THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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9 posts categorized "Film"

22 June 2017

Sounds Of The Revolution

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Guest blogger Ilia Rogatchevski looks back at one of the events accompanying our exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  and considers the role of music in the Revolution.

What is a revolutionary sound? Is it defined by the characteristics of the music alone or does context form an integral part of the music’s revolutionary temperament? On Friday 5 May, an event at the British Library attempted to answer these questions. Late at the Library: Sounds of the Revolution featured performances by Gabriel Prokofiev and The Renegade Orchestra. Organised in collaboration with Dash Arts, Kino Klassika  and Prokofiev’s Nonclassical label,  the event incorporated compositions old and new, including the debut performance of The Renegade Orchestra: Journey One.

Gabriel Prokoviev
Gabriel Prokoviev performing at the event on 5 May (photograph: Samantha Lane)

Composed by Alexander Manotskov, Journey One tells the story of three musicians from post-Soviet states who operate in a liminal musical environment, which draws inspiration from styles as diverse as jazz, classical, folk and electronic. Brought together by Dash Arts’ artistic director, Josephine Burton, for a workshop in Kazbegi, Georgia last year, the musicians worked at combining their disparate experiences into a united sonic strategy. Marina Kryukova (violin, pipes, voice), Shavkat Matyakubov (sato tanbur, kushnai, voice) and Vladimir Volkov (double bass, voice), along with Manotskov on cello, experimented with augmenting traditional forms by deconstructing expectations of music’s temporal nature.

Sounds 2
Performing Journey One (photograph: Samantha Lane)

In between rehearsals, which took place the previous day in the Library, Manotskov elaborated on the concept of musical time by stating that “only through divine, abstract, musical time can time that is accidental, personal, mortal, historical, be conquered”. He went further than simply inverting T.S. Eliot’s quote from the Four Quartets (“Only through time time is conquered”) by adding that the “binary opposition of freedom and not freedom is essential to the musical piece”. Furthermore, in composition it is “important to have something more general, something more elevated than social context”. The verbatim texts that wove in and out of the music, recalling snapshots of lives from the former Soviet Union, are a testament to this idea. These moments provided context, of course, but also something more general too: alternative sonic textures.

Sounds and children
 (photograph: Samantha Lane)

Unlike Manotskov’s Journey One, Prokofiev’s compositions did not betray a sense of nostalgia. Howl, which was originally scored for Maurice Causey’s all-electronic ballet, mirrored, in its contemporaneity, Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony of Sirens (‘Simfoniia Gudkov’). Performed in Baku to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, Avraamov’s notorious piece employed the sounds of the city itself – factory sirens, bus horns, cannons et al – in celebration of industry, communism and the future. Prokofiev did not conduct a city, but instead, dueted synthesised sounds from a laptop alongside Lydia Kavina’s theremin.

Avraamov Symphony of Sirens

‘Graphical score’ of Avraamov’s Symphony of Sirens. Reproduced in Sergeĭ Rumiantsev, Ars Novyĭ, ili Dela i prikliucheniia bezustalʹnogo kazaka Arseniia Avraamova (Moscow, 2007) YF.2008.a.31612.

Reflecting on the hopes, tragedies and myths of the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev conceded that “there is a kind of desperation, a loneliness, a cry – a howl” apparent in such momentous events. “You reach a breaking point when you revolt,” he continued. “Most people wouldn’t go as far as a revolution, unless they’re pushed so hard. And that’s what happened in the Middle East. That’s what happened in Russia.”

As if to emphasise the ambiguous nature of catastrophic political change, the evening climaxed with a new guided improvisation for Vsevolod Pudovkin’s 1927 silent classic, The End of St. Petersburg. Prokofiev was joined on stage by the Renegade Orchestra, Kavina, Manotskov, Jason Alder (bass clarinet) and Molly Lopresti (percussion).

Pudovkin 1

Scenes from Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg, reproduced in A.M. Maryamov, Narodnyi artist SSSR Vsevolod Pudovkin (Moscow, 1951). 11796.b.43. 

Pudovkin 2

Together, the musicians constructed an alternative vision of the Revolution, one that did not simply celebrate the overthrow of a redundant despot or the provisional government that succeeded him, but focused on the people who suffered not only through the failings of the monarchy, but also the shadowy beginnings of the Soviet regime as well. Peasants and bankers had their own leitmotifs, characterised by Matyakubov’s dutar and Kavina’s theremin respectively, but neither purported to have moral supremacy over the other. The audience, too, collaborated with the musicians, towards the end of the feature, in a collective vocal exercise, oh-ing and ah-ing, like lamentful ghosts of revolutions past, to images of cannons firing on the silver screen.

Sounds overview 2
(Photograph: Samantha Lane)

In summary, it is not the sounds or the context that are revolutionary in of themselves. Rather, it is their combined presentation that leaves its mark on the public consciousness. Performing in the cavernous lobby of the British Library certainly throws up some challenges, especially when most of us are used to experiencing music in a concert hall, but it is precisely this unorthodox arrangement that helps to carry the music forward. On this point, both Manotskov and Prokofiev agree. Music has to evolve, particularly in the formal ways in which it is performed. To quote the former composer: “We should open our eyes and see that nothing is conventional. Everything is new and shocking. This is where we are musically and it’s a great place to be.”

