Archive for Michael Moorcock

Page Seventeen III: The Search for Spock

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2021 by dcairns

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books purchased from Edinburgh’s second-hand bookshops, most of them from the all-you-can-eat bookshop on Ferry Road. For the best effect, I suggest reading them all in Noel Coward’s voice.

Some Little Girls lived nearby, and I forced them to act in a tragedy I that I had written, but they were very silly and during the performance forgot their lines and sniggered, so I hit the eldest one on the head with a wooden spade, the whole affair thus ending in tears and a furious quarrel between the mothers involved.

As a result of this unusual posture of my legs, I seemed shorter and my gait was quite changed. For some reason my whole body was slightly inclined to the right side. All I needed was a cane. One was lying near-by so I picked it up although it did not exactly fit the picture of what I had in my mind. Now all I lacked was a quill pen to stick behind my ear or hold in my teeth. I sent a call boy for one and while waiting for his return paced up and down the room, feeling how all the parts of my body, features, facial lines, fell into their proper places and established themselves. After walking around the room two or three times, with an uncertain, uneven gait I glanced in the mirror and did not recognize myself. Since I had looked in it the last time a fresh transformation had taken place in me.

‘I’m pleased to hear it.’ Jerry’s voice was sardonic as he entered the room rather theatrically and closed the door behind him.

‘That is what we call Forced Acting,’ defined the Director.

‘And how would you know,’ inquired the actress, ‘ with false teeth?’

The Archbishop then enters, and in a speech of paradoxical and somewhat abstract imagery, makes a difficult pronouncement about the human will and its place in the divine pattern of being, what it must suffer and how act ‘that the pattern may subsist’: what Becket says to the Chorus, as their instructor, is said to Becket at the end of the Act by the Fourth Tempter, with a fine dramatic irony; for Becket is to act and suffer, willing both, that the pattern may subsist, yet cannot see (until later when light breaks upon his understanding) how he can do either ‘without perdition’; the advice he has given is turned against him, and both paths before him–acting and suffering–seem to ‘lead to damnation and pride.’ Because the speech is difficult, it seems to need explanation, word by word; and yet, as Dr. Johnson has said, ‘ the easiest word, whatever it be, can never be translated into one more easy.’ It is a difficult thought:

“Well in film you play the theme, and then you play the theme again and then you play the theme and then you play a variation of the theme and then you play the theme . . . “

…said the Actress to the Archbishop.

Present Imperfect by Noel Coward; Building a Character by Constantin Stanislavski; The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock; An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski; Acid Drops by Kenneth Williams; by Nevill Coghill’s introduction to Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot; Michael Kamen quoting Carl Prager in Knowing the Score by David Morgan.

Page Seventeen II: Attack of the Clones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2021 by dcairns

Leaving the Church changed Luis’s intellectual habits as well. Until then, he had coasted along on the usual teenage reading: Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter, with the occasional Spanish feuilleton. Afterwards, Darwin, Nietzsche, Kropotkin and novelists of the Spanish realist tradition replaced them. Luis never went back to reading for recreation. In his seventies, the books on his shelves were histories of the Church, some surrealist poetry, and Heni Fabre’s pioneering texts on insects. If one wanted sex, action and travel to exotic lands, they were more easily found in the real world.

“I’ve had time to think it through,” Boyd said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I can accept the fact, but not too well, only barely. Luis, do you have some explanation? How come you are so different from the rest of us?”

He did not believe, and yet he admitted the supernatural. Right here on earth how could any of us deny that we are hemmed in by mystery, in our homes, in the street, – everywhere when we come to think of it. It was really the part of shallowness to ignore these extrahuman relations and account for the unforeseen by attributing to fate the more than inexplicable. Did not a chance encounter often decide the entire life of a man? What was love, what the other inescapable shaping influences? And, knottiest enigma of all, what was money?

The 12th came, and he shot wretchedly, for his nerve had gone to pieces. He stood exhaustion badly, and became a dweller about the doors. But with this bodily inertness came an extraordinary intellectual revival. He read widely in a blundering way, and he speculated unceasingly. It was a characteristic of the man that as soon as he left the paths of the prosaic he should seek the supernatural in a very concrete form. He assumed that he was haunted by the devil – the visible personal devil in whom our fathers believed. He waited hourly for the shape at his side to speak, but no words came. The Accuser of the Brethren in all but tangible form was his ever present companion. He felt, he declared, the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his blood. He sold his soul many times over, indeed there was no possibility of resistance. It was a Visitation more undeserved than Job’s, and a thousandfold more awful.

Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser’s closet; but John’s eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on one wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have exclaimed in his after-life, ‘Only the eyes had life, They gleamed with demon light.’ – Thalaba.

‘Excuse me,’ said the impenetrable Scotchman. ‘I beg to suggest that you are losing the thread of the narrative.’

‘Anyway,’ Mavis was anxious to reassure him that she had not lost track of the original topic, ‘it’s the same with Swiss Cheese Plants. They’re strong. Any conditions will suit them and they’ll strangle anything that gets in their way. They use–they used to use them, I should say–the big ones to fell other trees in Paraguay. I think it’s Paraguay. But when it comes to getting the leaves to separate, well, all you can say is that they’re bastards to train. Like strong men, I guess. In the end you have to take ’em or leave ’em as they come.’

Seven extracts from seven pages seventeens selected willy-nilly from my charity shop hauls and library visits. Wilkie Collins’ Armadale is my current reading matter, and very thrilling it is too, with shipwrecks, murder, dream detection and sinister schemes. It actually has a chapter entitled “The Plot Thickens” and may even mark the origin of that expression. Highly recommended if you want something fat and gripping, and you have no Laird Cregar in your life.

Thanks to Jeff Gee for the Simak.

Bunuel by John Baxter; Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Clifford D. Simak, from The Best Science Fiction of the Year 10 edited by Terry Carr; La-Bas by J.K. Huysmans; The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan, from Scottish Ghost Stories, selected by Rosemary Gray; Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin; Armadale by Wilkie Collins; The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming by Michael Moorcock.

Page Seventeen II: The Search for Curly’s Gold

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2021 by dcairns

‘Now,’ said my uncle, addressing himself to me directly, ‘in order to read the sentence you have just written, ‘I have only to take the first letter of each word, then the second, then the third, and so on.’

Underworld, a silent picture, opened on Broadway in the same month as The Jazz Singer. Dialogue would turn out to be as important to the crime film as it was to another genre which developed in the ‘thirties, the screwball comedy. The dialogue gave crime movies much of their flavour, starting with the steely terseness of the opening speeches by Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar: ‘Diamond Pete Montana – he doesn’t have to waste his time on cheap gas stations. He’s somebody. He’s in the big time, doing things in a big way. And look at us – just a couple of nobodies. Nothing . . . . Say, I could do all the things that fellow does, and more, only I never got my chance . . . . What is there to be afraid of? And when I get in a tight corner, I’ll shoot my way out of it. Why, sure. Sure. Shoot first and argue afterwards . . .’

The Antrobuses have survived fire, flood, pestilence, the seven-year locusts, the ice age, the black pox, the double feature, a dozen wars, and as many depressions. They have run many a gamut, are as durable as radiators, and look upon the future with a disarming optimism, Ultimately, bewitched, befuddled, and becalmed, they are the stuff of which heroes are made–heroes and buffoons. They are true offspring of Adam and Eve, victims of all the ills that flesh is heir to. They have survived a thousand calamities by the skin of their teeth, and Mr. Wilder’s play is a tribute to their indestructibility.

Osman kept pressing. At over six foot, he had the bearing of an old-fashioned military officer and the manner to go with it – abrupt in a way that could easily be interpreted as rude. He did not suffer fools gladly. The next year he attended a meeting of the Committee on Imperial Defence, explaining that it was a blunder not to have maintained a compulsory register of pigeon owners. His profound knowledge of pigeons was clear but there was also an element of self-interest – he proposed that an appeal for volunteers could be made through the Racing Pigeon, the newspaper he edited. It was agreed that a committee of four — including Osman – should start a National Pigeon Service, the NPS. It was to be riven by bitter infighting.

We’ll have cots out in the middle of the track, the promoter said, ‘and have the doctor and nurses on hand during the derby. When a contestant falls and has to go to the pit, the partner will have to make two laps to make up for it. You kids will get more kick out of it because the crowds will be bigger. Say, when that Hollywood bunch starts coming here, we’ll be standing ’em up . . . . Now, how’s the food? Anybody got any kicks about anything? All right, kids, that’s fine. You play ball with us and we’ll play ball with you.’

Perhaps in response to Alvarez’s questioning, the screen began to show old newsreels of Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg, Hitler relaxing at home near the Austrian border, Hitler fondling little children. These were swiftly replaced with images of Kemal Ataturk smiling sternly at his modernized countrymen. Mussolini, Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin, Franco were played in a sequence culminating with a trembling still of Birmingham a few seconds before she was taken out.

‘Your intellectual, social, political status could be pegged by knowing which coffee house you called home away from home,’ observed the Hollywood director André De Toth who had grown up in Hungary and worked for Alex Korda in the 1930s. Korda’s home from home was the Café New York. A favourite haunt of writers and artists, it was, in Paul Tabori’s description, run by ‘a most understanding head-waiter who acted as pawnbroker, money-lender, father confessor and agent to his large, varied clientéle.’ It was a place both to meet people and also to work. You could spend hours at a time here nursing just a cup of coffee. The most indigent person could swell with confidence in its palatial surroundings. ‘They sent you off to face the day not thinking, but knowing you are the king,’ recalled De Toth. But there were niceties to observe. ‘It all depended, of course, on how well you tipped.’

View but his picture in this tragic glass, says the Prologue, And then applaud his fortunes as you please.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from seven books bought from Edinburgh’s charity shops.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne; A Pictorial History of Crime Movies by Ian Cameron; From the program notes of The Skin of Their Teeth by Thornton Wilder, quoted in Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan; Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Corera; Black Box Thrillers: 4 Novels by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy (natch); The Alchemist’s Question, from The Opium General and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock; Korda, Britain’s Only Movie Mogul by Charles Drazin; Tamburlaine the Great, quoted in J.B. Stean’s introduction to Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays.