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The surreal teapots of Richard T. Notkin
10.23.2014
08:59 am

Topics:
Art

Tags:
Surrealism
teapots
skulls

Teaset
Teaset “Iraq 2007”, 2007
 
According to the biographical narrative of sculptor Richard T. Notkin, the Helena, Montana-based artist has been creating surreal and politically charged ceramics for almost 40 years. Of note in Notkin’s long career is his fondness for creating odd-looking teapots; an affinity that was born from his early love of Chinese Yixing teapots. Notkin was so enamoured with his subject that he spent most of the twelve years between 1983 and 1995 creating surrealist-looking teapots. Notkin’s works are also meant to represent his disdain of politics, war and other important societal issues.

Notkin on why he chose the teapot as a way of expressing himself:

Although the vast majority of my work created between 1983 and 1995 consists almost entirely of teapots, I consider myself a sculptor with a strong commitment to social commentary. My chosen medium — the material I love to work with — is clay. The vessel is the primal “canvas” for the ceramic artist, and my vessel of choice is the teapot, the most complex of vessels, consisting of body, handle, spout, lid and knob. This allows me the widest latitude in juxtaposing the many images I use to set up my narrative pieces.

Notkin’s works have been displayed by museums across the world, including locations in New York, Los Angeles, London and Japan. I’m especially fond of the teapots that follow.
 
Light bulb teapot 1984 Richard T. Notkin
Light bulb teapot (variation #6), 1984
 
Nuclear Nuts teapot 1987 by Richard Notkin
“Nuclear Nuts” teapot (variation #12) 1987
 
More after the jump…
 

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Meet the great ‘English eccentric’ who financed the Surrealists

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You may not have heard of Edward James, but you will certainly recognise the back of his head from the painting Not to be Reproduced by René Magritte. This was one of two portraits the Surrealist artist did of James, the other was The Pleasure Principle.

Edward William Frank James (1907–1984) was a poet and a patron of the arts, who used his vast wealth to publish writers (like poet John Betjeman), commission theatrical productions most notably Les Ballets and Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s last work together The Seven Deadly Sins in 1933. He also supported individuals, communities in Mexico and financed artisan workshops, but James is most famously known for his patronage of Surrealist art, in particular the artists Magritte, Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalí. He also bought works by Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Pavel Tchelitchew, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux.

Being rich and aristocratic usually meant James was described as a great “English eccentric,” though he was never fond of the term claiming he was like “the boy with green hair,” just born that way. According to James he was the illegitimate son of King Edward VII, which may have indeed been possible as his mother was said to have been one of the royal’s many mistresses. When he was five, his father (or at least his mother’s husband) died leaving James the sole heir to his fortune and the 8,000 acre family estate of West Dean House in Sussex. James eventually gave away the family estate, financing its reuse as a college. He created his own Surrealist home in Monkton, and then in Las Pozas, Mexico, where he used his money to support its community employing villagers to build houses, a hotel, Surrealist sculptures and architectural follies.

This delightful film The Secret Life of Edward James made in 1978 was narrated by the late jazz singer, art critic and writer George Melly. James and Melly were good friends, united by their passion for Surrealism. Melly was a wonderfully outrageous and much loved performer whose exuberance for life was often matched by his attire. He also wrote three highly entertaining volumes of autobiography and released a whole bag of recordings. If you haven’t heard of George Melly he is worth investigating.
 
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Magritte’s other portrait of Edward James ‘The Pleasure Principle’ (1937).
 

 
More after the jump…

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Surrealism founder André Breton’s apartment is a museum in its own right
06.11.2014
09:37 am

Topics:
Art

Tags:
Surrealism
Andre Breton
Fabrice Maze

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I wonder: did André Breton enjoy housework? He must have spent many an hour cleaning and tending to the dust that surely gathered on all the 5,300 artifacts he kept, at one time or another, in his Parisian apartment. (Or maybe he hired someone.)

Father of Surrealism, poet, and writer, Breton moved into number 42 rue Fontaine in the 9e arrondissement on January 1, 1922, and lived there until his death in 1966. During his tenancy, he filled his rooms with thousands of “paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, books, art catalogs, journals, manuscripts, and works of popular and Oceanic art,” all of which would require considerable domestic maintenance. Of course he may have been entirely indifferent to the dust and allowed it to beard his belongings and fur the shelves, as Quentin Crisp and J. G. Ballard were said to have done.

