Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More Roie ...

More art from my deceased soulmate Rosaleen Norton ... this self portrait is a true favorite!  I'm fairly certain Ms. Norton did not have any body image issues ...

 "Whoa Mama."

- Mike Hunchback

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Part exploration, part confession, part magic trick, all Exorcism.

Jesus "Jess" Franco
1930 - 2013

When I was 15 years old, I wanted to place an order for VHS dubs of some rare Exploitation films.  I had been reading Psychotronic for a while at that point, and what was once an unidentifiable urge had manifested itself in the realization that there was indeed a universe out there of bizarre cinema, the likes of which I had not yet known.  There were these mystifying ads in Psychotronic, packed densely with way-too-small text and emitting an air of actual and genuine sleaziness. 

I had seen “Evil Dead” and “Day of the Dead” about a billion times, I had made all of my friends suffer through whichever silent German Expressionist film I could get a tape of, but I still felt there was … something else out there.  Something sicker, something more.  The unsavory titles that crammed the ads full were particularly indicative of this “other world” of film.  I only knew of a director named Jess Franco through the elegant, dreamy Vampyros Lesbos and his less popular Count Dracula with Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski, but these ads seemed to have literally dozens of different Franco films. 

Curiosity had reached its breaking point and I needed to order some of these tapes … “Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun” what the fuck was this stuff?

In any case, in 1995 when you wanted something mailorder, you needed a check.  I filled out a sheet of paper with the films I wanted, got a little cash together and before leaving for school one day I asked my father for a check in exchange for the cash,  so I could get some videos. 

My father had been supportive of film fandom in the past, but after I left for school that day he opened that letter to see exactly what kinds of films I was going to be ordering - needless to say, that letter never got sent and I was scolded pretty hard when I got home.  I guess the ads in Psychotronic seem somewhat unwholesome to the uninitiated.  The memory of my defense is still clear in my mind: “This movie is by a guy who directed a Dracula movie with Christopher Lee, how 'bad' could it be!?”

As the years went by and I got old enough to make my own pilgrimages to Kim’s in the city, I saw dozens of Franco films.  Then dozens more.  My adoration for him grew - this filmmaker could hit notes of artful composition, powerful sexuality, deep introspection, and bawdy humor in the span of a minute - yet these notes were merely by-products.  Clearly Franco was a rare man who was actually using filmmaking the way a Jazz musician improvises.  There’s a part of the infrastructure of a “song”, it has the melody sometimes, there’s echoes of a familiar riff, you hear the hook now and again, but these elements are just part of that big dizzying swirl of emotion being poured out from the soul through a horn.

Part exploration, part confession, part magic trick, all Exorcism.

The feelings that are involved in my absolute love for Franco’s work are not only hard to explain, but also somehow too personal to externally identify.

Today though, a part of my feelings for Franco’s work has made itself clear.  If Franco’s uncountable contributions had to be boiled down to one singular notion, if we're to name one lone factor for which his work is valuable, it would be this -

In a world where we’re told to walk the line or fail; in a world where we can literally lose our livelihood, our comfort, and even our lives if we don’t adhere to the status quo, we are given strict guidelines for what “success” is.  The acceptable parameters of “success” are dictated around us with no room to experiment, and in desperate confusion so many of us lose the ability to ignore these suffocating lines of distraction, the daily battering rams that drive us into bleak repetition.  So many of us are so mesmerized that those among us who shout out are the “crazy ones”.

The thing I realized this morning, the thing I realized just now, is that when faced with of all this, despite these enormous and complicated pressures to conform; Jesus Franco Manera simply chuckled, turned his back, and made another film.  And then another film.  And then another film …  With his incredible history of ups and downs, deaths of loved ones and soul mates, studios and producers, money and no money and NO money, Franco never saw the option to give in.  I’d have to guess that that idea never even occurred to him.  He had his own terms for “success”.   His success was not born of spite, desire for recognition, for fortune - it was never about anything besides making that next film.  Finding that new place on celluloid, no matter what other people would think or say. 

