Weekend links 464

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13 Circles by Julien Picaud.

• The 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing is only two months away so it’s no surprise that Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks is being reissued. The latest release will include an additional disc of new music by Eno with his collaborators from the original sessions, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno. Related: the Apollo 11 Command Module as an explorable (and printable) 3D model.

• From the real Moon to the presence of the satellite in myth and history, the next book from Strange Attractor will be Selene: The Moon Goddess & The Cave Oracle, a volume which is also the final work by the late Steve Moore. With a foreword by Bob Rickard, and an afterword by Alan Moore.

• Guitar-noise maestro Caspar Brötzmann released a handful of thrilling albums in the 1990s then disappeared from view. Spyros Stasis talked to Brötzmann about his hiatus and his recent resurfacing on the Southern Lord label.

• A year late, but I didn’t know Paul Schrader had written an updated introduction to his 1972 study of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer, Transcendental Style in Film. I love the idea of “The Tarkovsky Ring” as a directorial event horizon.

• “Nothing written is utterly without value, as I proved to myself by reading two random works.” Theodore Dalrymple on the lasting worth of “worthless” books.

Cinemagician: Conversations with Kenneth Anger, a documentary by Carl Abrahamsson about the director/writer/magus.

• Mirror, Mirror: When Movie Characters Look Back at Themselves by Sheila O’Malley.

• From Susan Sontag to the Met Gala: Jon Savage on the evolution of camp.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 289 by Mondkopf.

• Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer: Anne Billson.

• A video by IMPATV for Religion by Teleplasmiste.

Obscure Sound ~ Cosmic: a list.

Mira Calix‘s favourite records.

Transcendental Overdrive (1980) by Harald Grosskopf | Transcendental Moonshine (1991) by Steroid Maximus | The Transcendent (1999) by Jah Wobble

The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima

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This is another of those excellent television documentaries that I have imprisoned on a video tape somewhere so it was good to find on YouTube. The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima (1985) was directed by Michael MacIntyre for the BBC’s Arena arts strand. This was the year that Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters was released so the documentary had some topical value even though Schrader’s film isn’t mentioned at all (something that wouldn’t happen today). MacIntyre begins as Schrader does, however, with the events of the final day of Mishima’s life on November 25th, 1970, before rewinding to present a biographical portrait of the writer/actor/director. There’s more footage than I remembered of Mishima discussing his work (in English) while John Hurt reads from Mishima’s writings. Commentary is supplied by biographer Henry Scott Stokes, translator Donald Keene, photographer Eikoh Hosoe (creator of the famous Mishima beefcake poses), director Nagisa Oshima, and Mishima’s lover Akihiro Maruyama, an actor who the credits also describe as a “female impersonator”.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tamotsu Yato’s men with katanas
Forbidden Colours
Mishima’s Rite of Love and Death

Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist edited by Danel Olson

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Growing up in the 1970s put cinema-going kids of my generation in a frustrating position: we knew that the censorship of decades past was over but we weren’t old enough to see any of the films benefiting from the relaxed strictures. Consequently some notorious releases grew larger in the imagination than they might have otherwise, especially when their cryptic titles—A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs—gave no clue as to their content. Looming larger and darker than all of these was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist whose content was at least clear despite that vague poster design. The film arrived in Britain in March 1974 bearing a ferocious reputation thanks to tabloid reports of a cursed production and hysteria at US screenings. The film’s power has been significantly reduced since its release, not least because of its enormous success which gave us two sequels, a prequel that went through three directors (and ended up as two separate films), a reworked version of the original in 2001, and all the endless parodyings of Linda Blair’s torment.

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Pazuzu and Father Merrin face off in the desert.

The film and its sequels are explored in a new book from Centipede Press which turned up before Christmas but which has taken me a while to get round to since I wanted to re-watch the film first. I hadn’t seen The Exorcist for many years, the last viewing being a shoddy VHS copy so it was good to see it again in a decent DVD print. I still find the film more admirable on a technical level than as a work of cinematic art: the story has always been a piece of Catholic propaganda—something that author William Peter Blatty freely admits—and even if I set aside my lapsed-Catholic prejudices I have a hard time taking seriously Blatty’s religious narrative. Friedkin is a very good thriller director but the tension sags in the first half of the film when the possessed (or is she?) Regan is being hauled around various hospitals while Father Karras frets about his dying mother and his lapsed faith. A sub-plot with police detective Lee J. Cobb—a pared-down thread from the novel—is completely superfluous. On the plus side, the acting is first-class, the almost wordless sequence in Iraq makes a tremendous opening, and the exorcism itself still packs a considerable punch not least because of Dick Smith’s remarkable makeup effects.

