Design as virus 15: David Pelham’s Clockwork Orange

clockworkbook.jpg

Design by David Pelham (1972).

Continuing an occasional series. Pity the poor designer who has to create a new cover for Anthony Burgess’s novel when David Pelham’s Penguin cover—created in haste forty years ago—is more visible than ever. Pelham’s design is a familiar sight on these pages but it’s also an increasingly familiar sight elsewhere, having become the primary visual signifier not only of the novel itself but also the novel’s entanglement with Stanley Kubrick’s film. Burgess came to resent the cult power of the film and the way it inflated the status of one of his early novels whilst overshadowing the rest of his work. The book still overshadows his other novels but what’s interesting now, fifty years after it was published, and forty years on from Pelham’s cover design, is seeing the novel clawing back some of the territory ceded to the film, in part because of that memorable cog-eyed face. What follows is a look at some of the subsequent reworkings of Pelham’s design.

clockworkposter1.jpg

Artwork by Philip Castle, design by Bill Gold (1971).

It’s necessary to mention the original poster art first since the fat title typography gets reused more than any other part of the film’s publicity. The poster was also indirectly responsible for Pelham’s cover design when Kubrick denied Penguin any use of his promotional material:

Barry Trengove had designed a delightful cover for the Penguin edition of A Clockwork Orange and then the movie came along. While the Penguin marketing department was desperate to tie in with the film graphics, the director of the movie Stanley Kubrick wasn’t at all interested in tying in with the book. Consequently I was given the task of commissioning an illustration that gave the impression of being a movie poster. Sadly I was subsequently let down very badly by an accomplished airbrush artist and designer (whose name I will keep to myself), who kept calling for yet more time and who eventually turned in a very poor job very late. I had to reject it which was a hateful thing to have to do because we were now right out of time.

[…]

Well there I am, late in the day and having to create a cover for A Clockwork Orange under pressure. Already seriously out of time I worked up an idea on tracing paper overnight, ordering front cover repro from the typesetter around 4.00 am. I remember that my type mark-up was collected by a motorcycle messenger around about 5.00 am. Later that morning, in the office, I drew the black line work you see here on a matt plastic acetate sheet, specifying colours to the separator on an overlay while the back cover repro was being pasted up by my loyal assistants who had the scalpel skills of brain surgeons. I had wonderful assistants, absolutely wonderful.

Then more motorcycle messengers roaring around London in large crash helmets; and some days later I would see a proof. In those days, that was quick! Since those times I have often been amused to notice that my hurried nocturnal effort of so long ago appears to have achieved something of iconic status, for I’ve seen this cog-eyed image on fly-posters in Colombia, on t-shirts in Turkey, and put to a variety of uses in Canada, Los Angeles and New York. Because I did it, I spot it. Its like walking into a room where a party’s going on and, although the room is buzzing with conversation, if somebody simply mentions your name in conversation you immediately pick it up because it’s so familiar.

Penguin by Designers: David Pelham

clockworkposter2.jpg

A scarce item, allegedly from 1972 (although it may be from a year later), which surprisingly uses the book design with the film poster titles. According to a film memorabilia site “This rare alternate style R-Rated poster was designed for wild posting exclusively in New York and Los Angeles”. In the US the film was given an X rating on its first release meaning that many theatres wouldn’t have shown it. Following a few edits it was reissued with an R rating. On the back of the 1972 Penguin paperback there’s notice of a copyright restriction against selling that edition in the US so Pelham’s design wouldn’t have been familiar there until much later.

Continue reading “Design as virus 15: David Pelham’s Clockwork Orange”

Helmets

fmj.jpg

Full metal Jacket poster (1987). Illustration by Philip Castle.

Watching Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket on Blu-ray recently I was wondering again whether anyone has noted the similarity between the film’s poster design and the cover for the UK edition of one of its source books, Michael Herr’s Dispatches. At the risk of repeating some common piece of Kubrick lore, here goes.

Airbrush artist Philip Castle painted the helmet that’s become the perennial image used to promote the film. Kubrick often reused the services of people he trusted, and had earlier employed Castle as poster artist for A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick also oversaw the design of publicity materials for his later films so we can be reasonably sure this idea was one of his.

herr.jpg

Dispatches (1979). Illustration by Steven Singer.

Michael Herr’s collection of reports about the Vietnam war was first published in the US in 1977 with a UK edition following a year later. The cover of the US first edition is unremarkable compared to this typically excellent Picador design from 1979 (no designer is credited). That year saw the release of Apocalypse Now for which Herr wrote the narration. Kubrick was eager to turn Herr’s book into a film but neither of them could find a suitable story to provide a structure for Herr’s reportage until the director decided to weld Dispatches to the first two thirds of Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers (1979). Full Metal Jacket mixes episodes and speech/dialogue from both books: Hasford’s sniper attack on a jungle trail gets transplanted to Herr’s description of the fighting in Hue City.

hasford.jpg

The Short-Timers (1987). No illustration credit.

