Two steps forward, two steps back


After less than a week of stability I again find myself without a functioning phone line. The company responsible assures me that it will be repaired by June 2nd. I’ve been rewatching Deadwood recently so rather than pen a useless rant you may imagine me fulminating à la Al Swearengen. Service may be restored sooner than the 2nd, of course (although knowing BT I wouldn’t bet on it), so stay tuned. Again.

Update: Phone line is back again so normal service will resume.

Weekend links 203


A Dune-inspired piece by Joshua Budich for In Dreams: an art show tribute to David Lynch at Spoke Art.

• “[Montague] Summers was a friend of Aleister Crowley and, like [Jacques d’Adelswärd] Fersen, conducted homoerotic black masses; whatever eldritch divinity received their entreaties was evidently propitiated by nude youths.” Strange Flowers goes in search of the Reverend Summers.

• More Jarmania: Veronica Horwell on the theatrical life of Derek Jarman, Paul Gallagher on When Derek Jarman met William Burroughs, and Scott Treleaven on Derek Jarman’s Advice to a Young Queer Artist.

Robert Henke of Monolake talks to Secret Thirteen about his electronic music. More electronica: analogue-synth group Node have recorded a new album, their first since their debut in 1995.

This hypertrophied response to decay and dilapidation is what drives the “ruin gaze”, a kind of steroidal sublime that enables us to enlarge the past because we cannot enlarge the present. When ruin-meister Giovanni Piranesi introduced human figures into his “Views of Rome”, they were always disproportionately small in relation to his colossal (and colossally inaccurate) wrecks of empire. It’s not that Piranesi, an architect, couldn’t do the maths: he wasn’t trying to document the remains so much as translate them into a grand melancholic view. As Marguerite Yourcenar put it, Piranesi was not only the interpreter but “virtually the inventor of Rome’s tragic beauty”. His “sublime dreams”, Horace Walpole said, had conjured “visions of Rome beyond what it boasted even in the meridian of its splendour”.

Frances Stonor Saunders on How ruins reveal our deepest fears and desires.

Gustave Doré. L’imaginaire au pouvoir: Four short films from the Musée d’Orsay to accompany their current exhibition, Gustave Doré (1832–1883): Master of Imagination.

• At Dangerous Minds: Remembering Cathy Berberian, the hippest—and funniest—lady of avant-garde classical music.

• “Merely a Man of Letters”: Jorge Luis Borges interviewed in 1977 by Denis Dutton & Michael Palencia-Roth.

Luke Epplin on Big as Life (1966), a science-fiction novel by EL Doctorow which the author has since disowned.

The Psychomagical Realism of Alejandro Jodorowsky: Eric Benson talks to the tireless polymath.

• A video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz for the 10th anniversary of David Milch’s Deadwood.

Eugene Brennan on Scott Walker’s The Climate of Hunter (1984).

Dune at Pinterest.

• Prophecy Theme from Dune (1984) by Brian Eno | Olivine (1995) by Node | Gobi 110 35′ south 45 58′ (1999) by Monolake

Farewell to Deadwood


So farewell then, Al and company. Deadwood finished its third and final season this week. Since it’s still running in the UK I won’t say anything about how things turn out. There was supposed to be a fourth season but it seems we’ve been denied this after HBO cancelled the run. This is a shame but we should probably be thankful that the thing exists at all at a time when television drama in the UK has been run into the swamps of mediocrity.

I came across Deadwood by chance via a mention in The Guardian that described Ian McShane swearing and murdering his way through a new role as malevolent saloon owner, Al Swearengen. If it hadn’t have been for the whole pirate TV network that now exists it’s unlikely I would have seen it at all. My television gave up the ghost a few years ago and even when it was working I didn’t have any satellite channels which is where it’s been shown in Britain. I downloaded the first episode and was immediately knocked out by the incredible period atmosphere (no mere sets these, they built an entire town), the cinema-quality production values and the exceptional performances. Ian McShane had played villains in the past but Al Swearengen was as far away from cheeky antiques dealer Lovejoy as it was possible to get. The rest of the cast was just as good but for me it was the scripts that made the series. The Sopranos may have the edge in being closer to our world and our lives but the language of Deadwood, its prolixity and elaboration amongst the most outrageous cursing, was completely without precedent. I’m looking forward to re-watching the entire run on DVD so I can go back over some of the incredible aphorisms that the writers gave to these characters, lines at once baroque but with an elegance fitting a BBC period drama and completely lacking the anachronisms (swearing aside) that often spoil Hollywood films. No wonder that Brian Cox demanded to be given a part; he was also given some of the best lines in the third season as actor/manager Jack Langrishe.

As with many cultural works, it seems to be the very things I enjoy that serve to alienate a drama like this from a wider audience. The Sopranos is pretty much a soap opera with the addition of strippers and people being whacked; nothing too challenging there. Deadwood was darker and quite often a lot weirder. Tony Soprano confides his troubles (albeit reluctantly) to a psychiatrist; Al Swearengen talks to the severed head of an Indian chief he keeps in a box. In The Sopranos considerable care has to be taken when disposing of bodies; in Deadwood they’re dragged round the corner to the Chinese quarter and fed to the pigs. This sounds inordinately grim but there was also a great deal of humour (often of a rather black variety), a major tragedy in season 2 and a very poignantly-developed lesbian relationship. The fact that this series came about at all provides a sliver of hope that television drama isn’t quite the redundant medium it often seems to be. It’s this, not 24 or Lost, that people will still be watching in years to come. It seems there may yet be two more feature-length specials that continue events. Fingers crossed for those. The first two seasons are out there now on DVD. Run, don’t walk.