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Preview: Lombard Street

Lombard Street

Updated: 2014-10-06T19:14:42.853-07:00


Peter Christopherson (1955-2010) R.I.P.



Enter the Void - The Ultimate Trip


Enter the Void, the new film by French-Argentinian Director Gasper Noé, is a truly remarkable film. Its visceral affectivity is staggering, and is matched only by its total commitment to transforming the current state of cinema. Arguably it is just not like anything ever seen in the cinema before. This film is relentlessly experimental, and is unafraid to totally immerse and disorientate its spectators by placing them in the most abstract, frenetic and artificial of filmic landscapes. It is a classic example of a truly ambitious work of cinema which is completely unhinged from the realm of conventional representation, and operates according to a completely different schema.Ultimately this is a work that attempts to situate us entirely within the abstract interiority of thought. Surrounded as we are by the banal hegemony of contemporary Hollywood it is tempting to believe that true cinematic innovation is dead - but Noé shatters this belief in the most spectacular way. In the past ten years only a small handful of films have even come close to the sheer immersive totality, visceral power and vertiginous disorientation of Enter the Void, and two of them were by Noé (Seul Contra Tous & Irreversible), the others being Lynch's Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire, Haneke's Cache, and Despentes & Trinh Thi's Baise-Moi. Increasingly I find that most contemporary cinema simply doesn't make me feel anything at all, and all too often I leave films feeling numb, bored and tired. Cinema, in both its 'popular' and 'art' forms, seems to have forgotten that it is primarily a visual medium, and that as such its primary means of expression should bethrough ‘showing’ things rather than 'telling' things. All too often cinema is trivialised by becoming the mere visual adjunct to explicit narrative ends. I often find myself in the cinema thinking, if I just close my eyes and stop watching the film being screened I wouldn't be missing anything, simply because I am being told everything. Moreover, far too much cinema has become entirely divorced from the activity of thought, having settled into a trite set of formal clichés that align themselves with and merely duplicate the patterns of ordinary, everyday, living.I think that is very sad.When I go to the cinema I don't want the everyday reproduction of the familiar - I want to be actively disintegrated. I don't want to be immersed in the familiar. I want to be taken out of myself to the point of total estrangement. I want to be transformed.Enter the Void presents itself as a striking experiment in extreme subjective visual perspective in the style of Robert Montgomery's 1947 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake.In Montgomery’s film the camera adopts and sustains Marlowe’s first-person perspective throughout his investigation, with the character only occasionally being glimpsed in mirrors, shop windows, etc. This is a cinematic experiment seldom pursued, having been considered a less than successful filmic novelty in much the same way that Hitchcock's later experiment with continuous editing in Rope had been.Noe’s other obvious cinematic influences include Kenneth Anger’s magickal films, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ken Russell’s Altered States and Tarkovsky’s Mirror.(from Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome)(visual effect from Russell's Altered States)In Enter the Void the camera forces the spectator to assume the perspective of a young American, Oscar, who is living with his sister, Linda, and working as a drug dealer in a neon-suffused Tokyo. We see this world through his eyes. It is not simply achieved through a point-of-view camera shot, but is developed into becoming the closest approximation of the way the world looks through embodied eyes. Hence the camera blinks, shifts frenetically and goes blurry in odd ways. Behind closed eyelids Noé presents entire abstract worlds of light and static. The first scene with Oscar plays out as a single, real-time shot lasting over half an hour, following Oscar as he settl[...]

Herzog: Ecstatic Truth


The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (Herzog, 1974)Herzog has described his 1974 documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner as one of his most important films. Ostensibly a "documentary" made about the Swiss ski-jumper Walter Steiner's mammoth death-defying and record-breaking leaps made during the championships in Planica, Yugoslavia in March 1974, Herzog transforms the material on Steiner into a powerful meditation upon the capacity to ecstatically transcend the apparent limitations of the human condition. As Herzog, himself obsessed from an early age by ski-jumping, once said - "They dream they can fly and want to step into this ecstasy which pushes against the laws of nature - Ski-jumping is not just an athletic pursuit, it is something very spiritual too, a question of how to master the fear of death and isolation. It is as if they are flying into the deepest, darkest abyss there is. These are men who step outside all that we are as human beings, and overcoming this mortal fear, the deep anxiety these men go through, this is what is so striking about ski-jumpers".From its remarkable opening sequence, in which we see a ski ‘flight’ played to us at 1/20th speed set to the hypnotic tones of regular collaborator Popol Vuh we immediately become aware that this is much more than a mere documentary. Herzog makes no real attempt to contextualise the event for us, or even attempt to elaborate a meaningful psychological explanation of those individuals who participate. He relies upon beautiful super slow speed camera footage of the skiers in mid-flight , and their often violent and catastrophic landings, accompanied with possibly one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever produced by Popol Vuh. The stunning imagery of open-mouthed ski-flyers in mid-air aiming towards the vast white space of the landing area captures perfectly the sheer ecstasy that the competitors feel from achieving the gracefulness of flight. This documentary miraculously manages to express moments of genuine euphoria and weaves a powerful dreamlike mythology about those who repeatedly attempt to transcend the very limits of the human.Land of Silence and Darkness (Herzog, 1971)Land of Silence and Darkness was Werner Herzog's first feature-length documentary, made in 1971. Herzog has said of this film that it "is without doubt one of the most essential and important things I've done". It tells the story of Fini Straubinger, at the time a leader of, and advocate for, the deaf and blind in Germany. Straubinger developed a unique tactile form of communication which she uses to talk with and teach some other deaf-blind people who have language-learning capacity. Like many of his other characters, Herzog portrays Fini and the other deaf-mute people as lonely outsiders isolated from society, suffering from an inability to communicate their existence.It is a film utterly driven by an obsessive compulsion to communicate, seeing it as touching upon the deepest question of what it means to be human, and this is central to its enduring mystery, beauty and power. The film begins with Fini communicating with other deaf-blind individuals who have a comparable grasp of the tactile language, with many of them having become deaf-blind later in life. There are some extremely powerful scenes of them sharing poems at Fini’s birthday party, them taking a first aircraft flight, a visit to a botanical garden and a zoo. However, the film transports us from this realm of silence and darkness inexorably towards a far stranger and mysterious place by introducing those who have been deaf-blind from birth. These individuals are seemingly totally locked into their terrible isolation with little or no way of communicating their interiorty. Herzog presents some of the ways these children are being taught to communicate, but we are told that it is seemingly impossible to communicate abstract concepts such as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘love’ and ‘happiness’. Amidst this seeming despair and lonliness Fini[...]

Haunted Air


Haunted Air is a beautiful and haunting new book of found photographs of the festival of Samhain and Hallowe'en collated by the artist, musician and composer Ossian Brown, who was a member of Coil and is a co-founding member of Cyclobe. The book features an introduction by David Lynch and an afterword by Geoff Cox, and is published by Jonathan Cape.

The roots of Hallowe’en lie in the ancient pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, a feast to mark the death of the old year and the birth of the new. It was believed that on this night the veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead grew thin and ruptured, allowing spirits to pass through and walk unseen but not unheard amongst men. The advent of Christianity saw the pagan festival subsumed in All Souls’ Day, when across Europe the dead were mourned and venerated. Children and the poor, often masked or in outlandish costume, wandered the night begging ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers, and fires burned to keep malevolent phantoms at bay. From Europe, the haunted tradition would quickly take root and flourish in the fertile soil of the New World. Feeding hungrily on fresh lore, consuming half-remembered tales of its own shadowy origins and rituals, Hallowe’en was reborn in America. The pumpkin supplanted the carved turnip; costumes grew ever stranger, and celebrants both rural and urban seized gleefully on the festival’s intoxicating, lawless spirit. For one wild night, the dead stared into the faces of the living and the living, ghoulishly masked and clad in tattered backwoods baroque, stared back.

The photographs in Haunted Air provide an extraordinary glimpse into the traditions of this macabre festival from ages past, and form an important document of photographic history. These are the pictures of the dead: family portraits, mementoes of the treasured, now unrecognisable, other. Torn from album pages, sold piecemeal for pennies and scattered, abandoned to melancholy chance and the hands of strangers.

Coil – Colour Sound Oblivion: Disc 3 Convergence, New York , 2001 & Disc 4 DK Gorbunova, Moscow, 2001


CSO 3: New York 18/08/01 – ConvergenceMood: GlowingPersonnel: Jhon Balance, Peter Christopherson, Thighpaulsandra, Tom Edwards & Martin Schellard (additional performers Danny McKernan & Matthew Gibson)CSO 4: Moscow 15/09/01 – DK GorbunovaMood: GlowingPersonnel: Jhon Balance, Peter Christopherson, Thighpaulsandra & Tom EdwardsTracklist (same for both discs):SomethingHigher Beings CommandAmethyst DeceiversWhat Kind of Animal Are You?Blood from the AirI Am the The Green ChildConstant Shallowness Leads to EvilThe performances on the next two discs are examples of Coil’s second live period, what is often referred to as the Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil live era, one of which is excellent and the other extraordinary. The second time that I saw Coil play was the Persistence is All performance at the Royal Festival, London, on the 19th September 2000. This performance was considerably different from their earlier Time Machines concert, and represented an early outing for their second live manifestation. The set list at the London show was very similar to the two shows on these discs, the only difference was the earlier inclusion of Titan Arch from Love’s Secret Domain, which was replaced at the later concerts by the new song What Kind of Animal Are You? For these concerts the members of Coil were now all clad in what looked like highly reflective boiler suits with loose hanging straps, and they appeared to be made-up to look like they had received head trauma. Depending on the lighting being used, they have the appearance of brutalised cosmonauts having escaped from their straightjackets, or as headless glowing spectral figures haunting the stage.By this point there had been a clear evolution from their restrained, disciplined and slow ritualistic performances into a much more violent and unconstrained mood, where the magickal intent was clearly somewhat different. Other changes were apparent, including the new set-list, alternative line-up, diverse instrumentation, and the striking visual backdrop. Whilst the two concerts from New York and Moscow in 2001 share an identical set-list, they actually provide some intriguing contrasts, so I thought I would review both of them together.The New York concert on disc 3, Coil’s only show in the United States, was originally shot and recorded by Don Poe of Muteelation, and had been previously released by him as an officially sanctioned video and CDr. This was a well shot and well edited recording, with the sound and visual quality being of a high standard. For Colour Sound Oblivion Sleazy has undertaken some considerable additional editing, most of which involves blending the performance video with the backing projections to spectacular effect, which raises Coil’s performance to an even higher level of intensity. (Sleazy’s projections for these performances, along with the aural backing track, are included in the double DVD set which make up the final two discs of the box-set). Coil arrive on stage accompanied by Balance’s repeated intoning of Something from Musick to Play in the Dark 2,at which point Balance announces that they are dedicating the concert to the moon. The sound then morphs into the sweeping majesty of Higher Beings Command from Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil. The line-up and instrumentation for this show is slightly different from earlier performances, with Ossian Brown being replaced by Martin Schellard playing heavily processed guitar drones and Tom Edwards adding a very distinctive Marimba rhythm.Thighpaulsandra can be seen playing one of the group’s rare and wonderful Fenix modular synthesisers throughout the concert, a key piece of sound equipment that largely defines the group’s early live sound, together with the later studio soundscapes of Queens of the Circulating Library and Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil. This beautiful piece of equipment is noticeably absent from the later Moscow 2001 performance.The next t[...]

Coil - Colour Sound Oblivion: Disc 2: Sonar Festival, Barcelona, 2000


Coil: Colour Sound Oblivion: Disc 2June 17th, 2000Coil: Sonar Festival, BarcelonaPersonnelJohn BalancePeter ChristophersonThighpaulsandraOssian BrownBill Breeze (Viola)Feeling: FluffyTracklisting:Everything Keeps DissolvingAmethyst DeceiversCirculatingThe Universe is a Haunted House/ChasmsElvesI was fortunate enough to see Coil play twice, both in 2000. The first time I saw them was their first proper concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Julian Cope’s Cornucopia programme, performed just over two months before the Sonar performance captured on this disc. This was a perfomance intially billed as The Industrial use of Semen Will Revolutionise the Human Race.The anticipation around Coil’s first London performance was immense, matched only by the speculation surrounding their likely setlist and stage appearance. I remember that I was initially quite startled when Coil came on stage, bathed in a deep purple light, as a four-piece clad in hooded white fluffy costumes covered with miniature mirrors, to take up their places at assigned synthesiser stations in front of a backdrop bearing the John Dee Monad from their 1998 Time Machines album.They proceeded to perform a relatively ‘short’ set, lasting a mere 40 minutes; yet they played three of the most intense, dynamic and astonishing electronic drones I’d ever heard live. But what I also found striking was their overall stage presence throughout their brief performance; there was an overwhelming sense of them performing a predetermined and highly focussed ritual composed of slow and deliberate movements. I remember being struck by the careful and controlled movement of the four members on stage, it seemed highly choreographed and intentional, compromised of slow synchronised movements and pre-established routines around the stage. Visually it seemed to have the same aura and power as Beckett’s late stage masterpiece Quad.Coil presented themselves as mysteriously coordinated figures, all clad in identical costumes, tracing out a hidden geometry as if in another dimension than that of the real. Their music suggested an inexorable descent through some kind of fabulous portal akin to the journey undertaken by Bowman during the extraordinary psychedelic sequence in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This seemed like a journey in both inner and outer space, as well as being a journey in time. The three pieces of music played that night managed to elaborate very powerful dynamics whilst appearing largely static. This was an experiment in altering our perception of time, and to be an extension to the work previously undertaken in the studio on Time Machines. The performative ritual accompanying this music only added to the sense of a strange elongation of time - slow and careful repetitions across the stage, minimal interactions between the four, indiscernible manipulation of mirrors, crystals, incense, wands, etc, all designed to provide the audience with a very powerful transcendent and magickal experience. The final piece, Chasms, presented a vast backdrop of electronic drones which were punctuated by the most enormous and resonant slabs of electronic sound and Balance intoning as if from another dimension the Crowleyean dictum ‘Every Man and Every Woman is a Star’. By any measure this was an extraordinary and astonishing performance, one of those rare and intense experiences that irrevocably alters you in some ill-defined way.The live performance on the second disc of the Colour Sound Oblivion collection comprises Coil's second performance from 2000, which was at Barcelona's Sonar festival. For this performance Coil again appeared clad in the fluffy mirrored costumes from the London show. Their set here repeats the pieces they had played live in the earlier Royal Festival Hall show (Everything Keeps Dissolving, Circulating and Chasms), but adds three new songs to the setlist, including a beautiful permutation of[...]

Coil - Colour Sound Oblivion: Disc 1: The Air Gallery, 1983


Coil - Colour Sound Oblivion: Disc 1August 24, 1983Coil: Air Gallery, LondonA Slow Fade to Total TransparencyPersonnelJohn BalanceJohn GoslingMarc AlmondPeter Christopherson (provided backup tapes)Cerith Wyn-Evans (cameraman)“John Gosling, Marc Almond and I performed something called 'A Slow Fade To Total Transparency' (How to Destroy Angels) . . at the Air Gallery on 24th August. This was a mixture of reading by Marc and a performance by John and me. It was videoed and I think it will be released in some form. Also Cerith Wyn-Evans, a super 8 film maker is planning to do a film around the original idea.” (John Balance)The 1983 Coil performance of A Slow Fade to Total Transparency begins with John Gosling (who appears at the beginning to be wearing some kind of night shirt)and John Balance (who is naked apart from a spiked leather thong) preparing materials for a ritual. Balance, clutching a large syringe, has already wrapped some wire around his head and is in the process of tying a tourniquet around his upper arm. The sound being played at the beginning is from Pasolini’s film Salo, including dialogue taken from the infamous shit banquet where the hapless victims are instructed to ‘Mangia!! Mangia!!’ After a minute Marc Almond begins to read a piece of sustained sadistic loathing seemingly addressed to a former lover over the top of recordings of electronic drones (which are quite indistinct). What follows is an intensely intimate performance by both Gosling and Balance, involving winding themselves tightly in wire, cutting and blood-letting, self-strangulation, smearing with liquids, urination, and performing ritualistic manipulations of various objects, many of which are indiscernible. The performance lasts 23 minutes and ends with Balance affecting a prolonged seizure during which he writhes spasmodically across the floor before being assisted from the room by Gosling.It is difficult to fully grasp the nature of the intimate and visually arresting ritualistic performance captured on this disc without at least understanding something of its occult context. Both John Gosling and John Balance had been early central members of Psychic TV and The Temple of Psychic Youth, (both appear here bearing the tattoos and haircuts associated with their allegiance to the occult organisation), along with the P-Orridges, David Tibet, Peter Christopherson (who supplies the aural backdrop for this performance) and to a lesser extent Marc Almond (who provides the reading which accompanies this performance). In 1983 Balance and Christopherson were in the process of breaking away from their association with Temple and P-Orridge (having performed a handful of live concerts with Psychic TV in 1982 and 1983), and to establish Coil as a completely autonomous entity in order to go on pursuing their own distinctive and highly focussed path.As is evident from the early Temple of Psychic Youth video First Transmissions the type of transgressive ritual performed here by Gosling and Balance had already played an important part in the magickal activities of the entire group. The ritual depicted in First Transmissions involves members of the group freely experimenting with different thresholds and boundaries of control, including scarification, blood-letting, sexual experimentation, pain and humiliation. Superficially both the ritual work in First Transmission and this early 1983 public performance by Coil resemble the extreme performance art work of Otto Muehl & Hermann Nitsch of the Vienna Actionists of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.Both appear to involve an aggressive visceral quality, attacking the integrity of the body, obsessed with bodily fluids, and overt displays of ritualistic humiliation, pain and control. However, to over-identify in this way is a mistake. Arguably Muehl & Nitsch’s public actions had much more to do with challenging, through art, the [...]

Coil - Colour Sound Oblivion


My copy of the Coil DVD box-set Colour Sound Oblivion (no. 222) was finally delivered this week.My wife had ordered this earlier in the year as a surprise wedding gift for me, but when completion of the project was unavoidably delayed due to the civil unrest in Bangkok, it became clear that I wouldn't receive it in time for the ceremony and Sleazy was kind enough to post the following personal message which was screened at my wedding.In just the short time that I’ve spent so far watching some of the live concerts it is obvious that I needed to attempt to write some kind of response and review of them. Coil has been an extremely important part of my life for the past 25 years, in ways that are very difficult to put into words. Throughout all of that time Coil’s work has been a constant companion and inspiration. I was fortunate to see Coil perform live twice in 2000, in the UK. Both performances have remained with me as amongst the most powerful and moving experiences of live performance I have ever witnessed in person. I feel that this DVD set documenting many of the live incarnations of Coil, carefully and lovingly assembled by Peter Christopherson in the aftermath of Jhon Balance’s death, deserves a careful and thorough personal response. Such a monumental presentation of the group's live work serves as a fitting memorial to Jhon Balance and his collaborators. I think that Coil are somehow not finished or behind us, it is not a question of closure, it is a matter of trying to respond to something that was always untimely and to something that remains spectacularly alive.In the next few weeks I will post a response to each of the live concerts collected in the box. But I want to begin by describing the contents of the box.The box and its content are a remarkable object, even by Coil’s previous high standards in this regard (ranging from the early Gold is the Metal box set to the super-limited Racing Green edition designed by Ian Johnston). Contained in a heavy wooden box are 16 DVDs (14 live performances and 2 discs consisting of the live visual projections (designed by Sleazy) and the backing tracks used on a wide array of the tracks covered live), each in their own card sleeve, which are housed in 4 separate cloth bags made from material which duplicate the costumes worn by members of Coil throughout their brief live incarnation between 2000-4.In addition there is a facsimile of the booklet from Jhon Balance’s funeral in 2004, a booklet of Christopherson’s own reflections on touring and assembling and editing the DVDs and a personalised dedication. Sleazy makes it very clear in his booklet that many of the concerts captured on the discs were often filmed by members of the audience, and that the quality of some of the footage (as well as sound quality) differs markedly across the discs.The first disc present a video recording made by Cerith Wyn Evans of the early Coil "performance" from August 24th 1983 at the Air Gallery in London. This was called "A Slow Fade to Total Transparency", and I will post a full response to this in the next day or two.[...]

"What the People Want..." Jacobson's Compassion Fatigue


In the much-needed discussion regarding the purpose and practical effectiveness of prisons in the UK comes Howard Jacobson's recent diatribe about "what the people want...". Writing in the Independent about the debate concerning the early release of Lockerbie bomber Megrahi, Jacobson opines that it appears as if everybody is being released from prison these days. In the face of apparent efforts to instantiate compassion within the modern penal system Jacobson believes that our brains must have shrunk, and claims, in a piece spotted with clumps of Shakespearean faux-gravitas, that he is suffering from compassion fatigue. Reading his pathetic reactionary musings one might be forgiven for thinking that he is suffering from chronic cognitive fatigue syndrome. I suspect with Jacobson it's fatal.Beginning with the laziest sketching of Ken Clarke's recent reflections on the UK penal system as little more than 'a declared intention to let everybody out', Jacobsen, in moronic bible-black mode, rants on like a crazed post-apocalyptic Fox news presenter about the need for a return to harsh retributive justice, a ludicrous 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' mentality where notions of eternal damnation together with the ever-present classist stench of an 'us and them' ethos rule the day. His article, despite its malodorous Old Testament hyperbole, just comes over as the insubstantial ravings of an urban middle-class tosser who believes things like compassion, progressivism and enlightenment are mere lifestyle choices, equivalent to dabbling in the Kabbalah, Macrobiotics or Pilates, to be shed once one has become sufficiently jaded and fatigued by them. For the bloated reactionary compassion fatigue sits quite comfortably alongside a bored satiation with full-fat milk, sun-dried tomatoes and modern dance. His piece conjures up the image of Jacobson waking up in the morning, farting out the maladorous remains of the previous evening's dinner party, and saying to himself - 'Enough of these liberal enlightenment ideals, let's see how being a reactionary twat feels!'Jacobson's moronic reflections on the nature of compassion attempt to accuse it of being gratuitous. But surely all compassion is gratitous...isn't it? Compassion, by its very nature, involves attitudes and actions which cannot be resolved to those either deserved or reasonably expected. Compassion cannot be reduced to suffient reason (despite the fact that Jacobson seems incapable of even the simplest acts of reason) - it is, and always has been, marked by a certin amount of gratuitous and non-instrumental excess. It arguably guards against a slide into the worst excesses of social instrumentalism and barabarism. Jacobson is either too stupid, jaded or fatigued to understand this; rather, in his article we are treated to the sort of ignorant invective we might expect from a dissapointed and embittered uncle who thankfully doesn't visit all that often. Consider the following:'The trouble with prisons, Kenneth Clarke has been telling us, is that they make no difference; we no sooner let offenders out than they offend again. I propose a simple solution to that problem - keep them in. Where the original offence was serious, the slightest suggestion that they will repeat it should be sufficient to extend their stay. Until when? Doomsday, if necessary.'or:'Rehabilitation is a fine ideal, but it is secondary to our own problem.'or:'The first justification of the prison wall is that it separates us from those who will harm us if they can. The second is that it enables society to honour the retribution we individually crave but cannot individually exact.'Now compare Jacobsen's remarks with what Ken Clarke actually said:'As long as I can remember the political debate on law and order has been reduced to a competition over whether a government has spent more public mone[...]

Kleist: New Website



Today we’re launching the website for our film Kleist. This film is a small collaborative project, and consists of a photo-roman documentary that tells the remarkable story of the mysterious disappearance of the German physicist Gustav Kleist. I have spent the last two years researching the life of the mysterious German physicist Gustav Kleist, collecting a sizeable archive of rare photographic images and recorded interviews with his wife detailing the mystery of his disappearance in 1942.

The Children are Guilty


In April 2009 in Edlington, South Yorkshire, two brothers aged 10 and 11 apparently lured two other boys,aged 9 and 10, into the woods where they subjected them to an abject catalogue of physical savagery and sexual sadism. Watching the media coverage of their trial in recent days has laid bare the appalling cultural abjection to which we have all become subject. It is not the crimes themselves, which no one can deny are savage and appalling, but the utterly infantile and pathetic public, media, political and legal discourse around the case. These abstract and hysterical discourses all express a singular epistemology of ‘the children are guilty’. In 2010 in our seeming state of benign and complacent enlightenment we appear to be happy to asign absolute guilt and responsibility to two boys, aged 10 and 11. Surely this complacency screams of a massive collective failure to ‘think’ this event itself. I spent many hours watching a variety of media outlets report the boys’ trial, and read a great deal that was written at the same time. With only a few exceptions, such as Blake Morrison’s excellent piece (‘Let the Circus Begin’) that appeared in The Guardian at the time of the boys’ original arrest, the majority of the reporting and comment singularly failed to even think about the systemic ‘causes’ that led to such a terrible event. A single assumption has pervaded the discourse - ‘The Children are guilty’ – making it easy to condemn them as ‘evil bastards’ or ‘devil children’. Evident from the discourse around the Edlington case, is an all too familiar failure to think about the unremmiting and abject ‘reality’ within which these events happened and will continue to happen…a failure to think at all. Can there be any more powerful spectacle of such a monumental failure in the capacity to ‘think’ than the trial itself. TV news and newspapers returned again and again to the pathetic spectacle, communicated through childish and badly executed pastel sketches of the two boys (aged 10 and 11) being brought to account for their crimes in front of the court. Here the full assembly of the current judicial system confronted two isolated young boys (aged 10 and 11), alone with no parents or family present. No parents present. The spectral figures of parental failure (adults) apparently never having to account for themselves or their children (aged 10 and 11) before the ‘court’, and what’s more, it never really mattering since the only reality which matters to us is one where ‘the children are guilty’. As their mother articulated so brilliantly – ‘It’s got nowt to do with me!’ The accounts of their ‘toxic homelife’ are treated as familiar footnotes unconnected with the events that took place, just some kind of drab aesthetic backdrop to the real spectacle of their culpability, their guilt. It was reported again and again, with overwhelming cynical disdain, that when asked by police why they carried out the attack the boys had replied ‘because we were bored’. Why the cynical disdain? Do we not believe them when they say this? Are we so over-invested in the ‘interesting’ reality we have created,and into which these two children (aged 10 and 11) were forced to exist, that we simply cannot believe that a deep and catastrophic psychic death occurred to these children. A psychic death brought about by the sheer toxcity of their everyday reality that fundamentally undermined any connection whatsoever to the world. Is it not possible that a monumental boredom emerges from the most horrific developmental indifference and neglect, and this this leads to the most savage and nihilistic expression possible? Is it that to think in such a way undermines our almost mystic commitment to the axiom tha[...]

Deleuze, Cinema and Belief: The Restoration of a Lost World



A podcast of my recent talk on Deleuze, Rossellini and the politics of belief is available here.

In this paper I argue that Cinema 2 can be read as a powerful manifesto advocating that what we ‘moderns’ need, existing as we do amidst the inhuman homogeneity of capitalist realism, is a renewed form of belief and hope in the world, and that it is modern cinema which has, and continues to, respond to this need. Deleuze asks whether we can go on living without hope and without a grasp on the situations in the world that surround us, and asks what it is that can replace the broken and nullified links of organic representation? For Deleuze the greatness of modern cinema, particularly Italian neorealism, lies in its capability to create other forms of agency and other forms of linkage to the world that are based on new forms of belief.

Capitalist Realism - Belief in the Possibility of a Different Reality


Review: Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?By Mark FisherOne might be tempted to assume that a book that so devastatingly diagnoses the abysmal conditions of the present would be heavily laden with nostalgic melancholy, perhaps full of bitter condemnatory memories about a different, better world that once was. However, you would be very wrong to make such an assumption. Fisher’s book is not at all a work of nostalgia or mourning for such a lost world, and probably shouldn’t even be described as simply just another piece of critical diagnosis. In short it is a rich, passionate, militant and wholly optimistic polemic that is all too aware of the excremental machine of capitalism that spreads its banal ontological coordinates across virtually every aspects of our daily lives, thoughts, desires, dreams, hopes and beliefs.Fisher’s brilliant analysis of the critical psychopathology of the ontological homogeneity created by contemporary capitalism is not attended by the shadow of another world somehow lost in the past. The loss of reality that Fisher identifies in contemporary culture does not emerge from an explicit erosion of reality through time, rather, the loss is the terrifying result of the hyper-production, through capitalism, of one overwhelming and monopolising form of reality. Like beleaguered figures in Kafka’s literary work Fisher presents our own horrific ontological confinement within capitalism, often drawn from his own lived experience, where every aspect of our lives seem to have been reduced, banalised, consumed and excreted out onto serving plates at an infinite banquet with only with one injunction – consume more . The tedious festival of capitalist realism described by Fisher reminded me of the Duke in Pasolini’s Salo screaming ‘Mangia! Mangia!’at the victims during the notorious ‘shit’ banquet. Some of the most memorable passages in Fisher’s book concern forms of popular culture which revel in this circle of shit, work which merely reproduces the flat one-dimensional ontology of capitalist realism. The popular hegemony of much contemporary culture reduces the possibility of alternative forms of cultural resistance, shrinking it into an absolute invisible zero point. The world of capitalist realism is overwhelmingly ever-present, it is always there and presents itself as ‘natural’ and as the only reality; but what we lack is any hope for resisting the conditions of the present, for creating new possibilities of life, new realities, new ways of thinking and being. In the absence of such hope time itself has started to collapse. This, as Fisher convincingly argues, is the problem with capitalism realism – it is an ontological problem and it is a problem of belief. Fisher’s polemic precisely consists in attempting to revalorise a militant modality of belief as an alternative to the intolerable inevitability of capital. How can we, he asks, render the world livable and thinkable again without carelessly slipping into the quietude of nostalgia or abstracted zones of ineffective resistance? How do we move from the spectacle of resistance (the shit of capitalism) to truly effective modes of resistance? What would such resistance to the present consist of?Fisher’s book goes beyond merely identifying the symptoms of our time, and moves into becoming one of the most exciting (albeit brief) and passionate cries for ontological resistance and the effort to create the conditions of possibility for an alternative to capitalist realism. Fisher, like Spinoza, Nietzsche, Marx and Deleuze, writes for ‘the people to come’, for an indeterminate future, in the belief that it is only by doing so that one can ever begin to truly alter the present. Only by breakin[...]

