Weekend links 611

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Let The Power Fall (1981) by Robert Fripp. A postcard included with the original vinyl release of the Let The Power Fall album.

Exposures 1977–1983 is the title of another wallet-busting CD/DVD/blu-ray box which will be released by DGM at the end of May. Unlike the previous King Crimson sets this one will be devoted to Robert Fripp’s first run of solo releases, covering the albums that emerged from the artistic campaign he described at the time as “The Drive to 1981”: Exposure (1979), God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners (1980), The League Of Gentlemen (1981), and Let The Power Fall (1981). If you’re as interested as I am in this period of Fripp’s career then this is all very exciting. Exposure has been reissued several times over the years, and exists in three different “editions” featuring alternate mixes and song variations, but the other albums have been unavailable in any form for decades, possibly as a result of the turmoil caused by the mismanagement and eventual collapse of the EG label. In addition to the reissues the box will include live recordings, a League Of Gentlemen Peel session plus a substantial quantity of Frippertronics material, including the loops that were recorded for Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Fripp retained a credit for his contribution to Regiment but the results are so far down in the mix that they’re easy to miss. Related: The Drive to 1981: Robert Fripp’s Art-Rock Classic Exposure.

• Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Valloisin, Paris, is currently creeping out visitors to Strange Aeons—We will meet you there, an exhibition by Peybak (Peyman Barabadi and Babak Alebrahim Dehkordi) that borrows its title from HP Lovecraft and includes a number of creatures, “neither embryos nor chimeras”, which may be found prostrate and breathing on the gallery floor.

• New music: Sub Zero, in which Kevin Richard Martin returns to the subterranean/subaqueous/subarctic zones he charted on his Isolationism and Driftworks compilations in the 1990s; plus The Carrier by Large Plants, an album of “psych rock belters” coming soon on the Ghost Box label.

• Science fiction as revolution: Joe Banks talks to Iain McIntyre, co-editor of Dangerous Visions and New Worlds—Radical Science Fiction, 1950–1985, about the flourishing of the New Wave of SF in the 1960s and 70s.

• “We know from his letters that Joyce sent a Greek flag to Nutting for him to colour-match. So, he was aiming for ‘Greek’ blue.” It’s that book again. Cleo Hanaway-Oakley on Ulysses, blindness and blue.

• Intermittent Eyeball Fodder: More visual delights gathered by S. Elizabeth.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Nicholas.

• Galerie Dennis Cooper presents…Liz Larner.

Let The Power Fall (1971) by Max Romeo | Minor Man (1981) by The League Of Gentlemen ft. Danielle Dax | Heptaparapashinokh (1981) by The League Of Gentlemen

Weekend links 609

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Cover of Tom Veitch Magazine #1 (1970).

• RIP Tom Veitch, a writer with whom I almost created a comic-book series in the 1990s. Things didn’t work out for a variety of reasons but we had some good conversations. All the news notices focus on his writing for comics, a career which ranged from angry, political strips with Greg Irons to typical franchise fare. But he had short stories published in New Worlds magazine when it was at its peak under Michael Moorcock’s editorship, and in Quark, a short-lived paperback magazine edited by Samuel Delany & Marilyn Hacker. Veitch was also among the first 35 contributors to John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem service when it launched in 1968, part of a select group that included John Ashbery, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Related: An interview with Tom Veitch on William Burroughs at Reality Studio.

• “I won’t deny that I thought very much about a post punk influence on it. Everybody knows that I love post punk, but I didn’t want to copy anybody.” Robert Hampson talking to Jonathan Selzer about the return of Loop.

• “What Joyce and Eliot, Ulysses and The Waste Land, had in common was a showiness, an overt ambition as well as a magpie approach to literature as assemblage.” John Self on the year 1922, “literature’s year zero”.

• At Spoon & Tamago: All of Japan’s 47 prefectures captured in expressive typography.

• At Public Domain Review: Composition (1905) by Arthur Wesley Dow, a book for art students influenced by the example of Japanese prints.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on the unending attempts to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

• Mixes of the week: Fact Mix 846 by Ehua, and Soylent Green – No Escape by The Ephemeral Man.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Matthew Suss presents…Joseph Cornell Day.

• At Bandcamp: A guide to Alvin Lucier.

Loop The Loop (1980) by Young Marble Giants | Q-Loop (1995) by Basic Channel | Loop-Loop (1996) by Michael Rother

Going beyond the zero

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“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice—guessed and refused to believe—that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children….”

