The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine

feldman.jpg

A final Orson Welles post for this week of Wellsiana. Welles was a familiar face on UK television in the early 70s, mostly for the notorious sherry adverts but he was also popular on chat shows. For Anglia Television he presented a number of short story adaptations in Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries, but had nothing else to do with the series. His appearance on The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971) is unusual for being an acting role in a sketch series, with Welles presenting and narrating a film about the preservation of endangered British aristocrats. There’s some crossover here with the London sketches Welles had filmed a couple of years before (see yesterday’s post): Welles played an English Lord in one of those sequences, and one of his co-actors was Tim Brooke-Taylor, a writer on Comedy Machine.

I’d hope that Marty Feldman needs no introduction. Most people know him as Igor in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein but in the late 60s and early 70s he was almost another member of the Monty Python team, writing and performing in the pre-Python At Last the 1948 Show (the origin of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch). The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, which ran for 14 episodes, is very Pythonesque—there’s even a Terry Gilliam title sequence—but the format is much more traditional. Besides Orson Welles, a highlight of this episode is Spike Milligan reading some of his nonsense poetry, and performing in a sketch about competing undertakers. Watch it here:

The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine Part 1 | Part 2

Previously on { feuilleton }
Orson Welles: The One-Man Band
The Immortal Story, a film by Orson Welles
Welles at 100
The Fountain of Youth
The Complete Citizen Kane
Return to Glennascaul, a film by Hilton Edwards
Screening Kafka
The Panic Broadcast

The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn

mukkinese1.jpg

I probably should have posted this when the Monty Python reunion shows were in progress since the first time I saw it was as the support film for a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1974.

The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn (1956) is one of the few film outings for The Goons, the radio-comedy troupe who famously influenced the Pythons and The Beatles. Joseph Sterling was the director. The 27-minute film features a diminished Goons cast: regulars Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, with Dick Emery replacing Harry Secombe; all three have multiple roles, as they did in the Goons, and Emery did later in his TV shows. It’s a cheap production but packed with silly sight gags, some of which draw attention to the film medium: no wonder the Pythons liked it. Most surprising of all is seeing Michael Deeley listed as producer; Deeley started out producing lowly fare such as this but went on to produce some very notable British films including The Man Who Fell to Earth and Blade Runner.

mukkinese2.jpg

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film

Graham Chapman’s opinion

chapman.jpg

The announcement this week that the surviving members of the Monty Python team were getting back together has caused an understandable flurry of excitement. This isn’t something I share despite having the entire run of the Python films and TV series on DVD. I usually feel the same way about band reunions: rather than revisit past glories I prefer to see people doing something new. That said, it would be nice if Eric Idle would allow a DVD release of his Rutland Weekend Television series. His low-budget Python spin-off was broadcast once in the 1970s and hasn’t been seen since, to the continual annoyance of co-star and collaborator Neil Innes.

Graham Chapman will be absent from the reunion, of course. His polemic for Channel 4’s Opinions has nothing to do with Monty Python beyond his presence but it’s something I’ve always remembered so it’s good to find it on YouTube. Opinions was a run of half-hour pieces-to-camera by a different person each week; I saw this one when it was broadcast in 1984 but don’t recall any of the others. Chapman’s contribution was memorable at the time for his talking directly and unapologetically about alternatives to heterosexual relations, and what we’d now call hetero-normativity. This would hardly raise an eyebrow today but in 1984 attitudes towards gay people in the UK were growing increasingly harsh under a right-wing government, a virulent press, and the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Chapman’s plea for universal tolerance wouldn’t have made much of an impression but it was good to hear someone talking this way, even if only for 30 minutes on the channel with the least amount of viewers. Chapman was the first person I saw talking on TV about being gay at a time (the 1970s) when few people in public life dared to admit such a thing. His cheerful example was a great riposte to an atmosphere of widespread fear and loathing. His Opinions piece is witty, silly, over-exuberant (as his acting often was), and self-reflexive in the manner the Pythons made their own. You also get to see his partner, David Sherlock, in a variety of background roles. Watch it here.

Weekend links 142

bowie.jpg

Gratifying this week to see album cover art under discussion even if the heat-to-light ratio was as unbalanced as it usually is when pop culture is the subject. Jonathan Barnbrook, who also designed the Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) packaging for David Bowie, wrote about the thinking behind the new cover on his blog. (And for the time being let’s note that this is still only a cover design, we don’t know what else is on its way.)

For my part I’ll point out that the artist-as-cover-image is the great cliché of album design, and the bigger the name the more the rule applies; Neville Brody complains about this in the first book of his work, as does Storm Thorgerson in the Hipgnosis books. In Bowie’s case the rule has been applied almost universally since his debut album in 1967, the only variations being illustrational ones or slight dodges like having his feet appear on the front of Lodger and his back facing the viewer on Earthling. Consequently the new design is a radical gesture from an artist who could have got away with a photo of himself du jour. By way of contrast, consider that Rod Stewart is a year older than David Bowie and presented the world with this artefact in October 2012.

Related: Hard Format responds to the cover, Chris Roberts on “Picasso resurrected in a Rolf Harris era“, and Alex Petridis on The inside story of how David Bowie made The Next Day.

The Quicksilver typeface, designed by Dean Morris when he was only 16, bought by Letraset and now an indelible feature of pop design from the 1970s. Morris describes his experience here (“they shunned rapidographs!”) and collects examples of the print history here.

When the days are short, we are closest to the medieval world. To the avoidance of mirrors where death improves our portraits every morning with a few more lines and shadows. What would once have been a sermon, a conjuring of hellfire, a phantom slide show, is now an entertainment. But before we can begin again, we have to kick free of the embrace of our inconvenient predecessors, that compost legion of the anonymous dead. They come uninvited, requiring us to sign up for what the late Derek Raymond called the general contract: a brief turn in the light, then extinction. Eternal darkness. How to live with such knowledge? William Burroughs admired the unswerving bleakness of Beckett’s gaze, the way he reduced compensatory illusions to zero. Nowhere left to crawl. And nothing to crawl on. Last breath is last breath. Stare into the abyss and the abyss will stare right back.

Iain Sinclair reviews The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead by Carl Watkins

Broadcast’s James Cargill on Morricone, Minidiscs and Scoring Berberian Sound Studio. Related: Melmoth the Wanderer posts a new mix, The Curious Episode of the Wizard’s Skull, and more spooky sounds are on their way from The Haxan Cloak.

• A Firm Turn Toward the Objective: Joanne Meister on meeting the great Swiss designer Josef Müller-Brockmann.

duchess.jpg

Twitter user @thisnorthernboy reworked Paul Emsley’s portrait of Kate Middleton. @barnbrook approved.

• The Beatles of Comedy: David Free on the Monty Python team.

• The history of the London Underground poster.

Impossible Architecture by Filip Dujardin.

• At Pinterest: Art Dolls & Sculpture

• Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing album has been on repeat play this week: Warm Leatherette/Walking In The Rain | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) | Demolition Man

Gilliam’s shaver and Bovril by electrocution

pears.jpg

Pears Soap ad, Illustrated London News, March 16, 1895.

I’ve been working feverishly this week to complete page designs for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities which will be published next year by HarperCollins. This is a sequel of sorts to 2003’s Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases to which I was also a contributor and designer. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer are editing the new collection, and Jeff has posted a couple of teaser introductions to the contents here and here. Gabriel in yesterday’s comments mentioned Terry Gilliam’s animations for the Monty Python TV series, something I was reminded of today whilst leafing through a 1968 collection of old advertising graphics looking for suitable pictures. Victorian Advertisements was compiled by Leonard de Vries and Ilonka van Amstel, and its Pears Soap ad (above) is obviously the source of Gilliam’s animation (below) showing a man lathering his face then beheading himself with a straight razor, a gag which features in both the TV series and the first Monty Python feature film And Now For Something Completely Different.

gilliam.jpg

And Now For Something Completely Different (1971).

It’s easy to see what would have attracted Gilliam to the De Vries book when it’s filled with bizarre or grotesque ads like the Bovril one below; someone evidently decided that the meaty drink ought to be promoted via the novelty of electricity.

bovril.jpg

Bovril ad from The Graphic, Christmas number, 1891.

De Vries features many ads for electrical products, not all of them genuine or even likely:

Pseudo-science began to play the part it still plays in therapeutic advertising. Electric light was, by the end of the century, being installed in theatres and restaurants and in some private houses. To what other uses could the magnetic fluid be put? Electricity was the new magic and all kinds of quarters began to exploit its possibilities—and impossibilities. The Medical Battery Company Limited, of Oxford Street, assured the public that its Electropathic Belt had “restored thousands of sufferers to health and vigour”, and had “proved an inestimable blessing to the weak and languid”. It was particularly recommended for “weak men suffering from the effect of youthful errors”. Did the weak men in question wear the contraption in bed? Women also could benefit by it, and one is a little surprised to find this and other remedies for “female irregularities” so frankly discussed. An Electric Corset was the “Very Thing” for ladies. One can only wonder how the batteries if there were any operated. And what could possibly be meant by an “electric” towel, and how could failing sight be cured by an “eye battery”?

There’s also an Electric Hair Brush which gives “hope for the bald” without explaining how it differs from an ordinary brush. Several of the pieces in the new Lambshead volume will be exploring similarly eccentric territory. Watch this space for further details.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Portuguese Diseases
Pasticheur’s Addiction
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk