Tuesday, 31 August 2010

phantom phone calls

At Wimbledon car boot sale, a box of unanswered old calls, tangled lines and phantom conversations.

The magical art of tabitha kyoko moses

Tabitha Kyoko Moses definitely has a magical strand to her work, a sense of rescuing everyday artefacts and turning them into talismans or charms, as in the mummified Barbie and antique dolls of The Lost And The Found (left) or forgotten places turned sacred spaces, as in Six Lost Villages (postcard set, below), photography of decrepit stone structures on Mull and Ulva. Her amazing Hairpurse is currently on show as part of The Dartboard For Witches at Aberystwyth Arts Centre until 18 Sep, and I have to go back to the Pitt-Rivers museum in Oxford to see the Witch's Bottle on her recommendation.

le macabre, soho

"Just around the corner on Meard Street was Le Macabre, which used coffins as tables and bakelite skulls for ashtrays. There were skull-shaped milk jugs, murals of skeletons and graveyards, and the jukebox featured the Funeral March."
Barry Miles, in London Calling: A Countercultural History Of London Since 1945

Le Macabre's beatnik goth interior went into more detail than Heaven & Hell round the corner, which Miles also talks about in London Calling, only Le Macabre didn't have a resident skiffle group called The Ghouls in all-black-painted hell basement, and both were only two of many themed coffee houses crammed into just a few streets. 

Most likely Le Macabre and the coffee bar boom had already crested in cool by the time the Rank Organization filmed it and its nearby hepcat hangouts in 1959, but this cinema news feature is a wry snapshot of the teenager as much as the craze and Le Macabre captures all the sensational angles perfectly - the strangeness of this new breed and their transgressive pleasures. No sex (we're British), but oh, that evil java bean.

portraits of mr price - advertising

Vincent Price's chilling charm and fruity tones on these 80s American adverts can't help but inspire the wish that he'd done telly ads over here - Mars Bars "work, rest and play" or toothpaste, even just an inevitable whisky ad with fellow horror "scream legends" Cushing and Lee. Or, even more fantastical, Cinzano, with Leonard Rossiter.

Polaroid video cassettes, 1985

Milton Bradley's Stay Alive game, 1978

Time-Life Books, Enchanted World Series, 1986

Sun Country Wine Cooler ad, 1986

Friday, 27 August 2010

esp: your sixth sense

"A new look at man's invisible bridge to the unknown." 

One of those instantly appealing strange books found at a long-forgotten jumble sale as a kid, just like the lead character in Our Tragic Universe, the latest novel by Scarlett Thomas, itself a pretty timely (and suitably spellbinding) read a couple of months ago with its undercurrent of mysterious and supernatural in the narrative: labyrinths, poltergeists, witches, even mysterious beasts. Sometimes the right book really does seem to find you at the right time.

the horror of 70s BBC2

radiotimes 1980
From the time when staying up late meant horror films on BBC2. TV pairings of 30s/40s and 50s/60s/70s films are a pretty rare breed nowadays, so it's down to cinemas and DVD nights at home to make up for missing tantalising TV listings like Devil Doll (1932) with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), White Zombie (1932) and House Of Wax (1953) or The Strange Door (1951) and Blood From the Mummy's Tomb (1971). 

Radio Times, 1980

Thursday, 26 August 2010

dark shadows board game

Gothic daytime soap opera merch to match The Munsters and Addams Family boom. Fangtastic?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

the month of hungry ghosts

We're still in the month of hungry ghosts, so there's still plenty to fear, if you're in certain parts of Asia at least, in a time that's as much about appeasing as honouring the dead. In most of the countries only the several days around the middle of the month are marked with rituals, but Genevieve Woo and Tony Kern's 2008 documentary, A Month Of Hungry Ghosts, covers Singapore's month-long festival, with footage of the religious ceremonies and prayers, food offerings and banquets for the departed, folklore theatre, music and puppetry (and sometimes ecstatic singing) as well as fire rituals at night.

It's a folklore spectacle, but the idea of hungry ghosts has a horror movie edge. The advent of the seventh lunar month opens the gates of Hell and sets ghosts free to mingle with the living, and with a threatening undercurrent, as the lost souls go in search of emotional sustenance. At its most extreme, that means revenge in acts of trickery, possession and murder. Night-time swimming is a definite no-no.

In Buddhist thought, the hungry ghosts can never be satisfied, tormented by cravings for the past that can never be fulfilled, and so they're pictured as grotesque phantoms, with long thin necks, bloated stomachs and withered limbs. Offerings of food, the burning of gifts for them - paper houses, paper TVs, fake money, fake cars and real gifts nowadays including electronics - are not only to help the ghosts in their world, but also as protection, a form of mafia rule from beyond the grave that includes the caveat of good luck in this life for paying due respect to the ancestors. These aren't spooks out to go boo, they're literally out to get you.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

branches reach out like children's hands ...

joe annual, 1969

Housewitchery: Vogue magazine, October 1970

bell, book and candle: to like or to loathe?

Bell, Book & Candle, you are charged with being a 1958 film about a Greenwich Village witch (Kim Novak) who casts a spell on a book publisher (James Stewart) that makes him leave his fiancee for her, leading to enchanting comedy and bedazzling romance. 

The case for this film:

1) Kim Novak (Gillian) is a witch
2) Gillian's a beatnik witch, dressed in black, and sultry cool
3) She has a cat called Pyewacket
4) She runs a shop selling tribal art in Greenwich Village
5) Jack Lemmon plays her brother, Nicky, a warlock
6) Jack Lemmon plays bongos
7) Elsa Lanchester and Hermione Gingold's performances make the adjective kooky sound like a good thing
8) Jimmy Stewart (Shep) never looks better stunned than when he discovers the hoodoo's been put on him
9) The Zodiac Nightclub
10) Love saves the day

The case against:

1) Witches can't fall in love. Apparently
2) The happy ending is that Gillian gets Shep because she loses her powers and changes into what he wants
3) Shep doesn't want to be a warlock
4) Pyewacket needs a bigger role (no talking cats, just a bigger role)
5) The Zodiac club scene should be longer (or even , for reasons 6-10 here, be the entire film)
6) Gillian swaps the cool beatnik wear for bland pastels after she loses her powers
7) Likewise, instead of selling tribal art, Gillian switches to selling really ugly seashells and possible silk flowers 
8) Pyewacket is forced out his home (he finds another, but still...)
9) If she's lost her powers how's Gillian going to hang out with Nicky and her friends at The Zodiac?
10) Basically, it's a really sad ending if you're for the witches and warlocks

Evidence: The Zodiac Club scene. I rest my case.

echoes: beckett's lost souls

dbg384 Originally uploaded by Montague Projects

"The metaphysical problems of existence beyond the body in language become the prime source of terror and frustration in [Beckett's] work. Beckett's Unnamable is the deepest expression of this idea. Throughout the story, the disembodied narrator, a dislocated voice in an urn, remains unnameable and unknowable, existing merely as a fragmented consciousness, a representation of the mind of modern man as he tries to cope with the agony of being and not knowing."

From Maria Breville's Gothic Post-Modernism: Voicing The Terrors Of Postmodernity, Editions Rodopi BV, 2009

"the hope of eternal life"

Originally uploaded by Leo Reynolds

Beneath the castle in Edinburgh's city centre churchyard Thomas De Quincey lies buried, author of Confessions Of An Opium Eater and the by-turns satirical and philosophical essay and story collection On Murder among other writings, and a prime influence on Jorge Luis Borges and Edgar Allan Poe.

sergey larenkov's snapshot spectres of war & communism

Digital gizmos have made it easy to overlay historical views on to contemporary shots of the same setting but Sergey Larenkov's then and now montages of European cities from Berlin to St Petersburg meld scenes of war, communism and social history in a way that stuns anew. Pictured above is a street during the siege of St Petersburg in 1942 and in 2010, history brought back to life and a visualising of the psychological past always present.

