Phaeton: The Son of the Sun

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The animation collection at the Internet Archive has been improving of late, with a wider variety of uploads being added to the already copious quantities of American cartoons and Japanese anime. Last week I drew attention to Jan Lenica’s Adam 2. This week it’s the turn of Phaeton: The Son of the Sun (1972), a short Russian film written and directed by Vasiliy Livanov which is a curious combination of ancient myth and science fiction. Phaeton in Greek mythology was the son of Helios the sun god, a minor deity whose demise is related in the first part of Livanov’s film. The son takes his father’s fiery chariot for a ride across the sky after being warned about the damage the chariot’s flames may cause if it strays to close to the world below or too far from it. Phaeton’s poor horsemanship provokes a spate of natural disasters until Zeus ends the ride with a fatal thunderbolt.

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This tale of cosmological destruction informs the “Phaeton hypothesis”, a 17th-century theory which sought to explain the existence of the Solar System’s asteroid belt as the remains of a destroyed planet, a body which a German linguist, Johann Gottlieb Radlof, named after the doomed god. The second part of Livanov’s film concerns a group of cosmonauts being launched into the asteroids in order to investigate the theory. The film is too short to properly explore the subject but the discussion detours briefly into ancient astronaut territory; Livanov had evidently been reading one or more of Erich von Däniken’s specious books which were topping the bestseller lists in 1972. One of the “astronaut” figures seen during the explication is the same Japanese figurine that von Däniken reproduces in Chariots of the Gods?, a book whose title echoes the theme of Livanov’s film. Short as it is, Phaeton: The Son of the Sun is nicely styled, and features the voice of Nikolay Burlyaev, an actor familiar to Tarkovsky aficionados as the boy in Ivan’s Childhood.

(Note: The Internet Archive has English subtitles for this one as a separate text file. You can get these to work by saving them in a folder along with the film file then changing the subtitle extension from txt to srt. Video applications such as VLC autoload subtitles if they’re stored in the film folder with the correct extension and a name that matches that of the film file.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Crank book covers
The Heat of a Thousand Suns by Pierre Kast

On the Technicolor Globe

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Weekend film-viewing round here included the new Radiance blu-ray of Mario Bava’s Terrore nello Spazio (Terror in Space), or Planet of the Vampires as it’s more commonly (and misleadingly) known. Bava and co. fared better with the AIP retitling of this one than they did a year later with Operazione Paura which the US distributors decided to call Kill, Baby, Kill. Bava’s haunted planet was released in the US on a double-bill with Die, Monster, Die, another how-low-can-you-go AIP title applied to the studio’s mangled adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space. Bava’s film is filled with unearthly colours, and is a lot more worthwhile despite its minuscule budget. That giant skeleton is the precursor of the Space Jockey from Alien, as Dan O’Bannon eventually admitted after having spent years denying any influence.

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Continue reading “On the Technicolor Globe”

Weekend links 726

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Verticals on Wide Avenues from The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929) by Hugh Ferriss.

Megalopolis, the futuristic epic written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, now has a trailer and a handful of mixed reviews. I recall Coppola saying years ago that he was the kind of director who would happily make films in any genre, science fiction included. I’ve wondered ever since what a full-on Coppola SF film might look like. (Captain EO and Peggy Sue Got Married don’t count). Now it seems we’re about to find out. Given his previous missteps I remain sceptical yet curious about this one. I’ve avoided his output since Bram Stoker’s Dracula but I’m still happy to see him being so ambitious while retaining his independence.

• And RIP Roger Corman who Coppola remembered as “my first boss, task-master, teacher, mentor, and role model. There is nothing about the practical matter of making movies I didn’t learn by being his assistant.” Related: It rained on the Sunday: a career interview with Roger Corman by Matthew Thrift.

• At Retro-Forteana: Fortean-themed music, from opera to metal. A difficult subject for a such short post, as the author admits. I’m amused to see one of my Hawkwind album covers in the list although the album itself doesn’t seem very Fortean to me.

• “Did you know that, if things had gone differently, the Pompidou Centre could have been an egg?” Oliver Wainwright on architecture that might have been.

• At Cartoon Brew: A closer look at great animated title sequences. I deplore the omission of Richard Williams’ titles for The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968).

• At Public Domain Review: Love Spells and Deadly Shrieks: Illustrations of Mandrakes (ca. 650–1927).

• At Wormwoodiana: “That Strange Little Book”: Ding Dong Bell by Walter de la Mare.

• At Unquiet Things: The latest collection of Intermittent Eyeball Fodder.

• Mix of the week: DreamScenes – May 2024 by Ambientblog.

Mandrake Root (1968) by Deep Purple | Mandrake (1975) by Gong | The Mandrake’s Hymn (2019) by Earth

Weekend links 725

Springtime in Paris (1923) by Georg Kretzschmar.

• I’ve been asked to mention that the tribute book put together for Alan Moore’s 70th birthday, Alan Moore: Portraits of an Extraordinary Gentleman, is still available. As before, the book features contributions from many well-known comic artists, a foreword by Iain Sinclair, and this piece of my own.

• “I never posted any lecture of mine on Tumblr, even though Tumblr would seem to have plenty of elbow-room for hour-long, learned, European public lectures (with many lecture slides).” Utopian Realism, a speech by Bruce Sterling.

• Reading the Signs: John Kenny in conversation with Mark Valentine about Mark’s new collection Lost Estates.

