Jacques Tati’s “Play Time”

Look about you and you’ll see there’s always something funny happening. – Jacques Tati

Imagine a Paris of the future, as envisioned by someone in the 60s. The city landscape is a series of towering glass and concrete constructions, filled with uninviting black, vinyl modernist furniture and efficient businessmen wearing indistinguishable dark suits. The only glimpse of the remaining romantic image of Paris is a ghostly reflection of the Eiffel Tower in the polished glass door of a high-rise building. Offices are operated by incomprehensible switchboard systems that would have made HAL bewildered; trade shows supply visitors with identical looking furnishings and pointless implements of efficiency, like doors that can be slammed without making a sound, or trash cans shaped like Grecian columns; and every apartment, airport, building lobby and street corner looks exactly the same.

Sounds devastating, I know.

Somehow, director Jacques Tati managed to fill this drab, colorless world with an assortment of characters and plot turns, creating one the most lighthearted and whimsical spectacles I’ve seen in a long while.

In 1967, Tati wrapped up three years of filming (including 9 months of editing) of Play Time, his third film featuring an endearingly bumbling character named Monsieur Hulot, played by the director himself. The movie was a grand undertaking shot entirely in 70mm, with elaborately constructed sets and a stereophonic soundtrack that was quite advanced for the time. It was also a tremendous financial flop that sent Tati into bankruptcy.

The best way to go into the film is without expectations, only to come out smiling. The title is appropriate – the movie is a farce, but such a sweet and kind-hearted one, playful yet extremely stylized. Any plot description, long or short, won’t convey the effects of the meticulous character choreography, the clever visual humor, or the deliciously crisp audio track. However, Play Time’s basic synopsis is such: through a series of coincidental interactions, two bewildered characters (Hulot, with his too-short pants and smoking pipe, and a young American woman traveling with a guided tour group) barely cross paths, while trying to navigate the confusing maze of downtown Paris. The two finally meet at a new restaurant – so new, in fact, that the construction workers are still building parts while the hosts welcome their first diners to the grand opening. Everything that could go wrong, does, and the result is a chaotic, tremendous, swinging party that would have made Peter Sellers well up with pride.

Better Than Coffee: Detektivbyran’s “Wermland”

Imagine if, one crisp autumnal morning, young Amelie imbibed fifteen espressos and ran off with Edward Scissorhands to the magical realm of Gothenburg for an impetuous holiday of snowflake-on-tongue-catching, pirouettes and miniature pony-fondling. Who better to provide the soundtrack than this trio of whey-faced moppets known as Detektivbyrån?

The lads perform their Orff-Schulwerkian ditty, “Generation Celebration”.

Released earlier this month, their new album Wermland has already risen to the top of the charts in Sweden, and it’s a delightful, chiming romp. I just want to put ’em all in my pocket.

More floppy-haired glockenspielunking under the cut.

Cadaverous Amulets for the Modern Aesthete

How intricate a mechanism the body, how elegant the curvature of a clavicle! It’s no wonder so many artists find themselves inspired by the wondrous hidden framework of living creatures. Collected below, some curious work by three jewelers, adventurous artisans who believe in extending the life of anatomical construction well beyond the years of its original owners.

Fist up, Julia Deville. Miss Deville’s biography hints at an interesting character I’d love to have over for tea. She is a trained cobbler, silversmith and taxidermist enthralled with nature and its inner workings. Fusing these areas of expertise she created her line – Disce Mori. Inspired by Victorian mourning artifacts and jewelry, Julia’s beautiful website‘s dark clockwork theme is as entrancing as her pieces. Jet is paired with silver cast from animal bones among a selection of cuff links, buttonhole adornments and fob chains alongside necklaces and bracelets. Also here are less orthodox items – a brooch featuring a preserved mouse, for instance. Bold, yet far from costume fare, Disce Mori pieces are as timeless as they are macabre. The “Taxidermy” section is small, but shows a sense of humor with its “Kitten Rug” [exactly what it sounds like]. Viewing her works as reminders to enjoy the present, Julia makes a point to mention that the animals she uses have all died of natural causes.

Follow beyond the jump for two more purveyors of life-affirming adornments.

Weekly Ad Uncoiling: eta Travel Irons

I love traveling. I hate ironing. Therefore, I do not, and never will, own a stupid travel iron. Yeah, why don’t I also pack a travel toilet brush and some Toilet Duck and clean my hotel room shitter while I’m on vacation? Irons are for sporadic home use only, and even then, with expletive-filled disdain.

However, these sci-fi movie poster ads for eta travel irons are ridiculously cool. I want to steal them for my own portfolio. I want to hang them in my bedroom. I want to see the movies! It’s Mega-eta vs. Mechagodzilla! Tokyo terrorized by clashing steel behemoths! Monstrous Mega-eta steams through the Japanese capital in search of its robot foe, flattening every Gap store (there are several!) along the way. Irony! The wonderful campaign was created by ad agency Kaspen in Prague (I hate you creative bastards). After the jump, view an updated War Of The Worlds, where an alien armada of irons lays waste to the City Of Light, including an inglorious toppling of the Eiffel Tower. (images via BestAdsOnTV. There’s also a Rome version.)

Art is a Fanaticism that Demands Diplomacy

WWII image taken by Yevgeni Khaldey. Laibach was always present.

Laibach has finally returned to North America for a very short tour. If you’re in Portland or Seattle, I hope you saw them. If you’re in San Francisco, Hollywood, New York or Mexico City, you’re in luck! Click here for tour dates.

There are many reasons why this is my favorite band, and most of them actually don’t have much to do with the music. It’s the stories: weird, fantastical events that surround this band in which art, politics, history, media and human nature intersect in unexpected ways. My favorite Laibach story is this: in 1992, they group established the NSK State, a virtual “state in time.” Citizenship to the NSK State came complete with a very realistic-looking passport, and anyone could apply. Applications could be found at concerts and in the back of certain art books. In 1995, Laibach concluded their NATO tour in besieged Sarajevo. They declared Sarajevo to be NSK territory, so for a brief moment, the NSK State existed in the physical world. During this time, they issued 350 NSK diplomatic passports. What’s remarkable is this: some people were actually able to use these passports to escape occupied Sarajevo. Bosnian passports were not recognized at the borders, but a French soldier who saw the NSK ones let those people through. With their art and performance, Laibach was able to potentially save lives. Compelling – even more so when you consider that their work centers around a deadpan sense of humor.

The music is great too, of course! This entire website was designed while listening to Kapital, and partially inspired by the album’s aesthetic. So, Mildred and I will see you at the LA gig if you’re there. In the meantime, a random assortment of odd Laibach-related links:

On Striped Rights

When I was younger, defining oneself to the outside world as edgy, difficult, different was comparatively easy. There was a pretty straightforward list of symbols and codes in which one could participate or not. Soccer shorts and sneakers meant you were a jock, whether or not you were really interested in playing sports of any kind. Black band t-shirts and a wallet chain meant you were a rocker kid, a badass with an interest in bands with guitars and a disdain for authority. Goth, of course, had the most fun symbols and so many ways to play dress-up. Fishnets, long black skirts regardless of gender, black eyeliner and lipstick, anything made of vinyl, all daringly worn to school where, I now reminisce, nothing was really at stake but one’s own vanity.

You know all of this already. Well, one of my favorite pieces of this code was and has always been the bold black and white striped tights, beloved of alternachicks and goth girls ages 12-32 coast to coast. Any plain black dress and boots ensemble could be made “cool” with a pair of these tights. They were like hipness armor at a vulnerable age when I felt I really needed such a thing. I probably still have my first pair somewhere, full of holes, this pair of tights, this very small thing that made me feel somehow protected from the horror of being mistaken for a slave of dreaded mainstream fashion and therefore boring mainstream thought.

It’s easy to make fun of teenagers. They don’t always get that major fashion brands aren’t purveyors of the new, they’re delimiters of the accepted. Their status as such depends on their continued marketing of themselves as edgy but this is marketing only. If it weren’t the money would dry up and disappear like steam. So I suppose the presence of the Coach advertisements currently papering most of New York amuses me just as much as it makes me feel wistful. The ads feature a close-up shot of a foot, shod in a new $300 Coach black leather Mary Jane style pump, the leg lovingly clad in that familiar black and white striped stocking.

Buy My Shit Pile: The Website


If you’re a halfway sentient and rational human being keeping tabs on the most recent political/financial upheaval in the United States, you’re probably pretty spectacularly depressed right now. I know I am. Thankfully, we’re not quite at this point yet; we can still laugh through our tears. It may be the sick, hopeless laughter of the damned, but hey… whatever gets us through the night.

Fellow gallows bird Kelly Sue just directed me to buymyshitpile.com. The site’s premise is simple:

With our economy in crisis, the US Government is scrambling to rescue our banks by purchasing their “distressed assets”, i.e., assets that no one else wants to buy from them. We figured that instead of protesting this plan, we’d give regular Americans the same opportunity to sell their bad assets to the government. We need your help and you need the Government’s help!

Use the form below to submit bad assets you’d like the government to take off your hands. And remember, when estimating the value of your 1997 limited edition Hanson single CD “MMMbop”, it’s not what you can sell these items for that matters, it’s what you think they are worth. The fact that you think they are worth more than anyone will buy them for is what makes them bad assets.

Recent listing on buymyshitpile.com. “You can own my cat Brent’s furry little balls for $512.87! He isn’t so thrilled about the transaction, but fuel prices have driven cat food’s sky high.”

Notable items listed include “WaMu: $0.01”, “My Liberal Arts Bachelor’s Degree: $20.000”, “The ET Atari 2600 Game: $88.000”, “Nancy Pelosi: $0.75” and “My Dignity: $4,500,00.00”. Truly, this is fiscal responsibility of the highest caliber.

In the coming weeks, whenever I feel like I’m about to crumble under the weight of my own despair, I’ll definitely be visiting/adding to the site, and hopefully selling off my complete run of Hot Dog! children’s magazine for the price it deserves ($156,940.81) in the process.

Mikhail Vrubel and The Demon

The angel bent his gaze severe
Upon the Tempter, eye to eye,
Then joyful soared … to disappear
Into the boundless, shining sky.
The Demon watched the heating wings
Fading triumphantly from sight
And cursed his dreams of better things,
Doomed to defeat, venting his spite
And arrogance in that great curse
Alone in all the universe,
Abandoned, without love or hope

– from The Demon by Mikhail Lermontov

Long ago I promised to return to one of my favorite subjects: madness.  Currently I’m fueled by days of non-stop drawing, surviving on coffee and deviled eggs alone. In other words – the time is right. We’re looking at the madness of prolific Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel. When we left off some months ago, Vrubel was living in Moscow with his beloved wife and son. His massive works in oil, based mostly on Russian folklore, had earned the prolific painter a fair degree of fame and success. The illustrations to Lermontov’s poem The Demon that launched Vrubel’s career receded into the past. Mikhail was working in the theater alongside his wife, painting and designing costumes for her operas, immortalizing the beautiful singer as each of her fairy tale characters. His life was the epitome of creative and family bliss. His new paintings were glowing, as well, due in part to the subject matter and in part to iridescent bronze powder Vrubel mixed into the paint.

The Seated Demon

Nevertheless, Vrubel was compelled to return to the enormous portrait of the Demon. Slowly he began reworking the brooding features, even after the work had been exhibited. Painting thick layers upon layers in an attempt to convey the demon’s pure despair drove Mikhail further away from life, deeper inside himself and his work. The poem’s nihilistic themes seem to have struck the very heart of the artist. Despite his success and marriage, was there a sense of ultimate loneliness permeating Vrubel’s reality? Did the poem reveal a world as he secretly saw it, confirming his latent misery? Was he never genuinely happy, resenting his family life and fame? Perhaps, instead, there was an overwhelming fear of losing what he treasured most, triggered by the loss of his siblings as a child and fermenting inside ever since. Or was it The Demon‘s contempt for the Church that struck a chord? Vrubel’s obsession grew, taking over his body of work and eventually producing a dozen paintings and sculptures dedicated to The Demon. So much paint has been compulsively applied and re-applied that many details of these paintings are nearly indistinguishable, but the Demon’s large, restless eyes and dark features stand out, thoroughly spellbinding. Burning through the viewer, this is Vrubel’s best work, stunning, unhinging and unforgettable.

Details of Demon In Flight and Demon, Downcast

in 1902 Vrubel was briefly hospitalized due to failing emotional and physical health. The Demon had had left him powerless against reality and he was beginning to crumble. Home from the hospital, his health was improving, but recovery was short-lived. Just a year later Savva, Mikhail’s beloved son, died. With grief aggravating an already fragile mind, Vrubel continued his slow decline. He also continued to work, finally abandoning the demon that caused so much agony and returning to portraits and fantasy. I’m particularly fond of this drawing – the concerned visage of the artist’s psychiatrist.

Portrait of Psychiatrist Fiodor Usoltsev

Several years passed until the first signs of every artist’s worst nightmare showed themselves: Vrubel was losing his sight. This was the final blow to his health and spirit. Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel, one of the greatest Russian painters, met his end in the clutches of pneumonia at the age of 54. He purposely made himself sick by standing in cold spring air earlier that year, the Demon, surely, at his side. If you visit Moscow’s Tretyakov gallery, be certain to complete the tour – at end, after halls upon halls of classic Russian art, in Vrubel’s room he waits.

Better than Coffee: “One Step” and 2 Tone

Good morning, rude boys and girls. Just a wee bit o’ Madness to help you start your week off on the right foot…then the left foot… then the right foot…all the way to school:

I’d actually never seen this extra silly extended version of the “One Step Beyond” video before stumbling across it on YouTube recently. Now I’m reveling in a full-on personal 2 Tone revival. Must. Stop. Skankin‘. (I’ve already kicked the cat twice.)

Join me in looking like a right fookin’ idiot getting that sluggish blood pumping with an assortment of rocksteady beats beyond the jump. Oi!

In Search of Takashi Itsuki’s Robotic Amputees

Welcome, IO9 readers who came here from Meredith Woerner’s excellent review of Coilhouse Issue 01. This one’s for you.

via Ectomo and Trevor “Don’t Click It, Mom” Brown, I discovered the android amputee bondage art of Takashi Itsuki. Completed over 20 years ago and originally published a Japanese magazine titled Bizarre (not the “extreme lad’s mag” UK Bizarre or the ye olde John Willie Bizarre), the drawings fascinate Brown in that they predate the EGL style by at least a decade (as is most evident in this image, with the loli-droid’s blunt bangs, lace headdress and oversize bow). Brown initially scanned and posted 5 of the 13 drawings from Itsuki’s “amputee robot doll bondage” series on his blog, and followed up with another post containing rare scans of Itsuki’s long-lost manga.

There’s not much more infromation than that. We know that in the mid-90s Itsuki put out a comic called Yoso no Himitsu (“Secret of the Worm”), based on a Cthulhu mythos story by Robert Bloch, the H.P. Lovecraft protégé best known penning Psycho. That’s where the trail grows cold – at least on the English-speaking Internet. Brown notes that the artist “is (and maybe was) pretty much unknown and unpopular and now forgotten” and that it is now almost impossible to find his manga.

If I never see the manga, I hope that at least the other 8 images from Itsuki’s bot-bondage set make their way onto the web. They’re creepy and hot and haunting all at once. Don’t know if the images’ lilac tone was the way they were printed or an effect added to the scans in Photoshop, but it adds just the right mood, like it’s all happening at dusk, the most magical time of the day. Please, whoever has these, scan more!

UPDATE: Trevor Brown has graciously scanned three more for everyone’s viewing pleasure. See them on his blog. Thank you kindly!