Bruges-la-Morte, 1978

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What we have here is a very creditable 67-minute film adaptation of the Symbolist novel by Georges Rodenbach. Ronald Chase directed, co-wrote the screenplay with Pier Luigi Farri, and also photographed the production with a small company of English actors in the city of Bruges. The film has recently been given a high-definition restoration and made available on the director’s Vimeo page. Chase describes his adaptation as a low-budget affair, the footage being originally intended for screening during performances of Die Tode Stadt by Eric Korngold, but it doesn’t come across as cheap or amateurish thanks to a professional cast and authentic locations. Rodenbach’s novel is distinguished by its early use of photographic illustrations, most of which are views of the canals of Bruges. Here we get to see the church steeples and crow-step gables from the viewpoint of a camera drifting along the same swan-filled waterways.

It’s a long time since I read Rodenbach’s novel so I can’t judge this version in any detail although my memories are of a dreamier narrative than the one the film delivers. Chase credits the story as being “suggested” by the novel but the broad outline follows Rodenbach, with a grieving widower (Richard Easton, whose character is unnamed in the film) meeting a dancer (Kristin Milward) who seems to be the double of his recently deceased wife. The dancer works with a troupe of performers who stage a nocturnal masque for the tormented man, an event which fails to alleviate his confusion or his anguish.

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Chase’s film resembles one of the literary adaptations the BBC used to make throughout 1970s and 80s, modest and serious, and certainly of a quality that it could have been broadcast as a part of the Omnibus arts strand or in a late slot on BBC 2. Among the performers are a Pierrot character played by Anthony Daniels, an actor most people will know for his role as a gold robot in a space opera, and Nickolas Grace, who appeared as Oscar Wilde a decade later in Ken Russell’s Salomé’s Last Dance. There’s a touch of the diabolical Russell (and James Ensor) in the later masque scenes when the performers don papier-mâché masks, and a nun gets chased around a church. The mask-making is credited–very surprisingly–to Winston Tong, an artist and musician best known for his association with Tuxedomoon. I was hoping we might see more of the gloomy canals and equally gloomy architecture but the buildings and bridges that we do see look just as they would have done in Rodenbach’s day. If you want more there’s always the paintings and drawings of Fernand Khopff and Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, or the photographs in the novel itself.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruges in photochrom
Bruges panoramas
Bruges-la-Morte

The art of Eduardo Hernández Santos

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From the series Aproposito los flores.

In 1993 I made Homo-Ludens, which was the first homoerotic exhibition to take place in Cuban photography after the Revolution. This show was committed to a direct, frontal discourse, but very aesthetic. It was not intended to reflect great contradictions, but to propose to society that the male body was also an object to analyze, that it was a source of pleasure, and not only to women.

Cuban artist Eduardo Hernández Santos talking in 2016 about his career (here and here). In addition to straightforward photography, Santos favours collage as a technique, combining his own photographs with fragmented slogans and other imagery. The late date of the Homo-Ludens exhibition is a result of the slow evolution of attitudes towards sexuality in Cuban society. Fidel Castro regarded gay men as degenerates, a common sentiment in Communist circles in the 1960s, and one shared by many fascists. A striking thing about homosexuality is the way you can be despised by a wide variety of people who wouldn’t agree with each other about anything else.

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From the series Corpus Fragiles.

It’s tempting to wonder what Jean Genet would have thought about Santos’s photographs of male nudes with flowers. Genet used flowers for their symbolic qualities almost as much as Oscar Wilde, so even though it’s unwise to try and second-guess him I imagine he’d appreciate their use here.

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Untitled (2000).