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  is open until 29 August 2017 and is accompanied by a range of events. You can hear more music on 27 June at the free ‘Strains of the Revolution’ performances. Details of all events are on our ‘What’s On’ pages. 

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15 June 2015

Pasolini and St Paul

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Roger Fry, the Bloomsbury art critic, thought that Caravaggio would make a superb “cinema impresario”. With his dramatic use of light and dark, the Italian painter pretty well invented cinematic lighting. His great altarpiece of 1601, The Conversion of St Paul, glowed with such a photographic sharpness that contemporaries suspected some trick.In a revolutionary re-telling of the scriptures, Paul lies prone beneath his horse on a dirt road to Damascus, his arms outstretched in proto-filmic shafts of light. There are no heavenly visions in Caravaggio, only humans on the long, grubby pilgrimage of life.

Pasolini 1 Caravaggio
Caravaggio ‘The Conversion on the Way to Damascus’, 1600-01.  Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo (image from Wikimedia Commons)
 

Much has been made of Caravaggio’s influence on the fierce pauperist Catholicism of Pier Paolo Pasolini. At the end of his film Mamma Roma (1962), staring Anna Magnani, the working-class hero lies dying on a prison bed like a sanctified Jesus, a stark image that also refers to Mantegna’s Dead Christ. The implied blasphemy of Caravaggio’s low-life Christs and Virgin Marys thrilled the iconoclast in the Italian film-maker, whose miserable death was somehow foretold in his own work.

On the morning of 2 November 1975, in slumlands outside Rome, Pasolini was found beaten beyond recognition and run over by his Alfa Romeo Giulia. A 17-year-old rent boy was charged with the killing – a homosexual tryst gone murderously wrong. Or was Pasolini the victim of a political hit? His presumed killer turned out to be affiliated to Italy’s neo-fascist party; the verdict is still open. Pasolini was 53.

Pasolini 2 la rabbia
Pier Paolo Pasolini, from La Rabbia. (Photograph by Mario Dondero, ©1963. With the kind assistance of the Ccentro Studi Pier Paolo Pasolini di Casarsa delle Delizie, Pordenone)

Saint Paul, published posthumously in 1977 and presented for the first time in English in 2014 (translated by Elizabeth A. Castelli, British Library. YC.2015.a.592), is Pasolini’s screenplay for the life of the apostle Paul. Drafted in 1966 and re-written subsequently, it was intended to form a sequel to his film The Gospel According to Matthew (1964), shot in the lunar landscape of Italy’s remote Basilicata region. The screenplay, with its New Testament voiceover, typically mingles an intellectual Leftism with a Franciscan Catholicism: blessed are the poor, for they are exempt from the unholy Trinity of materialism, money and property. The film was never made for lack of funds.

Pasolini’s solidarity with the Italian poor was at heart romantic. La Ricotta, his 35-minute episode in the collaborative movie RoGoPag (1963), features Orson Welles as an American director shooting a film in Rome about the Passion of Christ. Stracci (“Rags”), the sub-proletarian actor who plays the part of the good thief, dies on set from a case of real-life starvation. For all its manifest compassion, the film led to a suspended prison sentence for Pasolini on blasphemy charges. Over a tableau vivant inspired by Rosso Fiorentino’s painting of the Deposition Welles cries out sacrilegiously: “Get those crucified bastards out of here!” 

Depositions
The deposition tableau from Pasolini’s La Ricotta (left) and Rosso Fiorentino’s painting (right).

Like La Ricotta, Saint Paul champions those who have been disinherited by capitalism and the “scourge of money”. The consumerist “miracle” of 1960s Italy had undermined the semi-rural peasant values of l’Italietta (Italy’s little homelands), Pasolini believed. In his retelling of the Bible, St Paul stands as a bulwark against the “corruption” brought to Italy by the trappings of American-style consumerism.

Nevertheless, as a Pharisee and former persecutor of Christianity, Paul was an ambivalent figure for Pasolini. After his conversion Paul took his mission round the world and became the founding father of the Christian Church in Rome with its hierarchy of prelates and pontiffs. In some measure, then, Paul lay behind the Catholic church that Pasolini had come to know in 1960s Rome, with its Mafia-infiltrated Christian Democrat Party and pursuit of power and political favours. In the screenplay, Paul is by turns arrogant and slyly watchful of his mission.

The saint’s story is updated, cleverly, to the 20th century. Cohorts of SS and Vichy French military collaborationists  stand in for the Pharisees of the first-century Mediterranean. With a fanatic’s heart, Paul oversees the killing and mass deportation of Christians. The action then fast-forwards to 1960s New York, where the post-Damascus Paul is preaching to Greenwich Village “beats”, “hippies”, “blacks” and other outcasts from conformist America. His attempts to overturn capitalist values in Lyndon Johnson-era America are met with hostility by FBI operatives and White House flunkies. In the end he is murdered on the same hotel balcony where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Pasolini’s approximation of the apostle of black liberation to the apostle of Orthodox Christianity just about works.

