Weekend links 406

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Ways Of Seeing will be the next release by The Advisory Circle on the Ghost Box label, and with metallic gold cover art by Julian House.

• “The structure came to Argento while he was tripping on some good acid, a fevered dream logic piecing everything together. […] ‘People came running out, screaming, telling people in the queue “Don’t go in! Don’t go in! It’s all witches!” It just made everyone in line want to get in even more… it was amazing.'” Ben Cobb talks to Dario Argento about the making of a horror masterpiece, Suspiria.

• Mixes of the week: The Wire Playlist by Mary Halvorson, XLR8R Podcast 535 by Sofie, and Out of the Wood Show 93 by Robin The Fog.

• Death by Balloon: Chris Mautner on the horrifying and hilarious world of comic artist Junji Ito.

Look, any honest estimation of the new translation, by Michael Hofmann, of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz from NYRB Classics is bound to begin with duteous piety, lauding it, since it is a one-and-done masterpiece that’s basically impossible to oversell, as (why not) the single biggest event in publishing in a lifetime, a crucial refurbishment of something English-language readers have been missing out on for a century, and a long-missing piece of Modernism’s ponderous jigsaw. All of which is the case of course. But when we’re talking about a dense, all-but-untranslatable Weimar-era novel, whose only point of reference for Anglophone audiences until now has been Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s meticulous fifteen-hour adaptation from 1980 (one heck of a tease) it feels important to attempt a slight rescue from its own forbidding reputation, because Alexanderplatz is less a book than a living thing, and one that joyously resists the dust heap of bourgeois literary scholarship with its every line.

JW McCormack on the new translation of Alfred Döblin’s Modernist classic

Section 28 protesters 30 years on: “We were arrested and put in a cell up by Big Ben”.

Angelique Kidjo talks reinventing Talking Heads’ Remain In Light on new LP.

• The hidden lives of gay men in the Middle East: photographs by Hoda Afshar.

Al Pacino’s journey with Wilde’s Salomé.

Tenebrous Kate

• Are You Seeing (1969) by Ora | Seeing Out The Angel (1981) by Simple Minds | Sine Seeing (2014) by The Advisory Circle

Monsieur de Bougrelon by Jean Lorrain

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A reprint edition from 1909.

In 1881 there arrived from Normandy a good-looking young man with an unfortunate habit of painting his face: Jean Lorrain. He spent five years of his life in Montmartre, five years that were also the most dazzling ones for the hill whose chronicler he became. A brilliant journalist with an eye that missed no blemish, no absurdity, but could fill with tears on seeing beauty in a picture, a profile, a gown. From his first poems, Modernités, this fin-de-siècle Petronius evoked the whole life of Montmartre: transvestites, lesbians, go-betweens, outrageous bluestockings, failed poets declining into pimps, wrestlers, part-time gigolos for either sex.

Philippe Jullian in Montmartre (1977)

Among the books that Philippe Jullian wrote about notable fin-de-siècle personalities is a biography of Jean Lorrain (1855–1906), a volume which—to my continual frustration—has yet to be translated into English. If Lorrain is a neglected figure in contemporary France, he’s hardly known at all in the Anglophone world which is why the news last month of the first English translation of Monsieur de Bougrelon was so welcome.

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Jean Lorrain (1898) by Antonio de la Gandara.

I say that Lorrain is unknown but only to the general reader; to anyone familiar with fin-de-siècle Paris he’s an unavoidable presence, a chronicler of the city’s excesses and also one of the great characters of the period. Portraits and cartoons show the dandy but fail to communicate the reek of ether—he was an addict throughout his later years—which attended his presence. His drug-taking helped contribute to an early death at the age of 55 but, like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Lorrain managed to combine several years of indulgent pleasure-seeking with serious industry, producing over 40 literary works. Like Fassbinder he was also open about his homosexuality. The Paris of the 1890s wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about this but the Code Napoléon had never made homosexual acts a crime which is one of many reasons that Paris (and France in general) was a haven for the beleaguered British. In his sexual proclivities, his dandyism, and his aesthetic connoisseurship Lorrain is a good contender for a French equivalent of Oscar Wilde, another of Philippe Jullian’s biographical subjects. Lorrain wrote novels, plays and poetry, while his columns of journalism combined gossip and satire with tips for the aesthetically minded. His taste in people was (again) Fassbinderesque:

I have a great fondness for hoodlums, fairground wrestlers, butcher-boys and assorted pimps, both ordinary and extraordinary, who, along with some absolutely exquisite women and some men of talent, such as yourself, are the only company that I keep in Paris.

