Punch and Judy, Michel de Ghelderode, and the Brothers Quay

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The Quay Brothers’ first animated film, Nocturna Artificialia, was released in 1979. Prior to this there had been some short experiments but since these are always described as “lost” it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see them. The artistic success of Nocturna Artificialia prompted the Quays and producer-colleague Keith Griffiths to consider fresh outlets for their talents, and resulted in funding from Britain’s Arts Council for two arts documentaries combining live-action film with animated interludes. Nocturna Artificialia has long been available for home viewing on the various Quays DVDs but the two early arts films, Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy (1980) and The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898–1962 (1981), are omitted from the reissue canon for reasons that have never been very clear. Both films have been impossible to see unless you’re an academic or film programmer, at least until now. Once again, YouTube has provided an outlet for exceptional rarities.

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Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy

Now that finally I’ve watched these films it’s understandable why they don’t fit so easily with the Quays’ more personal output. Punch and Judy has obvious superficial parallels with Jan Svankmajer’s Punch and Judy (1966) but Svankmajer’s film is his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the murderous puppet. The Quays film is much more straightforward, devoting most of its running time to a history of Mr Punch and the other puppet characters. The story of Punch himself (narrated by Joe Melia) is intercut with a contemporary performance of the play by a genuine Punch and Judy man, Percy Press. Animated sequences are limited to small inserts between the documentary material before a lengthier section at the end that illustrates Harrison Birtwhistle’s Punch and Judy opera. This last section shows how much the Quays had developed their animation techniques since their first film, and is reminiscent of the opera sequences in their later film about Leos Janacek. Animation aside, there’s little else that’s recognisably Quay until the credits which are lettered by the brothers. (For this film and the following one they credit themselves as the “Brothers Quaij”.) Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy was of sufficient quality to be screened by the BBC in 1981 as part of the Omnibus arts strand.

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The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898–1962

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Michel de Ghelderode was a Belgian playwright whose grotesque and macabre works, many of which feature masks and puppets, are favourites of the Quays. This is a shorter film than the previous one (30 minutes rather than 45) but the territory is closer to the Quays’ own concerns. The animated sequences are fewer but they’re marvellous pieces, especially the longer central sequence which animates Ghelderode’s Fastes d’enfer (Chronicles of Hell). The figures in the latter piece may depict Ghelderode’s characters but the decor is 100% Quay, with a nocturnal cityscape and shadows from one of the trams that drift through their early films. A bonus for me was the music by Dome (Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis), a duo for whom the Quays later designed a record sleeve.

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The rest of the film consists of archive footage of Ghelderode wandering Belgian streets, and live performance of other scenes from his plays. All of this is strange and fascinating, only spoiled a little by the picture being very dark in places. (The screen shots here have been brightened.) Keith Griffiths says that this was a result of the film not being properly exposed, a consequence of the company still learning film-making as they went along. This may also explain why the film is missing from the official canon. If so, it’s a shame since it’s closer to the Quays’ own interests than some of their later commissions.

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Now that these films have surfaced there’s one more short from the early years that’s still unavailable. Ein Brudermord (1981) is based on a Franz Kafka short story, and runs for a mere 6 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m also hoping that someone may eventually post better copies of the Stravinsky and Janacek films, both of which have been prevented from DVD reissue by the copyrights on the music.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The mystery of trams
Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013
Holzmüller and the Quays
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

Max Ernst album covers

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The Road To Ruin (1970) by John & Beverley Martyn. Art: Un Semaine de Bonté (1934).

Having already looked at cover art featuring the work of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, a similar post for Max Ernst seemed inevitable. I did search for Ernst cover art after the Dalí post but at the time there were fewer examples. As usual there may be more than these since Discogs is the main search tool and they (or the albums) don’t always credit the artists. Despite having several books of Ernst’s work I’ve not been able to identify all the artwork so the Ernst-heads out there are welcome to fill in the gaps.

The Road To Ruin was John Martyn’s fourth album, and the second he recorded with wife Beverley. I’m surprised that this is the earliest example, I’d have expected a classical album or two to have predated it.

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Martinu’s Symphony No. 6 (Fantaisies Symphoniques) / Vorisek’s Symphony In D Major (1971); New Philharmonia Orchestra, Michael Bialoguski. Art: Bottled Moon (1955).

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Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók (1976); Tatiana Troyanos, Siegmund Nimsgern, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez. Art: The Eye of Silence (1943–44).

Bluebeard’s Castle is my favourite opera, and The Eye of Silence is my favourite Ernst painting, so this is a dream conjunction even if the match doesn’t work as well as it did for the cover of The Crystal World by JG Ballard. One to seek out.

Continue reading “Max Ernst album covers”

Balanchine, Lynes and Orpheus

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The photo above has appeared here before—it’s one of a number of dance photos taken by the great George Platt Lynes—but its subject has (for me at least) always been the source of some confusion. Since I dislike being nagged by petty conundrums I make a cursory search every so often to see if more details might be found. Five years ago all I knew was that the picture appeared in Philip Core’s Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984) where it was credited as showing dancers from Balanchine’s Icarus. Additional confusion was sown by a photo site showing the picture below with a statement that it was a) a Lynes photo (correct), and b) from Balanchine’s Die Fledermaus (wrong). No dates were given. The presence of a lyre made Orpheus seem a more likely subject: Balanchine wrote an Orpheus ballet for a Stravinsky score in 1948 but photos of that production showed very different dancers and costumes.

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It turns out that these photos are indeed for a Balanchine ballet on the Orpheus theme, a short-lived production, Orpheus and Eurydice, from 1936 based on music from Gluck’s opera. The dancers are Lew Christensen, William Dollar and Daphne Vane. What’s most surprising now is having found a photo that’s almost but not quite the one from the Core book; photos from this session are elusive, with searches hampered by other photos taken by Lynes of Balanchine’s later ballets. There may be more in this series.

Pinterest is a good place to see more of Lynes’ photos which range from fashion shoots and celebrity portraits to moody, and occasionally surreal, homoerotica.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The end of Orpheus
The recurrent pose 17
George Platt Lynes

Weekend links 165

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Cahill Expressway (1962) by Jeffrey Smart whose death was announced this week.

• “Russell Beale is awed by the beauty of the Roman silver Warren Cup showing men and youths making love, so startlingly erotic that the first time the British Museum was offered it in the 1950s, it turned it down flat. In 1999, when it came on the market again, the museum had to raise £1.8m to acquire it. ‘It’s just heaven, isn’t it?’ Russell Beale sighs.” Maev Kennedy on Same-Sex Desire and Gender Identity, a new exhibition at the British Museum.

• “The route to Tyburn Tree snaked through Holborn and St Giles, then went along Tyburn Road, today’s Oxford Street. It was dense with spectators.” Matthew Beaumont on the tiny memorial (Google view) for the estimated 50,000 people executed in the centre of London.

• Mixes of the Week: Bottoms Up by Staffan Lindberg for BUTT Magazine, and Electronic Ladyland, a collection of women with synths (and other instruments) from Bitch Media.

But the very thing that is valuable about diversity – the cultural and ideological clashes that it brings about – is precisely what many people fear. And that fear takes two forms. On the one hand you have the little Englander sentiment: immigration is undermining the national fabric, eroding our sense of British or Englishness, turning our cities into little Lahores or mini-Kingstons. And on the other you have the multicultural argument: that diversity is good, but it has to be policed to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions that diversity brings in its wake. And so we have to restrain speech, and police the giving of offence.

Kenan Malik on The Pleasures of Pluralism, The Pain of Offence.

L’Empire des Lumières is a great title for Anne Billson’s blog about Belgium. Tram-wire covered streets are one of my favourite things.

