Monthly Archives: November 2008

Harpo Marx @120

Harpo Marx @120


Harpo Marx (18881964) was one of the Marx Brothers, a group of Vaudeville and Broadway theatre entertainers who achieved fame as comedians in the American film industry, greatly admired by the French surrealists and properly identified as American Surrealism.

Harpo was well known by his trademarks: he played the harp; he never talked during performances, although he often blew a horn or whistled to communicate with people; and he frequently used props – one of his most commonly used props in films was a walking stick with a built-in bulb horn.

He is exemplar of selective mutism, aphonia and the silent protagonist.

A little known fact is that in 1937 Salvador Dalí visited Harpo Marx in Hollywood to write the scenario for Giraffes on Horseback Salad, a film that was never produced. Photographic evidence of this encounter is perhaps this: “Dalí sketches Harpo Marx at the barbed wire harp”[1].

Freeing the hand (media theory)

Prints and Visual Communication (1953) – William Ivins [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I’ve read ten pages of William M. Ivins, Jr.‘s Prints and Visual Communication and this work is incredible and incredibly neglected. In its first ten pages it presents a full revisionist history of Classical Antiquity vs. The Dark Ages (what the Greeks and Romans didn’t have). (see “Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages“, Lynn White, published in Speculum#15, April 1940)

But more remarkable still:

From the blurb:

“The sophistication of the photographic process has had two dramatic results–freeing the artist from the confines of journalistic reproductions and freeing the scientist from the unavoidable imprecision of the artist’s prints. So released, both have prospered and produced their impressive nineteenth- and twentieth-century outputs.”

With all Ivins’s talk about “freeing the artist from the confines of journalistic reproductions” with regards to the invention of the photographic process, I find it very surprising to find no mention of Walter Benjamin‘s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in this book. Benjamin wrote in 1935/1936:

“For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens.”

Thomas Cook @200

Thomas Cook @200* 

Thomas Cook by you.

Thomas Cook’s guide books contributed to the concept of the armchair traveler.

Many people still prefer the real thing.

So did our protagonist.

She asks:

Félix Vallotton "La Lecture abandonnée" (1924)

“Where are you going?”

He answers:

Probably 1854. Daguerreotype. Photographer unknown probably Gabriel Harrison

“To the Great Exhibition in London. I took your copy of The Stones of Venice , I hope that’s alright?”

“I booked a ticket with Cook

She shouts:

(Melo)dramatic scenes in painting

“Don’t leave me now!” – “Where are you going?”

He answers:

Probably 1854. Daguerreotype. Photographer unknown probably Gabriel Harrison

“To the Exposition Universelle in Paris. I took your copy of Walt Whitman‘s I Sing the Body Electric, I hope that’s alright?”

*Thomas Cook was a British travel agent, born exactly 200 years ago today. He commodified the Grand Tour and invented tourism as we know it today. He gave you a A Room with a View in Tuscany. His guide books contributed to the concept of the armchair traveler.

René Magritte @110

René Magritte (1898 – 1967) was a Belgian painter, with Paul Delvaux the best-known representative of Belgian Surrealism.

He became well known for a number of witty images and the use of self-referentiality in such works as The Treachery Of Images (This is not a pipe (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), the best illustration to the concept of the map is not the territory.

His work frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things (see recontextualization). The representational use of objects as other than what they seem is typified in his painting, The Treachery Of Images (La trahison des images), which shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe, This is not a pipe (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), which seems a contradiction, but is actually true: the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. (In his book, This Is Not a Pipe, French critic Michel Foucault discusses the painting and its paradox.) Mention of This Is Not a Novel by David Markson is also in place here.

All this is conveniently known and one should also point to Magritte predilection for the bowler hat.

Most of the work of Magritte strikes as profoundly unerotic, cerebral and situated to the wrong side (left brain) of the twentieth century art faultline, but appearances deceive.

Attempting the Impossible (1928) [1]
Les Amants / The Lovers. (1928) [2]
Le Viol (1934) – René Magritte [3][4]
Collective Invention (1934) [5]
Les Bijoux Indiscrets (1963) [6]

Many of these works hint at tainted and thwarted love and eroticism, skewed by a desire for paraphilic love and expression. There are hints of pygmalionism, attraction to independent body parts, rape and sensory deprivation. Unlike his contemporary André Masson, Magritte never takes on these subjects head-on, fodder for psychosexual interpretations which would conclude: repressed sexuality.

Alain Robbe-Grillet‘s  La Belle captive.

New to me in the 2000s was Alain Robbe-Grillet’s cinematic take on the sophistry of Magritte. Grillet managed to eroticize the unspoken eroticism of Magritte in his film La Belle captive.

In 1983 Grillet releases his feature film La Belle captive in a production by Anatole Dauman‘s Argos Films.

The film is named after a painting by René Magritte, and is also the name of a 1975 photonovel of La Belle Captive: A Novel written by Robbe-Grillet and illustrated with Magritte’s paintings. To complicate things still further “La Belle Captive” is an extended series of over a dozen paintings, worked on during four decades, with its primary subject the easel, suggesting art and reality held captive. In the case of the film, Grillet chose to interpret the title of the film literally by playing on the trope of the damsel in distress.

To be disovered remains the 1955 documentary film Magritte by Belgian filmmaker and cultural anthropologist Luc de Heusch.

Introducing “At Her Discretion”

Introducing “At Her Discretion.”

Nurses and Anal Love

pulp fiction cover

What is obscene

Life Magazine photo of unidentified theatre advertising Pornography in Denmark

At her discretion is an Anglophone visual culture blog, self-described as “The vintage, the modern, the strange and erotic. It’s sometimes NSFW.” It’s very prolific and highly entertaining.

Some notable blogs include BibliOdyssey, A Journey Round My Skull, Femme Femme Femme, Hugo Strikes Back, ponyXpress, John Coulthart‘s Feuilleton and Adventures in the Print Trade.

Il Giornale Nuovo was one of the most renowned but has been defunct since 2007.

Tip of the hat to Paul Rumsey.

Tracing the European avant-gardes in intimate detail

Salopes by Paul Joostens by you.

“Salopes ou le quart heure de rage au soleil” by Paul Joostens

Part of the fun of having my own wiki is being to able to trace the things I find in intimate detail and thus not only arriving (as in this case) at the Antwerp underground, the Belgian avant-garde and abstract art in Belgium but eventually arriving at a European and even worldwide encyclopedia of the avant-gardes.

What came before.

Three weeks ago I discovered a cover illustration by Paul Joostens entitled Salopes (bitches in French) published by Belgian avant-garde publisher Ca Ira!.

Today I finished my entry on Ca Ira!, a who’s who of the Belgian avant-garde.

Ca Ira! was an Antwerp based Belgian publisher who published Clément Pansaers‘s L’apologie de la paresse [1] in 1922. The title Ça ira comes from a song of the French Revolution (Ah! ça ira, translated as: “We will win!”).

Ca Ira! also published work by Paul Neuhuys, Han Ryner, Paul Colin, Céline Arnauld, Picabia, René Arcos, Wies Moens, Charles Plisnier, Romain Rolland, Theo Van Doesburg, Stendhal, Pascal Pia, Renée Dunan, Frans Masereel, Piet Mondriaan, André Salmon and Jean Cocteau.

Ca Ira! was also the title of a monthly magazine that featured avant-garde art, literature and politics. It was founded by a group of young artists, who came out of the smoking war-wrecked world of 1919 with a new élan. Twenty editions were published between April 1920 and January 1923 under the direction of Maurice van Essche, Paul Neuhuys and Willy Koninckx.

The members (many of whom later achieved great fame and notoriety) included Paul Colin, Theo van Doesburg, the young poet Maurice Van Essche, Abel Lurkin, Paul Neuhuys, Arthur Pétronio, Charles Plisnier, Han Ryner, while very appealing dada and expressionist woodcuts and linotypes were added by Floris Jespers, Paul Joostens, Frans Masereel, Jan Cockx, Jozef Cantré, Karel Maes and Jozef Peeters. One finds incidental contributions by Paul Van Ostaijen, Paul Éluard, Francis Picabia, Ezra Pound, Iwan Goll, Blaise Cendrars and Lajos Kassák.

Guy Peellaert (1934 – 2008)

Guy Peellaert is dead.

JodelledePeellaert by you.

Les aventures de Jodelle by Peellaert

Guy Peellaert (April 6 1934 in Brussels, Belgium, 17 November 2008, Paris) is a Belgian artist, graphic designer, painter and photographer, best-known for his vinyl album cover designs of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Diamond Dogs by David Bowie.

He debuted as a theater set designer but first made his mark as comic book creator. His style was evidently inspired by the psychedelic and Pop art aesthetics celebrated in the 1960s (see Hapshash and the Coloured Coat in the UK).

Elvis Presley by Guy Peellaert by Fluffy Kitten Mittens

From : Rock Dreams, Albin Michel, Paris,1974

[FR] [DE] [UK]

His graphic novel Les aventures de Jodelle appeared in Hara-Kiri. Éric Losfeld published it in book version in 1966. The heroine protagonist Jodelle was styled after French singer Sylvie Vartan). Peellaert followed up with a second version, co-written with Pascal Thomas for a new heroine, Pravda, la survireuse (this time the French singer Françoise Hardy served as a model). 35 years later, the couturier Jean-Charles de Castelbajac would use the imagery of Pravda and Jodelle for his collection Physical graffiti in 2001.

Most recently, Peellaert did a series of photo-collages on Belgian popular music for Belgian magazine Focus Knack.


Jeu de massacre by Alain Jessua

He also designed the French Pop art film Jeu de massacre film by Alain Jessua, with music by The Alan Bown Set.

Ennio De Concini (1923 – 2008)

Ennio de Concini is dead

Ennio De Concini (19232008) was a prolific Italian screenwriter and film director, winning the Academy Award in 1962 for his screenplay for Divorce, Italian Style. He achieved cult notoriety with Europa di notte (1959) and Bava‘s Black Sunday (1960).

La Maschera del demonio / Black Sunday (1960) – Mario Bava []

La Maschera del demonio/Black Sunday (1960) – Mario Bava []
image sourced here.

Maschera del demonio, La/Black Sunday (1960) – Mario Bava []
image sourced here.

Black Sunday (Italian title: La maschera del demonio) is a Italian gothic horror film directed by Mario Bava, from a screenplay by Ennio de Concini and Mario Serandrei, based very loosely on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Viy”. The film stars Barbara Steele. It was Bava’s directorial debut, although he had helped direct several previous feature films without credit.

Europa di Notte soundtrack by Jahsonic

Europa di Notte by JahsonicEuropa di Notte Japanese poster by Jahsonic

Europa di notte (Nuits D’Europe/Europe by Night) is a 1959 Italian film directed by Alessandro Blasetti, written by Ennio De Concini and Gualtiero Jacopetti. This documentary in the “sexy” “mondo” genre is a potpourri of contemporary nightclub and striptease acts recorded all over Europe, including the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris. Stripteaseuses Dolly Bell, Lily Niagara and Carmen Sevilla are credited. The soundtrack of the film featured “Dans mon île[1] by French singer Henri Salvador, an early influence on the emerging bossa nova style. Scenes of the film are also featured in Do You Remember Dolly Bell?, the first feature film directed by Emir Kusturica.

Colin Hicks & The Cabin Boys appeared in the Italian film Europa di notte (Europe By Night / Nuits D’Europe ) with Giddy Up a Ding Dong[2]

Joris Ivens @110

Joris Ivens @110

Misere au borinage by Ivens and Storck

Misère au Borinage

Joris Ivens (18981989) was a Dutch documentary filmmaker and devout communist. He is internationally known as a foremost documentarist of the early twentieth century, noted for his co-direction of the political film Misère au Borinage, which I had the pleasure of screening in class last year.

Borinage is noteworthy in media theory because it proves the inherent ficticiousness of the documentary film.

Like most documentaries, it mixes reality and fiction, and in this case, contrary to authorial intention. For the film, the two directors had arranged a manifestation with extras from the Borinage. The miners were to walk behind a portrait of Karl Marx. The police mistook it for a real manifestation, they intervened and the “protest” was dispersed. This was filmed by Ivens and Storck.

It would cause Walter Benjamin to write in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:

“Similarly, the newsreel offers everyone the opportunity to rise from passer-by to movie extra. In this way any man might even find himself part of a work of art, as witness Vertov‘s Three Songs About Lenin or Ivens Borinage.”

Foretelling Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes dictum, Benjamin added that “Any man today can lay claim to being filmed.”


Rain, accompanied by unknown beats.

If Borinage is a Blakean dystopianand did those feetanti-industrialization document, Ivens also made Rain, a much more impressionist affair, generally considered a “city symphony,” a loosely outlined genre typified by Manhatta (1921) and Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt, (1927).

There was a tremendous fascination with the metropolis, the big city during the 1920s and 1930s, dubbed fittingly for this context, as the Machine Age. Mostly associated with visual culture such as the decorative style Art Deco, the arts movement Cubism, Streamline Moderne appliance design and architecture and Bauhaus style; there were also the films including Chaplin’s Modern Times and Lang’s Metropolis.

Often overlooked are the “city novels,” mostly labeled a modernist subgenre but in reality as old as the novels of Charles Dickens. For our purpose I include Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), John Dos Passos‘s Manhattan Transfer (1925), Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and T. S. Eliot’s vision of London in The Waste Land (1922). Especially John Dos Passos‘s Manhattan Transfer (1925) is of importance here as it offers the most positive view of the dynamics of speed, the modern way of life and the unavoidable fragmentation of existence.

While writing this post, the painting below was constantly on my mind. Paris in the rain. That why Paris invented arcades, and Benjamin could write about the romantic mediatic aspects of the city.

Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist (1995) – Anne Distel
[FR] [DE] [UK]