Archive for Influences

INFLUENCES: David Lynch’s Dune

Posted in Film, General Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Attempting to bring Frank Herbert’s mighty mystico-socio-political series of Dune novels to the big screen has had a somewhat fraught history, to say the least. Back in the seventies, for instance, when I was a teen obsessed with sci-fi literature and art, I was highly intrigued by artist Chris Foss’ conceptual drawings (seen in his Dragon’s Dream book 21st Century Foss) created for Chilean film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s proposed adaptation of the first book in the series, Dune. Bizarrely, he cast Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV and also asked Orson Welles to play Baron Harkonnen. As well as Foss, he also brought on board the comics illustrator Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud and HR Giger (one can only wonder what the film would have ended up being like with people like that involved). Needless to say, the whole thing collapsed due to extravagance.

Other attempts have also been made by producer Arthur P Jacobs, who asked David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India) to take on directorial duties; and also the late Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights and hired Ridley Scott (Alien) to direct a version as well, but after just seven months he walked out due to personal reasons and also a realisation that the film would be a massive and lengthy undertaking, something he felt he couldn’t commit to.

In the present, efforts are once more being made to bring it to a cinema screen near you. However, just as in Jodorowsky and Scott’s day, the production appears to be plagued with problems. This time it’s Paramount Pictures who are trying their best to get it made, but already it appears that directors have come and gone even before a single frame has been shot (Pierre Morel and Peter Berg, both named as directors, have both left the production). Pre-production has already begun, with a release date slated for sometime in 2012 (according to IMDb), but it’s now increasingly looking likely that it’ll never see the light of day – with more pressure being piled on Paramount because the option they have will expire relatively soon.

Despite all the difficulties, one director did manage to film Frank Herbert’s novel – David Lynch. However even this version carried on the tradition of having less than a smooth journey from script to screen. Lynch himself has stated that pressure from financiers and producers curtailed his artistic freedom and vision, meaning that when it was eventually released in 1985 he distanced himself from the project. The compromises he would presumably have had to make in order to satisfy the various camps necessarily resulted in a diluted film, a fact that was reflected in the lukewarm critical reception it received.

Since then, like so many other films that were panned on their initial cinema showings, Dune has built up a cult following, of which I proudly consider myself a member. I saw the film before I read the novels and, even though the film was in some respects confusing, I absolutely loved it. I locked into the arabic-influenced mysticism immediately – and the scene where Paul Atreides (played by Lynch mainstay Kyle MacLachlan) is standing in the desert, waiting for the sandworms to appear, and played out against Brian Eno’s haunting Prophecy Theme, positively sent shudders through me.

Even on a superficial level, however, it had everything that would instantly draw me into both Lynch’s vision and the world of Arrakis, politically and socially, that it portrayed. You have internecine intrigue, political and familial struggle between the warring houses of Harkonnen and Atreides, the promise of an all-powerful saviour (the Kwisatz Haderach) who would set things right, linked to the efforts of a religious order of nuns to prevent the birth and maturation of that saviour. Plus it took place within star-spanning societies and hierarchies, worlds very much different from our own. On top of that it starred many well-known names of the time: Kyle McLachlan, Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Freddie Jones, Everett McGill, Jürgen Prochnow, Patrick Stewart and Dean Stockwell amongst many others. Each of the actors instilled their performances with an authenticity that brought great depth and complexity to the film.

I have often felt that Lynch’s version has been much-maligned, both then and now. Having subsequently read the novels, I can see how difficult it must have been for the scriptwriter to condense all that convoluted plotting and subtext into a comprehensible screenplay. Even just that first instalment in the six novel series is pretty daunting reading – inter-relationships, personal and political, are extremely complex and weave a tangled web, indeed. Added to that are deeply abstruse philosophical and socio-political themes that are integral to the narrative – is it any wonder, then, that it’s had such a chequered cinematic history.

Forget what the critics at the time said about it – I suggest you hire it out or buy it, watch it, and just let the atmospheres and intrigues seep into the pores of your skin, and enjoy a celluloid spectacle that was both forward-looking for its time and yet redolent of the era when it was made. It’s definitely nowhere near as bad as it’s made out to be.

