Last Suppers and last straws

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Hardly a week passes without the religious right in America getting their knickers in a twist over some new iniquity, a condition so commonplace that new outbreaks are barely worth acknowledging. However, this week’s storm in a teacup caught my attention for being art-related.

If there’s one thing certain American Christians have in common with Muslim fundamentalists, it’s the habit of reacting to anything remotely gay with all the composure of caged baboons being prodded with sharp sticks. The pointed implement on this occasion has been the poster for the Folsom Street Fair, an annual Leather Pride/BDSM event held in San Francisco. The photograph by FredAlert (site NSFW) continues what’s become a minor tradition in artistic parody by working a variation on Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1498), with leather girls and guys for the disciples and a black man in the place of Leonardo’s Jesus. The flag on the table is a Leather Pride flag. The intent behind the poster was explained by Andy Cooper, one of the event’s organisers:

There is no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to be reminiscent of the Last Supper painting. It is a distinctive representation of diversity with women and men, people of all colors and sexual orientations.

(…)

We hope that people will enjoy the artistry for what it is—nothing more or less. Many people choose to speculate on deeper meanings. This is one artist’s imagining of the Last Supper, and we have made it our own. The irony is that da Vinci was widely considered to be homosexual. In truth, we are going to produce a series of inspired poster images over the next few years. Next year’s poster ad may take inspiration from American Gothic by Grant Wood or Edvard Munch’s The Scream or even The Sound of Music! I guess it wouldn’t be Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though.

To judge by the splenetic frothing of groups such as the Concerned Women for America, it seems they managed a double helping of offence this year. The CWA see a deliberate attack on their religion, something I can’t see at all. While the reaction may seem to be harmless bluster, it should be noted that groups such as CWA and the more substantial American Family Association receive a lot of money via donations from supporters. Moral panics and perennial threats to civilisation have become a means to drum up additional support (ie: cash) to safeguard what they claim are Christian values. And gay people/rights/events have become a convenient whipping boy (so to speak) for fund-raising. As Joe Murray, ex-staff attorney for the American Family Association writes, this is now a multi-million dollar business:

It is not coincidental that the road to Hell is paved with the best of intentions, thus while one hopes that conservative leaders, such as Don Wildmon, began their crusade motivated by morality, it appears that a number of them have been hypnotized by the siren song of the almighty dollar.

Christian activism has become a lucrative business. According to its 990 form, the AFA took in millions. Arguably, such revenue was made possible by sending out “Action Alerts” warning homosexuals will throw Christians in jail under the hate crimes bill. Such rhetoric is misleading at best, dishonest at worse.

How does one protect Christianity? Send money. Call it cash-back Christianity…

Public complaints about blasphemy or other slights are always double-edged. Without the outrage I probably wouldn’t have noticed the Folsom poster, despite reading gay news blogs every day. But thanks to the CWA this isn’t the only blog now replicating the picture or showing similar examples of alleged Leonardo abuse. It hardly needs pointing out that the two other paintings mentioned in the Folsom Street Fair statement are also very popular as parody subjects and parody doesn’t work at all if the original reference isn’t well-known. Leonardo’s two most famous works are the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper and the latter proves attractive for parodists by being a group scene presented in tableaux form. The Last Supper, American Gothic and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam must be the three most-parodied paintings in art history; many of the Last Supper variations?including versions by Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol?are very well-known and have been around for years.

Continue reading “Last Suppers and last straws”

The Surrealist Revolution

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The riddle of the rocks by Jonathan Jones
It was the art movement that shocked the world. It was sexy, weird and dangerous—and it’s still hugely influential today. Jonathan Jones travels to the coast of Spain to explore the landscape that inspired Salvador Dalí, the greatest surrealist of them all.

The Guardian, Monday March 5, 2007

I AM SCRAMBLING over the rocks that dominate the coastline of Cadaqués in north-east Spain. They look like crumbling chunks of bread floating on a soup of seawater. Surreal is a word we throw about easily today, almost a century after it was coined by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Yet if there is anywhere on earth you can still hope to put a precise and historical meaning on the “surreal” and “surrealism”, it is among these rocks. To scramble over them is to enter a world of distorted scale inhabited by tiny monsters. Armoured invertebrates crawl about on barely submerged formations. I reach into the water for a shell and the orange pincers of a hermit crab flick my fingers away.

The entire history of surrealism—from the collages of Max Ernst to Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone—can be read in these igneous formations, just as surely as they unfold the geological history of Catalonia.

I sit down on a jagged ridge. What if I fell? Would they find a skeleton looking just like the bones of the four dead bishops in L’Age d’Or, the surrealist film Luis Buñuel shot here in 1930?

Buñuel had been shown these rocks by his college friend Dalí years earlier. It was here they had scripted their infamous film Un Chien Andalou. Dalí came from Figueras, on the Ampurdán plain beyond the mountains that enclose Cadaqués, and spent his childhood summers here, exploring the rock pools and being cruel to the sea creatures. In most people’s eyes, this is a beautiful Mediterranean setting. It certainly looked lovely to Dalí’s close friend, the poet Federico García Lorca, when Dalí brought him here in the 1920s: in his Ode to Salvador Dalí, Lorca lyrically praises the moon reflected in the calm, wide bay…

Continues here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The persistence of DNA
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
Dalí Atomicus
Las Pozas and Edward James
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie

The Brothers Quay on DVD

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A very welcome release, these are some of my favourite films (I reviewed Street of Crocodiles for Horror: the Definitive Guide to the Cinema of Fear earlier this year). Most of the early ones can be found on the Region 1 release from Kino International but that collection is poorly transferred and the interface has a fault that renders it almost unusable on a computer. The supplementary material on this new collection seems especially good.

Quay Brothers – The Short Films 1979-2003
UK 1979-2003. Dir Quay Brothers. Colour and b&w. cert 12
Disc 1: 134 mins + 60 mins commentary Disc 2: 121 mins. Ratio 1.33:1
Buy now on DVD (£24.99)

The BFI has collaborated with the inimitable Quay Brothers to release a truly comprehensive compilation of their short films on DVD; a world first. The Quays were extensively involved with the preparation of the DVD, personally supervising the transfers, recording commentaries on selected titles, and contributing an exclusive 20-minute illustrated video interview.

This two-disc set, in deluxe packaging, collects 13 of the Quay Brothers’ short films, spanning 24 years, in brand new restored and re-mastered editions (six of them with new Quay commentaries), plus a collection of ‘footnotes’ including interviews, alternative versions, unrealised pilot projects and more. An accompanying illustrated colour booklet features an encyclopaedic guide to the Quays’ universe, plus the original illustrated treatment for their best-known film Street of Crocodiles.

Born in Philadelphia and based in London, but with a creative sensibility derived from the remoter corners of Eastern Europe, identical twin animators the Quay Brothers have produced a unique body of work, and have also made a major contribution towards establishing the puppet film as a serious adult art form.

Filtering a huge range of literary, musical, cinematic and philosophical influences through their own utterly distinctive sensibility, each Quay film is a dialogue-free and usually non-narrative experience, riveting the attention through hypnotic control of décor, music and movement. With a grasp of the uncanny that rivals Luis Buñuel and Lewis Carroll, their films evoke half-remembered dreams and long-suppressed childhood memories, fascinating and deeply unsettling by turns.

The collection ranges from their very first puppet film Nocturna Artificialia (1979) to the recent The Phantom Museum (2003). In between there are all the classics: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984), a tribute to their great Czech counterpart; This Unnameable Little Broom (1985), a reduction of the Epic of Gilgamesh into a ten-minute frenzy; their acknowledged masterpiece Street of Crocodiles (1986), a visualisation of the labyrinthine world of Polish author Bruno Schulz; the tantalisingly suggestive Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987) and The Comb (1990); the playful documentary Anamorphosis (1991), uncovering hidden meanings in outwardly conventional paintings; the Stille Nacht quartet (1988-94) of twisted music videos, and In Absentia (2000), their acclaimed collaboration with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The second disc, ‘Footnotes’, contains numerous extras including a newly commissioned filmed interview, distinctive idents for the BFI and BBC2, the satirical short The Summit (1995) and a rare ‘acting’ appearance (albeit in stills) in a clip from Peter Greenaway’s The Falls.

The DVD has been produced by the BFI’s Michael Brooke, Content Developer for Screenonline, the BFI’s extensive online resource dedicated to the history of British film and television. To tie in with the release, Screenonline will be providing extensive background material for each individual title, together with a biography and filmography of the Quays.

Disc 1 – The Films

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
*This Unnameable Little Broom (1985)
*Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987)
*Stille Nacht I – Dramolet (1988)
The Comb (1990)
Anamorphosis (1991)
*Stille Nacht II – Are We Still Married? (1992)
*Stille Nacht III – Tales From Vienna Woods (1993)
Stille Nacht IV – Can’t Go Wrong Without You (1994)
*In Absentia (2000)
The Phantom Museum (2003)

Disc 2 – Footnotes

Filmed introduction by the Quays
Nocturna Artificialia (1979)
The Calligrapher (1991)
The Summit (1995)
Archive Interview (2000)
The Falls (1980)
BFI ident
Alternative versions
*With new commentary by the Quay Brothers recorded for this DVD.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Cracow Klezmer Band, John Zorn and Bruno Schulz