Artists and writers’ studios are, by their very nature, fascinating places, as they are the workshops where the real creative toil is won. And the clutter of belongings, books, and pictures reveals at first hand the sources, inspirations, and fascinations that produced the work.

Fabrice Maze created this beautiful short film on André Breton’s apartment in 1994, in which the camera takes the viewer on a tour through all the accumulation of art works, books, and dust.

Sadly, three years after Breton’s third wife Elsa died in 2000, the French government proved unable or unwilling to buy the apartment and its collection. This led to an auction of the “largest single record of the Surrealist movement.” The Pompidou Center in Paris purchased a wall from Breton’s former home, together with 255 works of arts and objects, which are now on display at the museum.
 

 

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Max Ernst and the Surrealist revolution
05.23.2014
10:26 am

Topics:
Art

Tags:
Surrealism
Max Ernst

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Max Ernst with his dog Katchina, photo by Dorothea Tanning

For Max Ernst painting had to be “invention, discovery, revelation,” and not “decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality.” Ernst never had any formal training as an artist, he had been a student of philosophy and psychology at Bonn University, which in part explains his cerebral approach to art.

In a response to the horrors of the First World War, having spent four years in the German army serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts, Ernst became a leading figure in the German Dada movement, producing fantastical collages from photographs and botanical drawings of flowers. 

In 1922, Ernst moved to France settling in Paris where he was involved with members of the city’s avant garde, including André Breton author of the “First Surrealist Manifesto” in 1924. It was here that Ernst developed a creative technique called “frottage” (not to be confused with dry-humping) with which he produced a series of textured pictures by rubbing crayon over floorboards. He also began to concentrate on painting using random objects to inspire a synthesis of inner and outer worlds.

“If you close your eyes and you look into your inner world, and I believe the best to do is to have one eye closed and to look inside, and this is the inner eye, and with your other eye you have it fixed on reality, what is going on in the world.  If you can make a kind of a synthesis of these two important worlds, you come to a result which can be considered as a synthesis of objective and subjective life.”

Max Ernst and the Surrealist Revolution examines how Ernst used random objects, media and “events” to unlock his subconscious and produce works of great art.
 

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‘The Relaxed Wife’: Surrealistic WTF vintage tranquilizer ad
05.10.2013
01:13 pm

Topics:
Advertising
Drugs

Tags:
Surrealism


 
Despite what the title might imply, there’s nothing sexist or Stepford Wives-ish here, rather it’s the frantic, rubber-faced hubby who is badly in need of a chill pill. Or an entire bottle of them.

If you’ve ever seen the Dr. Seuss-scripted kids film The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, this weird little 1957 industrial film puts me immediately in mind of that.

With all sorts of amazing WTF flourishes, like a desk that hands you a newspaper!
 

 
Thank you Binky Prod! (if that is, in fact, your real name)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘1984: Music for Modern Americans’: An animated film by artist Eduardo Paolozzi

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J. G. Ballard once said, if by some terrible calamity all art from the 20th century was destroyed except for the work of one artist, then it would be possible to recreate all of the century’s greatest artistic developments if that artist was Eduardo Paolozzi.

Deliberate hyperbole, but there is an essence of truth here, as Paolozzi produced such an incredible range and diversity of art that it has been difficult for critics and art historians to classify him. He began as a Surrealist, before becoming the first Pop Artist—a decade before Warhol put paint on canvas. He then moved on to print-making, design, sculpture and public art to international success.

Born in Edinburgh, to an Italian family in 1924, Paolozzi spent much of his childhood at his parent’s ice cream parlor, where he was surrounded by the packaging, wrapping and cigarette cards that later inspired his Pop Art. This early idyll of childhood was abruptly ended when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940. Paolozzi awoke one morning to find himself, along with his father and uncles, incarcerated, in the city’s Saughton Prison, as undesirables, or enemies of the state. Paolozzi was held for 3 months, but his father and uncles were deported to Canada on the ship HMS Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off the north-west coast of Ireland. The vessel sank with the loss of 630 lives.

Considered psychologically unsuitable for the army, the teenage Paolozzi studied at the Edinburgh School of Art, in 1943, before finishing at the Slade School in London, which he found disappointingly conservative in its approach to art.

After the war, Paolozzi moved briefly to Paris where he visited some of the century’s greatest artists, then resident in the city—Giacometti, Braque, Arp, Brâncuşi, and Léger. In his youthful boldness, Eduardo had telephoned each of these artists after discovering their numbers in the telephone directory. He was greeted as an equal, he later claimed, most probably because the war had just ended. The experience taught Paolozzi much, and emboldened his ideas. On his return to London, Paolozzi presented a slide show of adverts and packaging, which was the very first Pop Art.

Paolozzi developed his distinctive collages and multiple images of Marilyn Monroe long before Warhol and even Richard Hamilton, the artist with whom he showed at the now legendary This Is Tomorrow exhibition, at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956.

Paolozzi eventually tired of his association with Pop Art, as it limited his incredibly diverse artistic vision. The same year as This Is Tomorrow, he played a deaf mute, with fellow artist Michael Andrews, in the first major Free Cinema movie Together by Lorenza Mazzetti.

By the late 1950s, he had moved on to industrial print-making,  before producing an incredibly awe-inspiring range of designs for buildings, sculptures and public art—from his mosaic for Tottenham Court Road tube station to the cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, through to such epic sculptures Newton, outside of the British Library, Vulcan, Edinburgh, and Head of Invention, Design Museum, London.

In 1984, Paolozzi conceived and produced a brief strange and surreal animation 1984: Music for Modern Americans, which was animated and directed by Emma Calder, Susan Young and Isabelle Perrichon, and based photocopies of Paolozzi’s original drawings.
 

 

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Dorothea Tanning, oldest surviving Surrealist, dead at 101
02.01.2012
01:18 pm

Topics:
Art
History

Tags:
Surrealism
Dorothea Tanning


Birthday, a 1942 self-portrait

The great painter Dorothea Tanning died yesterday in her sleep at the age of 101. Tanning, who was married for thirty years to Surrealist Max Ernst, was herself part of a small cadre of female Surrealists (Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Lee Miller, Maya Deren, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini) judged by history to be as equally interesting as their male counterparts.

Jerry Saltz, writing about Tanning today on Vulture:

In her memoir, we hear how she and Ernst fell in love while playing chess, how the two of them lived in Arizona before moving to France, of their double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner, of her friendships with Picasso, Breton, Magritte (“sweet”), Duchamp, Tanguy, Truman Capote (“a neat little package of dynamite”), Orson Welles (“scowler”), Joseph Cornell (“the courtly love of the 13th century troubadours”), and how she designed sets and costumes for the great George Balanchine. Noting how pleased she was that Ernst never called her “wife,” she observes, “He was very sorry about that wife thing. I’m very much against the arrangement of procreation, at least for humans. If I could have designed it, it would be a tossup who gets pregnant, the man or woman. Boy, that would end rape for one thing. And ‘woman artist’? Disgusting.” She writes about being alone on a bus in Chicago and deciding, with no plans or place to live, to go on to New York. There she “ate curry powder sandwiches, took Hindu dancing, read the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ and Emily Dickinson, impartially.” In 1936 she saw the MoMA show “Fantastic, Dada, and Surrealism” and recalled that “here, here in the museum ... are signposts so imperious, so laden, so seductive, and yes, so perverse that … they would possess me utterly.”

Tanning’s memoir, Between Lives: An Artist and Her World was published in 2003.

 

 

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Salvador Dali: Surrealist Party from 1941
12.31.2011
03:00 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Art

Tags:
Salvador Dali
Surrealism
Forties
Party

salvador_dali_party
 
Salvador Dali hosts a Surrealist party as a fund raiser for displaced European artists, at the Bali Room, Hotel Del Monte, California, in 1941. However you celebrate the arrival of the New Year, have a fabulous time, and a wonderful 2012.
 

 
With thanks to Duggie Fields
 

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Man Ray: Home Movies

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Home Movies of Man Ray and Ady Fidelin from 1938, present a simple and intimate portrait of the man behind the artist.
 

 
With thanks to Angie Lane
 

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‘Les Avortés’: Surreal short film with music by Captain Beefheart, from 1970

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Les Avortés - a film to set your hair on fire, made by a group of friends, who shared a love of Artaud, Dreyer, Stroheim, and the Living Theater. Directed by Jorge Amat, with a soundtrack by Captain Beefheart, from 1970.
 

 

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Vivian Stanshall: ‘One Man’s Week’ from 1975

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Heresy, I suppose, but I was more pissed off at the demise of the Bonzo Dog Band than I was by the splitting of The Beatles, the retirement of Ziggy Stardust, or the return of Take That. The Mop Tops were grown-up music and a different generation, and after Stardust there was always Aladdin Sane, but neither could have inspired me to run home from school as I did for Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and co. when they shared billing with the proto-Pythons, Palin, Jones, Idle and Gilliam on Do Not Adjust Your Set. Now that’s the kind of thoughtful anarchy parents should encourage their children to watch, not Glee or High School Musical, but something with wit and humor that leans towards culture and art and thinking about life, with all its wrinkly absurdities.

It was always Vivian, of course, that rather scary looking Ginger Geezer, who was the Peter Cook of Pop, a chummy Evelyn Waugh, a more interesting Stephen Fry, the missing link between The Beatles and Monty Python.

I saw Vivian Stanshall’s Week when it first went out in 1975, then or thereabouts, and was mesmerized by the great ginger god’s wit, surreal humor and seemingly boundless energy, who, I knew (as did everyone else, surely?), made life that little bit more fun.

The print of this documentary is water-color cloudy, but honestly it does somehow underline the unreality that such a superb human should have ever visited this blue marble planet and in our life time to boot. Well, dearhearts, how lucky are we?

Now here’s what the blurb says:

‘In this film shot in 1975 (after the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and before the Sir Henry movie) Viv articulates his interests and obsessions with his usual surreal humour and some intoxication by the river.

“If I had all the money I’ve spent on drink — I’d spend it on drink.”

Vivian Stanshall—a thoroughly good egg.’

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Vivian Stanshall: The Ginger Geezer


 
Bonus tracks by Big Grunt and the Bonzo Dog Band, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Luis Buñuel’s Perfect Martini

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Luis Buñuel was one of cinema’s greatest film directors. From his first short, the Surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou in 1929, through The Exterminating Angel in 1962, to Belle de Jour in 1967, and his last, That Obscure Object of Desire in 1977, Buñuel created a brilliant body of work, which has rarely been equalled.

But film wasn’t his only passion. In his autobiography, My Last Breath, Buñuel gave his own special recipe on how to create the perfect Martini.

‘To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of the dry martini. To be frank, given the primordial role in my life played by the dry martini, I think I really ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen “like a ray of sunlight through a window-leaving it unbroken.”

‘Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients-glasses, gin, and shaker-in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Stir it, then pour it out, keeping only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, stir it again, and serve.

‘(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)’

This wasn’t the first time, the genius director had shared his favored drink, in his Oscar-winning film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Buñuel had his actors prepare the perfect Martini.

This was no affectation, as Buñuel had his cocktail everyday and once remarked:

“If you were to ask me if I’d ever had the bad luck to miss my daily cocktail, I’d have to say that I doubt it; where certain things are concerned, I plan ahead.”

As discussed in his essential autobiography, Buñuel’s passions for drinking, smoking and a love of handguns, defined who he was. It was a combination which would, you would think, make Buñuel the perfect choice as a director for one of those 1960s or 1970s James Bond movies. David Cairns, over at his excellent film blog, Shadowplay suggested this idea a couple of years back, proposing a Bond movie cast from some of Buñuel’s previous casts, with Dan O’Herlihy as Bond and Fernando Rey as the villain. Cairns also proposes:

Could we resist Catherine Deneuve as Bond girl Anne Dalou, and could she resist playing it if the high priest of cinematic surrealism were in charge? Zachary Scott, fresh from THE YOUNG ONE, could play Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter. Oh wait, he died in 1965. Damn. OK, Bernie Hamilton then. Sean Connery always thought Felix should be black — I presume on the basis that it was the kind of thankless part where nobody would object, and therefore you should make the effort.

Ken Adam, I submit, would have had a great time building sets for Bunuel, who loved “secret passages leading on to darkness”.

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL would make a great title for a Bond. Imagine what Shirley Bassey could do with a lyric like that. Much better than QUANTUM OF SLOSH, anyway.

But let’s call our imaginary Bunuel Bond GRAN CASINO ROYALE. The globe-trotting narrative will take us through Spain, the U.S.A., Mexico and France. Bond will battle tarantulas, snakes and flesh-eating ants, and face enemies armed with razors, rifles, burlap sacks and buggy-whips. All in search of a mysterious box with undisclosed, buzzing contents…

 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Bruce Conner: The Artist Who Shaped Our World

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I find it difficult to watch Adam Curtis‘s various acclaimed documentaries without thinking: how much has he taken from Bruce Conner?

Indeed without Conner, would Curtis have developed his magpie, collagist-style of documentary making?

I doubt it, but you (and Curtis) may disagree.

The late Bruce Conner is the real talent here - an artist and film-maker whose work devised new ways of working and presciently anticipated techniques which are now ubiquitously found on the web, television and film-making.

Conner was “a heroic oppositional artist, whose career went against the staid and artificially created stasis of the art world”. Which is academic poohbah for saying Conner kept to his own vision: a Beat life, which channeled his energies into art - with a hint of Dada, Surrealism and Duchamp.

Conner was cantankerous and one-of-a-kind. He would wear an American flag pin. When asked why, he said, “I’m not going to let those bastards take it away from me.”

He kicked against fame and celebrity, seeing art as something separate from individual who created it.

“I’ve always been uneasy about being identified with the art I’ve made. Art takes on a power all its own and it’s frightening to have things floating around the world with my name on them that people are free to interpret and use however they choose.”

Born in McPherson, Kansas, Conner attended Witchita University, before receiving his degree in Fine Art from Nebraska University. At university he met and married Jean Sandstedt in 1957. He won a scholarship to art school in Brooklyn, but quickly moved to University of Colorado, where he spent one semester studying art. The couple then moved to San Francisco and became part of the Beat scene. Here Conner began to produce sculptures and ready-mades that critiqued the consumerist society of late 1950’s. His work anticipated Pop Art, but Conner never focussed solely on one discipline, refusing to be pigeon-holed, and quickly moved on to to film-making.

Having been advised to make films by Stan Brakhage, Conner made A MOVIE in 1958, by editing together found footage from newsreels- B-movies, porn reels and short films. This single film changed the whole language of cinema and underground film-making with its collagist technique and editing.

The Conners moved to Mexico (“it was cheap”), where he discovered magic mushrooms and formed a life-long friendship with a still to be turned-on, Timothy Leary. When the money ran out, they returned to San Francisco and the life of film-maker and artist.

In 1961, Conner made COSMIC RAY, a 4-minute film of 2,000 images (A-bombs, Mickey Mouse, nudes, fireworks) to Ray Charles’ song “What I Say”. With a grant from the Ford Foundation, Conner produced a series of films that were “precursors, for better or worse, of the pop video and MTV,” as his obituary reported:

EASTER MORNING RAGA (1966) was designed to be run forward or backward at any speed, or even in a loop to a background of sitar music. Breakaway (1966) showed a dancer, Antonia Christina Basilotta, in rapid rhythmic montage. REPORT (1967) dwells on the assassination of John F Kennedy. The found footage exists of repetitions, jump cuts and broken images of the motorcade, and disintegrates at the crucial moment while we hear a frenzied television commentator saying that “something has happened”. The fatal gun shots are intercut with other shots: TV commercials, clips from James Whale’s Frankenstein and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The film has both a kinetic and emotional effect.

REPORT revealed “Kennedy as a commercial product”, to be sold and re-packaged for arbitrary political purposes.

REPORT “perfectly captures Conner’s anger over the commercialization of Kennedy’s death” while also examining the media’s mythic construction of JFK and Jackie — a hunger for images that “guaranteed that they would be transformed into idols, myths, Gods.”

Conner’s work is almost a visual counterpart to J G Ballard’s writing, using the same cultural references that inspired Ballard’s books - Kennedy, Monroe, the atom bomb. His film CROSSROADS presented the 1952 atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in extreme slow motion from twenty-seven different angles.

His editing techniques influenced Dennis Hopper in making Easy Rider, and said:

“much of the editing of Easy Rider came directly from watching Bruce’s films”

The pair became friends and Hopper famously photographed Conner alongside Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Mitchell.

