Weekend links 490

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An engraving from The Geometric Landscapes of Lorenz Stoer (1567).

• Curtis Harrington’s cult horror film, Night Tide (1961), receives a lavish blu-ray reissue from Powerhouse in January. The limited edition will include an extra disc of Harrington’s early short films which encompass Poe adaptations and also Wormwood Star, his portrait of occult artist (and actor in Night Tide) Marjorie Cameron.

• “He was the first American representative of an electronic sound that was largely coming from Europe, from bands like Kraftwerk, or producers like Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte…” Jude Rogers on Patrick Cowley.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins examines Hans Poelzig’s and Marlene Moeschke’s work on Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of The Golem. Wegener’s film is released this month in a restored blu-ray edition by Eureka.

• “Conrad was uncompromising in his beliefs until the end, sticking to his ideals with tenacious fervor.” Geeta Dayal on Tony Conrad: Writings, edited by Constance DeJong and
Andrew Lampert.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 47 dead films. One of the films, Hu-Man (1975), a French science-fiction drama starring Terence Stamp, isn’t as dead as was assumed.

• The Danske Filminstitut has made a collection of Danish silent films available to watch for free online.

• The Last Time I Saw John Giorno, an Extraordinary Performance Poet by Mark Dery.

• “Like looking through butterfly wings”: Ira Cohen’s Mylar chamber—in pictures.

Callum James reviews the Early Poetical Works of Aleister Crowley.

• Drawing the Gaze: Revisiting Don’t Look Now by Jesse Miksic.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 745 by Visible Cloaks.

Mind Warp (1982) by Patrick Cowley | Go-Go Golem (1986) by Golem Orchestra | Night Tide (1995) by Scorn

Meetings with Remarkable Men

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Another Peter Brook film, and a very strange one it is, not for its content but more for the way you wonder how the director managed to get anyone to pay for it, and what kind of audience it was supposed to be aimed at. Meetings with Remarkable Men is a book by GI Gurdjieff which is supposedly an account of the mystic’s early life and youthful questing for truth, although there’s always been debate about how much of it was intended as straight autobiography and how much as symbolic instruction. I’ve known about Brook’s film since it was first released in 1979 but its resolutely uncommercial nature means it never had a wide cinema release, and I’ve never seen it listed for TV screening either.

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I’ve not read Gurdjieff’s book but know enough about the man’s life and general philosophies to at least appreciate Brook’s film. Many other viewers would have considerable problems when Brook and screenwriter Jeanne Salzmann make no attempt to elaborate on the details of Gurdjieff’s quest. From youthful worries about life and death, to a search for a secret brotherhood who may have preserved ancient philosophies, the film illustrates scenes in the sketchiest manner: old volumes are bought then discarded; a map is sought then forgotten; gurus are pursued only to be found unsatisfying. For a film about enlightenment it’s surprising to be left so unenlightened. Much of the film was shot on location in Afghanistan shortly before the Soviet invasion, and at times the film seems like a chase from one dusty location to another with little reason or purpose.

The most bizarre feature of all is the cast: Gurdjieff is portrayed by a Serbian actor, Dragan Maksimovic, but many of the other roles provide cameos for an array of British talent, not least Terence Stamp in between appearances as General Zod in the Superman films. Elsewhere there’s Warren Mitchell (!) playing Gurdjieff’s dad, Colin Blakely, Marius Goring, Ian Hogg (who was also in The Marat/Sade), and most surprising of all since I was watching him recently in Quatermass and the Pit, Andrew Keir as the head of the mysterious Sarmoung Monastery. The cast alone helps maintain some interest although at times it’s like one of those all-star features such as Around the World in Eighty Days where you’re wondering who’s going to turn up next. For those whose curiosity is piqued, the entire film is on YouTube.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Marat/Sade

Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka

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Do you detect a theme this week? The recent Pragueness had me watching this favourite film again. I unfairly dismissed Soderbergh after his debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), which I found to be two hours of yuppie tedium despite its winning the Palme D’Or at Cannes. That prize did enable him to make Kafka (1991), however, so I shouldn’t complain although I didn’t get to see this until it turned up on TV years after its release. The film was a major flop and put Soderbergh in the wilderness until Out of Sight (1998), his first outing with George Clooney.

Kafka is one of a small group of works wherein well-known writers become embroiled in stories which exactly parallel their fiction. Joe Gores’ Hammett (filmed by Wim Wenders in 1982) did this with Dashiell Hammett while Mark Frost in his novel, The List of Seven, had a pre-Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle becoming involved in a Holmesian mystery. The screenplay for Kafka by Lem Dobbs has the author falling in with anarchist revolutionaries in order to solve the death of a co-worker and a bureaucratic conspiracy. This was obviously too clever for a general audience, being littered with references to Kafka’s life and work and also to German Expressionist cinema with names like “Orlac” and “Murnau” comprising key plot elements. Dobbs wrote a couple of other noteworthy screenplays after this, Dark City, a noirish fantasy that does what The Matrix did only with greater imagination, and The Limey (1999), another Soderbergh film with a great performance by Terence Stamp as a vengeful Cockney gangster on the loose in Los Angeles.

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Alan Bennett had already done something similar to Kafka in his TV film for the BBC, The Insurance Man, which concerns a dye worker becoming enmeshed in the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute where Kafka worked as a clerk. Daniel Day-Lewis made a marvellous Franz Kafka in Bennett’s play and was far more suited to the role than Jeremy Irons is in Soderbergh’s film. This is a shame since everything else about Kafka is excellent, from the moody black and white photography and fabulous cymbalom-inflected score by Cliff Martinez, to the cast, which includes the wonderful Theresa Russell, Joel Grey, Ian Holm and—in one of his last performances—Sir Alec Guinness.

Kafka is also the Prague film par excellence, making great use of the city’s Old Town and landmarks such as the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, a building which dominates the story as well as many of the outdoor scenes. In fact I find myself watching it as much for the settings than anything else. Soderbergh enjoys cinematic pastiche and Kafka owes a great deal to The Third Man (which did for post-war Vienna what Kafka does for Prague) and—inevitably—Orson Welles’ Kafka adaptation, The Trial. Theresa Russell brings Vienna with her via Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing, Joel Grey was in Cabaret, of course, and Alec Guinness isn’t so far removed from his role as retired spy George Smiley in the BBC’s John le Carré films. And halfway through the film there’s a great surprise which I won’t spoil here.

Kafka is available on DVD finally, although if you’re in the US you’ll have to import it. Soderbergh has talked about reworking the film in a longer version which I’d like to see if he ever gets round to it. Not an easy film to find but it’s worthy of your attention.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Kafka and Kupka
Alexander Hammid
How to disappear completely
Karel Plicka’s views of Prague
Giant mantis invades Prague
Nosferatu
Barta’s Golem