Weekend links 286

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One of Faig Ahmed‘s melted Azerbaijani rugs.

• “I asked [William Burroughs] about the future of typography and he said that letterforms would go back to hieroglyphs, similar to the ancient Egyptians.” Jonathan Barnbrook discussing the thinking behind his design for blackstar, the new David Bowie album.

• “…a thick, yellow fog fills the air, sinks, crawls on the very ground; at 30 paces a house or a steam-ship look like ink-stains on blotting paper.” PD Smith review London Fog, a history of the capital’s lethal pea-soupers by Christine Corton.

• At Rue Morgue: Dejan Ognjanovic asks seven writers and editors why HP Lovecraft is still relevant. Related: big thanks to Paul Gallagher for plugging my Lovecraft calendar at Dangerous Minds.

• Some end-of-year weirdness from Moon Wiring Club: Into The Chattering Ground, a sample of the new releases available at the MWC website.

Elaine Lustig Cohen: accidental graphic designer. Related: book covers and other designs by Elaine Lustig Cohen.

• The tomb that architect John Soane built for his wife inspired the shape of Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box.

• Mix of the week: Stephen O’Malley at the controls of Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC Radio 6.

• At Dirge Magazine: S. Elizabeth talks to Alice Rogers about art and occultism.

Simon Callow on taking 25 years to write a three-volume life of Orson Welles.

Todd Haynes on Cate Blanchett, Saul Leiter and Queer Cinema.

Le Freak (1978) by Chic | Freak (2003) by LFO | Jovan Freak (Rune Lindbaek Nomaden Mix) (2012) by Georges Vert

Weekend links 258

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Simon Stålenhag‘s SF artwork will be published in book form if funding is secured. In the future everything will be crowdfunded for 15 minutes.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 494 is a fantastic dub selection by Colleen; Secret Thirteen Mix 151 is by Sally Dige; Stephen Mallinder‘s return to the doom-laden Industrial music of the 1980s suits the post-election mood. Mallinder’s mix is helping promote Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay, a documentary by Amélie Ravalec.

• “…it felt more like real life to me than the average hour-long television show.” Sopranos creator David Chase on what he enjoyed about Twin Peaks. Related: Twin Peaks Tarot cards.

Sound & Song in the Natural World edited by Tobias Fischer & Lara Cory. A book about animal music and communication with a 60-minute CD of field recordings.

• “The psychedelic renaissance has already begun, and for the most part I welcome it,” says Erik Davis in a wide-ranging interview with Sean Matharoo.

• It rumbles on: Brown Pundits on “An Embarrassment at PEN”. A useful collection of stories, reactions and polemic from the past two weeks.

Fanny and Stella: The Shocking True Story, a play by Glenn Chandler about Victorian London’s scandalous pair of cross-dressing men.

• Artist Charles Ray causes a problem for the Whitney Museum of American Art with his sculpture of a naked Jim and Huckleberry Finn.

• “Don’t believe Orson Welles,” says his biographer Simon Callow, “especially when he calls himself a failure.”

• A return to Adolph Sutro’s Cliff House features several photos I’d not seen before.

• More Tarot: Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology is looking for funding.

• At Dangerous Minds: The ancient magic of the record label.

Foreign Movie Posters

Tarot (Ace of Wands theme, 1970) by Andy Bown | Distant Dreams (Part Two) (1980) by Throbbing Gristle | The Devil In Me (1982) by Stephen Mallinder

The Importance of Being Oscar

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Picking up where we left off, I was thrilled to find that Micheál MacLiammóir’s one-man dramatised biography of Oscar Wilde had finally made it to YouTube. The Importance of Being Oscar was MacLiammóir’s 100-minute magnum opus, an acclaimed condensation of Wilde’s life and work first performed at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in 1960. Hilton Edwards produced for partner MacLiammóir who subsequently took his show around the world, including performances on Broadway.

MacLiammóir’s monologue interleaves sketches of Wilde’s life with substantial extracts from the major works—An Ideal Husband, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, De Profundis, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol—with the actor/writer often taking two roles in the same scene. The readings are deeply felt; this would have been a very personal project, not only for its subject being a fellow Irishman and playwright but also for MacLiammóir and Edwards’ status as gay men in Ireland at a time when they could never be open about their private lives. (Or openly secretive: Barbara Leaming’s biography of Orson Welles makes it clear that iniquitous laws did nothing to stifle the pair in their pursuit of other men.) Accounts of Wilde’s post-trial life are inevitably sombre but MacLiammóir notes that even prison couldn’t suppress Wilde’s sense of humour. A literary conversation with one of the warders is recounted, along with the famous barb thrown at Marie Corelli: “Now don’t think I’ve anything against her moral character, but from the way she writes she ought to be in here.” If MacLiammóir’s performance seems a little overwrought in the television studio it would have appeared less so on the stage.

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The BBC filmed The Importance of Being Oscar in the mid-60s, and I think that recording may be the one linked here, a version I recall being shown during an evening of Wilde-related TV in the late 1980s. Prior to this MacLiammóir had played Wilde himself for a televised dramatisation of the courtroom appearances broadcast by the BBC in 1960. This was a key year for reappraisals of Wilde’s reputation which also saw the cinema release of Oscar Wilde (with Robert Morley) and The Trials of Oscar Wilde (with Peter Finch). The latter is the superior film and performance even if Finch looks nothing like Wilde. Public attitudes were changing but all the films and TV plays at this time remained evasive about the precise nature of Wilde’s infractions. The Importance of Being Oscar follows this pattern with a fade to black after Wilde’s arrest; the second act opens with MacLiammóir as the judge passing sentence on Wilde and procurer Alfred Taylor. Circumspection doesn’t detract from the power of the monologue which has been revived in recent years, most notably by Simon Callow, another great Wilde enthusiast and also the biographer of MacLiammóir’s young protégé, Orson Welles.

Now that MacLiammóir’s monologue has resurfaced I’ll be hoping someone uploads John Hawkesworth’s Oscar (1985), a three-part television biography with Michael Gambon playing Wilde.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

The Trials of Oz

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If it’s a surprise to see Cockney geezer Phil Daniels masquerading as the erudite (and non-Cockney) Thomas De Quincey in The Art of Tripping, it’s even more of a surprise to see Hugh Grant in wig and hippy gear as Richard Neville in this 1991 dramatisation of the obscenity trial against Neville’s Oz magazine. Grant wasn’t exactly unknown when this was made but it was prior to Four Weddings and a Funeral so the casting didn’t seem very notable at the time.

The play was written by Geoffrey Robertson QC from the trial transcripts to observe the 20th anniversary of a lengthy and very public trial. Robertson in 1971 was an assistant to John Mortimer, the magazine’s lawyer, so the reconstruction may be taken to be an accurate one. In addition to Grant as Neville, Simon Callow plays Mortimer, Nigel Hawthorne is prosecutor Brian Leary, and Leslie Phillips is Judge Michael Argyle. Among the witnesses there’s Alfred Molina as George Melly (yet again; see yesterday’s post), and Nigel Planer as DJ John Peel, both of whom were called to testify that the notorious “School Kids” issue of Oz wasn’t an obscene publication. The trial, like the earlier drug busts against the Rolling Stones, was as much about the State trying to clobber a bunch of anarchist upstarts as anything that involved the pros and cons of antiquated laws. The three defendants—Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson—were also accused of “conspiring to corrupt public morals”; the obscenity issue was merely a pretext for getting the longhairs into the dock.

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Oz 28 (1970). Art by Raymond Bertrand.

This isn’t a lavish production—it’s stylised to the extent that the public gallery is made up of cardboard figures—but it’s good to know that there’s a (rough) copy out there after my tape of the original broadcast developed a fault. Not available, unfortunately, is the live studio discussion that followed in which Jonathan Dimbleby spoke to Geoffrey Robertson, Germaine Greer and others about the trial. The discussion featured a delicious moment when Dimbleby referred to Greer’s feminist issue (no. 29) as “C-Power Oz“. “Come on, Jonathan,” said Greer, “it was Cunt Power Oz!” Dimbleby then spluttered “Anyone can say ‘Cunt Power Oz‘…” and hastily moved on the discussion.

A year after his TV appearance Geoffrey Robertson was in Manchester Crown Court appealing an earlier ruling of obscenity against David Britton’s Lord Horror (1990) novel. I was in the public gallery on that occasion, and it was an education seeing how little had changed since the Oz trial, with a similarly Philistine and deeply ignorant judge presiding. Robertson overturned the ruling against the novel but a ruling against one of Savoy’s Meng & Ecker comics was upheld. In 1995 we were back in court attempting to argue for a jury trial against further rulings of obscenity, this time against one of my own comics, Hard Core Horror 5. (That issue is now the opening section of the Reverbstorm book.) We failed that time thanks to a magistrate who was even less inclined to listen to any argument.

The Oz trial may seem quaint and farcical today but the issues remain pertinent: some forms of art will always be in conflict with laws that are out-of-date, badly written or maliciously applied. And once you’re standing in a courtroom your opinion about the situation is of no consequence; you’re at the mercy of the people who make the rules.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin Sharp, 1942–2013
Raymond Bertrand paintings
Raymond Bertrand’s science fiction covers
The art of Bertrand
Oz magazine, 1967–73

The angels in their anguish

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Equus (2009).

As an addendum to the earlier post about the Clive Hicks-Jenkins retrospective currently running at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, here’s a brief look at the artist’s monograph which turned up in the post this week. Having seen much of this work only in Clive’s blog posts (many of which were day-to-day recordings of work in progress) it’s a real pleasure to see them at larger size in high-quality print. In addition to familiar works there are many sketches and smaller pieces interleaved with the text, and unlike many monographs this isn’t the work of a single author but features appreciations from Simon Callow, Damian Walford Davies, Andrew Green, Rex Harley, Kathe Koja, Anita Mills, Montserrat Prat, Jacqueline Thalmann and Marly Youmans, as well as notes and comments by the artist.

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Battle Ground (2007).

Andrew Wakelin has done a great job with the book’s design, the use of Gill Sans throughout feels just right. As mentioned before, the publisher is Lund Humphries, and they have a discount for orders made through their website. A few more page samples follow.

Continue reading “The angels in their anguish”