The Outer Church, 28 musical artists with an uncanny temperament collected by Joseph Stannard for Front & Follow.

His Heavy Heart, a film by Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins, is looking for Kickstarter funding.

• In 1997 Quentin Crisp wrote about “Ten Wonderful Gangster Movies” for Neon magazine.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep redesigned for the Penguin Design Award, 2013.

• Out on DVD/Blu-Ray this month: The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection.

A billion-pixel panoramic view of the planet Mars from the Curiosity Rover.

• In the TLS: Robert Craft on Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring.

Typophonic: Album cover typography.

The Owl Theremin is a thing.

LSD ABC

Spring Rounds From The Rite Of Spring (1975) by Alice Coltrane | Revenge Of The Black Regent (1999) by Add N To (X) | Sore Ga Afrirampo (2010) by Afrirampo

The Rite of Spring and The Red Shoes

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The Red Shoes: Moira Shearer and Léonide Massine.

Emeric is often too easily accused of basing the principal male character of The Red Shoes on Serge Diaghilev, to which he replies: “There is something of Diaghilev, something of Alex Korda, something of Michael, and quite a little bit of me.”

Michael Powell, A Life in Movies (1986)

Despite Emeric Pressburger’s qualificatory comments, there’s a lot more of the Ballets Russes in Powell and Pressburger’s film of The Red Shoes (1948) than first meets the eye. Or so I discovered, since I’d known about the film via my ballet-obsessed mother for years before I’d even heard of Diaghilev or Stravinsky. The most obvious connection is the presence of Léonide Massine who took the leading male roles in Diaghilev’s company following the departure of Nijinsky. He also choreographed Parade, the ballet which featured an Erik Satie score and designs by Picasso. The fraught relationship between Diaghilev and Nijinsky forms the heart of The Red Shoes: Anton Walbrook’s impresario, Boris Lermontov, is the Diaghilev figure while the brilliant dancer who obsesses him, and for whom he creates the ballet of The Red Shoes, is Moira Shearer as Victoria Page. That the dancer happens to be a woman is a detail which makes the film “secretly gay”, as Tony Rayns once put it. Diaghilev and Nijinsky were lovers, and fell out when Nijinsky married; in The Red Shoes Lermontov demands that Vicky choose between a life of art or a life of marriage to composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). She chooses love but ends up drawn back to art, with tragic consequences that mirror the Hans Christian Andersen story. That story, of course, ends with a young woman dancing herself to death after donning the fatal shoes, a dénouement that’s unavoidably reminiscent of The Rite of Spring.

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Anton Walbrook as Lermontov.

Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?

Vicky: Why do you want to live?

Other parallels may be found if you look for them, notably the figure of Julian Craster who comes to Lermontov as a young and unknown composer just as Stravinsky did with Diaghilev. Craster’s music isn’t as radical as Stravinsky but The Red Shoes was already giving the audience of 1948 enough unapologetic Art with a capital “A” without dosing them with twelve-tone serialism. The film aims for the same combination of the arts as that achieved by Diaghilev, especially in the long and increasingly fantastic ballet sequence. This was another of Powell’s shots at what he called “a composed film” in which dramaturgy and music work to create something unique. The Red Shoes is a film that’s deadly serious about the importance of art, a rare thing in a medium which is so often in the hands of Philistines. In the past I’ve tended to favour other Powell and Pressburger films, probably because I’ve taken The Red Shoes for granted for so long. But the more I watch The Red Shoes the more it seems their greatest film, even without this wonderful train of associations. The recent restoration is out now on Blu-ray, and it looks astonishing for a film that’s over sixty years old.

Seeing as this week has been all about The Rite of Spring, here’s a few more centenary links:

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Visualized in a Computer Animation for its 100th Anniversary
• George Benjamin on How Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has shaped 100 years of music
Strange Flowers visits the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Rite of Spring, 2001
The Rite of Spring, 1970
The Rite of Spring reconstructed