Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay

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Inventorium of Traces was made in 2009 but it’s taken a while to make its way out of Poland in any complete form. In this 25-minute video piece the Quays turn their attention to Lancut Castle, a celebrated Polish stately home, and the former residence of the Potocki family. Of the latter, Jan Potocki would have an understandable attractions for the Quays being the author of The Saragossa Manuscript, a book that’s briefly alluded to when the Saragossa region is glimpsed on a map. The first half of the film shows visitors to the Castle being observed by statues and paintings, one of which is a portrait of Jan Potocki; in the second half, night falls, the building is locked, and some typical Quay business begins with flickering light and spectral animation. The music is by Krzysztof Penderecki, a composer the Quays used a year later for their superb animation, Maska, and also the composer of the soundtrack to the Wojciech Has adaptation of Potocki’s novel. The quality of the uploaded video could be better (the frame seems to be cropped) but it’s good enough for Quay obsessives. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Saragossa Manuscript posters
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Weekend links 252

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Waiting by Liz Brizzi.

• “Music, politics, sex, and art were also widely represented by Evergreen. Gerald Ford famously maligned the magazine on the floor of Congress for printing the likeness of Richard Nixon next to a nude photo.” Jonathon Sturgeon on the return of an avant-garde institution.

• “The hallucinogenic properties of language are widely recognized by all repressive societies…which treat words like other tightly controlled substances.” Askold Melnyczuk reviews Where the Bird Sings Best, a novel by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

• Mixes of the week: A Mix For Thomas Carnacki by Jon Brooks whose Music for Thomas Carnacki has been reissued on vinyl; Solid Steel Radio Show 27/3/2015 by DJ Food.

One of the few vice-friendly cities left in the US, New Orleans remains his spiritual home, or whatever the atheist equivalent is. Waters’ supposed favourite bar in the world is here in the historic French Quarter. The Corner Pocket is a gay dive bar with tattooed strippers—filthy in exactly the way Waters likes.

“Trash and camp just don’t cut it any more,” he told a rapt audience at his interview panel on Friday. “Filth still has a punch to it. The right kind of people understand it and it frightens away the timid.”

John Waters growing older disgracefully

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti are being republished in a single edition by Penguin. Jeff VanderMeer wrote the foreword.

• “The film is brimming with Bacchanalian revelry, arcane mystery and mortal dread.” Robert Bright on The Saragossa Manuscript by Wojciech Has.

Alistair Livingston has posted page scans from When Darkness Dawns, volume two of his zine from the early 80s, The Encyclopedia of Ecstasy.

• “Without first understanding the flâneur we cannot understand the development of arcades,” says Aaron Coté.

• At A Journey Round My Skull: Jo Daemen cover designs; at 50 Watts: the art of Manuel Bujados.

• Vast spacecraft and megastructures: Jeff Love on the science-fiction art of Chris Foss.

• At Dangerous Minds: RE/Search’s Vale on JG Ballard and William Burroughs.

• RIP John Renbourn

Pentangling (1968) by Pentangle | Lyke-Wake Dirge (1969) by Pentangle | Lord Franklin (1970) by Pentangle

Saragossa Manuscript posters

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Polish poster (1965) by Jerzy Skarzynski who was also the film’s production designer.

I love The Saragossa Manuscript, both the novel by Potocki and the movie by Has. I saw the film three times which, in my case, is absolutely exceptional.

Luis Buñuel in My Last Sigh (1983)

No surprise that a lifelong Surrealist was enamoured with Jan Potocki’s rambling collection of stories-within-stories. The 1965 Polish film by Wojciech Has had another famous enthusiast in Jerry Garcia whose efforts to restore and reissue The Saragossa Manuscript helped bring the film to a new generation of viewers in 1999. I was a beneficiary of this, having been intrigued for years by descriptions whilst hoping in vain that it might turn up on television. I prefer the film to the novel although to be fair to Potocki it’s a long time since I read his book.

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Another Polish design showing Zbigniew Cybulski as Alphonse.

Watching The Saragossa Manuscript again this weekend sent me looking for posters, some of which can be seen below. There are odd omissions: plenty of examples from the Eastern Bloc countries but few at all from Western Europe. The film suffered by having its 3-hour running time hacked about by distributors which didn’t help its reception outside Poland. The manuscript of the title is a book discovered during a skirmish in the Napoleonic wars, an account of the strange adventures of Alphonse Van Worden in the Sierra Morena region of Spain; one of the soldiers reading the manuscript is Van Worden’s grandson, the first of many coincidental connections. Van Worden’s adventures seem macabre at first—there are more bones in the opening scenes than in many horror films—but they soon turn farcical. As a burgeoning cast of characters appears, many of whom have their own tales to tell, the mood veers into outright sex comedy, albeit with mild philosophical overtones. Some scenes aren’t very far removed from Monty Python, especially those that feature an inept band of Spanish Inquisitors.

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Background drawings from the title sequence. Yes, the score is by Penderecki, his first.

All of which means this is another film that presents a challenge for a poster designer. Most of the early examples take their cues from the opening titles whose backgrounds feature drawings with a vaguely Surrealist and occult flavour that I’m guessing are also the work of Jerzy Skarzynski.

Continue reading “Saragossa Manuscript posters”

Marienbad hauntings

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Last Year in Marienbad (1961). Via.

In our age of cultural plenitude it can be salutary to remember the time when many things were easy to discover but often impossible to experience; albums, books, and especially non-American films could all too frequently exist as rumours, referenced but always out of reach. Two films in particular dogged me for years in this remote manner: The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) by Wojciech Has, and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the film that Alain Resnais made from a very novelistic screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Philip Strick alerted me to this pair of films with tantalising descriptions in a time-travel chapter of his book-length study, Science Fiction Movies (1976). Marienbad isn’t a time-travel film as such (a later Resnais film, Je t’aime, je t’aime [1968] does deal with the subject, however, and even features an actual time machine), but it is sufficiently open-ended to allow a science-fictional rationale into its enigmatic spaces. Strick’s book covered all the familiar SF territory as well as looking beyond the clichés of Hollywood and the SF genre, hence the inclusion not only of Marienbad and Saragossa, but also Je t’aime, je t’aime, Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf (1968), Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), and Buñuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). Most of these films, which were seldom shown on TV, I had to wait years to see.

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Marienbad page from Strick’s Science Fiction Movies.

I was reading Strick’s book in 1979, and since I was bored with generic clichés, and also reading a lot of reprinted stories from New Worlds magazine, I became a little obsessed with these inaccessible films, Marienbad especially. It’s difficult to say what was so fascinating about a few words of description, and a single photograph, but the picture seemed an unlikely inclusion amid so many pages filled with robots and spaceships. It promised a film that approached the themes of science fiction at the same oblique angle as many of the stories in New Worlds. A couple of years later I found a copy of the Robbe-Grillet screenplay whose pages of dogged description read like the kind of forbidding and formal exercise that Brian Aldiss had attempted in Report on Probability A (1967), a novel that first appeared in New Worlds. Among other similarities, both works share a dismissive attitude to character, presenting a trio of ciphers indicated by no more than their gender, and some initial letters. This confluence of influences, Marienbad included, fed into the chunks of New Worlds-derived prose I was writing at the time, trying to fix inchoate impressions on the page. I always failed each time I returned to that photo from Marienbad, the real charge—as I didn’t see at the time—being a result of the gap between the promise of the image and the inaccessible film itself. Finally seeing Marienbad in the late 1980s was a curious thing, like meeting somebody face-to-face after years of remote correspondence; the same readjustments needed to be made to accept that this was the reality of the work of art, not Robbe-Grillet’s embryonic version, or my own baroque imaginings.

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Screenplay book, 1962. Cover design by Roy Kuhlman.

If the above seems to strain for association by hauling a celebrated work of the Nouvelle Vague into a disreputable area then this essay by Thomas Beltzer is worth a read. Beltzer’s “Intertextual Meditation” compares Marienbad to The Invention of Morel (1940), a science-fiction novel by Adolfo Bioy-Casares which Jorge Luis Borges described as “perfect” (and which I really ought to read). If I’ve not written much about Marienbad itself that’s because it really needs to be experienced rather than described or explained. It’s a film that’s easier to admire than actually enjoy—I need to be in the right mood to accept its formalities—and given the choice I’d often sooner watch Providence (1977). But where Providence and other Resnais films have inevitably dated, Last Year in Marienbad remains out of time, a 20th-century dream held captive in 18th-century architecture where the airless rococo chambers might easily share a labyrinth with the hotel waiting-room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• Alain Resnais obituaries: The Guardian | The Telegraph
Last Year in Marienbad at film|captures
Marienbad (2012) by Julia Holter

Starowieyski in Switzerland

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Nike (1971) by Franciszek Starowieyski.

My thanks to Marco Witzig for sending some promotional materials for a new exhibition of work by the great Polish artist Franciszek Starowieyski (1930–2009). The exhibition is running at the gallery of the HR Giger Museum in Gruyères, Switzerland from now until Spring 2013. There’s a selection of photos of the works on show here. I’m always curious to know what size artists work at so it’s interesting to get an idea of this from views of the originals. I’ve linked to Starowieyski’s incredible poster art on several occasions but it’s always worth another look: go here and here and here.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Surrealism, graphic design and Barney Bubbles
Polish posters: Freedom on the Fence
Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has