August Strindberg & Helium.
September 24, 2002 9:58 PM   Subscribe

August Strindberg & Helium. In 1978, the artist and writer Edward Gorey met the members of Monty Python at a fort in Tunisia. The group was in the process of filming The Life of Brian. Although Gorey contributed little to the finished product, the British troupe's impact on him was sizable. In the twenty years that followed, Gorey slowly retired from civilization. Since 1996, he has been studying Macromedia Flash. Strindberg & Helium is the result.
posted by Marquis (36 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In his 1984 autobiography, From These Hands, Gorey described the encounter with Palin, Idle, Cleese, Jones and Chapman:
"They were between takes, fussied-up in sodden togas and grimy sandals. One of their assistants introduced me as they sat in their canvas chairs, sipping bottled water. I had never before been on a movie set, and was considerably impressed; the awe, however, did not extend to the men themselves... "Monty Python" meant nothing to me, although it conjured up a pleasant image of a bespectacled child hunched over a desk, a boa constrictor peering over his shoulder.

Palin knew my work. I was delighted, but not at ease -- I could make no reciprocal comments. I admitted that they looked like they were "getting on rather well". Someone (Eric Idle, I think) invited me to stay on for the afternoon. I did, and in so doing experienced one of the funniest days of my life. Even as the sun wore down their tempers, the quintet remained whip-fast in their humour, possessed of a strange but captivating sense of timing. I longed to be able to shift so easily into absurdity, to see the floating cupcakes that might hover over the shoulders of the most solemn speakers."
As Gorey grew older, he grew more and more frustrated with the reputation he had built up. Known principally for a childrens' books (The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest especially) and, in America, for his covers to the gothic young-adult novels of John Bellairs, he felt that his capacity for humour was being overlooked. Despite earning a Tony award for the campy costumes he designed in 1978's Dracula, Gorey felt he was going in circles.

"What is admirable [about J.D. Salinger]," Gorey said in a Guardian interview (January, 1976), "is not that he faded from the world, but that he had sufficient vision to do so."

It was not until Gorey's meeting with (the majority of) Monty Python, in '78, that he found such a vision for himself. Despite his age, the troupe's sense of play and the bizarre rejuvenated the sexuagenarian. Citing a newfound interest in animation, he began to retire from society.

"I have not looked at a newspaper, and I have not watched one second of television news. The whole world could be coming to a complete and utter stop, and I wouldn't have the faintest notion of it."

Although he published one more book in the 1990s (The Haunted Tea Cosy), by the end of the twentieth century his energies were going into another sort of work. Despite being a late adopter, his embrace of computer technology was fierce, particularly with the discovery of Macromedia Flash. The tool allowed him the freedom to experiment without investing expensive film equipment. He described the software as an "amazing tool", but gave few clues as to his project. Further complicating the rumours surrounding his ongoing work, were the rumours of his death in 2000. Though later revealed to be a hoax, the rumours were slow to fade. Many interpreted his continuing silence as an indication of something more final, more tragic.

The August Strindberg & Helium films, however, show that Gorey was far from idle over the past decades, and that he has in fact been honing his macabre wit. The shorts are a step away from the precedents, but so too do they display a familiar sense of mischief. You'll laugh - I certainly did - but there is an inherent sadness here, too (is it heartbreak?) that makes Helium and Strindberg's relationship the more poignant. One can only hope that the aging Gorey will continue to find the health and inspiration to create such artworks as these - his spirit, when it passes, will be missed.

posted by Marquis at 9:59 PM on September 24, 2002 [6 favorites]

That's really interesting, I love Edward Gorey (The Dwindling Tea Party was one of the first books I read), but there's one thing: He's dead. So I don't think he will continue to find the health and inspiration to create artworks such as those. < /snark>
posted by risenc at 10:04 PM on September 24, 2002

He has since moved on to studying the giant Macromedia Flash in the sky. Gorey died in the spring of 2000, sadly. The PBS article linked is a good bio and interview...
(on preview, what Marquis said)
posted by whatzit at 10:05 PM on September 24, 2002

Man, I can read this evening. On posting, running around the web, and coming back to find a stupid mistake, what risenc said.
posted by whatzit at 10:23 PM on September 24, 2002

Edward Gorey and Monty Python together?! You must have been listening in when I made my last birthday wish, Marquis. Just need to work Roald Dahl in there, and I'll die happy. Thanks (no matter who said what).
posted by hippugeek at 10:32 PM on September 24, 2002

So is he dead, or isn't he? I love Edward Gorey, but I'm pretty sure he's shuffled off this mortal coil like a sack of potatoes.

Maybe he's just been reincarnated as Lemony Snicket. Why are children's books these days more imaginative, involved, and captivating than adult fiction? I'm thinking Rowling, Pullman, and the aforementioned Snicket.
posted by Hildago at 10:35 PM on September 24, 2002

Thank you for this post. August Strindberg is amazing as well... the Ghost Sonata is one of my favorites.
posted by chaz at 10:38 PM on September 24, 2002

what kind of world do we live in when an incomparable talent like edward gorey is allowed to simply get old and die?
posted by mcsweetie at 10:38 PM on September 24, 2002 [1 favorite]

wow, marquis: this is easily one of the best posts i've seen in months. thank you.

[this is good]
posted by fishfucker at 10:52 PM on September 24, 2002

I made a truetype font when he died. Sample image here.
posted by damehex at 10:57 PM on September 24, 2002 [1 favorite]

I almost spewed my granola onto the screen when little Helium starting parroting phrases such as 'bleeeding!!'. It's nice to have a bridge between my Gorey loving Goth friends and my absurdist preferences.
posted by nasim at 11:14 PM on September 24, 2002

[insert Dead Gorey Sketch here]
posted by kindall at 11:18 PM on September 24, 2002

This is really good, Marquis. The original misery...
posted by liam at 11:37 PM on September 24, 2002

So this is way too good to be true, and you're like, completely putting us on, right? There's no connection between Gorey and August Strindberg and Helium -- the flash credits just mention some twentysomethings at and And unless I'm missing something, everything else is just a link with no context to substantiate what you've said, including the Gorey/Monty Python meeting.

Why, why, why tease us like this??? Or has neu made me paranoid? (Not that you're neu, Marquis; maybe just playing with us?)

All the same, the flash films are neat. As is damehex's truetype font.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:45 AM on September 25, 2002 [1 favorite]

Thank you, Marquis. What a brilliant combination!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:07 AM on September 25, 2002

Honest, guys, I think Marquis is hoaxing on us, as his hoax link hints. MetaTalk. (Alternatively, perhaps I am just a giant boob.)

That said, Gorey did assist in creating the opening credit animations to PBS's Mystery!. His first draft, featuring murder by Victorian children's puppet theatre, was much too long and had to be drastically shortened. They spent the better part of the morning murdering the child in various ways. Spooky.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:17 AM on September 25, 2002

Yeah, I don't see any connection between the flash cartoons and Gorey. They're pretty cute, granted, but they don't even seem like Gorey's style, or up to his standard.

posted by sklero at 3:50 AM on September 25, 2002

I'm not sure, but I suspect it's a hoax as well. Especially since the only evidence Marquis cites for this supposed meeting in Tunisia is an autobiography which, as near as I can tell, doesn't exist. Has anyone else ever heard of From These Hands? Because Amazon and Google certainly haven't.

All that being said, I agree: the cartoons are okay, but nothing special. They don't seem much like Edward Gorey at all.
posted by UnReality at 5:58 AM on September 25, 2002


That's a terrific font.
posted by websavvy at 6:02 AM on September 25, 2002 [1 favorite]

Sorry I came late to the party, but as a collector of Gorey memorabilia, I concur that this must be a hoax, if for no other reason than that there doesn't seem to be any such book as From These Hands (Gorey Bibliography). Also, he published more than one book in the '90's -

