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

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”

The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen

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Lejf Marcussen is a Danish filmmaker whose animation Den Offentlige Røst (The Public Voice, 1988) I know from UK TV screenings, back in the days when the TV channels here used to screen more than cookery shows and soap operas. This is a short Surrealist piece which begins with zoom into a Paul Delvaux painting then reverses the process by pulling back from a continually changing picture some of whose details can be seen here. It is, of course, better to watch the film than read a description of it which is why I kept hoping a copy might turn up on YouTube. Sure enough, a rough copy has been languishing there for two years so I suggest you watch it here while you have the chance. These obscure shorts have a habit of getting deleted, and this miniature marvel is more obscure than most.

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Update: changed the link to a better quality version. Thanks, Martin!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Patrick Bokanowski again
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Die Andere Seite by Alfred Kubin

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Re-reading Alfred Kubin’s strange fantasy novel Die Andere Seite (The Other Side) this week, I found myself suffering the same frustration as when I bought the book, namely that the illustrations in the Dedalus edition are very poor reproductions. When this new translation appeared in 2000 there wasn’t any convenient way to see better copies of Kubin’s drawings unless you had the earlier (and for me, elusive) Penguin edition. Thanks to Flickr we can now see reproductions from the first printing of 1909 in this set of photos. Not all the drawings are featured but the ones present are better than those in my volume. The illustrations are often rather perfunctory, and they lack the finesse and erotic weirdness of Kubin’s better known works, but a couple are as macabre as one would expect. And I love the cover design.

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As to the story, it concerns an unnamed narrator who receives a request from an old school friend, Claus Patera, to leave Munich and go with his wife to live in the city of Pearl, a newly-built metropolis in a nation known as “The Dream Realm” which Patera has founded in the Far East. Having travelled there the couple find themselves in a city filled with other displaced Europeans which is at first eccentric then increasingly nightmarish. It’s the kind of book you might expect an artist like Kubin to have written, in other words, and since the narrator is a thinly-veiled counterpart of the author we can occasionally glimpse the man behind the works. Anyone interested in Kubin the artist is advised to seek it out.

Alfred Kubin at Weimar

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Kafka’s porn unveiled
Hugo Steiner-Prag’s Golem

Patrick Bokanowski again

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“A prolonged, dense and visually visceral experience of the kind that is rare in cinema today. Difficult to define and locate, its strangeness is quite unique. That its elements are not constructed in a traditional way should not be a barrier to those who wish to cross the bridge to what Jean-Luc Godard proposed as the real story of the cinema—real in the sense of being made of images and sounds rather than texts and illustrations.”—Keith Griffiths

It was only two months ago that I enthused about Patrick Bokanowski’s extraordinary 1982 film, L’Ange, after a TV screening was posted at Ubuweb, and ended by wondering whether a DVD copy was available anywhere. Last week Jayne Pilling left a comment on that post alerting me to the film’s availability via the BAA site; I immediately ordered a copy which arrived the next day. So yes, Bokanowski’s film is now available in both PAL and NTSC formats, and the disc includes a short about the making of L’Ange as well as preparatory sketches and an interview with composer Michèle Bokanowski whose score goes a long way to giving the film its unique atmosphere. I mentioned earlier how reminiscent Bokanowski’s film was of later works by the Brothers Quay so it’s no surprise seeing an approving quote from the pair on the DVD packaging:

“Magisterial images seething in the amber of transcendent soundscapes. Drink in these films through eyes and ears.”

If that wasn’t enough, there’s another DVD of the director’s short films available. Anyone who likes David Lynch’s The Grandmother or Eraserhead, or the Quays’ Street of Crocodiles, really needs to see L’Ange.

Previously on { feuilleton }
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD