Thursday, 27 December 2012

nemo - the clairvoyant astrologer: you must believe him, he looks like Rasputin

Invented by Charles Leicht, created by Creston Industries, 1969
 "This is not a game, but you can play it. It is not a toy, but you can use it. It's based on scientific astrological forces - The Sun. The Moon. The Star. The Planets. And it can affect your life. There are times you can succeed at anything you do. And there are times you can't succeed at anything you do. These times are said to be influenced by your Zodiac "sign". And in some mysterious cosmic way, NEMO can tell you when these times are. Ask a specific question, and HE will always give you the specific answer. It's almost too revealing and too truthful to play."

If you had all the postwar astrology/prediction-based games, would that mean you could have a battle of the clairvoyants and a face-off between the Amazing Magic Robot and the the Magic Eightball? That's what we need to ask Nemo.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sunday, 23 December 2012

re-record, not fade away: the stone tape

If there was a stone circle of 1970s British TV dramas in which modern technology came up against ancient forces, then Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, which finally comes out on DVD next month, would be the big monolith at the circle's centre. It led the way for Children Of The Stones, Changes and The Omega Factor, but as a horror where the chills were all the more unsettling for being based in science The Stone Tape stands apart.

Nigel Kneale had made his name in the 1950s with the pioneering BBC sci-fi gripper of Quatermass in its serial incarnation, so it should have been no surprise that his contribution to the BBC's annual Christmas ghost story in 1972 was nothing like a standard ghost story. An electronics research group, led by a bombastic Napoleon in a safari suit (Michael Bryant) in the twilight of an affair with his computer genius prodigy (Jane Asher) move in to a derelict house, Taskerlands, and discover by the chance the potential for a new recording medium in the haunted stonework of the basement. There is a ghost in The Stone Tape, a Victorian undermaid, but she's just the bait. The hook is the story of the primal forces within the stone that can't be contained, either literally by being recorded (on tape), or in power, and the havoc unleashed as the scientists try to harness those forces so that they can outdo the Japanese and, of all things, a rival firm out to build the first electronic washing machine.

There are plenty of disturbing resonances to enjoy here, from the eerie green-on-black oscilloscope signals that dominate the opening titles to Jane Asher's petrified expressions, the series of trapdoors to the narrative that burrows into ever-more abstract and arcane territory, the mixture of Victorian gothic and modernist sci-fi that's amplified by the set designs and sound effects (BBC Radiophonic Workshop working overtime again), and the undercurrent of ideas about modern capitalism, gender relations and even the definition of ghosts. For more on those, see Breakfast In The Ruins or the anthology extract from The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale by Dave Simpson at The Paris Review

The real power of The Stone Tape though, is in its unseating of expectations and stereotypes. The unseen forces can't be called definitively malign, despite events, the scientists are not so obviously the bad guys or good guys, and the story, though dominated by men, is fuelled in every sense by the sole female character, as much by her intelligence and resolve as by her dissolving nerves and terror. It's like a code within a code within a code, The Stone Tape, a Russian doll as a computer programme, endlessly unravelling.

echoes : octavio paz

late autumn hipstamatic Hampstead Heath trees

Between Going And Coming

Between going and staying

the day wavers,

in love with its own transparency.

The circular afternoon is now a bay

where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,

all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
 the same unchanging syllable of blood. 

The light turns the indifferent wall
 into a ghostly theater of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless, 

I stay and go: I am a pause. 

Octavio Paz was a Mexican writer whose influences included surrealism and Aztec mythology. See the 1991 interview in The Paris Review for more about his ideas and amazing life, or read his epic poem based around the Aztec Calendar Stone, Sun Stone.

Friday, 21 December 2012

it's (not) the end of the world and (really) we feel fine

Sean Bonniwell's Music Machine: Dark White
Brooding atmospheric drama for the dark clouds swirling in, then Sean Bonniwell's voice fractures like a hall of mirrors and there's no way back.

The Velvet Underground: European Son
We were just grooving along and then the toilet flushed, the mirror smashed and it all just went crazy. 

