Carabosse, a film by Lawrence Jordan

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Collage animators may not be as plentiful as collage artists but this branch of filmmaking has attracted a number of heavyweight talents including Harry Smith, Jan Lenica, Walerian Borowczyk and Terry Gilliam. Lawrence Jordan worked for a time as an assistant to Joseph Cornell but he’s been making short films since the 1950s, many of which involve animated collage. Carabosse (1980) is a brief and distinctly Surreal piece set to Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 4. (An earlier film is titled Gymnopédies.) Watch it here. (Thanks to Erik Davis for the tip!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Labirynt by Jan Lenica
Science Friction by Stan VanDerBeek
Heaven and Earth Magic by Harry Smith
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk

Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller

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The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) is Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of the Jorge Luis Borges story The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero; Death and the Compass (1992) is Alex Cox’s adaptation of the story Death and the Compass by the same author; Spiderweb (1977) is an earlier adaptation of Death and the Compass which is both shorter than Cox’s film, and also a more successful Borgesian drama.

Borges’ story plays Kabbalistic games with the familiar shapes of detective fiction, creating its frisson by the tension between an elaborate murder mystery and the intellectual puzzle which leads to its solution. In Cox’s extended version this is presented in an overbearing style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam at his most exasperating; despite a decent cast it’s also rather poorly directed in places. By contrast, Paul Miller’s adaptation runs for 30 minutes and conveys the story very smartly and efficiently. The setting is “Borghesia” rather than Argentina but the general style is that of a Hollywood detective story, American accents and all. The always reliable Nigel Hawthorne plays the cerebral detective Erik Lönnrot. Considering this was a graduation film it’s an excellent piece of work which the director himself has made available on YouTube. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

The poster art of Frank McCarthy

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The Venetian Affair (1967).

“Murder! Spies! Women!” If you added “guns” and “explosions” to that list you’d have the ingredients of the wild poster art of Frank McCarthy (1924–2002). I used to love posters like this when I was a boy, especially those from the everything-happening-at-once school which, by the look of these examples, was McCarthy’s specialty. Where action films are concerned the posters are often more exciting than the scenes they depict, in part because artists such as McCarthy were often working from their own imaginations as much as from any stills they’d been given.

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The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967).

McCarthy had a career painting Western scenes which explains why his horses are so good. Some of his posters are for very well-known films, including a couple of Bond pictures, but I prefer those where he evidently had more of a free reign. The painting for The Caper of the Golden Bulls is a great composition with a use of colour you wouldn’t see today. Below there’s an example of the colossal title lettering that Terry Gilliam used to enjoy parodying. I still wonder which film did this first. Was it Ben-Hur? See more of Frank McCarthy’s poster art here.

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Genghis Khan (1965).

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Around the World Under the Sea (1966).

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Richard Matheson, 1926–2013

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The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Of Richard Matheson’s many books I’ve only read I Am Legend so can’t say much about his fiction other than to confirm (as everyone else does) that none of the three adaptations so far have managed to do it justice. Of his work for film and television there’s too much to say, it’s so copious and indelibly memorable. Here’s a list of five favourite Matheson creations.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

JG Ballard frequently referred to this as one of his favourite science fiction films, not because of the SF element, which is never properly explained, but because of its inadvertent Surrealist qualities. For my part, every time I watched this I was always impatient to get to the later scenes where the unfortunate Scott becomes trapped in the cellar, and his own house becomes an increasingly alien and hostile environment. The ending where he accepts his condition is very Ballardian.

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Duel (1971)

A sweating and manic Dennis Weaver is pitted against an anonymous truck driver who remains unseen but for a few shots of an arm and some boots. The lethal game of cat-and-mouse was famously directed by Steven Spielberg, his second feature, and one that’s a lot more impressive than some of his subsequent films. Watch it on YouTube.

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The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Matheson’s take on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House—four investigators in a haunted mansion—with the gain ramped up 100%. The film starts off quietly but is very soon into full-on hysteria; director John Hough finds so many eccentric camera angles you could actually calm down after this by watching a Terry Gilliam film. Meanwhile Roddy McDowell chews the scenery as though over-acting is going out of fashion. Bonuses are a grown-up Pamela Franklin (Flora in Jack Clayton’s superb The Innocents), and a great score from Radiophonic synthesists Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire. Watch the trailer.

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Trilogy of Terror (1975)

A three-story TV movie in which Karen Black took all the leading roles. No one remembers the first two stories but everyone who’s seen this remembers the third, Amelia (based on a Matheson short story, Prey), in which Ms Black is hunted in her apartment by a Zuni fetish doll. It’s on YouTube!

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Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1983)

Sorry, Shatnerphiles, but the superior version of this story is the one from Twilight Zone: The Movie. John Lithgow is a much better actor than William Shatner, the gremlin on the wing of the plane is a fearsome creature that’s seriously destructive (not, as Matheson lamented of the original, “a surly teddy bear”), and the whole sequence is directed by George Miller fresh from Mad Max 2. The original Twilight Zone episode wasn’t bad but it can’t compete with Miller pulling out all the stops. Watch it here.

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New York City abandoned

Les Jeux des Anges by Walerian Borowczyk

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Les Jeux des Anges.

Following yesterday’s post, we can be certain that Terry Gilliam had seen Les Jeux des Anges because in 2001 he included it in a list of ten favourite animated films. Jan Lenica co-directed Dom (1959) with Walerian Borowczyk but doesn’t work on this film which is the darkest and strangest of all Borowczyk’s works I’ve seen to date. Once again there’s some unavoidable subtext, although whether that applies to the Holocaust or to Stalinist repression is for the viewer to decide. What we see is a series of painted tableaux in which various mechanical processes are butchering angels. The atmosphere isn’t far removed from the cruelties of Roland Topor while the painted scenes are very similar to those that David Lynch would be animating a couple of years later. The soundtrack is credited to electronic composer Bernard Parmegiani. Watch it for yourself here.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Labirynt by Jan Lenica
Les Temps Morts by René Laloux
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk