Friday, August 28, 2015

August 2015: REPO MAN BLUES.

"The life of a repo man is always intense."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August 2015: THIS IS NOW.

A playlist of music from this century, for a change.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tom Adams, James Wedge, and John Fowles' The Magus.

I've recently been re-reading John Fowles' wonderful 1965 novel of mystery and metafictional trickery The Magus.  I'll probably blog about the novel itself in the near future, but this post is about the cover of Pan's 1971 paperback edition.  The first edition of the book featured a fantastic painting by Tom Adams, pictured above.  Adams was a prolific cover artist in the 70s, bringing a distinctive, surrealistic style to bear on the hard-boiled world of Raymond Chandler, and even the staid whodunits of Agatha Christie:

Although Adams' painting for the original edition of The Magus is doubtless the definitive version, I maintain a particular fondness for the early 70s paperback edition, which was a variation on the original painting.  This edition was in my attic when I was a child, an oddity in the midst of various Harold Robbins and Arthur Hailey airport boilers.  The cover of The Magus held a considerable fascination for my brother and myself, for more or less obvious reasons: 

Well, it has everything, no?  Recently finding a copy at a second hand stall gave me the opportunity not only to re-read the novel, but also to learn a little bit more about the somewhat arresting cover. The back credits Adams for the painting with the addition "girl from the James Wedge photo." Wedge, whom I wasn't aware of, turns out to have been a figure out of the swinging London of Antonioni's Blowup.  A talented fashion designer, he established the chic boutique Top Gear on King's Road with model, photographer, scene-maker, and author of romantic fiction Pat Booth.

Wedge and Booth gravitated towards fashion photography in the 70s, with Wedge developing  a distinct style of hand-tinted, often surrealistic imagery.  Here we find the lithe siren whom we last saw astride his Satanic goat-head Majesty on the cover of The Magus in her original appearance: 

The Magus was filmed in 1968 by Guy Green.  Despite an impressive cast (Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, and Anna Karina) the film was notably NOT a success, with Caine regarding it as one of his worst, and Woody Allen famously commenting that if he had his life to live over, he would do  "everything exactly the same, with the exception of watching The Magus."  The film has, however, acquired a cult following over the years; I find it hard to believe isn't at least somewhat entertaining. A cracking trailer at any rate: 

Incidentally, John Fowles met Michael Caine at Cannes prior the filming of The Magus. The author's reflections on Caine in his diary are hilariously prissy and uncharitable: "He can't act, but takes himself very seriously; hot for birds, for the dolce vita, for prestige.  Very ugly, these new ultra-hard young princes of the limelight."  Still, though, what a turn of phrase - the new ultra-hard young princes of the limelight -  a perfect name for a band, or anything.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Atomic Age Eerie: 23 Skidoo (Julian Biggs, 1964).

I'd been meaning to hunt down Julian Biggs experimental short 23 Skidoo online for ages, but it went right out of my mind.  Luckily, the film recently surfaced in a post on John Coulthart's blog about the enigmatic 20s slang expression that gives the film its title.  "23 skidoo" the expression owes much of it's contemporary mystique to the popular synchronistic mythology surrounding the number 23 which was initiated by William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and seeped into popular culture via Lost and the not widely cherished Joel Schumacher thriller The Number 23.

Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse (1962).

23 Skidoo the film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1964. Beautifully composed and edited, it depicts suburban and downtown Montreal, eerily vacant of people.  As an expression of Atomic era anxiety, the film is strongly reminiscent  of the similarly apocalyptic and abstract seven-minute conclusion to Antonioni's L'Eclisse, released two earlier and probably an influence.  It also reminds me of the assertion of Lewis Mumford that much modernist architecture and urban planning was only nominally designed for human habitation in the first place: 

23 Skidoo from National Film Board of Canada on Vimeo.
by Julian Biggs — 1964

Images from L'Eclisse found at Only the Cinema and Senses of cinema.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Crock Of Gold Illustrations by Thomas Mackenzie.

Book illustrations which we are exposed to as children retain a lifelong hold over our imaginations. They draw us back because we are remembering not only the images themselves, but the particular quality of how the images appeared to us then - and, in the process, something of how everything appeared, and how different our minds were.  As adults, we appreciate illustrations in a different way - as works of artistic quality, imaginative vigour, and expressions of the individual style and personality of the artist.  As children, we see them simply as frozen moments in a fully-realized world which extends in every spatial and temporal dimension around the borders of the illustration.  In the same way that the prose contains the whole narrative extended in space, the illustrations contain their preceding moments in the notional space of the child's imagination.  The faces of the characters have a peculiar intensity, if for no other reason than that they have been frozen at precisely this moment, be it at the beginnings of their journey, or when its moments of peril and crisis later arise in the ogre's castle or witches hut.

Not all the books we encounter have the same lasting effect on us.  The majority, as with memories in general, reside in the vast, darkened storerooms of our recall - we will know them again immediately when re-encountered, but they are lost until the memory is jogged.  Others seem to be always with us. One book whose illustrations had a massive impact on me as a child was James Stephens' The Crock Of Gold - not really a children's book, but one that was lying around the house.  The illustrations are by Thomas Mackenzie, drafted in after Arthur Rackham passed away.  A large part of the appeal for me lay in the presence of Pan, and the fact that I had to invent a story around the often mysterious images.  To this day, I haven't read the book, although it's something I've been meaning to get around to for ages.  The last two images are my favourites.

Hat-tip to The Golden Age for posting these wonderful images.