Monday, 23 August 2010

late 60s smirnoff vodka ad

Thought of this again after seeing the new occult-channelling TV ads for Fiat cars (voodoo dolls) and Specsavers (crop circle message) during Ghost Whisperer (oh, guilty pleasure).

spectres of modernism

If there's one shot that captures the urban otherness of brutalism, it might be this one; unfulfilled potential and sinister echoes of the postwar concrete dream rolled into one.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

west kennet long barrow, nr avebury


minor unit

ace of wands, 1970

With his fancy sports cars and suave outfits, there was more than touch of Jason King to Tarot, the supernatural crime-solving magician hero of Ace Of Wands who had an owl called Ozymandias and battled the underworld with ESP and karate moves. Created by Trevor Preston and Pamela Lonsdale, made mostly in London on tiny budgets and including episodes by PJ Hammond (later creator of Sapphire And Steel), Ace Of Wands was first broadcast in the summer of 1970 on Thames Television and ran for three series.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

on the banks of the bosphorous, istanbul

xtina lamb's lucky bunting

Can't help but be charmed by Xtina Lamb's lucky bunting. Available now at her Etsy shop, Printed Wonders, and featuring 10 illustrations - horseshoe, nautical star, black cat, No 7, wishbone, key, henna hand, four-leaf clover, ladybird and a pair of dice. Screenprinted using a Japanese Gocco machine. Lucky-themed greeting cards also available.

lucky door

Lucky door , originally uploaded by I like

Anne's flickr photos do a lot of championing the forgotten, neglected or dismissed mundane gems, and sometimes have that vaguely spectral feel. Her main website, I Like, has lots more of the kind of things that lots of folk, including me, like, like old cafes, seaside towns and modernist architecture. She also has a great new book out called Nothing To See Here, named after and based on another of her websites, about the bits people normally bypass when they're travelling, like Louis Tussaud's House Of Wax in Great Yarmouth or the Tunnock's factory and tearooms in Uddingston.

And I like lucky charms on doors.

the moon stallion, 1978

Another case of being too young to remember it properly (thanks to Rhian Thompson and Xtina Lamb), and I was probably put off by the horse focus (I was never a horsey girl - girls bedroom walls that were covered in horse posters were a bit creepy). The Moon Stallion, written by Brian Hayles (who also wrote Dr Who episodes in the 60s and 70s and two all-too-tantalisingly titled horror plays for children - Hour Of The Werewolf and The Curse Of The Labyrinth - among other credits) is a cracker of a supernatural children's drama though that shoehorns in symbols, myths, rituals (look out for the dead toad bones) and legend. Diana, a blind Edwardian girl, discovers her calling when she travels with her professor father to the Uffington chalk white horse in Wiltshire. While he goes off on a wild goose chase for King Arthur's last battleground, she taps in telepathically to the mysterious moon stallion and Diana the moon goddess, is kidnapped by a horse warlock out to become the all-powerful Green King and provides an aptly 70s message about the dangers of the developing 20th century machine age and the power of nature and sacred places, all set around the full moon of the Celtic feast of Beltane. It fair gallops along at a (mystifying) mystical pace.

Woolwear from the other side: Vogue magazine, 1970

Dresses from left to right by Berkertex, Mary Quant's Ginger Group, Clothes At Colin In Glascoe, Gina Fratini, Frederick Starke and Polly Peck.

Butler from a wishful episode of Tales Of The Unexpected starring Stanley Unwin.

the changelings of birmingham

Arts company aas host The Changelings, an interactive woodland family-friendly fantasy journey through Cannon Hill Park over the last weekend in August where children can learn more about animal mythologies including werewolves, Pookahs, dream guides and shamanic rituals. And then go home and enjoy scaring their siblings and friends, probably. The Changelings is just one part of a suitably otherworldy portal of events called The Other Place that also includes a winter stint in Walsall called The Cage, where aas promise to mess around with identity, time and multiple realities in mischievous 'psychic' role-playing.

june book of strange stories, 1974

Twenty picture stories, including The Haunting
Of Dr Ghoul, When Time Stood Still, The
Wayward Kite, The Mystery Maker, plus
supernatural-themed features and puzzles.