This life, and some of the author’s character, is reflected in Monsieur de Bougrelon, a short novel published in 1897. The story is narrated from the point of view of a pair of unnamed French visitors to Amsterdam who encounter their extraordinary compatriot when he makes a dramatic entrance into a cheap bordello. Monsieur de Bougrelon is an aged roué and purported aristocrat whose startling antique dress sense is dandyism gone to seed: swathed in old furs, bedizened with fake jewellery, and with dripping face-paint that prefigures another tragic figure in a city of canals, Thomas Mann’s Von Aschenbach. The French tourists have been made despondent by the dreariness of Amsterdam in winter so they welcome Monsieur de Bougrelon’s offer to lead them around the city, taking in museums, the city’s docks and the less reputable areas. While Monsieur de Bougrelon is present he maintains a running commentary, offering his opinions on the sights—Dutch art is amusingly dismissed as “bourgeois”—the people (“ugly”) and his own splendid life and lost loves. His tales about himself are tall and eventually verge on the improbable, but his presence engages the Parisians with its parade of lively invention, “imaginary pleasures” and phantom presences. Chief among the latter is Monsieur de Mortimer, de Bougrelon’s life-long friend, now dead and possibly the love of de Bougrelon’s life.

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This last matter is explored in an afterword by Eva Richter, the translator. While Monsieur de Bougrelon claims to be interested in women he has always been devoted to Monsieur de Mortimer, and the pair survive various affairs and obsessions to remain in each other’s company. Lorrain alludes to the true nature of the relationship when de Bougrelon compares himself and de Mortimer to Achilles and Patroclus. The surnames also offer clues with Mortimer signalling death while Bougrelon is a combination of the French name Bouglon and the word “bougre” whose equivalent in English is “bugger”. The French may have been more accepting of certain behaviours than the British but there were still limits, and Lorrain’s dallying with obscenity and homosexuality is decades in advance of Proust, Gide and Genet. But this isn’t the full substance of the novel. Monsieur de Bougrelon may be short but it contains some marvellous flights of fancy and torrents of description; it’s also blackly humorous in parts, although the dominant tone is of melancholy and a nostalgic regret for vanished days and lives. Melancholy and the omnipresence of death is a common theme in Decadent literature; Lorrain alludes in passing to another short melancholy story set in a city of canals, George Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte (1892).

Spurl Editions are to be commended for resurrecting this neglected novel which is diligently translated and annotated. Monsieur de Bougrelon will be published on November 1st when it will join Monsieur de Phocas and Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker (aka The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies) in being one of the few works available in English from an exotic bloom of the French fin de siècle.

Previously on { feuilleton }
New Life for the Decadents by Philippe Jullian
Philippe Jullian, connoisseur of the exotic
Ma Petite Ville

In Germany before the war

1: Fritz Haarmann (1879–1925)

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Arrow shows Haarmann’s attic residence in Rote Reihe, Hanover.

Haarmann was one of several serial murderers haunting Weimar Germany, variously nicknamed “the Butcher of Hanover”, “the Vampire of Hanover”, “the Wolf Man”, etc. for his sexual assault, murder and dismemberment of at least 24 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924. Haarmann also sold meat on the black market which led to rumours that some of the mince and other produce he sold was human flesh.

2: M (1931), a film by Fritz Lang.

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Thea von Harbou’s script for M is based in part on the Haarmann case although Lang’s child-killer is shown preying on girls rather than boys. Peter Lorre is superb in his first major role as the murderer, while Lang’s use of the new sound technology is remarkably inventive when compared to his stagey contemporaries in Hollywood.

3: M (1953), a film by Joseph Losey.

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Lang’s masterwork reworked as a Los Angeles film noir by Joseph Losey before McCarthyism sent him to Europe. This is one noir I still haven’t seen even though a major sequence takes place in that cult location, the Bradbury Building.

Continue reading “In Germany before the war”

Weekend links 262

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You’ll Never Be Alone, Even In Death (2014) by Stacey Rozich.

• “But the CD-R format, which eventually replaced the mix tape, turned out to be a technological letdown. ‘CD-Rs are just such an unstable format,’ Margolis says. ‘When you made 10 cassettes, the 10 cassettes generally played. If you made 10 CD-Rs, 8 of them played and 2 of ’em skipped. So that partially explains why people are going back to cassettes—it’s a cheap format that actually works.'” A huge article by Lisa Hix on the history and resilience of cassette tapes.

• “The word speculative comes from speculum, or mirror, and with speculative music the goal is to mirror the hidden processes of nature in sound.” David Metcalfe on Hawthonn, Coil and imaginal landscapes.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 498 by The Cyclist, and Adventures In Sound And Music 28 May 2015 compiled by Joseph Stannard.