Opal: Magick Power
Let's stop the apocalypse with some occult intoning and paisley underground droning.

Pink Floyd: Lucifer Sam
Listen, if we really do have to dance with the devil and Behemoth the cat tonight, let's get Jennifer Gentle the witch along to the party. 

The Outsiders: CQ
"Could I speak to your leader, please?" Maybe some reverby late 60s Dutch psychonauts and the Martians can save us? 

The Monks: I Hate You
Now's the time to tell everyone how you really feel about them. Also useful if you can't decide on a song by the Fall. 

Love: The Red Telephone
"Sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die ... " C'mon everybody, it's sing-along time.

Tall Dwarfs: Nothing's Going To Happen
But really, nothing's going to happen, so just play what you like.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

dessi terzieva's cut and paste reality

Valentina From The Bronx
A Mask Tells More Than A Face
Disappearing Act

Dessi Terzieva is a 20-something Bulgarian artist currently based in Detroit, Michigan whose collages (much-favourited on flickr and most recently seen on 50 Watts) mix wry and political disorderings of time, space and identity. Photomontage's history, from dadaist anarchy to pop art consumerist commentary and 80s post punk eco and feminist politics all play their part here, but Terzieva has a distinctive, direct, wonderfully smart stamp. We hope for a book, or at least a series of postcards. Soon.

scooby-doo van for sale - one stoned owner

Just three days left to bid on eBay for this "original" Scooby-Doo van (it was used in a 2009 TV film shot in Vancouver, and it's also for sale on Craigslist). Yes, you too can ruin the ghostly/monster legend of any small town by unmasking the true culprit, "Mr ______ ?!?!?", who would've got away with it too if it hadn't been for those pesky meddling kids (and dog, let's not forget the dog). No doubt the back of the van has that distinctive Shaggy smell of aromatic herbs, and an 8-track, as well as Velma's secret stash of wigs (that was a wig she was wearing, right?). But will the true horror be a mandatory adoption of Scrappy-Doo to seal the van deal? Yikes!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

60s zodiac meets italian design

A pre-Christmas reminder (or just some pretty pictures to enjoy) of the vintage zodiac prints available on Etsy from Simboli Design.

rip sir patrick moore

I've no idea what was going on in this picture (secret warlock?), but it seems a pretty apt tribute to the astronomer who showed us the magic of the stars. 

silent snow, secret snow - "the snow was laughing: it spoke from all sides at once"

Conrad Aiken's Silent Snow, Secret Snow is a school study classic of American fantasy fiction, but less-known outside the States. Originally published in 1932, Conrad Aiken used some of Edgar Allan Poe's style to tell of 12-year-old Paul's withdrawal into an imaginary world of snow, repeating and alliterating words like a poem on a carousel. Gene Kearney's almost forgotten short 1966 film is a beautifully simple black and white version that captures the gradual unravelling of reality as Paul descends into mental illness in a mixture of images of trees, snow and scenes of the boy's world at home and school.

The flute and violin-driven soundtrack starts gently. So too does Paul's daydream, a daydream that he can't even remember the onset of, of waking to the postman's footsteps crunching through deep snow outside. It's apparently harmless. "It was as if, in some delightful way, his secret gave him a fortress, a wall behind which he could retreat into heavenly seclusion." When Paul looks outside his bedroom window, there's no snow.

But the daily daydream becomes something more as the days progress, and the soundtrack more insistent, more ominous along with it. Paul's love of the snow moves from the outside to within him. It becomes an obsession. He can't think of anything else, or focus on what anyone is saying to him, or even on the everyday tasks of daily life. His schoolteacher notices, his parents notice, the doctor is called in.

Paul's fortress becomes something to be guarded, and the snow becomes a sentient presence, a voice that tells him to push away the others, that beckons to him. "Listen Paul, listen, we have come to tell you the story we told you about. In this white darkness, we will take the place of everything." And then it does, and Paul turns inward, away from the world, and his face blurs into whiteness.

See also the 1971 TV version in Rod Serling's Night Gallery, with narration by Orson Welles, and Conrad Aiken's original story.