Weekend links 547

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Anti-Vanitas (2018) by Carrie Ann Baade.

• RIP Richard Corben, an artist whose work I wasn’t always keen on but whose enthusiasm for pulp weirdness and cosmic horror was matched by a pulp vitality of his own. Corben’s Den was the first story in the first issue of Heavy Metal, a strip in which Den’s ever-present penis provided some rare equality of nudity in American comics. Corben was also a lifelong Lovecraftian; his 1972 adaptation of The Rats in the Walls is one of the earliest Lovecraft-derived comic strips.

• “Wit was the great man’s defence. Once, crossing Leicester Square with a friend, he looked up and saw a cinema marquee advertising a new film: Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them. Coward turned to his friend and said: ‘I don’t see why not. Everyone else has.'” Philip Hoare on Noël Coward’s private lives: the photographs that could have landed him in jail.

• The end of the year brings the lists: Strange Flowers’ Secret Satan, 2020 is a guide to a surfeit of delectable volumes, while at 3 Quarks Daily Dave Maier selects his favourite ambient music of the year.

It’s not an easy life, but for Layne it is better than the alternative. “There is a generation of writers who think that it is a perfectly acceptable thing to accumulate a couple of hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt and go write “takes”—contrary opinion on things like ‘Why Dogs Are Actually The Worst Pet.’” None of it is new, he says, “it’s what people were doing when Rome burned.” But it has left us worse off, he says.

“I feel like we are post-language now,” he says. “Things are more symbolic. The relationship between words and facts and objectivity and their impact seems to have separated to the point where most of the writing that I see, especially on something like Twitter, is by people baffled that people don’t get what they are trying to say. It’s depressing.”

Dominic Rushe on how Ken Layne created an alternative to clickbait in the desert

• “Underworlds, otherworlds, so many passageways on this earth to elsewheres, especially during these weeks of the year.” Nina MacLaughlin on The Shadows below the Shadows.

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of 2020. Thanks again for the link here!

• The week in strange worlds: The Strange World of Colossive Press, and The Strange World of Robbie Basho.

• The Images Wish To Speak: An interview with artist Carrie Ann Baade.

Jackson Arn on why so many filmmakers have paid homage to Pieter Bruegel.

Physicists nail down the “Magic Number” that shapes the Universe.

Dreams, Built By Hand

Shadow (1990) by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan | Shadows (1994) by Pram | Shadow Of A Twisted Hand Across My House (2001) by I.E.M.

Richard Williams’ Christmas Carol

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It’s easy to loathe the teeth-grinding sentimentality of Charles Dickens’ seasonal tale, as well as its subtext which isn’t so far removed from Emperor Ming’s instruction to his cowed populace in Flash Gordon: “All creatures shall make merry…under pain of death.” Yet as a ghost story I prefer A Christmas Carol to the sketchier The Signal-Man, and I’ve always enjoyed this memorable 1971 adaptation from the animation studio of the great Richard Williams.

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Marley’s ghost.

Williams is best known today for his role as animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but prior to this he’d distinguished himself as creator of the florid title sequence for What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), and the animated sections—done in the style of 19th-century engravings and political cartoons—for Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968). Williams’ Christmas Carol owes a similar debt to Victorian graphics, not only to the original story illustrations by John Leech, but also to Gustave Doré’s views of Victorian London, scenes which had earlier influenced the production design for David Lean’s adaptation of Oliver Twist. Williams’ film crams Dickens’ story into 25 minutes but nonetheless manages to maintain the tone of the original to a degree which eludes many feature-length travesties, especially those in which the nightmare squalor of Victorian London is reduced to a shot or two of dressed-down extras. Dickens had first-hand experience of the squalor: Kellow Chesney’s The Victorian Underworld (1970) quotes at length from one of the journeys Dickens took (under police escort) through the notorious St Giles rookery, and his ghost story was intended as much as a warning to the complacency of middle-class Victorian readers as a Christmas celebration.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past.

For me the crucial moment in any adaptation comes when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the figures of Ignorance and Want: in most film versions these tend to be a pair of well-fed child actors in rags and make-up; Williams shows us two grim spectres that owe more to Gerald Scarfe than Walt Disney. Williams is also truer to the ghosts themselves: Dickens describes Jacob Marley unfastening his jaw which falls open then remains that way while he proceeds to speak to his former friend; the Ghost of Christmas Past is the androgynous figure from the story with its ambiguous nature also shown by its shimmering indeterminate outline.

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Ignorance.

Any animated drama relies on its voice actors, and Williams was fortunate to have Alistair Sim (as Scrooge) and Michael Hordern (as Marley) reprising their roles from the 1951 film version, while Michael Redgrave narrates the tale. The film used to be a seasonal fixture of British television, and may still be for all I know (I haven’t owned a TV for years). For the time being it’s on YouTube, of course, with a full-length version here that’s blighted by compression artefacts but is watchable enough. 2012 is the Dickens bicentenary so expect to hear a lot more about the author and his works in the coming year.

Update: The version linked to originally has been deleted. No matter, there’s a much better copy here (for now).

As usual I’ll be away for a few days so the { feuilleton } archive feature will be activated to summon posts from the past below this. Have a good one. And Gruß vom Krampus!

Previously on { feuilleton }
“Who is this who is coming?”

Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller

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I said, “Girl, you drank a lot of Drink Me,
But you ain’t in a Wonderland
You know I might-a be there to greet you, child,
When your trippin’ ship touches sand.”

Donovan, The Trip (1966).

Most of the key texts of the psychedelic period tend to be either non-fiction—Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Leary’s Psychedelic Experience—or spiritual works such as The Tibetan Book of the Dead , the volume upon which Leary’s book is based and which subsequently provided John Lennon with lines for Tomorrow Never Knows. The key fictional work of the era has to be Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a fact that would no doubt have surprised the book’s legions of enthusiastic Victorian readers, never mind its author. Grace Slick created the definitive Alice song with White Rabbit in 1965, written while she was with the Great Society but only recorded properly in 1967 after she’d joined Jefferson Airplane. But Alice’s adventures run a rich seam of Victorian whimsy through the music of 1966 to ’69, especially among the British bands whose lyrics tend to be far more childish and frivolous than their American counterparts. Donovan probably got there first among the Brits with The Trip on his Sunshine Superman album. Among the profusion of later references can be found one-off singles such as Alice in Wonderland (1967) by the Dave Heenan Set (who recorded songs for the Barbarella soundtrack as The Glitterhouse) and Jabberwock/Which Dreamed It? (1968) by Boeing Duveen & The Beautiful Soup, a band whose songwriter is better known today as Hank Wangford.

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