Million Dollar Legs
Screencap via Cockeyed Caravan

Cinema, insofar as it not only, like poetry, represents the successive stages of life, but also claims to show the passage from one stage to the next, and insofar as it is forced to present extreme situations to move us, had to encounter humor almost from the start. The early comedies of Mack Sennett, certain films of Chaplin’s (The Adventurer, The Pilgrim) and the unfogettable “Fatty” Arbuckle and “Fuzzy” (Al St. John) command the line that should by rights lead to the midnight sun bursts that are Million Dollar Legs and Animal Crackers , and to those excursions to the bottom of the mental grotto – Fingal’s Cave as much as Pozzuoli’s Crater  – that are Buñuel’s and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or, by way of Picabia’s Entr’acte.
André Breton, Lightning Rod, preface to the Anthology of Black Humour

This statement appeared beforehand in the magazine Minotaure in a different version. There it concluded with the following  sentence which was not included in the Anthology.

It’s for the first time, in 1937, with It’s a Bird, that we are propelled, keeping our eyes wide open to the merely sensory distinction between the real and the fabulous, into the very heart of the black star.

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lesvampires

One will soon understand that there was nothing more realist and more poetic at the same time as serials, which not long ago were the joy of  free spirits. It is in The Exploits of Elaine, it is in Les Vampires that one will have to search for the great reality of the century. Beyond fashion, beyond taste. Come with me. I will show you how one writes history.
Louis Aragon and André Breton – Le Trésor des Jésuites, 1929

Trail of the Octopus

I cannot see, as I hurry along, what would constitute for me, even without my knowing it, a magnetic pole in either space or time. (…) Not even the memory of the eighth and last episode of a film I saw in the neighbourhood, in which a Chinese who had found some way to multiply himself invaded New York by means of several million selfreproductions. He entered President Wilson’s office followed by himself, and by himself, and by himself, and by himself; the President removed his pince-nez. This film, which has affected me far more than any other, was called The Trail of the Octopus.
André Breton – Nadja, 1928


A page from the 1982 Marvel adaptation of Blade Runner.

Wouldn’t there be a sort of poetic consistency if the same novel – Henri Rider Haggard’s She – which served as inspiration and respectively source for  some of Merian Cooper’s films would have also inspired Blade Runner? I don’t know if this is a fact, but nevertheless, the similarities of the following passage to a particular scene in Blade Runner are quite striking.

Next I retreated to the far side of the rock, and waited till one of the chopping gusts of wind got behind me, and then I ran the length of the huge stone, some three or four and thirty feet, and sprang wildly out into the dizzy air. Oh! the sickening terrors that I felt as I launched myself at that little point of rock, and the horrible sense of despair that shot through my brain as I realised that I had jumped short! but so it was, my feet never touched the point, they went down into space, only my hands and body came in contact with it. I gripped at it with a yell, but one hand slipped, and I swung right round, holding by the other, so that I faced the stone from which I had sprung. Wildly I stretched up with my left hand, and this time managed to grasp a knob of rock, and there I hung in the fierce red light, with thousands of feet of empty air beneath me. My hands were holding to either side of the under part of the spur, so that its point was touching my head. Therefore, even if I could have found the strength, I could not pull myself up. The most that I could do would be to hang for about a minute, and then drop down, down into the bottomless pit. If any man can imagine a more hideous position, let him speak! All I know is that the torture of that half-minute nearly turned my brain.
I heard Leo give a cry, and then suddenly saw him in mid air springing up and out like a chamois. It was a splendid leap that he took under the influence of his terror and despair, clearing the horrible gulf as if it were nothing, and, landing well on to the rocky point, he threw himself upon his face, to prevent his pitching off into the depths. I felt the spur above me shake beneath the shock of his impact, and as it did so I saw the huge rocking-stone, that had been violently depressed by him as he sprang, fly back when relieved of his weight till, for the first time during all these centuries, it got beyond its balance, fell with a most awful crash right into the rocky chamber which had once served the philosopher Noot for a hermitage, and, I have no doubt, for ever sealed the passage that leads to the Place of Life with some hundreds of tons of rock.

All this happened in a second, and curiously enough, notwithstanding my terrible position, I noted it involuntarily, as it were. I even remember thinking that no human being would go down that dread path again.

Next instant I felt Leo seize me by the right wrist with both hands. By lying flat on the point of rock he could just reach me.

“You must let go and swing yourself clear,” he said in a calm and collected voice, “and then I will try and pull you up, or we will both go together. Are you ready?”

By way of answer I let go, first with my left hand and then with the right, and, as a consequence, swayed out clear of the overshadowing rock, my weight hanging upon Leo’s arms. It was a dreadful moment. He was a very powerful man, I knew, but would his strength be equal to lifting me up till I could get a hold on the top of the spur, when owing to his position he had so little purchase?