Reader, I read it. It isn’t an admission of great achievement to announce that you’ve reached the last page of a novel after a handful of stalled attempts, but when it’s taken me 36 years to reach this point it feels worthy of note; and besides which, Gravity’s Rainbow isn’t an ordinary novel. Umberto Eco is partly responsible for my return to Pynchon. I’d just finished The Name of the Rose, a book I’d avoided for years even while reading (and enjoying) a couple of Eco’s other novels, and was wondering what to read next. Maybe it was time to try the Rocket book again? The thick white spine of the Picador edition—760 pages in 10pt type—would accuse me every time I spotted it on the shelf: “Still haven’t made it to page 100, have you?” For many people this happens with novels because a book is “difficult” (which I didn’t think it was), or boring (which it isn’t at all), or simply too long (page count doesn’t put me off). Back in 1985 I was looking for more heavyweight fare after reading Ulysses, something I’ve now done several times, so I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a novel which is misleadingly compared to Ulysses on its back cover. If anything the comparison was an enticing one. Pynchon at the time exerted a gravitational pull (so to speak) for being very mysterious, although this was a decade when most living authors, especially foreign ones, were mysterious to a greater degree than they are today, when so many have their own websites and social media profiles. Pynchon’s works were also referred to in interesting places, unlike his less mysterious contemporaries. I may be misremembering but I seem to recall a mention of the W.A.S.T.E. enigma from The Crying of Lot 49 in Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!; if it is there then it’s no surprise that a writer so preoccupied with conspiracy and paranoia would find favour with the authors of the ultimate conspiracy novel. (And that’s not all. I’m surprised now by the amount of coincidental correspondence between Illuminatus! and Gravity’s Rainbow. Both novels were being written at the same time, the late 1960s, yet both refer to the Illuminati, the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill, Nazi occultism, and the death of John Dillinger. Both novels also acknowledge the precedent of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, another remarkable conflation of conspiracy, secret history, and wild invention.)

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Pynchon had other connections to the kind of fiction I was already interested in. One of his early short stories, Entropy, had been published in New Worlds magazine in 1969, although editor Michael Moorcock later claimed to have avoided reading any of the novels until much later. And, Pynchon, like Shea & Wilson (and Moorcock…), made pop-culture waves. I think it was Laurie Anderson who put Gravity’s Rainbow in the centre of my radar when she released Mister Heartbreak, an album whose third song, Gravity’s Angel, refers to the novel and is dedicated to its author. As for the novel itself, in the mid-1980s this was still Pynchon’s major work, the one that fully established his reputation. Nothing new had appeared since its publication in 1973; Vineland, and the subsequent acceleration of the authorial production line, was six years away. The final lure was the refusal of the Picador edition to communicate very much of its contents: what was this thick volume actually about? The back cover is filled with praise but doesn’t tell you anything about the novel at all, while the cover illustration by Anita Kunz suggests a scenario connected with the Second World War but little else. (“This was one of the most complicated books I ever read,” says the artist, “and really hard to get the germ of the idea. Pynchon kept going off in tangents. I mixed up the art the same way the writer did and made an image that can be read in all directions.”) It’s only when you start reading the book that you find the connection between the novel’s dominant concerns—the development of the V-2 rockets used by the Nazis to bomb London, and the erotic compulsions of Tyrone Slothrop, an American lieutenant at large in war-ravaged Europe—subtly reflected in the illustration, much more subtly than the cover art on the edition that preceded this one.

Continue reading “Going beyond the zero”

Taking Tiger Mountain

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Another week, another obscure black-and-white science fiction film. I hadn’t heard of this one at all until it was announced in 2012 that co-director Tom Huckabee would be attending a rare screening in New York. The film is an oddity with a complicated history that I’m too lazy to try and condense so here’s the borrowed detail:

IMDB: In a dystopian future, Europe is unified under a totalitarian patriarchy, where each town is assigned a single economic purpose. In Brendovery, Wales the occupation is prostitution. Arriving by train from London is Billy Hampton, a young American expatriate and draft evader (Bill Paxton in his first lead role), ostensibly there to enjoy a sex-filled holiday. Unknown to him he is a time bomb assassin, programmed by a feminist terrorist cell to assassinate the local minister of prostitution.

Wikipedia: Taking Tiger Mountain is a 1983 American science fiction film directed by Tom Huckabee and Kent Smith, and starring Bill Paxton in one of his earliest on-screen acting roles. Originally conceived as an experimental art film inspired by a novel by Albert Camus’s 1942 novel The Stranger and a poem by Smith, the film was initially directed by Smith and shot in Wales. Aside from Paxton, the film’s cast is made up of townspeople from the areas in which shooting took place. It was filmed without sound, with the intention of adding dialogue in post-production. During post-production, Huckabee took over as the film’s director, abandoning Smith’s original concept and instead loosely basing the film on the 1979 novella Blade Runner (a movie) by William S. Burroughs. The film premiered on March 24, 1983. Over three decades later, Huckabee re-edited the film and released it as an alternate cut titled Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited.

