Le Dossier B by Schuiten and Peeters

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Almost ten years have elapsed since I devoted a week of blog posts to one of my favourite fantastic creations, the Obscure World/Obscure Cities of Belgian artist-and-writer team François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. Schuiten and Peeters’ mythos is a multi-media project with a series of bande desinée albums as its core, a cycle of stories which introduce the reader to some of the cities in the Obscure World (a “counter-Earth” on the opposite side of our Sun), and which are connected by recurrent characters and motifs. Since the completion of the core series, Schuiten, with occasional help from Peeters, has expanded the mythos to encompass other books that flesh out some of the world’s invented history and its connections to our own world, together with other manifestations such as art exhibitions and music releases. Le Dossier B (1995) is a peripheral Obscure World production, a 54-minute TV documentary which entangles the genuine history of 20th-century Brussels with an invented secret society who believe in the existence of a twin city, Bruzel, that intersects with the Belgian capital.

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Le Dossier B was directed by Wilbur Leguebe from a script by Leguebe with Schuiten and Peeters. Valérie Lemaître plays the on-camera investigator, “Claire Devillers”, while artist and writer appear in roles that match their personalities. Schuiten is seen in silent footage as “Robert de la Barque”, an artist whose obsession with Brussels’ vast Palace of Justice provides clues to the Bruzel mystery via the eccentricities of its architect, Joseph Poelaert. Peeters appears later in the investigation as “Pierre Lidiaux” the author in 1960 of Le Dossier B (a book which has since vanished), his own study of the connections between Brussels and Bruzel. We first see Lidiaux being interviwed on a TV arts show, then later as the presenter of his own eccentric and unfinished film about Antoine Wiertz, the real-life Belgian painter of vast canvasses on morbid subjects whose museum Lidiaux explores. Aside from the well-realised historical fakery, one of the pleasures of Leguebe’s witty and imaginative documentary is the spotlight it throws on the history and culture of Brussels and Belgium. I hadn’t realised, for example, that the Wiertz Museum is so close to the European Parliament building which was still under construction when the film was being made. Elsewhere there are references to Magritte, Delvaux and Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, and we catch a glimpse of work by another great Belgian painter, Jean Delville.

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The last third of the film is based around the researches of one James Welles (Adrian Brine), a British historian whose book-length study, Shadows in the Night: A Secret Society in Belgium, explores the connections of yet more historical figures with the Bruzel mystery, including the aforementioned Horta and chemist Ernest Solvay. The historian’s surname may be taken as a deliberate choice: Orson Welles was the director of another documentary mixing fact and fiction, F for Fake, while Welles’ appearance as Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight provided Schuiten with the model for the central character in La Tour, one of the albums in Schuiten and Peeters’ Obscure Cities series.

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Some of this territory is explored in another of the Obscure Cities albums, Brüsel, especially the building of the Palace of Justice and the concept of “Brusselisation”, a pejorative French term for the rapid demolition of historical quarters of a city to make way for new construction. Where Brüsel has the freedom of the comics medium to refashion the capital in a fantastic manner, Le Dossier B uses the material of our world to suggest another city (possibly the one depicted in the album) whose existence we never see. Apart, that is, for the suggestion near the end of the film that the Bruzel of the secret society is the Brussels of today, a city which has overwritten the Brussels of a century ago, just as the invented encyclopedia in Borges’s Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius gradually changes the world at large to match its contents.

Le Dossier B is available on DVD but seems to be sold out for now. Alternatively, it may be watched at YouTube in an unsubtitled copy that’s been uploaded in the wrong aspect ratio. The really determined may wish to do what I did: download the video, grab some English subtitles, then watch it in VLC with the aspect ratio set to 16:10. A lot of messing around but it works.

