Hands with a mind of their own

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My weekend viewing included two films based on The Hands of Orlac (1920), a novel by Maurice Renard. This is one of those books that remains little read and seldom discussed even though its central idea—a concert pianist injured in a train wreck is given the hands of an executed murderer in a transplant operation—has prompted many film adaptations, almost enough to make the novel the origin of a sub-genre of hand-transplant horror. Robert Wiene’s The Hands of Orlac was the first screen adaptation made in 1924, and is another in the long list of silent films I’ve known about for decades but had to wait until now to see. The film is notable for reuniting the director of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari with Conrad Veidt, the actor who portrayed Caligari’s murderous somnambulist, Cesare, in a mute role that mostly required stalking around acutely-angled sets in a black body stocking.

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The Hands of Orlac: Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) is besieged by nightmares in his colossal hospital room.

Veidt has much more to do as the lead in The Hands of Orlac, giving a suitably tormented performance as the pianist convinced that his new hands retain the violent impulses of their former owner. The acting from Veidt and Alexandra Sorina as Orlac’s wife, Yvonne, is often wildly emotive, surprisingly so for a film made near the end of the silent era when the mannerisms of early silent pictures were being replaced by greater naturalism. Lotte Eisner in The Haunted Screen explains this in terms of the Expressionist influence which was still prevalent in German cinema, and which extends beyond lighting and set design. A scene in which Orlac is overwhelmed by his predicament is described by Eisner as “an Expressionist ballet”; when Orlac holds a dagger aloft this becomes an unmistakable mirroring of a climactic moment in Caligari.

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Continue reading “Hands with a mind of their own”

Weekend links 217

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Le Petit Journal, June 16, 1912. Via Beautiful Century.

Occult art by Nicomi Nix Turner, Daniel Martin Diaz, Amy Earles and William Crisafi. Related: Illustrations by Ernest M. Jessop for The Witches Frolic by Thomas Ingoldsby.

• “Our definition of ‘Industrial’ then was a very broad one, it’s definitely not so much now.” Chris Carter & Cosi Fanni Tutti on 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle.

• At Dangerous Minds: the Amok Assault Video (1988), an hour of the bizarre, the extreme and the outré which will probably get yanked from YouTube before too long.

I’ve always thought the exchange of words for money is no more and no less problematic than any other kind of prostitution—and it’s important that we prostitutes control a certain amount of our production (and reproduction, for that matter). If I’m writing a book and I’m warned, “Oh, this is unsaleable, you need to make it shorter,” or, “It has to be this, or that,” I’m proud to say I don’t pay attention.

Though this is becoming more difficult. As large publishers turn into monopolies, and the MBAs who are running them—maybe editors used to run them before—are steadily tightening the screws, they feel more and more that they get to call the shots.

Writers can do anything, says William T. Vollmann

• Mixes of the week: Over two hours of Coil and other artists sequenced by Surgeon, and Secret Thirteen Mix 122 by DJ Skirt.

Alan Moore calls for a boycott of the “wretched” new Hercules film on behalf of his friend Steve Moore.

Joe Orton‘s first play, Fred and Madge, will receive its world premier in September.

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Ned Raggett found the drawing of mine that’s part of the Tentacles exhibition currently showing at the Monterey Aquarium, California. Thanks, Ned! There’s a sepia-toned version of the drawing in my Cthulhu calendar.

• “Weird is a wayward word,” says Erik Davis in an exploration of weirdness old and new.

• More details about the forthcoming Scott Walker + Sunn O))) collaboration.

• A trailer for a reissue of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

A history of sex toys in pictures.

Books on Book Covers

Octopus’s Garden (1969) by The Beatles | The River (1970) by Octopus | Octopus (1970) by Syd Barrett