Tom Huckabee: The story went through four distinct periods of creation:
1. Kent Smith’s original script, entitled Taking Tiger Mountain, written in 1974, based loosely on the John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping of 1973 and Albert Camus’ The Stranger. It was set in the casbah of Tangier, Morocco.
2. After Bill and Kent got ejected from Morocco before shooting even a foot of film, they drove to Wales, adapting the script significantly to the new location and the people and opportunities that presented themselves; but they ran out of film and money after shooting about half of their script.
3. After I acquired the footage in 1979, I knew I couldn’t go back to Wales, so after editing their footage to about 55 minutes, I wrote a new story with a lot of help from collaborators, like Paul Cullum, Lorrie O’Shatz, and Ray Layton. I incorporated the Burroughs material and dropped the 55 minutes from Kent and Bill’s script into it. We wrote the ten-minute introductory section with the women and shot it on a sound stage in Austin, incorporating footage from another unfinished film by Kent and Bill called D’Artangan. I also built ten minutes of scenes from outtakes. In 1980, Paxton came to Austin for a few days to “loop” all of his dialogue, as no sound had been recorded in Wales. He improvised a lot of his voice-over narration, while under hypnosis. This film, called Taking Tiger Mountain, was released on 35mm in 1983 and toured the Landmark Theater chain of art cinemas.
4.  In 2016 I got a small advance from Etiquette Pictures for digital distribution and decided to do a major upgrade. I cut out ten minutes and added five, including the new ending, which comes after the end credits, significantly changing the message of the film. I reworked the narrative, making it easier to follow.

In addition to the complications of the production it’s necessary to note that the title has nothing to do with either Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), or the Chinese opera the Eno album is named after, although we do get to hear about a tiger mountain. This reflects the equally tangled history of the “Blade Runner” title, which Taking Tiger Mountain does have some connection with via William Burroughs’ Blade Runner: A Movie. This was Burroughs’ cinematic reworking of a science fiction novel by Alan E. Nourse, The Bladerunner (1974), a piece of futurism about the very American dystopia of a nightmare healthcare system. Blade Runner: A Movie followed Burroughs’ earlier screenplay/novella, The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, although the Nourse adaptation was a much more ambitious scenario with little chance of ever being filmed. No studio in the 1970s (or today, for that matter…) would have put up the money for something that’s like a wilder version of Escape from New York with added gay sex and time travel, however attractive this may sound. As is well known by now, the treatment’s title was later purloined by another film that has little else in common with anything discussed here.

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All of which means that Taking Tiger Mountain is exactly the kind of thing guaranteed to stoke my curiosity: a Burroughs-derived science-fiction film made on the cheap by Americans in south Wales, of all places. Why Wales? Because Bill Paxton had been there as a foreign exchange student. I’m not sure I would have been as interested without the disjunctive frisson of gloomy, rain-swept Wales in the mid-1970s colliding with William Burroughs. That said, the blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome has two things immediately in its favour: for a micro-budget production the film has excellent photography (the black-and-white stock was provided by leftovers from Bob Fosse’s Lenny); and there’s a surprising amount of unsimulated sex, something that isn’t such a big deal today but certainly was in 1974. The youthful Bill Paxton is gorgeous and exceptionally photogenic, so the film is a pleasure to watch even when little of substance is happening.

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Continue reading “Taking Tiger Mountain”

Hardy art

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Hawkwind continue to be the overwhelming topic of the moment while I’m reading Joe Banks’ marvellously detailed account of the group’s first decade. One of the many attractions of Hawkwind for this listener was their intersection with other areas of interest: Moorcock and New Worlds, obviously (two of Robert Calvert’s poems appeared in New Worlds Quarterly), but also SF and fantasy in general. The alien planet on the back cover of the Hall of the Mountain Grill album was immediately recognisable as the work of British space artist David A. Hardy thanks to a feature in Visions of the Future (1976) a collection of artwork reprints from the art and fiction magazine Science Fiction Monthly. Hardy had a long association with astronomer Patrick Moore, illustrating the covers of Moore’s novels and later collaborating on a speculative science book, Challenge of the Stars (1972). A few of the latter paintings were reprinted in Visions of the Future, including one with the title Alien Life Forms that depicted amoeboid creatures on a remote planet. The painting would have become the back cover of the Hawkwind album if Hardy hadn’t insisted on creating a new work in a more suitable ratio.

Hardy’s association with Hawkwind extended to their stage shows, with a series of circular paintings used by “Liquid Len” (Jonathan Smeeton) on a rotating projector that covered the band in moving panoramas of ancient monuments, dinosaurs, alien landscapes and exploding worlds. Two of the paintings appear as the endpapers in Joe’s book; the dinosaurs and the monuments may be seen here.

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Cover design by Bryan Cholfin.

My own Hawkwind covers make very poor comparisons to Hardy’s meticulous renderings but we do have a further connection via The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a collection of stories from the long-running magazine edited by Gordon Van Gelder. I designed the book’s interiors and Hardy contributed the cover art. Hardy painted many covers for F&SF throughout the 1970s and 80s, this shining rocket being a reworking of a cover he produced for the magazine’s 60th anniversary issue. The archetypal spacecraft of classic science fiction, and almost a definitive example. You might even call it a silver machine…

Previously on { feuilleton }
Silver machines
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The artists of Future Life
Science Fiction Monthly
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer