Exposition Universelle films

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The Exposition entrance at the Place de la Concorde.

Yes, films of the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. This week I’ve been reading Philippe Jullian’s book about the Exposition (more about the admirable Monsieur Jullian later) and it was only when he mentioned early cinema screenings as one of the entertainments that I realised I hadn’t looked for films of the Exposition itself. YouTube has the goods, of course, and those goods are unavoidably primitive given the age of the prints and the infancy of the medium. Quality isn’t the point, however, what matters is the thrill of looking back 110 years to see these fleeting structures and their visitors. Most of the footage seems to have been filmed by the Edison Company and the filmmakers conveniently let us know that it was the month of August. According to Jullian, Paris was suffering from a heatwave at the time but you wouldn’t know it from the way everyone is dressed although most of the women (and some of the men) are carrying parasols. In addition to the period footage, there’s also the channel of a 3D animator who’s been creating computer models of the buildings. I’ve thought for some time that these vanished expositions could be resurrected using 3D modelling so it’s encouraging to find someone doing exactly that.

The films:
Thomas Edison’s L’ Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris | A compilation of the shorts with intertitles.
Panoramic view of the Place de la Concorde
Esplanade des Invalides
Panorama from the Moving Boardwalk
Eiffel Tower lift
The Palace of Electricity

Update: The Edison shorts and some other Exposition clips not listed above can also be found in the Edison film archive at the Library of Congress. You need to go to this page and use the search term “paris” to receive a list. They’re still low-res, unfortunately, but at least the files haven’t been put through YouTube’s compression filters.

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The Palace of Electricity.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Exposition jewellery
Exposition Universelle catalogue
Exposition Universelle publications
Exposition cornucopia
Return to the Exposition Universelle
The Palais Lumineux
Louis Bonnier’s exposition dreams
Exposition Universelle, 1900
The Palais du Trocadéro

Teleny, Or the Reverse of the Medal

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Bibliothèque Libertine edition (1996).

The quintessence of bliss can, therefore, only be enjoyed by beings of the same sex… Teleny

More Wildeana, and yes, it’s that painting againTeleny is an authorless, explicitly homoerotic novel often attributed to Oscar Wilde although what evidence there is regarding its creation points to its being the work of several hands. The book was published in a limited edition by Leonard Smithers in 1893 then subsequently reissued in a variety of editions which, being illicit and copyright-free, suffered excisions and textual amendments. Smithers was a good friend of Wilde’s. In addition to being Victorian London’s most prominent pornographer (a sign in his Bond Street shop window proudly declared “Smut is cheap today”), Smithers also financed The Savoy magazine, and kept Aubrey Beardsley solvent after the artist’s commissions dried up following Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895.

The convoluted history of Teleny begins with its mysterious origin, recounted here by Beardsley scholar Brian Reade in Philippe Jullian’s 1969 Wilde biography:

Charles Hirsch, a Parisian bookseller, came to London in 1889 and opened a shop in Coventry Street where he sold Continental books and newspapers. Wilde was a frequent customer of his, and Hirsch used to obtain for him Alcibiades enfant à l’Ecole and The Sins of the Cities of the Plain. Many of these were reprints of well-known works of this character. Towards the end of 1890 Wilde brought into the shop a thin paper commercial-style notebook, wrapped up and sealed. This he instructed Hirsch to hand over to a friend who would present his card. Shortly afterwards, one of Wilde’s young friends whose name Hirsch had forgotten by the time he recorded the incident called at the shop and after showing Wilde’s card took away the packed-up notebook. A few days later the young man came back and handed the manuscript to Hirsch, saying another man would call and collect it in a similar manner. In all, four men seem to have taken away and returned the manuscript, and the last left the wrapper undone. Succumbing to temptation, Hirsch opened the parcel and read the contents of the notebook, the leaves of which were loose. On the cover there was a single word TELENY; inside about 200 pages of a novel which appeared to be a collaborative effort. No author’s name was given. The handwritings were various; there were conspicuous erasures, cuttings-out and corrections. Hirsch believed that some of the writing was Wilde’s. In due course Hirsch gave the manuscript back to Wilde. He next came across Teleny when he found it had been printed by Leonard Smithers in an edition privately issued and limited to 200 copies, with only the imprint ‘Cosmopoli’ at the bottom of the title page, and the date 1893. In this printed version, Paris had been substituted for London as the scene of the action, and there were certain differences of detail. There was an added sub-title Or the reverse of the Medal, and the Prologue had been cut out. When Hirsch got to know Smithers in 1900, he asked about the book, and was told that Smithers had wished not to upset the self-respect of clients by leaving the story with a London background. There was also Des Grieux, A Prelude to Teleny which was announced for publication by the Erotica Biblion Society in 1908. One can go over the names and literary mannerisms of some of the better-remembered persons in his circle in 1890, but to associate any of them with the authorship of Teleny would be difficult. Copies of Teleny in the 1893 edition are very rare indeed. The British Museum has one, but those in private possession have been reduced in number no doubt by executors and others who considered them unfit for anything else than fire. A new edition was brought out by the Olympia Press of Paris, and in it Wilde was definitely, but mistakenly, credited with the authorship; and an expurgated version was produced in paperback form by Icon in 1966, with an introduction by Montgomery Hyde.

Neil McKenna in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003) is convinced of Wilde’s involvement whereas Richard Ellmann firmly dismissed the notion in his own more substantial biography. Some of the dissent is perhaps a result of competing agendas, in McKenna’s case a determination to establish a firmly gay persona for the author. McKenna explores Wilde’s sex life in detail, something that Ellmann frequently skates over. Ellmann, meanwhile, has a better grasp of Wilde’s literary prowess and evidently thought that Teleny didn’t adequately match the rest of the author’s work. I remain agnostic on the issue while being struck by the frequent use in Teleny of flower metaphors which the narrator deploys when describing the object of his affection. Having recently read McKenna’s book (which quotes throughout from Wilde’s letters), and re-read The Picture of Dorian Gray, it’s impossible to avoid Wilde’s continuous recourse to flower imagery when referring to people or even items of furniture. One of the more striking examples of this was his description of Aubrey Beardsley and sister Mabel in a letter to Ada Leverson: “What a contrast the two are—Mabel a daisy, Aubrey the most monstrous of orchids.” On the debit side of the authorship argument I’d say that Wilde is unlikely to have invented the central relationship between Camille de Grieux and his Hungarian lover, René Teleny. McKenna’s book makes it clear that Wilde preferred younger men, particularly teenagers, and would no doubt have outlined a different story had he been the sole originator.

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left: Gay Men’s Press edition (1986); right: La Musardine edition (with Egon Schiele cover, 2009).

Everyone who discusses Teleny, however, is agreed that its prose is more finely-wrought than much general writing of the period, never mind the era’s pornography. The sexual description is powerfully erotic and gives the lie to the canard (perpetuated by the egregious Auberon Waugh and his annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award) that describing sex is almost always a mistake. Describing anything poorly is a mistake, the challenge is to do the thing well, and Teleny describes the encounters of its pair of lovers better than many writers would manage today.

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Genuine (left) and pastiche (right) Beardsley designs.

With such an intriguing work it’s always a boon if there’s further discussion on the subject, and the Wilde connection pays off here with a whole section of the Oscholars website being devoted to the book. Of particular note is John McRae’s introduction to a revised and textually corrected edition published in 1986 by London’s Gay Men’s Press. Jason Boyd, meanwhile, argues that the book could never be wholly attributed to Wilde. Also present is a page showing different cover designs for the various editions, some of which are shown above. As well as the inevitable Wilde portraits and Beardsley designs there’s the surprise appearance of Flandrin’s Jeune Homme Assis au Bord de la Mer on several editions. Other pages at Oscholars include plates from an illustrated edition of the novel whose publisher and illustrator, Uday K Dhar, forbid reproduction elsewhere, an all-too-common example of copyright paranoia which ensures the audience for their work remains a limited one. By contrast, artist Jon Macy has an entire site devoted to his comic strip adaptation of Teleny. His black-and-white drawing and attention to detail combine to make his book another item for the shopping list.

