The Nose, a film by Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker

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The last time I wrote about the animated films of Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker the only copies available were low-grade things on YouTube which have long-since vanished (one of many reasons I don’t embed YT players in these posts). Happily a new copy of The Nose (1963) has appeared that’s not only better quality but isn’t split into two as was the case earlier.

The Nose is based on the Gogol story of the same name, a tale of a St Petersburg official who wakes to find his nose has left his face and is masquerading as a civil servant. I’ve not read Gogol’s story but I do have Nabokov’s book about Gogol which dwells not only on the prominent nose of the author, but also his traumatic death which was hastened in part by a quack physician who treated Gogol by applying leeches to his nose. Neither story or film contain anything as horrific. The film version is a wordless animation made using the pinscreen technique which Alexeieff & Parker developed in order to create greyscale animated films without recourse to smudgy materials like pencil, pastel, charcoal, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, the most notable application of this technique is the prologue the pair created for Orson Welles’ film of The Trial (1962). What’s striking about the Alexeieff & Parker use of the pinscreen is how skilfully they use it to manipulate light and shade. Where other animators like Jacques Drouin used the technique more impressionistically, Alexeieff & Parker’s films at times give the impression of watching an animated engraving. The Nose is one of their finest pieces. (Thanks to Gabe for the tip!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker

Weekend links 199

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Follow the Leader (London, 2011) by Isaac Cordal.

• “Brutalism is the decor of dystopian films, literature and comics, just as gothic is for horror.” Jonathan Meades‘ A-Z of brutalism.

Vitaly Shevchenko on the urban explorers of the ex-USSR. Related: Photos by Vitaliy Raskalov from the top of the Shanghai Tower.

Joe Banks reviews the throbbing, hissing, minatory pulses of the Black Mill Tapes 1–4 by Pye Corner Audio.

Walter Benjamin is the only one among the commentators who attempts to pin down the anonymous, evanescent quality of Walser’s characters. They come, he says, “from insanity and nowhere else. They are figures who have left madness behind them, and this is why they are marked by such a consistently heartrending, inhuman superficiality. If we were to attempt to sum up in a single phrase the delightful yet also uncanny element in them, we would have to say: they have all been healed.” Nabokov surely had something similar in mind when he said of the fickle souls who roam Nikolai Gogol’s books that here we have to do with a tribe of harmless madmen, who will not be prevented by anything in the world from plowing their own eccentric furrow.

Le Promeneur Solitaire: WG Sebald on Robert Walser

Drink The New Wine, an album by Kris Force, Anni Hogan, Jarboe, Zoe Keating and Meredith Yayanos.

• At 50 Watts: Illustrations by Fortuné Méaulle for Alphabet des Insectes by Leon Becker.

Lawrence Gordon Clark, Master of Ghostly Horror. An interview by John D’Amico.

• Chapel Perilous: Notes From The New York Occult Revival by Don Jolly.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 107 by Ernestas Sadau.

• An Occult History of the Television Set by Geoff Manaugh.

• Was Ist Das? The Krautrock Album Database.

• First dérive of the year by Christina Scholz.

John Waters’ Youth Manifesto.

Gardens of Earthly Delights

Psychedelic Folkloristic

Water Music I / Here Comes The Flood / Water Music II (1979) by Robert Fripp & Peter Gabriel | After The Flood (1991) by Talk Talk | Flood (1997) by Jocelyn Pook

Yuri Norstein animations

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Hedgehog in the Fog (1975).

One more animation post before I move onto other things. Since the 1970s Russian animator Yuri Norstein has been regarded as one of the greatest living practitioners of the medium despite having only made a handful of films. Hedgehog in the Fog is a 10-minute piece with a self-explanatory title: a hedgehog sets out one evening to visit his friend, the bear, but before he can reach the bear’s house he has to cross a fog-filled field. Norstein’s animation style involves the skillful manipulation of hand-drawn paper shapes which in this film and the later Tale of Tales achieve a remarkable sense of depth and solidity. The fog effects in Hedgehog are especially striking, created using layers of translucent paper.

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Tale of Tales (1979).

The 29-minute Tale of Tales takes the same technique but lifts the animation into a different league, an elusive and (for want of a better term) poetic meditation on life and memory whose central figure is a small grey wolf borrowed from the Russian lullaby sung in the opening scene. The film’s Wikipedia note compares Tale of Tales to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), and for once the hyperbole feels justified. There’s the same concentration on natural elements such as fire, wind and water, while the recurrent wordless tableaux of a family whose members comprise a poet, a bull with a skipping-rope, and a talking cat might be compared with Tarkovsky’s dream sequences. If meaning here seems reluctant to disclose itself (and why does everything have to mean something anyway?) then that’s all the more reason to watch it again.

Since 1979 Norstein has been working sporadically on a feature-length adaptation of Gogol’s The Overcoat, work on which has been endlessly delayed due to lack of resources and the animator’s painstaking production methods. A few clips can be found on YouTube if you hunt around. Here’s hoping we get to see the finished film soon.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Barta’s Golem