For a few seconds I swung to and fro, while he gathered himself for the effort, and then I heard his sinews cracking above me, and felt myself lifted up as though I were a little child, till I got my left arm round the rock, and my chest was resting on it. The rest was easy; in two or three more seconds I was up, and we were lying panting side by side, trembling like leaves, and with the cold perspiration of terror pouring from our skins.
Henri Rider Haggard: She


In 1981 one of the films I most eagerly anticipated was Blade Runner. The movie magazine which first brought  my attention to the movie contained  some of Syd Mead’s beautiful concept drawings of Blade Runner’s futuristic city.

Around the same time Philip K. Dick author of the source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep after reading one of the first script drafts referred to the project as Philip Marlowe meets the Stepford Wives. However, this initial hostility weared off when he came to see the first scenes from the movie. He even came to endorse the screen adaptation  and described his impressions in an interview with Gregg Rickman as follows.

And they had numerous freaks walking around in Mohawk haircuts. And these were not actors, these were actual punk rock people they had cattlecalled in. They were real! And the air was all mucked up with mist and haze and smoke and grit and dirt, and all these garish neon signs. (…)

And there’s millions of signs, information everywhere, do this, buy that. Half of it’s in Chinese, or some strange alphabet. It was so real, that I had the feeling that they had created a new art form.
“They Did Sight Simulation in my Brain” in Retrofitting Blade Runner

Philip K. Dick’s excitement clearly indicates that there were many trends and subcultures which were heretofore virtually absent from movies. In Berlin, London, New York and Los Angeles there were plenty of people walking around as in this movie. Wasn’t the clientele of Taffey Lewis’ nightclub quite similar to those Blitz Kids, wasn’t J. F. Sebastian a squatter? This future Los Angeles was so meticulously constructed and so appealing in its mono no aware way that it made one wish one could explore what lies outside of the film’s frame, just as Harrison Ford  examines Leon’s photos with his Esper machine. What would it be like to slender through Animoid Row and skim those magazines from its newsstands or to further explore the Mayan patterns on the facade and the interior of Deckard’s apartment building?

Blade Runner was  a movie which really called for an extension, especially as one knew some very nice production stills of scenes which didn’t make it into the film. Hence  there was a lot of excitement among  Blade Runner fans when a workprint was made available in the early nineties which contained a lot of additional scenes. The movie theatres which showed it, were for this short timespan the top-grossing theaters in the US. In Paul M. Sammon’s book Future Noir film preservationist Michael Arick, who unearthed this workprint tells of an odd occurence during a special screening for Ridley Scott

After the screening, Ridley thought he’d seen the unicorn in this print. He hadn’t. It wasn’t there. He was a little insistent about that, though.

When eventually Ridley Scott’s first Director’s Cut came out, the only significant addition was the unicorn dream sequence which suggests that Deckard is himself a replicant. According to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples this idea wasn’t in any of their screenplays but a concept purely by Ridley Scott. But why a unicorn? Fancher and Peoples both uttered their bafflement about this scene.

Recently I found a clue in the satirical conspiracy novel Illuminatus. One of the novel’s many subplots concerns detective Saul Goodman’s  investigation of a kidnapping.  During its course he becomes himself a captive of members of the secret society. By means of drugs and hypnosis they try to induce psychosis to Saul. Some props they use as an aid to accomplish this goal are, among other things, faked photographical evidence and some drawings made by him of a unicorn.

Those sketches I made the other day, Saul thought . . . but the screen asked him:

IS THE THOUGHT OF A UNICORN A REAL THOUGHT?

. . . and he suddenly understood for the first time what the words “a real thought” meant; what Hegel meant by defining the Absolute Idea as pure thought thinking about pure thought; what Bishop Berkeley meant by denying the reality of the physical world in seeming contradiction of all human experience and common sense; what every detective was secretly attempting to detect …
Robert A. Wilson; Robert Shea: Illuminatus – The Eye of the Pyramid

The unicorn question comes up in various parts of the novel. The following passage triggered in me an association between the unicorn dream sequence and another crucial scene of Blade Runner.

You are not aware of the long psychoanalytical literature on the unicorn as symbol of the father’s penis?

I refer to the scene where Batty confronts his creator Tyrell and requests a prolongation of his lifespan. Batty’s line –  “I want more live fucker” – was considerably altered for the workprint.  Here the original fucker was replaced by father.


I wrote this post after reading Prometheus Unbound: Ridley Scott & Me on Cinebeats.


Cloud on Title

10May12

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What an appealing  pattern a word cloud is to visually represent the relative importance of certain terms in a given context.

But there seems to be some uncertainty as to its progenitors.  Wikipedia proposes  as “early printed example of a weighted list of English keywords (…) the subconscious files in Douglas Coupland‘s Microserfs” which appeared in 1995. It also mentions that a “German appearance occurred in 1992”.  This relates to Deleuze / Guattari’s german edition of Mille Plateaux (Tausend Plateaus. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie) which has a weighted list on its cover.

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I found another antedecent – ERUTARETTIL – which appeared as early as 1923 in the proto-surrealist magazine Littérature. It weighs the importance of certain writers for the nascent surrealists.

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You can find information about its origination in a post by Marie-Claire Dumas on the Doucet Littérature blog.

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Original manuscript by André Breton and Robert Desnos.


The search for a picture illustrating Mallarmé’s impersonality led me to one of the books most profoundly influencing my own views on film: Michel Ciment’s Kubrick.
There I reread the interview  on The Shining from which are taken the following excerpts:

Michel Ciment: Don’t you think that today it is in this sort of popular literature that you find strong archetypes, symbolic images which have vanished somehow from the more highbrow literary works?

Kubrick: Yes, I do, and I think that it’s part of their often phenomenal success. There is no doubt that a good story has always mattered, and the great novelists have generally built their work around strong plots. But I’ve never been able to decide whether the plot is just a way of keeping people’s attention while you do everything else, or whether the plot is really more important than anything else, perhaps communicating with us on an unconscious level which affects us in the way that myths once did. I think, in some ways, the conventions of realistic fiction and drama may impose serious limitations on a story. For one thing, if you play by the rules and respect the preparation and pace required to establish realism, it takes a lot longer to make a point than it does, say, in fantasy. At the same time, it is possible that this very work that contributes to a story’s realism may weaken its grip on the unconscious. Realism is probably the best way to dramatize argument and ideas. Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious. I think the unconscious appeal of a ghost story, for instance, lies in its promise of immortality. If you can be frightened by a ghost story, then you must accept the possibility that supernatural beings exist. If they do, then there is more than just oblivion waiting beyond the grave.

Ciment: This kind of implication is present in much of the fantastic literature.

Kubrick: I believe fantasy stories at their best serve the same function for us that fairy tales and mythology formerly did. The current popularity of fantasy, particularly in films, suggests that popular culture, at least, isn’t getting what it wants from realism. The nineteenth century was the golden age of realistic fiction. The twentieth century may be the golden age of fantasy.

(…)

Ciment: Who is Diane Johnson who wrote the screenplay with you?

Kubrick: Diane is an American novelist who has published a number of extremely good novels which have received serious and important attention. I was interested in several of her books and in talking to her about them I was surprised to learn that she was giving a course at the University of California at Berkeley on the Gothic novel. (…)

Kubrick: A story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analysed too closely. The ultimate test of its rationale is whether it is good enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed analysis it will eventually appear absurd. In his essay on the uncanny, Das Unheimliche, Freud said that the uncanny is the only feeling which is more powerfully experienced in art than in life. If the genre required any justification, I should think this alone would serve as its credentials.

(…)

Ciment: It seems that you want to achieve a balance between rationality and irrationality, that for you man should acknowledge the presence of irrational forces in him rather than trying to repress them.

Kubrick: I think we tend to be a bit hypocritical about ourselves. We find it very easy not to see our own faults, and I don’t just mean minor faults. I suspect there have been very few people who have done serious wrong who have not rationalized away what they’ve done, shifting the blame to those they have injured. We are capable of the greatest good and the greatest evil, and the problem is that we often can’t distinguish between them when it suits our purpose.

(…)

Ciment: You are a person who uses his rationality, who enjoys understanding things, but in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining you demonstrate the limits of intellectual knowledge. Is this an acknowledgement of what William James called the unexplained residues of human experience?

Kubrick: Obviously, science-fiction and the supernatural bring you very quickly to the limits of knowledge and rational explanation. But from a dramatic point of view, you must ask yourself: ‘If all of this were unquestionably true, how would it really happen?’ You can’t go much further than that. I like the regions of fantasy where reason is used primarily to undermine incredulity. Reason can take you to the border of these areas, but from there on you can be guided only by your imagination. I think we strain at the limits of reason and enjoy the temporary sense of freedom which we gain by such exercises of our imagination.
more…


I’ve just spent a terrifying year: my Thought has thought itself and reached a pure Concept. All that my being has suffered as a result during that long death cannot be told, but, fortunately, I am utterly dead, and the least pure region where my Spirit can venture is Eternity. My Spirit, that recluse accustomed to dwelling in its own Purity, is no longer darkended even by the reflection of Time.
Unfortunately, I’ve reached this point through a dreadful sensitivity, and it’s high time I wrapped it in an outward indifference, which will replace my lost strength. After a final synthesis I have reached the stage of slowly acquiring that strength — you can see I am unable to distract myself. But this was even more the case a few months ago, firstly in my terrible struggle with that old and evil plumage, which is now, happily, vanquished: God. But as that struggle had taken place on his bony wing which, in death throes more vigorous than I would have suspected him capable of, had carried me into the Shadows, I fell, victorious, desperately and infinitely, — until at last I saw myself again in my Venetian mirror, such as I was when I forgot myself several months before.
I confess, moreover, but to you alone, that the torments inflicted by my triumph were so great, I still need to look at myself in that mirror in order to think and that if it were not in front of this desk on which I’m writing to you, I would become the Void once again. That will let you know that I am now impersonal and no longer the Stéphane that you knew, — but a capacity possessed by the spiritual Universe to see itself and develop itself, through what was once me.
Letter to Henri Cazalis, 14 May 1867 from: Selected Letters of Stéphane Mallarmé (ed. and transl. by Rosemary Lloyd)