Weekend links 314

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Avebury Kite (2006) by David Alderslade.

• “Klaus Mann, son of Thomas Mann, author of Mephisto, was one of the first in Germany to write gay novels and plays.” Walter Holland reviews Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann by Frederic Spotts.

The Pale Brown Thing, a shorter/alternate version of Fritz Leiber’s supernatural masterwork, Our Lady of Darkness, is given a limited reprinting by Swan River Press next month.

• “Not only is metal not directly harmful to adolescent minds, as the thinking goes, it may actually be helpful.” Christine Ro on the reappraisal of a once-suspect musical genre.

Something of that tension between past and future is visible in Beardsley’s work. It is the art of a dying era peering, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, into the next. For all the prancing and bravado, Beardsley’s art was really about finding something in which to believe—and if Beardsley came to believe in anything it was the deep black line. Shading held little interest for Beardsley, and color fascinated him not at all. The black line and white space were all he needed.

Morgan Meis on Aubrey Beardsley

• More of my art for Bruce Sterling’s forthcoming Dieselpunk novella, Pirate Utopia, has been revealed. Tachyon will be publishing the book in November.

• “Secretly, though, I frequent junk shops because I am wishing for some kind of transcendence,” says Luc Sante.

• Mixes of the week: Gizehcast #28 by Christine Ott, and a mix for The Wire by Asher Levitas.

• “It took centuries, but we now know the size of the Universe.” Chris Baraniuk explains.

Barnbrook Studios creates identity for Kubrick exhibition at Somerset House.

• Watch a haunting video from Subtext Recordings and Eric Holm.

• Folklore Tapes: A Rum Music Special by Joseph Burnett.

Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine is on sale again.

Rhys Chatham’s favourite albums.

A Guide to Occult London

Skulls and Bones

Zero Time (1979) by Chrome | Zero-Gravity (1996) by Sidewinder |  Zero Moment (2016) by Contact

High-Rise posters

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An early promotional poster from 2014 by Jay Shaw.

Ben Wheatley’s film of the novel by JG Ballard approaches. As is my custom, I’ve been avoiding the trailers of this and any other film of interest but the posters are increasingly impressive. Ben Wheatley and fellow Brit filmmaker Peter Strickland (whose The Duke of Burgundy was produced by Wheatley’s Rook Films) have distinguished themselves not only by the quality of their films but also by caring about the designs used to advertise their work. Last month I linked to a story about the dire state of the US poster world where design-by-committee is the order of the day. The designs for Wheatley’s films have been a welcome riposte to this trend. Can the film live up to its posters? Find out in March.

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The first poster shows the doomed jeweller heading earthwards for his rendezvous with a parked car. Easy to imagine this design giving a Hollywood marketing committee the vapours.

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Somnambulists, a film by Mieczyslaw Waskowski

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This 9-minute film by Polish actor and director Mieczyslaw Waskowski was made in 1958. At that time Waskowski’s swirling blobs of paint in oil or water would have seemed merely abstract; a decade on and they would have unavoidable psychedelic or even cosmic connotations. Stanley Kubrick used similar effects for some of the shots in the Star Gate sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey only at much higher resolution and camera speed.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Flow III
Chris Parks

The Disappearance, a film by Stuart Cooper

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If you’re an obsessive cineaste there’s a good chance you maintain a mental list of the films you’d like to see, the films you’d like to see again, and the films you’d like to see reissued on DVD. The vagaries of distribution and ownership often conspire to make older films fall out of sight even when they’ve been produced and promoted by major studios, have had TV screenings and so on. This was famously the case with five of Alfred Hitchcock’s features—Vertigo and Rear Window among them—which managed to remain out of circulation for two decades; more notoriously there was Stanley Kubrick’s neurotic embargo on any screening of A Clockwork Orange in the UK which meant that my generation of Kubrick-watchers had to make do with a variety of pirate VHS recordings.

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Penguin edition, 1973. Photo by Van Pariser.

DVD reissues have chipped away at my “must see again” list with the result that Stuart Cooper’s The Disappearance (1977) recently found itself at the top of the catalogue. This film has never been as inaccessible as some: it received at least two TV screenings in the UK, and was available on VHS cassette for a time. There was also a DVD release although by the time I started looking for it the only available copies were secondhand ones commanding high prices. A year or so ago I read Derek Marlowe’s Echoes of Celandine (1970), the novel on which the screenplay is based, and as a result became more eager than ever to see the film again. Having finally watched a very poor-quality transfer of a VHS copy on YouTube I now feel sated, even if the experience was unsatisfying.

The Disappearance is one of those odd productions that ought to have all the ingredients to make a very memorable film but which never works as well as you might hope. The screenplay was by Paul Mayersberg, written between his two films with Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Eureka (1983); there’s a great cast: Donald Sutherland, David Warner, Peter Bowles, David Hemmings (who also produced), John Hurt, Virginia McKenna, Christopher Plummer; Kubrick’s cameraman of the 1970s, John Alcott, photographed the film shortly after winning an Oscar for his work on Barry Lyndon; the source material is very good: Marlowe’s novel is described as “a romantic thriller” but when the quality of the writing easily matches any literary novels of the period such a description makes it sound more generic and pot-boiling than it is.

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Ikarie XB 1

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A science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem (The Magellanic Cloud, 1955).

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Illustration by Teodor Rotrekl.

A film by Jindrich Polák, adapted from Lem’s novel by Polák and Pavel Jurácek. (1963).

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A Second Run DVD (2013).

With the exceptions of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker (both in a league of their own), I’ve never been very enthused about Eastern Bloc science-fiction cinema. If I hadn’t been watching some Czech films recently, and listening to the soundtrack music of Zdenek Liska, I might not have bothered with this one despite its being promoted as a visual influence on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ikarie XB 1 won the Grand Prize at the Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival in 1963, a tie with Chris Marker’s La Jetée. (Umberto Eco was one of the judges.) Fifty years on, Marker’s film has hardly dated at all while Ikarie XB 1 seems very much of its time. But Polák’s film still has some things going for it, surprisingly so considering the director was more used to making comedies.

Ikarie XB 1 is a spaceship travelling to Alpha Centauri in the year 2163. The DVD subtitles don’t translate the name Ikarie so unless you already know it means “Icarus” there’s no foreshadowing of any possible threat, at least until the opening shots of a deranged crewman stumbling through empty corridors. Many of the scenes which follow seem over-familiar but only because the scenario of space-crew as interstellar family has become such a standard feature of filmed space opera from Star Trek on. The production design is dated, of course, but the film makes great use of black and white in the lighting patterns, on-screen visuals, clothing designs, etc. It’s easy to see why Kubrick thought it was a cut above other SF films of the period, especially with its widescreen compositions. The DVD booklet (and Kim Newman’s interview on the disc) mention Kubrick’s stylistic borrowings; judge for yourself with these screen-grabs. I was hoping the Liska soundtrack might be more electronic than it is. It’s very much a Liska score—at times you can’t help but imagine a Svankmajer puppet lurking round a corner—but with added reverb and spectral organ chords. The latter assist a sequence where two of the crew members explore an apparently derelict space station.

This page reviews the film in some detail (complete with plot spoilers). For the curious, the entire film is a free download at the Internet Archive.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fiser and Liska
Two sides of Liska
Liska’s Golem
The Cremator by Juraj Herz