Triptychs, Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body



My new essay in Deleuze Studies,Vol. 3, Dec. 2009 here

This essay presents a detailed reading of Deleuze's philosophical analysis of Bacon's triptychs in The Logic of Sensation, and examines claims regarding their non-narrative status as well as exploring their capacity to embody and express a spiritual sensation of eternal time.




Kleist: A Short Photo-Roman - Coming Soon

Francis Bacon – New Studies: Centenary Essays



Francis Bacon - New Studies: Centenary Essays
Edited by Martin Harrison

272 pages, 260 colour plates
19.5 cm x 25.5 cm
ISBN: 978-3-86521-946-6
Publication date: December 2009

Nine original and stimulating essays will celebrate the centenary of the birth of one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, Francis Bacon (1909–1992). Since the artist’s death his enigmatic paintings have inspired new thinking and methods of interpretation, and these essays, written by leading scholars from throughout the world, reflect an impressively wide and rich range of approaches.

With essays from Darren Ambrose, Rebecca Daniels, Hugh M. Davies, Marcel Finke, Martin Harrison, Andrew R. Lee, Brenda Marshall, David Alan Mellor, Joanna Russell and Brian Singer.

My essay is entitled 'Bacon’s Spiritual Realism – The Spirit in the Body'

Anthony McCall - Filmworks


Anthony McCall’s extraordinary film works seek to de-codify a certain logic of established film or cinema and its relation to the spectator. McCall seems fascinated by the exploration and realisation of a cinematic logic yet unexplored, marginalized or suppressed but absolutely implicit to the form. In McCall’s solid light films there is a concentration upon what he calls ‘the projected light beam itself, rather than treating the light beam as a mere carrier of coded information’. His films deal with the irreducibility and necessity of projected light, he describes Line Describing a Cone as ‘the first film to exist in real, three dimensional space.’. The projected light itself becomes tactile and textural, and often involves varying degrees of complex modulation, permutation and repetition. All involve a certain reversal or at least an alteration of the politics of spectatorship, insofar as we are encouraged to gaze into the light rather than at the projected ‘image’. We are able to ‘enter’ into the film, become incorporated within it, to become with it, to pierce its fabric and occlude it. Our physical bodies are in an active relation to the film works rather than a traditionally passive role. These films dwell upon the nature of time – the invisible force of time - duration, multiplicity, change and becoming, and they force us to become engaged with continuous, overlapping and multiple durations that profoundly effect us physiologically. McCall’s work not only brings into question our conventional ways of seeing and our way of relating to a sensory image, but ultimately our relation to each other. ‘Haptic Vision’ In his philosophical work on the cinema Deleuze reflects on the type of films that confront us with a certain challenge to our conventional powers of recognition, films that presents a ‘shock to thought’. Such works disrupt our capacity to link certain images through causal, rational or logical relations. The viewer becomes essentially liberated from certain habitual patterns of thought and is able to draw upon certain virtual reserve of thought in an act of co-creation of the projected film object. This form of cinema implicates the body and its alteration in the most profound fashion – the body is freed from certain patterns of control, enabling us to begin to think anew. In the cinema a certain kind of ‘time-image’ can be experienced in this altered body and as such invites a more direct experience of time. Certain time-images within the cinema invite a radical embodied form of filmic contemplation, but for Deleuze this cannot relate to the bodies we have already been given but to the way in which the body is altered and created anew. This new body emerges from a disruption and displacement of the pre-existing body. Certain films challenge the conventional relation of viewer/spectator and cinematic work. A significant part of this challenge is the invention of a new mode of cinematic visibility and sensation - what Deleuze calls ‘haptic vision’. With this cinematic haptics the capacity of our eyes become altered and expanded and begin to function like organs of touch. This haptic form of seeing is to be distinguished from optical visuality, which sees things from enough distance to perceive them as distinct forms in deep space: or, in other words, how we usually conceive of vision. Haptic looking tends to traverse the surface of the object rather than to plunge into the illusionistic depth of representational space, and as such it is not so much a matter of distinguishing identifiable form as the effort to discern sensation, text[...]

Found Polaroids


(image) This website has a wonderful collection of found polaroids.