Though fascinating, Saint Paul is not the “literary work of the first magnitude” that the French philosopher Alain Badiou would have in his foreword to the screenplay. (Rather, it reads like a preliminary sketch for something to be coloured in later.) Inevitably one scans the screenplay for clues to Pasolini’s murder. The novelist Italo Calvino believed that Pasolini was killed from a “D’Annunzian”  hankering after redemption through violence. The scene of the film-maker’s murder, the shanty town of Idroscalo near Fiumicino airport, presents a typically Pasolinian pasticcio of the poetic and the squalid: shacks lie scattered across a filthy, blackened beach and in the distance rise the tenement slums of Nuova Ostia. At best, Pasolini’s was a sleazy kind of martyrdom; at worst, it was a bludgeoning out of tabloid crime-sheet.

Ian Thomson, University of East Anglia

References

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mamma Roma. (Milan, 1962) X24/8626.

Pier Paolo Pasolini  Per il cinema. (Milan, 2001). YA.2002.a.5985.

Ian Thomson will deliver the Italian Studies Library Group Annual Lecture ‘Pasolini and Rome’ at the British Library  on 29 June 2015

 

09 February 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel: The Vanished World (of Autograph Manuscripts)

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With five awards atThe_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_Poster Sunday’s BAFTAs and nine nominations at the upcoming Oscars, The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, 2014) has shown surprising staying power in the memories of the voting members, following its early release last year. We might say that the film’s stylised nostalgia – it’s a kind of a nostalgic film about nostalgia (one gets lost in all the narrative layers) – managed to evoke its own pang of nostalgia in the minds of the judges, when they came to vote.

Left: Theatrical release poster for Wes Anderson's film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

It is precisely that yearning for a long-gone ‘age of security’ that is said to link the atmosphere of the film to the writings of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the Austrian bestseller who went into exile before the start of the Second World War. Drastic change and destruction in the first half of the 20th century cut Zweig’s care-free, aesthetic period so sharply, he would later refer to his ‘three lives’, a life dissected by war and exile. Writing in his memoirs, Zweig can see only too clearly, with decades of distance, how fragile the security of pre-war life was:

Today, now that the word ‘security’ has long been struck out of our vocabulary as a phantom, it is easy for us to smile at the optimistic delusion of that idealistically dazzled generation, which thought that the technical progress of mankind must inevitably result in an equally rapid moral rise (The World of Yesterday, translated by Anthea Bell,  p. 26).

Stefan-zweig
Stefan Zweig ca 1912. (Image from  Wikimedia Commons)

Through its framed narrative, The Grand Budapest Hotel adopts a similarly debunked perspective, which shows the demise of all the decadent features of European high culture that the hotel once represented. An unpopulated and worn-down anachronism it may be, but, as the proprietor (and the third or fourth layer of the narrative structure, depending whether we include Zweig himself, whose introduction to his novel Ungeduld des Herzens is quoted directly) Zero Moustafa deems, ‘I love it all, just the same. This enchanting, old ruin’ (Screenplay, p. 7).

The film plays on this tension between vivifying the traditions of old and dismantling them at every turn. As Nelson has it, Anderson ‘has always played around at collapsing with one hand the same meticulous dollhouse structures he’s built up with the other’ (Los Angeles Review of Books). The old world is not only threatened by the most obvious narrowing restrictions of a growing fascist presence (lead by ‘Henckels’, played by Ed Norton), but every paradigm of that world is undercut somehow. Monsieur Gustave’s (Ralph Fiennes) neo-romantic, and often nonsensical, verse is always interrupted, for example. Elsewhere, the Dutch-style portrait ‘Boy with Apple’, in pride of place in the mansion of the deceased Madame D, is replaced by an Egon Schiele nude, shocking its ornamental surroundings (before it, too, and the modernity it represents, is smashed to pieces). Zweig’s own neo-romantic beginnings (see his first collection of poetry, which he later disowned, Silberne Saiten,  British Library, W30/2847) and his uneasiness towards the radical turn in modernist culture (‘artificial wildness with desperate haste’, The World of Yesterday, p. 323) parallel these moments.

Zweig and Gustave are united in the European-ness of the hotel, this ‘refined, highly-cultivated society’ (Screenplay, p. 73), and when the hotel is not the main setting, the film moves to a train or another transitional space (Richard Brody). Yes, it is true that such settings lend a temporariness to the experiences, contributing to the threat of the coming fascism or modernity. Yet, they are simultaneously suggestive of a free Europe, of the potential for encounter, of new experiences. Zweig, as the quintessential European mediator of culture and ideas, felt, with the advent of restrictions to freedom of travel, the end of his life’s thrust. And, true to his model, Monsieur Gustave also begins to lose faith, after being first accosted during a security check on a train:

‘You see? There are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed, that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant -- (sighs deeply) Oh, f**k it’ (Screenplay, p. 31).

In an interview between George Prochnik, author of The Impossible Exile, an exploration of Zweig’s exile period, and Wes Anderson, printed in the collection The Society of the Crossed Keys, the director links this idea of Europe and encounter to the idea of ‘collection’. He says:

You can see why this turn of events would be the beginning of everything that became too much to bear. Not only because he was someone who had friends all over Europe and collected people actively […] He also collected manuscripts and books and musical scores, and he was gathering things from all over – among artists he admired (p. 15).