Always moving, always progressing, having “no half way house in which to rest”, Conner became part of the San Francisco Punk scene, after Toni Basil told Conner to go check out the band Devo in 1977. He became so inspired when he saw the band at the Mabuhay Gardens that he started going there four night a week, taking photographs of Punk bands, which eventually led to his job as staff photographer with Search ‘n’ Destroy magazine. It was a career change that came at some personal cost.

“I lost a lot of brain cells at the Mabuhay. What are you gonna do listening to hours of incomprehensible rock’n’roll but drink? I became an alcoholic, and it took me a few years to deal with that.”

Conner continued with his art work and films, even making short films for Devo, David Byrne and Brian Eno. In his later years, Conner returned to the many themes of his early life and work, but still kept himself once removed from greater success and fame. He died in 2008.

Towards the end of his life he withdrew his films from circulation, as he was “disgusted” when he saw badly pixelated films bootlegged and uploaded on YouTube. Conner was prescriptive in how his work should be displayed and screened. All of which is frustrating for those who want to see Conner’s films outside of the gallery, museum or film festival, and especially now, when so much of his originality and vision as a film-maker and artist has been copied by others.
 

‘Mea Culpa’ - David Byrne and Brian Eno.  Directed by Bruce Conner
 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘The Loving Trap’: brilliant Adam Curtis parody


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Jean Cocteau’s ‘The Blood of a Poet’, 1930

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Jean Cocteau was disingenuous when he wrote, “It is often said that The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d’un poète) is a surrealist film. However, Surrealism did not exist when I first thought of it.”

Cocteau was wrong. Surrealism not only existed, it was a major artistic and cultural force.

The idea for The Blood of a Poet first came to Cocteau at a party in 1929:

The idea of a film had its germination during a house party given by Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles at Hyeres in 1929. Georges Auric, Cocteau’s lifelong musical collaborator, surprised his hosts by announcing that he wanted to compose the score for an animated cartoon. Cocteau was asked on the spot to provide a scenario. After some discussion, the Noailles agreed to give Cocteau a million francs to make a real film with a score by Auric. This became The Blood of a Poet, still one of the most widely viewed of all Cocteau’s screenworks. Cocteau described its disturbing series of voyeuristic tableaux as “a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body.”

By then, Max Ernst had painted the first major Surrealist painting, “The Elephant Celebes” in 1921, and André Breton had written the Surrealist Manifesto, in 1924.

Blood of a Poet can’t even be classed as the first Surrealist film, as Entr’acte had been made by René Clair, in 1924; The Seashell and the Clergyman (La Coquille et le clergyman) arguably the first true Surrealistic film, directed by Germaine Dulac, and written by Antonin Artaud, was made in 1928; and Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí had made two landmark Surrealist films, Un Chien Andalou (1928) and L’Âge d’Or (1930), by the time Cocteau was ready to put his thoughts on celluloid.

While there are undoubted references to Surrealist imagery (i.e. the lips on the artist’s hand), The Blood of a Poet shouldn’t be tied into any group or movement, for it is a film very much centered in Cocteau’s artistic sensibilities:

The Blood of a Poet like so much of what Cocteau created, abounds in autobiographical motifs: the macho Dargelos and the snowball fight, the opium smoker, the poet with his sexual stigmata, and the gunshots that, intentionally or not, echoed his father’s suicide long before.

Like all great artists, Cocteau sourced ideas from what was around him, what was new, to create his own distinct artistic vision. Of course, such magpie instincts left him open to the criticism of dilettantism, which was unfair, when considered against the range and diversity of his output as artist, writer, film-maker, designer, poet and man-about-town.

It was while out on the tiles at his favorite hot-spot “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” that Cocteau met the model, and later photographer, Lee Miller. Cocteau was casting for his film, and Miller breathlessly volunteered her services. It was her only film, and she would later describe the difficulties in making the film:

Feral Benga, the black jazz dancer who played the angel, sprained his ankle and became an angel with a limp. Cocteau put a star on Enrique Riviero’s back to cover an old bullet wound from the pistol of some cuckolded husband. The mattresses used to soundproof the studio walls were, unfortunately for the cast, infested with ravenous fleas and bedbugs. When the “bull” (really an ox) rented from an abattoir arrived at the studio with only one horn, Cocteau made a second one himself.

The film was financed by Charles, Vicomte de Noailles at a cost of one million francs. The Vicomte and his wife agreed to appear in the film, a scene where they talked amongst themselves and, on cue, began applauding. However, Cocteau intercut this footage with a another sequence, which ended in a suicide. Upon seeing the completed film, they refused to let Cocteau release it with their scene included. It was therefore re-shot with Barbette, the well-known female impersonator, and some extras.

Prior to its release, there was further controversy when it was rumored the film was filled with hidden symbolism:

Cocteau himself always denied the presence of hidden symbolism in the film, but word got about that it had anti-Christian undercurrents. This greatly distressed the Noailles. After the scandal caused the Viscount to be expelled from the elegant Jockey Club, and even brought threats of excommunication from the Church, they forbade Cocteau to allow public release of The Blood of a Poet for over a year.

Cocteau later wrote:

It is often said that The Blood of a Poet is a surrealist film. However, surrealism did not exist when I first thought of it. the interest that it still arouses probably comes from its isolation from the works with which it is classified. I am speaking of the works of a minority that has opposed and unobtrusively governed the majority throughout the centuries. This minority has its antagonistic aspects. At the time of Le sang d’un poète, I was the only one of this minority to avoid the deliberate manifestations of the unconscious in favor of a kind of half-sleep through which I wandered as though in a labyrinth.

I applied myself only to the relief and to the details of the images that came forth from the great darkness of the human body. I adopted them then and there as the documentary scenes of another kingdom.

That is why this film, which has only one style, that, for example, of the bearing or the gestures of a man, presents many surfaces for its exegesis. Its exegeses were innumerable. If I were questioned about any one of them, I would have trouble in answering.

My relationship with the work was like that of a cabinetmaker who puts together the pieces of a table whom the spiritualists, who make the table move, consult.

The Blood of a Poet draws nothing from either dreams or symbols. As far as the former are concerned, it initiates their mechanism, and by letting the mind relax, as in sleep, it lets memories entwine, move and express themselves freely. As for the latter, it rejects them, and substitutes acts, or allegories of these acts, that the spectator can make symbols of if he wishes.

 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Steven Severin: ‘Blood of a Poet’

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Former Siouxsie and The Banshees’ co-founder, bass-player and all round musical genius, Steven Severin is currently touring the U.K. with his brilliant score for Jean Cocteau’s 1930 debut film Blood of a Poet

Since 2002 and the demise of The Banshees, Severin has been writing soundtracks for TV and cinema, including superb scores for London Voodoo and Richard Jobson’s The Purifiers.  More recently, Severin has composed and toured with his compositions for The Seashell and The Clergyman and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. His four treatments for Caligari was one of the highlights of last year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Now, having successfully toured with Blood of a Poet across America and Canada earlier this year, Britain has the chance to catch one of the must-see events of the year.

It is always possible to subvert, to rebel.  A strong idea can be a salve, an inspiration to some whilst the very same idea is an irritant, a disruption to others.  I just try to do things that move and excite me and hope I am capable to transmitting those emotions in the most eloquent way possible.

                                                          -  Steven Severin

York CITY SCREEN 7th. Oct.
Bradford PLAYHOUSE 8th. Oct.
Leeds HYDE PARK 9th. Oct.
Liverpool FACT 10th. Oct.
Norwich CINEMA CITY 12th. Oct.
Kensal Rise LEXI 15th. Oct.
Southampton HARBOUR LIGHTS 16th. Oct.
Brighton DUKE OF YORKS 17th. Oct.
Brixton RITZY 19th. Oct.
Greenwich PICTUREHOUSE 21st. Oct.
Derby QUAD 28th. Oct.
Cardiff CHAPTER ARTS 29th. Oct.
Oxford PHOENIX 30th. Oct.
Exeter PICTUREHOUSE 31st. Oct.
Bath LITTLE THEATRE 1st. Nov.
Bristol WATERSHED 2nd. Nov.
Inverness EDEN COURT 4th. Nov.
Croydon CLOCKTOWER 8th. Nov.
Sheffield SHOWROOM 11th. Nov.
Nottingham BROADWAY 12th. Nov.
Birmingham ELECTRIC 14th. Nov.
Leicester PHOENIX 15th. Nov.
Edinburgh CAMEO 18th. Nov.
 

 
Steven Severin’s ‘Cesare Variations’ after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment