Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Under the Volcano author Malcolm Lowry was inspired by the Wirral of his childhood

Liverpool Echo Under the Volcano author Malcolm Lowry was inspired by the Wirral of his childhood 22/10/09

Catherine Jones follows in the footsteps of Malcolm Lowry

WIRRAL doesn’t recognise Malcolm Lowry. It recognises Wilfred Owen but he wasn’t from Birkenhead – he went to the school and Wirral has managed to put a blue plaque on a house in which he was in for a very short period of time and they also named a road after him,” says Colin Dilnot.

“The irony for me is that Lowry wrote a lot about Wirral. And Wilfred Owen couldn’t stand Birkenhead!”

Colin is a passionate advocate for the man who wrote what is considered one of the great novels of the 20th century – Under The Volcano. While he’s acclaimed internationally, and is a favourite author of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 Years of Solitude), Lowry is little known at home.

In fact, Colin would like to see a blue plaque erected on the writer’s birthplace in New Brighton.

Lowry, who would have been 100 this year, is currently being celebrated in a festival of art, writing, film poetry and performance at the Bluecoat arts centre.

Organisers hope to raise the profile of the writer who left the banks of the Mersey as a young man – the 17-year-old’s departure on a ‘gap year’ working his passage on the tramp steamer Pyrrhus was reported in the ECHO under the priceless headline “Deckhand With A Ukulele” – and whose love of adventure later took him to America, Canada and to the Mexican town of Cuernavaca which became the inspiration for his 1947 semi-autobiographical masterpiece.

Under The Volcano tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the Mexican town on the traditional Day of the Dead in 1938.

But, says Colin who first discovered the author at college and who contributed to the new book Malcolm Lowry: From The Mersey To The World, although Lowry’s stories may be set all over the place, the heart that beats within them is recognisably from Merseyside.

“If you look at his novels, his writing, his letters, they’re all permeated with mentions of Wirral, Liverpool, the river,” he explains.

“In Under The Volcano he talks about something called the ‘hell bunker’ and that was on one of the greens of the Royal Liverpool golf club at Hoylake. Lowry used a number of golfing symbols to symbolise things like hell”.

These local connections will be explored in a Malcolm Lowry magical mystery tour this month.

The Voyage That Never Ends is billed as a “day long journey by ferry, coach and foot” tracing the writer’s early years in Wirral and his forays across the river to Liverpool where his well-to-do father worked at the Cotton Exchange in Old Hall Street.

The tour starts in Liverpool, but citizens of the city may be dismayed to learn Lowry wasn’t exactly a fan.

In fact, he described it as a “terrible city” and in his work October Ferry to Seacombe he talked about being “imprisoned in a Liverpool of self.”

In what is rather like a reverse Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels, Lowry instead revelled in his Wirral ‘Eden’ roots.

“If you look at some of his writings, his love of nature began on the Wirral,” says Colin. “Where he lived in Caldy he was surrounded by wonderful places where you could walk, and he describes walking over the gorse – in those days it was wilder, the Wirral was a much more rural paradise than it is now.

“His communing with nature continued when he went to Canada. One of the most striking things for me is that if you look where he went in Canada, when you see photographs, when you look out across the hills its not dissimilar from looking out across the Dee.

“It was obviously a place where he felt very comfortable.”

Lowry was born in North Drive, New Brighton, but moved to Inglewood at Caldy when he was two.

The tour will visit both houses, along with the aptly-named (although as Colin points out, ironically not for him) Lowry’s Bank, waterfront pubs in Birkenhead and the site of the anatomy museum in Paradise Street.

“Lowry was obsessed with this. It’s recorded he paid a couple of visits and it stuck in his mind. They produced a guidebook and what he did was took a chunk of that and put it into his book Ultramarine.”

Then of course there’s the peninsula’s famed golf courses – home of ‘hell bunker’ and the equally infamous ‘donga’. Young Lowry was Hoylake Boys’ Golf Champion in 1925 and spent a lot of his time on the courses.

At Caldy, the vista takes in Hilbre Island, the lighthouse, Dee estuary and marine lake – all images Lowry, who died an alcoholic at 47, purposefully inserted into his work.

“We’re trying to allow people the opportunity to see the landscape and topography of what he’s talking about in his novels, because the detail he writes about is quite real,” says Colin.

“And we want to with some of the spirit of Lowry as well.”

Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey To The World is published by Liverpool University Press and the Bluecoat.

You can also catch Colin Dilnot’s Lowry blog

Liverpool Echo

Read more details on the tour mentioned above here

The Voyage That Never Ends Saturday, 31 October 2009 9:00am - 9:00pm

A day long journey by ferry, coach and foot, tracing Malcolm Lowry's early years on the Wirral and his forays into Liverpool. Expect hot jazz, hymn singing, films, hidden histories, literary discoveries and more on this psychogeographical mystery tour devised by The Firminists.

(Please note that Tickets are £15 for the full day, or £5 for the music event in the evening)

Book tickets here

Below is an breakdown of the day:

Approx. Timings

Lowry Bank to North Drive, 7 minutes
North Drive Circular Walk, 10 minutes
North Drive to New Brighton Methodist Church, 3 minutes
New Brighton to Hoylake Golf Course, 24 minutes
Hoylake Golf Course to West Kirby Promenade (walking, 25 minutes)
West Kirby Promenade to the Donga (Caldy), 8 minutes
The Donga to Birkenhead Docks, 27 minutes
Birkenhead Docks to Mersey Tunnel, 5 minutes
Mersey Tunnel to Paradise Street, 20 minutes

Sunday, 18 October 2009

German Films in Lowry's Letter To Clemens ten Holder October 1951

Clemens ten Holder translated Lowry's Under The Volcano into German. The translation was published in Germany in September 1951. Clemens ten Holder mentioned in a now lost letter about the translation that there may have been a possibility of turning the book into a film in Germany which greatly excited Lowry because of his admiration for German cinema.

Lowry wrote to ten Holder in October 1951 outlining his desires for the proposed film version. In the letter he mentions his favourite German films which are listed below:

Robert Weine Caligari 1919
E.A. Dupont Variete 1925
Arthur Robison Warning Shadows 1923
Henrik Galeen The Student Of Prague 1926
Joe May Heimkehr 1928
Frederick Murnau The Last Laugh 1924
Frederick Murnau Sunrise 1927
Karl Grune The Street 1923
Fritz Lang Destiny 1921

I intend to look at each of the films in the forthcoming months in a similar way to my posts on films shown as part of the Cambridge Film Guild Season 1929-30 whilst Lowry was at Cambridge University.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 14/10/09

Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry: Talk by Gordon Bowker
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
6:00pm - 7:00pm
The Bluecoat
School Lane

The Bluecoat, as part of the Chapter and Verse Festival, is hosting a Malcolm Lowry season (Sept-Nov) to celebrate the centenary of the legendary Wirral author's birth.

Lowry's biographer Gordon Bowker will offer insight into the colourful life of a complex talent.

"Gripping and thoroughly engaged...Lowry's biography won't have to be done again" - Martin Amis

Day Out in Saughall Massie

That day it was, on the Saughall Massie Road with Janet, when he found the white campion on the windy hill, it was the only sound to break the stillness, the traction engine, and the sleep-shattering fall of white stones. Afterwards they had tea at Hubbard and Martin's, in Grange Road.....

Lowry includes many scenes in his early novel Ultramarine, in which the main character Dana Hilliot recalls his youthful courting of Janet, including their walks around the Wirral. These walks probably reflect the same journeys made by Lowry and his young love Tess Evans.

In the 1920's, the urban sprawl was only just beginning its pervasive journey across Wirral reaching out to the ancient villages of the Wirral including Saughall Massie. Saughall Massie could have been reached by taking a bus from Birkenhead to Upton and then walking down Saughall Massie Road seen on the right in the photograph below. Saughall Massie Road originally ran from the what are now the crossroads in Upton to the village to Saughall Massie Village.

Saughall Massie Road was once a Turnpike, a privately owned road on which a toll is charged, the toll house was located on the land opposite Greenbank. The road was re-aligned in the 1960s, it originally followed the wall of Upton Convent round the corner into the village.

Or the young couple may have walked from West Kirby towards Upton crossing the many footpaths which still traverse the fields of the northern Wirral.

The name de Massie, de Massey or de Mascy has been connected to the Wirral since the time of the Norman Conquest. Baron Hamon de Mascey, whose family came from the settlement of Mascey near Avranches, Normandy, established Birkenhead Priory in 1150. His relations, the Masseys of Sale, settled on the Wirral during the reign of King John were supposed to have given their name to Saughall Massie. It is also supposed that the name Saughall Massie means "Willow-tree nook of land".

The land around Saughall Massie is flat and lies between a ridge to the east on which Upton sits and the hills to the west which run from West Kirby down to Heswall. The hill Lowry is referring to in the above passage is most likely the ridge on which Upton sits.