As Monsieur Gustave decides to sell his valuable artwork and move away with his lobby-boy companion, Zweig, too, sold the majority of his collected items by 1936. What remains, as ‘The Stefan Zweig Collection of Musical and Literary Autograph Manuscripts’, was officially donated to the British Library by Zweig’s heirs in 1986, while the hundreds of other once-owned manuscripts are mostly housed in the foundation of their original buyer Martin Bodmer in Geneva (Oliver Matuschek has produced a catalogue of Zweig’s pre-sale collection). Prochnik refers to the collection as a ‘museum of Europe’, so fitting for the Grand Budapest Hotel, ‘that would serve as a microcosm of the whole vast continent before it all got blown asunder’ (The Society of the Crossed Keys, p.16). Zweig lived inside, what he once termed, the ‘Welt der Autographen’ (world of autograph manuscripts), this museum of Europe. Yet, even in this world of creative nostalgia, elements of that same destruction are present in the form of the notes for a speech by Adolf Hitler (Zweig MS 158), sat between poems by Hesse and Hofmannsthal, and an article by Mussolini (Zweig MS 174).

Grand Budapest - Hofmannsthal
Vor Tag’, poem by Hugo von Hofmannsthal from  Zweig's collection (Zweig MS 159)

Describing the films of Wes Anderson, Michael Chabon relates them to the ‘boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell’, and imagines both men summing up their work in the phrase: ‘I have put the world in a box’ (introduction to The Wes Anderson Collection, p. 23). Stefan Zweig , too, created his world in a box –  the manuscripts of European giants, ‘im brüderlichen Schrank’ (in the fraternal cabinet), where there is the productive encounter with ideas, creativity, difference.

As The Grand Budapest Hotel slowly retreats from its inner narratives, our storyteller adds: ‘To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it -- but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace!’ (Screenplay, 116). This world has indeed ‘vanished’ and yet continues to be ‘sustained’ through its staging in nostalgic homage, through representation – the ‘framing’, or ‘boxing’ of European cultural memory.

Pardaad Chamsaz,  Collaborative Doctoral Student

References and further reading:

Wes Anderson, Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Society of the Crossed Keys: Selections from the writings of Stefan Zweig, (London, 2014). YK.2014.a.19878

Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von gestern : Erinnerungen eines Europäers. (Stockholm, 1942) YA.1990.a.17913. English translation The World of Yesterday (trans. Anthea Bell), (London, 2009). YC.2011.a.55

Stefan Zweig, Ungeduld des Herzens (Stockholm, 1949) X.989/77992. Englsh translation, Beware of Pity (trans. Anthea Bell) (London, 2011) H.2012/.6135

Matt Zoller Seitz, The Wes Anderson Collection, (New York, 2013). LC.31.b.13686

Arthur Searle, Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts, The British Library Stefan Zweig Collection (London, 1999).  MUS 780.164 BRI

Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig (Vienna, 2005) YF.2006.a.13265

Stefan Zweig Collection: Music, literary and historical manuscripts, (British Library, Zweig MS 1-218)

Richard Brody, ‘Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a longing for the past’ (The New Yorker, 14/03/2014)

Max Nelson, ‘Wes Anderson’s Elegy to Stefan Zweig’, (Los Angeles Review of Books, 14/03/2014)

08 December 2014

‘Say “Dracula” and you smile. Say “Nosferatu” and you’ve eaten a lemon’

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Introducing the Germanness of all things Gothic in an earlier post, Susan Reed draws the borderline between the South – ‘fine art, classical civilisation and the Renaissance’ - and the gothic North, concluding that ‘it’s harder to be gothic under a blue and sunny sky.’ This separation has a lot to do with meteorological, agricultural and gastronomical particularities – the vines simply stop growing by the time you get to the North.

What this means for Northern life and its artistic and cultural responses is something quite different to the restrained pietism and often ideal imagined worlds of classicism. As Jonathan Meades has it, in his 2008 documentary Magnetic North, ‘The North is the unpromised land of darkness, the gothic in all its forms, the thrilling grimness, exhilarating harshness, inky canals, fog, glistening cobbles – of buildings which respond to vast lands and skies with spires.’ One needs only to compare, for instance, the Isenheim Altarpiece (Matthias Grünewald 1512-1516) to a Raphael alternative – take Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saints and Angels. The German representation of the crucifixion is plague-ridden, screaming pain, whereas the Italian version shows an almost peaceful death. The hostile conditions of the Northern world are, therefore, tangibly transmitted into its art forms, which seek to escape the same world through a fantastical imagination always already informed by everyday horror.

The Gothic Exhibition is tinged with, if not haunted by, this hostile northernness (and its particular German variety). Once you navigate around the black spaces of the exhibition, brushing past black diaphanous dividing curtains, you reach the Dracula room, separated off in a dark corner, to be greeted by the black and white of a film projection – F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Murnau’s film is self-consciously based on Stoker’s Dracula and yet critics argue that, had Murnau not admitted his source, the works differ so much that it might have been easy to forget the connection (Mayne). Anders Larsson – firmly in the pro-Nosferatu camp – understands Stoker’s Dracula as ‘sophisticated, culturally aware, aristocratic, and seductive’ even engaging in ‘banter, seduction, small talk.’ In other words, Dracula is decidedly a human type, an intelligent, attractive one at that.

Dracula 1901
Dracula, from the first illustrated edition of Bram Stoker's novel (London, 1901) C.194.a.862

A quick glance at the list of actors in the English-speaking role only confirms this Anglo-American conception of the monster: Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and Luke Evans (who is in this year’s Dracula Untold). Nosferatu, or Count Orlok, as he is known, is rather ‘repulsive in every way’ and certainly ‘not a sexy vampire’. Bald-headed, grotesquely exaggerated facial features, ever-lengthening fingernails, Orlok is (deliberately) rodent-like, far from conventional notions of beauty, yet perhaps far closer than Dracula to a shared concept of monstrosity. The difference is best articulated in the words of the film critic Roger Ebert: ‘Say “Dracula” and you smile. Say “Nosferatu” and you've eaten a lemon.’

