Monday, 11 June 2018

Netherwood and Stevie Smith

I see that the new edition of Netherwood can be yours for a mere £2000 on Amazon. See here.

It is still available for £30 (plus p&p) at the Accumulator Press 'shop' on The Big Cartel here and for varying prices at the usual bookshops listed in previous posts. At the upcoming talks this month and next you can buy it from me for even less.

Thursday 28 June Whistler Chelsea's Greatest Artist here

Saturday 30 June The Haunted City: Modern Monsters and Urban Myths here

Thursday 12 July Whistler in Chelsea: A Guided Walk here

Thursday 24 July Decadent London here

JUST ADDED: Subterranean City: beneath the streets of London Friday 7 September details to follow.

In preparation for the Conway Hall talk I've been searching through some old newspapers online and coincidentally found a review of The Magic of Aleister Crowley by John Symonds from The Guardian of 13 April 1958, written by the renowned poet Stevie Smith.

She finds the book 'comical', but also notes 'how wretched [Crowley's magick] really is and with what horrid echoes from past centuries it dins on the mind.' 'To the author Crowley was an eccentric old gentleman, more comical than horrible, shrewd enough off the record, and well worth visiting, and cosseting ... In his retreat in Hastings, in the boarding-house called Netherwood, Crowley was a great attraction. His eyes stared, his ears stood out, he took drugs, swigged black market brandy and was long and spectral - in fact just what one wants in an English seaside boarding-house.'

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Jack in the Green

The magnificent Jack in the Green festival starts in Hastings on Friday. Details here.

The weather forecast is very good, so the Old Town should look beautiful.

I shall be making efforts to sell copies of Netherwood over the weekend.  It will be on sale at Albion Books in George Street and the new premises of the lovely Hare & Hawthorn, also now in George Street, the epicentre of much Morris dancing and general JITG activity. There will probably be a poster in the window advertising it.

Netherwood is still available through the Big Cartel. See here. About half the 500 copies have been sold since September last year.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Haunted City Conference

I am delighted to have been asked to speak at The Haunted City: Modern Monsters and Urban Myths, a conference to be held at Conway Hall in central London on Saturday June 30.

Booking details here.

There is a fascinating array of speakers including many whose works I have cited in my own books and research. For example Mike Dash has produced excellent archival work on Spring-Heeled Jack, banishing the myths perpetrated by Peter Haining; Dr David Clarke has not only written on folklore but is the (co) author of some of the most clear-eyed books on UFOs, particularly the British experience, based on meticulous research through government files in the National Archives.  I am also interested in hearing more about Slender Man, who infiltrated the online community a few years ago.

I hope to have books for sale throughout the day.

I imagine tickets will go fast, so make sure you get one.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Further Spring and Summer Talks and Events

More talks and events coming up.

A talk on the life and art of J A M Whistler at Putney Library Thursday 24 May 7pm. Details here.

A walk based on William Burroughs sojourn in London in the late 1960s, early 1970s will take place on Saturday 26 May from Westminster Reference Library 3-5pm. I will be joined on this guided walk around Burroughsian haunts in Soho and St James's by Dr William Redwood and samizdat printer and publisher Jim Pennington who met Burroughs during this period - see this interesting piece about him here. This event is organised by Salon for the City and tickets must be booked and paid for online in advance. See more details and for booking tickets here.

It will coincide with an exhibition at Westminster Reference Library featuring parts of the archive of London countercultural legend Barry Miles. See here and here. There will be a live interview with Miles at the library on Wednesday 30 May again organised by Salon for the City. Details here.

An article in The Quietus here.

A talk on the life and art of J A M Whistler at Kensington Central Library Thursday 28 June 6.30pm. See here.

Whistler in Chelsea walk from Chelsea Library Thursday 12 July.  Details here.

Decadent London talk at Kensington Central Library Tuesday 24 July 6.30pm. Details to follow.

Talk at an urban folklore conference in central London in late June. Details to follow.

'Tunnels Under Holborn' talk at Holborn Library Local Studies Centre Thursday 11 October 7.15pm. Details to follow.

Gary Lachman's talk on Aleister Crowley at Kensington Library last month can be seen here.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Talks On The Way

Just to confirm talks this spring (hopefully, it will be warmer by then):

Thursday March 15 6.30pm Kensington Central Library FREE

Aleister Crowley: Life & Legacy     I shall be joined this evening by Gary Lachman.

Bookings here.

Thursday April 5 7.30pm Burgh House, Hampstead for Camden Local History Society (non-members £1 at door)

Tunnels Under Holborn

Bookings here.

Thursday April 12 6.30pm Kensington Central Library FREE

Subterranean City - Underground London in Fact and Folklore

Bookings here.

As usual, at all talks a selection of my books will be for sale at reduced prices. Always signed on request.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The London Mithraeum

To the London Mithraeum last Friday.  Removed from its previous post-war incongruous location at ground level in the heart of the City of London, and unavailable for some years, it has now been returned to its subterranean location on the banks of the now-sunken river Walbrook.  An excellent piece about the reconstruction here.  I've visited many Mithraea over the years, some of the most atmospheric in Rome, at San Clemente for example - see here.

I think the newly-restored London temple has managed to conjure up the numinous atmosphere of the all-male congregation chanting in Latin before the stone image (now in the Museum of London) of the tauroctony very effectively with sensitive lighting, sound and smoke. There is also a very well-displayed array of finds from the site of the new Bloomberg building, beneath which the temple now sits. The guide told me that 80% of what you see is original, the side walls are much higher than I remember them from the original and make it more impressive. Entry is free, but you have to book in advance - see here.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Talks and Walks 2018

It looks as if I shall be quite busy with talks and walks this year. Some are still being finalised, but so far we have:

     Thursday 15 February talk The Underground Folklore of England    Kensington Central Library Lecture Theatre starts 6.30pm

See here for booking.  Only about 20 FREE tickets left from 200. This subject is always popular.

     Thursday 15 March talk Aleister Crowley: Life and Legacy    Kensington Central Library Lecture Theatre starts 6.30pm.  Gary Lachman will also be talking at this event.

See here for booking.  This FREE event is also doing well, about half the places have been booked.

Thursday 5 April talk Tunnels Under Holborn    Camden Local History Society Burgh House, Hampstead starts 7.30pm.  See here for booking.  Non-members pay £1 entry.

Also in April there will probably be one of my general Subterranean City talks about underground London. To be confirmed.

Late May a walk with Bill Redwood and others about William Burroughs to coincide with an exhibition about him in central London. To be confirmed

June a walk about Whistler in Chelsea visiting some of his haunts and locations. To be confirmed.

There will probably be more later in the year.

I shall have copies of my books for sale at all events, usually with considerable discounts. Obviously there are more available at the talks as it's uncomfortable carrying large numbers of hardback books around on a walk.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Fall of the House of Usher

An article in the latest issue of Hastings Town (No.121 February 2018) on the film The Fall of the House of Usher made on location in Hastings between March 1946 and November 1947.  The director was Ivan Barnett and the article provides some useful background information on the director, provided by his son Adrian, a professional photographer.

When I contacted Adrian during the writing of the first edition of Netherwood his father was still alive but very frail (he died in 2013), and my questions  about the film were conveyed to him by his son. The results form one of the sections of the Netherwood book. They also very kindly allowed me to use a number of stills from the film as illustrations.  Many scenes were filmed inside Netherwood (the House of Usher was the exterior of the guesthouse) and most famously Aleister Crowley was present during the filming, as the director confirmed to me (he found the Great Beast 'very polite...pleasant and amenable'). The article repeats the claim that one of his paintings appears in the film, although I've been unable to confirm this, having viewed the film a couple of times. An unusual monument in Beauport Park - now a caravan park - appears in the film and can still be found in situ.

While the article is interesting, there is no indication that the author has read, or even heard of, Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley (which does not really surprise me, as it's had no coverage locally, despite some efforts on my part, such as contacting the local newspaper - to no avail - this is definitely one of the plus points of social media and the internet, which enable these traditional gatekeepers to be bypassed). Coincidentally, I watched the Roger Corman Vincent Price 1960 version of Usher last night, before I knew about the recent article.

Also there's no mention that the author of the article has actually seen the film, which I initially saw on a DVD purchased online that had probably been burned on someone's laptop.  More recently the BFI has restored the film and it can be viewed on cheap subscription on their website here.  It looks considerably better, clearer and sharper, and I enjoyed it much more on second viewing in its enhanced format ( a missing reel has been restored to make the running time 70 minutes, rather than the 60 of the DVD).  Vernon Symonds, proprietor of Netherwood and amateur actor (Crowley ended up at Netherwood following an enquiry from one of Symonds' fellow actors) also appears in the film. Recently critical opinion has been brought to bear on it - Jonathan Rigby in the latest edition of his excellent English Gothic (2015) - my British horror film bible - declares it 'a compellingly weird and atmospheric one-off.' Worth checking out.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Catching Up

The new edition of Netherwood is now on Amazon. See here. However, it says it is 'currently unavailable'.  It is certainly available from the bookshops listed in previous posts and most easily from:  here

My talk on underground folklore on Thursday 15th in Kensington has proved very popular - an extra 50 (FREE) tickets have been released.  See here.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Italian Horror and Gialli

To see in the New Year I've been watching a selection of Italian horror and 'giallo' films - the latter graphically violent films from the early 1970s - the genre name originating from the yellow covers of the crime novels by which they were influenced.  Interestingly, from my point of view, I couldn't help noticing that they many of them shared the theme of a mural which held an important clue to the plot of the film.

One of the best was Lisa and the Devil directed by Mario Bava (I've seen a number of his films this year, including the seminal Black Sunday available in a Blu Ray release with I Vampyri, the first Italian post-war horror - the genre had been banned under Mussolini).  Elke Sommer plays a tourist on a tour of Toledo who gets separated from her group in the narrow canyon-like streets of the medieval town and enters a dreamscape of murder orchestrated by the Devil, played with relish by Telly Savalas (Sommer's character had seen his image previously in a local mural). Trivia fans may care to note that he sucks a lollipop throughout the film, but this is prior to its iconic appearance in Kojak; apparently he and Bava came up with the idea and he later added it as an essential prop to his television portrayal of the New York cop that secured him worldwide fame.  Another point of personal interest is that Bava was keen on the old secret tunnel, especially one that leads to a large ornate fireplace. Beautifully photographed and dripping in atmosphere, Lisa and the Devil is an oneiric, almost surreal experience but was not a financial success.

Producer Alfredo Leone had invested a lot of money and decided that he didn't want to lose it and so recalled Elke Sommer and filmed new sequences for which the old film would provide flashbacks.  Cashing in (literally) on the recent massive success and notoriety of William Friedken's The Exorcist, this remodelled movie was entitled House of Exorcism and on the recent Blu Ray release you have the opportunity to view it together with Lisa and the Devil.  I found it a nonsensical desecration of a beautiful film - Bava's name does not appear as the director - I watched it while listening to Leone's commentary - he still thinks he did a good job.  It's nevertheless worth watching, as some scenes from Lisa and the Devil are more graphic and sexually explicit and had obviously been cut from the original film.

I've now also seen Bava's 1966 Operazione Paura (cornily retitled in English Kill, Baby ... Kill), generally reckoned to be his best and I think I preferred it a little over Lisa and the Devil.  It's a great film, again beautifully photographed, with a real dreamlike quality and surreal scenes such as the hero endlessly running on a loop through the same room until he catches up with himself.  The sinister young girl at the centre of the mystery was actually played by a boy (how useful these DVD extras are) in a blond wig, an early example of the 'creepy/killer kid' found in many later horror films.  Coincidentally, the camp boyfriend of one of the central characters in Profondo Rosso was played by a young woman.  The simple but highly effective use of a bouncing ball to signal her presence was used by a number of subsequent filmmakers (including Fellini) as one of the extra films on the Blu Ray demonstrates, although they left out the one that sticks most clearly in my mind - a scene in Marathon Man, where a ball bounces menacingly down a dark arcade.  

Another gialli, The House with Laughing Windows had a great sense of atmosphere which builds up as a restorer uncovers more than he intended to when working on a mural of the martyrdom of St Sebastian in the local church of an isolated Italian town.  Follow the link to an absorbing online essay on the iconography of St Sebastian, whose arrow-ridden body is ubiquitous in Italian churches and galleries - while in Genoa a few years ago I saw an exhibition solely devoted to Guido Reni's depiction of the martyred saint.

Profondo Rosso, which I also saw, was filmed in Turin and I remember walking along the magnificent arcades that feature heavily in the film and standing by the large reclining river statue that is the central focus of a beautifully framed scene.  The location is the Piazza CLN, built during the Fascist period, see here.  The scenes here also clearly reference Edward Hopper's famous painting Nighthawks.  The Blu Ray release has a very absorbing film studies essay on Profondo Rosso and other Argento gialli such as The Bird With Crystal Plumage.  Obviously the incidental music provided by Italian prog rockers Goblin contributes greatly to the film.

 Incidentally, I also watched the recent Blu Ray release of Friedkin's Sorcerer.  Brilliantly filmed with some memorable moments - the lunar landscape at the end of the journey for example and the laborious progress of a truck laden with nitro glycerine over a rickety bridge.  But it took a long time to get to the central story - the introductions of the four major male characters were fascinating but could have made separate films in themselves.   Crucially, I didn't actually find it that tense - I recall seeing Wages of Fear (on which it's based) on television decades ago as a boy and feeling really tense, which I didn't with this film.   The score by Tangerine Dream is recommended. The DVD has an interview with an entertaining Friedkin by Nicolas Winding Refn which is definitely worth seeing - Friedkin emphasises that films are dreams, a point brilliantly demonstrated by Mario Bava.