Weekend links 541

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Virgil Finlay illustrates Hallowe’en in a Suburb by HP Lovecraft for Weird Tales, September 1952.

• Literary Hub does Halloween with an abundance with Draculas, a lazy option but the pieces are good ones nonetheless: Olivia Rutigliano attempts to rank the 50 best (screen) Draculas, and also recalls the Broadway production designed by Edward Gorey. At the same site, Katie Yee discovers that The Addams Family (1991) is really about the importance of books.

• The inevitable film lists: the always reliable Anne Billson selects the scariest ghosts in cinema; at Dennis Cooper’s, TheNeanderthalSkull curates…DC’s Weirdo Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, a list featuring a couple of oddities which have appeared in previous weekend links.

• More books bound with human skin: Megan Rosenbloom, author of Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin discusses the subject with S. Elizabeth.

Beyond all this, however, readers are most likely to read De Quincey for his compellingly strange writing on opium and its effect on the mind. For it is opium, rather than the opium-eater, he writes in Confessions, who “is the true hero of the tale”. He explains the drug cannot of itself create imaginative visions—the man “whose talk is of oxen” will probably dream about oxen. But for De Quincey, with his love for reverie, it gives “an inner eye and power of intuition for the vision and the mysteries of our human nature”. Wine “robs a man of his self-possession: opium greatly invigorates it”. It “gives an expansion to the heart and the benevolent affections”. “This”, he claims, “is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium: of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member.”

“Thomas De Quincey’s revelatory writing deserves greater attention,” says Jane Darcy

• New music: Weeping Ghost by John Carpenter is a preview of the forthcoming Lost Themes III; Moments Of Clarity is a new album of psychedelic(ish) songs from Professor Yaffle.

• “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!” Sean Connery (RIP) was often playing kings in later life but he started early with this performance as Macbeth in 1961. (Ta to TjZ for the link!)

• Mixes of the week: a (non-Halloween) guest mix by Paul Schütze for Toneshift, and the by-now traditional Samhain Séance Mix from The Ephemeral Man.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ big new adventure: an illustrated “reinvention” of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.

Drew McDowall (of Coil, et al) talks Musick, magick and sacred materiality.

• “No one loves the smell of a Kindle,” says Thomas O’Dwyer.

Brüder des Schattens (1979) by Popol Vuh | Nosferatu (1988) by Art Zoyd | Vampires At Large (2012) by John Zorn

The Trials of Oz

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If it’s a surprise to see Cockney geezer Phil Daniels masquerading as the erudite (and non-Cockney) Thomas De Quincey in The Art of Tripping, it’s even more of a surprise to see Hugh Grant in wig and hippy gear as Richard Neville in this 1991 dramatisation of the obscenity trial against Neville’s Oz magazine. Grant wasn’t exactly unknown when this was made but it was prior to Four Weddings and a Funeral so the casting didn’t seem very notable at the time.

The play was written by Geoffrey Robertson QC from the trial transcripts to observe the 20th anniversary of a lengthy and very public trial. Robertson in 1971 was an assistant to John Mortimer, the magazine’s lawyer, so the reconstruction may be taken to be an accurate one. In addition to Grant as Neville, Simon Callow plays Mortimer, Nigel Hawthorne is prosecutor Brian Leary, and Leslie Phillips is Judge Michael Argyle. Among the witnesses there’s Alfred Molina as George Melly (yet again; see yesterday’s post), and Nigel Planer as DJ John Peel, both of whom were called to testify that the notorious “School Kids” issue of Oz wasn’t an obscene publication. The trial, like the earlier drug busts against the Rolling Stones, was as much about the State trying to clobber a bunch of anarchist upstarts as anything that involved the pros and cons of antiquated laws. The three defendants—Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson—were also accused of “conspiring to corrupt public morals”; the obscenity issue was merely a pretext for getting the longhairs into the dock.

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Oz 28 (1970). Art by Raymond Bertrand.

This isn’t a lavish production—it’s stylised to the extent that the public gallery is made up of cardboard figures—but it’s good to know that there’s a (rough) copy out there after my tape of the original broadcast developed a fault. Not available, unfortunately, is the live studio discussion that followed in which Jonathan Dimbleby spoke to Geoffrey Robertson, Germaine Greer and others about the trial. The discussion featured a delicious moment when Dimbleby referred to Greer’s feminist issue (no. 29) as “C-Power Oz“. “Come on, Jonathan,” said Greer, “it was Cunt Power Oz!” Dimbleby then spluttered “Anyone can say ‘Cunt Power Oz‘…” and hastily moved on the discussion.