Hasford’s novel was first published in the UK in this shoddy tie-in version with some generic war painting badly cropped into helmet shape in order to match the film poster. Such a good book really deserved better than this hack design. Much as I like Full Metal Jacket, when you read Herr and Hasford you have to admit that the film only captured a fraction of the horror and madness in the books. Herr’s writing is justly celebrated while Hasford’s novel seems to have been forgotten again. Anyone who likes Kubrick’s film ought to search it out, it’s an indelibly memorable and disturbing read. The sniper scene is far more brutal and chilling than its cinematic equivalent, and is delivered by stark prose like this:

The snipers zero in on us. Each shot becomes a word spoken by death. Death is talking to us. Death wants to tell us a funny secret. We may not like death but death likes us. Victor Charlie is hard but he never lies. Guns tell the truth. Guns never say “I’m only kidding.” War is ugly because the truth can be ugly and war is very sincere.

Also worth searching out is Herr’s short memoir, Kubrick, published the year after the director’s death, in which the writer describes his three-year collaboration on Full Metal Jacket‘s screenplay. It’s a generous and insightful piece of writing, worlds away from Frederic Raphael’s condescending and mean-spirited Eyes Wide Open.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Kubrick shirts

A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic

kass.jpg

Bluebeard (1982) by János Kass.

I thought I might not be able to do a fresh playlist this year, so much has already been covered by the previous lists (see the links below to earlier posts).

The search for new tonalities and timbres in 20th-century orchestral music led many composers to produce works that sound like—and have been used as—horror film soundtracks although you’ll never find critical discussion acknowledging such a vulgar reaction. This is a very masculine list although some of the performers are women. I might have included Diamanda Galás but she was in the first list, as was Delia Derbyshire with her associates in White Noise, the subject of a longer post here.

The Isle of the Dead (1909) by Sergei Rachmaninov
Mentioned here a few days ago, Rachmaninov’s suitably sombre piece is one of many compositions to borrow the medieval Dies Irae hymn for one of its themes.

Bluebeard’s Castle (1911) by Béla Bartók
Frank Zappa once said that his initial response upon hearing the music of Edgard Varèse was “These chords are mean; I like these chords.” I feel the same about Bartók’s music which can get very mean indeed. The obvious piece to mention would be the Adagio from Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste which Stanley Kubrick used in The Shining. Instead I’ve selected Bartók’s only opera, a psychodrama for two performers and orchestra in which Bluebeard’s new wife, Judith, explores the castle (which also represents her husband’s character) only to find everything there stained with blood.

Visage (1961) by Luciano Berio
In which Berio records his wife and frequent collaborator, Cathy Berberian, then dissects her vocalisations to disturbing effect. “Visage contains no singing, and virtually no words,” says Martin Butler. “The product of days of gruelling recording for Berberian (leaving her physically damaged), it instead consists of her laughter, moans and groans, snorts and wheezes, and gibberish, all brilliantly edited, filtered, distorted and mixed with electronic backing. It is a remarkable demonstration of the power of the wordless voice. The effect is shocking and extreme, but also hilarious and touching – and often all these things simultaneously.”

Bohor (1962) by Iannis Xenakis
In addition to making some of the most thrilling and advanced new music of the 20th century, Xenakis chose great titles for his compositions, frequently unusual words. Bohor is a recording of layered sound sources that include a Laotian mouth organ, prepared piano, Iraqi and Hindu jewellery, and should ideally be heard with the sounds surrounding the listener. Intended by its composer to represent “the onset of madness”.

xenakis.jpg

Design by Paula Bisacca.

Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Maya City, Destroyed by Themselves for Religious Reasons (1966) by Giacinto Scelsi
And speaking of great titles… The Italian composer uses orchestra, a choir and an Ondes Martenot to convey an ancient apocalypse. Part III was selected by Robbie Robertson (along with works by other composers listed here) for the Shutter Island soundtrack.

Lontano (1967) by György Ligeti
Stanley Kubrick used Ligeti’s music in three of his films. Lontano‘s piercing harmonics and growling chords prowl through The Shining together with pieces by Bartók and Penderecki.

Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land (1970) by George Crumb
Many of the pieces here jangle the nerves but none more than Crumb’s composition for string quartet, glass and metal instruments, a part of which is used in The Exorcist. Composed “in time of war”, it’s a howl of despair whose opening manages to be even more disturbing than Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The 1990 Kronos Quartet recording is essential.

logos.jpg

Logos (Rituel Sonore) (1970) by Igor Wakhévitch
“Sound ritual for pop group, mixed choir and magnetic tape.” The first album by the elusive French composer, a composition for a ballet, described by Alan Freeman as “a soprano singer, strange orchestral textures and percussives (drums, cymbals, gongs, etc.) blended with effects and processing. As the ominous percussion sets off with drum-rolls and ritualistic tension, the mood is of a looming anticipation of what is to come. Here we go through phases of weird swirling effects, vivid reverb and atmosphere. The tension becomes overpowering, yet we are led on…”

The Dream of Jacob (1974) by Krzysztof Penderecki
The Polish composer wrote for film soundtracks as well as the concert hall so it’s no surprise that his work can be heard in The Exorcist, The Shining and Shutter Island. The atmosphere of sustained malevolence in this piece is perfect for Kubrick’s haunted house. Whatever Jacob was dreaming about, it wasn’t pleasant.

zorn.jpg

Design by Heung-Heung Chin.

Necronomicon (2004) by John Zorn
A five-part composition for string quartet from Zorn’s Magick album.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Powell’s Bluebeard
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween
The music of Igor Wakhévitch

Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin

penda4.jpg

This is a post I’d been intent on writing for the past four years but kept putting off: why go to great lengths to describe another television drama which people can’t see? And how do you easily appraise something which haunted you for twenty years and which remains a significant obsession? My hand has been forced at last by a forthcoming event (detailed below) so this at least has some fleeting relevance, but before getting to that let’s have some facts.

penda3.jpg

Penda’s Fen was a TV play first screened in March 1974 in the BBC’s Play For Today strand. It was shot entirely on film (many dramas in the 1970s recorded their interiors on video) and runs for about 90 minutes. The writer was David Rudkin and it was directed by Alan Clarke, a director regarded by many (myself included) as one of the great talents to emerge from British television during the 1960s and 70s. The film was commissioned by David Rose, a producer at the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, as one of a number of regional dramas. Rudkin was, and still is, an acclaimed playwright and screenwriter whose work is marked by recurrent themes which would include the tensions between pagan spirituality and organized religion, and the emergence of unorthodox sexuality. Both these themes are present in Penda’s Fen, and although the sexuality aspect of his work is important—pioneering, even—he’s far from being a one-note proselytiser. Alan Clarke is renowned today for his later television work which included filmed plays such as Scum (banned by the BBC and re-filmed as a feature), Made in Britain (Tim Roth’s debut piece), The Firm (with Gary Oldman), and Elephant whose title and Steadicam technique were swiped by Gus Van Sant. Penda’s Fen was an early piece for Clarke after which his work became (in Rudkin’s words) “fierce and stark”.

The most ambitious of Alan Clarke’s early projects, Penda’s Fen at first seems a strange choice for him. Most scripts that attracted Clarke, no matter how non-naturalistic, had a gritty, urban feel with springy vernacular dialogue (and sometimes almost no dialogue). David Rudkin’s screenplay is different: rooted in a mystical rural English landscape, it is studded with long, self-consciously poetic speeches and dense with sexual/mythical visions and dreams, theological debate and radical polemic—as well as an analysis of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. But though Penda’s Fen is stylistically the odd film out in Clarke’s work, it trumpets many of his favourite themes, in particular what it means to be English in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Howard Schuman, Sight & Sound, September 1998

Spencer Banks is the principal actor in Penda’s Fen, playing Stephen Franklin, an 18-year-old in his final days at school. The BBC’s Radio Times magazine described the film briefly:

Young Stephen, in the last summer of his boyhood, has somehow awakened a buried force in the landscape around him. It is trying to communicate some warning, a peril he is in; some secret knowledge; some choice he must make, some mission for which he is marked down.

penda2.jpg

The magazine also interviewed Rudkin about the film:

“I think of Penda’s Fen as more a film for television than a TV play—not just because it was shot in real buildings on actual film but because of its visual force…

“It was conceived as a film and written visually. Some people think visual questions are none of the writer’s business—that he should provide the action and leave it to the director to picture it all out. For me, writing for the screen is a business of deciding not only what is to be shown but how it is to be seen…

Penda’s Fen is a very simple story; it tells of a boy, Stephen, who in the last summer of his boyhood has a series of encounters in the landscape near his home which alter his view of the world…
Continue reading “Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin”

Naked furniture

blazquez.jpg

Taking a break from the psychedelic overload today with a return to (what else?) black and white photographs of naked men. The subjects this time are from Mobilario Humano, fanciful suggestions for furniture designs by David Blázquez which use the photographer himself as the subject, collaged into a series of pliable clones. Allen Jones produced similar work with female figures in the 1960s—and Stanley Kubrick borrowed Jones’ idea for A Clockwork Orange—but this is the first time I’ve seen male figures used this way.

Thanks to Carmine for the tip!