Pynchonian cinema

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(Pynchonian? Pynchonesque? Pynchon-heads can no doubt supply the most common descriptor but for now Pynchonian will do.)

Is it possible to identify a Pynchonian strand in cinema? This question came to mind while I was reading the end of Gravity’s Rainbow, and probably a little before then during a scene that takes place in the Neubabelsberg studio in Berlin. The Pynchon reading binge is still ongoing here—after finishing the Rocket book I went straight on to Vineland, and I’m currently immersed in Mason and Dixon—so I’ve been watching films that complement some of the preoccupations in the Pynchon oeuvre, at least up to and including Vineland. This is a small and no doubt contentious list but I’m open to further suggestions. Inherent Vice is excluded, I’ve been thinking more of films that are reminiscent of Pynchon without being derived from his work. Elements that increase the Pynchon factor would include: a serio-comic quality (essential, this, otherwise you’d have to include a huge number of thrillers); detective work; paranoia; songs; and a conspiracy of some sort, or the suspicion of the same: a mysterious cabal–the “They” of Gravity’s Rainbow—who may or may not be manipulating the course of events.

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The President’s Analyst (1967)
I’d be very surprised if Pynchon didn’t like this one. James Coburn as the titular analyst, Dr Sidney Schaefer, has little time to enjoy his new job in Washington DC before half the security services in the world are trying to kidnap him to discover what he’s learned about the President’s neuroses. This in turn leads the FBI FBR to attempt to kill Schaefer in order to protect national security. Pynchonian moments include a bout of total paranoia in a restaurant, Canadian spies disguised as a British pop group (“The ‘Pudlians”), and a visit to the home of a “typical American family” where the father has a house full of guns, the mother is a karate expert, and the son uses his “Junior Spy Kit” to monitor phone conversations. Later on, an entire nightclub gets spiked with LSD. This is also the only film in which someone evades abduction to a foreign country by the cunning use of psychoanalysis.
Is it serio-comic? Yes.
Is there detection? In the background: the CIA CEA and KGB agents have to work together in order to outwit the FBI FBR and discover who the ultimate villains might be.
Is there paranoia? You only get more paranoia in one of the serious conspiracy dramas of the 1970s like The Conversation or The Parallax View. (The latter includes the same actor who plays the All American Dad, William Daniels.)
Any songs? Yes. Coburn hides out for a while with the real-life psychedelic group Clear Light, and helps with their performance in the acid-spiked nightclub.
“They”? There are multiple “They”s in this one.
Pynchon factor: 5. Maybe a 6 for the LSD.

Continue reading “Pynchonian cinema”

Weekend links 510

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• Saul Bass’s cult science-fiction film, Phase IV, has received a very welcome (Region B) blu-ray release from 101 Films. Everything is a metaphor for the unavoidable just now, but a film about a group of scientists besieged by a tiny and insidious biological threat can’t help but have additional resonance. The new release includes the original (and seldom seen) cosmic ending plus another disc containing several of Bass’s short films. Previously: Directed by Saul Bass.

• Music at the Internet Archive: Live at Metro (2007) by Sora, and three rare cassette releases by French synth-rock duo Fondation: Metamorphoses (1980), Sans Etiquette (1980), and Le Vaisseau Blanc (1983).

• Mixes of the week: a Manu Dibango (RIP) mix from Aquarium Drunkard, and Industrial Synth Rave Isolation Mix by Moon Wiring Club.

We must talk about Nightwood. The novel that sits between those early and late phases of her writing life, the tale of Felix Volkbein, Robin Vote, Dr Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O’Connor and many others, caught between world wars and each other, in the decadent cities of Europe. The novel follows the journey of Robin Vote, who is more “earth-flesh, fungi, which smells of captured dampness” than person. Sleepwalking through life, she nonetheless wakes up her fellow characters Nora, Felix and Jenny, who each try and pin her down, to no avail. It is a novel that defies synopsis. It is unsurprising that this remarkable book has attracted a “burgeoning body of interpretations”, as Tyrus Miller here notes; yet it seems that there are still new ways to approach it. Julie Taylor offers an affective reading, for example; Joanne Winning concentrates on Nightwood’s collaborative origins, exploring the fruitful and often overlooked creative relationship between Barnes and her partner, Thelma Wood. This is not just a case of considering that relationship as source material for the novel, but unpacking what Winning describes as their “lesbian modernist grotesque”. It is particularly welcome that Winning treats Wood as a silver-point artist in her own right.

Jade French reviews Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism

• Ben Beaumont-Thomas on where to start with Kraftwerk, and Jennifer Lucy Allan on where to start with Alice Coltrane.

• The BBC’s Culture page discovers Tom of Finland but can’t bring itself to show much of his artwork.

• The art of Asterix: illustrator Albert Uderzo (RIP) at work.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on “a marvel of clockwork ingenuity”.

• The films Wes Anderson is watching during isolation.

Greydogtales on six more strange tales that linger.

Adrian Searle‘s favourite online art galleries.

• The Ghost Box label is now at Bandcamp.

Twin Flames (Edit) by Lustmord.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Flamboyant.

Phase By Phase (1976) by Peter Baumann | Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert… (1995) by Earth | Phase Draft (2003) by Bill Laswell

Weekend links 439

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Cammell & Roeg’s Performance (1970) was marketed in Italy with all the restraint for which the Italian film industry has long been celebrated.

• “To the good men I offer the hand of friendship, to the foes of our sex I offer resistance and annihilation!” We Women Have no Fatherland (1899), a novel by Ilse Frapan, is the latest title from Rixdorf Editions.

• More Edward Gorey: Mark Derey discusses his biography on the Virtual Memories Show podcast. Related: Edward Gorey’s Calling Cards, a spoiler-heavy investigation.

• “It starts how most horror films end, and it just keeps building and building, crescendo on crescendo…” Ben Cobb on the original (and, for me, only) Suspiria.

• The next compilation release from the excellent Light In The Attic label will be Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980–1990.

Saint Flournoy Lobos-Logos and the Eastern Europe Fetus Taxing Japan Brides in West Coast Places Sucking Alabama Air (1970) is a short film by Will Hindle.

• Film producer Sandy Lieberson and author Jay Glennie on Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance.

• “Wes Anderson‘s offbeat debut as a curator drove a storied museum’s staff crazy. The results are enchanting.”

Above Water, Inside, a video by James Ginzburg from his recent album, Six Correlations.

• For the LRB Podcast: Iain Sinclair and Patrick Wright discuss living with buildings.

• Not necessarily the best ambient and space music of 2018: a list by Dave Maier.

• “The net is not a good guide to book prices,” says Mark Valentine.

David Bennun on 30 years of the Pet Shop Boys’ Introspective.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 568 by Young Marco.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Chris Marker Day.

Introspection Pt. 1 (1969) by The End | Introspection (1984) by Minimal Compact | Intro-Spectiv (1996) by Chris & Cosey

Weekend links 391

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Mass by Ron Mueck at the National Gallery of Victoria Triennial. Photo by Tom Ross.

• Thanks of the week: to In Wild Air for asking me to fill their list of six favourite things; to Hodderscape for including my cover for Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun among their choice of best book covers of the year; and to Dennis Cooper for listing this blog among his own end-of-year favourites. Ta, all!

• New/old music: The Quietus reissues, etc, of the year, new Pye Corner Audio, Soul Jazz presents Deutsche Elektronische Musik 3, and The Cleansing is a new album by Annabel (lee).

• Mixes of the week: Seeing The Forest For The Trees by Gregg Hermetech, FACT mix 631 by Zola Jesus, and Secret Thirteen Mix 240 by Restive Plaggona.

Were a normally sexed person to enter such an establishment, he might be puzzled to see so many finely dressed men sitting there with soldiers, though he would find nothing particularly offensive. The friendships between homosexuals and soldiers forged here over sausage, salad and beer frequently endure for the full term of service, and often longer. The soldier returns home, living as a married farmer far from his beloved Berlin garrison, but many a uranian still receives freshly killed quarry as a token of friendship. Sometimes these relationships are even passed on to younger brothers; I know one case where a homosexual had relations with three brothers one after the other, all of whom were with the Cuirassiers.

An extract from Berlin’s Third Sex by Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the new titles from Rixdorf Editions. Ostensibly straight soldiers supplementing their income by having sex with “uranians” was still a common thing decades later, as detailed in John Lehmann’s In The Purely Pagan Sense.

The Cremator (1968) a film by Juraz Herz, was reviewed on these pages a while ago. It’s now out on region-free blu-ray. Highly recommended.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on a map of old Dunwich, and Egypt in England.

Clive Hicks Jenkins on Mapping the Tale: image making and the narrative tradition.

Wyrd Daze returns with a free pdf, and a mix by The Ephemeral Man to download.

• At the BFI: Chris Gallant on where to begin with giallo cinema.

The Parisian Cabinet of Curiosities Loved by Wes Anderson.

Mass Production (1977) by Iggy Pop | Mass (1981) by Yellow Magic Orchestra | Mass Transit Railway (1997) by Monolake

Weekend links 146

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A Chinese postage stamp celebrating the Year of the Snake.

Cyclopean is a collaboration from Burnt Friedman, Jono Podmore and Can founding members Jaki Liebezeit, and Irmin Schmidt. The Quietus has a preview of all the tracks from their forthcoming EP. Great stuff.

Ten Things You (Possibly) Don’t Know About Kraftwerk. Related: a Speak & Spell emulator, and Atomium, a new single by Karl Bartos.

• In 1975 Barney Bubbles designed an inner sleeve for Hawkwind’s Warrior on the Edge of Time album, and this scarce recipe booklet.

• “We should all use language carefully. That is an obligation on the literate. But carefully doesn’t mean fearfully,” says Jenny Diski.

• Faber’s car-crash of a cover design for the 50th anniversary edition of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath caused an outbreak of parodies.

• At Strange Flowers: Ancient dreams and antique corruptions, Salomé via Gustave Moreau and Huysmans.

• FACT Mix 368 is a very varied collection of recent music and older pieces curated by Holly Herndon.

• At Ubuweb: eleven out-of-print recordings of Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures.

Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno in conversation at Interview magazine.

Michael Chabon on Wes Anderson’s Worlds.

Snake Rag (1923) by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band | Rattlesnake Shake (1969) by Fleetwood Mac | Snakes Crawl (1980) by Bush Tetras | Ananta Snake Dance (1980) by Suns of Arqa | Snakeblood (2000) by Leftfield