Arzak Rhapsody

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The first appearance of Arzach in Métal Hurlant, 1975.

Arzak (or Arzach, or Harzak, or Harzakc, etc) is one of the oldest of the comic characters created by Moebius, and an enduringly popular one even though the amount of pages devoted to the character is small. Moebius returned to Arzak sporadically after the first strips appeared in Métal Hurlant in 1975, where the first panel of the first story establishes the principal ingredients: the stern and resourceful explorer navigating an alien world on the back of a large white bird. Arzak’s flying companion is often described as a pterodactyl but it’s really a Moebius bird whose ancestors or cousins may be seen elsewhere in the Moebius-verse, notably the character of Deepo from The Incal.

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Arzak Rhapsody is a late entry in the Arzak mythos, a series of 4-minute animated films made for French TV in 2002, all of which were written by Moebius. The animation is crude when compared to René Laloux’s Moebius-designed Time Masters (1982), but the Moebius aesthetic is present throughout, from the desert landscapes of his early strips to the glowing crystals of his later work. The stories recycle moments from the comics, most of which concern Arzak evading one of the many lethal hazards presented by the flora and fauna of the place named in the animations as “Desert B”. All 14 episodes may be viewed here with the superfluous narration translated into English. Now when do we get to see Time Masters on blu-ray?

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Captive, a film by René Laloux
The horror
Chute Libre science fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: The Lovecraft Special

Fracture by Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi

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Fracture (1977) is a short animated film from France by the Brizzi Brothers (Paul and Gaëtan), a duo better known for their work on feature-length animated films such as Asterix versus Caesar (1985), and a number of films for Disney. Fracture is their earliest work, and isn’t remotely Disney-like, delivering an SF/fantasy scenario of alien inexplicabilities that makes it an animated counterpart of the comic strips that were running in Métal Hurlant (and its US counterpart, Heavy Metal) in the late 1970s. (The Brizzi Brothers’ most recent works have been comic books so I’d be surprised if Fracture didn’t have comics influence.)

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Comics and animation have a considerable advantage over film and TV in being able to avoid the commercial imperatives that explain away mysteries and make the alien too familiar. Animation doesn’t exploit this advantage as often as it might so examples such as Fracture are all the more rare and valuable. The Brizzi Brothers’ film may not be as thoroughly strange and inexplicable as Piotr Kamler’s masterpiece, Chronopolis (1983), but it has its moments. As a bonus, the soundtrack is lifted from albums by Tangerine Dream and Edgar Froese which have been monopolising my waking hours for the past two weeks.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Captive, a film by René Laloux
Continu-discontinu 2010, a film by Piotr Kamler
L’Araignéléphant
Le labyrinthe and Coeur de secours
Chronopolis by Piotr Kamler

Weekend links 240

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The Death of Chatterton (2014) by Kehinde Wiley.

• Mixes of the week (and the week before that): The Conjurer’s Hexmas: Second Rite by SeraphicManta; Secret Thirteen Mix 140 by Deaf Center; Best of 2014: A Highly Opinionated Mix by Robin The Fog.

• Never mind Music for Airports, how about Music for Neurosurgery? The Tegos Tapes Edits are extracts from “12 hours of unheard Vangelis music soundtracking films of various surgical operations”.

• “It was one of the first magazines that, with science-fiction and comics together, proposed comics for adults.” Aug Stone on 40 years of publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés and Métal Hurlant.

• Zinesters Do It on the Photocopier: Stephanie Schroeder on the Queer Zine Archive Project. Related: Holy Titclamps by Larry-bob Roberts.

A Year In The Country reached the end of its 365 posts. The archive is well worth a browse.

• “These people love to collect radioactive glass. Are they nuts?” asks Ben Marks.

• Think before you share: 86 viral images from 2014 that were totally fake.

• The Anti-Tolkien: Peter Bebergal on Michael Moorcock.

• Extracts from Alan Bennett‘s diary for 2014.