The Stupid Joke / 1990
The Tuning Fork / 1990
The Fraught Settee / 1990
La Balade Troublante / 1991
The Doleful Domesticity / 1991
The Betrayed Confidence / 1992
The Pointless Book / 1993
The Retrieved Locket / 1994
Figbash Acrobate / 1994
The Unknown Vegetable / 1995
Deadly Blotter / 1997
The Just Dessert / 1997
The Haunted Tea-Cosy / 1998
The Headless Bust / 1999

Also, he's very definitely dead. His house is now a wonderful museum, which I strongly encourage any Gorey fan to visit.
posted by anastasiav at 6:19 AM on September 25, 2002

Everybody's so unimaginative. This is not a hoax: it is fiction. And (maybe maybe?) an attempt at Art.
posted by Marquis at 6:46 AM on September 25, 2002

I like Strindberg's voice and the artwork, but Helium is a couple of orders of magnitude too cute for me.
posted by mert at 6:51 AM on September 25, 2002

Feh... How well does this material stand on its own without your machinations?
posted by machaus at 6:54 AM on September 25, 2002

these flash videos are wonderful. strindberg almost reminds me a bit of nietzsche, albiet in a cartoonish, satirical manner. helium's just damn funny.
posted by trioperative at 6:58 AM on September 25, 2002

Everybody's so unimaginative. This is not a hoax: it is fiction. And (maybe maybe?) an attempt at Art.

posted by ChrisTN at 7:03 AM on September 25, 2002

Fiction is fine, but it's usually nice to let your audience in on the joke.
posted by UnReality at 7:05 AM on September 25, 2002

Marquis is getting a firm spanking.
posted by ColdChef at 8:08 AM on September 25, 2002

Not anymore, apparently. The meta thread has been deleted.

I usually have a pretty clear idea of why Matt does what he does, but in this case I'm baffled.
posted by frykitty at 8:35 AM on September 25, 2002

Unless, of course, this thread is next.
posted by UnReality at 8:44 AM on September 25, 2002

I believe the MeTa thread that was deleted had a reference (or possibly directions) on how to perform a specific hack against this site. (I could be wrong, of course.) I'm not surprised that it was deleted.
posted by anastasiav at 8:46 AM on September 25, 2002

Dunno. I thought a discussion about the boundaries of honesty in posting could have been interesting, with or without this thread.

On preview: Oh, yeah, I forgot about the hack. It had been done before, and it wasn't a very nice thing to do.
posted by frykitty at 8:47 AM on September 25, 2002

I reposted a metatalk question to this thread, hoping the previous deletion was not about the post. Not looking to attack Marquis. (I do think this was well done: My favorite line is "Since 1996, [Gorey] has been studying Macromedia Flash.")
posted by onlyconnect at 11:21 AM on September 25, 2002

I loved it all.
posted by sophist at 1:14 PM on September 25, 2002

In 2001, the artist and director Terry Gilliam was taken with the work of Edward Gorey. Gilliam, of course is well-known for his role as Patsy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Gorey was taken with the music and ideas behind the creators of Shockheaded Peter

"Edward Gorey heard our music and sent over some unpublished texts and we put them to music. Terry Gilliam is thinking about whether we're going to do it and how we're going to do it. That's as far as we've got. We played the songs live to Terry and he had plenty of ideas. So just one meeting with Terry so far. He's gone away to think about it. We don't know what at the moment, but the idea is that he would direct the show.."

Gilliam decides to work on an adaptation of Gorey's work:

I'm working now with Martin Jaques and the show's producer, Michael Morris, on an adaptation of Edward Gorey's work - stories with spindly, Edwardian drawings of strange and mysterious deaths: Amy, who fell down the stairs; Basil, who was eaten by bears. Like Hoffman, Gorey was trying to shake up a really moralistic, goody-goody time, and I think they both had a lot of fun doing it. The joy of the grotesque is something one has to keep fighting for. ref
posted by Winterfell at 1:56 PM on September 25, 2002

That part, at least, is true.
posted by UnReality at 3:20 PM on September 25, 2002

Don't miss Lemony Snicket's home pages. They're great fun. Wow, thanks for the Bellairs link, too!
posted by realjanetkagan at 7:03 AM on September 27, 2002

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