(My thanks to Brussels resident Anne Billson for the YT link!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Urbatecture
Echoes of the Cities
Further tales from the Obscure World
Brüsel by Schuiten & Peeters
La route d’Armilia by Schuiten & Peeters
La Tour by Schuiten & Peeters
La fièvre d’Urbicande by Schuiten & Peeters
Les Murailles de Samaris by Schuiten & Peeters
The art of François Schuiten
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Weekend links 450

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Orpheus (c. 1903–1910) by Odilon Redon. One of 30,000 public-domain images from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection.

• Network DVD has announced the premiere home release of Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries, a British TV series that ran from 1973 to 74. Welles’ involvement was limited to introducing each episode but the series itself was one I enjoyed a great deal: 26 short adaptations of period mystery stories that featured a wealth of British and American acting talent. The theme by John Barry was an additional bonus.

• The trailer for Apollo 11, a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller which presents for the first time the 70mm footage recording the Earth-bound parts of the Moon mission. Related: Michelle Santiago Cortés on how NASA used art to shape our vision of the future.

• At Dangerous Minds: a preview of Third Noise Principle, the latest in an excellent series of electronic music compilations from Cherry Red, and Cosey Fanni Tutti talks about her first solo album since 1983.

“The way I understood theory, primarily through popular culture, is generally detested in universities,” Mark [Fisher] told me in 2005, when I interviewed him for the Village Voice. “Most dealings with the academy have been literally clinically depressing.” He darkly surmised that his blog, K-Punk, and the surrounding blogosphere, “seemed like the space—the only space—in which to maintain a kind of discourse that had started in the music press and the art schools, but which had all but died out, with appalling cultural and political consequences.” Mark and the Village Voice are both dead now, leaving unfathomable voids in their wake.

Geeta Dayal on Mark Fisher

• At The Witch Wave: Peter Bebergal and Pam Grossman discuss Bebergal’s latest book (also my current reading), Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural.

• At Bandcamp: another release from the retro-synth cosmos of Jenzeits, and Ufology , an investigation of Britain’s flying-saucer landscape by Grey Frequency.

• Surprising collaboration of the week: Beth Gibbons and Krzysztof Penderecki have made a new recording of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Alchemy (1969) the debut album by the Third Ear Band, receives an expanded reissue next month.

The Burn: a science-fiction story by Peter Tieryas with illustrations by Arik Roper.

• Mix of the week: Self-Titled Needle Exchange 275 by Black To Comm.

Amy Turk plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on her harp.

Chrismarker.org is seeking donations.

Mystery Train (1955) by Elvis Presley | Mystery R.P.S. (No 8) (1981) by Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit | Mystery Room (1985) by Helios Creed

Weekend links 428

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Straat met standbeeld (1934) by Carel Willink.

• “[Edward] Gorey, who died in 2000 at 75, was the unequaled master of—of what? Gothic whimsy? The high-camp macabre? Existential black comedy in the Firbankian mode? Essentially unclassifiable, he was, at the end of the day (and it’s always twilight, in Gorey’s stories), simply, inimitably Edwardian.” Mark Dery’s Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, the first full-length biography, will be published in November.

• “In an East Prussian manor house, a Bohemian library, a Bulgarian railway station; in a Venetian citadel, a Breton harbour, a city in the Caucasus, characters encounter not only the vicissitudes of history but also the subtle influences of the uncanny.” Inner Europe by John Howard and Mark Valentine.

• “To the good men I offer the hand of friendship, to the foes of our sex I offer resistance and annihilation!” The next title from Rixdorf Editions (due in November) will be We Women Have no Fatherland (1899), a novel by Ilse Frappan.

• At Dangerous Minds: “The career of Penny Slinger, intrepid surrealist artist of the 1970s, is ripe for rediscovery,” says Martin Schneider.

• Mixes of the week:  FACT mix 668 by Smerz, and XLR8R Podcast 557 by re:ni.

• Dreaming of Walter Benjamin on Walter Benjamin Platz by Roger Gathman.

Alison Kinney on Ludwig II’s obsession with the operas of Richard Wagner.

• A trailer for The Other Side of the Wind, the final film by Orson Welles.

• A happy tenth anniversary to The Quietus.

Wizards (1982) by JD Emmanuel.

