The Gourmet by Kazuo Ishiguro

gourmet1.jpg

The Gourmet (1986), an original television drama written by Kazuo Ishiguro and directed by Michael Whyte, has long been in the top ten of TV films I was hoping would turn up on YouTube, and here it is at last. With a running time of under 50 minutes this is shorter than one-off dramas tend to be but its plus points are considerable, the first of which is its being an early yet neglected work by the Nobel Prize-winning author. The gourmet of the title is Manley Kingston, played by the inimitable Charles Gray in one of his few leading roles. Gray inhabits the part of the preoccupied and obsessed Kingston so well the character might have been created with him in mind; he’s even more imperious and commanding here than he was as Mycroft Holmes in the Granada TV Sherlock Holmes adaptations being made around the same time.

gourmet2.jpg

Ishiguro’s script presents us with a world of competitive international gourmets whose palettes are so jaded that their search for new tastes propels them to increasingly outré extremes, up to and including the consumption of human flesh. In a lesser drama this might be the shocking end revelation but the long-pig scene is a brief and wordless reminiscence on the way to Kingston’s ultimate gustatory experience, the devouring of a ghost. The film is almost worth watching solely for the moment when Gray enunciates the words “Not of this Earth?!” after being informed of the spectral meal by one of his gourmet associates. Another associate, played by David Rappaport (in an upper-class role for once, albeit with a dubbed voice), provides Kingston with the directions to a church where a suitable phantom may be found. The building isn’t identified but Hawksmoor aficionados will recognise it as St. George in the East, an apt location not only for the sinister quality the Hawksmoor churches acquired in the wake of Peter Ackroyd’s celebrated novel, but also for the building’s smaller towers which are always described as resembling pepper pots. I used to think the Hawksmoor church was a coincidental choice of location but Ackroyd’s novel had been discussed and partly dramatised on The South Bank Show the year before The Gourmet was made; the actor who played the architect’s hapless assistant in the dramatisation was Mick Ford, the same actor who appears in The Gourmet as a homeless man enjoined by Kingston to assist him in his ghost-catching ritual.

gourmet3.jpg

Despite its grotesque elements, The Gourmet isn’t an overt work of horror, which no doubt explains why the film is never mentioned in lists of neglected TV dramas. Watching it again I was less interested in the genre elements than the interplay between Kingston’s abstracted fervour and the human beings he ignores while pursuing his quarry. The latter encompasses the fellow gourmets who regard him as a world authority, his wife (who he doesn’t kiss when he leaves the house), his chauffeur (whose name he never remembers), and the derelicts who are also led to the church by hunger, queuing for a bowl of soup and a bunk in the crypt. Seen today, the gulf of inequality, and the self-indulgence of Kingston’s pursuit for the rarest of foods while people around him are starving, may be taken as a critique of Thatcherism as well as a foretaste of the future. The scenes outside the church show the East End of London as it was before its ongoing and unending redevelopment, when a new breed of rapacious appetites would arrive to sweep the homeless from those desirable riverside properties. The real ghost-eaters, the devourers of London’s history, have been consuming the capital ever since. (Thanks to Amelia for alerting me to this!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Terror and Magnificence

Weekend links 400

bernard.jpg

Le Répit (La Mort allaitant une chauve-souris) (1895) by Valère Bernard.

Playhouse 90 presents Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. An American TV production from 1957 starring Boris Karloff, Roddy McDowall, Eartha Kitt and others; introduced by Sterling Hayden. It’s bizarre. Acidemic goes into the detail.

• Erik Davis talks to occult writer and drug geek Julian Vayne about Baphomet, the (sur)reality of spirits, evolution, ritualizing entheogens, and his new book Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony.

• “Unsurprisingly, 1. Outside was the record that the #BowieBookClub readers most readily associated with Hawksmoor.” Anna Aslanyan revisits Peter Ackroyd’s architectural mystery.

The Flowers of Dorian Gray: part one of a series of posts examining one of Oscar Wilde’s favourite symbols.

• At Haute Macabre, an interview with Michael Locascio & Heather Jean Skawold of Dellamorte & Co.

One Minute Art History, an animated film by Cao Shu.

Film posters at the Harry Ransom Center, UT-Austin.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 639 by Black Milk.

Susanna‘s favourite albums.

