Saturday, 6 February 2016

Marketa Lazarova dir. František Vláčil (1967)

Vladislav Vancura's novel Marketa Lazarova was based on an ancient Czechoslovakian legend. The film version concerns itself with a group of pillaging feudal lords. Though they regard themselves as noble knights, they are a rapist, robbing coterie of worldly rogues; slaves to the brutal politics and superstitions that grip their land. Magda Vasaryova plays Marketa Lazarova, whose misadventures begin when she is kidnapped and abused by the said rogues. And yet, Marketa retains a purity amidst the vulgarities of 13th century, mud, blood, and missing teeth.

In its native land, in a film critics pole, František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová has been hailed as the greatest Czech film ever made, and there is quite some competition for that accolade amongst the Czech New Wave films. Vláčil’s approach was to re-create the textures and mentalities of a long-ago way of life, rather than to make just another period drama, and the result is in the words of the Criterion Collection; "dazzling". That is an interesting adjective because the film has a bleak aesthetic and only achieves a dazzling visual impetus from the scenes of uncompromising winter snow on the plains. That is not to say the film isnt masterful. The depictions of Medieval Christianity, paganism and superstition blend seamlessly into the human landscape to make one of the most atmospheric films I have ever experienced. At 2hrs 42mins long, time become peculiarly distorted in a gripping metaphysical odyssey which maps the tarot narrative.

I have been holding off blogging about this film because I was hoping to show a clip of a specific scene, which doesn't seem to have made it onto Youtube by fans. It occurs about 1 hour in, and comprises a poetic sequence which is accompanied by stunning gliding visuals of wolves, crows, and the dark forest. I did intend to clip it with Movie Maker but my film is in .mkv format. This wouldnt be such a problem normally but because the subtitles are a separate .srt file, I would'v needed to hard sub the film, then clip it and the whole thing was of questionable value because I am sick and tired of getting movie clips deleted because of minor copyright infringement. So screw the corporations for trying to squeeze every anal penny out of poor people who can easily download and copy the files anyway. So you've got somebody else's idea of what the best scene is (from Youtube), and I've quoted the script for the wolf- poetry scene below that. And the world becomes a less diverse and creative place due to limiting totalitarian copyright laws. Hmm yes kind of Medievally so. 

He grew up with the wolves and became one among people. Disdain fosters his pride, dislike breathes hatred. Scorned by all, Straba scorns them all in turn. With a grimace he disgraced the holy ancestral places. He does not want to be a subject of people or God. He's free like a wolf, but he has a human heart and that heart is full of sorrow. He grew up and the men would have him cast out. - Their word is law. - What happened to him? He heard the men's counsel and laughed. The quiet laugh of a wolf. He was beautiful - he chose the most comely maiden. She was afraid of him, and of her father even more. The father decides to whom you will be submissive. Straba raged and spilled blood from her throat. They flew upon him and put him in irons. A terrible punishment awaited him. The stake, said one, trampled by stallions, said another. They could not decide how he should die. Then the oldest of the line pronounced the sentence. May he have no place among humans, free as a wolf. His punishment would be in himself. Perun cast down lightning, but there were no clouds. And Straba? He laughs with the quiet laugh of the wolf. He leaves and bares his teeth with that laugh. Arrows had no power over him, he was free as a wolf. His life was not measured by the solstices. But he was alone. Delight passed him by, as it was not paid for by suffering. Life has no value without pain. At that time, he longed for pain, he sought death. He returned to that line that cast him out. But they had all grown old and did not know him. The young men flew at him with arms. One remembered and shouted, "Keep away from him!" He has come for death and we shall deny it him. All retreated and mocked him. He returned to die and death was denied him. Their mockery burned. He shook like an aspen leaf. He sought the place where his heart was. He seized the nearest knife and stabbed into it. But the knife broke and no blood was drawn. He was alone again.

North Utsire

The Prophet on Self Knowledge

I feel a little bit like Mark Tully off Something Understood saying this, but these two jewels (below) go together in my mind at least. I have found a truth: I really don't know life at all. Don't tell me you don't listen to Something Understood either, with yer hot water bottle and yer onesie all snuggled up on a Sunday night. A delicate recess before the horrors of Monday morning.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

AND a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.
And he answered, saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth."
Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, "I have met the soul walking upon my path."
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

Both Sides Now 
Song + Lyrics: Joni Mitchell
Performed by Irish close-harmony folk band The Johnstons (1968)

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real,
I've looked at love that way.

But now it's just another show,
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know,
Don't give yourself away.

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I've looked at life that way.

Oh but now old friends they're acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life
I really don't know life at all

North Utsire

Sea Bass Madras

Doggerel aside, this is a delicious curry. I had never used Sea Bass before this experiment, and I would advise you to fillet the fish longitudinally before cutting into bite sized pieces and adding to the curry. I made the mistake of cutting the fish transversely into steaks with the bones still intact, an ended up endlessly picking them out of the meal, from between my teeth, and even from my poor, sore gums. They are small and sharp! Thus it became an exercise in continually delayed gratification to extract any of the exquisite flavour from what amounted to a bowl of tiny and pernicious daggers. With such delicious hearty food, you just want to plunge in, in the manner of an Olympic diver, mouth wide open and chattering like a lawnmower in readiness.

Whole Herb Ingredients

1/2 tsp Fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp Fennel seeds
8 Whole Cloves
2 hot dried red chillies
3 tbsp Coconut oil
2 onions, finely chopped

Put the spices in a small, cast iron frying pan, and stir over a medium heat until they are a shade darker and give off a roasted aroma. Leave to cool, then add to the pan below.

Heat the coconut oil in a deep pan, and set it over a medium high heat. When hot, fry the onions until they turn brown at the edges, for at least a minute.

Powdered Herbs

1 tsp grated root ginger
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp coriander
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 ½ tsp salt
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped.

Add in the powdered herbs and tomatoes. They should sizzle, and you will need to mix quickly to avoid the powder sticking to the pan. Then, however, allowing the mixture to stand for seconds at a time, you will see clear oil ooze out of the mixture. That’s when you know you’re done with this stage and you need to rapidly move on.
400ml can of coconut milk, well stirred.
200 ml water
1 Sea Bass, gutted, & filleted.
A few blocks of frozen spinach (if desired)
Stir in the water and coconut milk, and bring to the boil. Add in the fish pieces. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 30- 45 minutes. Adjust consistency accordingly with water, or by removing lid and evaporating excess.

Serves 4
Serve with rice
Top with coriander garnish & lemon pieces as side, if desired.

North Utsire


It was a great shame to hear of the passing of Lemmy last month. In truth, it’s a wonder to me how he lasted as long as he did. Such is the stuff of legend. Of all the tributes that mentioned the brilliance of his alma mater & first true love Hawkwind, I didn’t hear anyone mention probably the most interesting character of the band: Stacia!

Stacia was an interpretive dance artist, over 6 feet tall (some say 6’2”), on stage often covered in the obscure grease paint of exotic symbols, moving like a gyrating psychedelic skin canvas on a space mission. That is, when she was dressed at all. Her bacchanalia was legendary enough to match that of the band members, who held her in high regard by all accounts.

The exact circumstances of her arrival in Hawkwind are unclear, but it is agreed that after she started dancing for the band in 1971 she became a central part of their live performances, and their artwork. Stacia was pictured in the iconic ‘Space Ritual’ fold out sleeve designed by Barney Bubble. Starting in 1971, she carried on through to 1975, so this included the Space Ritual years I mentioned in my blog of Aug 2015. Liner notes to the album In Search of Space (1971) indicate that poet and lyricist Robert Calvert recruited her for live shows, but Stacia herself stated in Melody Maker that she attended a show and, inspired by the music, got on stage and performed an impromptu dance to the band's music. Interestingly, she received no formal dance training after being kicked out of ballet class for being too tall. It was all just natural stoned groove.

Barney Bubble's Rendition of Stacia

Nik Turner (saxophonist and flautist for the band) fills in a bit more detail in Mojo Magazine in a 2012 interview; "I met Stacia for the first time at the Isle of Wight... She said, "Can I dance with you?" and I said, "Yeah, but you must take off all your clothes and paint your body." She took all her clothes off but unfortunately I didn't have any body paint. That was like her audition." In the 2007 BBC Four documentary (clip above), Lemmy said that she was working as a bookbinder before she joined the band, and others that she was a petrol pump attendant in Cornwall.

Jason Schafer, in his Dangerous Minds article entitled Stacia, Hawkwind’s Buxom cosmic Dancer Discusses Her Wild Sex Life in Vintage Interviews says:

I was checking out a Hawkwind fan site the other day when I came across a couple of interviews with the busty performer, both from 1974. The first one to catch my eye was from Penthouse and was entitled “Long, tall Stacia – the six foot lady with the two-way sex life.” The other, simply titled “Stacia, the girl in the band” came from the August 3rd edition of Record Mirror. Stacia comes off as a total badass in both, as I would imagine that you’d have to be to hang with the likes of Lemmy Kilmister all day long.

Actually very little is known publicly about Stacia beyond those two 1974 interviews and a smidgen derived from a 2010 Sunday Times retrospective entitled Time and place: Stacia Blake. Most of them go on about her bisexual propensities, onstage nudity, and prolific drinking habits as though they were the utmost in wanton debauchery. Things that nowadays, unless you live under Puritan Rock, are actually quite tame. Funny it’s always the ones who have the strict religious upbringing that go on to break all the taboos. Stacia was from a religious Catholic background. "My sisters didn't mind the nude bit, but my parents weren't too keen until I gave it up. Then my mother really got into the band - my aunts have even turned up at gigs. We're a Catholic family y'know, although I'm not religious."

From the interviews, we do find out about her relationship with then boyfriend Arthur Kane from New York Dolls, her girlfriend Ingrid, some thoughts about fans and her take on Women’s Lib: Stacia was 21 at the time (“I’m still a kid”), and lived in Earls Court with two men, two other girls, and two budgerigars. Well, had to mention the budgerigars. It is the Bohemian Budgie after all.

I lived in a basement flat at No14A Steeles Road, in Hampstead, northwest London, between about 1971 and 1975. I had lived at various addresses in London after moving from Ireland, including a squat in Camden, but Steeles Road was the place I was in for longest. I lived there with Roy Dyke, who became my husband and was the drummer in the rock band Ashton, Gardner and Dyke. I had my daughter, Aysha, while we lived there. I can’t remember how much the rent was, or even if we paid any. It was two rooms, a bedroom at the back and a tiny little kitchen off the hall. You couldn’t swing a cat in it. Being a basement flat, it was very damp.
Time and place: Stacia Blake
Sunday Times, 2010

Someone likened her to Dracula's aunt. 

Hawkwind, being a "weird" band, pull some "weird" crowds, especially in America where Stacia is constantly hounded by both male and female groupies. One lunatic even tried to murder her during a gig and she wasn't dancing naked at the time!

"I was doing a mime of a robot who was given a pill and becomes human for a spell. I was freakin' out at the time, and I felt this choking sensation round my neck. People thought it was a guy hugging me at first which was cool, but a roadie saw that he was strangling me and he threw the bloke off the stage.

"He even had a go at me a second time," recalls Stacia, "and the hall bouncers beat him up and threw him out. I was really shaken, and I wasn't much good for the rest of the tour."

"When we made Silver Machine we attracted a Top 20 audience of filthy little boys who came along to stare at me." There is a hint of bitterness in her voice.

That was a couple of years ago. Since then the band have developed, and Stacia dances naked no more. She has nine different costumes to choose from, and the dirty little boys have disappeared from the audiences. Ironically the reaction was pretty "cool" when she first appeared in her birthday suit: "Most people weren't surprised, because I don't think Hawkwind could surprise anybody. They get into so many weird things."

From Stacia, the girl in the band
Record Mirror, 1974

I love the way Stacia turns a murderous double assault into an opportunity to design a clutch of psychedelic outfits to dance in. Irrepressible genius. It speaks volumes.

Stacia’s 1975 departure must've come as a bit of a hammer blow to Hawkwind and fans, coinciding as it did with the simultaneous loss of Lemmy (to Motorhead) and Robert Calvert. Whatever happened on the preceding Warrior on the Edge of Time tour to precipitate this is anyone’s guess, but I’m expecting grueling tours, groupies, drugs, ennui, and complete mental and physical burnout would come high on the list.

After leaving Hawkwind, Stacia returned to private life and married Roy Dyke. As former Hawkwind manager Doug Smith said in the October 2000 issue of Classic Rock magazine, "The last anybody heard, Stacia was married with children and living in Hamburg with her husband Roy Dyke, formerly of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke." The couple has a daughter, Aysha Dyke, who lives in Hamburg and is currently in the band Generations of Music.

Stacia is now living in Ireland and working as an accomplished artist. She has said about her work: "It is greatly influenced by my love of nature, in all its aspects. Landscapes, people, animals, sound and movement. All these things permeate my being. I allow them to become part of me. After a time of reflection, all these impressions culminate in the creation of inner landscapes which are then released to create the images you see in my work." I have included a montage of Stacia’s artwork below, and may yet blog some more of it.
Stacia, the Girl in the Band. Record Mirror, 1974
Long, Tall Stacia – the Six Foot Lady with the Two-Way Sex Life. Penthouse, 1974
Hawkwind’s Buxom Cosmic Dancer Discusses Her Wild Sex Life in Vintage Interviews. Dangerous Minds.

North Utsire

Monday, 1 February 2016

Buddhist Photographs of Japan (1865)

These wonderful photos of Buddhist temples and religious gardens were recently displayed on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) website. This is only a selection from hundreds of images which quite recently came to light. With the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the new government adopted a strong anti-Buddhist attitude, and a movement to eradicate Buddhism and bring Shinto to ascendancy arose throughout the country due to the strong connections of Buddhism to the Shoguns.

During the Meiji period (1868–1912), after a coup in 1868, Japan abandoned its feudal system and opened up to Western modernism. Shinto became the state religion. Within the Buddhist establishment the Western world was seen as a threat as well as a challenge to stand up to. Buddhist institutions had a simple choice: adapt or perish. Rinzai and Soto Zen chose to adapt, trying to modernize Zen in accord with Western insights, while simultaneously maintaining a Japanese identity. Other schools, and Buddhism in general, simply saw their influence wane. The edict of April 1872 ended the status of the buddhist precepts as state law and allowed monks to marry and to eat meat. According to historian Yoshiharu Tomatsu this "codification of a secularized lifestyle for the monk coupled with the revival of the emperor system and development of State Shinto were fundamental in desacralizing Buddhism and pushing it to the margins of society".

I am not enough of a scholar to say whether these temples are Rinzai, Soto Zen, or monuments of a Buddhist sect soon to fall into disfavour, but it is interesting to ponder how peaceful they look even whilst their future hung in the balance. 

North Utsire