Am I Blue?

Still hashing out what it is I want to do for my assignment. I have vague ideas of what I want to include – the surrealism of Jean Cocteau, a bit of the Orpheus myth, maybe some psychogeography. I quite enjoyed writing the latter, although admittedly my understanding of it is the Alan Moore model made famous in From Hell and Unearthing, and I don’t know how much it deviates from Iain Sinclair’s ideas (the two are mates, so maybe not that far off).

Creativity’s been stretched a bit thin as has my mood the past couple of weeks, what with everything else on my plate. A good chunk of my brain was colonised by dumbangel, my Theories of Creativity & Writing piece that blended together Riddley Walker, Brian Wilson and dealing with mental illness where I decided I’d write in fragmented Joycean English. I don’t make things easy for myself. God only knows how Joyce did it for Finnegans Wake; reading a few paragraphs felt like ingesting expired magic mushrooms and fucked about with the language centre of my head good and proper.

As much as it wore me out forcing myself into that headspace, I kinda liked writing something so weird and ‘outside’, for want of a better term. I can’t see myself going that far down the path for this module, but offbeat and poetic? I’m all about that. It was while trying to find something that fit my needs that I learnt about Derek Jarman’s final film, Blue.

Yeah, calling this a “motion picture” is a stretch. It really is what it looks like – spoken word narration over a single shot of International Klein Blue. I wanted to catch this at the Tate Modern, not sure if it’s still there, but YouTube led me to a full version of the CD album (Blue is the rare film that can be bought on DVD and CD) that sadly disappeared at the time of writing, so you’ll have to make do with this fragmented version. Listen to it while you work, and be borne away by the lovely writing. Jarman was dying from AIDS and going blind from complications with the virus (‘My retina is a distant planet, a red Mars from a Boy’s Own comic with yellow infection bubbling in the corner’), so for his last artistic statement, he and his friends (Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton, John Quentin) got into a recording booth and recited what is basically a prose-poem detailing Jarman’s life, his visits to hospital, his battle with his ailing sight, rousing chanties about oral sex, and the dreamlike journeys of “Blue” as the noble colour wanders through the void fighting the evil Yellow.

Trust me, this all works. There’s no narrative, it’s an exploration of memory and mind. I’m tempted to call this psychogeography of a sort. Rather than Sinclair walking the M25 to try and unearth “the fiction that is England”, or Sir William Gull using Hawksmoor churches to daub 20th century London with blood in From Hell, or even the twisted maze of branch and bone that was Carcosa in True Detective, this is a more literal use of the term – mapping out a person’s soul. Blue takes us from the waiting room in St Bartholomew’s Hospital to a labyrinth built of mirrors that blinds travellers on sunny days to Vincent van Gogh going mad in a yellow cornfield, and it all feels so natural. We’re in Jarman’s head, his beautiful imagination turning down different paths and places as he walks behind the sky, ‘an astronaut in the void’.

I’m not a million miles away from this style, or at least I’d like to be. Using words sparingly and precisely to create a picture.

Homework: Listen to Low by David Bowie (RCA, 1977). It’s what I keep spinning during winter, and the elliptical mysterious lyrics feel appropriate for what I want to do.


Psychopomp and Circumstance

The original title for this post was going to be something like “STATEMENT OF PURPOSE”, but that feels a bit too wanky and pretentious even for me. Nothing sends shudders faster down an Internet user’s spine than an angry young man declaring a manifesto.

I’ve started many a blog in my time, from Blogger to LiveJournal (remember when LJ was a thing? Good times.) (Sort of), and they tend to get abandoned and rust like a once-proud battleship, but they’re good marking points denoting when my style changed. Reading over an old blog a few days ago and I was really quite embarrassed by how much of a mouthy little fucker I was. I’m just a mouthy big fucker now, but hopefully one with more of a sense of empathy and greater perspective on things.

Hey, I said hopefully.

On top of studying an MA in Creative and Critical Writing here in Winchester, I work as a notetaker for disabled students, with my hours usually falling just before I get in the evening to tackle Barthes and Cixous and (ugh) Derrida. It’s very odd, moving from the world of the undergraduate busily taking notes and learning how to reference, to going postgraduate right after and tearing into the meat of literature and culture and even language itself. It’s like being Luther Arkwright, or Jerry Cornelius, or Casanova Quinn, or Iain Banks’s Transitionary, or any number of dimension-hopping heroes/psychopomps.

I’ve found myself fascinated by Jean Cocteau, and not just because he is one of many great luminaries with the initials JC (Jarvis Cocker, John Carpenter, Jesus Christ). The web show Brows Held High, in collaboration with musical parodist and Disney aficionado Tony Goldmark, recently released a three part review of Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which touched on the recurring themes in his work: gloves, mirrors as gateways, reflections, duality and ancient mythology, especially the tale of Orpheus. There’s plenty to read into there; most of Cocteau’s films, from Blood of a Poet onwards, involve a main character travelling to a dreamlike underworld, usually by way of mirror or magic glove, and coming back transformed. In some tellings of the myth, Orpheus was killed by Zeus for sharing mysteries of the divine amongst mortals, and when he emerges from the underworld without his beloved Eurydice, it’s haunted, burdened with new knowledge.

The music documentary 30th Century Man, a biography of London-based American musician Scott Walker, also compares its subject matter to Orpheus. Can’t say it doesn’t work – Walker’s Sixties albums were gorgeous and baroque with hints of darkness and dissonance, but even they were only whispered clues to the full-on avant-garde hellscapes he creates on works like Tilt and The Drift. There’s something intimidating but also kind of exciting in the idea of descending into the underworld and returning changed; doesn’t have to be tragic as per Orphic tradition, as Cocteau proved in La belle et la bête.

While we’re still talking about music, I’ve always been struck by a Giorgio Moroder quote right in the middle of Daft Punk’s epic-length tribute/sonic autobiography “Giorgio by Moroder”: ‘Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want.‘ We touched on this idea when discussing how Joyce used language in Finnegans Wake, studying and working within the rules precisely so you can break them and do new amazing things. Preparing and wearing a winged harness for years before going “fuck it” and just up and flying without it. Hence the title, a reminder to myself as well as the result of listening to Talking Heads: forget about doing things “right”. Write what you think works, and break shit if you have to.

HOMEWORK: Listen to OutRun by Kavinsky (Record Makers, 2013). Read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014). Next time, we’ll be talking about Unearthing by Alan Moore, Mitch Jenkins and Crook&Flail (Lex Records, 2010).