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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

“Why in heaven’s name have I been forgotten? Harrumph!” *

* (restored)
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Oswell Blakeston (1907 – 1985)

‘Oswell Blakeston ran away from his bourgeois home as a schoolboy, becoming a conjuror’s assistant, cinema organist and clapper boy with David Lean at Gaumont film studios. In the large close-ups used to convey information in silent films – “hands holding letters, visiting cards and so on” – Blakeston played the hands of many stars. He began writing film criticism, later becoming assistant editor of the influential magazine Close Up. “Oswell Blakeston” was adopted instead of his real name, Henry Hasslacher. (Oswell was derived from that of the writer Osbert Sitwell. His mother’s family name was Blakiston, which he modified.)

‘With Francis Bruguiere, Blakeston pioneered abstract films in Britain. He was also a writer of filmscripts, plays, novels, cookery and travel books, prolific artist, poet and lecturer. Among his enormous literary output were his 1932 book Magic Aftermath, “the first fiction to be published in spiral binding”; the 1935 crime story The Cat with the Moustache (a collaboration with Roger Burford), “one of the first descriptions of trips with mescal”; and the 1938 anthology Proems, in which Blakeston “published the first poems by Lawrence Durrell”.

‘Dylan Thomas called Blakeston “a friend of all boozy poets and me too”. Oswell wrote regular articles on London’s pubs for What’s On for some 25 years. A bar-room acquaintance was the writer M.P. Shiel, who in strange circumstances became king of the Leeward Island of Redonda, of which Blakeston was made a duke.

‘As a writer of stories, John Betjeman reckoned that Blakeston was a neglected genius of the macabre. His 1947 collection Priests, Peters and Pussens had idiosyncratic illustrations by Max Chapman, a young avant-garde painter who would become Blakeston’s lover until the older man’s death. Blakeston and Chapman co-wrote stories, among them Jim’s Gun (1939) and Danger in Provence (1946). While writing the latter in Venice, the authors were arrested as Russian spies. On hot evenings they had been using a typewriter on the roof – they were thought to be transmitting Morse messages.’ — collaged
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What remains of Oswell Blakeston’s films

Oswell Blakeston Light Rhythms (1931)

‘In 1930, Blakeston made the short abstract film Light Rhythms with Francis Bruguière, long thought to be lost but which is now recovered. Light plays over the surfaces of paper cut-outs, abstract shapes with curved lines. The movement of the light (which are small spots) speeds up, following the rhythms of the piano accompaniment. A small spot opens and closes; Shadows sometimes dominate. The lights, movement, and music take on a mechanical mood. Then, the opening images return.’ — IMDb

 

Don Coleman Candidate for Murder (1950s)

‘Amateur film by Don Coleman. Made in 1950s using an original script by Oswell Blakeston. Filmed at various locations in London. Apologies for the sound quality – the soundtrack was recorded on a 78rpm record.’ — NEEEMAN

 

 

What remains of Oswell Blakeston’s fiction


Adventure Without Asking (story, 1935)
‘David Smith accidentally gets into a first class compartment when he boards a train at Waterloo. He finds himself alone with “a small, obese creature with a face so flabby that it looked like the disintegrated face of a medium in a spiritualist photograph after he has been deserted by one ghost and before he is possessed by another.”

‘This man is a doctor, hypnotist and mind reader, and he’s also extremely bitter and twisted about both his unfortunate appearance and his wife’s infidelity. Having caused David to faint at the station, he has him removed to his quarters where he can torment him with a scene from his worst nightmares. Weird and extremely horrible.’ – Charles Birkin, ed. Not at Night

 


The Hut (story, 1936)
“The first lad who slept there hacked off his hand with a penknife. He confessed, afterwards, that he had stolen with that hand … The last …er … victim, was a tramp who had stolen a bag of gardening tools from the village … he blinded himself on a rake …”

‘It served as home to a religious fanatic, a fervent believer in “if thy right hand causes thee to sin ..” self-mutilation for even the slightest transgressions. Peter and Daisy, lost in the countryside, hole up there for the night but she is unable to sleep and, fatally, says as much to the sinister stranger who greets them in the morning. The hut is on his land and, back at his farmhouse, he relates to them the macabre history of the hut with obscene relish …’ — Charles Birkin, ed. Gruesome Cargoes #13

 


Snow Time (story, 1947)
‘Switzerland. A young English boy, bullied by his nurse, scoops his sago pudding into a cigarette box and hides it in a cupboard only to be tormented by it in a nightmare: “The eggs, the nasty horrid eggs had hatched! Long white things were crawling towards the bed, waving their sightless heads to get the direction where they sensed the small boy was lying, then worming their way forward …” — Hugh Lamb, ed. Return from the Grave


Hop Thief (novel, 1959)

 


The Queen’s Mate (novel, 1964)

 


Fingers (novel, 1964)

 


How to Make Your Own Confetti (novel, 1965)

 


For Crying Out Shroud (novel, 1969)
Chapter XIV (Excerpt)

The telephone rings, and the doctor puts out a large hairy hand to stifle the patient’s screams. Two masked male nurses move forward to help the doctor with the man who writhes in agony; and a hydrocephalic female nurse answers the phone.

‘Oh yes,’ she says in a mellifluous voice, ‘the patient is . . . quite comfortable.’

Jim half wakes with the nightmare.

Then he turns on the other side and falls back into un-easy sleep.

In the second nightmare he is in a hot country, in some tourists’ shop where they sell, as souvenirs, the shrunken heads the Indians make; and Jim recognises, in one of the tiny grinning faces, his own features.

He yells.

Upstairs someone thumps on the ceiling.

No chance of going back to sleep again.

‘You’ve flipped.’

‘We’re off the rails.’

‘But we got ourselves back to London. I’d say that was bang on the track. We escaped from Dr. Chardin.’

‘And the mosquitoes.’

‘We have been through perils which would have overwhelmed lesser men with dark waters.’

‘But Maurice thought it was all worth while — as an exercise in elimination?’

‘Maurice uses us. Where’s the personal salvation?’

‘Have you flashed back to that insane moment at The Clinic when you thought you might solve the world-baffling mystery of the missing six on your own?’

‘Well, it would . . . build up morale.’

‘Your little head is swelling now.’

‘We didn’t like to see it shrunk.’

‘Maurice says he’ll give us a holiday to make up for the grimery.’

‘Maurice has his own ideas of holidays and happy days. A holiday with Maurice wouldn’t be any rest, chum. Maurice has reserve bullets for the same target.’

‘A thought which doesn’t make it any easier to bear this added invitation of getting no further forward with this damned mystery.’

‘Like that fight between Jem Mace and Joe Coburn.’

‘But you don’t want to be hit on the snozzle by the champ, do you?’

‘I’m one of the spectators, chump. I want to see something happening, so that . . .’

‘The curtains fall on this exhausting set-up and we don’t have to tell Bernard we’ve returned from the bedside of our dying aunt.’

‘Bernard? Dr. Jordaine?’

‘Well, if we haven’t got the right to call him Bernard, what else do we have to endure to earn it?’

‘Horror ricochets into every panic corner of my existence. Yet are we in any position to talk about rights?’

‘So we’ve just got to go on being a mere decoy all our life, have we? We must simply inhabit life, not live it?’

‘It’s hard enough work, isn’t it? Relax. Watch the newspaper headlines. Soon someone else may disappear and fill that blank at the waxworks. Then Maurice’s sleuths are certain to move in for a kill. Take it easy. And have you forgotten that today we’re supposed to be having lunch with Geoffrey Gaunt?’

‘I’ll flip again. At least I’m going to turn over on my flip side again. Now you know we got chivvied into that invitation when we were at low ebb. Going to lunch with Geoffrey is too damned like The Clinic. Last time . . .’

‘He cooked vegetables on six smoking oil stoves.’

‘Only for a few minutes. Micro minutes. They were suicidal at the edges where one had to pretend to nibble, and homicidal at the centre where one couldn’t.’

‘Full of vitamins, cooked like that.’

‘Dr. Pepel would approve.’

‘Then Geoffrey’s wife, with all that hair like a bunsen-burner, brought in their little daughter.’

‘She’s fourteen.’

‘But she can’t talk.’

‘Geoffrey says he doesn’t want her to be able to converse too soon with our corrupted world. She might learn the double-speak. You know he told us that sometimes he stands behind her and whispers a good word. Do you think our dad ought to have brought us up like that?’

‘He could never have stopped us talking to ourself. Our dialogue solves that old business about the relation of form and content. It proves that form is the projection of content, its objective correlative.’

‘What’s a nasty companion like you doing in a nice bed like this ?’

‘Hard to say, mate. I certainly can’t be here for the rest. But do you think Geoffrey’s daughter talks to herself ?’

‘Libidinously?’

(Read the rest)

 


Ever Singing Die, Oh! Die. (novel, 1970)

 


Pink Ribbon (1971)

 


Pass the Poison Separately (1976)

 

What else remains of Oswell Blakeston

His Wikipedia entry
A biography and inventory of his papers
Max Chapman and Oswell Blakeston: the life of an artistic couple
Info on his film Light Rhythms (1930) at silentera.com
His books available at alibris

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p.s. Hey. I’m in Glasgow. If you’re in Glasgow, come see PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT and Zac Farley and me this evening, 6 pm @ Andrew Stewart Cinema. If not, or even if so, enjoy this ancient, born again post about the obscure yet wonderful Oswell Blakeston.

3 Comments

  1. Wow! Never heard of Oswell Blakeston. Utterly fascinating career and a TOTAL BABE!

  2. Just saw Permanent Green Light in Glasgow (i was the back seat girl) I just wanted again to say thank you for shifting the space in my head. The film is a poem – i wondered all the way home about the difference between ending and dying..enough to say your film didn’t End.
    Much Respect.

  3. Hello Dennis !
    Would you be so kind to scan or take photo «Adventure Without Asking» by Oswell Blakeston for me ?
    I’d be very grateful for your attention

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