A clue to the exact position is perhaps given away by his reference to the campion flower. The white campion is also known as the Grave Flower or Flower of the Dead in parts of England as they are seen often growing on gravesites and around tombstones. The highest point on the ridge upon which Upton built is the ancient site of Overchurch Hill.

Overchurch was the site of a Saxon church and in turn a Norman church demolished in the 19th Century though the graveyard still exists. The hill on which the church once sat is overgrown with tall trees now but in the 20's was a much more open aspect and would have been attractive for courting couples to gaze out over the North Wirral coast.

The young couple could have taken a bus back to Birkenhead from Upton in order to visit Hubbard and Martin's, which was a popular meeting place in the central shopping area of Birkenhead in the 1920's. The cafe was near to the Hippodrome Theatre in Grange Road which Lowry frequented in the 1920's.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr Caligari @ FACT Liverpool 17/11/09

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (U)
17 November 2009 6.30pm
88 Wood Street
Tickets £7/£5.50
Tel No 0871 704 2063

A favourite film of Malcolm Lowry to be shown as part of the Centenary Festival.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 silent film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films.

The deranged Dr. Caligari and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare are connected to a series of murders in a German mountain village, Holstenwall. Caligari presents an example of a motion picture "frame story" in which most of the plot is presented as a "flashback", as told by Francis.

The narrator, Francis, and his friend Alan visit a carnival in the village where they see Dr. Caligari and the somnambulist Cesare, whom the doctor is displaying as an attraction. Caligari brags that Cesare can answer any question he is asked. When Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, Cesare tells Alan that he will die before dawn tomorrow – a prophecy which is fulfilled.

Francis, along with his girlfriend Jane, investigate Caligari and Cesare, which eventually results in Cesare kidnapping Jane. Caligari orders Cesare to kill Jane, but the hypnotized slave refuses after her beauty captivates him. He carries Jane out of her house, leading the townsfolk on a lengthy chase. Cesare falls to his death during the pursuit, and the townsfolk discover that Caligari had created a dummy to distract Francis.

Francis discovers that "Caligari" is actually the director of the local insane asylum, and, with the help of his colleagues, discovers that he is obsessed with the story of a Dr. Caligari, who, in 1703, in northern Italy used a somnambulist to murder people as a traveling act. After being confronted with the dead Cesare, Caligari reveals his mania and is imprisoned in his asylum.

A "twist ending" reveals that Francis' flashback is actually his fantasy: he, Jane and Cesare are all inmates of the insane asylum, and the man he says is Caligari is his asylum doctor, who, after this revelation of the source of his patient's delusion, says that now he will be able to cure Francis. Wikipedia

You can read more here in an earlier post on Malcolm Lowry @ The 19th Hole

John Huston's Under The Volcano Movie Titles

Showing in Liverpool on 7/10/09 as part of Malcolm Lowry Centenary Festival.

Liverpool’s Bluecoat celebrates “lost” Wirral literary hero Malcolm Lowry

Liverpool’s Bluecoat celebrates “lost” Wirral literary hero Malcolm Lowry
Sep 30 2009 by Lorna Hughes, Wallasey News

A “LOST” literary hero from Wirral is being celebrated at the Bluecoat in Liverpool from this week.

Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel Under the Volcano has been hailed as a modern masterpiece by Time magazine and Nobel literature prize winner Gabriel Garcia Márquez but many have never heard of the New Brighton-born author.

The Bluecoat hopes to change that with a season of events celebrating his life and work.

The ambitious eight-week programme includes an exhibition, new book – Malcolm Lowry: From The Mersey To The World – live music, dance, talks and special participatory events.

Bryan Biggs, Artistic Director at the Bluecoat, said: “This exhibition, book and events programme at the Bluecoat aims to reclaim Malcolm Lowry for Merseyside.
“His masterpiece, Under the Volcano, has been claimed one of the top 20 books of the last century, yet he remains relatively unknown in his home town. We hope it will help to restore him to his rightful position as one of our truly great creative exports.”

Lowry was born on July 28, 1909. In 1927 he swapped the comforts of his home at Inglewood, Caldy for to sign on as a deck hand on the steamer SS Pyrrhus, sailing from Birkenhead for the Far East.

This marked the beginning of 30 years of voyaging that would take in two marriages, three continents, several jails and a couple of psychiatric hospitals, and would leave in its wake both thousands of empty bottles and one of the greatest 20th-century English novels.

