Weekend links 588

br.jpg

Gerry Barney’s logo for British Rail. A page from the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual (1965).

• RIP Russ Kick, writer, editor, and founder of many websites/blogs such as Rare Erotica, Books Are People Too and (notoriously) the several iterations of The Memory Hole, a space dedicated to keeping visible information that successive US governments would have preferred to remain unseen. I’d known Russ remotely for many years, initially as a reviewer of the Savoy comics in Outposts. Savoy Books later helped find him a publisher for Psychotropedia: A Guide to Publications on the Periphery, a wide-ranging overview of alternative/underground print culture in the late 1990s. In 2004 his information activism gave him a fleeting taste of world-wide attention when he forced the Bush administration to make public the photos of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq. The scandal put his name on the front pages of newspapers that should have been finding those photos for themselves instead of cheerleading the war. A run of books for Disinformation presented his archival researches for the general reader, then in 2012 he edited The Graphic Canon, a massive three-volume collection of comics and illustrations based on classic works of literature. I was among the many contributors to the latter with an adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and would have worked on the follow-up collection of crime stories if I hadn’t been busy with other things. I had hoped that we might work together again in the future.

• “‘The new mainstream has attempted to erase the innovations of the avant-garde from jazz history,’ the film declares.” Geeta Dayal reviews Fire Music, a documentary about the jazz innovations of the 1960s.

• I don’t have the hardware to play this but Sable is a new computer game from Raw Fury whose design owes much to the desert landscapes seen in comics by Moebius.

• New/old music: Stealing Sheep and The Radiophonic Workshop reimagine the score for René Laloux’s animated science-fiction film La Planète Sauvage.

• At Spine: Savannah Cordova on how to perfect your book cover’s typography. Having recently designed an all-type cover design this is timely.

• Mixes of the week: Isolatedmix 113 by Sunju Hargun, XLR8R Podcast 714 by Soela, and Holograficzne Widmo ze Bart De Paepe by David Colohan.

• “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Gerry Barney, designer of the British Rail logo, doesn’t like the green reworking of his design.

• Scottish lord goes blood simple: a teaser for The Tragedy of Macbeth by Joel Cohen and some bloke called William Shakespeare.

• “It’s unmanageable.” Ellen Peirson-Hagger on how the vinyl industry reached breaking point.

Macbeth (1973) by John Cale | Rail (1994) by Main | Logotone (2013) by Steve Moore

Music for people with three ears

teb.jpg

Cherry Red Records this month reissues the first three albums by the unique and wonderful Third Ear Band. I like CDs, and I especially like having them collected into boxes with Japanese-style facsimile sleeves, so this collection is irresistible. The group’s first two albums, Alchemy (1969) and Third Ear Band (1970), still sound timeless despite being products of their time, with the track you’d most expect to sound dated, Ghetto Raga, being free of sitars or Indian pastiche. Third Ear Band music is a kind of improvised folk, predominantly the product of oboe, violin and percussion, which sounds like something the group might have tuned into when they were playing for Druids at ancient sites (Stone Circle and Druid One are further track titles). The first two albums also have the additional attraction for this listener of a heavy emphasis on medieval mysticism, from the Atalanta Fugiens illustration by Matthäus Merian on the cover of Alchemy, and the symbols and astrological diagrams that fill out the inside cover of the second album, to the titles of that album which continue the alchemical theme: Air, Earth, Fire and Water. The group also borrowed some graphics from Aubrey Beardsley when they issued their musical manifesto in 1969.

merian.jpg

Music From Macbeth (1972) is constrained in comparison to the albums that precede it, being subservient to Roman Polanski’s feature film, although there’s more music here than was used in the film. It’s also closer to rock music in places, with occasional fuzzed guitar, a Mellotron, and rumbles from a VCS 3 synthesizer played by a future member of Hawkwind, Simon House. The cover painting by Roger Dean isn’t one of his best. In Views Dean complains that Polanski “got the imagery wrong” for the scenes with the witches, a comment I’ve never understood. Polanski’s film is a naturalistic interpretation of the play which is well-served by the Third Ear Band’s drones and medievalisms. Incidentally, I’m sure the phrase “music for people with three ears” was used on a Harvest records press ad but if it was I’ve been unable to find any evidence of it. Anyone out there know the source?

