Labirynt by Jan Lenica

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Labirynt.

One of the links at the weekend was to this post about the favourite Polish posters of the Brothers Quay, a piece which included an example by designer and illustrator Jan Lenica (1928–2001). Lenica, like the Quays, was also a filmmaker who started out by producing short animations, Labirynt (1963) being one of these works. I’d not come across this before but now that I’ve watched it I’d be very surprised if Terry Gilliam hadn’t seen it at some point in the 1960s, the animation of collaged illustrations and hand-tinted photographs from 19th-century sources is precisely the kind of thing that Gilliam was doing a few years later. So is the generally Surrealist atmosphere with a bowler-hatted protagonist being menaced in the street by a host of hybrid creatures, encountering the women one sees in old erotic postcards, being seized by a giant hand, and so on.

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Many Eastern European animations from the Cold War period involve a degree of political allegory, and Labirynt is no exception. One of the menacing figures is a mechanical gentleman who captures Bowler Hat Man and subjects him to a series of forced operations, eventually building a cage inside the captive’s head. Given this, and some opening shots which show Bowler Hat flying over the city using self-powered wings, it’s not stretching a point to see this 13-minute film as Brazil in miniature. Watch it for yourself here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Brothers Quay scarcities
Gilliam’s shaver and Bovril by electrocution
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Chris Marker, 1921–2012

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“A recurrent rumour says that Chris Marker and the cat Guillaume-en-Egypt sank with the Titanic.” Photo credited to Wim Wenders.

In our moments of megalomaniacal reverie, we tend to see our memory as a kind of history book: we have won and lost battles, discovered empires and abandoned them. At the very least we are the characters of an epic novel (“Quel roman que ma vie!” said Napoleon). A more modest and perhaps more fruitful approach might be to consider the fragments of memory in terms of geography. In every life we would find continents, islands, deserts, swamps, overpopulated territories and terrae incognitae. We could draw the map of such a memory and extract images from it with greater ease (and truthfulness) than from tales and legends. That the subject of this memory should be a photographer and a filmmaker does not mean that his memory is essentially more interesting than that of the next man (or the next woman), but only that he has left traces with which one can work, contours to draw up his maps.

Chris Marker, introductory notes to Immemory (2002)

Memory is the key word: it’s at the heart of Chris Marker’s most well-known films, his science fiction short La Jetée (1962), and the feature-length film-essay Sans Soleil. Both those films reference Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a film concerned with layered memories, both real and invented. Memory also comprises the subject of Marker’s most ambitious work from his later years, the CD-ROM Immemory, a unique creation which few will have experienced since it appeared after the great wave of ROM-mania in the 1990s, and was also Mac-only at a time (2002) when Macs were even more of a minority concern than they are today. My own copy is now unusable since it only runs on the outmoded OS 9 system (later copies were upgraded to OS X), leaving me with nothing but memories of Immemory and a box which sports a still from Vertigo among its cover images. The loss is regrettable but somehow fitting, and there’s a lesson here about impermanence for all you boys and girls planning bright new iPad apps. La Jetée is the film that receives the most attention, made on a budget that even when adjusted forward wouldn’t have covered the catering costs on Inception, it was one of JG Ballard’s favourites, and the source (of course) for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. But it’s to Sans Soleil that I always return, a place where the complex interleaving of documentary footage and fictional—or is it?—narration proves endlessly rewarding.

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The Beckoning Cats from Sans Soleil (1983).

Chrismarker.org: an essential resource
Chris Marker’s YouTube channel
Chris Marker interviewed by Samuel Douhaire and Annick Rivoire in 2003
The New Yorker: In Memoriam: Chris Marker by Richard Brody
Guardian obituary by Ronald Bergan
Telegraph obituary
Things That Quicken The Heart: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil by David Moats
The Humanists: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil by Colin Marshall
Brian Dillon on La Jetée

Previously on { feuilleton }
Junkopia
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Monsieur Chat
Sans Soleil

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Weekend links 80

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Niels Klim’s descent to the planet Nazar from the 1845 edition of Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum (Niels Klim’s Underground Travels) (1741) by Ludvig Holberg.

BibliOdyssey posts illustrations from different editions of Ludvig Holberg’s satirical fantasy, appends the usual informative links and draws our attention Stories of a Hollow Earth at The Public Domain Review. I’d not come across the latter site before but it’s now bookmarked.

• While the economy of Europe continues to circle the toilet bowl it’s good to know that our Prime Minister is focusing on the important issues such as…limiting access to internet pornography. “Look at the implementation, and no matter where you stand on porn, I think you’ll see this plan is going to cause a lot of problems on its way to the eventual fail bin,” says Violet Blue. I was wondering how the four targeted ISPs would feel about a filtering plan that would drive many new customers elsewhere. The Register reports their response which comes down to offering guidelines rather than attempting the difficult and contentious task of filtering millions of websites.

• Related: Won’t you fuck off, Reg Bailey, in which the report by the small Christian pressure group that started all the fuss is eviscerated. | Elsewhere: Porn is good for society says Anna Arrowsmith, while Tristan Taormino asserts that “writing and publishing erotica, especially for minorities, is a political act.” Then there’s Pornsaints, “an artistic approach to porn, a pornographic approach to art, a pornartistic approach to religion.”

• In the music world: Richard H Kirk and Peter Care discuss Cabaret Voltaire and Johnny YesNo, Roy Harper talks to Alex Petridis, and soundtrack composer Cliff Martinez is interviewed (and pictured playing a Cristal).

Witch’s Cradle at Strange Flowers (Maya Deren, Marcel Duchamp and Peggy Guggenheim), The Ghosts of Senate House, London, and Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema as it is today.

• RIP Frank Kameny, co-founder of the Mattachine Society, and a tireless gay rights advocate from the early 1960s on.

Bruce Weber photographs some of the dancers from Matthew Bourne’s Dance Company.

Terry Gilliam says “I used to think I could will things into existence. Not any more.”

• Charts at Business Insider: What the Wall Street protesters are so angry about.

Five From…: assorted wit and wisdom in the Tumblr labyrinth.

• Glass art by Jasmine Targett.

Ballard Geocoded.

Porno Base (1982) by 23 Skidoo | Kylie Minogue (2003) by Satanicpornocultshop | Tantric Porno (live) (2009) by Bardo Pond.

Science Friction by Stan VanDerBeek

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Ubuweb seems to have the best collection of films by experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek (1927–1984) but not the one I was looking for, unfortunately, an abstract thing entitled Moirage. Searching around turned up Science Friction (1959), one of a number of collage animations VanDerBeek made in the 1950s. The juxtapositions of collage have always been good for comedy, and here they’re put to satirical effect in a comment on the Space Race and the tensions of the Cold War. When viewed today it’s impossible to ignore the resemblance to the later collage animation of Terry Gilliam. VanDerBeek wasn’t the only person doing this at the time—Walerian Borowczyk and Harry Smith also made collage films—but VanDerBeek’s sense of humour seems close enough to Gilliam’s to have given him ideas.

For more about the director there’s also Project Stan VanDerBeek.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Heaven and Earth Magic by Harry Smith
Gilliam’s shaver and Bovril by electrocution
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk

Screening Kafka

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Kafka (1991).

This week I completed the interior design for a new anthology from Tachyon, Kafkaesque, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly. It’s a collection of short stories either inspired by Franz Kafka, or with a Kafka-like atmosphere, and features a high calibre of contributions from writers including JG Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, Jonathan Lethem and Philip Roth, and also the comic strip adaptation of The Hunger Artist by Robert Crumb. When I knew this was incoming I rewatched a few favourite Kafka-inspired film and TV works, and belatedly realised I have something of a predilection for these things. What follows is a list of some favourites from the Kafkaesque dramas I’ve seen to date. IMDB lists 72 titles crediting Kafka as the original writer so there’s still a lot more to see.

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The Trial (1962), dir: Orson Welles.

Orson Welles in one of his Peter Bogdanovich interviews describes how producer Alexander Salkind gave him a list of literary classics to which he owned the rights and asked him to pick one. Given a choice of Kafka titles Welles says he would have chosen The Castle but The Trial was the only one on the list so it’s this which became the first major adaptation of a Kafka novel. Welles always took some liberties with adaptations—even Shakespeare wasn’t sacred—and he does so here. I’m not really concerned whether this is completely faithful to the book, however, it’s a first-class work of cinema which shows Welles’ genius for improvisation in the use of the semi-derelict Gare d’Orsay in Paris as the main setting. (Welles had commissioned set designs but the money to pay for those disappeared at the last minute.) As well as scenes in Paris the film mixes other scenes shot in Rome and Zagreb with Anthony Perkins’ Josef K frequently jumping across Europe in a single cut. The resulting blend of 19th-century architecture, industrial ruin and Modernist offices which Welles called “Jules Verne modernism” continues to be a big inspiration for me when thinking about invented cities. Kafka has been fortunate in having many great actors drawn to his work; here with Perkins there’s Welles himself as the booming and hilarious Advocate, together with Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.

Continue reading “Screening Kafka”