Weekend links 301

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The Music from the Balconies (1984) by Edward Ruscha.

• At The Quietus: High-Rise director Ben Wheatley runs through his favourite films. Kudos for mentioning Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) among the more familiar fare, a nightmarish masterwork that everyone should watch at least once. On the same site, author Joe R. Lansdale also lists some favourite films while discussing the new TV series of his Hap and Leonard books.

Electric Hintermass (Sound Apart) by Hintermass, a track from The Apple Tree, their debut album on the Ghost Box label.

Michael Mann’s Heat: “A complex, stylistically supreme candidate for one of the most impressive films of the Nineties”.

• Despair Fatigue: David Graeber on how [political] hopelessness grew boring, and what happens next.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 541 by Tortoise, and Blowing Up The Workshop 56 by Eric Lanham.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: “Some books (1961–1975) that either faked ingesting LSD or did”.

• David Litvinoff again: “Was he only an opportunistic hustler?” asks David Collard.

John Carpenter’s The Thing rescored with one of the director’s Lost Themes.

Overlooked: a book by Marina Willer about the manhole covers of London.

• Pam Grossman (words) and Tin Can Forest (art) ask What is a Witch?

• A long way down: Oliver Wainwright on JG Ballard and High-Rise.

• A conversation with designer and typographer Erik Spiekermann.

• The BFI compiles a list of “The 30 Best LGBT Films of All Time“.

• Decoding the spiritual symbolism of artist Hilma af Klint.

Sabat Magazine

Heat (1983) by Soft Cell | The Heat (1985) by Peter Gabriel | Heat Miser (1994) by Massive Attack

Weekend links 294

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Painting by Alex Tavoularis.

• There are silent films, and then there is Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927), a five-and-a-half hour historical drama following the emperor’s life from boyhood to the invasion of Italy. The word “epic” is overused but Gance’s film demands the description: in addition to the recreation of huge battles and scenes from the French Revolution, cinema screening required three projectors for sequences which are either multi-screen or three times the width of the Academy ratio. The film was revived in the early 1980s after an extensive restoration by Kevin Brownlow, but Napoleon is still more talked about than seen so news of a forthcoming digital release by the BFI is very welcome indeed. The poster above is from this collection which includes more information about the film and its troubled history. Related: a trailer for a 2012 screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

• “His films broke with traditional production methods, having virtually no shooting script and capturing the freshness of their genesis.” RIP Jacques Rivette. In 1998 Frédéric Bonnaud talked to Rivette about the director’s cinematic likes and dislikes. Elsewhere, Jonathan Romney speculates that Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) “might be the only film in which the story is dreamed by a passing cat”.

Strange Flowers‘ selects 16 books for (what’s left of) 2016. Stand-out for me is Aubrey Beardsley: A Catalogue Raisonné by Linda Gertner Zatlin which will be published in May. Two cased volumes, a total of 1104 pages, and a price tag of $300.

It’s a powerful trope, but it also risks trading one stigma for another: ‘‘Phobia’’ is now so embedded in our language that it’s easy to forget that it is a metaphor comparing bigots to the mentally ill. The comparison also has the effect of excusing those Americans—like certain presidential candidates in the 2016 race—who wield prejudices strategically. It’s not your fault if you get sick. But hating people is a choice.

Amanda Hess on how “-phobic” became a weapon in the identity wars

• Delving into the shadowy world of occult art: Priscilla Frank talks to Pam Grossman about her Language of the Birds exhibition. Related: “The occult never quite goes away,” says Kenneth Anger.

• “It was a magic day in our happy, young lives.” A proposal for a monument in Baltimore celebrating the final scene of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos.

• Mixes of the week: Wrap Up Warm Mix by Moon Wiring Club, Secret Thirteen Mix 175 by Inner8, and FACT mix 533 by Roly Porter.

• “He was less an architect than a Busby Berkeley with a penchant for Black Masses.” Jonathan Meades on Albert Speer.

• More film posters: Benjamin Lee on the compromises that have made contemporary posters “drab and uninspiring”.

• The vast and ghostly landscape of “Britain’s only desert”: photographs by Robert Walker.

Wyrd Daze, Lvl2 Issue 5, is free and brimming with the weird.

• The films of Michael Mann in 44 shots.

Laurie Anderson‘s favourite films.

Flamingo (1959) by Henry Mancini | Moon Occults The Sun (2006) by Espers | The Moon Occults Saturn at Dawn (2015) by Steve Moore

Edgar Froese, 1944–2015

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“I was a big fan of Kraftwerk, Cluster and Harmonia, and I thought the first Neu! album, in particular, was just gigantically wonderful,” admits Bowie. “Looking at that against punk, I had absolutely no doubts where the future of music was going, and for me it was coming out of Germany at that time. I also liked some of the later Can things, and there was an album that I loved by Edgar Froese, Epsilon In Malaysian Pale; it’s the most beautiful, enchanting, poignant work, quite lovely. That used to be the background music to my life when I was living in Berlin.”

David Bowie, Mojo magazine, April 1997

Epsilon In Malaysian Pale was Froese’s second solo album released in September 1975. That month David Bowie was in Los Angeles recording his Station To Station album, the opening of which features phased train sounds that are strikingly similar to those that run through the first side of the Froese album. I’ve never seen this similarity mentioned by Bowie scholars but if there was an influence it’s a good example of the degree to which Tangerine Dream infiltrated the wider culture as much as Can and Neu! (Kraftwerk remain in a league of their own.)

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All you need is Zeit. Cover painting by Edgar Froese.

The influence of Tangerine Dream’s albums on the Ohr and Virgin labels is now so widespread that it’s difficult to compile a definitive list of those who’ve either paid homage or copied the group’s trademark style of extended sequencer runs and phased chords. Offhand I could mention the Ricochet-like tracks on Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Volumes 1 & 2; the many moments on the early Ghost Box albums, one of which samples from Alpha Centauri; and some of Julian Cope’s more out-there recordings from the late 1990s. There’s also all the releases by a group of loosely affiliated musicians dedicated to maintaining the 70s sound of Mellotrons and bouncing sequencers; many of these I’ve yet to hear but I’ve enjoyed the albums by Node and Redshift.

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Tangerine Dream have been a continual fixture in my music listening since I was a teenager; I drew most of The Call of Cthulhu to a soundtrack of Rubycon and Jon Hassell’s Aka/Darbari/Java album. I kept up with them after they departed from Virgin then jumped ship in 1986 after Johannes Schmoelling left the group. The albums continued to proliferate in recent years to an extent that even the Freeman brothers only follow the discography (with some exasperation) up to 1990 in their redoubtable Krautrock tome The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Navigating a late career is a tricky business for a popular musician so you can’t blame Froese for carrying on the project. Those early recordings are the important ones, and he was a crucial component in their creation.

There’s a lot of Froese and TD on YouTube. If you like the early material these are some of the better moments:

Bath Tube Session, 1969: TD in psych-freakout mode. Klaus Schulze on drums, and lots of German heads looking bemused/bored.
Ossiach Lake, 1971: Playing outdoors for the TV cameras.
Paris, 1973: Footage of the group improvising in the manner of the Atem album.
Coventry Cathedral, 1975: Tony Palmer’s film of one of the cathedral concerts which caused them to be banned by the Pope from playing in churches. The original sound on this one is lost so the YT version has edits of the Ricochet album as the soundtrack.
London, 1976: Great film of the Ricochet period. Total synth porn.
Thief, 1981: The opening scene to Michael Mann’s thriller, and one of their best soundtrack moments. In The Wire this month John Carpenter enthuses about the TD score for Sorcerer but I’ve always felt Mann’s crime drama was a better match for their sound.
Warsaw, 1983: A Polish TV recording of the concert documented on the Poland (1984) album.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland

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

Graphic design in Heat

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Amy Brenneman.

In which Neville Brody’s early record sleeves lurk in the midst of a Michael Mann crime drama…

I picked up some cheap DVDs last week, among them a copy of Mann’s Heat (1995) which I hadn’t seen for over ten years. I like Mann best when he’s doing his high-tech thriller thing (although I also have a soft spot for The Keep), and enjoy this one despite its being too long for the thin story and characterisation. Something I’d completely forgotten when re-watching it was the scene where Eady (played by Amy Brenneman), a part-time graphic designer, is on the phone to her bank-robbing boyfriend, played by Robert De Niro. This is one of those cinematic moments where some stray cultural reference that no one is meant to notice leaps to your attention and for a few seconds upsets all interest in plot and dialogue. Offhand I can think of the moment in Alan Pakula’s Presumed Innocent where a copy of a Ramsey Campbell novel is seen on a bookshelf during a conversation. Much worse, since it’s an error as well as a distraction, is Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon being shown onboard the Titanic in James Cameron’s fatuous disaster movie when the real painting has been hanging safe and sound for years in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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In Heat we have a scene in Eady’s apartment where the walls are covered with what I assume are meant to be examples of her design work. 99.9% of the audience will pay no attention to this but anyone with a copy of The Graphic Design of Neville Brody would recognise a number of familiar designs. Something I hadn’t spotted before was the word “FUSE” on the computer screen, Fuse being the name of the experimental typography magazine created in the 1990s by Brody and Jon Wozencroft. On the window to the left of the computer there’s pinned a copy of Brody’s design for Wipe Out, a single by Z’ev on the Fetish label. Brody designed nearly everything for Fetish during the label’s brief existence in the early 1980s, and the most visible Brody examples in this scene are all Fetish designs. This seems an odd choice for a film made in the mid-90s although in an earlier conversation Eady mentions having designed some music CDs. Brody’s later design work was very influential and overshadowed his work for Fetish which I’ve always liked a great deal.

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Wipe Out by Z’ev.

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In another part of Eady’s apartment there’s a large reproduction of the sleeve for a Fetish compilation, The Last Testament.

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While further along the same wall there’s the sleeve for Diddy Wah Diddy by 8 Eyed Spy, yet another Fetish single. On the far right of the shot above there’s a face from one of Brody’s theatre posters which confirms that Mann’s set decorators must have plundered a copy of Brody’s book.

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This isn’t a complaint, of course, I’d commend Mann and co. for their excellent taste, and for having used work by a real graphic designer rather than trying to fake something. It’s even possible to find a tenuous connection between the record sleeves and Mann’s eclectic soundtrack. Many of the Fetish artists—Throbbing Gristle, 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA, Stephen Mallinder—were in the first wave of Industrial music, and Mann briefly uses a great piece by Einstürzende Neubauten from their own Industrial phase. I’d have suggested he also use Blue Heat by Cabaret Voltaire (from an album with another Brody cover) but that’s just my obsessions showing.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Neville Brody and Fetish Records
Alex in the Chelsea Drug Store