Tom’s World

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The celebratory stamps produced by the Finnish postal service in 2014.

A post for Touko Valio Laaksonen, the man known to the world as Tom of Finland, born 100 years ago today. Back in March I finally acquired Tom of Finland XXL, a gorgeous, heavyweight Taschen volume edited by Dian Hanson, as a result of which Tom and his leather-clad muscle-men have been in my thoughts even without his anniversary. The thick-necked hunks that populate Tom’s drawings have never been my ideal of masculine beauty but I admire his dedication to erotic obsession as well as his draughtsmanship, the latter even more so after seeing the high-quality reproductions in Hanson’s collection. The drawings from the 1970s and 80s are especially impressive, when success had given the artist more time to spend perfecting his figures and capturing all the ways that leather apparel folds itself and reflects the light. His beautiful pencil renderings of jackets, trousers and boots treat their subjects to the careful scrutiny that Dutch still-life painters used to devote to pheasants and apples; this is a fetishist’s infatuation raised to the status of art.

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Leather duo (1963).

Tom of Finland’s progress from amateur pornographer to gallery artist and national institution is a very unlikely career path, especially when he wasn’t dependent on the support of the art market. Tom’s earliest drawings and comic strips were relatively simple things but still explicit enough for the Finnish authorities in the 1940s to find them obscene. Many erotic artists have been subject to similar opprobrium but none of them have achieved posthumous fame as the most internationally visible male artist from the nation that once proscribed their work, and all this without toning down that work in any way. Tom shares his celebrity with Moomin creator Tove Jansson, which means that Finland is now the only nation in the world whose art is represented internationally by a gay man and a lesbian. Their work, needless to say, could hardly be more different, despite both artists being adept at black-and-white illustration and the creation of sequential narratives. Jansson’s Moomins have been universally popular for many years but Tom of Finland’s art, which has never been anything other than gay pornography, is inevitably limited in its appeal. The lavish depictions of cock-sucking and anal sex are so profuse and unrelenting that whatever is shown of his drawings in the general media is always carefully selective, shunning the enormous penises in favour of a moustached face or a pair of embracing clones.

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I’m amused by this and also reassured that there are still a few aspects of human life that are too anarchic for exploitation by mass media. The global domination of American culture and American technology has rendered everything grist to its all-devouring mill, everything, that is, except for explicit sex. Pornography is also a part of the US cultural behemoth but it’s like the bastard child that everybody pretends doesn’t exist and wishes would go away. America’s gay publications gave Tom of Finland his nom de plume and made him famous, but porn, for a variety of reasons, resists universal acceptance and approval. Tom’s art is so single-minded in its representation of gay men gleefully fucking each other that there’s little about it that can be exploited by cultural products intended to appeal to the widest audience, or sold to nations with repressive attitudes to gay sex and sexuality. Tom’s libidinous leather-clad hero, Kake, ejaculates his way through multiple penetrations and gang bangs the likes of which you’ll never see in a big-budget franchise, no matter how much Hollywood teases audiences with more polite same-sex scenarios. How many erections are a paying audience prepared to swallow?

Continue reading “Tom’s World”

Weekend links 504

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Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass; Fillmore Auditorium, October 19-21, 1967 by Bonnie MacLean.

• RIP Bonnie MacLean, another of the original San Francisco poster artists, and the only woman of note in the US psychedelic poster scene. (Not the only woman, however; in Europe we had Marijke Koger.) Related: Bonnie MacLean’s posters at Wolfgang’s. And RIP to illustrator Tom Adams, an artist whose exceptional covers for novels by Agatha Christie are only one part of a long and varied career.

The Litanies Of Satan (1982), the short but uncompromising debut album by Diamanda Galás, is reissued on Galás’s own label later this month. Further albums from her remarkable back catalogue will follow. Related: video of Galás performing The Litanies Of Satan in 1985.

• “Scorsese is amazed that United Artists didn’t touch one frame of Raging Bull, since it’s the first time in his life as a feature director that this has apparently occurred.” In 1981 Derek Malcolm talked to Martin Scorsese about his reasons for making a boxing picture.

“…in a post-AIDS world, its scenes of mass male-on-male decadence evoke a sense of the spiritual: Not to put so blunt a phrase on it, but the majority of the men we see in Cruising‘s bars would likely die within the next decade, victims of a very heterosexual genocide of neglect. These are blurred, melancholic memories locked forever within Cruising‘s celluloid; a phantasmagoria of men whose liberation was not legislatively delivered, but recovered in the privacy of leather bars and cruising joints. The film’s overt sexuality makes it hard to escape a sense of catastrophic loss.”

Jack King on William Friedkin’s Cruising

• The Pet Shop Boys’ eccentric feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here (1988), is released on blu-ray and DVD in June. The video for You Were Always On My Mind gives an idea of the contents.

• “Orion being one of the brightest constellations makes it a lot of people’s favourites, and he was my favourite as a kid.” Ben Chasny on his history of stargazing.

• “You think the Holy Grail is lost? No. I have it on my piano.” John Boorman talks to Xan Brooks.

• Laura Cumming on the dark and haunting paintings of Belgian Symbolist Léon Spilliaert.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 631 by Ondness.

Alistair Ryder chooses 10 great killer plant films.

Howl by John Foxx And The Maths.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Gleam.

The Litanies Of Satan (1969) by Ruth White | Grail (1971) by Grail | Plants’ Music (1981) by Ippu-Do

Weekend links 386

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Lynd Ward again, and one of his illustrations for Frankenstein (1934).

• “Julio Mario Santo Domingo was a collector and visionary who filled his homes and warehouses with the world’s greatest private collection related to the subjects of drugs, sex, magic, and rock and roll: a library of more than 50,000 items…” Altered States: The Library of Julio Santo Domingo by Peter Watts catalogues some of the artefacts.

• “His vision of Gay Liberation was deeply, and uniquely, inflected by his study of, and belief, in anarchism.” More on the late Charles Shively: Michael Bronski remembers a pivotal figure in the gay liberation movement.

• William Friedkin’s Sorcerer was released on region-free blu-ray a couple of years ago but it’s being reissued again in the UK for its fortieth anniversary. Julian House has created a series of designs for the insert.

• Electronic musician and podcaster Marc Kate talks to Erik Davis about nihilism, horror movies, New Age music, and transmuting Nazi black metal into the ambient soundscapes of his latest album, Deface.

• “Beware the polished little man“: an extract from The Guesthouse at the Sign of the Teetering Globe by Franziska zu Reventlow which is available now from Rixdorf Editions.

• Another welcome blu-ray release, Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates appears later this month in a special edition from Second Sight.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 626 by Sharp Veins, XLR8R Podcast 515 by Sammy Dee, and Secret Thirteen Mix 236 by Beta Evers.

The Witch Wave with Pam Grossman is a podcast for bewitching conversation about magic, creativity, and culture.

• Call me by the wrong name: Benjamin Lee on Hollywood’s perennial attempts to straight-wash gay films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Ronald Firbank Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926).

• Zoë Lescaze reviews Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years by Christopher Frayling.

• Angry Optimism in a Drowned World: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson.

• Stewart Smith on The Strange World of…Linda Sharrock.

Colors (1969) by Pharoah Sanders | Frankenstein (1972) by The Edgar Winter Group | Pomegranate (2001) by Transglobal Underground

A mix for Halloween: Analogue Spectres

Presenting the eleventh Halloween playlist, and another mix of my own. Previous mixes have been wide-ranging and not a little nerve-jangling so this year the focus has been narrowed to a synth-only mix. The theme is the analogue synthesizer music of the 1970s, particularly the style popularised by Tangerine Dream on Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear.

The “fear” element of the latter title is significant in this context. Tangerine Dream from their earliest days produced timbres and atmospheres that tended towards the sinister and the doom-laden. This quality continued when they moved to Virgin Records in 1974, using new synthesizers and sequencers to develop their sound. In part the doomy atmosphere was a result of limitations, a combination of organ-led chord sequences and the difficulties of using primitive electronics for anything other than unnatural atmospheres. The earliest albums by Klaus Schulze are equally sombre but Schulze lost this tendency as his playing improved. Tangerine Dream, meanwhile, seemed to enter a Gothic phase with the move to Virgin: their track titles became darker—Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares, The Big Sleep In Search Of Hades, Stratosfear—and they swapped concert halls for the cavernous spaces of European cathedrals. William Friedkin in his sleeve note for the Sorcerer soundtrack album expressed disappointment that he hadn’t heard the group soon enough for them to provide music for The Exorcist.

Tangerine Dream are only represented here with two tracks—one of them from the Sorcerer soundtrack—but their influential Virgin years provide the template for several other pieces. Two of the groups, Redshift and Node, are British ensembles who take Tangerine Dream’s albums of the 1970s as their sole template. In the case of Redshift this has yielded a number of albums that are flawless in their imitation (and extension) of the Rubycon/Ricochet template, and the group are highly recommended to anyone who enjoys those albums. Redshift have also continued with the doom-laden atmospheres which is why this mix contains so many of their pieces.