Under the Volcano: An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry is open daily at the Bluecoat on School Lane until Sunday, November 22.
Wirral News

Mexican Day of the Dead Altar @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 1/11/09

Angus Balbernie: The Lining Of Bees @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 10/10/09

Angus Balbernie: The Lining Of Bees
The Bluecoat
School Lane
10 October 2009
8.00 - 9.30pm
Tickets from The Bluecoat Box Office 0151 702 5324

Angus Balbernie, A Lining of Bees – what the critics said of previous Lowry inspired dance/theatre:

Materials For A Small Winter

“Inspired by the semi-autobiographical writings and rantings of Malcolm Lowry and erotically shaded by the evocation of Rita Hayworth in Gilda, Materials For A Small Winter seemed to physically shimmer and warp in the heat of a boozily recalled Mexico. A simple, striking backdrop of slatted wood presumably corresponded to the author's fisherman's hut in British Columbia, yet resembled nothing so much as the spied through window blinds of classic film noir. Rising late and stumbling from the audience, Clive Andrews' Lowry – crumpling and contorting, intermittently inspired and doubling over with regret – seemed to pass through various stages of lucidity during an intensely personal Day of the Dead. A young femme fatale in an elegant red dress barked questions in Spanish that confused even the fluent amongst the audience and later pleaded with them to pluck out her eyes with a gleaming blade.

“Five female dancers passed at various times across the stage, all but ignoring Lowry and his proffered scribblings, the strums of his ukulele and his more idyllic memories. Instead – seemingly possessed by the raw spirit of Elise Dabrowski's yowled vocalising and mournful double bass – they were sometimes free to move gracefully, other times jerking violently and crushed into a physically demeaning, crawling departure.

“Conceived and devised in just five days by director Angus Balbernie and the cast, Materials For A Small Winter has an intensity and immediacy that render it impossible to wrench your eyes from”.

(Jay Richardson. The Scotsman. Scotland)

“’Intensive’ hardly encompasses the processes set in motion by Angus Balbernie - his Materials for a Small Winter was made from "zero to finish" in five days. Taking impetus from the life and writings of Malcolm Lowry, and with nods in the direction of Rita Hayworth's performance in the film Gilda, the piece had a discomfitting, raw energy that - like the vocalisings of double bassist Elise Dabrowski - yowled and jittered with the madness and sadness of Lowry's various booze-altered states.
“A dividing stretch of slatted wood created separate realms while the cast of seven threw caution to the wind, seized on Balbernie's mix of text and movement and delivered up one of those radical onslaughts that leave you feeling sand-bagged, unlikely to forget it, and amazed at what five days can produce”.

(Mary Brennan, The Herald.)

“It is an atmospheric 80 minutes of beautifully choreographed theatre designed to give its audience a weird but tempting insight into the brilliant mind of alcoholic novelist Malcolm Lowry...the characters combine mesmerising physical theatre with the equally off-the-wall words of the novelist’s literature.”

(Rebecca Gilbert. Bristol Evening Post.)

“Malcolm doesn’t understand borders ...of any kind”, declares one of the characters in Angus Balbernie’s take on the life and work of alcoholic author Malcolm Lowry. It’s a phrase that applies equally to this work, which ignores all performer/audience, dance/theatre, reality/fantasy boundaries. Brilliantly conceived and executed, this dance-theatre was a dream to look at, stimulating throughout, and both perplexing and engaging in turns.”

(Lesley Barnes. Venue Magazine.)

Under The Volcano Movie @ FACT Liverpool 7/10/09

Under The Volcano (15)
Directed by John Huston Mexico/USA 1984 112mins
Introduced by Mark Goodall (University Of Bradford)
88 Wood Street
Tickets £7/5.50
Tel. No. 0871 704 2063

John Huston's film version of Malcolm Lowry's novel Under The Volcano is being shown as part of the Malcolm Lowry Centenary Festival as above.

Under The Volcano

Under the Volcano is a 1984 film directed in Mexico by John Huston with Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Andrews and Katy Jurado heading the cast. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Albert Finney) and Best Music, Original Score (Alex North).

It is based on the 1947 novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry which was adapted to radio on Studio One in 1947.

Remaining faithful to Lowry's original novel, Huston's film tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac (recognizably Cuernavaca), on the Day of the Dead in 1938.

The film was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.