The Wizard (1964) by Albert Ayler Trio | The Wizard (1970) by Black Sabbath | Dancin’ Wizard (1973) by Sopwith Camel

Lynch dogs

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Last year I decided that rather than watch the new series of Twin Peaks via whatever dubious downloads were available, I’d wait until the whole thing was released on disc. Last weekend I finally pressed “play” on the first episode, but prior to this I’d spent the past couple of months working through David Lynch’s filmography, from his earliest shorts to Inland Empire. I also watched a couple of episodes from the first two seasons of Twin Peaks (the pilot and the final episode of season two).

Watching a director’s collected works used to be a difficult thing without an obliging repertory cinema or TV channel. In the days when the BBC and Channel 4 (UK) still treated cinema as an art form we were given seasons of films by Orson Welles, François Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman and many others. When was the last time a (non-Swedish) television channel showed all of Bergman’s films, I wonder? It was memories of watching an Altman season that led me to spend the summer of 2016 watching all of the director’s films from That Cold Day in the Park (1969) through to A Prairie Home Companion (2006), 33 films in all. I then followed this with a viewing of nearly all the Hitchcock films that are currently available on blu-ray. Watching a director’s oeuvre in this manner makes you notice things that seem less obvious when the same films are viewed in isolation: the recurrent use of actors becomes more notable, while themes, obsessions and directorial tics make themselves more apparent.

David Lynch shares shares with Altman and Hitchcock a compulsion for using the same actors from one film to the next, but I’d not noticed before how often dogs appear in his films. So that’s what this post examines, some of the canine moments from his feature films. Since I didn’t watch the whole of the first two seasons of Twin Peaks they’re omitted from this listing (unless you know of a dog in any of the episodes) while some of  Lynch’s minor works such as the short-lived On the Air series, and one-offs such as The Cowboy and the Frenchman (1988), I either haven’t seen for years or haven’t seen at all.

The Grandmother (1970)

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The Grandmother not only introduces the elderly woman/suited boy pairing that recurs later in the Twin Peaks mythos, but it also establishes the canine theme when the boy’s parents are shown mewling and barking like dogs. Whatever other qualities dogs may possess, Lynch is drawn to the disturbing and often threatening nature of the sounds they make.

Eraserhead (1977)

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The potential for threat is reinforced in Eraserhead when Henry is startled by barking dogs on his way to visit Mary. The only dogs that appear before the camera are the puppies and their mother on the floor of Mary’s home.

Continue reading “Lynch dogs”

Weekend links 352

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Table-Tipping Workshop at Rev. Jane’s House, Erie, Pennsylvania, 2014 by Shannon Taggart.

• Canadian electronic musician Sarah Davachi talks to Erik Davis about analogue synthesizers, reverberating cathedrals, attention spans, and her ambient drone album All My Circles Run.

• Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind may now be released by Netflix. (I’m restraining my excitement for the moment since this one has been a long time arriving.)

• Mixes of the week: VF Mix 86: Jah Shaka by Roly Porter, Secret Thirteen Mix 215 by Twins, and What Good Is God? (1:11:11.111 Melon Collie Mix) by Gregg Hermetech.

• Making sense of The Weird and the Eerie: Roger Luckhurst reviews the final book from the late Mark Fisher.

• Pye Corner Audio has been very productive this year (I’m not complaining); the latest release is The Spiral.

• “I don’t like acceptance,” says Cosi Fanni Tutti, “it makes me think I’ve done something wrong.”

• Jon Brooks on the Continental inspiration for his next album, Autres Directions.

Séance: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm by Shannon Taggart.

• Corny and clichéd: Matthew Bown on bad painting in the twentieth century.

• At Wormwoodiana: Douglas A. Anderson on Borges and a forgotten book.

• At the BFI: Samuel Wigley chooses 10 great films set in the jungle.

Jungle Flower (1951) by Les Baxter | Jungle Fever (1973) by The Upsetters | The Jungle Dream (1973–1980) by Patrick Cowley