NosferatuSchreck
Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

Countering the critical idea that Nosferatu is somehow Dracula avant la lettre, Saviour Catania attempts to show the already extant German romanticism and mysticism in Stoker’s work itself. The story is then Germanized both before and after the fact. Stoker has the vampire say, ‘I love the dark and shadow’, which Catania sees as a German romantic obsession with the ‘shadowy self, fragmenting into a more insubstantial parallel realm.’ If the story is indeed a play of dark and shadow, we begin to see the reasons for Nosferatu’s appeal, as film itself, in its earliest, silent, monochromatic form, is already a vampyric medium – a play of light and dark. In the scratchy, sketchy imprint of the remaining copies of Murnau’s film, the modern viewer is disturbed by default. Blackness engulfs the frame. Orlok becomes shadow, always hiding in them, rarely appearing in close-up, and Catania understands Murnau’s achievement as precisely the ‘ingenious ways of incarnating in visual images Stoker’s verbal descriptions of what is visible but incorporeal.’

Like the gruesome artworks of Grünewald, Bosch and northern Gothic in general, Nosferatu is inventive, fantastical and self-reflexive; it draws attention to its artifice, showing that both the horror and its representations are all the work of man, confining the horror to the ever-alienating and deadly potential of our world. We cannot escape. Shadow encroaches onto the edges of the film and re-asserts our uncertainty and the very real fears of the viewers’ worlds.

Florence Stoker, the wife of the author, immediately sought legal action after the appearance of Murnau’s film. A long drawn-out battle eventually saw the court order the destruction of all copies of the film. Living up to its name, Nosferatu (Romanian for ‘un-dead’), could not be destroyed and the film re-surfaced two years later. The film continues to haunt the legacy of Dracula as well as the Dracula room in the Gothic exhibition. We may even read the strong presence of (black and white) film in the exhibition, with its flickering play of projected light (and dark), as a nod to the ‘death-mask’ (André Bazin, in Catania) that is cinema itself, and the intangible shadowiness of our underlying horrors. However we understand the Dracula story and in whichever German, English, literary, or filmic mode, the vampire is here to stay, forever haunting the imagination. We can join Jonathon Meades in concluding, the Gothic ‘never went away, it never will.’

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative PhD Student

References/Further Reading

F. W. Murnau, Nosferatu. Eine Symphonie des Grauens.  Sound collections 1DVD0006027

Henrik Galeen, ‘Nosferatu. eine Symphonie des Grauens: Scenario adapted from Bram Stoker's Dracula’ in Masterworks of the German cinema. Introduction by Dr. Roger Manvell (London, [1973].). X.989/24324.

Jackson, Kevin, Nosferatu : eine Symphonie des Grauens  (London, 2013.) YC.2014.a.7043

Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Six degrees of Nosferatu’, http://old.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/92

Wayne E. Hensley, ‘The contribution of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu to the evolution of Dracula’. Literature Film Quarterly, 30 (1), 2002, pp. 59-64. 5276.721100

Judith Mayne, ‘Dracula in the Twilight: Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922)’, in German Film and Literature, (New York; London, 1986). YC.1986.b.2491

Roger Ebert, ‘Nosferatu’, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-nosferatu-1922

Anders Larsson, ‘Nosferatu as 20th century German zeitgeist’, http://www.academia.edu/4140848/Nosferatu_as_20th_Century_German_Zeitgeist

Saviour Catania, ‘Absent Presences in Liminal Places’, Literature Film Quarterly, 32 (3), 2004, pp. 229-236.

Jonathan Meades, Magnetic North, (BBC4, 2008). (available online at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw6J9bYQ4XY_1

 

13 August 2014

Turbulent priest and polemical playwright: the life and death of Kaj Munk

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In 1955 the winner of the Golden Lion at the sixteenth Venice International Film Festival was an unlikely choice. Ordet (The Word), the only film which brought its director Carl Theodor Dreyer  critical or commercial success during his lifetime, portrays life in a Danish rural community, telling the story of the farmer Morten Borgen and his three sons Mikkel, Anders and Johannes. From the opening shot of white sheets fluttering in the sea-wind to the final transfiguring scene of a miracle which resurrects Mikkel’s wife and heals the schisms and religious conflicts among the villagers, the simplicity and directness of the film gives it a timeless quality which ensures its classic status almost sixty years after its release. Yet those who admire it may know little of Kaj Munk, the author of the play which Dreyer had adapted for the screen, whose life was as dramatic as any of his works.

Kaj_MunkPORTRAITKaj Harald Leininger Petersen (1898-1944, picture (left) from Wikimedia Commons) was born on the Danish island of Lolland and, after being orphaned at an early age, was fostered by a family named Munk whose name he adopted. He was ordained as a Lutheran pastor, and in 1924 was appointed to Vedersø, a parish in western Jutland. Widely read in history, philosophy and modern drama, he translated Hamlet into Danish (1938: BL shelfmark X.955/51), and his admiration for Shaw and Ibsen is evident in the plays which he began to write in 1917 with Pilatus (first published in 1937: Cup.400.f.15); Ordet (1925: published in 1932; X.909/23062) was the second of these. Like Ibsen, he frequently set the action in bygone days – mediaeval Denmark or biblical times – which emphasized the ageless nature of the moral dilemmas confronting his characters while placing them at a ‘safe’ distance from the increasingly dangerous times in which he lived.