Reviewing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin had much praise for Finney's performance:

Drunkenness, so often represented on the screen by overacting of the most sodden sort, becomes the occasion for a performance of extraordinary delicacy from Albert Finney, who brilliantly captures the Consul's pathos, his fragility and his stature. Alcoholism is the central device in Mr. Lowry's partially autobiographical novel. (The author, like the Consul, was capable of drinking shaving lotion when nothing more potable was at hand.) Yet the Consul's drinking is astonishingly fine-tuned, affording him a protective filter while also allowing for moments of keen, unexpected lucidity. Mr. Finney conveys this beautifully, with the many and varied nuances for which Guy Gallo's screenplay allows. For instance, when the exquisite Yvonne (played elegantly and movingly by Jacqueline Bisset) reappears in Cuernavaca one morning, she finds her ex-husband in a cantina, still wearing his evening clothes. He turns to gaze at her for a moment, pauses briefly, and then continues talking as if nothing had happened. Seconds later, he turns again and looks at Yvonne more closely, still not certain whether or not this is a hallucination. It takes a long while for the fact of Yvonne's return to penetrate the different layers of the Consul's inebriated consciousness, and Mr. Finney delineates the process with grace and precision, stage by stage.

Paul Rooney: Lowry and New York @ Bluecoat 6/10/09

Artist Talks @ The Bluecoat
Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957)
Paul Rooney: Lowry and New York
6th October 2009
The Bluecoat
School Lane

Paul Rooney, who is exhibiting his film Bellevue at the centenary festival for Malcolm Lowry, will be giving a talk about Lowry and New York on Tuesday coming.

Paul Rooney's Bellevue

Paul Rooney's film Bellevue draws on Lowry's time in a psychiatric ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1935, which informed his novella Lunar Caustic. Published posthumously in 1958, the book focuses on a failed English musician who befriends two other patients. Rooney was interested in the book's 'study of the disorientation of addiction and intoxication, but also in the idea of Lowry's voluntary attendance at Bellevue (he could check out when he liked), which parallels the privileged position that art has in relation to real life: it is always easier to visit desparate places when you know that you can leave at any time'.

Paul Rooney Biography

Born Liverpool 1967 Studied 1986-1991 MA Fine Art and BA Painting Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Solo Exhibitions and Projects 2006-07 Lucy Over Lancashire, BBC Radio Lancashire, Radio 1, 6 Music, BBC Cymru and Resonance FM 2004 Know Your Place, firstsite, Colchester 2003 There Are Two Paths, off-site performance, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Meadow Gallery, Shropshire and Birmingham ArtsFest; Songs and Routines, Reg Vardy Gallery, University of Sunderland 2002 The NWRA Variety Night, Cubitt Gallery, London 1999 Rooney 'Peel Session' John Peel Show, BBC Radio 1FM Group Exhibitions and Projects 2007 Cine y Casi Cine, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; Locale - British Artists in Residence, 1a Space, Hong Kong; Nachtschicht, Kulturzentrum K4, Nürnberg, Germany; Women at the Crossroads of Ideologies screening, Stara Gradska Vijenica, Split, Croatia; 2006 Single Shot, Tate Britain and other London venues, touring to fourteen other cities in the UK and Europe; TV Ergo Sum, PULSAR 2006, Galeria de Arte Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela; Walk On, Salon Vogue, Shanghai Biennial; Work in Progress, Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek, Kino Arsenal, Berlin 2005 Variety, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea; British Art Show 6, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Angel Row Annex at Beatties, Nottingham; and Arnolfini, Bristol 2004 Pass the Time of Day, Gasworks Gallery, London, Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, Castefield Gallery, Manchester and Collective Gallery, Edinburgh; Shrinking Cities, Kunst-Werke, Berlin 2003 Let Us Take You There, Site Gallery, Sheffield, and Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool; You Are At Home Here, Lokaal 01, Breda, Netherlands; We Go Round and Round in the Night and are Consumed by Fire, Comme Cá Gallery, New York; Fragmentos, Galeria Casa Gaia, Havana, Cuba; Electric Earth, a British Council show, touring to The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Radio Laboratory Museum, Nizhni Novgorod, Yaroslavl Museum of Fine Art, Yaroslav, Na Solyanke Gallery, Moscow, and venues in Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Turkey, South America 2002 Shopping (as Common Culture), Tate Liverpool; Palestine International Video Festival, Birzeit University, Qamariyeh Gallery and various venues, West Bank, Palestine; Mappin Open, Mappin Gallery, Sheffield; 2001 Merry Movement, Laforet Museum Harajuku, Tokyo 2000 Pixelvision, Royal Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh, Lost and Found, Amsterdam, Red/Hull Time Based Arts, Waygood Gallery, Newcastle, Catalyst Arts, Belfast, B16, Birmingham, Dick Institute, Kilmarnock, First Floor, Melbourne 1999 My Eye Hurts, Thread Waxing Space, New York; Perspective 99, Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast; EAST International (as Common Culture), Norwich Gallery, NSAD, Norwich