Saturday, 28 August 2010


'Inadvertent magic, is, we think, the best kind; the secret message, the hazy coincidence, the series of signs not quite decoded. It can be the first recording of a song, before the words have clicked into place, when the flawed syntax catches the edge of a chord, and the hum of a misplaced microphone spills into the mixture. But there comes a point, and this can be dangerous, when the artist can fall prey to a confidence borne of this early fizzing success; she wants to harness the power without understanding it, and seeks a do-over, never understanding that the misplaced passes and fudged lines of the imperfect first incantation were vital to its construct.' Greil Marcus, Lost Locales

" hour later they of course loop back and, finding the intersection they made earlier, exclaim 'More tracks!... A second car joined the first one.' As the hours go by they rejoin their own tracks again and again, believing each time that the highway they are following has grown busier and busier. This brilliantly allegorical scene is endlessly regressive: what Thompson and Thomson are doing is failing to recognise that they are not only reading their own mark but also reading their own reading of their mark, their interpretation of their own interpretation. Tintin, crouching over the tracks, realises what is going on but has no means of communicating. Then the Khamsin whips itself into action: a ferocious sandstorm that soon wipes all tracks away. An orgy of marking, reading and misreading, followed by total erasure, total inscrutability. As Tintin huddles, despondent, endless grains of sand hit his eyes and mouth, like so many illegible tracts.' Tom McCarthy, Tintin and the Secret of Literature

'The past it is a magic word/Too beautiful to last' John Clare, Childhood

Like a prehistoric (in cinema terms, at least) version of Antonioni's Blow-Up, Dexter Himmler's Behold The Awesome Mountain is about the reconstruction of a scene; an attempt at discovery through rediscovery (and vice-versa), insight through repetition. With its classically cinematic themes of doubles, lost images, exotic locales and erasure, layers of suggestion are peeled and unpeeled in ultra-white. Framing tales window onto previous and later ones, events unfold like the pages of a lost diary; we gather that we are following a photographer (Peiter Wiki) who accompanied an expedition up an unnamed peak in the Himalayas. We find that his tale is dipped in tragedy- the party is severed in an avalanche, and the photographer apparently expires, sending his photographs back down the mountain on a horse somehow.

So it seems.

A series of narrative focus-pulls changes our perspective, firstly from the expedition's leader Nicolas (Lukas Bronowsky), then to the photographer following the group (whose feat seems more astounding- for not only does he follow, but at points he leads, lugging his tripod and camera over ledges to record the party's arrival; he does everything they do, but with more baggage), then to the horse, and finally to the recipient of the photos, the brother of the expedition leader, Jan (whose near-identical likeness to his sibling causes us to turn full circle, back to the original hero; especially as he is also played by Bronowsky). Jan recreates the footsteps of his brother in a bid to find the locations of the photographs. Initially this is an attempt to discover the fate of Nicolas, but soon Jan finds a strange power in the snaps, and begins mimicking them as precisely as possible, at the correct locations on the journey up the mount, in a faintly ridiculous ritual that makes sense to only Jan.

He seems convinced that if he can recreate the photos, he will end up finding his brother; all the time, he seems half in-love with the potential for his own decimation by following this path. A belief that the party may have found some snow-capped Eldorado takes hold as well, and Jan follows, re-enacting the scenes, pulling texts from his boots, stories from the snow. He curses his own mistakes. Sometimes he takes the wrong route or gets the angle of a photograph skew-whiff. Always, he regrets not being on the original expedition, and mourns lost games of ping-pong and shuffleboard with his brother. Oh, and the woodland rambles they would drift on! His final words to the reluctant photographer as he struts off alone up the impenetrable mountain hang over the snow:

'I just know that there is a warm safe place here... where nobody but me can find him, napping and content... and I also know that I may never find it...'

Himmler shot the film in English, despite a German cast, contrived a fictional crew member that he claimed was lost on location to drum up publicity, and never made another film. He attempted to remake Behold The Awesome Mountain in America in the early seventies, but failed to find the funding; this time, his previous tracks really were covered over, never to be followed. And so endless versions can be imagined, but not realised.

Behold The Awesome Mountain Directed by Dexter Himmler Produced by Fritz Loger, Dexter Himmler Starring Peiter Wiki, Lukas Bronowsky, Fabrice Domoccoli FDF Pictures Release Date UK: Feb 1948 US: Jan 1951 103 mins Tagline: 'So Snowy, so white, so gone...'

Friday, 13 August 2010

BOXES (Vincent Leighton,1996)

When a thirteen year-old boy is killed by a train, his friend explores his belongings for clues about his death. Based on his findings, he accumulates evidence all around his small hometown, becoming ever more convinced of a cosmic conspiracy that his friend may well have been in on.

Pages and pages of detailed sport scores, both fictional and real; detailed accounts of both the England football team's defeat on penalties to Germany in the semi-finals of Italia '90 and their hypothetical counterparts' fictional fate, winning the trophy outright with a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia in the final (Platt 68, Lineker 83), all played-out in vivid detail in the Little Park, and recorded herein for prosperity. Other scrap and crap: dirty books covered in wallpaper, the Penthouse he got one Christmas, when after opening all his presents his Mum leaned in and whispered 'don't go and look now, but there's something extra under your pillow for bedtime', and which we, incredulous, took turns in taking to the bathroom, to do what with we knew not what; fabulous contracts, IOUs, wrappers of chocolate bars with details of expired competitions, badges with his own face on, drawings, hundreds of them, poor in execution but with an unquenchable zest. Each one looke as if it had been drawn at great speed, and that wasn't some style he had cultivated, but was emblematic of the fact that always the idea was more imoprtant than the presentation, often to its detriment, as many of the pictures are indecipherable. Often, the artist clearly loses interest as he composes, the initial excitement failing to sustain the technique long enough to see the picture through, another idea exploding already on another piece of paper.

Ideas as far-reaching as designs for weapons, sports equipment, confections, video games, board games, houses, secret houses, secret girlfriends, shadowy backstories, egos and alter-egos, cartoon characters, carton charters, novels, novellas, ghost stories, menus, record sleeves, sleeveless outfits, bands, graphs of pocket-money spending and savings, dozens of illustrated pool trick shots, entire league seasons of invented sports with invented teams, a fake police report for a child Tony had known before he moved to our school who he claimed had been hit by a bus and killed, to whom he dedicated some of his better battle-scene sketches of Americans in the Burmese jungle or Lancaster bombers over Dresden or Space-Orks on a sinking Bismarck. Most are barely fascinating in themselves, containing the thinly-veiled plagiarism of a normal thirteen-year old. But as a demonstration of a fickle and searching spirit they are illuminating, if only in sheer volume. Most are dated and accompanied with a small 'TC' in the corner. There are some pages which are only this small 'TC' repeated over and over, like practice or lines.

The amount of pages produced in any one day could be thirty or forty. On the 18th July 1991, when Carter was 12, he not only designed an electronic umbrella ('The Cartella'), an over-packed chocolate bar that would be all but inedible ('The Tony Bar') and seven cars, but also all manner of gun and knife hybrids (none small), wonkily rendered warrior types and all manner of boat/shuttle combinations, each bigger and angrier than the last. (Assuming I'm looking at them in order- they may of course have gotten smaller and neater, as he dragged his fantasies down to the Earth; but no.) Rather than perfecting and honing designs, it seems that he was moving away from the original inspiration each time, as a character drawn on the 13th was less nuanced by the 15th, growing and spitting, deeper indentations into the paper, as if his flighty fighting spirit was unable to or could not cope with cohesive and finite versions of anything. Suggestion was key, scale implied, rarely measured.

Always, always huge.