Throughout the 1930s Munk viewed the rise of Hitler and Mussolini with growing concern. He had initially acclaimed Hitler’s achievement in providing a rallying-point for a united Germany, which he felt lacked a counterpart in Scandinavia, but came to repent of his ill-judged remark and spoke out with increasing vehemence, culminating in 1938 with an open letter to Mussolini published in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten attacking the persecution of the Jews.

Munk’s concern proved to be justified when, in 1940, Hitler occupied Denmark. He continued to use drama as a means of openly criticizing Nazism, as in Niels Ebbesen (1942: 11756.b.6), whose hero, a mediaeval Danish squire who assassinates another German invader, Count Gerhard III, represented an obvious parallel to the current situation. Such figures combined the dramatic importance of a central character prepared to suffer for deeply-held beliefs with Munk’s conviction that in perilous times a single strong leader was needed to act decisively and steer the people to safety.  

As Munk’s opposition to Nazism and those prepared to collaborate with it grew ever more vociferous, his friends tried to persuade him to go underground, but he refused to, preaching increasingly outspoken sermons, culminating in one which he delivered in spite of a Nazi ban in Copenhagen Cathedral on Advent Sunday in December 1943 (P.P.7256.da.(2.) ). A month later, on 4 January 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo, and the following morning his body, with an abusive note claiming that he had worked for Germany anyway, was discovered in a ditch on a country road near Silkeborg. His death proved to be the turning-point in rousing resistance to the German invasion, with 4,000 Danes attending his funeral; his body was subsequently taken back to his parish church for burial, and his widow Lise was granted permission by the Danish government to live in the parsonage until her death in 1998.

Kaj Munk cover

To the last years of his life Munk continued to write lyrical poetry, such as the collection Liv og glade Dage (‘Life and happy days’; Copenhagen, 1936. X.619/8387: see picture above), affirming the beauty of creation as well as expressing intransigent moral opposition to the outrages of his times. His life bore witness the words of Martin Luther: ‘I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience’, and by his death he at last gave the Danish people the focus they needed, in his view, to turn against their oppressors. He is commemorated as a martyr in the Lutheran church’s Calendar of Saints on 14 August.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak

04 April 2014

From Vietnam to Vichy and beyond: Marguerite Duras (1914-1996)

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An artist who was constantly preoccupied with the theme of memory, true or false, Marguerite Duras had no shortage of such material to draw upon. Born on 4 April 1914 in Gia-Dinh (now Saigon) to parents attracted by government incentives to settle in French Indochina, the exotic nature of young Marguerite Donnadieu’s life bore striking resemblances to that of Madame de Maintenon; the colonial adventure turned out badly, her father died leaving her mother to raise her four-year-old daughter and two other children in relative poverty following a calamitous business investment, and at seventeen  Marguerite returned to France to study at the Sorbonne, but not before embarking on a colourful affair with a wealthy Sa Dec merchant, Huynh Thuy Le. Although she returned to this period of her life in various memoirs and works of fiction, her most famous treatment is in her novel L’Amant (The Lover: BL shelfmark YA.1986.a.10677), with which she won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, in 1984.

After studying mathematics, political sciences and law, Duras joined the French Communist Party and subsequently worked for the French government office representing Indochina. From 1942 to 1944, she worked for the Vichy government in an office that allocated paper to publishers (virtually acting as a book censorship system), but was also, together with her first husband Robert Antelme, a member of the French Resistance. He was deported to Buchenwald, and although he survived, the marriage did not. In 1943 she published her first novel, Les Impudents under the surname Duras, the village in the Lot-et-Garonne département which had been her father's home.

  Duras Impudents
The first edition of Les Impudents (Paris, 1943). British Library YA.1993.a.26454

Although her early works were reasonably traditional in form, in her later novels she achieved an increasingly streamlined style of prose in which even the characters are stripped to essential qualities, sacrificing even the need for names and appearing simply as ‘Elle’ and ‘Lui’. The immediacy of her dialogue lent itself particularly well to cinematic adaptations, and she was also a gifted scriptwriter. Perhaps her best-known work in this capacity is the screenplay for Hiroshima mon amour (Paris, 1960; 11455.a.16), directed by Alain Resnais  in 1959, a dialogue between a Japanese architect and French actress who, analysing the breakdown of their relationship, explore the truth and fallacy of memories and the analogy with the Japanese catastrophe of the Second World War.

Her explicit treatment of sexual relationships, her idiosyncratic use of dialogue and her distinctive prose style inevitably made Duras’s work the object of parody and pastiche, notably at the hands of Patrick Rambaud in Virginie Q. (Paris, 1988; YA.1989.a.8242) a skilful and witty treatment which is based on a sound knowledge of her writings. Yet she also inspired more serious works in other media; a recent exhibition at the Maureen Paley Gallery in London featured paintings and drawings by Kaye Donachie based on Duras’s novella La Maladie de la mort (Paris: Editions de minuit, 1983;  X.958/26494).