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The Centipede volume is a substantial collection (516 pages) of interviews and essays edited by Danel Olson, part of the publisher’s Studies in the Horror Film series. The interviews are especially worthwhile being taken in part from back issues of Cinefantastique magazine: Friedkin and Blatty appear twice, there are talks with Dick Smith and Friedkin’s editor Bud Smith (no relation), and Paul Schrader discusses his troubled prequel, Dominion (2005).

Among the essay highlights Thomas Ligotti juxtaposes Blatty’s moral and theological universe with the amoral pessimism of HP Lovecraft while Blatty recounts the factual origin of his novel in a piece taken from The Exorcist: From Novel to Film (1974). Successful films that spawn sequels often present challenges for critics when the later installments begin to deviate from the premise of the original. Part of the interest in Olson’s collection is seeing how the writers delve into the imperatives of Hollywood sequelitis for moments of value. The critical essays are thought-provoking without wandering into the quicksands of jargon-ridden academicism: Kendall Phillips examines the influence of The Exorcist on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), there’s a spirited attempt by James Kloda to defend John Boorman’s much-vilified The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and James Marriott points out that horror films are a continuing source (however debased) of metaphysical speculation.

This last notion is an intriguing one: people always take The Exorcist at face value—God and Satan are real; it’s a spiritual battle—yet the demon we see in the film is the Assyro-Babylonian god Pazuzu, a spirit never mentioned by name in the Bible, or in the film for that matter. I’d suggest there’s an argument to be made that it’s only Pazuzu that actually exists as a supernatural force in the film’s world, and that the prayers of the priests confound it but temporarily.

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Pazuzu has entered the building.

The aura of metaphysical threat may have diminished but The Exorcist still wasn’t allowed a UK TV screening until 2001. Something about the idea of people confronting supernatural evil continues to compel, however antiquated the scenario may seem. This isn’t too surprising when we have nominees for the US Presidential elections talking in hyperbolic terms about God and Satan without being widely ridiculed. Then there’s news stories like this recent one in the UK: “Boy ‘tortured and drowned’ over witchcraft claims, court told“. Blatty and Friedkin’s devil child was one of the most influential films of the 1970s, and may well be the most influential despite the continued popularity of the wretched Star Wars cycle. In the past couple of years alone we’ve had The Last Exorcism (2010) and The Rite (2011), with The Devil Inside due to appear on UK cinema screens in March; possessed girls appear in all three films. Danel Olson could easily fill another volume tracing this influence through the decades.

Studies in the Horror Film: The Exorcist isn’t published until March 2012 but can be pre-ordered at Amazon (US) and Barnes & Noble.

Previously on { feuilleton }
A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic
Dead on the Dancefloor
The monstrous tome

Forbidden Colours

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Wilhelm von Gloeden‘s version of the Flandrin pose as it appears on the cover of a 1989 Gallimard edition of Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima. I included this photograph in the very first posting which examines the recurrence of Flandrin’s Jeune Homme Assis au Bord de la Mer but this is the first time I’ve seen it used on a book cover. The French twist the title into “forbidden loves” and in so doing lose Mishima’s punning subtlety.

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The Ballad To a Severed Little Finger (1966).

Searching around earlier turned up a nice collection of poster works by the great Japanese collage artist, Tadanori Yokoo. One of these from 1966 is dedicated to Mishima, while the one above shows actor Ken Takakura in one of his many yakuza roles. Yokoo regarded Mishima as a major influence and further cemented the relationship by making an appearance in Paul Schrader’s 1985 film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. By convoluted coincidence, Schrader received his start in Hollywood ten years earlier with a co-written screenplay, The Yakuza, which Sidney Pollack directed. Ken Takakura reprised his gangster persona in that film, along with Robert Mitchum. It’s a good piece of neo-noir, worth seeking out.

For more Tadanori Yokoo, see some of the recent posts by Will at A Journey Round My Skull.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The recurrent pose archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Goh Mishima, 1924–1989
The art of Hideki Koh
Mishima’s Rite of Love and Death
Secret Lives of the Samurai
Guido Reni’s Saint Sebastian
The art of Sadao Hasegawa, 1945–1999
The art of Takato Yamamoto