A year after his TV appearance Geoffrey Robertson was in Manchester Crown Court appealing an earlier ruling of obscenity against David Britton’s Lord Horror (1990) novel. I was in the public gallery on that occasion, and it was an education seeing how little had changed since the Oz trial, with a similarly Philistine and deeply ignorant judge presiding. Robertson overturned the ruling against the novel but a ruling against one of Savoy’s Meng & Ecker comics was upheld. In 1995 we were back in court attempting to argue for a jury trial against further rulings of obscenity, this time against one of my own comics, Hard Core Horror 5. (That issue is now the opening section of the Reverbstorm book.) We failed that time thanks to a magistrate who was even less inclined to listen to any argument.

The Oz trial may seem quaint and farcical today but the issues remain pertinent: some forms of art will always be in conflict with laws that are out-of-date, badly written or maliciously applied. And once you’re standing in a courtroom your opinion about the situation is of no consequence; you’re at the mercy of the people who make the rules.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin Sharp, 1942–2013
Raymond Bertrand paintings
Raymond Bertrand’s science fiction covers
The art of Bertrand
Oz magazine, 1967–73

The Art of Tripping, a documentary by Storm Thorgerson

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How does this sound? 100 minutes of solidly informative documentary about the use of drugs by artists from the early 19th century on; a production that calls upon a remarkable cast of contributors (see below), with music by David Gilmour, and the whole thing “devised and directed” by Storm Thorgerson, better known as one third of the great Hipgnosis design team.

The Art of Tripping was broadcast in two parts in 1993 during the Without Walls arts strand on Channel 4 (UK). David Gale was the writer, with actor Bernard Hill playing the part of the narrator and guide. The programme managed to deal with a contentious subject without indulging in hysteria or insulting the intelligence of the audience, a rare thing today. Twenty years ago it was still possible to make a documentary about a popular subject without having any low-grade celebrity-du-jour offering their wretched opinion. The contributors here who aren’t medical people are almost all writers of one kind or another; Thorgerson and Gale punctuate the proceedings with a few actors who impersonate various historical figures.

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Without Walls was a very good series on the whole but this for me was a real highlight (no pun intended). In addition to it being a rare example of Storm Thorgerson working in television, the direction showed how it was possible to match the theme without recourse to cliché or flashy visuals. There isn’t a single moment of archive footage either. Thorgerson’s history of “socially unacceptable” drugs is structured as a journey through the levels of a multi-storey building, from ground floor to roof; being familiar with the director’s free-associative working methods I can imagine this being a result of thinking about getting high. Bernard Hill encounters the various commentators in successive rooms, each of which is furnished and lit to suggestively imply the drug in question. The use of lighting as a key motif is a smart one, and another metaphor, of course, for literal and symbolic (or spiritual) illumination. Editing effects are also deployed to thematically correspond to the different substances.

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This would be very successful even without a wide range of contributors but Thorgerson and company assembled a stunning array of different writers, many of whom I’d never seen on TV before, and many of whom didn’t turn up again. Some of them fill dual roles, so JG Ballard is on hand to enthuse about Naked Lunch, and appears later talking about his bad LSD trip. Similarly, Brian Aldiss talks about Anna Kavan, and also about Philip K Dick. Below there’s a rough list of the drugs covered and the people involved. In the two decades since this was made many of the people involved have since died, the director included, so the film now has the feel of a historical artefact. The Art of Tripping can be see in full at YouTube. This is how good British television used to be.

Opium
Dr Virginia Berridge (author), Grevel Lindop (author), Marek Kohn (author), Dr EMR Critchley (author), Phil Daniels (as Thomas De Quincey), Dr Tony Dickenson (neuropharmacologist), Dr Ian Walker (author), Thom Booker (as Edgar Allan Poe), Dr Peggy Reynolds (author)
Hashish
Prof John Hemmings (author), Ronald Hayman (author), Patrick Barlow (as Theophile Gautier), John McEnery (as Charles Baudelaire), Jon Finch (as Gérard de Nerval), Bernard Howells (lecturer, King’s College, London), June Rose (author), John Richardson (author), Margaret Crosland (author), Danny Webb (as Jean Cocteau), Robin Buss (translator), David Gascoyne (poet), George Melly (collector, Surrealist art)
Mescaline
Prof Eric Mottram (University of London), Francis Huxley (nephew of Aldous Huxley), Jay Stevens (author), Laura Huxley (widow of Aldous Huxley),
Psilocybin
Brian Cory (as Robert Graves), Paul O’Prey (author)
Marijuana / Nitrous Oxide
Harry Shapiro (author), Carolyn Cassady (author), Prof Ann Charters (author), Allen Ginsberg (poet)
Kief
Paul Bowles (author)
Heroin
JG Ballard (author), Prof Avital Ronell (author), Hubert Selby Jr (author), Brian Aldiss (author)
LSD
Dr Oscar Janiger (experimental psychiatrist), Diana Quick (as Anaïs Nin), Prof Malcolm Lader (psychopharmacologist), Dr Timothy Leary (author), Todd Boyco (as Andy Warhol)
Amphetamine
Lawrence Sutin (author)
Cocaine
Robert Stone (author), Prof. Annette Dolphin (neuropharmacologist)
MDMA

Previously on { feuilleton }
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Enter the Void
Opium fiends
La Morphine by Victorien du Saussay
In the Land of Retinal Delights
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Demon rum leads to heroin
The art of LSD
Hep cats
German opium smokers, 1900

Vathek illustrated

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Frontispiece, 1815. Engraved by Isaac Taylor after a drawing by Isaac Taylor Jr.

After some time Vathek and Nouronihar perceived a gleam brightening through the drapery, and entered a vast tabernacle carpeted with the skins of leopards; an infinity of elders with streaming beards, and Afrits in complete armour, had prostrated themselves before the ascent of a lofty eminence, on the top of which, upon a globe of fire, sat the formidable Eblis. His person was that of a young man, whose noble and regular features seemed to have been tarnished by malignant vapours; in his large eyes appeared both pride and despair; his flowing hair retained some resemblance to that of an angel of light; in his hand, which thunder had blasted, he swayed the iron sceptre that causes the monster Ouranabad, the Afrits, and all the powers of the abyss to tremble; at his presence the heart of the Caliph sank within him, and for the first time he fell prostrate on his face.

Vathek by William Beckford

The inevitable follow-up to yesterday’s post. Vathek was, we’re told, written in three days and two nights in the winter of 1782 when William Beckford was only 21. The novel is an Orientalist fantasy that’s grotesque and arabesque in the original sense of those terms, very much influenced by The Arabian Nights and similar tales. Here’s HP Lovecraft with a description:

Vathek is a tale of the grandson of the Caliph Haroun, who, tormented by that ambition for super-terrestrial power, pleasure, and learning which animates the average Gothic villain or Byronic hero (essentially cognate types), is lured by an evil genius to seek the subterranean throne of the mighty and fabulous pre-Adamite sultans in the fiery halls of Eblis, the Mahometan Devil. The descriptions of Vathek’s palaces and diversions, of his scheming sorceress-mother Carathis and her witch-tower with the fifty one-eyed negresses, of his pilgrimage to the haunted ruins of Istakhar (Persepolis) and of the impish bride Nouronihar whom he treacherously acquired on the way, of Istakhar’s primordial towers and terraces in the burning moonlight of the waste, and of the terrible Cyclopean halls of Eblis, where, lured by glittering promises, each victim is compelled to wander in anguish forever, his right hand upon his blazingly ignited and eternally burning heart, are triumphs of weird colouring which raise the book to a permanent place in English letters. No less notable are the three Episodes of Vathek, intended for insertion in the tale as narratives of Vathek’s fellow-victims in Eblis’ infernal halls, which remained unpublished throughout the author’s lifetime and were discovered as recently as 1909 by the scholar Lewis Melville whilst collecting material for his Life and Letters of William Beckford. Beckford, however, lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird; so that his tales have a certain knowing latin hardness and clearness preclusive of sheer panic fright.

Jorge Luis Borges noted some of the influences in his 1943 essay On William Beckford’s Vathek:

…I believe that Vathek foretells, in however rudimentary a way, the satanic splendors of Thomas De Quincey and Poe, of Charles Baudelaire and Huysmans. There is an untranslatable English epithet, “uncanny,” to denote supernatural horror; that epithet (unheimlich in German) is applicable to certain pages of Vathek, but not, as far as I recall, to any other book before it.

