After Beardsley by Chris James


I have Greg Jarvis of Flowers of Hell to thank for prompting this discovery. Greg left a comment on an earlier post about Aubrey Beardsley’s influence in the musical world in which he drew my attention to some Flowers of Hell cover art and a video inspired by Beardsley’s Morte Darthur drawings. The video reminded me of a short animated film I’d known about for years but never seen, After Beardsley by Chris James. Sure enough it too is on YouTube, to my great surprise since I swear I’ve searched in vain for this in the past.


After Beardsley was made in 1981 and my knowledge of the film is a result of its being praised by V&A curator Stephen Calloway. The picture of Aubrey in a hospital bed featured in the 1993 V&A exhibition High Art and Low Life: The Studio and the fin de siècle, and is also the final picture in Calloway’s 1998 biography of the artist. Chris James describes the film thus:

The film After Beardsley attempts to depict today’s world through Beardsley’s eyes and in his drawing style…Beardsley is ‘resurrected’ from his death bed and begins to walk through time to the present. On his journey he witnesses the evolution of the car and of air and sea travel, then climbs a phallic mountain before descending into 20th century New York City. [The] ghost of Aubrey Beardsley explores the urban jungle of New York City where, amongst other things, he sees Bob Dylan as a satyr sitting by an iconic 1959 Chevy, and Lenny Bruce being injected with heroin. He is then beckoned by Patti Smith (as Beardsley’s Messalina) into a hospital room where he finds himself hooked up to life support equipment. His hospital persona shows his ghost the horrors of the present day—overpopulation, pestilence starvation, and death. Via John Lennon, he sees the horrors of a nuclear winter. The premise of the film is that, if Beardsley had been alive today instead of the 1890s, modern medicine would have kept him alive, but that, having had a glimpse of where the world was heading, he may have chosen to die anyway. Written and drawn by Chris James, after Aubrey Beardsley. Music by Ronnie Fowler.

As Beardsley pastiche the drawing is some of the best I’ve seen, it’s easy to see why Calloway would be impressed. The film is split into three parts here, here and here, and Chris James has more animation on his YT channel. I’d be tempted to ask for a better quality copy but for now seeing the film at all is good enough.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Aubrey Beardsley archive

7 thoughts on “After Beardsley by Chris James”

  1. “having had a glimpse of where the world was heading, he may have chosen to die anyway”

    Which is a pretty resounding “no” ventriloquised into Beardsley’s mouth.

    I am put in mind of Joanna Russ’s “Mr. Wilde’s Second Chance”, in which Oscar refuses to to rearrange the pieces of his life into a “better” pattern. In contrast, that seems a triumphant “yes”.

    Ooh, I’ve come over all Nietzschean!

  2. Good grief! I never thought I’d see this gem again! It was included as part of the (touring?) Beardsley exhibition which coincided with the publication of Stephen Calloway’s book on him about twelve years ago if memory serves. As you say, the pastiche is note-perfect; certainly the best attempt to render anything modern in his style I’ve ever seen. For me the only thing that jarred was the shot where Patti Smith grins at us, where I felt the drawing was overly literal. I would dearly love to see the ‘Terra Infirma’ sequence near the end at higher resolution, but then it’s sheer folly trying to select one scene over another, they’re all so good. Thanks for resurrecting a fond memory and reigniting my artistic muse after a drab yuletide!

  3. Thank you so much for directing me to this. As a teen I tried to draw like Beardsley quite relentlessly. Eventually I got my own more homoerotic style via my chaos magick obsession with Spare. But it’s so good to see this after hearing about it for yrs and yrs.
    So, Thanks John. Yr taste as ever is a reliable guide to much that is good in our world. Oh, and happy new yr.

  4. Matthew: I thought that rather presumptuous also when there’s no evidence that Beardsley while alive was appalled by the sights and sounds around him. London was the most populous city in the world in the 1890s, also very polluted (all those fogs were actually smogs), noisy, filthy and a sink of dreadful poverty and crime in its eastern quarters, yet Aubrey and co. were happy to ignore all that and indulge themselves. Aubrey’s novel Under the Hill is the most frivolous pornographic fantasy ever written, he’d be more likely to be dismayed by the outrageous price of taffeta. The director has a link on his YT channel to his own environmental site so those concerns are very much his own.

    Faun Flynn: Happy new year to you! And to everyone else for that matter…

Comments are closed.

Discover more from { feuilleton }

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading