Do you live in fear of Judgement Day? Are you feeling all alone in the face of Armageddon, isolated before the Apocalypse? Do you dream of any of the following:
A). The end of the world by flood
B). The end of the world by famine
C). The end of the world by fire
If the answer is yes to any of the above, do you believe that the causation will be:
1). Nuclear annihilation
2). Ecological catastrophe
3). Divine eschatological judgement
Or is it the case that you are more concerned with the Violent Unknown Event*, or perhaps you can no longer ignore the persistent rumours in your head of the encroaching ice? Maybe it is the ultimate heat death of the universe, as per the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that is, of course, dependent on whether the universe can be considered a closed system), that troubles your peace of mind?
Regardless of the exact nature and cause of Ragnarok, the collection Motion No. 69 is perfect material for the End Times. Although even a kabbalistic reading of its dense pages will not yield a definite date (however certain clues suggest that the world will end on a Wednesday, to at least break up the week), it does offer the possibility of a recurrence, this time with feeling.
* Or VUE for short-See Peter Greenaway’s 1980 documentary The Falls.
My post on Bob Carlos Clarke’s photographs of debutantes balls (see Very Heaven, Indeed) got me thinking about the ghosts of nightlife past, which naturally enough, led me to remember Mark Leckey’s 1999 video installation Fiorucci made me Hardcore.
This short 15 minute film of found footage choreographed to the snippets of songs, cheers and sounds that languidly drift in before disappearing, chronicles approximately 20 years of the English club scene, from the amphetamine driven Northern Soul dancers of the mid 70’s via the football casuals to the ecstasy fuelled warehouse raves of the late 80’s-early 90’s. Laced with an elegiac nostalgia, we witness the invariably young dancers caught up completely in the bliss of the moment: the holy now. Fiorucci made me Hardcore derives it oddly haunting quality to the fact that we are aware that no matter how much we are living in the instance that the lights will eventually come on, day will dispel the charm of the night and that any lingering intoxication will dissipate to be replaced only by a grinding comedown. The scene and youth itself will fade away. For the now is soon yesterday and this moment has, like all moments must, passed.
While I was enjoying my usual 3AM snack of Pot Noodle (heavy on the Tabasco) and a wee glass or three of Absinthe (absolutely with the sugar-cube) before retiring, I did a little more research on Gaspar Noé new movie, Climax, the subject of my last post, and as well as discovering the reason why he decided to set the movie in 1996, (because 96 is the opposite of 69 and is therefore the year of collective impossibility, whereas 69 was the year of, yes you guessed correctly, coming together), I was delighted to find the complete playlist of the soundtrack, and oh boy, it is definitely killer.
This is to be expected, however, as whatever faults Noé possesses, his soundtracks have always shown impeccable taste. The opening credit sequence of Enter The Void combines elements of the soundtrack of Noé’s 2002 movie Irréversible, composed by regular collaborator Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, with LFO’s Freak to produce a dazzling marriage of sound and flashing graphics that was immediately imitated in the music video field.
The stand out track of the above-mentioned soundtrack from Irréversible is Rectum, which takes its title from the hellish nightclub featured in the movie. Rectum is an aural distillation of pure dread; nervy, queasy and ever building, a perfect realisation of the demented Boschian world portrayed.
As Climax is a dance movie set in 1996, electronic, house, techno and industrial music from the 80’s and 90’s naturally features heavily, including songs by Gary Numan, Aphex Twin, Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder as well as the Rolling Stones. I have included below two tracks, Lil Louis’s seminal Chicago House track French Kiss, which includes some of the heaviest and sexiest deep breathing on record since Serge Gainsborough’s Je t’aime, and Soft Cell’s combined cover of two Northern Soul classics Tainted Love and Where Did Our Love Go.
Please note that the clip for Enter the Void contains flashing images and I hope you enjoy, though probably best to avoid if you have been drinking Sangria.
Regular readers may have noticed that I tend to be somewhat fixated on the art, literature and film of the past, rarely does anything post-1980 featured on these pages, and certainly not movies that I haven’t even seen yet. However, as the premise of Gaspar Noé‘s new movie, Climax, which recently premiered in Cannes, actually made me pause during my favourite early afternoon breakfast of Black Forest Gateau and original Irn-Bru, I decided to make an exception this one time.
Billed as a dance-horror movie (who knew there was such a thing?), Climax, which is apparently based on true events, tells the story of a young street dance troupe’s descent into collective madness after drinking the LSD-laced Sangria during the final rehearsal party, all filmed in Noé’s seizure inducing visual style and with his trademark horror-porno aesthetic. Described as The Red Shoes on literal acid, Step Up meets Salo and a Satanic DJ set, any minuscule reservations I had about leaving Chateau Du Cake to see this in the movie theatres when released are dispelled by the trailer, featured below.
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes.Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks.
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring,
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
T.S Eliot The Waste Land 1922
It is no surprise really that the Tarot are mentioned at length in the masterpiece of Modernism, T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land from 1922. The notes alone are a treasure trove of esoteric references, making mention of the Cumaean Sibyl, The Golden Bough of James Frazer, the study of Arthurian legend From Ritual to Romance by Jessie L. Weston, Buddha’s Fire Sermon, Gérard de Nerval’s densely hermetic sonnet El Desdichadoand the Upanishads.
Interest in all matters esoteric and occult had become a feature of the avant-garde ever since the later Romantics, especially Charles Baudelaire and the above-mentioned Gérard de Nerval. Later in the 19th Century there would be Arthur Rimbaud with his theory of ‘the alchemy of the word’, the Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s stint in Paris as a practising alchemist, known as the Inferno Period, and various writers and painters connected to the Symbolist and Decadent movements, most notably J.K Huysmans and my personal favourite Comte de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (see To the Dreamers, To the Deriders).
As the century progressed the Tarot became increasingly esoteric itself. This was quite a recent development, previously the Tarot had been a card game popular in Italy, France and Switzerland, though it also undisputedly used in cartomancy as well. However it was a theologian and Freemason, the Count Gébelin who first advanced the theory in 1781 that the Tarot was a repository of lost ancient knowledge, a theme developed at length by that strange figure known as Etteilla, who added that it was initially conceived by Hermes Tristemegistus himself and was actually ‘The Book of Thoth’. When the man responsible for the French Occult Revival, Eliphas Levi incorporated the Tarot into his magical system and tied the 22 cards of the Major Arcana with the 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet, the occultation of the Tarot was complete and it became an essential tool for any would-be magician. A quick comparison between any of the older versions of the Tarot with the most famous deck, the Rider-Waite-Smith of 1910 makes this clear, the Rider-Waite-Smith is self-consciously more “mystical”, with an over-abundance of symbolism.
In certain respects the Tarot was tailored-made for Modernism and Post-Modernism, with its emphasis on chance, interpenetration and the shifting, elusive nature of meaning. I have written previously on the Surrealist take on the standard deck of playing cards, Le Jeu Du Marseille-A Surrealist Pack of Cards, and both Salvador Dali and Ithell Colquhuon produced Tarot decks. The Italian post-modernist fabulist Italo Calvino wrote The Castle of Crossed Destinies where the entire plot is told through the Tarot. The Chilean-French film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky has written eloquently on the Tarot de Marseille and weaves the arcana throughout the acid western El Topo (The Mole) and The Holy Mountain.
In Douglas Cammell’s and Nicholas Roeg’s midnight classic movie Performance, the on-the-run gangster Chas Devlin (James Fox) turns up at the Notting Hill home of the reclusive rock star Turner (Mick Jagger) claiming, somewhat inexplicably, to be a juggler. The first numbered card of the Major Arcana is sometimes called The Juggler, though it nowadays most commonly referred to as The Magician. This hermetic figure points both downward (to the underworld) and upwards (to the stars), a perfect illustration of as above, so below, and prefigures the merging identities towards the end of the movie. Turner seems to realise the import of Devlin’s claim to be a juggler as he immediately comments, ‘You’re a performer of natural magic’.
A quick word on the selection of images; there are thousands of variants on the Tarot available so I have limited myself mainly to the classics. My own preference is for the Tarot De Marseille and the Swiss 1JJ, however the most recognisable is the Rider-Waite-Smith. I have included selections from Dali and Colquhuon as well as the deck designed by Lady Freida Harris for Aleister Crowley. For a contemporary rendition Ulla Von Brandenburg’s excellent deck shows that Tarot continue to fascinate and inspire.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the leading figures of the first generation of English Romantics writers, along with Wordsworth and William Blake. An influential critic he was first to advance the idea of ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ as a necessary component for the aesthetic enjoyment of certain types of art and literature. He was also injected the heady idealism of German Romanticism to British literature. However his best remembered for two extraordinary poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the fragmentary Kubla Khan.
Subtitled A Vision in a Dream: Kubla Khan is perhaps as well known for the manner of its composition as the actual poem. Coleridge relates in the introductory preface that after falling into an opium induced sleep while reading a book about Kubla Khan he experienced a astonishingly vivid dream that formed into a entire poem of about two or three hundred lines. Upon awaking the poem he retained the lines and set about writing them down exactly as is. After he completed 54 lines he was interrupted ‘by a person from Porlock’ (a nearby village in Somerset) who wished to discuss some unspecified business. Upon his return to his desk Coleridge discovered that the vision and the poem had disappeared, never to be recaptured.
Given the manner of composition, it is hard not to see Kubla Khan with its lushly sensual and opiated imagery as a proto-surrealist work. It certainly seems to prestige the darker strains of romanticism that would dominate as the 19th Century progressed.
Kenneth Anger’s cult movie Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (full movie with the original score below) is obviously inspired by Coleridge, and one version that was screened on German TV in fact included a recitation of the poem at the start of the movie. This baroque psychedelic (and very camp) movie is a re-creation of Crowleyite ceremony that involves Anger, The Scarlet Woman herself Marjorie Cameron, Curtis Harrington and other members of the LA occult scene getting off their tits whilst on acid. Oh and for some inexplicable reason Anais Nin sports a birdcage as headgear.
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
I have previously featured a short clip of Pollie Fallory (# 74 in the VUE directory) giving the Bird List Song socks in my post Persistent Rumours of Encroaching Ice, however I only mentioned the film it is excerpted from in a very casual aside.Well, there is a time and place for everything and a more detailed summary seems in order as part of the series on birds in art, film and literature.
The Falls is an experimental mock-documentary from 1980 and was the first feature length film of the director Peter Greenaway, who would later go onto direct A Zed & Two Noughts, The Belly of an Architect and his most famous, or rather infamous film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
The Falls purports to a filmed representation of the biographies of 92 (a number that recurs frequently the movie, its significance however remains unexplained, like so much else) victims of the Violent Unknown Event (or VUE for short) whose surnames begin with the letters FALL. The 92 people listed are meant to represent a cross section of the 19 million people worldwide who were affected by the VUE.
As the cause of VUE is obviously unknown, we can only gather clues from the biographies, all of which are filmed in a bewildering array of techniques, though all with a earnest, old school documentary style narration. The VUE may, or may not have been the Responsibility of Birds, but it has left those afflicted with an obsession with birds (and/or unaided flight), as well as bizarre medical conditions including six part hearts and re-opening of old wounds. The VUE also resulted in 92 new languages appearing and sexual quadmorphism (in addition to the traditional two sexes another two have come into being and accorded classification).
All in all this perplexing, brilliant and infuriating movie comes over like a cross between Borges and Monty Python, with elements of Kafka in its portrayal of bureaucracy. It does however slyly acknowledge its own limitations, with many scenes of cars or taxiing air-planes pointlessly going around in circles, and with the deadpan voice-over commenting that the various ridiculously named characters suffer from the inability to tell a good joke from a bad one.
I have included illustrations of birds drawn by Peter Greenaway (who started his career as an artist) featured in the film, along with a theatrical trailer.
In 1929 the young Spaniard Luis Bunuel, who was working in Paris as assistant director to Jean Epstein met with his compatriot and Madrid University friend, the painter Salvador Dali. Over lunch Luis Bunuel recounted a dream he had about a cloud slicing through the moon like a razor blade slicing through an eye. Dali in turn told about his dream of a hand crawling with ants. Instantly inspired Bunuel stated to Dali, “There’s the film, let’s go make it.”
While they worked on the script, Bunuel and Dali had only one rule: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” The resulting film Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) has been called the most famous silent movie ever by Roger Ebert. Its influence upon music videos and low budget independent films is immeasurable.
UnChien Andalou was immediately successful, (though it led to an irreparable break with their friend, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who took the title and the movie as a personal affront). Both Bunuel and Dali were admitted to the Surrealist movement who enthusiastically welcomed the film’s Sadean shock tactics and unfettered automatism, which were in keeping with the stated aims of the movement. Georges Bataille unsurprisingly, given his own obsession with the symbolism of eyes recounted at length in the elegantly horrific L’histoire de l’oeil (The Story of the Eye), mentioned the controversial opening scene in his article on Eyes in Documents, under the subtitle Cannibal Delicacy. On a more practical level Bunuel and Dali gained the financing for their next movie from the Vicomte and Vicomtesse De Noailles, two of the most important avant garde art patrons of the interwar period. The resulting film L’Age D’or was even more of a succès de scandale, leading to right wing riots in protest and its withdrawal from commercial distribution and public exhibition for over forty years. Most of the shocked reaction was to the infamous coda featuring Jesus Christ as one of the four libertines of the Chateau de Silling, the setting of the Marquis De Sade darkest novel, 120 Days in Sodom. Incidentally the Vicomtesse De Noailles was a descendant of the Marquis and the couple possessed the original manuscript of 120 Days which they kept in a specially designed phallus shaped box.
