Gioconda of the Mausoleum

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“MAGIC REALISM • Like the video technique of “keying in” where any background may be electronically inserted or deleted independently of foreground, the ability to bring the actual sound of musics of various epochs and geographical origins all together in the same compositional frame marks a unique point in history. • A trumpet, branched into a chorus of trumpets by computer, traces the motifs of the Indian raga DARBARI over Senegalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950’s [a sonic texture like a “Mona Lisa” which, in close up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal], while the ancient call of an AKA pygmy voice in the Central African Rainforest—transposed to move in sequences of chords unheard of until the 20th century—rises and falls among gamelan-like cascades, multiplications of a single “digital snapshot” of a traditional instrument played on the Indonesian island of JAVA, on the other side of the world.” — Jon Hassell

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Jon Hassell’s text is part of the sleeve note for his Aka—Darbari—Java (Magic Realism) album which was released on Editions EG in 1983. The description of a picture of the Mona Lisa made from tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal always intrigued me even though it’s only a shorthand metaphor for the sampling process, as well as being an encapsulation in miniature of one aspect of Hassell”s “Fourth World” concept: the blending of East and West, the sacred and the profane. Nevertheless, 20 years ago—17th May, 2001, according to the date on the file—after realising that Photoshop allowed the creation of just this kind of mosaic imagery, I decided to try and bring Hassell’s metaphor to digital life.

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The end result in its full-size version looks at a distance like an ordinary halftone rendering of the painting but it really is made of tiny images of the Taj Mahal, albeit very rough ones since the process always resulted in a bitmap image. So much time has elapsed I’ve forgotten the procedural details although I do recall the involvement of one of those legacy features of Photoshop that most people ignore, possibly the Apply Image function. And I only did this at all because I’d found a tutorial somewhere that described how to create a mosaic image in this manner. The resulting picture wasn’t particularly satisfying but as a proof of concept it did at least work.

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A Picture, a film by Lejf Marcussen

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Something wintry for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Danish filmmaker Lejf Marcussen is recognised internationally for his Surrealist animation The Public Voice (1988) but his other films are less well-known. A Picture (1977) is one of the earliest, a 3-minute time-lapse shot of an island in a lake which progresses gradually from winter to summer. Not as resolutely minimal as Fog Line but another example (albeit stretching the definition) of what Andrei Tarkovsky called “sculpting with time”.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fog Line, a film by Larry Gottheim
Wavelength
The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen

René Magritte by David Wheatley

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René Magritte as portrayed by Patrick McDonnell.

René Magritte died in 1967, the year Eric Duvivier’s La femme 100 têtes appeared in French cinemas. Magritte is even less visible cinematically than Max Ernst, IMDB lists a couple of documentaries and nothing else. There are trace elements elsewhere, notably the Magritte and de Chirico influence in Bertolucci’s Borges’ adaptation The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), but the artist’s arresting visual imagination has always found more of a welcome on book covers than cinema screens.

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One exception is David Wheatley’s drama documentary René Magritte (1976), yet another work you won’t find listed at IMDB. This was Wheatley’s graduation film which the BBC screened in a 30-minute version (shorn of some apparently clunky dialogue scenes) in 1979, and which secured for Wheatley a place as a regular director for the BBC’s Omnibus and Arena arts programmes. I saw the 1979 broadcast, and caught it again a decade later when one of the channels was having a season of Magritte-related programming, something that’s impossible to imagine in today’s debased television landscape.

For a student film it’s a stunning piece of work, taking a similar approach to Eric Duvivier in bringing to life many of the artist’s more famous pictures: a window shatters to reveal the scene behind it painted on its panes, a mountain hovers ponderously over the sea, a dove made of clouds flies across a stormy sky. Between the artworks there are short biographical scenes. There’s a sole version of the film on YouTube that remains watchable despite being a low-quality recording from video tape that’s also hacked into three parts and subtitled in Danish.

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Looking for more information about David Wheatley it was dismaying to find he’d died in 2009, aged 59. Leslie Megahey—a cult TV director of mine—wrote an obituary for the Guardian where he describes some of Wheatley’s other productions including the Arena film Borges and I (1983)—as far as I’m aware the only British TV documentary about Jorge Luis Borges—and Wheatley’s first feature film, an adaptation of Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop (1987). I recall enjoying the latter, produced at a time when the success of The Company of Wolves (1984) made it seem there might also be a place in the cinema for Angela Carter’s imagination; we know how that worked out. The Magic Toyshop doesn’t seem to have had a DVD release so good luck to anyone searching for it. As for René Magritte, if anyone runs across a better online copy be sure to leave a comment.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen

The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen

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Lejf Marcussen is a Danish filmmaker whose animation Den Offentlige Røst (The Public Voice, 1988) I know from UK TV screenings, back in the days when the TV channels here used to screen more than cookery shows and soap operas. This is a short Surrealist piece which begins with zoom into a Paul Delvaux painting then reverses the process by pulling back from a continually changing picture some of whose details can be seen here. It is, of course, better to watch the film than read a description of it which is why I kept hoping a copy might turn up on YouTube. Sure enough, a rough copy has been languishing there for two years so I suggest you watch it here while you have the chance. These obscure shorts have a habit of getting deleted, and this miniature marvel is more obscure than most.

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Update: changed the link to a better quality version. Thanks, Martin!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Patrick Bokanowski again
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD