Moorcock: Faith, Hope and Anxiety

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Photo of the author by Linda Moorcock.

I mentioned a few days ago that I had another new piece of work to reveal, and this is it, a poster/promotional piece for Russell Wall’s forthcoming documentary about Michael Moorcock. The main challenge with one was to create something that would give a sense of Moorcock’s extensive career and the genre-spanning content of his many books.

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I took the 1970s as the starting point, since this was the period when his reputation as a writer was established worldwide. The decade began with Britain’s bookshelves being colonised by Moorcock’s SF and fantasy novels published by Mayflower with vivid covers; it saw a cult feature film—The Final Programme—made from his first Jerry Cornelius novel, and it ended with the fourth Jerry Cornelius novel, The Condition of Muzak, winning a serious literary award, the Guardian Fiction Prize.

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So the general appearance of the design, the headline typography, and the colour scheme are a nod to the Mayflower covers and especially to Bob Haberfield’s artwork which often used a similar style of Tibetan flames and clouds. The rest of the type is set in Rockwell, a preferred typeface of the Hipgnosis design team for much of the 1970s. Early on I had the idea of filling the design with stylised graphics like those used by some of the Hipgnosis illustrators, chiefly George Hardie, but that idea receded once the composition began to arrange itself. The fountain pen is the main hangover from this, a hard-edged graphic tilted at an angle like many of Hardie’s illustrations. The pen is a little inappropriate given that Moorcock is famous for knocking out novels at speed on a typewriter but it made a good visual rhyme with the guitar, a Rickenbacker like the one the author played in his Deep Fix band.

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Elsewhere there are many specific references competing for attention: the Elric head is Jim Cawthorn’s illustration from the first edition of Stormbringer (1965); the Jerry Cornelius figure (straddling a repurposed Mayflower logo) is one of Mal Dean’s best, as seen on the cover of issue 191 of New Worlds magazine; the sorcerous blades are my own designs from 1985 as seen on the sleeve of Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword album; the Beardsley figures from Salomé were a vague gesture to the 1890s but the Pierrot figure happens to be one Moorcock used for a while as a bookplate, something I didn’t know until I’d placed it in the design; the cat at Pierrot’s feet is another Beardsley from one of the Bon-Mots books; the London skyline is a contemporary one, London past and present having been a continual feature of Moorcock’s writing throughout his career. Lastly, all these details are contained by a graphic based on Abram Games’ BBC TV ident from the 1950s. When Russell and I began talking about this project the words “television biography” were being used so this would have connected to that idea, and to the decade when Moorcock’s career began.

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I don’t know when the documentary will be released but any news will be posted here in due course. There’s also talk of making copies of the poster available for purchase but nothing concrete has been decided yet.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds
Elric 1: Le trône de rubis
Into the Media Web by Michael Moorcock
The Best of Michael Moorcock
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others

Weekend links 225

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Still from The Shaman-Girl’s Prayer (1997), a video piece by Mariko Mori. This page has pictures of Mori’s futuristic/cosmic performances, films & environments.

Time Out of Mind (1979) was a BBC TV series about science fiction writers, five short films concentrating on Arthur C. Clarke, John Brunner, Michael Moorcock, Anne McCaffrey and an sf convention. I was only interested in the Moorcock film at the time, not least because it featured a short clip of Hawkwind playing Silver Machine, and inserted scenes from the film of The Final Programme (1973) between the interviews. The Moorcock episode is less about his books than about New Worlds magazine and the so-called New Wave of sf in general, so you also see rare footage of M. John Harrison in a Barney Bubbles “Blockhead” T-shirt talking then ascending a limestone cliff, and bits of interviews with Brian Aldiss and Thomas Disch. Ballard isn’t interviewed but is present via a scene from the Harley Cokeliss film Crash! (1971) in which Gabrielle Drake slides in and out of a car while someone reads Elements of an Orgasm from The Atrocity Exhibition.

• “…there happened to be a book on Ritual Magick that talked about John Dee and summonings and Dr. Faust and all that kind of stuff. So then obviously at that age, too, I read HP Lovecraft and then Michael Moorcock and what they call fantasy literature. Through HP Lovecraft I discovered Arthur Machen, and I think that sort of percolated down inside…” Dylan Carlson of Earth talking to Steel for Brains. The Wire has the vinyl-only track from the new Earth album, Primitive And Deadly, and a track from Carlson’s solo album, Gold. Related: Artwork by Samantha Muljat, designer/photographer for the new Earth album.

Phantasmaphile has details of the next two issues of deluxe occult magazine Abraxas. Issue 6 includes a major feature on Leonora Carrington while Luminous Screen is a special issue devoted to occult cinema.

• More Broadcast: Video of a performance at Teatro Comunale di Carpi, March 2010 (part 2 here), and “constellators and artifacts” at A Year In The Country.

• “Petition demands return of ‘Penis Satan’ statue to Vancouver.” There’s an uncensored photo of the contentious statue here.

• Literary Alchemy and Graphic Design: Adrian Shaughnessy on James Joyce’s writings among graphic designers.

• Frank Pizzoli talks to John Rechy about “the gay sensibility”, melding truth and fiction, and his literary legacy.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 127 by Roberto Crippa, and FACT Mix 459 by Craig Leon.

Alan Moore has finished the first draft of his million-word novel, Jerusalem.

• Crazy pavings: Alex Bellos on Craig Kaplan’s parquet deformations.

Noise Not Music: “Live recordings, obscure cassettes and more…”

Pylon of the Month

Zoot Kook (1980) by Sandii | Rose Garden (1981) by Akiko Yano | Telstar (1997) by Takako Minekawa

Marienbad hauntings

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Last Year in Marienbad (1961). Via.

In our age of cultural plenitude it can be salutary to remember the time when many things were easy to discover but often impossible to experience; albums, books, and especially non-American films could all too frequently exist as rumours, referenced but always out of reach. Two films in particular dogged me for years in this remote manner: The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) by Wojciech Has, and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the film that Alain Resnais made from a very novelistic screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Philip Strick alerted me to this pair of films with tantalising descriptions in a time-travel chapter of his book-length study, Science Fiction Movies (1976). Marienbad isn’t a time-travel film as such (a later Resnais film, Je t’aime, je t’aime [1968] does deal with the subject, however, and even features an actual time machine), but it is sufficiently open-ended to allow a science-fictional rationale into its enigmatic spaces. Strick’s book covered all the familiar SF territory as well as looking beyond the clichés of Hollywood and the SF genre, hence the inclusion not only of Marienbad and Saragossa, but also Je t’aime, je t’aime, Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf (1968), Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), and Buñuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). Most of these films, which were seldom shown on TV, I had to wait years to see.

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Marienbad page from Strick’s Science Fiction Movies.

I was reading Strick’s book in 1979, and since I was bored with generic clichés, and also reading a lot of reprinted stories from New Worlds magazine, I became a little obsessed with these inaccessible films, Marienbad especially. It’s difficult to say what was so fascinating about a few words of description, and a single photograph, but the picture seemed an unlikely inclusion amid so many pages filled with robots and spaceships. It promised a film that approached the themes of science fiction at the same oblique angle as many of the stories in New Worlds. A couple of years later I found a copy of the Robbe-Grillet screenplay whose pages of dogged description read like the kind of forbidding and formal exercise that Brian Aldiss had attempted in Report on Probability A (1967), a novel that first appeared in New Worlds. Among other similarities, both works share a dismissive attitude to character, presenting a trio of ciphers indicated by no more than their gender, and some initial letters. This confluence of influences, Marienbad included, fed into the chunks of New Worlds-derived prose I was writing at the time, trying to fix inchoate impressions on the page. I always failed each time I returned to that photo from Marienbad, the real charge—as I didn’t see at the time—being a result of the gap between the promise of the image and the inaccessible film itself. Finally seeing Marienbad in the late 1980s was a curious thing, like meeting somebody face-to-face after years of remote correspondence; the same readjustments needed to be made to accept that this was the reality of the work of art, not Robbe-Grillet’s embryonic version, or my own baroque imaginings.

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Screenplay book, 1962. Cover design by Roy Kuhlman.

If the above seems to strain for association by hauling a celebrated work of the Nouvelle Vague into a disreputable area then this essay by Thomas Beltzer is worth a read. Beltzer’s “Intertextual Meditation” compares Marienbad to The Invention of Morel (1940), a science-fiction novel by Adolfo Bioy-Casares which Jorge Luis Borges described as “perfect” (and which I really ought to read). If I’ve not written much about Marienbad itself that’s because it really needs to be experienced rather than described or explained. It’s a film that’s easier to admire than actually enjoy—I need to be in the right mood to accept its formalities—and given the choice I’d often sooner watch Providence (1977). But where Providence and other Resnais films have inevitably dated, Last Year in Marienbad remains out of time, a 20th-century dream held captive in 18th-century architecture where the airless rococo chambers might easily share a labyrinth with the hotel waiting-room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• Alain Resnais obituaries: The Guardian | The Telegraph
Last Year in Marienbad at film|captures
Marienbad (2012) by Julia Holter

Planète magazine covers

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Planète was a French magazine of “Fantastic realism” which ran throughout the 1960s. I’ve never seen a copy but sight of the immediately recognisable covers has always fascinated because this was the magazine established in the wake of the huge success of The Morning of the Magicians (1960), a unique “Introduction to Fantastic Realism” by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. Rather than enthuse at length about The Morning of the Magicians I’ll simply point you to this piece by the late RT Gault from his now-defunct website.

Pauwels and Bergier’s book was oft-imitated but never equalled during the 1970s. Where later authors such as Erich von Däniken tended to plough a single, narrow furrow, Pauwels and Bergier leapt breathlessly from one subject to another: alchemy in the 20th century, Forteana, a lengthy examination of the occult preoccupations of the Third Reich, speculations about nuclear physics, speculations about biological mutation, Hollow Earth theories, etc, etc, all the time dropping quotes from HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen and Albert Einstein. It’s a very heady mix which is great fun to read even though there’s nothing like a solid argument that comes out of it all.

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Planète continued the blend of Futurology and fringe philosophy while using the magazine format to print translations of science fiction and fantasy stories; among other things it was notable for bringing the stories of Jorge Luis Borges to a wider audience in France. The magazine’s name may have been science fictional but the magazine as a whole is closer to the kind of borderline sf/art magazine that New Worlds became under Michael Moorcock’s editorship in the late 1960s. I’ve never seen Moorcock or anyone connected with New Worlds mention Planète but the covers at least pre-empt the style adopted by New Worlds during its large-format run: consistently bold typography and imagery that only obliquely relates to the contents.

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All these covers are from Noosfere where the story contents for each issue are also listed. No credits for the designer, unfortunately. If anyone knows who was responsible for the magazine design then please leave a comment.

Continue reading “Planète magazine covers”

Weekend links 193

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A Problem Glyph by Eliza Gauger. Problem Glyphs are “symbolic illustrations … drawn in response to problems sent in by tumblr users”.

Kosmische Night takes place at the Museum of Bath at Work, Bath, Somerset, on January 25th (Rescheduled to February 22nd).  “…a celebration of all things Teutonic for anyone who enjoys Neu!, Can, Tangerine Dream, Stockhausen and Kraftwerk,” say the organisers. Also on the bill, The Electric Pentacle, a Carnacki-esque collaboration between Narco Lounge Combo and The Levels.

• Shock Headed Peters’ Fear Engine II: Almost As If It Had Never Happened. Joe Banks on Karl Blake, “…one of the most fascinating and colourful characters to emerge from the fertile loam of the post-punk scene”.

• “The great question in the film and the tale is not the existence of the ghosts but the way the governess understands their no-longer-lived lives and desires.” Michael Wood on The Innocents.

Nobody, however, is a greater authority on the intersection of porn and alternative spirituality than Annie Sprinkle. Beginning as a prostitute in the 1960s and 70s, she entered porn in the pre-AIDS era and made over two hundred films. She then jumped into a career as a sex-positive author and educator, which brought her into close conflict not only with feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, but also right-wing patriarch Jesse Helms, who denounced one of her sex magick performance pieces on the floor of the Senate. For Sprinkle, both sexuality and performance are explicitly spiritual and magical, part of her role as a cultural shaman.

In the Valley of the Porn Witches by Jason Louv.

Stars of the Lid and Wordless Music Orchestra playing for two hours last month at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Rick Poynor on the late Martin Sharp’s contributions to People, Politics and Pop: Australians in the Sixties (1968) by Craig McGregor.

Maggie Greene on The Woman in Green: A Chinese Ghost Tale from Mao to Ming, 1981–1381.

• “TED actually stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment,” says Benjamin H Bratton.

Geoff Manaugh on how corpses helped shape the London Underground.

Tony White on Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds by David Brittain.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 102 by Frank Bretschneider.

• At Dangerous Minds: film of Syd Barrett‘s first psychedelic trip.

NYPL Wire: a New York Public Library Tumblr.

Microbial art by Eshel Ben-Jacob and others.

Interstellar Rock: Kosmische Musik (1974) by The Cosmic Jokers | I, Bloodbrother Be (1984) by Shock Headed Peters | Obscene and Pornographic Art (1991) by Bongwater