Update: The Oscholars site appears to have folded so the links now connect to archived pages.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive
The recurrent pose archive

Ballard and the painters

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Jours de Lenteur (1937) by Yves Tanguy.

Behind it, the ark of his covenant, stood two photographs in a hinged blackwood frame. On the left was a snapshot of himself at the age of four, sitting on a lawn between his parents before their divorce. On the right, exorcizing this memory, was a faded reproduction of a small painting he had clipped from a magazine, ‘Jours de Lenteur’ by Yves Tanguy. With its smooth, pebble-like objects, drained of all associations, suspended on a washed tidal floor, this painting had helped to free him from the tiresome repetitions of everyday life. The rounded milky forms were isolated on their ocean bed like the houseboat on the exposed bank of the river.

The Drought (1965).

Following my observations yesterday about Ballard’s Surrealist influences, this post seems inevitable. By no means a comprehensive listing, these are merely some of Ballard’s many art references retrieved after a quick browse through the bookshelves earlier. I’d forgotten about the Böcklin reference in The Crystal World. The Surrealist influence in Ballard’s fiction is obvious to even a casual reader, less obvious is the subtle influence of the Surrealist’s precursors, the Symbolists. André Breton frequently enthused over Gustave Moreau‘s airless impasto visions and many of Ballard’s remote femmes fatales owe as much to Moreau’s paintings as they do to Paul Delvaux. The Symbolist connection was finally confirmed for me when RE/Search published their landmark JG Ballard in 1984; there among the list of books on his library shelves was that cult volume of mine, Dreamers of Decadence by Philippe Jullian.

Continue reading “Ballard and the painters”

Ma Petite Ville

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A typically splendid fin de siècle cover design by Léon Rudnicki for an 1898 volume of childhood memoirs by Jean Lorrain (1855–1906). The author was a flamboyantly homosexual poet, novelist and journalist whose addiction to ether and other excesses ended his life at the age of 50. Philippe Jullian is quoted on glbtq.com as saying Lorrain was “truly, at the fin de siècle, Sodom’s ambassador to Paris”. Jullian, as I never tire of repeating, wrote the best book on the Symbolist period, Dreamers of Decadence (1971), and that quote reminds me that I ought to track down a copy of his Lorrain biography.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

The art of Giulio Aristide Sartorio, 1860–1932

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Giulio Aristide Sartorio is generally counted as one of the Italian Symbolists, along with painters such as Giovanni Segantini. He’s also one of the few notable artists of the period to have worked as a film director.

I’ve been fascinated by the curiously erotic academic style of Sartorio’s early work for years but these paintings rarely appear in books (although there have been a couple of monographs) and there’s little decent attention given to him on the web. Philippe Jullian in his essential guide to Symbolism, Dreamers of Decadence (Pall Mall Press, 1971), describes his work as being “vast paintings… full of handsome warriors who are always naked and generally dead.” Gabriele D’Annunzio, who knew heroic camp when he saw it, became a fan when the pair met in Rome in the 1880s. Sartorio illustrated D’Annunzio’s Isaotta Guttadàuro in 1886 and they continued to collaborate into the 1920s. One possible reason for Sartorio’s falling out of favour may have been later association with Mussolini’s Fascists, something else he shared with D’Annunzio.

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Diana of Ephesus and the Slaves (1893–98).

Much as I’d like to point you to a large reproduction of the bizarre Diana of Ephesus and the Slaves, there doesn’t seem to be one around just now. However, you can see a few gallery pages of Sartorio’s work here if you don’t mind the copyright label spoiling everything.

Update: A reasonable copy of the Diana painting has turned up. Click the image above.

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Diana of Ephesus and the Slaves (detail).

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Gorgon and the Heroes (1895–99).

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L’Invasione degli Unni (no date).

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Siren or The Green Abyss (1900).

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Pico, roi du Latium, et Circé de Thessalie (1904).

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Pico, roi du Latium (detail).

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Ex libris Gabrielis Nuncii “per non dormire” (1906).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Angels 4: Fallen angels