Weekend links 392


Art by Twins of Evil for the forthcoming blu-ray from Arrow Academy.

Images (1972), the film that Robert Altman made between McCabe and Mrs Miller and The Long Goodbye, is the closest the director came to outright horror. A disturbing portrait of mental breakdown, with Susannah York in the lead role, and photography by Vilmos Zsigmond, the film has for years been so difficult to see as to be almost invisible. Arrow Academy will remedy this situation in March next year with a new blu-ray restoration. Related: Geoff Andrew on where to begin with Robert Altman.

• “[Johnson] is a paltry, utterly conventional, upwardly mobile, morally squalid parvenu who yearns to be taken for what he isn’t.” Jonathan Meades‘ vitriol is in a class of its own, here being deployed in a review of Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson by Douglas Murphy.

• “These films, all preserved in the BFI National Archive, are known as Orphan Works. When the rights-holder for a film cannot be found, that film is classified as an Orphan Work.” 170 orphaned films have been added to the BFI’s YouTube channel.

Don’t romanticize science fiction. One of the questions I have been asked so many times I’ve forgotten what my stock answer to it is, ‘Since science fiction is a marginal form of writing, do you think it makes it easier to deal with marginal people?’ Which—no! Why should it be any easier? Dealing with the marginal is always a matter of dealing with the marginal. If anything, science fiction as a marginal genre is more rigid, far more rigid than literature. There are more examples of gay writing in literature than there are in science fiction.

Samuel Delany in a lengthy two-part interview with Adam Fitzgerald

• One of the books I was illustrating this year was The Demons of King Solomon, a horror anthology edited by Aaron French. The collection is out now; I’ll post the illustrations here in the next month or so.

• Mixes of the week: Routledge Dexter Satellite Systems by Moon Wiring Club, No Way Through The Woods: A Conjurer’s Hexmas by SeraphicManta, and FACT mix 632 by Priests.

• Also at the BFI: Adam Scovell on a film adaptation of MR James that predates Jonathan Miller’s Whistle and I’ll Come To You (1968) by 12 years.

• At Weird Fiction Review: Jon Padgett on absurd degenerations and totalitarian decrepitude in The Town Manager by Thomas Ligotti.

• At Larkfall: Electricity & Imagination: Karl von Eckartshausen and Romantic Synaesthesia.

• It’s the end of December so the London Review of Books has Alan Bennett’s diary for the past year.

Aquarium Drunkard‘s review of the year’s best music.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lotte Reiniger Day.

Robin Rimbaud is In Wild Air.

• Dream Sequence (Images II) (1976) by George Crumb | Images (1977) by Sun Ra | Mirror Images (1978) by Van Der Graaf

Vilmos Zsigmond, 1930–2016


McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971).

Watch enough films from the 1970s and you’ll eventually run across something photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond. And if you were watching on TV, video or even DVD there’s a good chance that his subtle grading of light and shade would have been spoiled or, in low-light scenes, reduced to murk. (TV used to be the worst for also cropping widescreen films.) Screengrabs on a web page don’t do his work any justice either but that can’t be helped. Happily, many of these films are now available in high-definition.


Images (1972).


Deliverance (1972).


The Long Goodbye (1973).


The Deer Hunter (1978).


Heaven’s Gate (1980).


Heaven’s Gate (1980).


Heaven’s Gate (1980).

Snowbound cinema


A satellite view of snow across Great Britain on January 7, 2010.

Walking the snow-laden streets this week felt like a considerable novelty when we rarely have snowfalls of any depth here and what there is never lasts much longer than a day. The current low temperatures which began just before Christmas may be inducing a national trauma but the genuinely wintery weather makes a change from the dreary weeks of rain and cold which usually prevail until April.

Whilst trudging through the crusted ice I found myself remembering favourite films which make the most of winter landscapes. Here’s a short list to follow the earlier winter-themed posts.

McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971)
Several Westerns before this one had featured winter scenes but I think Robert Altman’s was the first to be set at the height of winter in a snowbound town. Memorable for Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography, Leonard Cohen’s lugubrious songs, Warren Beatty’s doomed businessman stomping around wrapped in furs muttering “Pain, pain, pain!”, and the finale when he’s hunted down by a trio of assassins.

The Shining (1980)
Has anyone not seen this film? Despite the artificial snow, Kubrick’s direction and John Alcott’s photography communicate authentic chills, both meteorological and metaphysical.


Yes, it’s a genuine Christmas postcard from Oregon’s Timberline Lodge which became the model for Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel. Writer Tom Veitch sent me this some years ago.

The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s grisly Antarctic horror is the film I still find to be his best. Like his earlier Assault on Precinct 13, this is another siege situation borrowed from Howard Hawks only this time the enemy is within. Until someone films At the Mountains of Madness, this is the closest you’ll get to Lovecraft’s polar nightmares.

Runaway Train (1985)
Few people know this: escaped convicts Jon Voight and Eric Roberts find themselves on the titular train with rail worker Rebecca De Mornay, and it’s a long ride through frozen landscapes as they try to escape the law and the train itself before it crashes. Andrei Konchalovsky directs a story by Akira Kurosawa rewritten by Edward Bunker (who has a cameo) and others. The result is a strange blend of hardboiled drama and existential symbolism with a great score by Trevor Jones.

Fargo (1996)
One of the Coen Brothers’ best. Watching this again over Christmas along with many of their other films, it was amusing to see Steve Buscemi transform from Fargo‘s vicious and splenetic kidnapper to the mild-mannered character he plays in The Big Lebowski. Despite the statement at the beginning of the film, Fargo isn’t a true story but its existence became tangled with some curious real-life events.?

Update: I was reminded on Twitter about Altman’s bizarre future Ice Age drama, Quintet, which I should have mentioned above. Not as successful as the earlier film but its setting certainly suits the weather.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bruegel in winter
Winter panoramas
Winter music
Winter light
Kubrick shirts
At the Mountains of Madness
Images by Robert Altman

Images by Robert Altman


It’s taken a while but the DVD format has slowly followed the CD with the reissue of obscure works that have been out of circulation for far too long. Robert Altman’s blandly-titled Images has been on my “When The Hell Will I See That Again?” list for about 25 years, having been shown a couple of times on TV in the UK before vanishing into the cinematic ether. It’s been out on DVD (Region 1 only) for a few years now but it’s taken me this long to see it again. In a way the film’s elusiveness suits a drama concerned with hallucinations.

Altman made Images in 1972 between two films that received far more attention and acclaim, the eccentric Western, McCabe and Mrs Miller and his Raymond Chandler update, The Long Goodbye. Images seems to have been poorly-received at the time although Susannah York deservedly won a best actress award at Cannes. Today it comes across as a minor exercise in mastery of the medium equivalent to Francis Coppola’s deft delivery of The Conversation between Godfathers 1 and 2. And, like The Conversation, it’s only “minor” because of the scale of Altman’s other achievements. For many directors this would be a career peak.


Images is a kind of Altmanesque riposte to Roman Polanki’s Repulsion. Both films concern women having trouble with the men in their lives which may or may not be the cause of a mental breakdown which becomes progressively worse throughout the film. Polanski’s take on this far is more overt, with Catherine Deneuve already withdrawn from the world at the outset. Susannah York’s character, Cathryn, is a children’s writer who seems at first to be relatively stable until her life is increasingly intruded upon by the ghost of a former (dead) lover and other hallucinations from her past. This is played out in and around a cottage in a spectacular part of Ireland where she’s staying with her husband. Most of Altman’s films go for laughs even when the subject matter is inherently serious. Images, along with a handful of his other works, has no leavening humour at all and, like Repulsion, crosses into all-out horror at times. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to discuss without spoiling the film’s many surprises.


Seeing this again was essentially like seeing it for the first time, not least because it’s a widescreen film that I only ever saw on TV in an inferior pan-and-scan version. The photography was by Vilmos Zsigmond, one of the great cinematographers of the 1970s and Altman’s favourite cameraman at that time. The production design is filled with mirrors, glass and wind-chimes, all of which complement Cathryn’s brittle mental state and which continually catch her in their reflections. The music by a pre-bombast John Williams is very good and is superbly augmented by Stomu Yamash’ta whose percussion ensemble is credited with the unnerving “sounds” which contribute so much to the atmosphere. Susannah York’s performance is excellent and serves as a reminder of what a great actress she was, frequently making the most of difficult roles in films such as The Killing of Sister George, The Maids or The Shout.

images4.jpgThe screenplay for Images was all Altman’s work apart from Cathryn’s voiceovers where she reads (or writes in her head) parts of her novel. These were extracts from a real fantasy book for children, In Search of Unicorns, written by the actress, one of two she wrote in the 1970s. Those extracts add to the verisimilitude as well as being sufficiently naive and otherworldly to contrast with the very adult events being shown on the screen.

So I can finally tick this one off the list although I now have an urge to see Altman’s curious and not altogether successful science fiction film, Quintet. No. 1 on the “When The Hell Will I See That Again?” list remains Deep End from 1971, the first British film by Jerzy Skolimowski who later made The Shout. According to a recent Sight & Sound feature the film is caught in some legal limbo so I could still be in for a long wait.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Robert Altman, 1925–2006