Kenneth Anger’s Maldoror

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Kenneth Anger, Topanga Canyon, Composite with Gustave Doré Engraving (1954) by Edmund Teske.

Les Chants de Maldoror, 1951–1952.
16mm; black and white; filmed in Paris and Deauville.

With a hand-held 16mm camera I shot my first series of short haiku. This was my apprenticeship in the marvels that surround us, waiting to be discovered, awake to knowledge and life and whose magical essence is revealed by selection. At 17, | composed my first long poem, a 15 minute suite of images, my black tanka: Fireworks.

I had seen this drama entirely on the screen of my dreams. This vision was uniquely amenable to the instrument that awaited it. With three lights, a black cloth as décor, the greatest economy of means and enormous inner concentration, Fireworks was made in three days.

An example of the direct transfer of a spontaneous inspiration, this film reveals the possibilities of automatic writing on the screen, of a new language that reveals thought; it allows the triumph of the dream.

The wholly intellectual belief of the “icy masters” of cinema in the supremacy of technique recalls, on the literary level, the analytical essays of a Poe or the methods of a Valéry, who said: “I only write to order. Poetry is an assignment.”

At the opposite pole to these creative systems there is the divine inspiration of a Rimbaud or a Lautréamont, prophets of thought. The cinema has explored the northern regions of impersonal stylization; it should now discover the southern regions of personal lyricism; it should have its prophets.

These prophets will restore faith in a “pure cinema” of sensual revelation. They will re-establish the primacy of the image. They will teach us the principles of their faith: that we participate before evaluating. We will give back to the dream its first state of veneration. We will recall primitive mysteries. The future of film is in the hands of the poet and his camera. Hidden away are the followers of a faith in “pure cinema.” even in this unlikely age. They make their modest “fireworks” in secret, showing them from time to time, they pass unnoticed in the glare of the “silver rain” of the commercial cinema. Maybe one of these sparks will liberate the cinema….

Angels exist. Nature provides “the inexhaustible flow of visions of beauty.” It is for the poet, with his personal vision, to “capture” them.

Kenneth Anger—Modesty and the Art of Film, Cahiers du Cinéma no. 5, September 1951

* * *

Little is known about Anger’s activities during the mid-1950s. By 1958 he still had not been able to complete any films in Paris. He held on to his hope of completing Maldoror. His stack of preproduction notes and sketches had grown larger and he had plans to photograph nudes in a graveyard. Several Parisian Surrealists threatened to hand Anger’s head to him if he shot Maldoror. The book’s fluid, dreamlike imagery had been one of the trailblazers of Surrealism, and his detractors felt that a gauche American with a reputation for pop iconography and bold homosexual statement would debase a sacred text.

Bill Landis—Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger, 1995

* * *

I discovered the book when I was quite young. I loved it, put a lot of passion into it. I found people to play the parts. I found settings, gaslit corners, places still had the romantic look of a Second Empire. It was a terrific ambition to make this epic film-poem. I found ways to translate the text’s extraordinary images. I planned to film a mid-nineteenth century story taking place in twentieth century Paris. I filmed “the hymn to the ocean” on the beach at Deauville, with Hightower and members of the Marquis de Cuevas Ballet. They danced in the sea; tables were placed beneath the water line so the dancers could stand on their points. It looked as though they were standing on waves. The people who called themselves “Surrealists” were furious—this group of punks threatened me—they didn’t want a Yank messing round with their sacred text. I just told them to go to hell! I also managed to film the war of the flies and pins. I put bags of pins and dozens of flies into a glass container; revolved the container and filmed in close-up. As the pins dropped the flies zigzagged to escape. In slow motion an impressive image.

Kenneth Anger—Into the Pleasure Dome: The Films of Kenneth Anger, edited by Jayne Pilling & Michael O’Pray, 1989

* * *

The sections of the film that were completed [are] stored in the Cinémathèque Française, but [their] exact whereabouts in the archive is unknown, with no images from the film being currently available for reproduction.

Alice L. Hutchinson—Kenneth Anger, 2004

Previously on { feuilleton }
Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger, 1972
My Surfing Lucifer by Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally

Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague

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“Surrealism is not aesthetics. It is a philosophy,” says Jan Svankmajer in James Marsh’s short (25 mins) portrait for the BBC from 1990. This was broadcast at a time when Svankmajer’s films were receiving more attention in the UK than they had before or since, thanks in part to Channel 4’s screening and funding of animation, and to the late Michael O’Pray, a film writer and champion of avant-garde cinema. O’Pray is the main commentator here apart from Svankmajer himself, and his name was a regular fixture of any writing about Svankmajer or the Brothers Quay in the 1980s. Svankmajer’s films were featured in at least two of the touring programmes of short films that O’Pray put together for Film and Video Umbrella in the late 1980s, so its good to see his enthusiasm memorialised in this way, even if it is stuck on a rather temperamental Korean website. In addition to discussion of the influence of Bohemian emperor Rudolf II on Svankmajer’s work we also see the director filming his latest short, The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia; a rare glimpse behind the camera. (Note: the video wouldn’t load for me but the stream is downloadable if you’re determined to see it.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Svankmajer, Director
Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska
The Torchbearer by Václav Svankmajer

Weekend links 329

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Josef Vyletal borrows figures from Aubrey Beardsley’s Salomé for a Czech poster promoting The Immortal Story (1969) by Orson Welles. Vyletal’s own paintings were often strange and surreal.

Pale Fire is Nabokov’s “great gay comic novel,” says Edmund White. A surprising but not inappropriate reappraisal. White has noted in the past that Nabokov “hated homosexuality” despite having a gay brother and uncle. The portrayal of Charles Kinbote in Pale Fire isn’t unsympathetic if you overlook his being delusional, and possibly insane…

• At Folk Horror Revival: details of the charity donations raised by sales of the Folk Horror Revival books, the first of which featured my David Rudkin essay. A one-day Folk Horror Revival event takes place later this month at the British Museum, London.

• Mixes of the week: The Bug presents Killing Sound Chapter 2: Inner Space, a 2-hour blend of “sci-fi scores, expansive atmospheres and synthesized psychedelia”; Decoded Sundays presents Scanner; Secret Thirteen Mix 197 is by LXV.

Stars Of The Lid unveil a James Plotkin remix of their Music For Twin Peaks Episode #30 Pt. 1. Related: the hype for the new Twin Peaks series gets into gear with a teaser.

• Robert Aickman’s only novel, The Late Breakfasters (1964), is being given its first US publication by Valancourt Books.

• “Don’t dream it, bet it.” Evan J. Peterson on 40 years of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

• Anna von Hausswolff’s sister, Maria, directs a video for Come Wander With Me / Deliverance.

• RIP Michael O’Pray, film writer and curator of many festivals of experimental cinema.

• Oli Warwick talks to electronic musicians about the influence of the late Don Buchla.

Breakfast In Bed (1969) by Dusty Springfield | Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast (1970) by Pink Floyd | Another Breakfast With You (2001) by Ladytron

The Salivation Army, a film by Scott Treleaven

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I think of the area of magic as a metaphor for the homosexual situation. You know, magic which is banned and dangerous, difficult and mysterious. I can see that use of magic in the Cocteau films, in Kenneth Anger and very much in Eisenstein. Maybe it is an uncomfortable, banned area which is disruptive, and maybe it is a metaphor for the gay situation.

Derek Jarman, in conversation with Simon Field and Michael O’Pray, 1985

Derek Jarman’s face appears briefly in The Salivation Army (2002), a short history/memoir by Canadian artist Scott Treleaven concerning This Is The Salivation Army, a zine Treleaven produced with a small group of friends from 1996 to 1999. The film itself is credited as the ninth issue, and makes me sorry to have missed the zine in its original incarnation.

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The season of Jarman films which is currently running in London is entitled Queer Pagan Punk, and will include a screening of Treleaven’s film next month, along with Glitterbug (1994). The phrase “Queer Pagan Punk” encapsulates the ethos of This Is The Salivation Army, and Treleaven’s narration describes the origin of his zine in a familiar sense of unfocused rage, and also the alienation he and his friends felt towards the vapidities and conformity of contemporary gay culture. Being someone who’s always loathed clubbing, and the consumerist drivel that fills so many gay magazines, this is music to my ears; I just wish the zine been around in the 1980s. The shadow of the Temple of Psychic Youth—which was around in the 1980s—hangs heavily over this project; Derek Jarman had his own connections with PTV/TOPY, of course, being an ally of Throbbing Gristle, and later of Coil. The fanzine may have run its course but Treleaven continues to explore queer paganism in his artwork. The Salivation Army can be seen at Vimeo.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
Abrahadabra
The art of Scott Treleaven

In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman

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Extending the recent pagan theme, Ubuweb posts Derek Jarman’s determinedly occult and oneiric film, In the Shadow of the Sun (1980), notable for its soundtrack by Throbbing Gristle. This was the longest of Jarman’s films derived from Super-8 which he made throughout the 1970s between work as a production designer and his feature films. He never saw the low resolution, grain and scratches of Super-8 as a deficiency; on the contrary, for a painter it was a means to achieve with film stock some of the texture of painting. Michael O’Pray described the process and intent behind the film in Afterimage 12 (1985):

In 1973, Jarman shot the central sequences for his first lengthy film, and most ambitious to date, In the Shadow of the Sun, which in fact was not shown publicly until 1980, at the Berlin Film Festival. In the film he incorporated two early films, A Journey to Avebury a romantic landscape film, and The Magician (a.k.a. Tarot). The final sequences were shot on Fire Island in the following year. Fire Island survives as a separate film. In this period, Jarman had begun to express a mythology which he felt underpinned the film. He writes in Dancing Ledge of discovering “the key to the imagery that I had created quite unconsciously in the preceding months”, namely Jung’s Alchemical Studies and Seven Sermons to the Dead. He also states that these books “gave me the confidence to allow my dream-images to drift and collide at random”. The themes and ideas found in Jubilee, The Angelic Conversation, The Tempest and to some extent in Imagining October are powerfully distilled in In the Shadow of the Sun. Jarman’s obsession with the sun, fire and gold (which spilled over in the paintings he exhibited at the ICA in 1984) and an ancient mythology and poetics are compressed in In the Shadow of the Sun with its rich superimposition and painterly textures achieved through the degeneration “caused by the refilming of multiple images”. Jarman describes some of the ideas behind In the Shadow of the Sun:

“This is the way the Super-8s are structured from writing: the buried word-signs emphasize the fact that they convey a language. There is the image and the word, and the image of the word. The ‘poetry of fire’ relies on a treatment of word and object as equivalent: both are signs; both are luminous and opaque. The pleasure of Super-8 is the pleasure of seeing language put through the magic lantern.” Dancing Ledge p.129

Ubuweb also has some of the short films which were used as raw material for the longer work: Journey to Avebury (1971) (with an uncredited soundtrack by Coil), the Kenneth Anger-esque Garden of Luxor (1972), and Ashden’s Walk on Møn (1973).

Update: The Ubuweb films have been removed so I’ve taken out the links. The one for In the Shadow of the Sun now goes to a copy at YouTube.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Derek Jarman at the Serpentine
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman