LVCIFER

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An engraving of Dante’s encounter with Lucifer/Satan at the end of the Inferno. Illustrators of Dante have given us a number of depictions of Dante’s fallen angel—a monstrous beast with multiple wings and three heads; icy blasts from the wings travel through the circles of Hell—but this is one I’d not seen before. The engraving is by Cornelis Galle the Elder after a drawing by Lodovico Cardi (also known as Cigoli), and it’s unusual for showing Lucifer in full rather than the more common partial view of the monster imprisoned in the ice.

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The engraving is another of those that depict several events in one image, with the figures of Virgil and Dante shown crossing the plain of ice then climbing down Lucifer’s body; passing the centre of the world Virgil (now carrying Dante) changes direction to account for the reversal of gravity. Climbing a rocky path, they emerge at the foot of Mount Purgatory to find Lucifer’s legs protruding from the stone. The reversal of gravity is one of the more advanced ideas in The Divine Comedy, as is the general idea of a spherical Earth. What Dante doesn’t mention, and few artists show, is Lucifer’s sexless groin positioned at the Centrum Mundi, a detail accounted for here. (Larger version.)

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Lachman’s Inferno
Hell, a film by Rein Raamat
Inferni
Mirko Racki’s Inferno
Albert Goodwin’s fantasies
Harry Lachman’s Inferno
Melancholy Lucifers
Maps of the Inferno
A TV Dante by Tom Phillips and Peter Greenaway
The last circle of the Inferno
Angels 4: Fallen angels

Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger, 1972

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Another resurrected article. Cinema Rising was a short-lived newsprint film magazine that ran for three issues in the UK in 1972. I have a few pages from the rare first issue that was part of a batch of old underground newspapers I was given a few years ago. (The Frendz Hawkwind strip is from the same haul.) Cinema Rising was edited by Simon Hartog and Tony Rayns, the latter being a long-time Kenneth Anger aficionado which would explain both the magazine title and the presence of a photo feature about Anger’s Lucifer Rising. The bulk of this post is a short interview with Donald Cammell that’s of interest for his comments about the gender roles in Performance and his opinion of Jorge Luis Borges whose recurrence as both signifying text and presiding magus in Performance is never really explained.

Cammell’s next film after Performance would have been Ishtar (no relation to the notorious Warren Beatty flop), the themes of which Cammell discusses at the end of the piece. The Cammell biography describes a script concerning a film star and Hollywood producer who want to make a film in Morocco. While there they get involved with a woman who embodies various mystical/mythological feminine attributes; there’s also a sub-plot about the pair kidnapping an American judge. Mick Jagger was down for the role of the film star while William Burroughs was slated to play the judge. Given how wayward Cammell’s later films became it’s difficult to say whether this would have been good or not. Performance could very easily have been terrible but that film also had Nicolas Roeg on board.

After the Cammell piece there are photos from Cinema Rising‘s Kenneth Anger feature which show the director at work on the new version of Lucifer Rising. I’ve not seen any of these stills or the two black actors before—what happened to their parts? Note that some of the captions are misspelled: the photos should be credited to Diarmid Cammell—Donald’s brother—while the Adept (not “Lucifer”) is Haydn Couts.

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DONALD CAMMELL: PERFORMANCE TO ISHTAR, Cinema Rising, no. 1, April 1972

Donald Cammell’s first movie was Performance, made in collaboration with Nicolas Roeg; the most unexpected British movie of recent years, and one of the very few products of the British industry capable of holding its own in an international context. Cammell’s new script is Ishtar, originally written with Mick Jagger in mind for the lead again, but possibly to be made without him; Cammell is currently in America to raise the backing for the film.

In the following extracts from a conversation with John du Cane (recorded last year), Cammell speaks of his background and interests…matters that inform his new script at least as much Performance.

Collaboration

“In the recent past, reverence for the director of a film as sole creator has been vastly exaggerated, through critical efforts. I’m thinking particularly of the Cahiers du Cinema ‘author’ concept—I’ve been living in Paris, and have been quite aware of it for a long time. The kind of theory of creativity that’s arisen there (and in related worlds in New York) is, succinctly, crap. It’s a way of trying to demonstrate the view that cinema is an artform, and that therefore there must be a single creative mind controlling the artefact, through to its ultimate form. It’s a way of justifying movie-making, socially and culturally.

“But leaving aside the reasons for the concept, I think it’s contradicted by the facts. I think that many of the greatest artefacts things that have moved people most throughout history—have been collectively produced. You don’t even have to look for examples: the whole of Egyptian culture, arcane cultures generally. Today in tribal cultures, the vast majority of the products are collectively produced. The hangup is the concept of one ego necessarily controlling the production in order for that ego to be expressed; the notion that the expression of an ego is the final goal of any artwork, that this is what it’s for. I think that an artwork expresses itself, that the creators involved will all see in it their own egos, each one individually satisfied when looking at the final work. My analogy is with contemporary music, where people go into it collectively, and their egos are satisfied collectively and individually. Look at Mick and Keith and their confreres: they see in their work as The Rolling Stones what they each wanted to say. Working in the film medium is ideally suited to interaction of different heads; it’s the ideal medium for all the good functions of collective work.”

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Saragossa Manuscript posters

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Polish poster (1965) by Jerzy Skarzynski who was also the film’s production designer.

I love The Saragossa Manuscript, both the novel by Potocki and the movie by Has. I saw the film three times which, in my case, is absolutely exceptional.

Luis Buñuel in My Last Sigh (1983)

No surprise that a lifelong Surrealist was enamoured with Jan Potocki’s rambling collection of stories-within-stories. The 1965 Polish film by Wojciech Has had another famous enthusiast in Jerry Garcia whose efforts to restore and reissue The Saragossa Manuscript helped bring the film to a new generation of viewers in 1999. I was a beneficiary of this, having been intrigued for years by descriptions whilst hoping in vain that it might turn up on television. I prefer the film to the novel although to be fair to Potocki it’s a long time since I read his book.

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Another Polish design showing Zbigniew Cybulski as Alphonse.

Watching The Saragossa Manuscript again this weekend sent me looking for posters, some of which can be seen below. There are odd omissions: plenty of examples from the Eastern Bloc countries but few at all from Western Europe. The film suffered by having its 3-hour running time hacked about by distributors which didn’t help its reception outside Poland. The manuscript of the title is a book discovered during a skirmish in the Napoleonic wars, an account of the strange adventures of Alphonse Van Worden in the Sierra Morena region of Spain; one of the soldiers reading the manuscript is Van Worden’s grandson, the first of many coincidental connections. Van Worden’s adventures seem macabre at first—there are more bones in the opening scenes than in many horror films—but they soon turn farcical. As a burgeoning cast of characters appears, many of whom have their own tales to tell, the mood veers into outright sex comedy, albeit with mild philosophical overtones. Some scenes aren’t very far removed from Monty Python, especially those that feature an inept band of Spanish Inquisitors.

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Background drawings from the title sequence. Yes, the score is by Penderecki, his first.

All of which means this is another film that presents a challenge for a poster designer. Most of the early examples take their cues from the opening titles whose backgrounds feature drawings with a vaguely Surrealist and occult flavour that I’m guessing are also the work of Jerzy Skarzynski.

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Moravagine book covers

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First publication, Grasset, 1926.

I should have liked to open all cages, all zoos, all prisons, all lunatic asylums, see the great wild ones liberated and study the development of an unheard-of kind of human life…

Recent reading was Moravagine (1926) by Blaise Cendrars, a novel that resists easy summary. It’s a Modernist work to some extent although the prose (a good translation from the French by Alan Brown) is never unorthodox in style; it’s also scabrous, amoral, misogynist and deeply misanthropic. The narrative is a picaresque affair narrated by a young doctor who frees the mysterious Moravagine from an asylum where he’s been imprisoned for many years. “Moravagine” is an adopted name whose origin and meaning is never addressed, although a French reader would find a rather unavoidable pun on “death by vagina”. Moravagine himself is an otherwise unnamed member of the Hungarian royal family, a dwarfish intellectual psychopath with a bad leg who goes on the run with the doctor, first to pre-revolutionary Russia, then to the United States and South America.

Reviewers have compared the book to Beckett, Céline and Burroughs although it’s much lighter reading than the first two, and the prose is more coherent than Burroughs in cut-up mode. Since we’ve been hearing a lot about the First World War this year it’s tempting to read the book as a kind of Dadaist reaction to Cendrars’ own experiences in the war, even though the entirety of the conflict is dispensed with in two pages. Cendrars appears as a character in the later chapters; he lost an arm in the war so he has his narrator lose a leg while Moravagine loses his reason altogether. At the end of the book he’s found imprisoned in another asylum where he believes he’s an inhabitant of the planet Mars, and where he spends his last months writing a huge, apocalyptic account of how the world will be in the year 2013.

All this, of course, presents a challenge for a cover designer. I have two Penguin editions, both with very different covers, neither of them unsuitable. Curiosity impelled me to see how the book has been treated since 1926. There aren’t many editions but their difference shows the difficulty of trying to encapsulate the contents of this strange novel in a graphic form. The selection here has avoided text-only treatments in favours of those using some form of illustration.

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Le Livre de Poche, 1957.

In an early chapter Moravagine describes fleeing the imperial household by strapping himself to a horse. Without knowing this narrative detail the painting here seems bizarrely arbitrary.

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Editora Ulisseia, Portugal, 1966.

The horses again, with Moravagine strapped underneath one of them. I’d guess the illustrators of these two books didn’t read very far.

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First UK edition, Peter Owen, 1968.

Peter Owen commissioned the first English translation which is still in use today.

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Weekend links 226

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Fly (2012, detail) by Zhao Na.

• This week in psychedelia: the UK now has its own Psychedelic Society (just in time for the mushroom season), and is using some of my psychedelic Wonderland/Looking-Glass artwork for its headers and things. Over at The Quietus John Doran asks what makes music psychedelic in 2014, while a number of the site’s writers offer suggestions for a survey of modern European psychedelia (bonus points for using the alien head from the cover of Heldon 6: Interface at the top of the page).

Rick Poynor looks at posters by Hans Hillmann for Jean-Luc Godard’s films while at the BFI site four directors pay tribute to Hillmann. “…poster art has stagnated over the last 30 or 40 years,” says Peter Strickland. “It’s an embarrassment for film when one considers how the music industry has completely embraced the graphic form.” Related: lots of Hans Hillmann at Pinterest.

• More psychedelics (and more of the usual suspects), neurologist Andrew Lees on William Burroughs’ experiences with yagé and apomorphine, and DJ Pangburn on a word-search puzzle containing “every word Borges wrote”. The life and work of William Burroughs is celebrated in London next month with a one-day event, Language is a Virus from Outer Space.

• At Dangerous Minds: Kenneth Anger – Magier des Untergrundfilms (1970), a 53-minute documentary by Reinhold E. Thiel. The subtitles are obtrusive but the material itself, which includes footage of Anger filming Lucifer Rising, is priceless.

• 73 minutes of Pye Corner Audio playing in Ibiza last month. More electronica: Colm McAuliffe talks to former members of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983, an excellent story by Hilary Mantel who talks about her own assassination fantasies here.

• Mixes of the week: Cosey Fanni Tutti‘s 2014 Mix for Dazed Digital, and Secret Thirteen Mix 128 by DSCRD.

Pond i, a video for a new piece of music by Jon Brooks.

Tomorrow Never Knows (1966) by The Mirage | Tomorrow Never Knows (1976) by 801 | Tomorrow Never Knows (1983) by Monsoon