• Welcome to The Spoodoir.

• Flowers Of Evil (1983) by Cortex | Baphomet (1989) by Foetus Inc. | Heart Of Darkness (1989) by Syd Straw

Weekend links 361

f1x-2.jpg

The Future Vol.2 (2016) by f1x-2.

• One of the notable things about the reaction to the original series of Twin Peaks was the way in which Americans were astonished that something so outré could be allowed on television. Here in the UK the response was a little more subdued; we had, after all been spoiled for years by The Prisoner, Sapphire and Steel, and numerous odd and challenging dramas by Dennis Potter and others. Pre-dating all of these was The Strange World of Gurney Slade (1960), a six-part series starring Anthony Newley that was unprecedented in its Surrealism. Andy Murray looks back at the series, and at the rest of Newley’s career.

Andrew Dickson on Peter Ackroyd whose latest book, Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day, is published later this month.

Alyona Sokolnikova on a Soviet vision of the future: the legacy and influence of Tekhikia – Molodezhi (Technology for the Youth) magazine.

You know who weren’t cops? All the radicals and queers and artists and dreamers that were there while I grew up, my mom and dad’s old friends from New York and the wider bohemian world, the actors and the drag queens and the dilettantes and the ex junkies and the current junkies, the kind of queer people who wouldn’t get caught dead getting married, the people who actually made the “old New York” of the myth into what it was. They were smart and they were funny and they were tougher than I can imagine and they were possessed of an existential commitment to the idea that life is complicated and so we shouldn’t be quick to judge. They were tolerant, in the true sense, even while they were tireless advocates for actual justice. […] Now we’re Rudy Giuliani, trying to get offensive art pulled off the walls. Now we’re the book burners. Now we’re the censors. Now we attack the ACLU for defending free speech. Now we screech about community morals. Now we’re the prison camp screws. That’s us. Me, I could never be one of the good ones. Never. I can never live up to that ideal. I know I’m not good enough. I know when the judgment day comes, I go down. And so I decline. You can decline, too.

Planet of Cops by Freddie deBoer, or how inflexible morality makes everyone a cop

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 601 by Dark Entries, Secret Thirteen Mix 221 by Eli Keszler, and XLR8R Podcast 490 by Ben Lukas Boysen.

• At Dangerous Minds: Punk, Patti Smith, William Burroughs & capitalism: A “conceptual conversation” with RE/Search’s Vale.

Emily Wells on the strange, irreverent worlds of Down Below and The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington.

Rick Poynor on Mike Halliwell’s montages based on JG Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition.

• “Why are the British so scared of cannabis?” asks Professor David Nutt.

Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture (1978) by Arthur Evans.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jacques Rivette Day.

Designing Penguin Modern Classics

Future Dub (1994) by Mouse On Mars | Future Proof (2003) by Massive Attack | Future (2004) by Alva Noto

Terror and Magnificence

spitalfields.jpg

Christ Church, Spitalfields, London, in 2001. A photo I took with a disposable film camera.

And so let us beginne; and, as the Fabrick takes its Shape in front of you, alwaies keep the Structure intirely in Mind as you inscribe it. First, you must measure out or cast the Area in as exact a Manner as can be, and then you must draw the Plot and make the Scale. I have imparted to you the Principles of Terrour and Magnificence, for these you must represent in the due placing of Parts and Ornaments as well as in the Proportion of the several Orders: you see, Walter, how I take my Pen?

Hawksmoor (1985) by Peter Ackroyd

*

Bentley had laid down tracks for a shot that would feature the saxophonist and composer John Harle tooting away at his Terror and Magnificence in the setting of Hawksmoor’s church, which was now established, post-Ackroyd, as a cathedral of baroque speculation. Harle, in the notes published with the CD, writes that “darkness beneath the architecture and the very fabric of the stones pushed the idea towards a text.” The language here harks back to Ackroyd, towards privileged notions of place. The church was, in its proportions, a score to be unravelled; an overweening Pythagorean geometry to be tapped and sounded.

