putting it simply, coincidences and curiosities and chance encounters happen when people go looking for zodiacs.” Mark Valentine on Britain’s terrestrial zodiacs.

• At Literary Hub: Marguerite Duras on writing the screenplay for Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour.

• New/old music: a reissue of Solar Maximum by Majeure.

• New music: Kerber Remixes by Yann Tiersen.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ingrid Caven Day.

• Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima (1959-61) by Krzysztof Penderecki | Memory Of Hiroshima (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta | Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977) by Ultravox!

Something Rich and Strange: The Life and Music of Iannis Xenakis

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In the days before our present age of cultural plenitude, recordings by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis weren’t always easy to find. My haphazard introduction to contemporary composition came via record libraries and secondhand shops but even in these havens of obscurity discs of Xenakis music remained frustratingly elusive. Today I do own a few Xenakis CDs but there’s still a large portion of his work that I’ve yet to hear. After watching Mark Kidel’s documentary I’m persuaded once again that the gaps in my listening ought to be filled.

20th-century composition can be intimidating to the unitiated. Intimidating to listen to when so much of it is about finding new sounds, new structures, new modes of performance; and intimidating to read about when the discussion involves the analysis of very cerebral or technical conceptions. It can also disappoint when the results of those conceptions fail to hold the attention or excite the emotions. Many Xenakis compositions had their origin in mathematics or scientific theory but the musical results are consistently powerful and dramatic, even unnerving in a manner familiar from the works of Penderecki and Scelsi.

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Mark Kidel’s hour-long documentary gives a small taste of the musical power and drama, especially in Roger Woodward’s performance of Eonta, a short composition for solo piano that’s astonishing to hear and see. Something Rich and Strange was made for the BBC in 1990 but it’s one I missed on its original broadcast so it’s good to find in a quality copy on the director’s Vimeo pages. The note there describes the film as a definitive portrait which sounds like a boast but there aren’t many Xenakis documentaries to choose from and it is very good, if a little too short for its subject. The film follows the composer and his wife, Françoise, as they journey to the Greek island of Spetsai where Xenakis spent several years at school in the 1930s. His reminiscences (or refusal of them) are interwoven with a sketch of his remarkable life which in its early years involved fighting with the Greek Resistance during the Second World War (and losing the sight in one eye as a result), fleeing to Paris in the post-war period after being condemned to death in absentia by the authoritarian Greek government, and working as an architect with Le Corbusier in the 1950s before deciding to devote the rest of his life to music. Kidel’s views of the Greek landscape wordlessly demonstrate the parallels between Xenakis’s music and the sounds of that landscape—goat bells, water lapping in a cave, a priest hammering a piece of wood—but we don’t hear much discussion of the composer’s musical evolution. His interest in electronic music, for example, is briefly mentioned but dismissed as being a direction he was unwilling to follow. But it was a direction he followed intermittently for at least a decade, and his electronic compositions would occupy several hours of your time if listened to in sequence. That’s the problem with trying to sum up a diverse career within the bite-sized limits of broadcast media; if the film was longer there would have been more time to address both the life and the details of the work. As it is, this is still an excellent introduction to a great composer.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Vasarely, a film by Peter Kassovitz
A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic

Weekend links 511

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Design by Romek Marber, 1963.

• The death of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki prompted so many “Shining composer” headlines you have to wonder what kind of notices he might have received if his early work hadn’t been purloined by Hollywood. György Ligeti always seemed ambivalent about having his music used as cinematic illustration (Kubrick annoyed him by altering some of it without permission) but Penderecki worked as a composer for Polish films in the 1960s, not only providing a score for The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) but also (surprisingly) writing music for a number of short animations. I’ve been listening to his music for almost 40 years, after a chance discovery of the stunning Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima led me to seek out more. I have to admit that the appeal of his recordings lay in their ability to thrill and terrify—qualities that musicologists seldom address—and I’ve never paid any attention to Penderecki’s later work which was less of an assault on the senses. At The Quietus James Martin argues for listening to the entire oeuvre, not just the early works. For more about the composer’s life and work, Culture.pl has a number of good articles, eg: Mazes, Notes & Dali: The Extraordinary Life of Krzysztof Penderecki, and Music Is Not for Everyone: An Interview with Krzysztof Penderecki.

