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‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,’ J.G. Ballard’s Hammer film
01.05.2017
08:49 am
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“Ballardian” is a word that will only gain currency during 2017 and the years to come. If there were a stock market for words, I would be bullish on this one. Today’s jobs, homes, vacations, grocery stores, politicians, kinks, vehicles, riots, drugs, disasters, wars, and surgeries all seem to have come out of a Ballard novel.

But the feature that gave Ballard his first film credit (as treatment writer “J.B. Ballard”), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), is so uncannily prescient as to resemble raw news footage of the day after tomorrow. Watch it alongside any 24-hour cable network and you’ll see: it’s like the screenplay of Dinosaurs was ripped from the headlines.

In his last book, the autobiography Miracles of Life, Ballard recalled the meeting that gave life to the movie:

The first time I saw my name (even if misspelled) in the credits of a film came in 1970, with the British release of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. This was a Hammer film, a sequel to the Raquel Welch vehicle One Million Years BC, itself a remake of the 1940 Hollywood original starring Victor Mature and Carole Landis. Hammer specialized in Dracula and Frankenstein films, then much despised by the critics. But their films had tremendous panache and visual attack, without a single wasted frame, and the directors were surprisingly free to push their obsessions to the limit.

I was contacted by a Hammer producer, Aida Young, who was a great admirer of The Drowned World. She was keen that I write the screenplay for their next production, a sequel to One Million Years BC. Curious to see how the British film world worked, I turned up at the Wardour Street offices of Hammer, to be greeted in the foyer by a huge Tyrannosaurus rex about to deflower a blonde-haired actress in a leopard-skin bikini. The credits screamed ‘Curse of the Dinosaurs!’

 

 
Young brought Ballard up to date on the status of the project (“Raquel Welch would not be available”) and escorted him into the office of Hammer’s Tony Hinds, where Young narrated the entire story of The Drowned World for the studio boss. Hinds muttered something about water being “trouble” and asked Ballard for his ideas; the writer described a few that had occurred to him on the drive between Shepperton and Soho.

‘Too original,’ Hinds commented. Aida agreed. ‘Jim, we want that Drowned World atmosphere.’ She spoke as if this could be sprayed on, presumably in a fetching shade of jungle green.

Hinds then told me what the central idea would be. His secretary had suggested it this morning. This was nothing less than the story of the birth of the Moon–in fact, one of the oldest and corniest ideas in the whole of science fiction, which I would never have dared to lay on his desk. Hines stared hard at me. ‘We want you to tell us what happens next.’

I thought desperately, realizing that the film industry was not for me. ‘A tidal wave?’

‘Too many tidal waves. If you’ve seen one tidal wave you’ve seen them all.’

A small light came on in the total darkness of my brain. ‘But you always see the tidal waves coming in,’ I said in a stronger voice. ‘We should show the tidal wave going out! All those strange creatures and plants . . .’ I ended with a brief course in surrealist biology.

There was a silence as Hinds and Aida stared at each other. I assumed I was about to be shown the door.

‘When the wave goes out . . .’ Hinds stood up, clearly rejuvenated, standing behind his huge desk like Captain Ahab sighting the white whale. ‘Brilliant. Jim, who’s your agent?’

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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01.05.2017
08:49 am
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Website plays William S Burroughs reading random snippets from ‘Naked Lunch’ every time you refresh
12.21.2016
08:44 pm
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It’s axiomatic that William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is one of the landmark accomplishments of 20th-century American literature. All the more striking its author’s commitment to stochasticity: He insisted that its 25 chapters could be read in any order. (A later Burroughs novel Dead Fingers Talk from 1963 took random bits from Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded and combined them into a new work with a semi-coherent plot.)

Possibly related was Burroughs’ disavowal of any fixed memory of composing the work. In his 1960 preface to the book, titled “Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness,” Burroughs wrote that “I have no precise memory of writing the notes which have now been published under the title Naked Lunch.”