Iain Sinclair in Rodinsky’s Room (1999) by Rachel Lichtenstein & Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair first drew the world’s attention (or the minuscule portion of the world that was reading his books) to the strange character of Hawksmoor’s London churches in 1975 with Lud Heat, a book-length poem. Peter Ackroyd a decade later turned Sinclair’s esoteric excavation into a bestselling architectural murder mystery with his novel Hawksmoor, since when Sinclair’s psychogeography (if that term still has any valid currency) has found its way into From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell, where Christ Church dominates the proceedings, and a musical work, Terror and Magnificence, by composer John Harle which takes its title from Ackroyd’s novel.

tandm.jpg

The short BBC film to which Sinclair refers can be seen on Harle’s YouTube channel. In addition to running through the Hawksmoor mythology we receive some glimpses of David Rodinsky’s abandoned room in the Princelet Street synagogue, a location (and a life) explored in detail in Sinclair’s book with artist Rachel Lichtenstein.

Bob Bentley’s film of Harle, Sinclair and Keith Critchlow was broadcast in 1995. In the same year Harle was commissioned by the BBC Proms to write an opera. The resulting work, Angel Magick, with libretto by David Pountney, advertises itself as “the first Dr Dee Opera”, a subject equally of interest to both Sinclair and Alan Moore, who in Sinclair’s Liquid City (1999) take a walk to John Dee’s home at Mortlake. (“We were a thrift-shop Dee and Kelley cupping our ears for whispers from tired stone.”) In that piece Sinclair mentions having been in on the early discussions for the opera but doesn’t go into any detail. I haven’t heard Angel Magick but you can hear a complete performance of Terror and Magnificence by the John Harle Band, the Balanescu Quartet, and the London Voices, here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee
Compass Road by Iain Sinclair

Weekend links 73

sun2.jpg

Johnny Trunk of Trunk Records reissued the soundtrack to The Wicker Man in 1997. Mr Trunk’s latest delve into the cultural past is Own Label: Sainsbury’s Design Studio, a book from Fuel examining the supermarket chain’s packaging design of the 1960s and 1970s. Creative Review shows some examples while I have to note the uncanny similarity between one of the posters for The Wicker Man and an old Sainsbury’s corn flakes box. Now we see that the Old Weird Britain wasn’t only hiding in the fields and the folk songs but was also lurking on the supermarket shelves.

Related: a new DVD set from the BFI, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games. And let’s not forget the ley lines of Milton Keynes, and a new edition of Ritual by David Pinner, said to be the novel which inspired The Wicker Man.

• “He wrote me…” Sans Soleil (1983), Chris Marker’s beguiling accumulation of memories, dreams and reflections, is recalled in a Quietus piece entitled Things that Quicken the Heart. Not the first time on DVD as it says there (Nouveaux Pictures released it with La Jetée in 2003) but it’s good to know it’s being reissued.

• Marker’s film references Tarkovsky’s Stalker a couple of times, most notably in the comment, “On that day there will be emus in the Zone.” Geoff Dyer has what he describes as “a very detailed study” of Stalker out next year.

I don’t like those commentators who keep on saying that London will never be the same again. London is always the same again. I remember those comments were made very loudly after the [July 2005] terrorist attacks – “London will never be the same again, London has lost its innocence” – it was all nonsense. London was exactly the same again the following day. Rioting has always been a London tradition. It has been since the early Middle Ages. There’s hardly a spate of years that goes by without violent rioting of one kind or another. They happen so frequently that they are almost part of London’s texture. The difference is that in the past the violence was more ferocious, and the penalties were more ferocious – in most cases, death.

Peter Ackroyd, reminding us that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse don’t wear hoodies and ride bikes.

Wolf Fifth: “rare vinyl records from the golden era of avant garde and experimental music”. And in FLAC as well, not crappy mp3; I want to hear all those scratches uncompressed, dammit!

Another great mix at FACT, this time compiled by snd who throw together Morton Feldman, Siberian shamen, Einstürzende Neubauten, Dome, Oval and many others.

• Colin Marshall asks “how weird is Australia?” in an appraisal of Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout.

A Comprehensive Solution to the Tokyo Umbrella Problem.

• More poster art from Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

Morbid Excess, a series of drawings by May Lim.

Conrad Schnitzler (1937–2011) by Geeta Dayal.

Neopolitan cephalopods.

Willow’s Song (1973) by Paul Giovanni & Magnet | The Willow Song (1989) by The Mock Turtles | Wicker Man Song (1994) by Nature and Organisation.