Archive for Gerald Kersh

The Haul

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2018 by dcairns

My support of Leith’s charity shops may be getting out of hand. This is the result of a single traipse up Leith Walk, stopping in at eight or so shops. I don’t think anything cost over a pound. Still, if I added up my month’s outgoings I might get a shock.

The stack of Hitchcock paperbacks, many of them stamped with the marks of defunct second-hand bookshops I frequented in my youth, contain stories by favourites Gerald Kersh, Donald Westlake, Frederic Brown and others. I only bought a third of the stock. I may have to go back for the others, though, if they’re still there.

I won’t keep everything here — I can imagine myself watching WALL STREET — morbid curiosity, I’ve never seen it — and then giving it away. But then, I can imagine myself never watching it, which would mean I’d be stuck with it, eating up shelf space.

I’d been looking for copies of THE GODFATHER films for ages, and they turn up fairly frequently, but always scratched. These ones seem to be in good nick, so I now have the complete set — I and II.

The other day I went out specially for a copy of Nic Roeg’s THE WITCHES because I’d realised I didn’t own it and The Shadow Trap podcast made me want to revisit it, or at least the opening scenes. I came back with nine films.


Always Reading Books, Sir

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2017 by dcairns

Marvelous Mary alerted us to the Christian Aid book fair and, swallowing my disapproval of anything with the word “Christian” in it, we went along. Last year I got a super-rare book of Gerald Kersh short stories (get into Kersh — a must!) and Ray Milland’s autobiography and a number of other things still lying unread. It was time to enlarge that pile.

(Milland’s book tells us of his screen near-debut in Scotland. He was cast in a small role, shipped north, and spent a week in a hotel looking at the rain hitting the windows. Never made it in front of a camera. Got paid. Went back south. Pretty good training for the movies.)

This time I got no film books (film & TV section was a depressing load of TV spin-offs) but the stuff I came back with has several filmic connections and also would form a pretty good plan of the inside of my head ~

Three Men and a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome

The Complete Books of Charles Fort

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, Len Deighton

Bill the Conqueror, PG Wodehouse

I Chose Caviar, Art Buchwald

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol.2, Ben Bova, ed.

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, Michael Cox & R.A. Gilbert, eds

Random passages. You’re welcome to try to assign them to their source tomes. I was going to colour-code them so you could at least tell where one ended and the next began, but then it seemed more entertaining not to.

Mr. Mankowitz pulled me to one side. “Do you know why all those fellows are standing around Miss Lollobrigida?”


“Because there is a rumour that if a virgin flea bites Miss Lollobrigida, and then bites another person, that person will inherit the Colosseum in Rome.”

“Is that the truth?”

“Yes, but it has to be a virgin flea. There was one flea that bit Miss Lollobrigida and then went out of his head and started to bite other fleas. We had to kill him.”

The founder and proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company, that vast concern which supplies half–the more fat-headed half–of England with its reading matter, hung up the receiver.

I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word-padlocks, once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a certain word, which the dealer confides to you.

Descartes tells us that monkeys could speak if they wished to, but that they prefer to keep silent so that they won’t be made to work.

The desk-telephone emitted a discrete buzzing sound, as if it shrank from raising its voice in the presence of such a man.

“Telephone for Mr. Palmer. Calling Mr. Palmer. Send Mr. Palmer to the telephone.” The operator’s words lacked the usual artificial exactness, and were only a nervous sing-song. It was getting her, and she wasn’t bothered by excess imagination, normally. “Mr. Palmer is wanted on the telephone.”

“Smell that air,” said Major Mann.

I sniffed. “I can’t smell anything,” I said.

“That’s what I mean,” said Mann. He scratched himself and grinned. “Great, isn’t it?”

Early next day he took Mr. Greathead’s body out of the bath, wrapped a thick towel round the head and neck, carried it down to the dairy and laid it out on the slab. And there he cut it up into seventeen pieces.

Rossen was shouting for us to keep quiet. “Have we got enough blood on the set?” he asked the make-up department.

They said there was enough blood.

“Okay, give Alexander a large wound in the leg.”

I lifted my spear to protect him, but somehow the make-up man fought his way through and splashed blood all over Burton’s thigh.

They built forts, or already had forts, on hilltops.

Something poured electricity upon them.

The stones of these forts exist to this day, vitrified, or melted and turned to glass.

The Thing on the floor shrieked, flailed out blindly with tentacles that writhed and withered in the bubbling wrath of the blow-torch.

It was said of demons that they could make large and bulky creatures like the camel, but were incapable of creating anything delicate or frail, and Rabbi Eliezer denied them the ability to produce anything smaller than a barley grain.

A city in the sky of Liverpool. The apparition is said to have been a mirage of the city of Edinburgh. This “identification” seems to have been the product of suggestion: at the time a panorama of Edinburgh was upon exhibition in Liverpool.

I walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.


The Sunday Intertitle: The Erotic Adventures of Prince Achmed

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on October 2, 2016 by dcairns


So I finally got to see Lotte Reininger’s shadow-puppet animation THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED on the big screen, thanks to the wondrous Shona Thomson, organizer of the tour it’s just been on — this 90-year-old German silent has been all around Scotland, accompanied by improvisatory acoustic combo Sink, playing to packed houses. I failed to crowbar myself into the screening at Filmhouse, so popular was it, but Shona got me a comp for beloved Bo’ness, the final stop on the tour.


“No, not the Flooby Monster!”

The plot is glorious nonsense, seeming as improvised as the score, and less organized, despite the time-consuming nature of animation. Reininger evidently aspired to script as quickly as she could scissor a cut-out character, and the result has the chaotic, freewheeling, logic-free quality of authentic folkd tale/myth, even though virtually nothing is actually taken from The Thousand and One Nights. Aladdin and his lamp feature, but are conflated with Ali Baba’s cave and a number of other things. My favourite aspect of the flaky structure was the long flashback (The Arabian Nights is full of nested narratives within narratives, it’s like Cloud Atlas written by an army of monkeys) in which Aladin (sic) recounts how he got from being some poor schmoe in Baghdad to having a palace and living with a princess, to losing everything and becoming a poor schmoe in China, being attacked by a flooby monster (I call it that: it doesn’t have a name in the film. I suppose it would be ein floobenmonster in the original German). This saga is embedded within Achmed’s own adventure, happening in parallel with it, but seems to cover weeks of time at the very least, whereas Achmed’s story appears to unfold within a single day. I love this. It’s the most impossible thing in a story containing demons, spirits and a mechanical flying horse, but it’s hidden in plain sight.


All I knew about Lotte R. is that she made this kind of thing. Turns out she made it by sawing a hole in her best dining table. But I did know a little about Oskar Fischinger, who worked with melted and reformed wax — though he has no credit on the film, I wondered if he was somehow involved, as the bubbly, globular magic performed by the sinister African sorcerer looks very Fischingeresque. There are also great effects with shadowy shapes, identifiable as the work of credited collaborator Walter Ruttmann, who created similar effects for Fritz Lang.


To begin with, Achmed’s adventures seem rather sex-obsessed. The sorcerer fancies his sister, so gets rid of Achmed with his flying horse. Achmed lands, with some difficulty, in the Wak Wak Islands, where all the girls are crazy about him. There’s a long kissy sequence which slowly and hilariously transforms into a riot as the girls can’t get enough of each other and start fighting each other and wrecking the cut-out scenery. Very Weimar moment where to girls lunge at once and he ducks and they’re surprised to find themselves kissing one another.


Audience members reported being enchanted by the tiny rippling reflections in the water.

Escaping the hot-tempered maidens, Achmed then peeps at the Princess Pari Banu and her maidservants bathing, and steals the princess’s feathered bird-of-paradise costume so he can abduct her naked. But then he wins her heart by letting her have clothes after all. This is the end – almost – of the sex part of the film. The rest is mostly violence, except for when Achmed rescues Pari Banu (the English subtitles persistently called her Peri Banu, an act of imperialism almost as bad as Achmed’s own) from the fiendish Chinese, and immediately takes her to bed. This is pretty sudden: they’re still in China, surrounded by enemies. But I guess he’s waited long enough.

(Once, researching puppetry for a project, I found a book which had a whole chapter on eroticism. Every single image was appallingly creepy. It seems that puppetry, using as it does human movement, like dance, is well-suited to evoking sex, but because it uses surrogates, the result is always going to be really freaky and wrong. Animation, which does not use human movement, and in a way does not depict real movement at all, is further removed from reality and somehow becomes less weird and pervy. So ACHMED can be full of intimations of hot puppet sex without making you worry about what the puppets smell like.)


I loved the use of shallow focus: pre-anime!

Demons versus spirits! Witch versus sorcerer! The final parts of the film feature multiple decapitations and mayhem, with Achmed’s scimitar despatching his opponents almost as fast as Reininger’s scissors can create them. If you’re a little worried, as I was, by the travesty of African and Chinese villains, you can take comfort in the fact that all the characters are ethnic, with Aladin in particular having a very beautiful Arabic quality in profile, without being caricatured. I guess in a story like this, the Arab characters are stand-ins for the presumed white audience, but at least they’re allowed to look Middle-Eastern. It’s not like casting Dale Robertson as Sinbad Jnr.


Sink’s music complimented the magic show beautifully — landing squarely in the mysterious Central Zone between right-but-obvious on one extreme and distractingly-wrong on the other, the accompaniment was always spot-on but in ways you couldn’t define or explain. The trio don’t always even look at the screen, apparently, but play an assortment of instruments, including the proverbial kitchen sink as part of the percussion. If you could tear your eyes from the screen you could catch the saxophonist ringing bells with his feet. I was wondering how the kids in the audience — and there were several — would react, but they were good as gold, and they got to play with the instruments at the end, which may possibly have been the most magical part of the evening for them. Oh, and there was a microphone with some weird echoing special effects on it, the one non-acoustic element of the score. I kind of wish I’d had a go on that, but I did ring a foot-bell.

From Gerald Kersh’s short story The Musicians, which I was reading just before the show started:

The second saxophonist played without moving his body. He was a long, lachrymose man, but as his fingers ran over the keys, complicated as the controls of a submarine, his eyelids drooped, his cheeks fell in, and something like a sleepy smile curved the corners of his mouth, as if he was sucking sweet nourishment out of the reed. […]

The drummer brandished strange weapons. He tickled the parchment with wire, and it laughed; rapped it with sticks, and it muttered; beat it with a club, and it groaned; while the man’s face, distorted as with rage, writhed and grimaced, and a queer fleck of golden light reflected from one of the cymbals fluttered around his mouth and forehead.

But Willie seemed to sit above it all. I watched his face. It expressed the mildest kind of astonishment. He held his violin, richly coloured like smoked fish, and glanced with a kind of dismay at his left hand, which, leaping out of his cuff, was running wild on the strings.