And then: Thirty-line limericks or one-hundred-line haikus, enough spent ink to give a bionic giant a transfusion, enough paper to house the cuckoos of the planet. The lids and labels from prescription pharmaceuticals, his mother's, cut and pasted into a dictionary. Prototype dialects abandoned, reams of babble, nothing ponderous or overworked. careless cacophony actually displayed great interest in its desire for the new. His fertility, its teeming, spouting at the mouth. But poor Tony, can't find the spunk to strike the egg, or the notch to set it all off, just morass of hot potential. His starts now seem like sullied canvasses, rotten fibres.

I flicked through the pages quicker and quicker, losing interest in the designs, when I came across one that made me stop. At first I didn't think it was a Carter drawing, as its subject matter wasn't one that might concern him, and its execution too careful and, well, skilled. But the fizzing felt-tipped colours were his alright, leaving their margins like immigrants in search of a new life, unmoored from the page. A train, a man surrouded in bright colour. The usual signature and date confirmed: July 15th, the day after he died.

A message.

This metaphysical detective story was the only feature directed by Vincent Leighton, a veteran of the small-screen. He died in 2001, before his pet project The Infested Mind of Pat Phoenix: A Psychedelic Biopic could be completed.

The Box Directed by Vincent Leighton Produced by Coxy Written by Simon Home Starring Graham Mikl, Fred Savicevic, Pat Dancer, Tom Tarter Film Four Pictures Release Date UK: March 1996 99 mins.

Friday, 6 August 2010

ROGER IN AMERRYKA! (Leonard Fitzroy, 1959)

I announce: I have discovered a country: Amerryka!

And with it, life as anecdotal drift. For example: It was 1940; It was 1950; It was 1960. I formed a rock'n'roll trio with two regulation gas attendants, and mewed kicking non-hits like 'Destination Cerebrum', 'Damn Cat' and Pigeon Porch Blues' all over Kentucky and Tenessee, my extracted claws making a screeing guitar holler but lacking subtlety to make pretty chords. Our sets lasted for minutes, but I always charmed a female into taking me home. I always wore a bowtie onstage, and I discovered that cats dressed as humans gets girls all giddy and a flutter. During those years I made love to thousands of cats. I made love with hundreds of human women. I tried it with males, I tried it with dogs. It was an itch I couldn't scratch; I remained candlewick dependent. I swam through ages, never getting older; I drank up the new years while still being able to see, smell and taste the old ones. My double vision became trebled, quadrupled; Olefactory calamity captivated my bronchioles, until I convulsed thrice-nightly. My dreams, seperated from waking by no film of unreality, began to multiply together, spawning horrific orgies between a pantheon of inter-human species, cat people with wings instead of heads, dancing notions pressing gruesome members into each other in an endless diorama of fur and flesh intercourse, sweating, endless and sickening. And in all of it, in my sleep and in my day, I knew I was being watched. The fairground, under the lights, I began to realise I was either being followed or was tailing an unknown suspect for an unknown crime. I was a Trojan Hoss of heightened language, embedded with chiselled horrors and cocaine brained fancy.' Roger the Cat, 'Roger in Amerryka!'

Leonard Fitzroy's Roger the Cat is but one in a long line of feline protagonists with an urbane demeanour. But no cat has surely gone as far as Roger, whose beat prose and sexual neediness marks him apart. The Roger the Cat stories, part science-fiction, part experimental fuzz, part 'awwdon'thelooklikealilman' cuteness always confound and delight equally. Too risque, perhaps, for many sensibilities; for after having the stories rejected by every magazine, periodical and newspaper going, Fitzroy finally self-published the Collected Roger the Cat stories in 1953, and managed to get some attention reading them aloud in Greenwich Village cafes.

The origins tale, Roger and the Author, caused a riot at the Semblance Cafe in Prospect when several of Fitzroy's inebriated writer friends grew annoyed at the implicit criticism of the self-deluding romantic ideals of the titular scribe. They took it to be a mocking of their scene, and flounced accordingly. This led to Fitzroy recording the jazzy single 'Too Beat for Two Beats' under the name 'Roger the Cat', with Landon Horny providing the voice of Roger for the unforgettable chorus:

Too hep for those cats
I'm feline groovy
Blue eyes, no cataracts
My relationship with myself
Is merely platonic
But I'd be lying if I said
I didn't want to take it further'

The success of the song drew attention from Hollywood. Mogul David O Selznick wanted to make an animated picture, telling Fitzroy that his 'cussin' cat causes kids to cry and I want a piece'. Arguments abounded as to the format, before settling on a quite spectacular mixture of tinted live action footage an animation, a psychedelic inversion of the yet to come real-people-in-toontown Roger Rabbit principle.