In a most Burroughs-ian gesture, this year a “single-serving” website calling itself 23Skidoo came into being, with the promise of supplying readers with “23 random paragraphs from Naked Lunch” every time the refresh button is activated. The reader is invited to take in the newly forged juxtapositions while the inimitably phlegmatic voice of Burroughs reads from the work.

Curiously, in keeping with the general air of experimental mindfuckery, the Burroughs audio never matches the passages reproduced on the page, at least as far as I could discern. I believe that there does not exist any recording of the full novel read aloud in Burroughs’ voice—sometime during the 1990s, Hal Willner and James Grauerholz persuaded Burroughs to record portions of the book. So that might explain the discrepancy—the visual texts draw from the entire novel, but there are limitations as to how much of the book can be presented in Burroughs’ voice, so no attempt was made to match them up.

At the top of the page one sees the instruction “the ticket explodes again each time you load the page.”

At any rate, a fun, bracing project, perfect for distracting oneself from the holiday bullshit, or indeed any form of bullshit. Enjoy.
 

 
via {feuilleton}
 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.21.2016
08:44 pm
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The rancid, rotten and eye-poppingly RIDICULOUS covers of Rock N’ Roll Comics!
12.14.2016
11:10 am
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Todd Loren published the “proudly unauthorized” and totally demented Rock N’ Roll Comics until 1995 when the double whammy of the 32-year-old Loren being stabbed to death and the company’s bankruptcy brought the enterprise to an unceremonious end. Loren’s death is shrouded in mystery. Rumor has it that he was taken out by the same serial killer who murdered Gianni Versace. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The fascinating 2005 documentary The Story of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics explores Loren’s publishing empire and his death. I heartily recommend it. But I’m not focusing on that compelling bit of history here. I just want to share some totally amusing Rock N’ Roll Comics cover art.

Swirling in that visual vortex of the “so bad they’re good” category, Rock N’ Roll Comics (and its brother-in-arms Hard Rock Comics) have a certain schlock appeal that veers from the earnestly awful to inspired satire. I remember R N’ R Comics radiating from the racks of New York City newsstands. Seering themselves into my eyeballs, these covers were as ridiculously over-the-top as the smorgasbord of porno cheesiness they shared the racks with: Screw Magazine, Sluts And Slobs, Chocolate Singles, Ramrod and Honcho. This was the tail end (see what I did there) of New York’s grandly grungy era when the streets were still throbbing (see there, I did it again) with the uninhibited impulses of the beast in all of us.

Even in the early nineties, Rock N’ Roll Comics seemed seriously dated but that’s part of what makes them so damned special. I would love to see White Stripes, Kanye, Beyoncé, Daft Punk and Radiohead getting the Rock N’ Roll Comics treatment today.

60 plus issues of Rock N’ Roll Comics were published,. Here are my picks of the best/worst covers. Among them, the Ayn Rand inspired “Elvis Shrugged” gets a special shoutout as does the “Tipper Gore’s Comics and Stories” issue (Jello loved it and Dead Kennedys got their own issue, too). The incredibly goofy Botoxy, lip-injectioned Ramones (poor Joey looks like a mashup of Pete Burns and Kellyanne Conway) was intended to please but I’m rather certain that Joey stuck that issue under a pile of his MAD magazine collection.The “Women In Rock” issue was responsible for Andrea Dworkin’s umpteenth hernia when she picked up a stack on the corner of 13th and 2nd and tried to hurl them at a Pakistani delivery boy she mistook for Janet Jackson. The contenders for the absolutely worst covers are David Bowie looking like Rachel Maddow after she took a very long bath in hydrogen peroxide and the one where Bob Dylan is doing his impression of Montgomery Clift doing his impression of Gloria Swanson. The Grateful Dead edition was a sales flop but the cover was a hit (again I did it) having been licked to the point of invisibility by heads mistaking it for a sheet of blotter acid. Overnight, racks of Grateful Dead Comics looked like blurred X-rays with corners curling like the paper mudras of paper monks.

Special mention goes to Nirvana for tapping into their audiences’ fundamental fears and anxieties. Nirvana stood out for their unbridled celebration of teen spirit when the band courageously defied their handlers and boldly sported facial boils verging on detonation. These pus-filled flesh flags of honor were symbols of a society so toxic that only rock and roll and a pair of tweezers could exorcise the demons embedded in the souls of our society’s youth. This was acne as action, the beginning of the Blackheads Matter movement that aroused white kids from their complacent suburban wombs. To Love the smell of Clearasil in the morning is to be young and alive. This was the roots of Pusy Power and the beginning of the dead leucocytes movement.

Bubbles? What do you mean bubbles?
 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Marc Campbell
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12.14.2016
11:10 am
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This web oracle cuts up text and audio of William S. Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’
12.08.2016
09:56 am
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Collage by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, c. 1965 (via Print)
 
What’s that, friend? You say you’d like to consult the I Ching, but it doesn’t have enough erotic hangings, aftosa infections, hot shots, or horrible “schlupping” sounds to speak to your personal situation? Well, the internet might have fucked up a few other things you could name, but it’s “got your six” this time.

Every time you visit this page, it displays 23 randomly selected paragraphs from William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Press the “play” button at the top and you’ll also hear Burroughs read 23 randomly selected sentences from the novel. Here’s what the oracle just told me:

1 “Don’t look so frightened, young man. Just a professional joke. To say treatment is symptomatic means there is none, except to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible. And that is precisely what we attempt to do in these cases.” Once again Carl felt the impact of that cold interest on his face. “That is to say reassurance when reassurance is necessary… and, of course, suitable outlets with other individuals of similar tendencies. No isolation is indicated… the condition is no more directly contagious than cancer. Cancer, my first love,” the doctor’s voice receded. He seemed actually to have gone away through an invisible door leaving his empty body sitting there at the desk.

2 “They say somebody pushed him.”

3 The boy shied. His street-boy face, torn with black scars of junk, retained a wild, broken innocence; shy animals peering out through grey arabesques of terror.

4 “‘Doc, she sure is a dry hole…. Well, thanks for the paregoric.

5 “Brilliant chap Schafer… but…”

6 “Jesus! These ID’s got no class to them.”

7 “And I say unto you, brothers and sisters of the Anti-Fluoride movement, we have this day struck such a blow for purity as will never call a retreat…. Out, I say, with the filthy foreign fluorides! We will sweep this fair land sweet and clean as a young boy’s tensed Hank. …I will now lead you in our theme song The Old Oaken Bucket.”

8 “We sure did. And you know those citizens were so loaded on that marijuana they all wig inna middle of the banquet…. Me, I just had bread and milk… ulcers you know.”

9 The Embassy would give no details other than place of burial in the American Cemetery….

10 CAMPUS OF INTERZONE UNIVERSITY

11 “Oh say do that Star Spangled Banner yet wave…”

12 The old junky has found a vein… blood blossoms in the dropper like a Chinese flower… he push home the heroin and the boy who jacked off fifty years ago shine immaculate through the ravaged flesh, fill the outhouse with the sweet nutty smell of young male lust….

13 “Know Marty Steel?” Diddle.

14 Marvie does buy himself a shot glass of beer, squeezing a blackened coin out of his fly onto the table. “Keep the change.” The waiter sweeps the coin into a dust pan, he spits on the table and walks away.

15 All streets of the City slope down between deepen-ing canyons to a vast, kidney-shaped plaza full of darkness. Walls of street and plaza are perforated by dwelling cubicles and cafes, some a few feet deep, others extending out of sight in a network of rooms and corridors.

16 He paces around the boy like an aroused tom cat.

17 “With that milk sugar shit? Junk is a one-way street. No U-turn. You can’t go back no more.”

18 “Just two seconds,” I said.