The other axis here is the early scores by John Carpenter which have often seemed as influential as his films: imitated, sampled, and inspiring the sinister, throbbing electronica of Pye Corner Audio and others. Carpenter has frequently mentioned Tangerine Dream in lists of favourite electronic musicians; no surprise there but it feels satisfying to have things join up.

As before, Mixcloud no longer allows the posting of a tracklist so this is the running order:

Tangerine DreamSorcerer (Main Title) (1977)
Pye Corner AudioProwler (2015)
RedshiftLeave The Light On (2004)
John CarpenterThe Fog Enters The Town (1980)
Ian BoddyThere’s Something In Your Attic (1999)
NodeDark Beneath The Earth (2014)
Tangerine DreamDesert Dream (1977)
RedshiftWraith (2002)
RedshiftNightshift (2007)
RedshiftDown Time (2001)
Pye Corner AudioStars Shine Like Eyes (2015)

Previously on { feuilleton }
A mix for Halloween: Teatro Grottesco
A mix for Halloween: Unheimlich Manoeuvres
A mix for Halloween: Ectoplasm Forming
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween

Sorcerer: Druillet and Friedkin

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Earlier this week I finally got my hands on the recent Blu-ray reissue of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977). Having only ever seen the film on the travesty of a DVD that appeared in 1998 I’m going to enjoy watching this at the weekend. Brits ought to know that (for now) the only edition available seems to be the US version although it is region-free, and if you buy from a UK film dealer on eBay you won’t get hit with import duties.

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Sorcerer designs by Philippe Druillet.

By coincidence, Sorcerer has a minor connection with Philippe Druillet, although his contribution was so minimal that there’s not even a mention of his name on the obsessively detailed Sorcerer film blog. If you’ve seen the film (or Henri-George Clouzot’s equally good earlier version, Wages of Fear), or even read George Arnaud’s novel, you’ll know that the crucial part of the story concerns a potentially suicidal expedition by four men in two trucks, each of which are carrying crates of nitroglycerine through hazardous terrain to the site of an oil-well fire. Friedkin and writer Walon Green expand the story without aping any of Clouzot’s set-pieces (something few directors today would resist), while Friedkin adds some details of his own, notably in the design of the trucks which have distinct “faces” and their own names—”Lazaro” and “Sorcerer”—hence the film’s title which also nods misleadingly to The Exorcist. The truck design was Druillet’s contribution although there’s very little of this apparent on-screen, understandably so when his sketches show fantastic designs that would have no place in the dishevelled jungle town where much of the film takes place. Later sketches by production designer John Box can be found at Wikipedia.

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Sorcerer designs by Philippe Druillet.

What interests me most about this connection is its being another example of the surreptitious influence of French comics on American cinema during the 70s and 80s. Moebius is the most obvious example of this but it’s also there in the influence of Métal Hurlant/Heavy Metal on the look of Blade Runner, and in Enki Bilal’s design of Molasar in Michael Mann’s The Keep. Since the 1980s we’ve seen a greater industrialisation of conceptual art for the cinema, as a result of which directors are less inclined to look outside Hollywood for their stylists. And now that the treadmill of superhero franchises is grinding away relentlessly, Continental comics and their creators are even less visible than before.

Probably the oddest thing about the Sorcerer/Druillet connection is that the commercial failure of the film in 1977 has often been laid at the door of Star Wars, the advent of George Lucas’s dismal saga being regarded, with some justification, as the opening of the gate to the barbarian hordes. (Friedkin’s film might also have fared better had it not been titled as though it were an Exorcist sequel.) The irony here is that George Lucas happened to be a big Druillet enthusiast, although there’s little evidence of this in his films; in addition to writing an appreciation for Les Univers de Druillet in 2003, he also commissioned Druillet to create a one-off piece of Star Wars art in the late 70s. Knowing this it’s tempting to imagine Lucas creating a very different kind of science-fiction film in 1977, one with some Continental weirdness at its core. But when the world has already been deprived of Jodorowsky’s Dune it’s best not to dwell too much on might-have-beens.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ô Sidarta: a film about Philippe Druillet
Lovecraft: Démons et Merveilles
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Philippe Druillet album covers
Druillet’s vampires
Salammbô illustrated
Druillet meets Hodgson