Nabokov was an intimate writer. His reticences, his formal estrangements, his denial of interest in any reality beyond the text all need to be measured against that. Maximum closeness: not the closeness of ostentatious empathy but the closeness of one mind addressing another in the most thrilling terms. He speaks into the ear, sometimes dripping a little poison. He contrives to have a reader identify intimately with a protagonist or narrator, but even that is not enough; the reader receives secret handshakes from the author himself, behind a narrator’s back.

Michael Dirda quoting from Nabokov in America by Robert Roper

• Books old and new: The Encyclopedia of the Dead by Danilo Kis, and Stranger Days by Rachel Kendall.

• At Dangerous Minds: Il caso Valdemar (1936), a short Italian adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story.

Lustpiel is “a new online magazine for gay, lustful literature”. And a fair amount of art and porn.

• “Q: Is there any subject that is never acceptable to joke about?” No, says Curtis Brown.

Machines Are Obsolete, a new piece by Pye Corner Audio for the Ghost Box label.

• Ishbelle Bee (see yesterday’s post) is interviewed at SFFWorld and Book Swoon.

Laura June on the life of Djuna Barnes, stunt reporter and shocking modernist.

• Stream the debut LP from Ghost Harmonic, a new John Foxx project.

• Portraits of the BDSM community by Natasha Gornik.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder: 10 essential films

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Mirrorball (2009) by John Foxx & Robin Guthrie | Mirror (2012) by Emptyset | Mirrored (2013) by Silje Nes

Flowers: A Pantomime for Jean Genet

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Flowers (1986) by the Lindsay Kemp Company. Photos by Maya Cusell.

Weidmann appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, his head swathed in white bands, a nun and yet a wounded pilot fallen into the rye one September day like the day when the world came to know the name of Our Lady of the Flowers. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Paris and all of France, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: murder one, murder two, murder three, up to six, bespeaking his secret glory and preparing his future glory.

A little earlier, the Negro Angel Sun had killed his mistress.

A little later, the soldier Maurice Pilorge killed his lover, Escudero, to rob him of something under a thousand francs, then, for his twentieth birthday, they cut off his head while, you will recall, he thumbed his nose at the enraged executioner.

Finally, a young ensign, still a child, committed treason for treason’s sake: he was shot. And it is in honour of their crimes that I am writing my book.

(Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet. Translation by Bernard Frechtman, 1963)

Lindsay Kemp’s all-male version of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé has been the subject of several earlier posts, a production staged in the mid-70s with Kemp himself playing the part of Wilde’s femme fatale. Kemp’s company produced a related work in 1974, Flowers: A Pantomime for Jean Genet, a stage adaptation of Genet’s first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers (1942), in which Kemp played the part of drag queen Divine. Wilde and Genet aren’t so far removed from each other artistically although I can’t imagine them getting on in person. Both men were prisoners, of course, and Our Lady of the Flowers was famously written in prison, the first copy being discovered by a warder and destroyed. There’s a more direct connection in Fassbinder’s Querelle during the scenes where Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau) sings “Each man kills the thing he loves”, the most famous line from Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol which refers to (among other things) one of Genet’s obsessions: the prisoner condemned to death. Wilde would no doubt appreciate Genet’s poetic reimagining of his fellow prisoners, and his use of flowers as symbols; what Genet would have made of Lindsay Kemp’s typically extravagant and rather camp stage creation is anyone’s guess. He did write several plays but in later years evaded questions about them or his novels by claiming to have forgotten all his works. By the 1970s Genet was much more interested in the political struggles of the Black Panthers and the Palestinians.

Much as I like Wilde’s play, given the choice I think I’d prefer to see the Genet staging. Salomé is familiar enough from various stage and film adaptations whereas Flowers was unique. There is a video record of the latter from 1982 but the copy uploaded by Lindsay Kemp has had its soundtrack removed following the usual annoying copyright complaints about the music. So there’s the frustrating choice of watching the whole thing with no sound or watching this 28-minute video compilation of still photos by Maya Cusell from a 1986 performance with music that may be the original live score. One thing the photos show is how close in appearance is Kemp’s Divine to his dancer at the beginning of Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane (1976). In 2012 Kemp talked to Paul Gallagher about his film and stage career, Flowers included.

Update: As noted by radioShirley below, there is a copy of the 1982 performance with full soundtrack!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Querelle de Brest
Jean Genet, 1981
Un Chant d’Amour (nouveau)
Jean Genet… ‘The Courtesy of Objects’
Querelle again
Saint Genet
Emil Cadoo
Exterface
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Un Chant D’Amour by Jean Genet