Weekend links 515

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A pair of Huysmans covers from 1978 designed by Gérard Deshayes.

• Friends of the great composer/musician Jon Hassell set up a GoFundMe account a few days ago to help raise money for Jon’s medical costs. It’s always dispiriting having to link to these fund-generators when they shouldn’t be required at all but until America sorts out its health situation this is how things are. For those who’d prefer to help Jon by buying his music, there’s a Bandcamp page with a handful of releases, and more available at Bleep, the online distributor of Warp Records who helped produce his last release, Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One). Related: Words With The Shaman: Jon Hassell interviewed by Chris May.

• Every time I think I must have heard all the best of the early Kraftwerk concerts another one turns up. This new posting at YouTube is taken from a recent file upload at the concert-swapping site Dimedozen, and is believed to be a radio recording of the group playing in Vancouver, Canada, in 1975. It’s very good quality (some slight bleed from other stations) and features excellent versions of their concert repertoire at that time. The version of Autobahn is especially good.

• in 2009 Dana Mattocks built a machine he called Steampunk Frankenstein, a construction which was attended by a frame containing my first piece of steampunk art. Dana’s latest creation is TILT, the Robot with Rocket Jet-Pack.

• RIP Tony Allen, the drummer about whom Fela Kuti said “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. Allen was interviewed by John Doran in 2012. Related: Tony Allen: the Afrobeat pioneer’s 10 finest recordings.

• “Robert Fripp’s ‘Music for Quiet Moments’ series. We will be releasing an ambient instrumental soundscape online every week for 50 weeks. Something to nourish us, and help us through these Uncertain Times.”

• How to avoid Amazon: the definitive guide to online shopping – without the retail titan; Hilary Osborne & Poppy Noor have some suggestions. I favour eBay for many of my purchases, large or small.

Adam Scovell on A Cinematic Lockdown: Confinement in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Liberty Realm, a book of art by Cathy Ward, is coming soon from Strange Attractor.

• One Great Reader: Luc Sante talks to Wes del Val about his favourite books.

• Oscar Wilde and the mystery of the scarab ring by Eleanor Fitzsimons.

Unica Zürn at Musée D’art Et D’histoire De L’hôpital Sainte-Anne.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 302 by Avizohar.

• Another concert: Tuxedomoon live in Rome in 1988.

Rarefilmm | The Cave of Forgotten Films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ghosts.

Ghost Song (1978) by Jim Morrison & The Doors | Ghost Song (2000) by Air | Ghost Song (2005) by Patrick Wolf

Oscar (1985)

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I’ve mentioned John Hawkesworth’s three-hour television biography of Oscar Wilde in previous Wilde-related posts, but was never able to point to a viewable copy until now. Oscar was broadcast by the BBC in three parts in 1985, and if it was ever shown again I don’t recall it; I certainly missed capturing it on tape. This was frustrating because I always remembered Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Wilde as being the best I’d seen, but the only reissues for home viewing were long-deleted tapes and discs produced for other countries. Having watched the drama again I’m pleased to find it as good as I remembered, possibly more so since I’ve read a several Wilde biographies in the interim so I’m better able to judge its accuracy.

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Oscar examining Aubrey Beardsley’s Salomé illustrations.

As a writer and TV producer John Hawkesworth specialised in period drama, creating and writing episodes for The Duchess of Duke Street, Danger UXB (about wartime bomb disposal), and the celebrated Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series featuring Jeremy Brett’s definitive portrayal of the detective. Oscar was based on biographical books by H. Montgomery Hyde, an MP who lost his seat for his campaigns in the late 1950s and 1960s against the British laws forbidding homosexual acts. Knowing this it’s significant that Hawkesworth’s opening scene in the first episode is a brief parliamentary discussion about the notorious Labouchere Amendment of 1885 (“The Blackmailer’s Charter”) which the narrator informs us would send Oscar Wilde to prison ten years later. Hawkesworth divides his drama into three distinct phases: Gilded Youth (concerning Wilde’s relationship with Alfred Douglas, his artistic success and the ire of the Marquess of Queensberry); Trials (the personal as well as legal variety); and De Profundis (imprisonment and its aftermath).

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In the dock at the Old Bailey.

The arc of tragedy is a familiar one, of course, but other dramatisations are seldom as well-balanced as here. Feature films about Oscar Wilde generally have shorter running times so devote their larger budgets to a recreation of the glamorous fin-de-siècle rise and the terrible downfall. Oscar is a typical BBC production of the period, mostly recorded on video in studio sets with occasional film work for exteriors. What we see of Victorian London appears sparse compared to the Sherlock Holmes episodes which were being filmed at this time. Hawkesworth may have been restricted by budget but three hours allows him to pay greater attention to the later episodes, especially the trials. Oscar was the first screen biography to give us include the discussion of sexual details in the courtroom, as well as to show Wilde alone with a naked boy. This was a considerable advance at a time when gay sex of any kind was a rare sight on British television, and when even the straight variety could cause problems, as it did for Gambon and co. a year later when Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective inspired the contemptible Mary Whitehouse to complain to the BBC. Hawkesworth also runs through the later years to the very end, a period of decline usually avoided or, as in Brian Gilbert’s Wilde (1997), disingenuously truncated so as to provide a “happy” resolution. Given this, I would have preferred some of the earlier scenes to be longer, and to offer a sense of Wilde’s status as a serious thinker about art and aesthetics. Wilde’s flamboyant persona made him famous but he was influential not for his dandyish manner but for his ideas and their articulation in essays, lectures and the plays; his aesthetic theories were the foundation of all his writing. The most famous line from his final poem is still a statement of philosophic principle: “Yet each man kills the thing he loves”.

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Oscar and Bosie.

Aesthetics aside, the public perception of Oscar Wilde presents a hurdle for dramatisations which risk the representation being a mere caricature, like the Monty Python sketch about Wilde and his cohorts. Michael Gambon’s performance shows Wilde as a human being, not merely a charming dispenser of witty aphorisms. This has always seemed to me crucial for any actor; it’s not enough to merely look like Wilde—as Robert Morley and Stephen Fry did—but you have to be able to convey the horrors, the indignity (and, with regard to his wife, the culpability) of his later years. Stephen Fry is a good comic actor but he never could have played the Singing Detective. Gambon’s seductively purring voice is another plus, and he even allows a hint Irish brogue to slip through now and then. Of the other actors, Robin Lermitte looks more like Alfred Douglas than does Jude Law in Brian Gilbert’s film, but Law is better at conveying Bosie’s mercurial and tempestuous character; likewise Tom Wilkinson made the Marquess of Queensbury seem a little more human in Gilbert’s version, at least in the beginning, whereas Norman Rodway presents the man from the outset as a perpetually furious goblin. Missing from Hawkesworth’s drama are Wilde’s good friend Ada Leverson, and his mother, Speranza, whose urging him to stand tall and remain in England when the police were coming for him was one of the factors that sealed his fate.

Oscar may be seen here: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

For now, and possibly the foreseeable future, this is the only way to see this drama so I’d suggest downloading it if you can. It’s a rare work that could easily vanish once again.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Importance of Being Oscar

Haeckel’s Radiolaria

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I’ve been admiring (and plundering) Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms in Nature, 1904) for many years, but until this week I hadn’t thought to look for other books by the German biologist. The plates in Haeckel’s Kunstformen fascinate for the way their drawings emphasise the aesthetic qualities of the animals being studied, without taking the wild liberties one finds in early zoological books or being photographically faithful to the specimens.

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Of particular fascination are the many plates devoted to Radiolaria, tiny marine protozoa whose mineral skeletons look less like the product of living creatures than abstract decorations, crystalline growths or even pieces of alien architecture. These unusual forms were the ones that captured the imagination of René Binet, a French designer and architect who collaborated with Gustave Geffroy on a whole book of architectural and household designs derived from Haeckel’s plates. So too with Salvador Dalí who wasn’t above borrowing (or “quoting”) from Haeckel’s Radiolaria.

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Haeckel was evidently just as fascinated with the protozoa, enough to write and illustrate a substantial monograph. Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria): Eine Monographie (1862) is available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Internet Archive in a mammoth four-volume set, a large portion of which is explanatory text. There’s also a separate volume with a selection of the plates alone which is easier to browse. These drawings show much more variety than the Kunstformen plates which represent the examples that Haeckel considered most visually appealing; they also show us how much Haeckel tailored his renderings for Kunstformen, favouring symmetry and harmony over natural imperfections. Oscar Wilde would have approved of Haeckel’s adjustments, as he writes in The Decay of Lying: “My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out.”

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Continue reading “Haeckel’s Radiolaria”

The Romance of Perfume

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The work of French artist and designer George Barbier is no stranger to these pages but this is a book of his I hadn’t seen before. Richard Le Gallienne is a name familiar to anyone acquainted with the London literary scene of the 1890s—he was friends with Oscar Wilde and contributed to The Yellow Book—but unlike many of his less fortunate contemporaries he also had a life and career that lasted beyond the Mauve Decade. The Romance of Perfume (1928) is one of his last books, a short history of the perfumer’s art which could well have been written thirty years earlier. George Barbier’s illustrations aren’t as carefully designed as in some of his earlier works but the pair are well-matched.

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Continue reading “The Romance of Perfume”

Weekend links 475

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Femme avec des fleurs (c. 1912) by Romaine Brooks.

• “Boring people tend not to exile themselves to rocky islands, but even among the intriguing personalities we encounter in Capri, some individuals prove more extravagantly memorable than others.” Steve Susoyev reviews Pagan Light: Dreams of Freedom and Beauty in Capri by Jamie James.

• “The Mad “idiots” subverted the comic form into a mainstream ideological weapon, aimed at icons of the left and the right—attacking both McCarthyism and the Beat Generation, Nixon and Kennedy, Hollywood and Madison Avenue.” Jordan Orlando on a world without Mad Magazine.

• RIP Sam Gafford, Paul Krassner and Rutger Hauer. Related to the latter: Hauer’s first role as Floris, the hero of a Dutch TV series directed by Paul Verhoeven.

I cannot tell you what it does to me to hear pre-Stonewall. And even in our literature, even in the art, pre-Stonewall, post-Stonewall. I wrote three books pre-Stonewall and a dozen more post-Stonewall. There’s no demarcation. Gay history is centuries and centuries from the Romans to the Greeks to Oscar Wilde to all kinds of outrages. And those seem to be put back and pre-Stonewall is passive. Post-Stonewall is brave and dignified. I actually have heard things like that. I’ve talked, I’ve lectured and I’ve been invited all the way from Harvard to USC. And I talk about what it was like, what we had to survive.

Look, pre-Stonewall produced Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Oscar Wilde, and I could go on. Post-Stonewall produced Bret Easton Ellis, who jumps out of the closet only now and then and then rushes back in, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, where we’re reduced to clowns for straight people. The husband of Mr. Buttigieg, he is so darling talking about the silver he’s going to be choosing for the White House. It embarrasses me, it embarrasses me very much because that’s what people expect a gay man to do, to be very precious, and that’s not what we are. A good solid queen I will protect forever, they are heroes.

A lot of people think that everything stopped, everything, all harassment stopped. Look, it’s still going on. It’s still going on, for god’s sake. The same tactics are often used in a different way.

John Rechy talking to Jason McGahan

• The genius of Barry Adamson: An exclusive interview by Paul Gallagher at Dangerous Minds.

Three hours of the Prophecy Theme from Dune (by Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois & Roger Eno).

Ed Sanders on why pop culture still can’t get enough of Charles Manson.

• Havelock Ellis takes a trip: Mike Jay on peyote among the Aesthetes.

Darren Anderson on why little works of architecture deserve respect.

• Mix of the week: Stephen O’Malley presents / Java / Apr 27 2017.

Phil Hine reviews Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd 1 & 2.

John Waters revisits “The Golden Age of Monkey Art”.

I Must Be Mad (1966) by The Craig | The Day My Pad Went Mad (1982) by John Cooper Clarke | Yesterday, When I Was Mad (1993) by Pet Shop Boys