Anyone remotely interested in animation should give this one a look: Yuri Norstein and Tale of Talesby Clare Kitson describes how the film was put together, how Norstein and Russia's 'mafia of decent folk' deceived KGB censors in order to keep the project alive, and how if grew out of autobiographical elements as well as Russian culture more generally.
Norstein really deserves to be better known outside of Russia, but I don't think his obsessive perfectionism helps: he's been working on a feature-length adaptation of Gogol's short story The Overcoat since 1981. Tale of Tales has been voted best animated film ever on at least three occasions. His previous film, Hedgehog in the Fog, is almost as extraordinary (apparently a drunk Russian walks "like a hedgehog in the fog" after it).
Manchester-based Type Records have had some pretty interesting covers in the last few years. The top three are are by Norwegian maker of "acoustic doom" Svarte Greiner (that third one is very Max Ernst-y, wouldn't you say?), the rest are Matthew Woodson's rather grim illustrations for Xela, whose electronic drones rearranged my innards recently when he supported Electric Wizard.
Just finished The Triumph of Kurt Schwitters by Barbara Crossley, the Russell Mills-designed cover having caught my eye in Abbot Hall Gallery a couple of weeks ago. It's heartbreaking reading. Schwitters spent his last decades in poverty and obscurity as a refugee in Ambleside, and his work was burned, bombed, lost, stolen and chopped up for firewood. He died just before the opening an exhibition of his collages at MoMA - the first time their significance was fully appreciated by the art world.
Adam Curtis has been making programmes for the BBC since the eighties. The term 'political documentary' doesn't do them justice. They use fragments of archive footage to explore the kind of history that isn't taught in schools, but not conspiracy theories; more how the unintended consequences of people's beliefs and actions have shaped the world.
"The BBC has an archive of all these tapes where they have just dumped all the news items they have ever shown. One tape for every three months. So what you get is this odd collage, an accidental treasure trove. You sit in a darkened room, watch all these little news moments, and look for connections."
In The Century of the Self, he examines how Freud's theories were twisted to the ends of PR and consumerism. The Power of Nightmares looks at how fear has been used to control society, twinning Islamic extremism with the Neoconservatives. His most recent series, The Trap, is about what freedom actually means in a consumerist society. If all that sounds a bit dry, you may be surprised.
These series can't be released on DVD due to the impossibility of clearing all the archive footage, and perhaps because of this, Curtis's work will from now on be made available on his website. But his latest project is a bit, well, different. It Felt Like A Kiss is part of the Manchester International Festival, and it's on til the 19th. It's long sold out, but I really would recommend hanging around outside the box office for returns. It's what I did.
Curtis, along with the Punchdrunk theatre company, has taken over all six floors of an abandoned office block in the city centre. I won't say too much about it as it's still on, but it's about the rise and fall of the American Dream, how the US covertly abused its power, and a lot of other stuff too. Nixon, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald and Lou Reed are all in there. Curtis's usual film montages are incorporated into the... experience. They say it's "not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition". They're not joking.
Currently reading Old Men In Love by Alasdair Gray. Gray has perhaps the highest reputation of any living Scottish writer, and illustrates his own books. This particular novel is ostensibly a collection of diary entries and attempts at fiction by John Tunnock, a retired history teacher living in Glasgow. Tunnock starts and abandons stories set in ancient Greece, Renaissance Florence, Victorian London and contemporary Glasgow. Gray studied at the Glasgow School of Art, and his drawing is as strong as his writing. Not often you can say that.
I had no idea that the Czech puppet animator Jiří Trnka had illustrated children's books, but there are plenty of examples here, here and here.
Trnka is best known for his final animation The Hand (1965), in which an artist is terrorized by and coerced into making sculptures of a giant hand. It's a none-too-subtle allegory of Stalinism, and unsurprisingly it was banned immediately after Trnka's death, although, like artist in the film, he was given a state funeral.