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From the series Palabras.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Gregorio Prieto, 1897–1992
Emil Cadoo

Hands with a mind of their own

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My weekend viewing included two films based on The Hands of Orlac (1920), a novel by Maurice Renard. This is one of those books that remains little read and seldom discussed even though its central idea—a concert pianist injured in a train wreck is given the hands of an executed murderer in a transplant operation—has prompted many film adaptations, almost enough to make the novel the origin of a sub-genre of hand-transplant horror. Robert Wiene’s The Hands of Orlac was the first screen adaptation made in 1924, and is another in the long list of silent films I’ve known about for decades but had to wait until now to see. The film is notable for reuniting the director of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari with Conrad Veidt, the actor who portrayed Caligari’s murderous somnambulist, Cesare, in a mute role that mostly required stalking around acutely-angled sets in a black body stocking.

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The Hands of Orlac: Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) is besieged by nightmares in his colossal hospital room.

Veidt has much more to do as the lead in The Hands of Orlac, giving a suitably tormented performance as the pianist convinced that his new hands retain the violent impulses of their former owner. The acting from Veidt and Alexandra Sorina as Orlac’s wife, Yvonne, is often wildly emotive, surprisingly so for a film made near the end of the silent era when the mannerisms of early silent pictures were being replaced by greater naturalism. Lotte Eisner in The Haunted Screen explains this in terms of the Expressionist influence which was still prevalent in German cinema, and which extends beyond lighting and set design. A scene in which Orlac is overwhelmed by his predicament is described by Eisner as “an Expressionist ballet”; when Orlac holds a dagger aloft this becomes an unmistakable mirroring of a climactic moment in Caligari.

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Continue reading “Hands with a mind of their own”

Weekend links 539

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Fire, Red and Gold (1990) by Eyvind Earle.

Roger Penrose won a Nobel Prize recently for his work in physics. I read one of his books a few years ago, and was intimidated by the “simple” equations, but I always like to hear his ideas. This 2017 article by Philip Ball is an illuminating overview of Penrose’s life and work.

• At Dangerous Minds: Joe Banks on the incidents that led to Lemmy’s dismissal from Hawkwind in 1975, an extract from Hawkwind: Days of the Underground. The book is available from Strange Attractor in Europe and via MIT Press in the USA.

• “Not married but willing to be!”: men in love (with each other) from the 1850s on. It’s always advisable to take photos like these with a pinch of salt but several of the examples are unavoidably what they appear to be.

Most of all, this resolutely collaborative production stood against the vanity and careerism of individual authorship; Breton called it the first attempt to “adapt a moral attitude, and the only one possible, to a writing process.” The text itself is peppered with readymade phrases, advertising slogans, twisted proverbs, and pastiches of such admired predecessors as Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and Lautréamont, whose pluralistic credo, “Poetry must be made by all. Not by one,” anticipates the sampling aesthetic by a century. But the intensity was draining, and as the book moves toward its final pages and the writing becomes increasingly frenetic, you can almost feel the burnout taking hold. After eight days, fearing for his and Soupault’s sanity, Breton terminated the experiment.

Mark Polizzotti reviews a new translation by Charlotte Mandell of The Magnetic Fields by André Breton and Philippe Soupault

• The hide that binds: Mike Jay reviews Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom.

• “A photographer ventures deeper into Chernobyl than any before him.” Pictures from Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide by Darmon Richter.

John Van Stan’s reading of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley uses my illustrations (with my permission) for each of its chapters.

Susan Jamison, one of the artists in The Art of the Occult by S. Elizabeth, talks to the latter about her work.

William Hope Hodgson: The Secret Index. A collection of Hodgson-related posts at Greydogtales.

Gee Vaucher talks to Savage Pencil about her cover art for anarchist punk band, Crass.

Weird, wacky and utterly wonderful: the world’s greatest unsung museums.

Tom Cardamone chooses the best books about Oscar Wilde.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean-Pierre Melville Day.

You by The Bug ft. Dis Fig.

Magnetic Dwarf Reptile (1978) by Chrome | Magnetic Fields, Part 1 (1981) by Jean-Michel Jarre | Magnetic North (1998) by Skyray

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