Weekend links 524

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Letter M from Abeceda (1942) by Jindrich Heisler.

• At the BFI: Matthew Thrift chooses 10 essential Ray Harryhausen films. “This is, I can assure the reader, the one and only time that I have eaten the actors. Hitchcock would have approved,” says Harryhausen about eating the crabs whose shells were used for Mysterious Island. Meanwhile, Alfred Hitchcock himself explains the attraction and challenges of directing thrillers.

“Although largely confined to the page, Haeusser’s violent fantasies were even less restrained, his writings littered with deranged, bloodthirsty, scatological scenarios.” Strange Flowers on Ludwig Christian Haeusser and the “Inflation Saints” of Weimar Germany.

• Death, Pestilence, Emptiness: Putting covers on Albert Camus’s The Plague; Dylan Mulvaney on the different design approaches to a classic novel.

• A trailer (more of a teaser) for Last and First Men, a film adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s novel by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…James Purdy: The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy.

Al Jaffee at 99: Gary Groth and Jaffee talk comics and humour.

Steven Heller on Command Records’ design distinction.

Czech Surrealism at Flickr.

Sisters with Transistors.

Solitude by Hakobune.

Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares (1974) by Tangerine Dream | Mysterious Traveller (Dust Devils Mix) (1994) by System 7 | The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra (2018) by Anna von Hausswolff

Claude Shepperson’s First Men in the Moon

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In the week following the Moon-landing anniversary I’ve been re-reading The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells. This was a late entry in Wells’ extraordinary run of science fiction novels, and is both shorter and lighter in tone than his earlier novels, some of which veer at times into outright horror. The First Men in the Moon might have been a serious examination of interstellar travel but the narrative is overtly comic in places, rather like The Man Who Could Work Miracles, a Wells story in which a fantastic gift is offered to a character unprepared to make the most of it. Wells’ lunar explorers—Bedford, a failed entrepreneur, and Cavor, an absent-minded inventor—lurch from one mishap to another, yoked together through their own inadequacies. Early in the proceedings Cavor destroys his house when his gravity-repelling “Cavorite” generates a violent funnel of air before launching itself into space. Cavor regards this as fortunate, explaining that a slightly different set of circumstances might have removed the breathable atmosphere from the entire planet for a day or so. The trip to the Moon is conducted almost on a whim: Cavor has no real reason for going, and Bedford tags along in the hope of finding some future business opportunity. Like the hapless protagonists of Withnail and I, this is a lunar voyage undertaken “by mistake”.

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It’s probable that Wells regarded absurdity as being the best way to approach a story that was less original than his earlier works. The first edition of the novel opens with an epigraph from Lucian’s True History (or True Story), a book from the second century AD which includes a journey to the Moon among its planetary travels. Lucian’s book was the first to feature such a journey (and is often regarded as the first work of science fiction) but many others followed, even before From the Earth to the Moon (1865) by Jules Verne, a book which Bedford mentions during the expedition discussions. (Cavor has never heard of it.)

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The illustrations here by Claude Allin Shepperson are also from the first edition, and are closer to the tone of the novel than those by other artists. E. Hering’s illustrations for American readers are in a style which is more detailed and inventive than Shepperson’s but which also suggests a more serious story. Readers expecting a new War of the Worlds would have been surprised. Shepperson’s drawing of Cavor’s spacecraft evidently provided the model for Ray Harryhausen in the 1964 film adaptation, although Harryhausen’s Selenites differ from both Shepperson and Wells’ descriptions. Nigel Kneale’s screenplay deviates from the book elsewhere but the film is still a more faithful adaptation than those based on Wells’ more popular novels, as are many of the other screen adaptations, the first being a lost silent from 1919. All of which reminds me that I’ve not seen Harryhausen’s film for many years. I’d welcome another date with the Grand Lunar.

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Continue reading “Claude Shepperson’s First Men in the Moon”

Ray Harryhausen, 1920–2013

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Concept art for Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

He could also draw, something the obituaries won’t necessarily mention. I wasn’t aware of Ray Harryhausen’s many detailed preliminary drawings until I had the good fortune to see him give a talk at the Preston SF Group in the early 1990s. I recall mention being made of Gustave Doré as an influence, something that wasn’t so surprising given that Harryhausen’s animation career began with Willis O’Brien, animator of the original Kong. The Skull Island sets for King Kong owed much to Doré’s illustrations, and the film also made use of equally detailed preliminary drawings by O’Brien, Byron Crabbe and Mario Larrinaga.

I was going to link to Jason and company’s celebrated fight with the skeletons but the only clips on YouTube at the moment lack Bernard Herrmann’s superb score. The Harryhausen/Schneer films always had low budgets but the producers understood the importance of music, and employed Herrmann on four of their films: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Mysterious Island (1961) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Miklós Rózsa provided the score for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) so here’s a favourite moment from that film with John Philip Law and Martin Shaw tackling Tom Baker’s sword-wielding Kali statue.

Ray Harryhausen’s production drawings can be seen in The Art of Ray Harryhausen (2005).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Swords against death

Swords against death

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Earlier this week Mr BibliOdyssey posted a link on Twitter to a blog entry of his from 2008, a collection of prints by Dutch artist Alexander Ver Huell (1822–1897). If I’d seen his post originally I didn’t recall it so this swordfight gives me an opportunity to draw attention to Ver Huell’s macabre and diabolical work. This unwinnable duel brings to mind the battle with the band of skeletons from Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963), one of my favourite things in the whole world when I was 10. Given how many of the pictures in the Men with swords archive have a quasi-classical theme it’s perhaps appropriate to list Jason and co. among them.

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The writhing on the wall

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Dracula (1992).

This is the closest you’ll get to a guest post here even though it’s been done remotely and I’ve changed things around a little. Following my mention yesterday of the Cocteau-derived lantern-arms in Francis Coppola’s Dracula, Jescie sent me an abandoned blog post which collected similar examples of the arms-through-the-walls motif. I’ve done this kind of thing here in the past so it’s good {feuilleton} material. Almost all these examples are fantasy- and horror-related which isn’t too surprising, and I’m sure there’ll be other examples in films I haven’t seen. If anyone has any suggestions just remember that hands grasping through doors and windows don’t count with this, it’s through the wall or not at all.

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La Belle et la Bête (1946).

Jean Cocteau sets things off in 1946, a perfect piece of fairytale Surrealism and one of the many memorable aspects of this film.

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La Belle et la Bête (1946).

Continue reading “The writhing on the wall”