The Outsider – H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft Unbound

H.P. LOVECRAFT’S “THE OUTSIDER”

I just had a nice little re-read of this very short Lovecraft classic and thought I’d do some googling. Behold: goodies! The music is particularly good, although it looks as though it’s been around for a while, so apologies if this is a mere memory jolt for you. I recommend enjoying it with a warm cat, a glass of red wine and a beat-up paperback.

What drives this character to keep going into the unknown is mystery. He has seen signs, warnings that what is coming will destroy any remaining sanity he has left. Yet, he trudges on through the darkness and into a room filled with some abject horror. He even reaches out to touch one of it gruesome paws before he turns and runs for his life. The Outsider is for those of us who have dreamed that those who raised us are mysterious and incompressible. When we finally forced to face our parents, truly understand who they are and what they are about, we are faced with a shockingly realization that we may never understand them. We can only see monsters and wonder how they came to care so deeply for us. Aaron M. Wilson

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I’ve found some amazing atmospheric music inspired by Lovecraft by Michael Brückner. It’s available to buy as a digital album or on a CD, but you can also just listen to tracks here. With titles such as Haunter Of The Dark, The Call Of Cthulhu and Dreams At The Witchhouse, it makes for some genuinely creepy listening.

I actually had stumbled upon his name, upon musical adaptions of some of his stories, upon pastiches of lesser authors and even one or two of his oiginal stories before, but at this early encounters, it didn’t click – instead, for some reason, it hit me with the power of a crashing meteor from the depths of outer space when I was 19 or 20 years old, and in a state of utter fasciantion I had to devour any book by him that I could find (fortunately, most of his work was still in print then in excellent German editions back then). After being obsessed with his work for some time, I also started to take interest in Lovecraft’s unique – and quite strange – personality, studying any biographical information on the man I could find, and discovering that weird as he may have been, I could find many parallels in his life to my own troubles, problems and feelings. – Michael Brückner

And below is a great short film from Emerson College. I loved it!

 

Wise Words from Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. He is the man Martin Luther King called “An Apostle of peace and nonviolence.” His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment—the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world. – Plum Village

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“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”


“My actions are my only true belongings.”

“If you love someone but rarely make yourself available to him or her, that is not true love.”

“Our own life has to be our message.”

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.”

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5 Days of Photography. 5: Philippe Halsman (1906-1979)

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It’s the final day of 5 Days of Photography and I’m finishing as I began; with an oldie. Day 5 is Latvian-American artist Philippe Halsman, responsible for that photo of Einstein and producing work for Vogue and Life magazines. Dabbling in photography from the age of fifteen, Halsman went on to become one of the world’s most recognised photographers, working with subjects such as Marilyn Monroe and Richard Nixon.

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“I realised that deep underneath people wanted to jump and considered jumping fun” – Philippe Halsman

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He exhibited his work several times at the avant-garde Pléiade gallery alongside other photographers including Man Ray, André Kertész, Brassaï and Laure Albin Guillot. When Germany invaded France in 1940, Halsman’s prosperous career came to an end and he fled to New York with his family. There he would work for numerous American magazines including Life, the first magazine illustrated solely with photos… In all he shot 101 covers for Life magazine.
But Philippe Halsman was far from being just a celebrity photographer. In fact he experimented his whole life long, pushing back the boundaries of his chosen medium. For more than 30 years he worked in close collaboration with Salvador Dalí and invented ‘jumpology’, which consisted in taking photos of famous people jumping as a way of obtaining more natural and spontaneous pictures of his subjects.
Philippe Halsman stands out by the wide range of his activities: portraits, fashion, reportage, advertising, personal projects, as well as private and institutional commissions. Halsman’s photography is characterised by a direct approach, a high level of technical mastery and attention to detail. 
L’oeil de la Photographie

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Born to a Jewish family of Morduch (Maks) Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal, in Riga, Halsman studied electrical engineering in Dresden. In September 1928, 22-year-old Halsman was falsely accused of his father’s murder while they were on a hiking trip in the Austrian Tyrol, an area rife with antisemitism. After a trial based on circumstantial evidence he was sentenced to four years of prison… He was pardoned and released in 1930.[1] Halsman consequently left Austria for France. He began contributing to fashion magazines such as Vogue and soon gained a reputation as one of the best portrait photographers in France, renowned for images that were sharp rather than in soft focus as was often used, and closely cropped. When France was invaded by Germany, Halsman fled to Marseille. He eventually managed to obtain a U.S. visa[citation needed], aided by family friend Albert Einstein (whom he later famously photographed in 1947). Halsman had his first success in America when the cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden used his image of model Constance Ford against the American flag in an advertising campaign for “Victory Red” lipstick. A year later, in 1942, he found work with Life magazine, photographing hat designs; a portrait of a model in a Lilly Daché hat was the first of his many covers for Life… In 1951 Halsman was commissioned by NBC to photograph various popular comedians of the time including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx, and Bob Hope. While photographing the comedians doing their acts, he captured many of the comedians in mid-air, which went on to inspire many later jump pictures of celebrities including the Ford family, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, María Félix and Richard Nixon… His 1961 book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, discussed ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work by following six rules:

“the rule of the direct approach,”
“the rule of the unusual technique,”
“the rule of the added unusual feature,”
“the rule of the missing feature,”
“the rule of compounded features,”
“the rule of the literal or ideographic method.”

In his first rule, Halsman explains that being straightforward and plain creates a strong photograph. To make an ordinary and uninteresting subject interesting and unusual, his second rule lists a variety of photographic techniques, including unusual lighting, unusual angle, unusual composition, etc. The rule of the added unusual feature is an effort by the photographer to capture the audiences attention by drawing their eye to something unexpected by introducing an unusual feature or prop into the photograph. For example, the photograph of a little boy holding a hand grenade by Diane Arbus contains what Halsman would call an added unusual feature. – Wikipedia


Please note that Examining the Odd does not condone the throwing of cats, no matter how wonderful an artist you are.

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Vanished Paths: Crisis of Representation and Destruction in the Arts from the 1950s to the End of the Century

Leonora Carrington – Quotes

Leonora Carrington was a truly inspirational visual artist and author. Here are some wise words from a fantastic woman.

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Dunce – A Short Story

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Dunce

Everyone calls Dunce ‘Dunce’. Everyone thinks that Dunce is an idiot. I used to think so too but not any more.

Dunce is completely bald and has a really pointed head so the temptation to get him paralytic on his thirtieth birthday, carry him to the tattooist’s and get a nice big ‘D’ smack bang in the middle of his forehead was too much for me. Trouble is he can’t afford to have it removed so he wears a big plaster over it. Gangs of children tease him.

‘What’s underneath the plaster, mister? Show us!’

They swear he has a third eye under there.

My name is Bill but Dunce calls me ‘Fez’ on account of my hat. I’ve known Dunce for over sixteen years. I don’t have to use my memory to work that out; I just count the number of boxes of Turkish Delight I’ve got stashed in my cupboard. Dunce buys me a box every birthday. Dunce thinks that because I wear a fez I must be Turkish (I’m not) and that being Turkish I must like that powder-covered gunk (I don’t, I hate the stuff).

On my last birthday, after saying:

‘No, Dunce, I’ll eat it later,’ and stashing box number sixteen in the cupboard, I decided to take Dunce to the theatre. He’d never been before.

The play was called ‘Death in the Dark’. We had front row seats. Dunce was captivated. He stared at the actors with a gaping mouth.

The lights dimmed to darkness. Kitty Malone, the beautiful star of the show, was stood centre stage. A shot was heard. Dunce jumped right out of his seat.

‘What was that?’ he said.

The lights came back on and Kitty was lying in a pool of blood. Dunce let out a scream then shouted:

‘Someone call for an ambulance! And the police!’

The audience thought that Dunce was an actor, that the play was being cleverly extended beyond the stage, questioning the boundaries of theatre.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Dunce shouted at the audience. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘This is wonderful, just wonderful,’ I heard someone say behind me.

Kitty was stoically sticking to her role, thinking that the show must go on, but Dunce was clambering up onto the stage, crying, stroking Kitty’s hair and checking her pulse.

‘She’s alive!’ he shouted with relief.

‘No I’m not!’ Kitty hissed at him through clenched teeth.

That was it; I was in hysterics. What a birthday treat this was turning out to be.

‘I’m acting. It’s part of the play. No one really shot me,’ Kitty hissed at Dunce.

The realisation was excruciatingly slow. I watched Dunce’s face change from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment. He made his way back to his seat. He didn’t speak or look at me until the play was over. The play got a standing ovation and we headed for the bar.

Kitty was in the bar too. She smiled at Dunce who blushed. She seemed to be fascinated by the top of his head. She walked over and invited him to her dressing room.

Twelve hours later and Dunce was in love! How about that? And what’s more, Kitty was in love too! And not only that but they were in love with each other! Kitty fell for Dunce. Not ‘fell for’ as in ‘was deceived by’ because there’s no deception where Dunce is concerned, he can’t do it, but she fell from her deceptions towards him. I couldn’t believe it.

‘It won’t last,’ I said to Dunce. ‘Enjoy it while you can but face facts: you are Dunce and she is Kitty Malone. Think about it.’

Dunce told me that Kitty had a thing about ice cream cones, a fetish you could say. She ate six a day. She liked to bite off the tip of the cone and suck out all the ice cream. She had a recording of ice cream van music that she played whilst they were having sex. She was forever stroking the top of Dunce’s head.

Then came the day. Dunce came round looking really worried.

‘Fez, have you seen Kitty? Do you know where she is?’

‘No, I haven’t seen her. Why? What’s the problem?’

‘I had a dream last night,’ Dunce said. ‘I dreamt that I was in bed and I looked at the calendar by the side of my bed and it was tonight. I put out my hand to touch Kitty but she wasn’t there. There was just this cold sludge covering her side of the bed and this smell: vanilla. It was melted ice cream.’

‘So what’s the problem?’

‘I think that something is going to happen to Kitty. I have to find her before tonight. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning alone in a bed full of melted ice cream.’

‘Dunce, dreams don’t mean anything and prophecies are impossible. Sit yourself down. Let’s have a couple of beers.’

I opened a cupboard, reached in to get the beers and a pile of boxes of Turkish Delight toppled over and fell out, breaking open and spilling their contents all over the floor. Dunce looked at the boxes then looked at me. I watched his face go through the same slow transformation from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment that I had witnessed so many times before.

‘You don’t like Turkish Delight?’ he said.

I said nothing and guiltily handed him a beer.

Dunce sighed then said:

‘So why did I have that dream?’

‘No reason at all,’ I said.

We sat in silence for a while then Dunce suddenly stood up.

‘It’s no good, Fez, I have to find her.’

Dunce found Kitty in the centre of town, lying on the pavement in a pool of blood. An ambulance and the police were on their way. An ice cream vendor was crying and yelling:

‘I don’t understand! I don’t understand!’

A huge, plastic ice cream cone was protruding from Kitty’s chest. It had fallen from on top of the ice cream shop for no apparent reason, smashed through her rib cage and crushed her heart.

Dunce cried. Then he cried some more. The next day, he cried and the day after that he cried. Three weeks later, he awoke, dressed, ate some breakfast, then cried. The next day, he came round to see me. He was crying.

‘Hello Dunce,’ I said. ‘Do you want a beer?’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he said. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘It was an accident, Dunce,’ I said angrily, ‘a random occurrence. These things happen. You just have to get on with life. Why are you so stupid?’

I regretted saying it as soon as I heard it come out of my mouth. Dunce stared at me with tears in his eyes.

‘A fez is only a severed cone,’ Dunce said. ‘At least I have a point.’

I took off my hat and looked at it sullenly. Dunce had a point that he had a point. If he’d found Kitty a moment earlier… if I hadn’t delayed him with my arrogance, my cynicism…

‘Fez,’ Dunce said, ‘you remember the tears that I cried in the theatre when I thought that Kitty was dead but she wasn’t? I think that the tears I am crying now are the same as those. I didn’t understand what was going on in the theatre and I didn’t understand what was going on when the cone fell on her. I think that maybe we only cry because we don’t understand what is going on. Maybe if we understood what is really going on we wouldn’t cry at all, ever.’

Dunce smiled through his tears and beneath the plaster on his forehead I swear I saw something move.

 

Copyright © 2014 Mike Russell. All Rights Reserved.

This story is one of twenty that can be yours by purchasing Nothing Is Strange.

20 mind-expanding short stories

Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy… Nothing Is Strange! 