Haunted Found Photo


(image) One of the beautiful images found on the BigHappyFunHouse found photo archive

Vertigo: The Gaze


For me Hitchcock's Vertigo contains one of the most extraordinary examinations of obsessive desire associated with the male gaze. The texture of Hitchcock's film itself has a strange, powerful and sensual quality, implicating us almost physically in Scottie's vertiginous and ultimately hopeless desire, which is expressed at first through an erotic desire for a ideal fantasised woman and then through an obsession with the abyssal absence of the Other. The quality of the first erotic desire is almost traditional, and is certaintly familiar. There is a woman with both a polished and glowing surface, who shines ecstatically with great beauty, but who also posseses a dark and troubling depth. She is a woman haunted and possessed by an atavistic female double. The woman being desired (Madeleine) is mysterious, unknowable, and troubled.Camille Paglia has written some extremely perceptive things on precisely this aspect of the film: "Some of my favorite moments in that film are simply when James Stewart is looking, just looking, staring. That includes the first time he actually sees Madeleine, when of course the whole thing is a show put on to dupe him. He's sitting in that fancy San Francisco restaurant as Kim Novak floats by in this magnificent floor-length cape and opera gown. I'm so transfixed when she arrives: It's this long, slow pan as she comes into the restaurant and moves by him. He just sits and stares, and it's the fascinated staring of all men -- all heterosexual men but even gay men -- through history as they watch a beautiful woman walk into a room. I mean it's absolutely primal to me; it's that kind of deep, mythological emotion, the kind of awed emotion that almost can't be is something mysterious about femaleness -- coming from the facts of woman's physical nature, the endless mysteries of the shadowy womb, and the power of procreation that even she doesn't understand. Part of what I got from Hitchcock is his vision of woman's un-knowability, her un-reachability, her enormous beauty -- the glamorous artifice with which she cloaks herself but ultimately her incredible, natural sexual power." But to me the film really appears to subvert this traditional erotic desire, simply because Scottie is being misled. His gaze, his desire, his obsession, is for something that cannot be reached simply because it does not exist. Madeleine is not real, she is a fabrication designed to seduce him and use him. He is duped within the game of 'power and freedom'. He is, in the words of Chris Marker, 'time's fool of love'. His desire ultimately leads his gaze towards not the surface abyss of the mysterious and unknowable woman, but the terrifying abyss of the Other itself."The abyss Scottie is finally able to look into is the very abyss of the hole in the Other (the symbolic order), concealed by the fascinating presence of the fantasy object. We have this same experience every time we look into the eyes of another person and feel the depth of his gaze."—Slavoj Zizek, from Looking AwryIs this what finally drives Scottie mad? There are certaintly indications that it is. In the hallucinatory dream sequence the final image before Scottie wakes up is the silhouette of a hollow figure that falls from the tower. The figure falling from the tower has become a dark hole, hollow and unreflective.The fantasy figure of Madeleine that occludes this truth from Scottie's gaze has disappeared, which leaves him with the problem of how to confront the terrifying vertigo [...]

Vertigo: Haunted Locations - Part Four


Scottie proceeds to follow Madeleine into the chapel, fearing that she is about to kill herself.After Madeleine has fallen to her death there is a sequence consisting of the coroner's inquest into her death which was filmed in the Plaza building at the Mission San Juan Batista.After Scottie's mental breakdown there is a sequence in San Francisco where he spots a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the dead Madeleine. He follows her back to her room at the Empire Hotel. This Hotel has now been renamed the York Hotel but is still clearly recognizable from the film.Scottie befriends the woman, who calls herself Judy. In one beautiful sequence they take a walk together at the Palace of Fine Arts. [...]

Vertigo: Haunted Locations - Part Three


There are two sequences which take place at the old Spanish Mission at San Juan Batista which is located 40 miles south of San Francisco. Before each there is a striking sequence where first Scottie and Madeleine and then Scottie and Judy drive down to the Mission. There is a beautiful sequence where they drive through the Avenue of Tall Trees. The iconic sequences at the San Juan Batista Mission south of San Francisco occur in a number of different buildings. The first sequence occurs in a livery stable, where Madeleine sits apparently in a trance on a buggy drawn by a plaster horse. The stable, together with plaster horse and buggy are perfectly preserved and almost completely unchanged since the shooting of the film.From the script: INT. LIVERY STABLE - (DAY) The dark interior of the Livery Stable. The figures of Scottie and Madeleine are seen a little way in. Madeleine is seated in a surrey, while Scottie stands by her. INT. LIVERY STABLE - (DAY) Madeleine's eyes are closed. Scottie, leaning against the surrey, looks up at her intently. After moment he calls to her softly.SCOTTIE: Madeleine...? She opens her eyes and looks down at him. SCOTTIE: Where are you now? She smiles at him gently. MADELEINE: (Softly) Here with you. SCOTTIE: And it's a all real. MADELEINE: Yes. SCOTTIE: (Firmly) Not merely as it was a hundred years ago. As it was a year ago, or six months ago, whenever you were here to see it. (Pressing) Madeleine, think of when you were here! She looks down at him with, a worried, regretful smile, wishing she could help him. Then she looks away into the distance, and speaks almost at irrelevantly. MADELEINE: (Dreamily) There were not so many carriages, then. And there were horses in the stalls; a bay, two black, and a grey. It was her favorite place, but we were forbidden to play here, and Sister Teresa would scold us... Scottie looks up at her in desperation, then looks about the stable for help. His look scans the carriages and wagons lined against the wall, goes past the old fire truck on which there is a placard proclaiming the world's championship of 1884, and finally stops at a small buggy -- a Bike Wagon --To which is hitched a full-sized model of a handsome grey horse.SCOTTIE: Well, now, here! He races to the horse. On it hangs a sign: "Greyhound World's Greatest Trotter."SCOTTIE: Here's your grey horse! Course he'd have a tough time getting in and out of a stall without being pushed, but still... You see? There's an answer for everything! He looks across to Madeleine eagerly. She is staring ahead, lost in the past.Madeleine then runs from the livery stable across the courtyard of the Mission towards the chapel and the Tower. The Tower does not exist and was added as a special effect for the film. In all other respects though the Mission at San Juan Batista remains startlingly unchanged from the film.The chapel and the Tower from the original film:Madeleine and Scottie embrace outside the chapel, before Madeleine persuades him to allow her to go into the chapel alone.From the Script:MADELEINE: You believe that I love you? SCOTTIE: Yes. MADELEINE: And if you lose me, you'll know that I loved you and wanted to go on loving you. SCOTTIE: I won't lose you. Pause.MADELEINE: Let me go into the church alone.SCOTTIE: Why?MADELEINE: Please. Because I love you. He stares at her, sees the pleading look in her eyes, and lets go. She turns and walks away toward the church, slowly, her head bowed. He watches her go and starts to move after her. Then s[...]

Vertigo: Haunted Locations - Part Two


Scottie follows Madeleine to San Francisco Bay at the spectacular Fort Point, location of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the location of one of the most iconic sequences in the entire film. Scottie watches as Madeleine stares mournfully into the bay, dropping flower petals into the water. Suddenly she jumps into the bay, and Scottie jumps in to save her. Scottie pulls the unconscious Madeleine from the bay and takes her back to his apartment at 900 Lombard Street in San Francisco. This apartment still exists and is still clearly recognizable from the original film, and provides a further extraordinary touchstone to Vertigo.Later in the film Scottie continues to follow Madeleine around San Francisco and is surprised when he follows her green Jaguar right back to his apartment at Lombard Street. This is the scene from Scottie's point of view as he follows Madeleine down Lombard Street.[...]

Vertigo: Haunted Locations - Part One


I recently visited San Francisco in pursuit of my obsession with Hitchcock's Vertigo. I spent two weeks methodically visiting surviving locations from the film. What follows is the first part of a kind of photographic field report of that visit. This is the Brocklebank Apartments at 1000 Mason and Sacramento, which is home to Madeleine Elster, and is where Scottie begins to follow her green Jaguar. After following Madeleine through San Francisco she is seen parking her green Jaguar in a dark alley and disappearing through a door. This turns out to be the rear entrance to the Podesta Baldocchi flowershop. Scottie follows her into the alley, enters the back door and spies on her in the flowershop. This location was at Claude Lane, which is a small lane connecting Bush and Sutter Streets in San Francisco. Despite being the location for some upmarket boutiques and restaurants, Claude Lane retains many of the strange elements visible from the original film, particularly early in the morning when it is quiet. Unfortunately the beautiful Podesta Baldocchi flowershop exists in name only, as the charmless internet flower warehouse, which was only discovered after a number of fruitless treks accross the city, testified.Scottie then follows Madeleine to the Mission Dolores in San Francisco. This is the oldest building in San Francisco, and retains pretty much everything seen in the film. Scottie follows Madeleine to the beautiful old cemetry at the rear of the Mission, and in an extraordinarily dreamlike sequence observes her placing flowers on the grave of Carlotta Valdes. The cemetry has not changed dramatically since Hitchcock filmed here, and offers a very powerful touchstone to the film.Scottie then follows Madeleine to the California Palace of the Legion of Honour art gallery, where he watches her sitting in front of the portrait of Carlotta Valdes. Unfortunately Madeleine wasn't there when I visited, and nor was the portrait of Carlotta.[...]

The Vertigo of Time


Chris Marker observes, in a remarkably lucid essay on Hitchcock’s greatest film, that the vertigo dealt with in the film is not really concerned with space, height and falling – rather, these function as metaphors for another type of vertigo which is extremely difficult to represent – the vertigo of time. Scottie, played by James Stewart, is infused with the ‘madness of time’. ‘You’re my second chance’ cries Scottie as he drags Judy, played by Kim Novak, up the stairs of the tower at the end of the film. This moment is not about conquering his vertigo, it is about reliving a moment lost in the past, about bringing it back to life only to lose it again. As Marker notes, Scottie imagines a second life in exchange for the greatest tragedy, a second death. Following a dramatic rooftop chase where the detective Scottie loses his footing and is left hanging by his fingertips from guttering twenty or so floors up, a policeman, attempting to rescue him, falls to his death. Scottie is retired from the force, diagnosed with acute agoraphobia which leads him to suffer episodes of vertigo. The now retired Scottie is asked by an old college friend Gavin Elster, played by Tom Helmore, to go ‘on the job’ one more time, to trail his wife Madeline, also played by Kim Novak, who he claims is acting bizarrely. He claims she is being haunted, even possessed, by the tragic figure of Carlotta Valdes, a woman from the 19th century, seduced by a rich and powerful man, who had a child resulting from the affair which was taken away from her when the man abandons her, she later committed suicide. Madeline apparently makes unexplained journeys during the day that she claims to have no memory of. Scottie, reluctant at first, is ‘seduced’ by the sight of Madeline at the wonderfully evocative Ernie’s restaurant and agrees to follow Madeline.He spends a day following Madeline around San Franciso - to the Podesta Baldocchi flower shop, the old Spanish Mission Dolores which is the site of Carlotta’s grave, the Legion of Honour art gallery, home to a portrait of Carlotta, and the McKittrick hotel, the former home of Carlotta. Scottie continues to follow Madeline the next day – she drives out to the Golden Gate Bridge where she attempts suicide by throwing herself into the bay, and Scottie rescues her. He takes her unconscious back to his apartment. Upon awakening Madeline appears to have no memory of her movements prior to going to the Golden Gate Bridge, or how she came to ‘fall’ into the bay. Scottie and her begin to become more closely involved with each other, and ‘fall’ in love. Madeline attempts to explain to Scottie her feelings of possession and haunting (the wonderful scene in the sequoia forest – the ancient monuments to ‘time’ – the oldest living things).Madeline proceeds to explain to Scottie her deep fear of madness, destruction and death. She describes a dream to Scottie about an old Spanish mission with a tower, where the past is seemingly preserved. Scottie realises that she is describing an actual preserved Spanish mission to the south of San Francisco and drives her there – to show her that it’s ‘real’ and not a dream, to confront an object of her fear, in some attempt to dissipate it and ‘free’ her from being haunted by the past. When they arrive Madeline becomes extremely distressed and insists upon going into the chapel alone. Upon en[...]