These are only a limited selection of the works held by the British Library from the many which Duras produced during an outstanding creative life which drew to a close after a struggle with alcoholism and cancer of the throat on 3 March 1996. We hope that readers will be encouraged to embark on their own voyage through her strangely compelling world and, in doing so, to gather memories of their own.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak Studies

28 March 2014

Suffering from boredom? Get a raccoon – or read Hrabal!

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Mystery surrounds both the beginning of Bohumil Hrabal’s life on 28 March 1914 and its end on 3 February 1997. Although he was always known by the surname Hrabal, this actually belonged to his stepfather František Hrabal, who married Marie Božena Kiliánová in February 1916, and was a friend of his putative biological father Bohumil Blecha, according to the latter’s daughter Drahomíra. The family, including Bretislav, born eight months after the wedding, moved in 1919 to Nymburk, a small town on the Labe (Elbe), where František Hrabal managed the local brewery. The atmosphere of the place is lovingly evoked in Hrabal’s novels Postřižiny (‘Cutting It Short’; British Library shelfmark X.989/37869) and Městečko, kde se zastavil čas (‘The Little Town Where Time Stood Still’; X.989/83712), both published in 1974 by Edice Petlice, the secret anti-Communist publishing house.  Postřižiny was filmed in 1980 by Jiří Menzel, and recaptures the period charm of the original without sentimentality. The characters are closely based on members of Hrabal’s family (his mother Maryška and the garrulous Uncle Pepin, who comes for a short visit and stays for forty years), and the eccentricities of the town’s residents are portrayed with freshness and humour.

Hrabal bench
A  bench commemorating Hrabal in Nymburk (Photo by Jan Polák from Wikimedia commons) w:en:Creative Commonsattributionshare alike

Despite an undistinguished school career, Hrabal enrolled at Charles University in Prague to read law, but as the universities closed during the Nazi occupation he did not complete his degree until 1946 after working as a railway labourer and dispatcher in Kostomlaty. He was later employed as an insurance agent, commercial traveller, steel-worker and, after a serious industrial accident, as a paper-worker and stage-hand. These experiences provided him with plentiful material for his writings; his best-known novel,  Ostře sledované vlaky (‘Closely Observed Trains’: Prague, 1965;  X.989/9422) was based on his experiences on the railways and was also filmed by Jiří Menzel, while  Příliš hlučná samota (‘Too Loud a Solitude’: [Prague], 1976; Cup.410.f.104) draws on his time in the paper-recycling mill.

Hrabal’s first efforts as a writer were poems, published in 1948 as Ztracená ulička  (The Lost Lane), but the Communist coup that year  forced him underground to join a group run by the artist and critic Jiří Kolář, and his prose works of the 1950s and 1960s appeared in samizdat editions. After the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he was banned from publishing, and in 1975 an interview in which he made ‘self-critical’ remarks allowing limited publication of his writings attracted fierce criticism from dissidents who felt that he had compromised his integrity. Nor, unlike Václav Havel and other prominent authors, did he sign Charter 77

It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss him as a hopelessly apolitical writer more skilled in creating larger-than-life characters and nostalgic pictures of Czech small-town life than in criticizing a repressive regime. The idyllic atmosphere of the little country station which forms the setting of Ostře sledované vlaky is literally exploded by an attack on a German ammunition train which costs the young narrator Miloš Hrma his life. Even the solitude of the plant where the narrator of Příliš hlučná samota  works on destroying and compressing books provides merciless comments on the danger and ultimate futility of censorship. The absurd and farcical blends with the tragic in comments on the human condition which give Hrabal’s work its universal appeal and validity.

These qualities naturally led not only to film versions but to Polish samizdat editions (Przerwy w zabudowie,  a translation of Proluky (‘Vacant Lots’/‘Gaps’; Sol.137.r) was published in 1988 by Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza  Warszawa), and translations into French, Hungarian, German, Ukrainian and English, despite the challenges of rendering Hrabal’s inimitable hrabalština  (Hrabalese) and Uncle Pepin’s broad Moravian dialect, cleverly conveyed by broad Scots in James Naughton’s  translation of Cutting It Short (London, 1993; H.93/2258).

Hrabal collage
A selection of works by and about Hrabal in various languages (clockwise from top left: Czech, French, Ukrainian, English, Welsh, Polish)

The partnership with Menzel produced a final cinematic triumph, Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále  (‘I served the King of England’, 2006), based on Hrabal’s picaresque story of the same title (1973; 1993 edition YA.1994.a.14374) chronicling the adventures of an opportunistic waiter under the Nazi regime and Communism. Once again, this belies any notion that Hrabal was a mere raconteur with its penetrating juxtaposition of black humour and acid observation of the follies and compromises to which human beings are driven by totalitarianism.

In later years Hrabal was often to be seen at his favourite Prague pub, U zlatého tygra (The Golden Tiger), imbibing generous quantities of beer and regaling fellow-drinkers with tales to rival Uncle Pepin’s account of childless relatives who emigrated to the USA and responded to a newspaper advertisement, ‘Suffering from boredom? Why not get yourself a raccoon?’, only to acquire a creature who wreaks havoc in their home. The circumstances of his end might have been the stuff of such a story; apparently trying to feed pigeons from a fifth-floor window in the Bulovka hospital in Prague, he toppled out and fell to his death, prompting speculation which he might well have relished.

