Lips of Vermouth

“Yes, good folk, it is I who direct you to roast upon a red-hot shovel, with a little brown sugar, the duck of doubt with lips of vermouth, which, in a melancholy struggle between good and evil, shedding crocodile tears, without an air-pump everywhere brings about the universal vacuum. That is the best thing for you to do.”

Comte de Lautréamont
Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror)

 
 

A l’heure de l’observatoire, les Amoureux (Observatory Time – The Lovers), Man Ray, 1934

 
 

 
 

One of Man Ray’s most memorable paintings, Observatory Time, is featured in this black-and-white photograph taken in 1936, along with a nude. It includes a depiction of the lips of his departed lover, Lee Miller, floating in the sky above the Paris Observatory. In the photograph, the nude is lying on her side on a sofa underneath the painting, with a chessboard at her feet. Observatory Time hints at what the woman might be dreaming: a nightmare or an erotic fantasy.

Observatory TimeThe Lovers, or as it has become more familiarly known, The Lips, has been described as the quintessential Surrealist painting, a supreme example of isomorphism, the use of organic forms oddly and obliquely referring to man, in a kind of fastidious, realistic illusionism – the unifying theme in mainstream Surrealist art in the heyday of the 1930s. Its title exemplifies Gertrude Stein‘s insistence upon embodying “time in the composition”. The canvas was eight feet long and over three feet high, and it took Man Ray two years of meticulous, daily work to get it right.

The Lips relied on a reference central to Surrealist philosophy, the devouring woman. It was the latest in a distinct series of big paintings, stretching back to MCMXIV of the Ridgefield period and The Rope Dancer and anticipating by a half dozen years Le beau temps. Every time Man Ray reached for the dramatic, grand statement in his paintings, he succeeded. The bigger canvases forced him into deliberateness of gesture and drew him away from the slapdash approach that ultimately (permanently, some critics would say) undermined his reputation as a painter.

 
 

 
 

Man Ray’s complete absorption in the task of painting The Lips also enabled him to forget his deepening hatred of photography and to escape into the preferred “high and exacting plane of Surrealist activity.” Surely it is no accident that Lee’s lips in the painting are flying through the air – reveling in sublime height, set in a faint smile, redder than any lipstick-reddened lips could possibly be. Indeed, the color of The Lips is as emancipated as its subject: the woman gone, the woman flown.

 
 

Hattie Carnegie against Man Ray’s painting Observatory Time – The Lovers

 
 

It is not known whether Man Ray was also recalling the evil lips of Maldoror, the “sapphire lips” of Lautreamont’s poem, that satanically lyric work that had made such an enduring impression upon him in his American Dada period. The monumental painting is – like Lautreamont’s poem – truly startling in its impact. Once again, as he had done so often in his photographs, making him the darling of the Surrealist writers, Man Ray set out to reinvent the female anatomy, in much the same manner as one of his earliest exemplars, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. He wanted to prove himself with The Lips, to demonstrate that he could take on a vast terrain and keep control of it. The work figurative, yet mystifying.

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A Different Set of Jaws

 
 

The film starts with the screen fading to black and over-sized, disembodied female lips (inspired by the surreal Man Ray painting A l’heure de l’observatoire, les Amoureux) appear overdubbed with a male voice, creating the androgynous theme to be repeated as the film unfolds. The opening scene and song, Science Fiction, Double Feature consists of the lips of Patricia Quinn (who appears in the film later as the character Magenta), but has the vocals of actor and Rocky Horror creator, Richard O’Brien (who appears as Magenta’s brother Riff Raff). The lyrics reference science fiction and horror films of the past and list several film titles from the 1930s to the 1970s, including The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, King Kong, It Came from Outer Space, Doctor X, Forbidden Planet, Tarantula, The Day of the Triffids, Curse of the Demon, When Worlds Collide and The Bride of Frankenstein. The disembodied lips are featured on posters and other merchandise for the film, with the tag line “A Different Set of Jaws”, a spoof of the poster for the film Jaws, which was also produced in 1975.

As stated before, the song is made up of fragments from sub-genre horror and science fiction films and likened to that of avant-garde artist Tristan Tzara by author Vera Dika in her book, Recycled Culture in Contemporary Art and Film. Tzara would construct poems by taking snippets of words from newspapers and placing them into a bag to randomly draw from and arrange. Instead, the words in Science Fiction Double Feature are purposely made to rhyme with a set structure and set with phrases that create cohesion.

The original concept of the song for the feature film as indicated in the original script was to have film clips of each movie shown with a scratched aged effect overlay during the song and opening credits. The idea was dropped when it became apparent that the cost of acquiring the rights to these clips in 1974 was far too prohibitive.

 
 

FILMS REFERENCED IN THE LYRICS :

“Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still, but he told us where we stand” (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Robert Wise, 1951)

“And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear” (Flash Gordon, Frederick Stephani, 1936)

“Claude Rains was the invisible man” (The Invisible Man, James Whale, 1933)

“Then something went wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong, they got caught in a celluloid jam” (King Kong, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

“Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space” (It Came from Outer Space, Jack Arnold, 1953)

“Doctor X will build a creature” (Doctor X, Michael Curtiz, 1932)

“Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet” (Forbidden Planet, Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)

“I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills” (Tarantula, Jack Arnold, 1955)

“And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills” (The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, 1962)

“Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills” (Night of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur, 1957)

“But when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride, I’m gonna give you some terrible thrills” (When Worlds Collide, Rudolph Maté, 1951)

 

To watch the movie clip, please check out The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

From Concept to Cult

 
 

In “Rocky Horror; From Concept to Cult“, designer Sue Blane discusses the Rocky Horror costumes’ influence on punk music style. “[It was a] big part of the build up [to punk].” She states that ripped fishnet stockings, glitter and coloured hair were directly attributable to Rocky Horror.

 
 

 
 

Some of the costumes from the film had been originally used in the stage production. Props and set pieces were reused from old Hammer productions and others. The tank and dummy used for Rocky’s birth originally appeared in The Revenge of Frankenstein. These references to older productions, in addition to cutting costs, enhanced the status of the film.
Costume designer Sue Blane wasn’t keen on designing for the film until she realized Tim Curry, an old friend, was doing the show. Tim and Blane had worked together in Glasgow’s Citizen Theatre in a production of The Maids, where Curry had worn a woman’s corset in the production. Blane arranged it with the theatre to loan her the corset from the other production for Rocky Horror. Blane admits that she did not conduct research for her designing and had never seen a science fiction film, and is acutely aware that her costumes for Brad and Janet may have been generalizations.

 
 


Tim Curry’s character Dr. Frankenfurter is dressed in a style similar to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ when the main characters first come up to his lab.