Friday, 20 August 2010

wyrd britain

(Cuxton, near Cobham Hall)

A giant topiary peacock (in the garden of a thatched village cottage) that should be the main character in a children's folklore fiction, coming to life and telling of ancient Egyptian topiary soldier sentinels and animal protectors. Before flying away to avoid the magic-pruning shears.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

where should you eat near rosslyn chapel?

Green men welcome ...
After a hard day's crusading ...
Or why not visit Dolly's Diner in nearby Roslin ...
etc, etc.

strange attractor at the last tuesday society

Mark Pilkington follows up his Strange Attractor salon, which journeyed across magic and art, myth and music, occult fiction, horror rock and more in January at Viktor Wynd's Little Shoppe Of Horrors, The Last Tuesday Society base in Hackney, with an autumn/winter season of events there. The line-up includes talks on Haitian voodoo, madness in animals, women of the Golden Dawn and Phil Baker on his new biography about the curious life of artist, sorcerer and all-round London character Austin Osman Spare. Baker's Fortean London piece on Spare several years ago is a neat primer. And Viktor Wynd's is worth a visit alone (or with a friend...) for the enjoyment of Victorian-style curiosities and fringe culture oddities.

file under ooky

I stare at you while you pluck napkins from my arms and toothpicks from the top of my head...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

ghost trains in Derbyshire

On the wrong side of the Indietracks at The Midland Railway, Butterley.

into the labyrinth title sequence

Operatic wailing? Check. Synthy bleeps? Check. TV Orchestra trying a sinister brass march? Check. Plus distorted views through watery caves. Plus Ron Moody's staring eyes. Plus the wibbly-wobbly odd sounds of the HTV indent. Can't stop watching these opening titles for the early 80s children's supernatural drama series Into The Labyrinth.

e.l. doctorow on haunted houses

(via Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic):
"When people speak of a haunted house, they mean ghosts flitting about in it, but that’s not it at all. When a house is haunted - what I’m trying to explain - it is the feeling you get that it looks like you, that your soul has become architecture, and the house in all its materials has taken you over with a power akin to haunting. As if you, in fact, are the ghost. And as I look at you, a kind, lovely young woman, part of me says not that I don’t belong here, which is the truth, but that you don’t belong here."

echoes : magic, technology and the quest for the unknown (i)

"The pagan and the paranormal have colonized the twilight zones of popular media."

"We are beset with a thirst for meaning and connection that centuries of skeptical philosophy, hard materialism and nihilist culture have yet to douse."

"Today there is so much pressure on information - the word, the concept, stuff - that it crackles with energy, drawing to itself mythologies, metaphysics, hints of arcane magic."

"Our modern technological world is not nature, but augmented nature, super-nature, and the more intensely we probe its mutant edge of mind and matter, the more our disenchanted productions will find themselves wrestling with the rhetoric of the supernatural."

"Vibrating in the gap between life and physics, between matter and unseen ether, electricity inhabits a liminal zone that calls down spirits and sublimities out of thin air."

Erik Davis : Techgnosis: -Myth, Magic & Mysticism In The Age Of Information, Serpent's Tail, 1998

there are many of us ...

I don't mind being shrimp next to the already Moby-Dick behemoth that is Found Objects, 'a hauntological dumping ground', particularly since it's led by k-punk (aka writer, scholar and major hauntology man Mark Fisher). I just should've seen it before. Doh. It's a fantastic collaborative venture. Go see. While I'm directing you elsewhere, see Love Train For The Tenebrous Empire and revel in lots of spooky, creepy and lurid film tips (thanks to Doug Campbell) and Ghost Watching channel on YouTube (thanks to Will Kane). A feast of supernatural viewing. I'm a big fan of Stan The Man's YouTube channel too - Vincent Price films, early 70s American ghost story series and particularly The Mind Beyond (BBC supernatural drama series from 1976 in the same league as The Stone Tape and Children Of The Stones) among the watchables.

Onward ho...

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Alfred Hitchcock Presents... Why

From 1958 - once upon a midnight dreary, six folk on their way to a fancy dress party sheltered in a house during a storm. And were never seen again. Now they haunt the house. It's up to the players (in their roles as Shyulock Bones, Charlie Clam, Dick Crazy or Sergeant Monday) to find out who was murdered and why in a Cluedo-style game.

the stone tape, 1972

Nigel Kneale's 1972 Christmas ghost story melded science fiction and megalithic horror in possibly an even better way than Children Of The Stones. An electronics company move into an old mansion so they can work on developing a new recording technology to beat the Japanese invasion, only to discover ghosts and lessons about not trying to meddle with ancient dark forces for financial gain. The green-on-black oscillation waves and electronic soundtrack in the opening titles set the tone, the cast includes Jane Asher as a supernaturally-sensitive computer whizkid as well as, again, the mighty Iain Cuthbertson, and the drama unfolds in ever-more wondrous layers of invention, but the best bit is the idea that pre-Saxon stone can record tape-loops of emotion, and that you mess with them, as in Nigel Kneale's famous Quatermass, at your peril.

avebury, children of the stones, betjeman

From the top deck of the bus fields of gently waving wheat lap at even gentler hills for miles through the Wiltshire countryside. It's all very pleasant, and then suddenly all very strange, as though some kind of invisible border crossed, as soon as you see the first of the mammoth stones of Avebury loom up near the bus stop at the Red Lion pub. Dropped off into a photo-friendly English village that's dominated by giant standing stones at every turn, it's not like stepping into another world, but more like stepping between worlds, a historical crossroads of folklore, nostalgia and the sense of a deeper, more ancient and never quite settled history shaded with pagan rituals and forgotten rites.

Avebury's megalithic stone circle is 500 years older and 15 times bigger than Stonehenge, so big that it really can contain a small but whole village. Built over five centuries from around 2500 BC, it's one of the biggest prehistoric stone circles in Europe and a World Heritage site, but there's no restrictions on wandering around the stones, touching them or, as happens, dancing around them on pagan feast days. 

The circle of stones is the visible centre of a serpent design of megalithic sites in the area that together may been a temple. The West Kennet avenue of stones connects the stone circle to the former timber circle of The Sanctuary a mile south-east, with the manmade mound of Silbury Hill a half-mile west and the neolithic West Kennet Barrow burial chamber a further half-mile south of the Avenue. 

You can drive right through Avebury and see all the megalithic and neolithic sites from a car, but taking the pilgrim route (Avebury is at one end of the centuries-old Ridgeway path that runs from Tring in Hertfordshire) or at least walking around seems like the only way to feel anchored in the place .

Originally there would have been more than 150 stones. Most were destroyed or buried several centuries ago (religion, agriculture and development all playing their part), but in the 1930s marmalade millionaire Alexander Keiller bought up Avebury, funding and leading the restoration, excavation and re-erection of at least some of the stones before ill-health forced him to sell the area to the National Trust. The Alexander Keiller Museum in the village features in John Betjeman's Shell Guide to Avebury film, made in the 1950s.

In keeping with Betjeman's talent for picking up on the usually unnoticed aspects of our surroundings he speaks at the end of the film of Avebury's "sinister atmosphere", sparking the flipside of the Avebury mythology. Here lies not just the cute model-like village surrounded by huggable building block stones, but the Avebury of haunted inns, ghostly sightings and stones that move at midnight, a folklore knowledge made into teatime terror in the eerie 1977 children's TV drama, Children Of The Stones.

Children Of The Stones is now the textbook hauntological slab of TV nostalgia. Science and the paranormal do battle in the form of a physics genius father (Gareth Thomas) and his apparently psychometric son, who together must find a way to beat the time-messing, population-brainwashing forces of a preternatural and possibly alien evil, and escape from the clutches of Iain Cuthbertson and the village (here called Milbury). Since this is 70s British TV, this means there's plenty of declaiming from the grown ups, Children Of The Damned-type acting from the children, a lot of fancy electronic equipment, discussion about science and the supernatural and an unsettling soundtrack that provided the aural touchstone for hauntological sounds later on, not least those of Ghostbox.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

velvet cave vintage clothing

Bewitching mod psych dresses from the latest batch of amazing finds by Imogen Shurey, available at her eBay shop, Velvet Cave Vintage Clothing and captured, as ever, in perfect 60s-style photographs by Bobby Grindrod.

black magic club fruit machine

From the Big Things On The Beach art installation on Portobello Beach, Edinburgh. (The fruit machines lights look best at night, and Black Magic's mesmerising spiral centre spins. But you can't play them).

Friday, 13 August 2010

orson welles & the witch doctor club

Sometimes a brief mention of something can spark a mini obsessive hunt. This time the mention of Orson Welles and the Witch Doctor Club in Jonathan Ross's recent interview in the Guardian with Jim Steranko. I'm not tossing and turning at night, but it's been nagging. All the more so since Google isn't doing the usual 100,000 pages of info when I put in the search. All I know is pretty much what it says in the interview. It was a magic club, of sorts, in New York, called the Witch Doctor Club, and Orson Welles was involved with it. Welles came up with the voodoo Macbeth in the 30s, and it just suits Welles to be involved in something like this. But where was it? Was it like the Zodiac nightclub in the James Stewart, Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak 50s film gem Bell, Book & Candle? Were there bongos? Or was it just a gentleman's secret club for those in the know to go for boozing and carousing?

day of the dead screenprints

Telegramme have issued a limited run of Calaveras Summer Series prints. And one of them's already sold out (I should've got in earlier). I love Day Of The Dead-related art, but these got me twice over with an added layer of 60s psych technicolour.

witch!, brighton

Witch! is a night of female-fronted sounds from the 60s to now that my friend Steph has just started in Brighton with Chris King. But I really just like that it's called Witch! and that the font and poster totally make me think of an early 70s Italian horror film (even though that's Stevie Nicks pictured).

60s/70s occult london at treadwell's

Treadwell's bookshop hosts many occult-related talks and workshops, the latest of which is a night listening to Francesca Rossetti's tales of being at the heart of the occult scene in London in the 60s and 70s. Her 1970 book for the very alternative tourist, The Aquarian Guide To Occult, Mystical, Religious, Magical London, must be due for a reprint by now ...

disney's sorcerer's apprentice

Once upon a time, more than half a century ago, Disney made The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was pretty and sweet and had cute Mickey Mouse getting into all kinds of aw shucks trouble. But times changed and, just as Batman became The Dark Knight and every film had to have its Matrix element so too the remake of The Sorcerer's Apprentice made over the original animation into a live action goth mystic pizza, with neat nods to the sardonic wit of Near Dark in Nicolas Cage's sorcerer, and weirder nods to Third Rock From the Sun in the apparent aping of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's alien teenager by the actor playing The Sorcerer's Apprentice. 

roswell hill

Londonist reports under its Fortean London section that Muswell Hill is now known as Roswell Hill after more UFO-tagged sightings of curious red/orange lights in the sky. This has got to mean the Highgate vampire is due for a comeback, if only so they can do battle on Hampstead Heath.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

dave allen's supernatural comedy

Supernatural references in unlikely cultural places tickle me, like comedy. Dave Allen was an Irish comedian best-known for his TV shows in the 60s and 70s, where he would hold forth in irreverent style from a comfy high stool - cigarette in one hand, glass of whisky in the other - on life, death, religion, smoking, the English and whatever else took his maverick fancy. But he was also interested in the supernatural. Not in a Peter Sellers way, obsessing about unlucky colours and astrology, but certainly a pretty classic man of his supernatural-obsessed time. In 1974 he curated an anthology of spooky and horror tales called A Little Light Reading and, in 1976 and 1977, he followed up an earlier series of documentaries about eccentrics with ones exploring pagan music and arcane legends and folklore. Applying his comedic timing and storytelling to the supernatural tale below was a stroke of genius though.