The Stunningly Surreal World of Jan Svankmajer

Prolific across the arts, he is best known for the dark, surreal visions and macabre comedy of his films. Combining live action, puppetry and a rich range of animation techniques, he is widely recognised as one of the most original and influential film-makers in world cinema. Cine City

Svankmajer is a Czech visual artist as well as a director, although he’s most well known for his films. These include Lunacy, Surviving Life and Alice, amongst others, with sex and death nearly always present. Lunacy, starring Anna Geislerova, is a poetic and disturbing piece which draws upon the work of Sade and Poe, using Svankmajer’s trademark of live action mixed with stop-animation.

Lunacy

Loosely based on two short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, with a leading character inspired by the Marquis de Sade, Lunacy is an allegory for the crazy world we live in. Young Jean, plagued by maddening nightmares after his mother’s funeral, is invited by a Marquis to spend the night in his castle. MIFF

Jan Svankmajer’s LUNACY – trailer. Warning: it’s always safe to assume that anything to do with Svankmajer is not safe for work. Although, I always think this depends on where you work.

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“Animation is, so far, the only way of breathing life into inanimate things” – Jan Svankmajer

The Picture in the House – H. P. Lovecraft

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I decided to start my weekend by reading H. P. Lovecraft’s The Picture in the House, one of his shortest shorts. It’s a great little story which plays with one of society’s greatest fears… not just being killed, but what will happen to your body once your spirit has gone? It’s always fascinated me that people will dwell on this to such an extent.

Above is the page from Thomas Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, which features heavily in The Picture in the House and describes the Anziques as cannibals, although Lovecraft references Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo. The engraving is by Theodor de Bry and is apparently not even close to being one of his most disturbing images (see heading picture). His interesting and indeed creepy work has been reproduced many times since the 16th century.

They have shambles for human flesh, as we have of animals, even eating the enemies they have killed in battle, and selling their slaves if they can get a good price for them; if not, they give them to the butcher, who cuts them in pieces, and then sells them to be roasted or boiled. It is a remarkable fact in the history of this people, that any who are tired of life, or wish to prove themselves brave and courageous, esteem it great honour to expose themselves to death by an act which shall show their contempt for life. Thus they offer themselves for slaughter, and as the faithful vassals of princes, wishing to do them service, not only give themselves to be eaten, but their slaves also, when fattened, are killed and eaten. It is true many nations eat human flesh, as in the East Indies, Brazil, and elsewhere, but to devour the flesh of their own enemies, friends, subjects, and even relations, is a thing without example, except amongst the Anzichi tribes. 

– from Chapter 5 of Regnum Congo

Today, the Anziques are known to be called the BaTeke and the claims of cannibalism are in some considerable doubt.

Anyway, back to The Picture in the House!

In the doorway stood a person of such singular appearance that I should have exclaimed aloud but for the restraints of good breeding.

-from The Picture in the House

Throughout the story I am amused by the snobbery of the narrator, commenting on his own “good breeding” and becoming seemingly bored by the old man once he realises that he possesses a child-like intelligence.

I’ve said before on this blog that I like a horror story which reaches the senses. My favourite parts of The Picture in the House are those which describe the surroundings, making me feel as though I can touch and smell the walls, books and other objects surrounding the narrator.

Inside was a little vestibule with walls from which the plaster was falling, and through the doorway came a faint but peculiarly hateful odour.

I love to be in an old building where the slightest touch causes bits to crumble from the wall, and smell is always my favourite sense to read. If anyone knows of a book or essay in which the portrayal of odour in fiction is discussed, please leave a comment! I must admit that I haven’t yet searched for it myself.

This 2009 well-made amateur film is a fun adaptation of the story and was an official selection of the American H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival of the same year. It’s nice to see short stories kept short when put on the screen and they’ve managed to produce an excellent, effective old-film feel. An Indie film for an originally Indie author!

Music for Peace of Mind – The Theremin

Music for Peace of Mind was the last of the three projects on which Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman* played theremin on pieces composed by Harry Revel, following 1947’s Music out of the Moon and 1948’s Perfume Set to Music.

We are lucky enough to own a theremin, although I’ve yet to learn to use it properly! The same can be said for my accordion and musical saw…

I love the way that a theremin can sound like the singing of an old forties actress! It has also been described as “an electronic instrument whose sound sometimes resembles human vocalise, the theremin whoops and wails eerily in response to hand gestures near, but not touching, its antenna.” – If you don’t have Spotify (or something similar), you can listen to Music for Peace of Mind here. Many famous artists have included the theremin in their music too, including Tom Waits, The Tiger Lilies and Led Zeppelin.

*Dr. Hoffman started his musical career in New York as Hal Hope. During the daytime he worked as a chiropodist, but in the evening hours he played the violin in a swing and dance band. Samuel Hoffman saw the theremin first in Jolly Coburns band somewhere in the mid thirties and he decided to study the instrument because it would make an interesting novelty in his band. In 1941 Hoffman moved to Los Angeles, and he registered with the musicians local listing as a violin and theremin player…In 1949 Capitol records brought Hoffman and Revel together again, to make another post-war lounge music record: Music for peace of mind. This one is the most dreamy and romantic record in this box. To quote the record sleeve: ‘In every life there are times when things seem to go exactly right; when business and health, life and love, dovetail into a pleasant pattern that results in “peace of mind”. Out troubled and complex world today offers all too few periods when we can relax in this happy mood. At best perhaps we have memories of such moments—The music in this album is dedicated to such moments.Its written and played, not with the crashing chords of conquerors, but with simple relaxed harmonies…gentle rythms…we warm, vibrant tones of a flute in the low register, and themes on the exotic theremin…Songs on this record are: This room is my castle of quiet, The darkness gives me you again, Remembering your lips, My troubles float away like fallen leaves, Your soft hand on my brow, I dream of a past love…The guys at Basta did a wonderful job. The music quality is clear and bright. thereminvox.com

I also like to try to sing in the style of a theremin. I can’t really sing and it’s quite painful (physically to me and probably to anyone who hears it), but it’s lots of fun! There must be other people in the world that do this… surely? Or you could give it a go? It comes from the back of the throat. We could start a theremin vocal choir!

You can hear some of our experimental “music” on this earlier post.

Jonathan Glazer’s Birth

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I’ve only just got round to watching director Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, even though it came out twelve years ago in 2004. To be honest, I didn’t know it existed until I saw Under the Skin (twice in three days) and desperately sought out more Glazer-goodness. However, I still thought it was worth writing a post about since I haven’t met a single other person who’s seen it. Please do comment with your thoughts about the film, as I’m intrigued to know why others liked or indeed didn’t like it. Most online reviews that I’ve seen have called it “staggering” and “incredible” and I feel like I’m missing something.

Being a huge fan of Sexy Beast and an ever bigger fan of Under the Skin, I was disappointed and confused, particularly by the music and sound choices throughout the film. I found it laughable in places, frustrating in others. There are many prolonged shots of people staring, walking, running… shots which would be beautiful if it weren’t for the strange music which made me feel as though I was watching Home Alone (particularly with the snowy scenes) or some other 90’s family film. This isn’t a film I would want to watch on a Sunday afternoon with my grandparents (although, I did awkwardly watch Under the Skin with my Grandfather), so why use magical, family music?

Nicole Kidman was great throughout, as she always is in non-mainstream films. She comes across as honest and real, surely in part due to the writing and direction, but I don’t think many actresses could pull this role off. In fact, this was Kidman’s greatest working period, with Dogville having just come out the year before. That really is a wonderful film and I highly recommend giving it a go if you’ve not come across it before.

I just cannot fathom how Glazer watched the film back and thought the music worked, particularly when the music in Under the Skin pretty much makes the film, and considering he has made fantastic music videos (Radiohead’s stunning and memorable Karma Police for one).

The image above, taken from the scene where Kidman stares ahead for considerable time whilst in a theatre, would probably have me crying buckets if the music were different. Even silence would work. The story itself seemed like a great idea when I read the synopsis, and I did enjoy much of it. Most of us have some anxiety regarding losing our partners at a young age and the difficulties of “starting again”. Trying to put yourself in the shoes of the main character, or even of the little boy, is fascinating, scary and exciting. Do you go back to your old life, with the person that your memories tell you was your true love?

I assume many people would find the idea of the story a little repulsive or “wrong” and I wonder if that’s why it didn’t do so well. Perhaps I would have enjoyed Birth more if I had seen it before Under the Skin, as I was desperately hoping for severe strangeness and a dream-like feeling which lingers long after the end credits.

The one brilliant thing which I think exists in Sexy BeastBirth and Under the Skin is to present such incredibly believable characters (although Glazer cheated in the latter in his genius move of using many non-actors throughout the film). I just wish Glazer would hurry up and give us another film to get excited about.