Though it goes against our deeply ingrained idea of “success”, I’d like to offer a personal opinion that I will hold dearly for the rest of my time here, and that is that there is no artist more successful than Jesus Franco Manera.  And even more gloriously, to emulate his success means to permanently enter the terrorizing, blissful, un-ending battle of being true to yourself.  No matter what, always.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dangerous Art from the Legendary ROSALEEN NORTON

Untitled, circa 1965

Sometimes I get excited about the fact that I don't know everything. It'll occur to me that my life is filled with impacting discoveries, and before each one of those discoveries I had no previous attachment to whatever it was that impacted me so. And therefore I'm always in that position, constantly finding out about things that move me, things to be obsessed with, and things to be fascinated by.

The latest big one is the amazing Rosaleen Norton. An Australian artist born in 1917, she became enchanted by the Occult and the Weird at a young age and embraced these qualities with her own fierce individuality. It was this steadfast embrace of following one's heart that the conservative atmosphere of Australia in the 1940's would not allow for, and Norton's story is unfortunately laced with tragedy.

"Moon", circa 1955

In her teen years she discovered 'WEIRD TALES' and became inspired enough by its Weird Fiction to create a few macabre tales of her own. Norton didn't stay writing for long however, drawing and painting quickly became her artistic voice. I assume she appreciated the art of Virgil Finlay, and clearly a myriad of religious and occult imagery. However, her work isn't too readily comparable to anything. In the 40's her work hung on coffee shop walls of the town she lived in, King's Cross. It was a bohemian getaway from the staunch and uptight surroundings of Australia at the time, and was said to be not unlike New York City's Greenwich Village.

Untitled , circa 1943

Norton practiced self-hypnosis, and drew under its influence, creating images existing in other dimensions that she claimed to gain sight of. She also experimented with drugs, using them as well to tap into other worlds; and using them in her own specialized practices of Black Magic. Dubbed "the Witch of King's Cross", a name Norton at first jovially embraced, she became a celebrity of sorts. She was open about denouncing Christianity and about being a Witch. At first it increased the public's knowledge of her (not her work), but after a while it did wonders to tarnish her reputation as an artist; and worse yet put her on the Australian government's radar as a threat to decency.

It may seem incredible, but Rosaleen Norton went to court time and time again regarding her artwork. She was fined, she had paintings and drawings confiscated, police showed up at her exhibitions and took paintings off the wall claiming obscenity - perhaps worst of all, she had paintings ordered to be destroyed by the Australian government. Her exhibitions were precious few, the art world simply wouldn't take her seriously (save for a handful). This rejection pained her, she felt that her work was valid and should be seen, so she didn't stop working. Even though it became a major impossibility to her art shown in a gallery, the coffee house walls still displayed her work. Much of her life in the 1950's and 60's was lived in poverty, and she and her young poet lover were even arrested for squatting when she had no other place to live. These are only glimpses of her whole story.

Although it's a quite naked thought, the life of Rosaleen Norton is a perfect metaphor for how one can follow her heart to the bitter end and see no reward for it in her lifetime. It isn't easy being ahead of your time. The battle to listen to your heart no matter what people will say or do to you is a constant one, a battle most people give up fighting from a very early age now. Rosaleen didn't. It was a thankless job that she suffered for, but she never gave up.

"Rosie with Snake", circa 1960

About the quality of these images: They are all taken from "The Occult Visions of Rosaleen Norton" which is a catalog for a posthumous exhibition of her work. Keith Richmond (an Australian who champions Norton's work, and has done much to preserve her legacy) wrote the excellent text outlining her life, however the images in the book suffer from low resolution digital photography and are mostly too blurry/pixelated to really enjoy! The three best pieces, which are also three of my favorites, are here to enjoy as well as some great photos of Ms. Norton, who is incredible to look at. I kind of have a crush on her. The wonderful Creation Books is releasing a comprehensive Norton book at the end of this year, and will without a doubt be the most thorough and accessible tome on her yet. I have some other pieces coming that will go up soon, when Part 2 of "the Incredible Weird Tale of Rosaleen Norton" is ready.