Tuesday, 25 June 2013

parisian gothic: pole ka's street art

All pictures by Pole Ka from her Autopsie Printannière series, 2013
A pulsating illustrated heart with it's internal workings exposed sits on the entrance to the website of French artist Pole Ka. Most of the work within, which has featured in exhibitions, fanzines, pamphlets, on gig posters and postcards as well as on city streets, is just as visceral in every sense, exposing organs and intense ideas. Death, gender and birth are the big themes, with a heavy dose of surrealness, as bodies are dissected and bisected with vegetables, babies turn mothers into kraken, tarot cards are redesigned with schlock horror blood and guts and Henry the Eighth's wives are united by multiple ghostly foetuses and executed heads. But, even at their most unsettling, Pole Ka's style is still delicately beautiful. There's something else here other than the straightforward gothically morbid, and her latest works (pictured) suggest that's worth keeping an eye on.

overhill - "someone is all alone someplace they shouldn't be"

Horror films..."In them the night is always falling. Someone is all alone someplace they shouldn't be. If there's a house, it must be the only one for miles around. If there's a road, it must be deserted. The trees are bare, or if they have leaves, they rustle darkly. The sky still has a little gray light. It is the kind of light in which even one's own hands appear unfamiliar, a stranger's hands." 
Quoted from Terra Incognita in Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art Of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic (NYRB Classics)

Rebecca is a Londoner who just wants a bit of peace and quiet in Cornwall to finish her novel, but the locals have other ideas – British independent horror is looking up, going by the teaser trailer for Overhill alone. The world premiere is this Thursday, so there's not long to wait to see this classically-inspired chiller. Might have to watch The League Of Gentlemen again first though: "This is a local town for local people".

marianne faithfull: good witch

"The poster on the cover portrays singer Marianne Faithfull in comic-strip style as a good witch come to bring life to a desolate Britain." Daily Telegraph Magazine, April 10, 1968

Designed by Peter Blake (whose birthday it is today, happy birthday), with dragon sculpture and costume by Blake's wife Jann Haworth, and inspired by the Arthurian legend of Morgan Le Fay.

randomness - june 2013: illusions and revelations

via International Times on Facebook
Here we go again, living in the future and walking back through the past at the same time. Change is the only constant. Nothing is what it seems. Life's like that. So we cluster recurring motifs in different ways like Joseph Cornell boxes: ancient woodland, fox and owl, concrete public building, obsolete technology, folklore ritual, abandoned hospital, vintage school textbook, surrealist painting, full moon, magpie, standing stones. Or listen to songs with unsettling sounds, or read poetry about becoming shadows, or watch films about something that is other, all of which have their own recurring motifs. Make your own comfort zone. 

Except that if this was a film, there's the scene where someone sees something they weren't meant to see but needed to. Or otherwise learns something that turns everything upside down. The reveal moment. So, supermoons aren't rare (but they do look good). Oliver Cromwell liked a bit of a boogie. The original novel of Frankenstein isn't actually very well-written. Austerity isn't good for us. Spies like us more than we thought. A new town in England has a blank war memorial in remembrance of those who will die in future wars. Are you confused yet? Good. Whose reality is it anyway?

A drop in the ocean of what was missed while this blog was in the doledrums: Sheffield Fire & Police Museum Dummies (I always like a good dummy, you dummy) at Between Channels; Vintage Dutch Safety Posters at 50 Watts; the highly surreal genius of How To Look At More Than Meets The Eye by Ad Reinhardt from 1947 at Stopping Off Place; The Geography Trip's Pylonic Irrigation mesmerising mix of sounds; lots of things at Things Magazine but just now I like Fax Evolution best; another championing of unsung graphic design from the 1920s to 1970s at A Survey of Ukrainian Book Design; the 'perky' creepiness of 70s Italian film music at A Sound Awareness, and Taken To The Cleaners - Posters, Signs And Stickers From Laundrettes That Time Forgot at Voices Of East Anglia.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

gloriously demented: the case of dr jekyll, mr hyde and peter cook

Ralph Bates in Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde, dir Roy Ward Baker, Hammer, 1971

When Hammer Films remodelled Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde for the early 70s sleaze horror market as Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde, Peter Cook must have kicked himself. Or he should have. Everything had pointed towards him getting to a remake of the story first. Cook did eventually write a screenplay, but what he came up with was far more than an excuse for macabre sauciness. Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde, as it was called, just never made it to the big screen.

A smattering of newspaper interviews in the late 60s dripfed Cook's mullings over of an idea for a horror film - "something rather nasty about rejuvenation, acupuncture and spiritualism", far from "one of those modern giggle and ketchup affairs". It wasn't so unlikely. He'd conquered stage, print and TV in just a few years with his pioneering satirical writing (plus set up a home for subversive comedy with the Establishment club in London's Soho) before turning his mischief-making to ideas about good and evil for the commercial cinematic mainstream. In 1967 Bedazzled featured a Devil that was even likable, as demonic genies can be, especially since it was Cook himself as George Spiggott, aka Lucifer. "He's not so bad once you get to know his problems," as Stanley Moon says. Politics provided the less literal, but darker version of devilish japes in The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer in 1970, with Cook again in the lead, this time as the schmoozing, social climbing and possibly murderous would-be dictator of the title. 

Cook had also appeared among the all-star cast in Bryan Forbes' 1966 film version of The Wrong Box, a gothic farce from 1889 written by Robert Louis Stevenson with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. Replete with dead bodies, dastardly haplessness and Victorian values upturned, the narrative also featured a character that could've come from Cook's own pen called The Bournemouth Strangler. That Stevenson's fevered writing of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in 1885 took place under those same sedate English riviera skies of Bournemouth and not, as might be expected, in genteel yet sepulchral Edinburgh seemed to complete some kind of fateful circle (and surely would have amused Cook).

Hammer's sexy horror rewrite of the Jekyll and Hyde tale as Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde, directed by Roy Ward Baker, saw a Jekyll out to cure the world of disease (Ralph Bates) warped into Jack the Ripper by his murderess alter ego (Martine Beswick). What Peter Cook had in mind was very different: a comedy, but multi-faceted, as Smarter Than The Average (to which I'm indebted for this story) revealed in its indepth trajectory of the forgotten manuscript a few years ago.

From the script's foreword by Cook: "Dr Jekyll and Mrs Hyde, though predominantly a comedy, is also a love story, a study in narcissism and an exposé, in funny terms, of the hypocritical Victorian attitude towards women. Dr Jekyll, though outwardly respectable, is an adventurer. His alter-ego, Mrs Hyde, the only woman he can really love, represents everything a Victorian lady should not be." 

By the time Cook had finished the script it was the beginning of 1977 and the film's time was no doubt already long past. There were efforts to put the script into production as late as 1979 though, (with the idea of Dudley Moore in the lead role), and some wistfulness on Cook's part a year later in a Radio Times interview that he might even be able to get Moore (by then a Hollywood star thanks to Blake Edward's film, 10) to fund it. Instead, there was silence and the script became a shadow again.

But there is still the script and, once past the long and unnecessary opener about Jekyll's schooldays, it's a brilliant one. 

Like the question in Frankenstein of who the monster really is – the unnatural creation or society – the apparently mad scientist Jekyll and his apparently "demented" harpy alternate Mrs Hyde are, in this tale, an RD Laing take on gothic: the sane ones in an insane world. 

In Stevenson's original story the horror was about the loss of self, control, power and the dividing of personality. In Cook's version, the horror is about the lack of self, control and power among those subjugated by Jekyll's standing in society (whether women, servants, or soldiers). But Stevenson was also puncturing the veneer of Victorian respectability, and Cook gleefully stabs some more, updating and amplifying the hypocrisy with plenty of lampooning of repressed 'animalistic' desires.

Not so much had changed, after all, between the Victorian era and the 70s (never mind where we are now). Likewise with gender relations, which Cook turns from the vaguely misogynist nightmares of Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (and countless other horror films) into feminist-fuelled comedy. Cook's Jekyll is outstripped by a female Hyde who is stronger, smarter, wittier, better-looking and more inventive. Mrs Hyde outrages Dr Jekyll's peers by arguing (or just speaking), drinks Scotch rather than sherry, bares far too much leg at every opportunity and rouses the workers, servants and women to revolt. Notorious as she is though, Mrs Hyde isn't murderous or villainous – and Jekyll adores her, even when she uses his money to set up a newspaper for women, just as she adores him (and not for his money). The problem is not who has the power or trusting each other but whether they can co-exist in the same body. A happy ending for both of them isn't too much to ask for in such a topsy-turvy world.

Besides all this, the comedy works. There are classic Cook-style sight jokes (sometimes literal), inventive wordplay, ridiculously fascinating characters, running gags, ludicrous scenes. Easy targets are avoided in favour of askew bullseyes (Mrs Hyde's brief meeting with Jack The Ripper, Jekyll's gynaecological exam of Queen Victoria, the planning of the Charge of the Light Brigade.) 

It's funny, naughty, smart and radical – a waste of a good screenplay, in other words. But without Cook as Jekyll (and a comparable co-lead as Mrs Hyde), or rather, without specifically a late-60s era Cook, maybe turning it into a film is impossible. Or is it? Read Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde for yourself, see what you think. Toast Mr Cook with a drink if you like it at least.