Previously on { feuilleton }
Night’s black agents
Atalanta Fugiens

Weekend links 541

finlay.jpg

Virgil Finlay illustrates Hallowe’en in a Suburb by HP Lovecraft for Weird Tales, September 1952.

• Literary Hub does Halloween with an abundance with Draculas, a lazy option but the pieces are good ones nonetheless: Olivia Rutigliano attempts to rank the 50 best (screen) Draculas, and also recalls the Broadway production designed by Edward Gorey. At the same site, Katie Yee discovers that The Addams Family (1991) is really about the importance of books.

• The inevitable film lists: the always reliable Anne Billson selects the scariest ghosts in cinema; at Dennis Cooper’s, TheNeanderthalSkull curates…DC’s Weirdo Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, a list featuring a couple of oddities which have appeared in previous weekend links.

• More books bound with human skin: Megan Rosenbloom, author of Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin discusses the subject with S. Elizabeth.

Beyond all this, however, readers are most likely to read De Quincey for his compellingly strange writing on opium and its effect on the mind. For it is opium, rather than the opium-eater, he writes in Confessions, who “is the true hero of the tale”. He explains the drug cannot of itself create imaginative visions—the man “whose talk is of oxen” will probably dream about oxen. But for De Quincey, with his love for reverie, it gives “an inner eye and power of intuition for the vision and the mysteries of our human nature”. Wine “robs a man of his self-possession: opium greatly invigorates it”. It “gives an expansion to the heart and the benevolent affections”. “This”, he claims, “is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium: of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member.”

“Thomas De Quincey’s revelatory writing deserves greater attention,” says Jane Darcy

• New music: Weeping Ghost by John Carpenter is a preview of the forthcoming Lost Themes III; Moments Of Clarity is a new album of psychedelic(ish) songs from Professor Yaffle.

• “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!” Sean Connery (RIP) was often playing kings in later life but he started early with this performance as Macbeth in 1961. (Ta to TjZ for the link!)

• Mixes of the week: a (non-Halloween) guest mix by Paul Schütze for Toneshift, and the by-now traditional Samhain Séance Mix from The Ephemeral Man.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ big new adventure: an illustrated “reinvention” of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.

Drew McDowall (of Coil, et al) talks Musick, magick and sacred materiality.

• “No one loves the smell of a Kindle,” says Thomas O’Dwyer.

Brüder des Schattens (1979) by Popol Vuh | Nosferatu (1988) by Art Zoyd | Vampires At Large (2012) by John Zorn

Night’s black agents

dulac.jpg

Poster by Edmund Dulac (1911).

This month sees a profusion of events marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so here’s my contribution, a rundown of Macbeths-I-have-seen on screen and stage. I’ve mentioned before that Macbeth and The Tempest are my favourite Shakespeare plays, two dramas concerned with magic of very different kinds. Macbeth is the more popular play, not least for being the more easily adaptable: the supernatural dimension may not suit every circumstance but the themes of treachery, fear, paranoia and a murderous struggle for power are universal. This list contains a wide range of adaptations but there are many film versions I’ve yet to see, including the most recent directed by Justin Kurzel.

welles.jpg

Macbeth (1948), directed by Orson Welles
Orson Welles as Macbeth
Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth

I think the Welles adaptation was the first Macbeth of any kind that I saw so it’s fitting that it begins this chronological list. Famously shot over three hectic weeks on the sound stages of Republic Studios, and with sets made from props previously used in cheap westerns, the result is often eccentric. I’ve a lot of time for Welles as a director but this is one film of his that I’ve never enjoyed very much. His theatre performances (and productions) of Shakespeare began at school, and he was seldom precious with the texts: Chimes at Midnight is a fusion of several different plays while this version of Macbeth uses the same doctored script that he directed for the Voodoo Macbeth in Harlem in 1936. I don’t mind some editing—short scenes such as the witches’ meeting with Hecate are often excised—but some of Welles’ changes are made to support his belief that the witches are directly responsible for Macbeth’s actions, a theory I don’t agree with, and which I’ve never seen given credence elsewhere. This explains oddities such as the appearance of the witches at the very end of the film delivering words from the beginning of the play: “Peace! The charm’s wound up.”

