Short films by Gérald Frydman

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Scarabus.

After writing about Gérald Frydman’s animated short Scarabus (1971) last year it’s taken me all this time to get round to watching the other films on his Vimeo channel, most of which are also animations. Scarabus was of interest for its deftly-crafted Surrealism, and there’s more of the same in some of these later films, especially Agulana. As with another Belgian director, Raoul Servais, Frydman directs all his films but doesn’t always animate them himself, hence the variety of art styles.

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Agulana (1976) is a kind of sequel to Scarabus with human figures being menaced and oppressed in a transforming environment. The Magritte quotient in films such as this raises the question of whether Magritte-ness (for want of a better term) is a quality unique to René Magritte or a component of the general Belgian character. Jonathan Meades insists on the latter in an excellent film of his own about Belgium.

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Alepha (1980) is more Surrealism, which in this case brings to mind the animated films of Piotr Kamler. Naked figures drift over landscapes filled with ambulatory spheres, vast spikes and other structures. Where Kamler favoured electronic soundtracks by Luc Ferrari and Bernard Parmegiani, Frydman has regular collaborator Alain Pierre provide a score of electronic drones.

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La Photographie (1983) is the first of two short films set in the 19th century. This one is little more than an anecdote, with a bored family forced to remain motionless while their photograph is taken, a process that lasts for the entire duration of the film. Outside the studio we see a Jules Verne wonderland of new inventions—dirigibles, rapid transport, electric light, typewriters and so on—where the frenetic activity contrasts with the inertia of the photographic process.

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Le Cheval de Fer (1984) is another photographic anecdote, this time concerning the wager prompted by an argument about whether a horse’s legs left the ground when it was galloping (and if so, at what point). The argument was famously settled by Eadweard Muybridge who invented a system to photographically record animal locomotion, thus paving the way for cinema, and for film animation.

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Les Effaceurs (1991) is Surrealism of a dark and disturbing kind with people urgently trying to scrub away their facial features.

Also on Frydman’s channel is La Sequence Silverstein (2000), a short science-fiction scenario which he wrote but didn’t direct. This one is live action and with dialogue in unsubtitled French. It not bad but I prefer the animations.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Raoul Servais: Courts-Métrages
Scarabus, a film by Gérald Frydman
L’Araignéléphant
Le labyrinthe and Coeur de secours
Chronopolis by Piotr Kamler

More Isles of the Dead

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Die Toteninsel by Georg Janny.

Arnold Böcklin’s masterpiece, The Isle of the Dead, is a perennial source of fascination here, in part for the way the picture has fascinated other artists, writers, film-makers, etc, for the past 140 years. Something about the image compels people to rework it according to their own predilections, or to incorporate it into a narrative. Böcklin began this process himself, painting five different versions from 1880 to 1886, one of which was lost during the Second World War. The final version, which is now at the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, seems to be the favourite among the copyists. Toteninsel.net is a site devoted to cataloguing the influence of the picture but despite considerable thoroughness they don’t seem to have added this watercolour homage by Georg Janny (1864–1935), an Austrian artist and scenic designer.

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Toteninsel (c. 1905) by Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach.

They do have an entry for Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s painting but not the painting itself which is a surprising reworking of the Leipzig version. An ostensibly Greek island has gained a domineering portico in an Egyptian style. Böcklin was Swiss but his paintings made a huge impression on the younger generation of German and Austrian artists.

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Toteninsel (nach Böcklin) (1975) by HR Giger.

Diefenbach’s picture reminds me of a favourite variation by another Swiss artist, HR Giger, who painted two homages to the Leipzig version in the 1970s. One of these is a fairly close copy, albeit without the funeral boat, and with the addition of Giger’s usual biomechanical details. The other version adds an industrial structure to the stand of cypresses. This is a hatch from the rear of a German refuse vehicle which had provided Giger with a subject for several paintings in his Passagen series. The Surrealist juxtaposition is worthy of Magritte (who also alluded to Böcklin in The Annunciation), drawing a parallel with bodily interment and waste disposal.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Isles of the Dead
A Picture to Dream Over: The Isle of the Dead
The Isle of the Dead in detail
Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead

Max Ernst’s favourites

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The cover for the Max Ernst number of View magazine (April, 1942) that appears in Charles Henri Ford’s View: Parade of the Avant-Garde was one I didn’t recall seeing before. This was a surprise when I’d spent some time searching for back issues of the magazine. The conjunction of Ernst with Buer, one of the perennially popular demons drawn by Louis Le Breton for De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, doubles the issue’s cult value in my eyes. I don’t know whether the demon was Ernst’s choice but I’d guess so when many of the De Plancy illustrations resemble the hybrid creatures rampaging through Ernst’s collages. Missing from the Ford book is the spread below which uses more De Plancy demons to decorate lists of the artist’s favourite poets and painters. I’d have preferred a selection of favourite novelists but Ford was a poet himself (he also co-wrote an early gay novel with Parker Tyler, The Young and Evil), and the list is still worth seeing.

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Poets: Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Hölderlin, Alfred Jarry, Edgar Allan Poe, George Crabbe, Guillaume Apollinaire, Walt Whitman, Comte de Lautréamont, Robert Browning, Arthur Rimbaud, William Blake, Achim von Arnim, Victor Hugo, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lewis Carroll, Novalis, Heinrich Heine, Solomon (presumably the author of the Song of Solomon).

