Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Isle is full of Noises

Easy Sunday morning viewing. Lots of rippling nature scenes between people talking about pagan gods, skulls, shape-shifting animals, Halloween fires. BBC's Everyman documentary from 1992, The Isle is Full of Noises.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

twas brillig, and the Calennig did rise

Picture: Katrina Dixon @spectrascopic

For the New Year, a traditional Welsh gift – the Calennig, a skewered decorated apple that fills a room with the smell of apple and cloves, and rises up on twig legs with sprigs for antlers like a rural fruit Hellraiser, on the borderlands of fairytales and folk horror.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

echoes: sara maitland - forests, fairytales and secrets

Kathleen Lolley: The Energy Between You and I (2013). More Kathleen Lolley.

"I believe that the great stretches of forest in northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonishing biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get to anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairytales we know best. There are secrets, hidden identities, cunning disguises; there are rhythms of change like the changes of the season; there are characters, both human and animal, whose assistance can be earned or spurned; and there is - over and over again - the journey or quest, which leads first to knowledge and then to happiness. The forest is the place of trial in fairy stories, both dangerous and exciting. Coming to terms with the forest, surviving its terrors, utilising its gifts and gaining its help is the way to 'happy ever after'." 

Sara Maitland: Gossip from the Forest - the Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairytales (2012)

Monday, 20 October 2014

70s children's TV: raven - oi, leave it out, I'm arfur

1977. Punk's hitting the mainstream, hippie psychedelia has become new age astrology-fuelled environmentalism and British children's TV drama has already introduced a generation to the clash of mystical ancient forces and modern technological progress in the likes of The Owl Service, The Changes and Children of the Stones. 

Cue Raven, a six-part series by the writers of Children of the Stones - Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray - that mixes Arthurian legend, government nuclear plans, spirit guides, scientists, psychic visions and a battle between a teenager and authority figures that goes centuries beyond the pop culture generation gap. 

A pre-Quadrophenia Phil Daniels stars as the titular hero, 15-year-old Raven, a denim-clad London Borstal Boy on probation in the countryside who discovers his true destiny as the reincarnation of King Arthur (just go with it), helping a Merlin-like grumpy archeologist stop a nuclear waste reprocessing plant being built on top of an underground labyrinth of caves. Phew. 

The whole thing's given a touch of The Stone Tape, with flashes of timeslip hallucinatory visuals, eerie sound effects and the archaeologist's use of CCTV, and the CCTV also neatly adds an Orwellian dimension to the sense of unseen forces that watch over us. Can't beat seeing Carry On regular Patsy Rowlands completely out of context either, as the archeologist's lovely wife and unlikely expert on birds. It's a bit of a treasure.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

peter lorre: pumpkin-time pin-up

Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, 1962
See lots more scans from Famous Monsters of Filmland in the flickr group.

Friday, 17 October 2014

jean veber's enchanted grotesques

Queen Victoria and Mrs Kruger, illustration for the French satirical weekly L'Assiette au Beurre, 1901.
The return of Goya to his homeland, 1899.
Illustration for FĂ©lix Duquesnel's Tales of a thousand and two nights.
The Spider (anyone know more?)
Glory Face, First World War illustration.

Jean Veber (1864-1928) trained as a painter before becoming a popular political cartoonist, notoriously capturing Edward VII's face on the bottom of Britannia during the Boer war. But his work also included illustrating fairytales, Marcel Schwob's Mimes (the text of which was recently revived in a great crowd-sourced translation by Asymptote) and a series of quietly mordant drawings from the trenches of the First World War. 

I like his theatre drawings too - I'd like to see more.

Browse Les Vebers, Les Vebers, Les Vebers, an illustrated satire from 1895 by Jean and his brother Pierre.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

edgar allan poe: louder, louder still

So, after Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey, Edgar Allan Poe seems to be the third invocation in some kind of unintentional but apt trinity here. Ted Parmelee's 1953 animated version of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart is one of the unexpected treats of the British Library's Gothic Imagination exhibition in London: tense, abstract and a Hollywood cartoon that was definitely not for children. At least not Disney-fed children. Or even Rocky and Bullwinkle-fed children. Paul Julian's fractured designs, which were influenced by the theatre sets and paintings of Eugene Berman, are filled with see-through structures, looming shadows and sudden shocks of colour and angle. It's a horror that's drained of blood; instead it pulsates (there's really no better word, I promise) with the strangeness of Poe's murderous psychological nightmare in look and feel. But it does also look very pretty. Oh, and James Mason narrates too. Watch it - it's only 8 minutes long.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

edward gorey's doubleday anchor book covers

Between 1953 and 1960 Edward Gorey was the art editor for the new line of Doubleday Anchor paperbacks, working with illustrators including Philippe Julian, Milton Glaser and Andy Warhol on the covers for around 200 titles. But around 50 covers were drawn by Gorey. What makes them look so amazing now is that we're used to Gorey as both author and illustrator of his own books. Here, the strength of Gorey's wry macabre style pulls an apparently unlikely range of authors into his distinctively subversive Victorian world. He doesn't even need to use images - Gorey can conjure a curious kind of gothic dread with typography alone. 

See the full set on flickr. A good piece about his other wonderful book cover work.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

the haunted house panorama

More than you ever wanted to know about the 70s giant Letraset haunted panorama

(It was very big. There were lots of transfers. You could make it look as if the skeletons and Swamp Thing transfers were dancing with each other if you placed them right. The panorama looked great on a wall without any transfers at all.)

Monday, 13 October 2014

alice in broadcastland

Hello. I'm back, or at least circling back around where I was, so here's a start to winding up the spectral gramophone with this montage of scenes from Jonathan Miller's 1966 film of Alice in Wonderland set to a soundtrack using the music of Broadcast.

Friday, 11 July 2014

miss ghost america

"Entrants are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild as to the ghostly attire and makeup they feel appropriate for their appearance in the contest."

Promo beauty contest for the Night of Dark Shadows film, USA,  1971.

Monday, 9 September 2013

nikolai kalmakoff: 'the beardsley of st petersburg'

Angel Of The Abyss, undated
Salome Sphinx, 1928
Household Spirits, 1927
Taurus, 1927
Nikolai Konstantin Kalmakoff was a Russian-Italian aristocrat born on the Italian riviera in 1873, a symbolist painter, part of the 'visionary' movement, an eccentric, recluse, occultist and misogynist who died, long-forgotten, in poverty in Paris in 1955. Most of his paintings are lost. Those that remain were, for the most part, only found by chance at a fleamarket in the 60s. Now those paintings go for thousands at auction. Although almost as classic (and possibly repellent) as his life story in their decadent themes, filled with monstrous Medusa women and sphinxes, Salome and the minotaur, not to mention devils, Kalmakoff's art also still looks as if it really did come from another realm. Technicolour, intense, beautiful and sometimes frightening, Kalmakoff's labyrinth is definitely one where the demons are as enticing as they are menacing.

"She made me live in an imaginary world taken from the Brothers Grimm with a sprinkling of ETA Hoffmann. I devoured those tales with delight. Around the age of nine I would often wander into the furthermost room of our house, where I would carefully conceal myself. Then, alone in the darkness, I would call upon the devil to appear."

Kalmakoff on his childhood German governess (and earliest influence), from the Visionary Revue, which has the full story on his life as well as a complete gallery of his work.

oh, you devil you – cinzano advert, 1966

mood indigo

From the series Destinations (imagined) by Boston, Massachussetts photographer Alicia Savage.
"They started walking, letting the first pavement they came across guide their steps.
A little pink cloud came down from the air and drew up close beside them.

       'I'm going your way,' it winked.
       'Let's step on then,' said Colin.
And the cloud wrapped itself round them. Inside the cloud it was warm, and it smelt of candy-floss and cinnamon. 
       'Nobody can see us any more!...' said Colin. 'But we can still see everything that is going on!...'
       'I think it is slightly transparent,' said Chloe. 'Better be careful!' 

From Froth On The Daydream (L'Ecume des Jours) by Boris Vian translated by Stanley Chapman, 1967.

It's been a long 18 months since the first photographs from the shoot of Mood Indigo appeared. Michel Gondry's big-screen version of Boris Vian's Froth On The Daydream novel still has no UK release date, and reviews from premieres and releases elsewhere in the world are mixed. Gondry's way with a dreamlike narrative seems to be as much in play as it was in Eternal Sunshine, and there are nods to Terry Gilliam-like touches, which is definitely a good thing, but there's also a sense that the darker edges of Vian's original story have been quietly smoothed out, leaving a tragic romance floating in a fluffy cloud of surrealist quirks. We'll see, eventually, but at least the film tie-in reissue of the novel, due any time between now and January from Serpent's Tail, will be the hard-to-find translation by Stanley Chapman from 1967. Bittersweet, like the story, but if it gets the book a wider worldwide audience, that's something in itself. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

where is arthur sultan, the surrey mystic?

Screengrabs from the 1978 TV film The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash
Whatever happened to Arthur Sultan, the Surrey mystic? It's a question that, probably, no one has asked in the years since The Rutles went to his secret retreat in Bognor for a weekend of Ouija board table-tapping (and the rest). We – okay, I – can imagine that after the tragic departure of Rutles manager Leggy Mountbatten for a teaching post in Australia, and the swift exit of the shocked and stunned Rutles from Bognor, Arthur might have turned to other bands: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Herman's Hermits. Or written an English version of the I-Ching based on cricketing terminology. Or even tried to levitate the local bingo hall in Woking as a protest against inferior-quality Jesus sandals flooding the hippie scene (and to raise the profile of his wholefood shop). More likely, the Maharishi of Bognor is now the billionaire owner of an online psychic hotline based in Singapore, with a 20-year-old 'paranormal investigator' (and actress) girlfriend, and a basement full of clones of himself ready to unleash on the world in the near future. 

At least there isn't such a mystery about the man behind Arthur Sultan – actor, playwright and theatre director Henry Woolf. Woolf was already a seasoned thesp in TV and film when he first performed with Eric Idle in the latter's BBC2 comedy sketch show Rutland Weekend Television in 1975 and then took on the role of Arthur Sultan in All You Need Is Cash, the fake rock doc about beat behemoths The Rutles. A veteran of the avant-garde, with a hefty dose of childhood pal Harold Pinter's kitchen sink, Woolf's on-screen performances notably also include the 1967 film adaptation of Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade (a play that was still causing controversy and audience walk-outs when the Royal Shakespeare Company staged it in 2011) and early 70s Doctor Who baddie The Collector. For more on Woolf's sinister looks, absurdist drama and unexpectedly scary roles see Familiar Unknown.