Alejandro Jodorowsky and the glory of not getting what you want
Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune is a confusing phrase, but the documentary itself does absolutely everything right in terms of a compelling story, an incredibly charismatic protagonist, and a genuinely inspiring and uplifting message. Alejandro Jodorowsky is the bonkers auteur who made surrealist cult films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain with a mentality more akin to a prophet or a cult leader than a film technician, so it’s no surprise that he was drawn to Frank Herbert’s zeitgeisty eco-messianic novel. If Jodorowsky is any kind of prophet then he’s the Anti-Hack. For him it’s all about the passion, the politics and the image. Making perfectly constructed emotion-manipulating and money-making machines is not interesting to him at all. For a while in the 70s there were so many serendipities raining down onto him that it seemed the universe wanted Jodorowsky to make Dune, and it would brook no contradiction. It’s also depressingly inevitable that a dementedly overambitious project by an idiosyncratic and unapologetic genius like Jodorowsky would fail to thrive in Hollywood’s sterile earth.
This film about the abortion of another film reveals what a magnificent thing Dune could have been. Seventies sci-fi painter Chris Foss designed space ships and buildings. French comic artist Moebius designed the characters and costumes. The villainous, genocidal Harkonnens were styled by H.R. Giger, later famous after he was poached by Ridley Scott for production design on Alien. The grossly obese and megalomaniacal Baron Harkonnen would have been played by– who else?– the grossly obese and megalomaniacal Orson Welles. It’s both hilarious, typical and tragic that Jodorowsky failed to tempt Welles with money, but immediately secured a “yes” when he promised food. Salvador Dalí was to be the Emperor of the Galaxy (for about two or three minutes, because he wanted to be paid $100,000 a minute). Mick Jagger was on board, playing an androgynously beautiful version of the role that eventually went to Sting in David Lynch’s version. Imagine that as a casting session: who’s the best actor, Jagger or Sting? It’s like, do you want to eat the rotten wormy apple or the rotten maggoty orange? Continue Reading
Reproduced in Full Moon by Michael Light. It basically just collects a load of NASA photos from the Apollo missions with little or no commentary, but the cumulative visual effect (of desolate strangeness, for the most part, as one might expect) makes the book worth checking out.
Apollo 16’s Charles Duke took this photo in April of 1972, in the Moon’s Descartes Highlands. It shows a snapshot of Duke and his family in their backyard in Houston, Texas. Is it still there?
Apollo 12, November 1969. Alan Bean with a sample container full of lunar material collected at Sharp Crater in the Ocean of Storms. The photographer, Charles Conrad, is reflected in Bean’s visor. Here I think you can really see why some nutters refuse to believe the Moon landings were real. The astronauts look like dolls, the Moon looks tiny and there’s a strange shallow focus effect superficially similar to macro photography.
Lunar module Orion returning to command module Casper after liftoff from the Moon (Apollo 16 mission, 1972). Again it looks miniature and a bit daft, more like a child’s ramshackle cardboard box play spaceship rather than something costing millions of dollars.
PS: Ever wondered what space smells like?
Attentive viewers may notice some subtle Christian imagery in this clip from early 1970s Japanese TV show Ultraman Ace.
Only joking. It’s about as subtle as a man throwing a rubber kaiju through a ten storey building. Either the makers of this series had absolutely no idea what blasphemy is, or they understood it perfectly well.
Anyone who’s unfortunate enough to have seen the relentlessly grim Nolanised fun vacuum that was Man of Steel may also get flashbacks to it when they witness the gay abandon with which Ultraman blithely annihilates huge swathes of the city and (although unseen) presumably also thousands of the citizens he’s ostensibly protecting. In Ultraman’s version of reality it must pay off big time if you have shares in construction, emergency services and infrastructure companies.
From Barnaby: Time for bed stories, a 1974 children’s book that belonged to me when I was an actual, genuine child. As opposed to the many stupid books I’ve bought since, as an adult. It’s still in my library, currently shelved between a book containing numerous photographs of Viking artefacts and a scientific textbook on human colour perception and cognition. QED.
Talking of colours, what a perfectly 70s palette the book’s cover has. And how hilariously gauche is the slogan “A Dean’s happy times book”. “Dean’s happy times” sounds like some kind of Withnail & I euphemism, but Dean is the publishing company, not some fellow who just happened to be having a suspiciously happy time making books for children in the 1970s.
Star Wars fans should also have a good look at Barnaby. You think Carrie Fisher pioneered the infamous Princess Leia do? Wrong. Barnaby was rocking the Danish pastry earmuffs in 1974. George Lucas is such a hack.
Japan panic: the slit-mouthed woman
Kuchisake onna goes kawaii: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Is she pretty?
Stories of 口裂け女, the slit-mouthed woman, emerged from urban Japan in the late 1970s. At first they were particularly passed around between school children, then in the mass media. By the first half of 1979 Asahi Shinbun was highlighting kuchisake onna as a buzzword (hayari kotoba) of the year. In true, random Japanese style one of the others was “rabbit hutches”.
Occasionally Kuchisake onna was reported as a genuine physical threat, a criminal would-be kidnapper or murderer rather than a supernatural being. At times she was somehow both a real world abductor and a folkloric monster simultaneously. (See Hyaku-monogatari for the Edo origins of modern yōkai storytelling) Satoshi Kon’s extremely uneven but in places brilliant series 妄想代理人 Mōsō Dairinin [Paranoia Agent] is obviously heavily inspired by the mass hysteria over Kuchisake onna. A woman with long hair and a white mask– of the kind sold everywhere and very common in Japan to cover the mouth and nose when a person is ill, or against pollution– accosts you in the street and she asks something like “Watashi kirei?” (“Am I pretty?”) or “Atashi bijin ka?” (“Am I a beauty?”) If you agree that she is, she replies “Kore demo?” (“Even [like] this?”) as she tears off her mask to show that her mouth is slit open across the cheeks, from ear to ear. If you tell her she isn’t pretty, she becomes enraged and pursues you with a knife or scythe. The reason for her disfigurement and rage varies with the telling: sometimes it’s a plastic surgery disaster, sometimes a dreadful accident, sometimes self-inflicted. The same goes for the means of escaping her: repeating certain words, offering certain gifts, reaching a certain place before she catches you. Continue Reading
The TRS 80 home computer, USA, 1978. In these thrilling advertisements, a man does the household budget (on paper, while looking at the numbers on the screen) and some kind of prepubescent Oedipal classroom psychodrama is played out through the medium of multiplication tables.
Basically it’s a jumped-up pocket calculator, only much less convenient.
Don’t worry, puritans of America, you can’t do anything fun or interesting with these computers!
Brace yourselves, nerds. This week it’s an onslaught of vintage computer images from Computers: An Illustrated History by Christian Wurster, published by Taschen. Honestly it’s so interesting and visually arresting (and virtually wordless, as the title suggests) that I could scan almost every page of it, but I’m not going to. I strongly recommend that you buy this splendid book if you like the images I’m posting, just as I suggest you do for the work of any other authors, artists, musicians, or film makers whose efforts I feature here or that you see on other blogs, and just as I also gently suggest that you support me in a small way by buying one of my books if you enjoy this blog.
Anyway, commercial message over, here’s an inexplicable image from a 1984 German ad for the Atari 800 XL.
Caption: “Wow! I just said ‘Man in the Mirror’ and it replied ‘F-3, Passport, page 2, title 4’.”
The text on the screen describes what I initially assumed must be a fictional album, since the details seemed so daft: it says the genre is “jazzrock” and the songs have stupid titles like Mango Tango. Passport was, however, a real German prog rock and (shudder) jazz rock band who did indeed release an LP called Man in the Mirror in 1983. This confirms that the gentleman pictured here really is DJing at one of the shittiest discos ever. Probably best not to even try working out what narrative we’re meant to glean from this photo. Miss Average in Pink getting short shrift and a lecture on Hawkwind when she complains that nobody wants to hear prog and jazzrock at a disco?
Interesting with hindsight that actually playing a whole song as a file directly from a digitised playlist was still far beyond the capabilities of a home computer.
Know your camel walk, boogaloo and funky chicken. One day it may save your life. Also, tangerine doesn’t suit anybody and try to avoid taking this much cocaine.
Via the brilliant Open Culture.
“SQUAD!… CAMP IT– UP!”
Randy Shilts’ books about the misery and deaths of early AIDS sufferers (And the Band Played On) and the persecution of homosexuals in the US military (Conduct Unbecoming) are for the most part pretty grim, as one might expect. Before “don’t ask, don’t tell” the policy was “don’t even think about it.” Many innocent men and women were made to suffer because bigots were allowed to waste taxpayers’ money on harassing people whose sexuality had absolutely no bearing upon their ability to do their jobs, or on the USA’s security. And then we discover (in Conduct Unbecoming) this nugget of hilarious and positively Pythonesque absurdity, from the late 1970s/early 1980s:
“In the course of their investigation, NIS [Naval Investigative Service] agents made a startling discovery– that homosexuals sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy.” This code term had originated in the 1940s and 1950s and referred to Judy Garland’s character in the film The Wizard Of Oz. Ever since, gay men had identified themselves as “Friends of Dorothy.” The NIS, however, did not know the phrase’s history and so believed that a woman named Dorothy was the hub of an enormous ring of military homosexuals in the Chicago area. The NIS prepared to hunt Dorothy down and convince her to give them the names of homosexuals.
[In gay bars frequented by military personnel] NIS agents were asking pointed questions about someone named Dorothy. When one unfortunate sailor acknowledged he was gay in order to get out of the Navy, NIS agents sat him down and told him that they knew all about Dorothy. What they wanted to know from him was how to find her. The sailor, who was too young to know the code, was baffled.”
This is the point where Graham Chapman should come in and tell them he’s ending the sketch because it got too silly. Rest assured that Shilts doesn’t miss his golden opportunity to use SURRENDER DOROTHY as a chapter title.
I’m pretty sure that even the most au fait user of gay slang would be baffled by somebody who seriously thought homosexuals were all in cahoots with each other merely by virtue of being gay, and that they were all receiving orders from some kind of underground lesbian linchpin of closet logistics. Presumably Dorothy would also be the chairwoman who ticked off items on the Gay Agenda, and set the exchange rate for the Pink Dollar, Pink Pound, etc. Not that this kind of ridiculous stupidity and ignorance has disappeared: far from it, as is proved by the continued prevalence of “you’d like her/him, s/he’s gay” and “you’re gay, what do gay people think?” type comments.
Right, now let’s see something decent and military. Some precision drilling.