Saturday, 17 November 2012

What are we watching now? (Magritte's other Renoir period)

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Crikey, but I do like Rene Magritte 1898-1967 - like him to an extent I took for granted until only recently, I suspect either because he was so prevalent or more likely because the small book of his collected works that we had in the downstairs toilet when I was a child meant he just seemed part of the furniture (an idea he might have liked). Haunting, slightly naively, never going over the lines, and to a nine-year-old very much of the Cosmic Encounters/second-hand, high-concept sci-fi paperback School of Painting - classier obviously -  more elegant - and funnier too - drier, but nothing you could definitively point to and say: That's a joke. Or an alien. Not even this:


Rene Magritte - La Voix des airs (Voice of Space) 1931
... although does "des airs" really translate as "Space"?
I thought it would be the opposite.

Those apparently are jingle bells. I'd always thought of them as concrete but no, Magritte is quoted identifying them as "the iron bells hanging from the necks of our admirable horses" proving again what a dog French is to translate.

Writing "Time Spanner" - my tv show or screenplay or something I hope gets made anyway - I thought a lot about what I'd make the future look like. And then gave up. As James Burke* said in that Royal Institute Lecture I managed to crash with Jason Hazely and Joel Morris (all of us agreeing that it was one the best live gigs we'd ever seen): "I don't predict the future because I like to be right." Also, presenting the future as simply another country - the backdrop to a travelers' tale - fun and ace though that is, seemed in the context of what I hoped to write now to dodge the real significance of the future, which was - well I don't know, but not that. I think it's that we're older in it, and that it's coming, and unfamiliar. So although I had set out to write a genre spoof, I realised now that I didn't want the future to look like "The Future", because the architects' model is too familiar, and literally too present. Still, these scenes would have to look and sound like something and puzzling over what that might be I remembered Magritte. I wasn't sure how it would work but I thought, wouldn't it be great if this future somehow felt like a Magritte.


"Le Grand siecle" (which nobody has translated as "the big century") 1954

I've ditched that idea now. I think. Nevertheless I got very excited when a commenter on David Cairn's ever-smashing Shadowplay blog inadvertently introduced me to the hint of a realisation of this idea in the following silent-era pop video: "Sur un Air de Charleston" - a post-apocalyptic, surrealist, sci-fi after-thought shot in 1927 by Jean Renoir - universally acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the cinema - and featuring Renoir's wife Catherine Hessling as a dirty lady who dances for twenty minutes, and blackface vaudevillian Johnny Hudkins whom both imdb and BlackSci-Fi.com assure me is actually black. Les yikes! The overlap between surrealism and science fiction is inevitable when you're dealing with the end of the world of course. When supplies run low the identity of whatever's left will be forced to become more fluid (see also the early work of shunt, or indeed any theatre company before the funding arrives). Anyway, have a snippet:


The full silent slightly troubling 21 minutes are here (It's a Japanese site so I've no idea how to embed, soz). It's riddled with surprises, but I particularly recommend the opening minute for its Magritty shots of Hudgkins with his back to the audience in his proto-Sputnik bubble.
I don't know how I felt when I learnt this was four years before Magritte painted Voix des Airs. He must have seen it though.

* If you don't know who James Burke is you are in for a slab of brain treats. I can't help feeling Science and History - being taught separately - were taught wrong. Burke went some way to putting that right. Here.

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