JG Ballard, 1930–2009

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Panther Books paperback edition, 1968; cover painting: The Eye of Silence by Max Ernst.

If I can’t remember when I first encountered JG Ballard’s work, it’s not because I was reading him at a very early age, more that a childhood enthusiasm for science fiction made his books as omnipresent in my early life as any other writer on the sf, fantasy and horror shelves. I know that when I started to read the New Wave sf writers his work immediately stood out, not only for its originality but also for the numerous references to Surrealist painting which litter his early fiction, references which meant a great deal to this Surrealism-obsessed youth. Ballard was a lifelong and unrepentant enthusiast for the Surrealists, with repaintings by Brigid Marlin of two lost Paul Delvaux pictures prominent in one of his rooms (often featured in photo portraits). I always admired the way he never felt the need to apologise for Salvador Dalí’s excesses, unlike the majority of art critics who dismiss Dalí after he went to America. The paintings of Dalí, Delvaux, Tanguy and Max Ernst became stage sets which Ballard could populate with his affectless characters.

Once I’d encountered the New Worlds writers—Ballard, Michael Moorcock, M John Harrison, Brian Aldiss and company—and their American counterparts, especially Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany and Norman Spinrad, there was no returning to the meagre thrills of hard sf with its techno-nerdery and bad writing. Ballard and Moorcock were the gateway drug to William Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges and countless others, and I thought enough of his work in 1984 to attempt a series of unsuccessful illustrations based on The Atrocity Exhibition. It’s been an axiom during the twenty years I’ve worked at Savoy Books that Ballard, Moorcock and Harrison were (to borrow a phrase from Julian Cope) the Crucial Three of British letters, not Rushdie, Amis and McEwan. One of the books I designed for Savoy, The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson, was a Ballard and Moorcock favourite, and included appreciations of Richardson by both writers. I wish Ballard could have seen the new (and still delayed) edition of Engelbrecht but he got a copy of the earlier book. Sometimes once in a lifetime is more than enough.

Ballardian.com
Pages of obits and MM comment at Moorock’s Miscellany
Ballard interview by V Vale at Arthur with an special intro by Moorcock
Jeff VanderMeer at Omnivoracious
Guardian | Times | Independent | Telegraph

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ballard in Barcelona
1st Ballardian Festival of Home Movies
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others
JG Ballard book covers

Bruges panoramas

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Do you detect a theme here? The 360º Cities site which I linked to yesterday won’t be news to some since its panorama views are now incorporated into Google Earth. I hadn’t fully investigated it before, however, so I wasted some time today wandering the streets of Bruges almost as you would in a computer game thanks to the way the different panoramas are linked. Clicking the arrows or the thumbnail views means you’re immediately transported to the next location. (Needless to say this works best using the full screen option on a large monitor.) The photographs in this instance are by Robin de Baere.

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Bruges is another of those waterlogged places with cobbled streets which so beguile me, hence the choice of a Belgian town over more obvious European locations. The light skies in the night shots—a result of long exposures—lend the empty streets some of the same mysterious atmosphere captured by René Magritte in his Empire of Light series. Magritte was Belgian, of course, so it’s rather fitting, as was Paul Delvaux, another painter of noctural mystery.

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Empire of Light by René Magritte (1953–54).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The panoramas archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruges-la-Morte
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Harpya by Raoul Servais

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Classic animated short from 1979 which is funny and creepy in equal measure. Harpya won the Palme d’Or for best short film at Cannes that year and in its own small way could be seen as continuing the Belgian taste for Symbolism and Surrealism.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruges-la-Morte
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Bruges-la-Morte

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Portrait of Georges Rodenbach by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1895).

Georges Rodenbach’s short, atmospheric novel is one of the key texts of Symbolism, not only for its themes but also for the art it either inspired or complemented. Bruges-la-Morte was first published in 1892 and the recent Dedalus Books edition, edited by Alan Hollinghurst and with a new translation by Mike Mitchell and Will Stone, was reprinted late last year.

Bruges-la-Morte…concerns the fate of Hugues Viane, a widower who has turned to the melancholy, decaying city of Bruges as the ideal location in which to mourn his wife and as a suitable haven for the narcissistic perambulations of his inexorably disturbed spirit. Bruges, the ‘dead city’, becomes the image of his dead wife and thus allows him to endure, to manage the unbearable loss by systematically following its mournful labyrinth of streets and canals in a cyclical promenade of reflection and allusion. The story itself centres around Hugue’s obsession with a young dancer whom he believes is the double of his beloved wife. The consequent drama leads Hugues onto a plank walk of psychological torment and humiliation, culminating in a deranged murder. This is a poet’s novel and is therefore metaphorically dense and visionary in style. It is the ultimate evocation of Rodenbach’s lifelong love affair with the enduring mystery and haunting mortuary atmosphere of Bruges.

Continue reading “Bruges-la-Morte”

Karel Zeman

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Inspiration (1949).

Karel Zemen (1910–1989) is a filmmaker I’m often telling people about but whose work isn’t easy to see, so it’s good to find that YouTube has gained some clips of his animations and examples of the partly-animated adventure films he made in the Fifties and Sixties. Zeman was yet another great Czech animator, and the YouTube collection includes his most celebrated short, Inspiration, which gives life to glass figurines, an unyielding medium that he moves as expressively as if it were clay or plasticine.

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The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961).

The adventure films are predominantly based on Jules Verne and place live actors into animated settings, many of which are taken directly from (or intended to imitate) the engraved illustrations of the original novels. The animation enabled Zeman to fill his films with dirigibles, submarines and various steam contraptions which would be too expensive to create otherwise. Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen took the Gustave Doré illustrations for its visual style which is something this particular Doré enthusiast appreciates, and the film is closer to the spirit of the Raspe novel than the Nazi adaptation of 1943 or Terry Gilliam’s later version. The results are a lot more artificial than the seamless blend of animation and live action attempted by Ray Harryhausen in his own Jules Verne film, Mysterious Island, but the artificiality gives the films a distinctive charm.

A Deadly Invention aka The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958)
The Fabulous World of Jules Verne trailer (1958)
Excerpts from Baron Munchausen (1961)
The Special Effects of Karel Zeman pt. I | pt. II

Previously on { feuilleton }
Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls
Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux
Barta’s Golem
The Hetzel editions of Jules Verne