Below is a link to the complete movie with the original score featuring two tangos and Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Interpretations are always welcome.
The British directorial team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers had spent WWII producing odd, idiosyncratic propaganda movies for the British war effort, mainly in black and white (a notable exception was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp of 1942, which Winston Churchill hated for its civilised, sympathetic portrayal of the German best friend of the Colonel).
With the end of the war The Archers changed direction and produced a series of sensuous fantasies filmed in the most glorious Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, intuiting that the British public, still in the midst of wartime rationing and austerity, longed for something more than the standard dourly realistic fare then be served. This led to the hallucinatory Black Narcissus in 1947, a melodrama full of simmering tension and repressed eroticism, followed by their most famous film a year later, the ballet movie The Red Shoes. As Michael Powell noted , ‘For ten years we had all been told to go out and die for freedom and democracy; but now the war was over. “The Red Shoes” told us to go out and die for art.’
As the above quote illustrates this is a movie about the primacy of art over life. Indeed it could be argued that The Red Shoes is a Symbolist movie, though it is a rather late arrival to the party. Drenched in aestheticism, with a curiously timeless fairy-tale ambience and the rarefied, hothouse ballet setting, TheRed Shoes is valiant attempt at a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art, an important concept in Symbolist aesthetics). However it also owes as much to Hollywood, especially the extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley, as it does to the various European avant-gardes.
The story is simplicity itself. Aspiring, ambitious ballet dancer Victoria Page, (unforgettably played by ballerina Moira Shearer, surely the most gorgeous red-head to ever grace the silver screen), comes under the auspices of Boris Lermontov, (an outstanding performance by Anton Walbrook) the impresario of the Ballet Lermontov who is clearly modelled on the legendary Sergei Diaghliev of the Ballet Russes. At the party where they first meet Lermontov asks Vicky, ‘Why do you want to dance?’ to which Vicky replies, ‘Why do you want to live?’ Quite.
At the same time Lermontov, who has an eye for talent, employs the young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). The scene is set for a particularly bizarre love triangle. For Lermontov isn’t just a Svengali, the demands he places upon his company shade into the Mephistophelian. When his current prima ballerina Irina (another ballerina Ludmilla Tcherina) decides to marry he remarks, ‘You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.’
Irina’s leaving opens the way for Vicky to become prima ballerina in a new ballet that the company is producing, The Red Shoes:
Boris Lermontov: The Ballet of The Red Shoes” is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on. Julian Craster: What happens in the end? Boris Lermontov: Oh, in the end, she dies.
Craster is the composer of the score and The Red Shoes premieres in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Daringly The Archers interrupt the narrative to present the centrepiece of the movie, a stunning seventeen minute ballet sequence exactly half-way through the movie. Both expressionistic and surrealistic, with scenery (designed by Hein Heckroth) and effects that could be never replicated in any theatre anywhere at anytime, the ballet is a phantasmagorical tour-de-force.
Vicky and Craster fall in love while working on the ballet, with dramatic and indeed tragic consequences as life grimly mimics art. During the delirious final scenes Lermontov says to the sobbing Vicky:
Vicky…Little Vicky…There, there. Sorrow will pass, believe me. Life is so unimportant. And from now onwards, you will dance like nobody ever before.
The ending is entirely appropriate for this lush fever dream of a film. For The Red Shoes isn’t just a movie you watch, it is a film to be surrendered too, and once you have surrendered, to luxuriate in.
I am firmly of the ‘When in Rome’ school, so during the time I lived in America I would observe the annual hype, hysteria and the footage of grown adults trample toddlers underfoot in their rush to obtain the latest must have thingamajig or yoke that seems to attend every Black Friday with bemused indulgence. After all we used to have the January Sales over here back in the day, which was something similar, if slightly more restrained and less in your face.
But that was in America. Now Black Friday has now officially an event everywhere, without even the context and excuse of Thanksgiving. The January Sales start on Boxing Day/St Stephens Day (or, as it known in America, the day after Christmas) though with all the once in a fucking lifetime extravaganzas and bonanzas that we are incessantly informed about every waking moment it has been somewhat diluted. But then Mammon really is the God of the world, possessing an all seeing eye that never sleeps, constantly weighing our worth.
So this is definitely not a Black Friday promo, however I suppose it is good a time as any to remind readers that my collection Motion No. 69 will be published in six days, that’s right, just six days on Thursday November 30th 2017 at 3:23PM GMT.
I could say that the below clip has some connection with the post, (maybe something about group conformity and/or temptation) but that would be stretching it even by my relaxed standards. So just enjoy a clip from the 1973 movie The Wicker Man which features a haunting and yet bawdy (a maid that milks a bull?) song.