There remains something suspect about blotter, a stain that is both a blessing and a curse. As the blotter producer Matthew Rick, who started selling sheets as non-dipped ‘art’ collectables at festivals in 1998, puts it: ‘[B]lotter is the last underground art form that’s going to stay underground, simply because you’re creating something that looks like and functions like a felony.’ In other words, blotter is ontologically illicit; it is, as Rick says, ‘drug paraphernalia by its very existence’.

Erik Davis (again) on LSD and the cultural history of the printed blotter

• At Colossal: Uncanny phenomena derail domestic bliss in Marisa Adesman’s luminous paintings.

• Standing stones, urban hellscapes and male nudes: Andrew Pulver on Derek Jarman’s Super-8 films.

• “ [breaking news] An anomaly on earth has brought the cats to over 150 meters. Please be patient.”

• At We Are The Mutants: Alien Renaissance: An interview with illustrator Bob Fowke.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…René Crevel My Body and I (1926).

• At Public Domain Review: The Little Journal of Rejects (1896).

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Sandhouse.

• RIP Steve Albini.

Sandoz In The Rain (1970) by Amon Düül II | Bon Voyage Au LSD (2001) by Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. | Careful With That Sheet Of Acid, Eugene (2019) by Jenzeits

Monaco on Resnais

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After watching Providence again I yielded to further temptation and ordered a copy of the book that first introduced me to the film itself and to the Resnais oeuvre as a whole. I’d been itching for some time to re-read James Monaco’s study to see if it was as good as I remembered. In many ways it’s a lot better, especially now that I’ve been able to see most of the films he examines. Alain Resnais was published in 1978 which means it only covers the first third of the director’s filmography, but all of these films were mysterious and intriguing to me in 1983, a period when I was busy looking for items of interest on the art and film shelves at Manchester’s Central Library. The other key discovery in the film section was A Cinema of Loneliness by Robert P. Kolker, the book that introduced me to Martin Scorsese’s films at a time when most of them were difficult to see. Kolker also deepened my interest in Robert Altman and Arthur Penn, while replacing my flagging interest in science-fiction cinema with a new curiosity about film noir.

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An essential text, and a better book about American cinema in the 1960s/70s than the gossip-filled pages of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

The science-fiction interest may have been flagging by this point but it was actually a book about the genre that alerted me to Alain Resnais in the first place, as I noted here. Je t’aime, Je t’aime is the Resnais film that involves a time-travel experiment but descriptions of the mysteries and formal elegance of Last Year at Marienbad were of greater interest, even more so when I found a copy of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s screenplay. The films themselves, however, remained frustratingly out of reach. One of the things I really don’t miss about the 1980s is being able to read about films such as these, or others like El Topo (or Taxi Driver, or Night Moves, or Performance…), while wondering when I’d ever get to see them.

Monaco’s book provides an overview of the first few decades of Resnais’s career, from his early start in the 1940s (two lost Surrealist experiments are mentioned), to the documentaries of the 1950s, ending with Providence in 1977. Much of the detail originates from conversations with Resnais himself, and while Monaco doesn’t avoid interpretative speculation he’s never tiresomely academic. One of the more valuable chapters concerns some of the films that Resnais was trying to make in the 1970s. (And one of the minor revelations is reading about a director with his reputation struggling to get his projects financed.) The only detail I remembered about the unmade films was his plans to direct a script he commissioned from Stan Lee. That’s Smilin’ Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame, inventor of all those vapid superheroes. Stan Lee working with Alain Resnais sounds like some kind of sarcastic postmodern joke but Monaco says that The Monster Maker would have been “a grand and exuberant compendium of all the cliches of the B movie which have thrilled and enthralled audiences for fifty years: science fiction, sentimental romance, horror, revenge, and cataclysm…” We’ll never know what this may have been like, and maybe that’s for the best. Monaco refers to the director’s lifelong love of comics—one of the Resnais films of the 1980s, I Want to Go Home, was about a comic artist—but I still find the Stan Lee project a step too far, especially when there were so many great comic artists and writers working in France in the 1970s. Resnais wasn’t unaware of these; in my post about Je t’aime, Je t’aime I noted the presence of a Druillet drawing on the wall of Claude’s apartment. More promising than The Monster Maker was a script about the Marquis de Sade written with Grove Press boss Richard Seaver, and a tenuous plan to make a film about HP Lovecraft with William Friedkin producing. This apparently fell through when Friedkin left to direct The Exorcist but the interest in Lovecraft further reinforces the Lovecraftian suggestions in Providence, something that Monaco says were explored in a review by Richard Corliss for New Times magazine. I’ve not been able to find this online, unfortunately.

All of which reminds me that I’ve still not seen Resnais’s first feature, Hiroshima Mon Amour, nor any of the post-Providence films with the exception of Smoking/No Smoking which I saw on TV years ago and didn’t enjoy very much. The latter is an odd thing for Brits to watch, being based on an Alan Ayckbourn play which means it concerns a cast of typical middle-class English types (with names like “Celia Teasdal”) except that here they’re all played by French actors speaking their native language. This makes for distracting viewing but I now feel ashamed for not having given it more of a chance. It’s one more film to go looking for in the future.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Providence on DVD
Art on film: Je t’aime, Je t’aime
Art on film: Providence
Marienbad hauntings
Les Statues Meurent Aussi, a film by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais
Toute la mémoire du monde, a film by Alain Resnais