HR GIGER: his influence in my work

Posted in General Musings, Personal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

"Intimate Assassins: Memories of Long Dead Lovers" ©2003 - Simon Marshall-Jones

Take a good look at the picture above – it’s immediately obvious I should think just who has had greatest influence on my work and which artist also inspired me as a teen to pursue art as a career after I first set eyes on his work. HR Giger, the Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and, dare I say it, visionary, possesses one of those singular talents that has raised him far above any other artist of the 20th century, and has influenced not just art in the wider sense, but also writing, film, design and even culture.

First, a very short bio: Hans Rudolf Giger was born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland, the son of a chemist. He studied in Zurich, where he attended the School of Commercial Art there. His main artistic influences are Ernst Fuchs and Salvador Dali, the latter of whom he met through another painter, Robert Venosa. Most of his most famous images are large scale works, created with the airbrush and utilising a freehand technique. Later on, as exemplified in his series of paintings inspired by New York City, he started making use of stencils. However, it would be something of an understatement to say that the work of his that has had the most impact are those paintings depicting nightmarish combinations of flesh and machine, leading to the coining of the term ‘biomechanical’. This concept is best seen in his designs for Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction/horror shocker, and, to a lesser extent, in the 1995 film Species, directed by Roger Donaldson. He is still very much active today, although he has largely abandoned the airbrush in favour of pastels. markers, and ink.

So where did I first come across his work? In the pages of the glossy American science and fiction magazine OMNI, published by Bob Guccione (who also published Penthouse), launched in October 1979. In it, I was introduced not only to some of the greatest fiction by some of the biggest names in the field (Harlan Ellison, George RR Martin, Orson Scott Card, and William Gibson) but it also opened up the whole visual field of Fantastic Realist Art to my eyes as well. In addition to Giger, there were the likes of Ernst Fuchs, Matti Klarwein, Di Maccio, Peter Goodfellow, Bob Venosa and Gottfried Helnwein amongst others, whose incredible visions, often painted in a startlingly realistic style, just staggered my young mind. Those images (along with my earlier exposure to the original surrealists of the early 20th century) kickstarted my desire to follow in their footsteps.

"The Way of all Flesh" ©2003 - Simon Marshall-Jones

But it was Giger’s dark, unpleasant, and hellish imagery that impressed me most of all. No other artist I’d yet enountered had managed to encapsulate the ugliness and terror lying at the heart of science and technology gone awry, for instance. Death, and even the prospect of it, seemed less unsettling than the images conjured up by Giger’s mind. His visions of the alien were truly, truly, terrifying. His landscapes were gargantuan, bewildering and frightening, dizzyingly so. The distorted humanity that often figured in his work looked as if they were the ill-begotten progeny of decaying flesh and mad technology, killing industrial machinery grafted onto seared, unwilling skin and sinew.

And so, I was inspired – I bought myself an airbrush, and began the long process of teaching myself how to use it. There was no-one else around who knew what an airbrush was, let alone how to use one. I studied Giger’s works intensely, trying to work out how he’d achieved the effects he’d created. Then I would attempt to emulate those effects – sometimes successfully, other times not so successfully.

"Orgasmbutcher" ©2003 - Simon Marshall-Jones

So, fast forward to 1995-96. I’d rediscovered my enthusiasm for painting, having failed at getting anywhere with it in the previous two decades and had given up, going to university to study a degree in computer multimedia instead. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the course, however, and had begun to see my future lying in a different arena. During 1996 I managed to secure three exhibitions of my paintings, one in Reading and two in London, and a couple of magazines had taken notice of my work, too. I even got some of my images in a low budget British film, Preaching to the Perverted. Back then, I was a completely different animal – I was a very angry young man, extremely misanthropic and full of hatred for just about everything. My paintings were composed of a limited palette of colours – red, black and greys. I must have produced twenty paintings that year, most of which sold, leading me to procure some private commissions as well.

"HiveThink" ©2007 - Simon Marshall-Jones

And then, the stroke happened in 1997, and everything changed. All the anger dissipated and my outlook metamorphosed dramatically. I had escaped death simply by the bloodclot in my brain going down one vessel instead of diverting into another (yes, as narrowly as that) – if it had, I wouldn’t be writing these words now. Consequently, the way I expressed my artistic vision changed, too. Gone were the angry reds and blacks, and in their place came warm, sandy colours for the backgrounds. The flesh of the figures became, by contrast, blue, inspired in part by Hindu iconography – although, in my work, it represents freezing cold death, in both a figurative and metaphysical sense. Death itself is final, but even in life, we can live as if ‘dead’ to that which surrounds us.

The Giger influence is still there, however, mixed in with the bondage symbolism – we’re all in bondage to something, whether we’re aware of it or not. It could be to a mortgage, a job, a restrictive belief-system, an illness or an uncaring partner – anything which makes us feel less free than we think we ought to be. Life, in its own way, can be just as horrific as any film or story. And that is what my work attempts to express and get across.

Things have come full circle now. I find myself in the uncanny position of suddenly (and I mean suddenly) in demand for my artwork, a situation I fully never expected to see happen. In recent months I have had commissions for two book covers (Crabs: Apocalypse by Dave Jeffery and Stuart Neild, and The Unspoken anthology, to be edited by Willie Meikle and Stephen James Price) and a portrait of Gary McMahon. In many ways, then, I owe a debt of gratitude to the visionary of Chur, Switzerland, who inspired me in the first place and also for bringing me to this point – I think, in a very roundabout way, had I not taken up the airbrush after encountering Giger’s work I doubt I would have met all the fine people and friends I have. Once again, however, it just goes to show that life still has the capacity to surprise.

(In light of the recent scandals involving copyright theft and such [and my own brush with the issue], the orginal intent of this article was changed from being a study of Giger’s work itself to one of his influence on mine. That way I didn’t need to use his imagery or seek lengthy permission to use it. I have to thank Gary McMahon for suggesting I do it this way – I would never have thought of it, if truth be told.

Also, if there’s anyone out there who would like to commission me to create cover artwork for their books or just have one of my pieces hanging on their walls, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via fracturedspaces@gmail.com and we can discuss any requirements. – thanks!)

The Illuminatus!Trilogy

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on August 8, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

This is another in an occasional series of short articles exploring the books that influenced me in some way or other during my formative years, and this one, for me, blew open the doors of mind in a way that no other book had done up until the time I discovered it (or has done since, perhaps).

Today’s tome is actually three-in-one, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, a truly mind-blowing set of books that were, in some ways, the precursors to today’s blockbusters of the order of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, and others of similar ilk. The difference here, however, between the Trilogy and its modern brethren is that it’s actually a rollicking good read, and it also introduced ideas and themes (and narrative structures) that were truly ahead of their time and, to a greater degree than any of the copycat books of later years, captured the zeitgeist of the era.

But let’s start at the beginning shall we?

I was fourteen or fifteen years old, so it would have been about 1977-78 (or thereabouts – my memory is somewhat fuzzy these days) and studying for my O-levels. My good friend Karl (who I am still occasionally in touch with!) lent me the first volume in the trilogy, Eye in the Pyramid, presumably because he thought its oddity and bizarreness would appeal to me. And he was right – it was quite unlike anything I had ever come across, blending as it did conspiracy theories, countercultural themes and occultism with a global battle for world domination involving supposedly long-dead Nazis and secret societies. I then quickly devoured the other two volumes, The Golden Apple and Leviathan. My kind of thing, all told.

So, what happens in it then? I hear you all breathlessly ask.

Well now, there’s a question. It’s a sprawling novel, involving a battle between the Illuminati (founded by Adam Weishaupt and who secretly control the world) and the Discordians, led by the enigmatic Hagbard Celine, who travels around the globe in a golden submarine and funds his enterprise against the controlling secret society by smuggling drugs. Bring in such things as Atlantis and talking porpoises, the Gnomes of Zurich, Cold War confrontations, numerology, rock festivals, masses of drugs, deviant sex, early twentieth century occult societies and philosophies, psychedelic weirdness and mayhem, as well as a conspiracy that intends to give Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis (who have survived into their old age, despite reports to the contrary) eternal life through mass sacrifice (immanentising the eschaton – an event to be instigated at a rock festival in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, by the rock band American Medical Association). And there you have it. Sort of.

That’s grossly over-simplifying things, as it’s far more complex and convoluted than I could ever hope to describe in a short blog post. The Illuminatus! Trilogy (and yes, the exclamation mark is absolutely essential here) is so much more than just a rollercoaster of a thriller in the mould of the Da Vinci Code. It displays a self-awareness and sophistication lacking from later ‘conspiracy thrillers’ (except, perhaps, Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum – but then, that was written by a professor of philosophy). It’s self-referential, takes the mickey out of and deconstructs itself, and often employs ‘meta-fictional’ devices, such as the characters themselves coming to a realisation that they aren’t actually real and only have an existence within the confines of the novel they’re in. Narrative viewpoints change constantly, too. It’s a clever book, but it’s never smugly or pretentiously so (as some modern literature has a tendency to do). Extra layers are added in the form of personalities and events from history, effectively mixing fact with fiction in such a way that the reader is left wondering about the plausibility of the whole scenario.

That in itself is very clever, since that’s how many conspiracy theories weave their dangerous magic. By introducing verifiable elements into the narrative (whether conspiracy or fiction novel) , then the reader is always left in some doubt as to whether it could, in fact, be true. This is the device that hooks ‘believers’ into the clutches of many conspiracies in the first place, in other words, the very plausibility of the conspiracy reels them in.

The Trilogy itself was born out of the stream of letters that both Shea and Wilson received whilst they were Associate Editors of Playboy magazine in the late 60s. Rather than throw them away, they decided that it would be more fun to string a narrative together out of them, especially considering that many of the conspiracies shared a lot of the same basic ingredients (a very human trait – seeing patterns where there aren’t any: the human mind is unable to comprehend, or reconcile itself with, chaos). The pair started as early as 1969, at the height of the Flower Power/Counterculture period (which, presumably, is why there are copious drug references and also espousal of ‘free love’). The Trilogy itself didn’t appear until 1975, and only after several rejections and the final publishers asking for 500 pages of it to be cut out (a fact that was cleverly woven into one of the Appendices in the final volume, where ‘paper shortages’ were blamed for the non-appearance of a large chunk of the book).

There have been ‘sequels’ of sorts, all written by Wilson: Masks of the Illuminati, The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles (The Earth Will Shake, The Widow’s Son and Nature’s God), The Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy (The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat and The Homing Pigeons), The Illuminati Papers, and the Cosmic Trigger trilogy – The Final Secret of the Illuminati, Down to Earth and My Life After Death. Wilson had found a rich creative seam, and often used the vehicle to expound his own take on things. Shea, though, never collaborated with Wilson on, or touched the idea of, anything to do with the Illuminati again.

It’s also had an enormous amount of influence in other areas, being turned into an 11-hour stage performance by Ken Campbell’s Science-Fiction Theatre Of Liverpool. There has also been a comic-book adaptation, as well a card game created by Steve Jackson and a role-playing game. It even led to the founding of real Discordianism (including the publication of The Principia Discordia, by Malaclypse the Younger) and The Church of the Subgenius. It’s even provided names and ideas for bands, like the KLF (The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu), Machines of Loving Grace and Mixmaster Morris’ Irresistible Force. And, of course, it gave us a new genre of fiction: the conspiracy thriller.

What did it give me, however? It taught me about possibilities, both in terms of fiction itself and in narrative structures. It essentially freed me from the constraints of the linear storyline and it also showed me that it was okay to be weird, bizarre and screwed up as long as the story was internally consistent. By way of an unintended consequence, it also set me on a path of seeking out those beliefs and streams of thought and media that were termed ‘underground’, ideas that helped to enormously enrich my cultural and philosophical life. I discovered The Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, HP Lovecraft and much else within its pages. It also led me to things like fortean phenomena and underground comix. A great deal of that has gone by the wayside as I have grown older – but what STILL remains from reading the books is a very broad outlook on life and an understanding that what we see on the surface is only a part of what goes on – there are currents bubbling underneath that we’re mostly not party to. History, for instance, isn’t just a series of disconnected dates and discrete events: they were only the results and consequences of actions and currents that happened long before those events took place.

Above all, though, is the fact that it’s a damn fun read and it taught me that much of human activity, however important we may think it is, is just so damn absurd and incredibly pointless sometimes.