Painters: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Giovanni Bellini, Hieronymus Bosch, Matthias Grünewald, Albrecht Altdorfer, Georges Seurat, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Baldung, Vittore Carpaccio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Cosimo Tura, Carlo Crivelli, Giorgio de Chirico, Henri Rousseau, Francesco del Cossa, Piero di Cosimo, NM Deutsch (Niklaus Manuel), Vincent van Gogh.

I’ve filled out the names since some of the typography isn’t easy to read. Some of the choices are also uncommon, while one of them—NM Deutsch—is not only a difficult name to search for but the attribution has changed in recent years. The list of poets contains few surprises but it’s good to see that Poe made an impression on Ernst; the choice of painters is less predictable. Bruegel, Bosch and Rousseau are to be expected, and the same goes for the German artists—Grünewald, Baldung—whose work is frequently grotesque or erotic. But I wouldn’t have expected so many names from the Italian Renaissance, and Seurat is a genuine surprise. As for Ernst’s only living contemporary, Giorgio de Chirico, this isn’t a surprise at all but it reinforces De Chirico’s importance. If you removed Picasso from art history De Chirico might be the most influential painter of the 20th century; his Metaphysical works had a huge impact on the Dada generation, writers as well as artists, and also on René Magritte who was never a Dadaist but who lost interest in Futurism when he saw a reproduction of The Song of Love (1914). Picasso’s influence remains rooted in the art world while De Chirico’s disquieting dreams extend their shadows into film and literature, so it’s all the more surprising that this phase of his work was so short lived. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Viewing View
De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal
Max Ernst album covers
Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier

Weekend links 517

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Edward James by René Magritte; La Reproduction Interdite (1937).

• “James was filmed in the late 1970s, striding round Las Pozas in a sweater and a tattered dressing-gown, surmounted by parrots (The Secret Life of Edward James can be seen on YouTube). When asked what motivated him, he replied: ‘Pure megalomania!’ He was having his second childhood, he said, though he wasn’t sure the first had ever ended.” Mike Jay on lifelong Surrealist, Edward James (1907–1984), and the concrete fantasia he built in the Mexican jungle.

• “I found the roots of electronic music in a cupboard!” Musician Paul Purgas (one half of Emptyset) on the discovery of early electronic music from India’s National Institute Of Design. Related: Purgas talks about his discovery with Patrick Clarke.

• RIP Phil May. Here’s The Pretty Things in their guise as psych band “Electric Banana” for an appearance in What’s Good for the Goose (1969). A decent moment in an otherwise terrible film.

• Music is a memory machine: David Toop explores how the transmission of music between disparate cultures can be a tool against populism and prejudice.

• Kraftwerk’s remarkable journey, and where it took us: Bob Boilen and Geeta Dayal discuss the tanzmusik of Düsseldorf.

• At Dangerous Minds: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy: Fifty years ago The Cockettes turned drag upside down.

Hua Hsu on the secret lives of fungi: “They shape the world—and offer lessons for how to live in it”.

• The great writer who never wrote: Emma Garman on the flamboyant Stephen Tennant.

• Cult 1998 PlayStation game LSD: Dream Emulator is finally playable in English.

Jim Jupp of Ghost Box records talks about the Intermission compilation album.

Jonathan Moodie on psychoactive cinema and sacred animation.

Alex Barrett on where to begin with Akira Kurosawa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Skeletons.

Skeleton Makes Good (1982) by Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band | Red Skeletons (1996) by Coil | Kids Will Be Skeletons (2003) by Mogwai

Salvador Dalí’s Maze

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Maurice Yves Sandoz (1892–1958) was a Swiss composer and writer who published a handful of works of fantastic fiction, none of which are especially well-known today. One of these, a novel entitled Le Labyrinthe (1945), will be familiar to most people via the film version directed by William Cameron Menzies in 1953, Menzies’ final effort in a chequered directing career. The Maze is a low-budget horror film that was shot in 3-D, and which works well for the most part, at least until its rather absurd ending. I hadn’t heard about the novel until a recent conversation with the knowledgeable Mr TjZ during which he mentioned that Salvador Dalí had illustrated Sandoz’s novel when it was republished by Doubleday, Doran in 1945. Dalí illustrated a number of novels throughout his career but The Maze is one of the few original works (as opposed to a reprint of a classic), the fruit of Sandoz’s social connections with the art world. 1945 was the year that Dalí’s brand of Surrealism was fully embraced by America—he was working on Hitchcock’s Spellbound at this time—so it’s surprising that Sandoz’s novel isn’t better known. Dalí also provided illustrations for two collections of Sandoz’s short stories: Fantastic Memories (1944) and On the Verge (1950).

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I haven’t seen a copy of the novel so the illustrations here are no doubt wrongly sequenced. Secondhand copies of the Dalí Sandoz titles aren’t as expensive as you’d imagine so I’m tempted to track down copies. I’m also curious to know how the novel compares to the film. Thanks to TjZ for the tip!

(And having written the above, I notice from my tags for the post that I’d linked to copies of the short story illustrations in a weekend posting several years ago. Among other things, this blog is a useful memory jolt. But The Maze was definitely news.)

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