John Cage 4’33” Autotune

Alpha (1976) by Vangelis | Reve (1979) by Vangelis | L’Enfant (1979) by Vangelis

The Captive, a film by René Laloux

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The feature films of French animator René Laloux are the closest thing to cinematic equivalents of comics magazine Métal Hurlant. Laloux’s collaboration with Roland Topor, Fantastic Planet (1973), is familiar to Anglophone audiences but fewer people are aware of Time Masters (1982) and Gandahar (1988), two more science fiction films made with Moebius and Philippe Caza respectively. Time Masters looks marvellous but the story (based on a novel by Stefan Wul) lacks the strangeness of Fantastic Planet. Gandahar,  based on a novel by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, I’ve yet to see but anyone searching for it should be aware that the version dubbed into English (and retitled The Light Years) dumped Gabriel Yared’s score, and had a sexual encounter censored by the usual rabble of prudish American producers.

The Captive (1988) continues the collaboration with Philippe Caza being a 7-minute adaptation of Caza’s comic story Equinoxe (1982). The music for this one is also by Gabriel Yared, and this copy at YouTube includes English subtitles. For comparison, the comic story is here. Of the two I prefer the comic but then I’ve always enjoyed Caza’s work.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les Temps Morts by René Laloux

Sorcerer: Druillet and Friedkin

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Earlier this week I finally got my hands on the recent Blu-ray reissue of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977). Having only ever seen the film on the travesty of a DVD that appeared in 1998 I’m going to enjoy watching this at the weekend. Brits ought to know that (for now) the only edition available seems to be the US version although it is region-free, and if you buy from a UK film dealer on eBay you won’t get hit with import duties.

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Sorcerer designs by Philippe Druillet.

By coincidence, Sorcerer has a minor connection with Philippe Druillet, although his contribution was so minimal that there’s not even a mention of his name on the obsessively detailed Sorcerer film blog. If you’ve seen the film (or Henri-George Clouzot’s equally good earlier version, Wages of Fear), or even read George Arnaud’s novel, you’ll know that the crucial part of the story concerns a potentially suicidal expedition by four men in two trucks, each of which are carrying crates of nitroglycerine through hazardous terrain to the site of an oil-well fire. Friedkin and writer Walon Green expand the story without aping any of Clouzot’s set-pieces (something few directors today would resist), while Friedkin adds some details of his own, notably in the design of the trucks which have distinct “faces” and their own names—”Lazaro” and “Sorcerer”—hence the film’s title which also nods misleadingly to The Exorcist. The truck design was Druillet’s contribution although there’s very little of this apparent on-screen, understandably so when his sketches show fantastic designs that would have no place in the dishevelled jungle town where much of the film takes place. Later sketches by production designer John Box can be found at Wikipedia.

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Sorcerer designs by Philippe Druillet.

What interests me most about this connection is its being another example of the surreptitious influence of French comics on American cinema during the 70s and 80s. Moebius is the most obvious example of this but it’s also there in the influence of Métal Hurlant/Heavy Metal on the look of Blade Runner, and in Enki Bilal’s design of Molasar in Michael Mann’s The Keep. Since the 1980s we’ve seen a greater industrialisation of conceptual art for the cinema, as a result of which directors are less inclined to look outside Hollywood for their stylists. And now that the treadmill of superhero franchises is grinding away relentlessly, Continental comics and their creators are even less visible than before.

Probably the oddest thing about the Sorcerer/Druillet connection is that the commercial failure of the film in 1977 has often been laid at the door of Star Wars, the advent of George Lucas’s dismal saga being regarded, with some justification, as the opening of the gate to the barbarian hordes. (Friedkin’s film might also have fared better had it not been titled as though it were an Exorcist sequel.) The irony here is that George Lucas happened to be a big Druillet enthusiast, although there’s little evidence of this in his films; in addition to writing an appreciation for Les Univers de Druillet in 2003, he also commissioned Druillet to create a one-off piece of Star Wars art in the late 70s. Knowing this it’s tempting to imagine Lucas creating a very different kind of science-fiction film in 1977, one with some Continental weirdness at its core. But when the world has already been deprived of Jodorowsky’s Dune it’s best not to dwell too much on might-have-beens.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ô Sidarta: a film about Philippe Druillet
Lovecraft: Démons et Merveilles
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Philippe Druillet album covers
Druillet’s vampires
Salammbô illustrated
Druillet meets Hodgson