The film flopped. 'It wasn't Roger's horniness, his affair with Joan Fontaine, his taste for the swears or even smoking that Americans didn't like,' claimed Fitzroy. 'It was the fact that he was an intellectual, and talked alot.'1 Roger's poetic thrust, sexual clamour and propensity for cod-philosophy (and cod philosophy) found him an audience among students throughout the sixties, enough for a sequel Roger Gets Hep (1967) to be made, this time with no attempt to charm the kiddies. His iconic presence was seen on pin badges and banners at Vietnam protests across campuses in America, and in Paris in May 1968. It seems his constantly open spirit and questioning attitude will always find fans, albeit sporadically: A character named Roger the Catt appeared in Cheech and Chong's I Started A Toke (1981), and Roger appeared heavily in Jean-Luc Godard's Mickey Mouse biopic La Souris d'Hollywood (1987). The original film has been remastered and re-released several times, earning praise from Peter Cook who called it 'the result of a boozy seance between Doctors Seuss, Freud and John'. 2

'The truth is, Roger will always be quicker than me,' Fitzroy said in 1994. 'I never managed to pin him down in any story, strip or film. He was always too clever.' 3

'Bewitched by the Americas. Inca cats. The earth is soiled by tattooed spells. There, I was plugged into full cat voodoo, inserted into the mainframe, dispelled to a swirling hexed vortex. The Native Americans claimed that ancient cats, Gugols, were there, in North America, before humanity. They receded when Humans came. If your hive was Africa, ours was America. Inspired, giddy, lovestruck, I saw a ghostly cat that I followed. It looked pretty, pretty as me, and had a familiar gait that I attributed to a wombic memory of motherhood. When I saw her in an alley, I scared away another cat, shadowy and evasive, that slipped into the swampy indeces of the drugged city. The object of my affection did not acknowledge me once; just sidled away, with a follow me turn of the tail. Motherlode, They became expert at disappearing; they became attuned to the wind,. and took off in invisible flights. untailored modes. In the hollows of the man-made fortifications, in the call of the trees, they sing quietly. Dire tunes, terse and bitter some of them, but to a cat those hallowed meccas retune the brain like a lightning rod to the tail. exonerated spirits, The city was a used book, even when fresh metal. It's fifty-storey mountains came retro-fitted with hexes and chants, and weaved in the wind accordingly. Nectared breezes send bitter ghostly spells up Manhattan streets, before expiring in the salt of the Harbour. I was, reader, in a lather. Clutching at the West Virginian meterologies like they were tangible personages, Tom Rain, the firebrand, honest, brave, Lucy Sun, shy, alert, mating in their woozy troposphere boudoir, where further weathers are made, eternal variables of their uncles and aunts who spawn rainbow offspring with mixed metaphor jism. Awakened in a Louisiana hotel to perverse ecosystems, twitching my synapses like arcane texts, to be read aloud, to a matful of bovine schoolherd who would sink into a magical slumber and arise sainted and holy, handsome and wise.'

Roger the Cat, 'Roger in Amerryka!'Roger in Amerryka! Directed by Leonard Fitzroy Produced by David O Selznick, Tom Lord Written by Leonard Fitzroy Starring Landon Horny (voice), Joan Fontaine, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle Selznick International Pictures 92 mins Release Date US: May 1959/ UK Aug 1966 Tagline: 'The Cool Cat's Cool Cat Strikes Back (Hatless)'

1. Paris Match interview, 1986
2. Times interview, May 21 1992
3. The Guardian interview March 1994