[Guy] Chapman notes some of the books that influenced Beckford: the Bibliothéque orientale of Barthélemy d’Herbelot; Hamilton’s Quatre Facardins; Voltaire’s La Princesse de Babylone; the always reviled and admirable Mille et une nuits of Galland. To that list I would add Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzione: etchings, praised by Beckford, that depict mighty palaces which are also impenetrable labyrinths. Beckford, in the first chapter of Vathek, enumerates five palaces dedicated to the five senses; Marino, in the Adone, had already described five similar gardens.

Byron admired the novel enough to take the name “Giaour” for one of his poems, and it’s no surprise to read that Clark Ashton Smith penned additions to The Third Episode of Vathek. Beckford’s fantasy is very much a precursor of Smith’s equally lurid and sinister stories.

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Given all this, it’s a surprise that more illustrators haven’t been attracted to the book. This may in part be a hangover of Victorian prudery: some of the novels of the Gothic period remained shocking to later sensibilities while Beckford’s scandalous reputation (Byron called him “the great Apostle of Paederasty”; to Hilaire Belloc he was “one of the vilest men of his time”) wouldn’t have made his name popular among the collectors of costly illustrated editions. Of the pictures here, the 1815 volume has a frontispiece showing Eblis perched on a hemispherical throne like the one John Martin later gave to Milton’s Satan. More of the uncredited edition from 1923 can be found at the Internet Archive while VTS has plates from the Marion Dorn edition. Mahlon Blaine not only put more effort into his illustrations but the content is also far more suited to his temperament; a shame there aren’t more of the drawings online. And it’s a shame too that Harry Clarke never tackled Beckford’s novel. Many of his contemporaries produced illustrated fairy tale books, as Clarke himself did with Charles Perrault’s stories. But none would have been able to match Clarke if he’d adapted Vathek with the same vigour he brought to Faust.

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The Caliph and the Giaour (c. 1800) by Richard Westall.

Continue reading “Vathek illustrated”

Weekend links 26

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The interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County “Old Main” Building, 1874. Reblogged over the past few days on numerous Tumblr postings, none of whom had bothered to find out any details about the picture. I’m with Silent Porn Star on the contextless reblogging issue.

Keith Richards et Mick Jagger à Londres, TV interviews with the Glimmer Twins from 1968 with some remarkable footage in the second half of Jagger filming the penultimate shot of Performance. That French video site requires further exploration. Also there is a short film from 1961 with Jacques Lasry demonstrating the Cristal Baschet. Related: Jacques Doyen & Jacques Lasry play their Cristals while Arlette Thomas and others read French poetry. I wrote something about the mystery of the Cristal two years ago this week.

• Two great album cover blogs from Jive Time Records: Project Thirty-Three is “a shrine to circles, dots, squares, rectangles and triangles, and the designers that make them come to life on album covers” while Groove Is In The Art “celebrates the era when psychedelic graphics and pop art met the mainstream”.

• At A Journey Round My Skull: Night Hallucinations: illustrations by Jaroslav Šerých for Tales of the Uncanny (Prague, 1976); Snark, Strangeness and Charm, Mahendra Singh’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll and others.

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Laurence Chaves illustrates De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater at Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Austin Osman Spare: Fallen Visionary at the Cuming Museum, Southwark, London in September, “will be the largest showcase of [Spare’s] work in a public museum since his death in 1956.” Jerusalem Press are publishing an expensive monograph to accompany the exhibition.

Freeing “Pale Fire” From Pale Fire; “the next big Nabokov controversy”. Probably not but the thesis is an interesting one.

Quintessential ‘topiary’ in Gandalf’s Garden: Barney Bubbles, head shops and Op Art graphic design.

• Monster Brains discovered some more paintings by Thomas Häfner.

• Spaceweather’s Northern Lights gallery.

The passion of Krzysztof Penderecki.

• More Bookshelf porn.

White peacocks.

Sussan Deyhim: Daylaman | Desert Equations (for Brion Gysin) (with Richard Horowitz) | An interview at WorldStreams.

Several links this week via Adrian Shaughnessy’s Twitter feed. Thanks!