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)


The latent content of a Madeleine exposed through Coppelius’ lenses

Hitchcock signed the virtually unknown Alec Coppel to the San Francisco project … There’s no compelling evidence to suggest why Hitchcock chose Coppel.
Dan Auiler, Vertigo – The Making of a Hitchcock Classic

All following excerpts are from: The Sandman by E. T. A. Hoffmann
(transl. by John Oxenford)

Eyes here’ eyes!’ roared Coppelius tonelessly. Overcome by the wildest terror, I shrieked out and fell from my hiding place upon the floor. Coppelius seized me and, baring his teeth, bleated out, ‘Ah – little wretch – little wretch!’ Then he dragged me up and flung me on the hearth, where the fire began to singe my hair. ‘Now we have eyes enough – a pretty pair of child’s eyes,’ he whispered, and, taking some red-hot grains out of the flames with his bare hands, he was about to sprinkle them in my eyes. My father upon this raised his hands in supplication, crying: ‘Master, master, leave my Nathaniel his eyes!’

A very tall and slender lady, extremely well-proportioned and most splendidly attired, sat in the room by a little table on which she had laid her arms, her hands being folded together. She sat opposite the door, so that I could see the whole of her angelic countenance. She did not appear to see me, and indeed there was something fixed about her eyes as if, I might almost say, she had no power of sight. It seemed to me that she was sleeping with her eyes open. I felt very uncomfortable, and therefore I slunk away into the lecture-room close at hand. Continue reading ‘The Terrible Secret of Dr. Hitchcock’


A Realization

16Dec10

Therefore one goes from pure science to applied science worthy of La Palisse: a statement of what is visible to the mortal eye (it is always a matter of mortal eyes, hence vulgar and very flawed, even supposing them reinforced by the scientists’ microscopes; and the sensory organ being a cause of error, the scientific instrument simply magnifies that sense in the direction of its error).
Alfred Jarry: The Days and the Nights (transl. by Alexis Lykiard)


While the tonal, the totality of conscious existence, shapes the individual being, the tonal is in turn shaped by the nagual, by everything it is not, which surrounds us like a mold. The tonal tends to shut out and deny the nagual, which takes over completely in the moment of death… the role of the artist is to make contact with the nagual and bring a part of it back into the tonal in paint or words, sculpture, film or music…
Q: Would rubbing out the word result in immediate exteriorization from the body?
A: Yes.
Q: How can this be accomplished?
A: At first automatic exercise.
William S. Burroughs: The Retreat Diaries


Codice Laud
Image from the Codex Laud

The naualli, or magician, is he who frightens men and sucks the blood of children during the night. He is well skilled in the practice of this trade, he knows all the arts of sorcery (nauallotl) and employs them with cunning and ability; but for the benefit of men only, not for their injury. Those who have recourse to such arts for evil intents injure the bodies of their victims, cause them to lose their reason and smother them. These are wicked men and necromancers.
Father Sahagun

The pagan priests made use of an ointment composed of insects, such as spiders, scorpions, centipedes and the like, which the neophytes in the temples prepared. They burned these insects in a basin, collected the ashes, and rubbed it up with green tobacco leaves, living worms and insects, and the powdered seeds of a plant called ololiuhqui, which has the power of inducing visions, and the effect of which is to destroy the reasoning powers. Under the influence of this ointment, they conversed with the Devil, and he with them, practicing his deceptions upon them. They also believed that it protected them, so they had no fear of going into the woods at night.
Father Augustin de Vitancurt

This was also employed by them as a remedy in various diseases, and the soothing influence of the tobacco and the ololiuhqui was attributed by them to divine agency. There are some in our own day who make use of this ointment for sorcery, shutting themselves up, and losing their reason under its influence; especially some old men and old women, who are prepared to fall an easy prey to the Devil.
Father Augustin de Vitancurt

To practice this art the sorcerers, usually old women, shut themselves in a house, and intoxicate themselves to the degree of losing their reason. The next day they are ready to reply to questions.
Father Joseph de Acosta

All quotes from Daniel G. Brinton: Nagualism – A Study in Native American Folklore and History


The sirens sing when reason sleeps.
Max Ernst

A key scene in Blue Velvet was intended to feature “Song of the Siren” by This Mortal Coil, but when the rights to the song proved prohibitively expensive, it was suggested that Badalamenti compose a pop song in the same style, with lyrics written by Lynch. Because the song required a vocalist with a haunting, ethereal voice, Badalamenti recommended Julee Cruise, who had sung “like an angel” in a New York theater workshop that Badalamenti had produced. The result of their initial collaboration was “Mysteries of Love,” which figures prominently in Blue Velvet’s closing scenes.
Read more on Julee Cruise’s Myspace



Collage by Jean-Jacques Lebel (1962)

Reason is a light which makes me see things as they are not.
Francis Picabia