Suffering from boredom? Get yourself a raccoon – or alternatively, read Bohumil Hrabal. At least your watch will be safe…

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak

07 October 2013

Alain-Fournier and Proust film adaptations. Part I

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There have been two film adaptations of Alain-Fournier’s novel Le grand Meaulnes, by Jean-Gabriel Albicocco in 1967 and by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe in 2006,  and several adaptations of  Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu  or parts of it. There have also been some other fascinating attempts to bring these two novels to the screen which failed despite the tireless efforts of two remarkable women – Isabelle Rivière and Nicole Stéphane.

Isabelle Rivière (1889-1971), Alain-Fournier’s sister and dedicatee of Le grand Meaulnes, owned Isabelle Rivièrethe film rights to the novel. In 1933 she met André Barsacq (1909-1973), a young Ukrainian-born stage designer with some experience in film as assistant director to Jean Grémillon. Barsacq later became the director of the Théâtre de l'Atelier and for some forty years he was a major theatre director in Paris, staging the work of, among others, Luigi Pirandello, Jean Anouilh, Marcel Aymé, Paul Claudel, and Félicien Marceau, and adapting the works of Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Turgenev for the French stage.

Isabelle Rivière 

Barsacq and Rivière drafted a screenplay and in the 1940s there were location searches and screen tests, but plans foundered several times due to prohibitive financial costs. Rivière turned down proposals from other film makers, notably from Julien Duvivier, who first expressed an interest in 1937 and again in 1954. By the latter date Duvivier’s commercially successful Don Camillo films would have probably helped to raise money for the film of Le grand Meaulnes but Rivière’s faith in Barsacq remained unshakeable and the correspondence between the two continued for some 32 years until 1965, when she  finally realised that Barsacq’s theatrical commitments would always be his first priority, and offered the film rights  to Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, a young director who had already successfully adapted Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or (1961). Albicocco’s film is rightly dedicated to Rivière and she was pleased with the result, as it is very faithful to the novel. Had she lived to see Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe’s  2006 adaptation she would have certainly disapproved of it, as it takes liberties with the text, notably by having Meaulnes, like Alain-Fournier, killed in the First World War.

Nicole StéphaneNicole Stéphane (left) was an actress best known for her remarkable performance in Jean-Pierre Melville’s film of the Jean Cocteau novel Les Enfants terribles in 1950.  Her acting career having been cut short by a car accident, she became a film producer, and her credits include To Die in Madrid (1962), Frédéric Rossif’s documentary about the Spanish Civil War. In 1962 she acquired the film rights to A la recherche du temps perdu. Her epic attempts to turn Proust’s novel into a film lasted nearly as long as those of Isabelle Rivière, and she finally had to content herself with Volker Schlöndorff’s  Un Amour de Swann (Swann in Love) (1984), an adaptation of a more or less self-contained part of the novel. All her attempts to interest French film directors - René Clément, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, and Jacques Rivette – had previously failed.

More frustrating were the failed projects of Luchino Visconti and then of Joseph Losey between 1969 and 1977, both of which had to be abandoned at a late stage. It is a small consolation that both these aborted projects left behind them two remarkable screenplays by Suso Cecchi d’Amico (for Visconti) and Harold Pinter (for Losey) to which I would like to return in a later blog.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian Studies


References:

Martine Beugnet / Marion Schmid. Proust at the Movies (Aldershot, 2004). YC.2006. a.5329.

André Barsacq: Cinquante ans de théâtre. (Paris, 1978).   X:900/20339.

Michel Autrand. ‘André Barsacq et le Grand Meaulnes au cinéma’ in  Bulletin des Amis de Jacques Rivière et d’Alain-Fournier, no118 (2007), p.93-106 and no.120 (2008), p. 81-110.  P.901/1770

Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d'Amico. A la recherche du temps perdu [scénario d'après l'œuvre de Marcel Proust]. ([Paris], 1984). YA.1987.a.8894 

Harold Pinter. A la recherche du temps perdu: the Proust screenplay with the collaboration of Joseph Losey and Barbara Bray. (London, 1978). YC.1991.a.2249

 


09 September 2013

Spanish film and the British Library

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We’re always interested in how people use our collections in their research. The Library recently launched a series of films which tell the stories of people who have been inspired by the Library: Made with the British Library. One of these researchers, Shelagh Rowan-Legg, gives a great example of some of the unexpected things that you can do with our collections.

Shelagh is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching contemporary Spanish fantasy cinema. She is also a writer and film critic. Her research explores common threads that run through Spanish fantasy films; how have they been influenced by cinema from around the world, and what makes them uniquely Spanish? You might not expect the British Library to be her first port-of-call, but in the video she explains the crucial role it has played in her research.

Research into contemporary film requires access to a wide range of sources in a number of languages. We collect published scripts and monographs in Spanish on directors, film festivals and genres, as well as works on the broader cultural background. These are complemented by publications, monographs and serials, on film in other European languages and by the English-language material. It might save you a trip to Spain! Search our Spanish collections, using the ‘language’ option to refine your search results, in Explore the British Library.

We’d love to hear about how the Library has inspired you, or about your discoveries in our collections. Write a comment below, or send us an email: highereducation@bl.uk

Melissa Byrd, Marketing Manager Arts and Humanities