Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Gravity all nonsense now...

I saw an item on TV last night, about alien invasion movies, and among the films featured was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Douglas Trumbull recalled that the look of the mothership was based on the idea of a spacecraft as floating cityscape, complete with skyscrapers and other urban architecture, and that notion put in mind the various illustrations used for the quartet of James Blish novels better known in their omnibus form as Cities In Flight. The individual books, published between 1955 and 1962, posited a future where whole cities blast off for the stars to wander interstellar space like economic migrants in search of more prosperous living conditions. When the American science fiction journal Analog serialized the third novel of the quartet, A Life for the Stars in the September/October 1962 issues, artist George Solonevich depicted a city, still moored to the earthen rock it was built on drifting through space, and it's this concept which seems to have inspired subsequent designs. Solonevich's idea was not without precedent - the 1955 US first edition of Earthman, Come Home also depicts a city as celestial vessel, but Solonevich's painting is far more striking. I wonder was Solonevich influenced by Magritte's 1959 painting The Castle of the Pyrenees which depicts a citadel sitting on top of a enormous floating rock, and I wonder too had Steven Spielberg been influenced by Solonevich's painting, which a 16 year old Spielberg might have discovered on the newsstand in the summer of 1962.

In 1970 US publisher Avon sensibly anthologized the four novels in one single volume as Cities In Flight, and for the cover of their paperback, cleverly incorporated the intergalactic itinerant cities into the book’s title. In 1974 UK publisher Arrow Books issued their own edition of Cities in Flight, as well as the four books in stand-alone editions. For the cover designs, Arrow commissioned the great sci-fi futurist Chris Foss who indulges his love for impossibly enormous constructions and practical industrial design. In fact the covers for They Shall Have Stars and Earthman, Come Home bear a striking resemblance to the look of the huge refinery that the Nostromo starfreighter is towing back to Earth in Alien. a film Chris Foss contributed design ideas to.

Speaking of Chris Foss and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I was leafing thru the excellent 2011 compendium Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss, and I was reminded of Foss' artwork for the 1977 Panther paperback edition of J.G. Ballards's novel The Drought, and its similarity to that famous shot in the Spielberg film of the SS Cotopaxi cargo ship marooned in the Gobi Desert. Rick McGrath, collector extraordinaire of Ballard first editions was dismissive of Foss' artwork for Panther's late 70's editions of High-Rise, Low-Flying Aircraft and Crash and while I agree that Foss' designs are an ill-fit for the complexities of Ballard's work, I do think his artwork for The Drought is a good match. It's worth noting that Gobi desert sequence was not part of the original Close Encounters cut, but was film in 1979 for what became known as the Special Edition, and I did wonder if Spielberg chanced upon The Drought paperback, but a quick check of Michael Klastorin's superb 2017 book Close Encounters of the Third Kind The Ultimate Visual History reveals that Spielberg included the ship-in-the-desert sequence in the second draft of the screenplay dated September 1975.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Throbbing Gristle - Scala Cinema, London 29th February 1980

Red hot funksters Throbbing Gristle at the Scala Cinema, from left to right, Chris Carter (just visible at the edge of the frame), Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis P-Orridge, and sitting behind him, Sleazy... 

The Scala Cinema was the subject of Monday's post, and this afternoon, I've been revisiting Industrial Records' leap day all-nighter at the Scala's old home at 25 Tottenham Street on February 29th 1980. Accompanying TG on the night were Monte Cazazza, and Sweden's Leather Nun, and between sets there were screenings of the films of Kenneth Anger, Antony Balch/William Burroughs and Austrian experimental film maker Kurt Kren. Looking at the official event program it looks like Towers Open Fire was a last minute substitution, perhaps for After Cease To Exist which was conspicuously absent on the night.

February had been a busy month for the group. On the 16th, a small cadre of friends and associates were invited to Industrial Records studio to hear the group perform a new set which adapted and mutated sounds and rhythms heard on the 20 Jazz Funk Greats album. Just over a week later, TG took the freshly minted Heathen Earth session on the road (so to speak) with the first public unveiling at The Fan Club in Leeds. The same set was essentially replicated just five days later at the Scala, but where the Fan Club show can sound tentative and unfocused, the Scala performance in comparison is far more cohesive and refined. Heathen Earth's spoken-word experiment which sounded so inert at the Leeds show was wisely dropped for Scala, and there's a greater emphasis on mood and atmosphere. Another highlight of the show are Chris' rhythm tracks, in particular the robot beat that propels an extraordinary, hypnotic and dubby rendition of Don't Do What You're Told, Do What You Think.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night was when TG's negative ion generation malfunctioned during their set, unleashing a huge flash of lightning to stunned fans in the front-row, and scrubbing 4mins of the recording with a blizzard of impenetrable static. As was their preference, TG performed first on the night, and in between films and bathroom breaks, Monte Cazazza delivered an abrasive set of violent, squally electronics, while The Leather Nun laid down some primitive garage punk for bleary eyed punters.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Austrian Film Museum Programmes

Monday's Scala post jogged a memory of some cinema programmes I picked up on a visit to the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna in 2012. On my first visit to the museum I picked up just one or two as souvenirs but the following day I went back, and under the watchful eye of the security guard grabbed as many as my pockets would allow. Measuring a petite 10 x 16cm, the programmes are German-only put there are plentiful stills throughout each issue, and each one features a fine selection of interesting American and International Cinema, plus rarely seen Avant-garde and Experimental work. Whilst preparing this post I made the happy discovery that the Film Museum carries an extensive archive of the programmes on their website so if any of the issues in the pictures pique your interest, a copy can be read online on the with some of the text translated into English. If you should find yourself in Vienna, a visit to the museum is highly recommended. And bring some deep pockets.

Monday, 4 March 2019

First look at FAB Press' Scala book

I should have posted this back in November last when FAB Press' long awaited chronicle of the legendary Scala Cinema landed on my desk with a heavy thud. I've only skimmed thru the book so far - the sheer size and weight (over 10 lbs) requires an ergonomic space to enjoy it in, but I can tell from just a few casual passes, that this book is something very special indeed. Author Jane Giles charts a colorful 15 year history of the cinema beginning in 1978 when Palace Pictures co-founder Stephen Woolley launched the Scala film club with an aggressive repertory programme that shoved a finger in the face of an increasingly draconian Thatcher government. The Scala closed its doors in 1993 due to spiraling rent and a scarcity of funds for a long overdue redevelopment, but not before it turned generations of film fans onto the delights of flagship Scala films like Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos and Thundercrack!, plus a steady monthly diet of American Exploitation, European Horror, transgressive Art Cinema and mind-boggling Experimental Film. The genius of the Scala in bringing these seemingly disparate strands of Cinema under one roof is reflected in the Scala's extraordinary monthly programmes, all 178 of them, which are lavishly reproduced in the book.

I've taken a few pictures of the book to give you a flavor of this epic production. I was lucky enough to order an early copy of the book which came in a hard slipcover adorned with beautiful Graham Humphreys artwork. In the final pic in the series, I've strategically placed my Eraserhead DVD and Thundercrack! Blu-Ray alongside the book just to give an idea of the scale. Step over to FAB Press for more info....

Friday, 1 March 2019

Music For All Mankind

I've been compulsively listening to Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks these past few days, and this morning I've put together for our listening pleasure, the suite of music that comprises the ambient portion of the For All Mankind soundtrack, - the 7 Apollo tracks heard in Al Reinert's film, plus the 9 additional tracks which appear on the Music For Films III compilation.

For All Mankind has had a complicated history which I’m not sure I’ve fully untangled. An early draft of the film, then called Apollo, first appeared in 1983 and differed significantly from the version seen today. This early version was presented without the astronaut voice-overs and apparently utilized the entire Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album with the sequence of music in the film mirroring the album. After a few initial screenings, the film was withdrawn until it re-appeared in 1989 re-cut, re-titled, and re-scored, with some of the original Apollo album tracks (Matta, Understars II, Deep Blue Day, and Weightless) replaced by some previously unheard solo and collaborative tracks by Enos Brian and Roger, and Daniel Lanois, plus a Terry Riley-esque track by John Paul Jones (4-Minute Warning), and a track by the mysterious Misha Malin (For Her Atoms) which I suspect might be an Eno pseudonym. I must stress that is not the definitive For All Mankind soundtrack - I've chosen not to include the songs by Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens (although Santo & Johnny Farina's otherworldly Sleep Walk almost made the cut).

The following track listing is based on the order the tracks appear in the film. The imdb's soundtrack listing scrambles the order (and omits track 14, White Mustang). Grab a copy of Music For All Mankind here
  1. For Her Atoms (taken from More Music For Films III)
  2. Theme for Opera (from More Music For Films III)
  3. Always Returning (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  4. Silver Morning (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  5. Drift (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  6. Fleeting Smile (from More Music For Films III)
  7. 4 Minute Warning (from More Music For Films III)
  8. The Secret Place (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  9. Quixote (from More Music For Films III)
  10. Understars (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  11. Stars (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  12. An Ending (Ascent) (from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks)
  13. Sirens (from More Music For Films III)
  14. White Mustang (from More Music For Films III)
  15. Tension Block (from More Music For Films III)
  16. Asian River (from More Music For Films III)