19 “So long flatfoot!” I yell, giving the fruit his B production. I look into the fruit’s eyes, take in the white teeth, the Florida tan, the two hundred dollar sharkskin suit, the button-down Brooks Brothers shirt and carrying The News as a prop. “Only thing I read is Little Abner.”

20 Pigs rush up and the Prof. pours buckets of pearls into a trough….

21 Hauser had been eating breakfast when the Lieutenant called: “I want you and your partner to pick up a man named Lee, William Lee, on your way downtown. He’s in the Hotel Lamprey. 103 just off B way.”

22 “And all them junkies sitting around in the lotus posture spitting on the ground and waiting on The Man.

23 More and more static at the Drug Store, mutterings of control like a telephone off the hook… Spent all day until 8 P.M. to score for two boxes of Eukodol….

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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12.08.2016
09:56 am
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Primo Levi returns to Auschwitz
12.01.2016
02:24 pm
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In 1982, the writer Primo Levi returned to Auschwitz concentration camp. It was forty years since he had been imprisoned there. His journey was filmed for a documentary for Italian television.

Levi had been captured as a resistance fighter in Italy. At first, he was sent to an Italian concentration camp at Fossoli. When this was taken over by the Nazis, Levi was transported by cattle truck to Monowitz—one of the three main camps at Auschwitz—on February 21st, 1944.

Levi had thought they were being transported to Austerlitz. No one had ever heard of Auschwitz. Six-hundred -and-fifty Italian Jews were transported. Forty-five people crammed into each sealed train carriage for five days without food or water.

I remember that our breath would freeze on the car bolts and we would compete in scraping off the frost, full of rust as it was, to have a few drops with which to wet our lips.

Levi was imprisoned in Auschwitz for eleven months until the camp was liberated by the Russian army in January 1945. Of the 650 Italian Jews transported to the camp only twenty survived.

In his book Survival in Auschwitz (aka If This Be A Man), Levi wrote of the way he and other prisoners attempted to “adapt”—the man who hummed Mozart; the slave laborer who juggled stones; the prisoner who said he had got the better of Hitler just by being alive.

But adapting was never easy. Even the most trivial of things made it difficult to survive. Shoes, for example. Mismatched pairs would be thrown at the prisoner—one with a heel, one without, one too small, one too big—which made walking impossible. These shoes caused infections—sores that never healed. The prisoners with swollen or infected feet were sent to the infirmary. But as “swollen feet” was not a recognized disease—these men and women were sent to the gas chamber.

In total 1.1 million humans were killed at Auschwitz—90% were Jewish.

One in six of all Jewish people killed during the Holocaust (Shoah) died at Auschwitz.

The ones who adapted to everything are the ones who survived. But the majority did not adapt and died.

Watch Primo Levi’s return to Auschwitz, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.01.2016
02:24 pm
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Science fiction writer J.G Ballard’s home is for sale
11.30.2016
12:44 pm
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“The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.”
—J.G. Ballard

The three bedroom semi detached property that British novelist, short story writer, and essayist J.G Ballard lived in between 1960 and his death in 2009 is for sale. Listed by Daniel Wallin of Shepperton Estate Agents, the residence at Old Charlton Road in Central Shepperton is being offered for £475,000, a relative bargain in the commuter town:

Located on one of Shepperton’s most popular roads, just a short walk from the High Street, all local schools and the train station which offers direct services into London in just 50mins. Between 1960 and 2009 the property was owned by the writer J.G. Ballard, author of novels such as Empire of the Sun, Crash and High Rise - and Shepperton’s most famous resident. The home retains all of its original features but has also undergone some necessary but sympathetic updating with complete rewiring, the addition of central heating and solid oak parquet flooring throughout the ground floor. Three bedrooms, separate dining room, separate lounge, generous rear garden and a driveway. The entrance hall is of a proportionately generous size giving a welcome feel and space.

When Ballard’s first novel, The Wind from Nowhere, was published in January 1962, tired of traveling from Surrey into London (and back) every day, he resigned from his job at as the assistant editor of Chemistry and Industry magazine, and from then on supported himself and his family as a fulltime writer. After Ballard’s wife Mary died suddenly of pneumonia in 1964, the father of post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction raised their three children – James, Fay and Bea– by himself in the home.

Ironically the very most Ballardian thing ever, isn’t really even remotely Ballardian itself. Except for the car crashes on the M3, of course. You can still hear them from the garden.
 

 

Ballard with his children Fay, Jim and Bea at their Shepperton home in 1965
 

 
More photos of the home after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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11.30.2016
12:44 pm
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Rarely seen film footage of hippie bard Richard Brautigan
11.29.2016
10:05 am
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Photo: Baron Wolman
 
The following is an edited version of an article I wrote on Dangerous Minds back in 2012 when Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan, the then-new biography of the poet, was published. I felt I couldn’t improve upon it so am sharing it again in a different context, as a preamble to this new video I put together of footage I’d never seen before of Richard Brautigan. This is an excerpt from a documentary about The Summer Of Love which was broadcast on the Canadian TV series The Way It Is in 1967. There is very little Brautigan on film, so for fans of the bard of San Francisco this is a short, but sweet, visit with one of our great countercultural heroes.

Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac and The Doors were my saviors in the year of the Summer Of Love. I was stuck in the suburbs of Virginia, surrounded by jocks and greasers, mostly always alone in my room full of beatnik books, magical vinyl and a meerschaum pipe full of banana peel. It was the year I read Brautigan’s second book Trout Fishing In America and the year that I left home for San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury.

Those were the days when a book or a record album could change your life. If literature had a Beatles, his name was Richard Brautigan. It comes as no surprise that John Lennon was a Brautigan fan. They both had a whimsical point of view that started in the square inch field and expanded into the cosmos.

In 1968, I lived inside of a parachute inside of a dance hall in a ghost town near Los Gatos, California. It was my summer of In Watermelon Sugar. I read that book like a preacher reads the Bible. It was my new testament. Brautigan’s poems and prose had this uncanny ability to gently slap you upside the head while disappearing into what is being described. In Watermelon Sugar was Brautigan’s river Tao, a sweet subtle liquid that flowed through the pink flesh of our being.

William Carlos Williams famously wrote “no ideas but in things” and embodied that thought in poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Brautigan wrote from a similar point of view - a kind of American Zen that was ordinary and transcendental, modern and prophetic…

  I like to think (and
  the sooner the better!)
  of a cybernetic meadow
  where mammals and computers
  live together in mutually
  programming harmony
  like pure water
  touching clear sky.

For many of us, Brautigan was a door into a consciousness that was liberating in its playfulness and here and nowness. Reading Brautigan is like taking a pure hit of oxygen. Things sparkle. There is a sense of boundless delight and eroticism in his prose and poetry - a promise of the unspeakable, where language transcends itself.

Watch the clip after the jump…

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Posted by Marc Campbell
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11.29.2016
10:05 am
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‘Look, they’re crucifying Him! And nobody cares!’: When Charlie Chaplin met Igor Stravinsky


 
For a couple of years when I was a little kid—before I discovered rock music, so like 3rd and 4th grade—I collected Charlie Chaplin movies that I purchased on 8mm film from Blackhawk Films. Blackhawk sold newsreels of the Hindenburg disaster and WWII along with the public domain silent horror films of Lon Chaney and comedies by Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Blackhawk advertised in comic books, Famous Monsters of Filmland and in a nostalgia magazine my grandfather used to read (I wish I could recall the name of it, I’d buy every issue on eBay). I sent for their free catalog. The price of the Chaplin shorts ranged from like $7.98 to $14.98 which was an astronomical amount of money at that time, for someone who was eight years old, or otherwise. When I say “collected,” I probably had like seven Chaplin shorts that I got from Blackhawk. I’d tell my parents and grandparents just to give me money for Christmas and birthdays so I could order them. A $10 reward for a good report card meant another Chaplin film. I would screen them in my parents’ basement on a moldy-smelling Westinghouse 8mm projector my father had long ago lost any interest in.

I was really, really Chaplin obsessed. I still am to this day.

Charles Chaplin’s My Autobiography was published by Simon & Schuster in 1964, when the great man was then in his seventies and living a life of comfortable exile at Manoir de Ban, a 35-acre estate overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland, having been pushed out of Hollywood during the Red Scare. It’s one of the most extraordinary books that I’ve ever read. The first portion of the book describes, in brutal detail, the life of crushing Dickensian poverty that Chaplin and his brother Sydney were thrust into when their mother—who’d gone mad from syphilis and malnutrition—had to drop them off at the pauper’s workhouse, unable to care for herself, let alone them.

Chaplin’s remarkably beautiful prose is nothing short of heartbreaking. It’s not just the harsh Victorian circumstances he’s describing that are so excruciatingly Dickensian, it’s the quality of his writing as well. My Autobiography starts off exactly like a lost novel by Charles Dickens, and indeed there is probably no greater true life rags to riches story that has ever been told in the entire history of humankind. Chaplin went from being an innocent young boy who’d had his head shaved and painted with iodine for a lice treatment (there’s a group shot in the book that will hit you in the gut) in the lowest of circumstances to being the most famous man in the world just a few years later. It’s one of the best books that I’ve ever read and it’s one that will still be read long into the future as long as we don’t go the way of Planet of the Apes.
 

Stravinsky takes a spin on a hoop contraption that Chaplin had built at his Beverly Hills home.
 
And speaking of our puzzling new Bizarro World national reality, there’s an anecdote that happens later in Chaplin’s book (pages 395-397) where he writes about a meeting that he had with Russian composer Igor Stravinsky where he proposed a collaboration between them. It was sometime in 1937. War had yet to be declared, but something very dark was happening in the world.

I was thinking about this over the weekend, and how potent this imagery is in Donald Trump’s America:

While dining at my house, Igor Stravinsky suggested we should do a film together. I invented a story. It should be surrealistic, I said—a decadent night club with tables around the dance floor, at each table, greed, at another, hypocrisy, at another, ruthlessness. The floor show is the Passion play, and while the crucifixion of the Saviour is going on, groups at each table watch it indifferently, some ordering meals, others talking business, others showing little interest. The mob, the High Priests and the Pharisees are shaking their fists up at the Cross, shouting: “If Thou be the Son of God come down and save Thyself.” At a nearby table a group of businessmen are talking excitedly about a big deal. One draws nervously on his cigarette, looking up at the Saviour and blowing his smoke absent-mindedly in His direction.

At another table a businessman and his wife sit studying the menu. She looks up, then nervously moves her chair back from the floor. “I can’t understand why people come here,” she says uncomfortably. “It’s depressing.”

“It’s good entertainment,” says the businessman. “The place was bankrupt until they put on this show. Now they are out of the red.”

“I think it’s sacrilegious,” says his wife.

“It does a lot of good,” says the man. “People who have never been inside a church come here and get the story of Christianity.”

And the show progresses, a drunk, being under the influence of alcohol, is on a different plane; he is seated alone and begins to weep and shout loudly: “Look, they’re crucifying Him! And nobody cares!” He staggers to his feet and stretches his arms appealingly toward the Cross. The wife of a minister sitting nearby complains to the headwaiter, and the drunk is escorted out of the place still weeping and remonstrating, “Look, nobody cares! A fine lot of Christians you are!”

“You see,” I told Stravinsky, “they throw him out because he is upsetting the show.” I explained that putting a passion play on the dance floor of a nightclub was to show how cynical and conventional the world has become in professing Christianity.

The maestro’s face became very grave. “But that’s sacrilegious!” he said.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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11.21.2016
12:40 pm
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Totally Insane James Bond comic books from India
11.17.2016
12:13 pm
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Diamond Comics are the largest comic book distributor and publisher in India. They’ve created a lot of original Indian comic book characters as well as publishing
foreign comic titles like The Phantom, Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. The Diamond superhero comics look more or less as we’ve come to know them. They don’t depart radically from the American versions.

But the James Bond comic books in Hindi are from another universe entirely. With eye-searing colors and primitive graphics, Diamond’s James Bond series completely lacks the elegance and style we associate with the suave superspy. Day-Glo 007 has been shaken, stirred and put up wet.

I was going to say that these covers are kind of lysergic. But really they’re not. This is what shit looks like after eating a handful of Datura or Amanita Muscaria. Double oh my God!
 

 

 
More double-0-WTF, after the jump…

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Posted by Marc Campbell
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11.17.2016
12:13 pm
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Salvador Dali goes to Hell: Astounding illustrations for Dante’s ‘Inferno’
11.15.2016
12:10 pm
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‘The Delightful Mount.’
 
We are in Hell.

That’s how it begins.

We are in Hell and have to find our way out.

That’s the “tagline” for Dante’s epic allegorical poem the Divine Comedy.

The Divine Comedy tells of the poet Dante “midway upon the journey” of his life when suddenly he finds himself lost “within a forest dark” having strayed from his “straightforward path.” It’s like the opening of some grim horror story or even a disturbing pulp detective tale—where the hero awakes lost and menaced in a dark and foreboding place.

It was another great poet T. S. Eliot who once wrote “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them. There is no third.”

In terms of Europe, he was right—though some may now add Goethe.

Shakespeare with his poetry and plays changed the English language and offered an unrivaled insight into the human condition.

Dante certainly added to our language and literature and gave some insight into human understanding—but his greatest literary feat was creating our vision of Hell.

Hell with its gates and abandon all hope ye who enter here. Hell with its nine circles—its brutal, horrific punishments, fire and ice, mythical creatures and monstrous demons.

The Divine Comedy is an allegory about sin and redemption. Dante is led by yet another poet Virgil—chosen because he described Hell in his poem the Aeneid—through the Inferno (Hell) on towards Purgatory and Paradise.

Understandable therefore that Dante’s epic tale would appeal as a subject matter to an old superstitious Catholic like Salvador Dali. The fact that this poem had already been illustrated by William Blake and Gustave Dore only added to its attraction

In 1957, the Italian government approached Salvador Dali to produce a series of 101 watercolor illustrations intended to accompany a new edition of the Divine Comedy intended to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth in 1965. Dali set to work. But when the first of Dali’s paintings were exhibited at the Palazzo Pallavicini in Rome, a section of the Italian public were disgusted that a Spaniard had been hired to celebrate their country’s greatest poet rather than some Italian. The project was quickly dropped.

However, Dali seemed unperturbed. He finished the project.

In 1964, Dali approached his French publisher, Joseph Foret, who was then producing a volume of Dali’s illustrations to accompany a new edition of Don Quixote. Dali suggested the idea of publishing his illustrations in a new edition of Dante’s epic poem. Foret took a selection of Dali’s watercolors to the publishers Les Heures Claires—who were equally enthusiastic about the project.

Two engravers—Raymond Jacquet with his assistant, Mr. Taricco—were hired to hand carve the 3,500 wood blocks necessary to reproduce Dali’s watercolors. A limited edition of the book was published in Italian. Sets of Dali’s prints are still available to buy online for plenty of lucre.

Dali’s illustrations feature many of his trademark images—elongated limbs, melting faces, and disturbing unquiet. Though his paintings do not attempt to compete with the illustrations of Dore and Blake—Dali’s images do create a surreal interpretation of Hell and all its punishments. Below is the complete set of Dali’s illustrations for the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy—the Inferno—as recounts the poet’s journey from dark wood through the gates of the underworld onto the nine circles of Hell. The full poem can be read here.
 
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‘Reassurance.’
 

I was among those, in Limbo, in suspense, and a lady called to me, she so beautiful, so blessed, that I begged her to command me.


 
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‘Charon.’
 
More of Dali’s vision of Hell, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.15.2016
12:10 pm
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