Worse than this is the decision to have most of the cast speaking with vague Scottish accents (a “burr” Welles called it), something that would work with a Scottish cast but which courts disaster with a group of Americans working in haste. The accents may be warranted by the setting but the words of the play are English ones, free of common Scottish colloquialisms such as “ken”, “bairn” and the like. On the plus side, it’s good to see Harry Lime-era Welles performing Shakespeare, and the mist-shrouded production has a barbaric quality that Jean Cocteau appreciated. The forked staff that each witch carries is a detail that I’ve borrowed for drawings on a number of occasions.

joemacbeth.jpg

Joe MacBeth (1955), directed by Ken Hughes
Paul Douglas as Joe MacBeth
Ruth Roman as Lily MacBeth

The play reworked as a cheap gangster picture set in the Chicago of the 1930s but made in Britain with a partly American cast. I’ve only seen this once (and many years ago) but I recall it being pretty ludicrous, not least for another accent problem with the English actors doing bad impersonations of Chicago hoodlums. Anyone who grew up watching the Carry On comedy films has a hard time taking Sid James seriously in heavy roles, and here he plays the Banquo character, “Banky”. Joe MacBeth is chiefly notable today for being the first entry in the Macbeth-as-gangster sub-genre; after this there was Men of Respect (1990), Maqbool (2003, an Indian film set in Mumbai), and Macbeth (2006, an Australian film set in Melbourne), none of which I’ve yet seen.

Continue reading “Night’s black agents”

Weekend links 305

marchbank.jpg

Threads of Fate—The Weird Sisters from Macbeth (2013) by Fiona Marchbank.

• The week in books: Claire Cameron on the difference between US & UK cover designs | Jason Diamond asks “Why do cats love bookstores?” | Alan Moore’s cover art for his forthcoming novel, Jerusalem, has been revealed | Brian Phillips on the typefaces used by New English Library for their Dune covers in the 1970s.

• On writing: Poetry and horror “share a universally human quest toward intimacy” says Evan J. Peterson | “The best work neither shows nor tells: it says by being, not by saying,” says M. John Harrison.

• At the BFI this week: Where to begin with Jerzy Skolimowski, and 10 overlooked British horror films of the 1970s. Both lists include Skolimowski’s excellent The Shout (1978).

Cultures do not, and cannot, work through notions of ‘ownership’. The history of culture is the history of cultural appropriation—of cultures borrowing, stealing, changing, transforming.

Nor does preventing whites from wearing locks or practicing yoga challenge racism in any meaningful way. What the campaigns against cultural appropriation reveal is the disintegration of the meaning of ‘anti-racism’. Once it meant to struggle for equal treatment for all. Now it means defining the correct etiquette for a plural society. The campaign against cultural appropriation is about policing manners rather than transforming society.

Kenan Malik on ill-considered complaints against “cultural appropriation”. Malik isn’t the first to note the intersection of such complaints with those of white supremacists who also want cultural purity and segregation

OUT, DEMONS, OUT!: The 1967 Exorcism of the Pentagon and the Birth of Yippie! An oral history by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Michael Simmons and Jay Babcock.

• The long-overdue republication of Moebius’s work in English will begin with a new edition of The World of Edena (1985).

• More from radioactive Russia: Nadav Kander’s photographs of Soviet nuclear test sites.

• Comic artist and illustrator Kris Guidio in conversation with Jonathan Barlow.

• Francesca Gavin meets Tadanori Yokoo, “the Grandmaster of Pop-Psych Art”.

• “LSD’s impact on the brain revealed in groundbreaking images”

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 182 by Paul Jebanasam.

• A trailer for Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon.

• Tony Conrad: 1940–2016 by Geeta Dayal.

Brian Eno’s favourite records

Neonlicht (1994) by Mitja VS (with Enzo Fabiani Quartet) | On Demon Wings (2000) by Bohren & Der Club of Gore | Shout At The Devil (2002) by Jah Wobble & Temple Of Sound