Holzmüller and the Quays

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US one sheet (1996).

Heinrich Holzmüller (also spelt Holtzmüller) was a German printmaker and calligrapher active during the 16th century. He may have been dead for centuries but this inconvenience didn’t prevent him from appearing as an interviewer in the catalogue for the MoMA exhibition of artworks by the Brothers Quay that ran throughout the end of 2012.

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Film tie-in edition of Jakob von Gunten (1995).

One of the more informative pieces of information to come from that interview concerned the Quays’ resurrection of typefaces designed by Holzmüller in his Liber Perutilis, a book about lettering and calligraphy published in 1553. The Quay versions were most visible around the time of the production of their first feature, Institute Benjamenta (1995): you can see them on the posters, on the cover of the Serpent’s Tail tie-in edition of Jakob von Gunten and also inside the rare soundtrack CD which the Quays designed for Lech Jankowski.

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Institute Benjamenta soundtrack booklet (1998).

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Institute Benjamenta soundtrack booklet (1998).

I’ve had the MoMA catalogue since it was published, and more than once had searched half-heartedly for Holzmüller’s book without success. A more recent search turned up the goods, however (sometimes it helps to keep following leads from one page to another): a copy of Liber Perutilis may be found online at the Universitätsbibliothek Basel.

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Liber Perutilis is only a short book compared to some in the field, but it’s also much more varied and original than others I’ve seen. Among the alphabets which the Quays digitised there are sets showing the letters doubled and tripled in the manner of monograms. The Quays have often signed themselves using a double Q so this may explain the attraction. The undoubled alphabet is especially striking for Holzmüller’s distortions of the letterforms which make them seem like characters viewed under rippled glass. At a time when most books about lettering and calligraphy were showing alphabets produced by careful and elegant hands this is a feature which to our eyes seems surprisingly advanced. The Quays have copied the alphabets fairly closely, making minor changes such as rounding off an E and adding the J and U which are always missing in Latin alphabets of the period. Elsewhere in the book there are many examples of calligraphic flourishes and some unusual pieces of decorative knotwork. As for Holzmüller’s posthumous interview, copies of the MoMA catalogue are still available, while the interview itself will be reprinted in the booklet for the BFI’s forthcoming Blu-ray collection, Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay

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More from the Quays, and one of their most recent animated films. Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H. is a 25-minute piece made in 2013 for a commission from the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. The film is subtitled Fragments and Motifs from the Writings of Felisberto Hernández, the “F.H.” of the title. Hernández was a Uruguayan writer whose fabulist fiction has been praised by Italo Calvino and Gabriel García Márquez, and as with the Quays’ films based on the work of Bruno Schulz and Robert Walser it probably helps to be acquainted with the source. In this case I’m not, although reading a description of Hernández’s Piano Stories—the only (?) collection in English—I ought to remedy that.

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The content may be South American but the Hernández’s fictional world is explored using the same accumulation of hints and allusions as in the films based on the work of European writers. The Quays’ recent shorts have favoured HD video and anamorphic distortion, and that’s the technique adopted here. I can’t fault their animation or their mise-en-scène but I keep hoping they might find a way to use video that has more of the grain and texture of their earlier films. I’m also hoping we might see these recent works gathered together in a disc collection in the near future. Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H. is a recent arrival at YouTube, and may not be there for long so watch it while you can.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Weekend links 199

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Follow the Leader (London, 2011) by Isaac Cordal.

• “Brutalism is the decor of dystopian films, literature and comics, just as gothic is for horror.” Jonathan Meades‘ A-Z of brutalism.

Vitaly Shevchenko on the urban explorers of the ex-USSR. Related: Photos by Vitaliy Raskalov from the top of the Shanghai Tower.

Joe Banks reviews the throbbing, hissing, minatory pulses of the Black Mill Tapes 1–4 by Pye Corner Audio.

Walter Benjamin is the only one among the commentators who attempts to pin down the anonymous, evanescent quality of Walser’s characters. They come, he says, “from insanity and nowhere else. They are figures who have left madness behind them, and this is why they are marked by such a consistently heartrending, inhuman superficiality. If we were to attempt to sum up in a single phrase the delightful yet also uncanny element in them, we would have to say: they have all been healed.” Nabokov surely had something similar in mind when he said of the fickle souls who roam Nikolai Gogol’s books that here we have to do with a tribe of harmless madmen, who will not be prevented by anything in the world from plowing their own eccentric furrow.

Le Promeneur Solitaire: WG Sebald on Robert Walser

Drink The New Wine, an album by Kris Force, Anni Hogan, Jarboe, Zoe Keating and Meredith Yayanos.

• At 50 Watts: Illustrations by Fortuné Méaulle for Alphabet des Insectes by Leon Becker.

Lawrence Gordon Clark, Master of Ghostly Horror. An interview by John D’Amico.

• Chapel Perilous: Notes From The New York Occult Revival by Don Jolly.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 107 by Ernestas Sadau.

• An Occult History of the Television Set by Geoff Manaugh.

• Was Ist Das? The Krautrock Album Database.

• First dérive of the year by Christina Scholz.

John Waters’ Youth Manifesto.

Gardens of Earthly Delights

Psychedelic Folkloristic

Water Music I / Here Comes The Flood / Water Music II (1979) by Robert Fripp & Peter Gabriel | After The Flood (1991) by Talk Talk | Flood (1997) by Jocelyn Pook

Weekend links 119

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The BFI’s recent DVD release of Peter de Rome’s gay porn films has been mentioned here a couple of times already but I only bought a copy this week. It’s a remarkable release for a number of reasons, not least for showing how much attitudes towards pornography in Britain have changed in recent years. De Rome’s films are explicit enough to ensure that in the 1970s and 1980s anyone caught selling them in the UK might have been imprisoned. That you can now buy them uncut from a high street shop on a disc packaged with the usual care by the British Film Institute means another small part of our iniquitous past has gone for good. Among the extras there’s a documentary with the 88-year-old director discussing his work. This week he talked to BUTT magazine who also have one of his shorter films from the DVD, Hot Pants, on their site.

• “Reading this book, it is hard not to feel that the largest mental health problem – the really crazy thing – is society’s attitude to drugs in general and LSD in particular…” Phil Baker reviews Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain by Andy Roberts.

• “Loved by aristocrats and immortalized in literature, Denham Fouts remains virtually unknown in his own hometown.” Richard Wall on The World’s Most Expensive Male Prostitute.

The very etiology of rabies is mythic: once the bite heals and the virus has traveled to the brain, “the wound will usually return, as if by magic, with some odd sensation occurring at the site.” Then there’s the fact that no definitive diagnosis can be made without taking a biopsy of the sick animal’s brain, leaving only one gory solution: decapitation.

Rabies is horror’s muse. In almost all iterations of the genre, those we most trust suddenly turn strange: a boyfriend morphs into a wolf at midnight, a fiancé turns out to be harboring a mad first wife in the attic, a friend is bit by a zombie and goes berserk.

Alice Gregory reviews Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy.

• The Horror of Philosophy: Erik Davis talks to Eugene Thacker about Lovecraft, medieval mysticism, and thinking the world-without-us.

Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges: A Tumblr for those protesting the current anti-gay stance of the Boy Scouts of America.

• His Father’s Best Translator: Lila Azam Zanganeh on the late Dmitri Nabokov.

Les Liaisons dangereuses: illustrations by Alastair (Hans Henning Voigt).

• Andrea Scrima looks at Robert Walser’s Der Spaziergang (The Walk).

10 Great Places to Meet Lesbians If You Have a Time Machine.

• Jesse Bering in Scientific American asks “Is Your Child Gay?

As Above, So Below (1981) by Tom Tom Club | Genius Of Love (1981) by Tom Tom Club | Mea Culpa (1981) by Brian Eno & David Byrne.