• The late Romek Marber (1925–2020) was a designer/illustrator whose name is familiar to collectors of Penguin books via the Marber Grid, the template he created in the early 1960s for the Penguin Crime series, and which was later extended across the entire paperback range. Marber talked about this period of his work in Penguin by Illustrators in 2009. Elsewhere: Rick Poyner on Marber’s design, and a suggestion for how the Marber Grid was designed.

• “…you’ll see Lego and children’s toys, but also Rawlplugs, tile spacers, Monopoly houses, cigarillo tips, curtain hooks, biofilters, Smarties tube lids, fishing beads, broken security seals, razor parts, bits of toothbrushes, roofing screw caps, medical lancets, golf tees, false teeth, plastic soldiers, posties’ rubber bands, bungs and stoppers.” Beachcomber Tracey Williams talks to Andrew Male about the undying ubiquity of plastic waste.

• “Thanks to Bookshop, there is no reason to buy books on Amazon anymore,” says Alex Lauer. The caveat is that the service is limited to the USA. I order books direct from publishers or from eBay and Abe; the latter may be Amazon-owned but you’re still paying most of the money to the individual sellers.

• Mixes of the week: Radio Belbury 19: Family Fun Time, and Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. VII – France IV by David Colohan.

• “[Amanda Sewell’s] Wendy Carlos: A Biography is a great work of scholarship,” says Geeta Dayal.

• “Part of me expects to go on forever.” David Barnett on Michael Moorcock at 80.

• “What is the point of a critic if not to tell the truth?” asks Rachel Cooke.

John Boardley on medieval road-trips and the invention of print.

Anna Bogutskaya on where to begin with the Weird West.

• Inside Tove Jansson’s private universe by Sheila Heti.

• Memory Of Hiroshima (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre | Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977) by Ultravox! | Hiroshima (1982) by Borsig

Weekend links 450

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Orpheus (c. 1903–1910) by Odilon Redon. One of 30,000 public-domain images from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection.

• Network DVD has announced the premiere home release of Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries, a British TV series that ran from 1973 to 74. Welles’ involvement was limited to introducing each episode but the series itself was one I enjoyed a great deal: 26 short adaptations of period mystery stories that featured a wealth of British and American acting talent. The theme by John Barry was an additional bonus.

• The trailer for Apollo 11, a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller which presents for the first time the 70mm footage recording the Earth-bound parts of the Moon mission. Related: Michelle Santiago Cortés on how NASA used art to shape our vision of the future.

• At Dangerous Minds: a preview of Third Noise Principle, the latest in an excellent series of electronic music compilations from Cherry Red, and Cosey Fanni Tutti talks about her first solo album since 1983.

“The way I understood theory, primarily through popular culture, is generally detested in universities,” Mark [Fisher] told me in 2005, when I interviewed him for the Village Voice. “Most dealings with the academy have been literally clinically depressing.” He darkly surmised that his blog, K-Punk, and the surrounding blogosphere, “seemed like the space—the only space—in which to maintain a kind of discourse that had started in the music press and the art schools, but which had all but died out, with appalling cultural and political consequences.” Mark and the Village Voice are both dead now, leaving unfathomable voids in their wake.

Geeta Dayal on Mark Fisher

• At The Witch Wave: Peter Bebergal and Pam Grossman discuss Bebergal’s latest book (also my current reading), Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural.

• At Bandcamp: another release from the retro-synth cosmos of Jenzeits, and Ufology , an investigation of Britain’s flying-saucer landscape by Grey Frequency.

• Surprising collaboration of the week: Beth Gibbons and Krzysztof Penderecki have made a new recording of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Alchemy (1969) the debut album by the Third Ear Band, receives an expanded reissue next month.

The Burn: a science-fiction story by Peter Tieryas with illustrations by Arik Roper.

• Mix of the week: Self-Titled Needle Exchange 275 by Black To Comm.

Amy Turk plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on her harp.

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Mystery Train (1955) by Elvis Presley | Mystery R.P.S. (No 8) (1981) by Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit | Mystery Room (1985) by Helios Creed