I was in high school when my sweetheart, Rachel, discovered Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roy [King Ubu] and started reading big chunks of it out loud to me, as we walked to and from school.
Alfred Jarry was the sort of fellow whose quirks immediately appealed to me. My favorite thing about Jarry was that he lived in Paris, bicycled everywhere, and referred to his bicycle only as “ce qui roule” [that which rolls] He was one of the surrealist milieu just before World War 1, which died in the trenches and mud. Ubu was a play that opened in 1896 and closed the same night – it was too weird and the language was offensive-ish. My opinion is that the real reason the French audiences rejected the play was because it’s also pretty anti-political, and makes fun of pretty much everyone.
When I say the language is offensive-ish, I mean that Jarry used portmanteau words like “merdre!” which sounds a lot like “merde!” but isn’t. For some reason I am thinking now of Red Dwarf and Lister’s ubiquitous “smeg!” which is not quite a naughty word. [The whole topic of naughty words probably deserves a post someday] Ubu is, in case you care, available free from Project Gutenberg: [pg] [english] Jarry’s original illustration of Ubu is minimalist:
It was also full of lese-majeste:
PAPA UBU. I have the honour to inform you that to
enrich the kingdom I’m going to kill all you nobles and
take your possessions.
NOBLES. Horror! To us, people and soldiers!
PAPA UBU. Bring the first Noble, and pass me my
Noble hook. Those that are condemned to death I’ll put
through the trapdoor and they’ll fall into the basement
of Pinchpork and then into the room below where their
brains will be removed by the debraining machine. (To
the 1st Noble.) Who are you, you buffoon?
FIRST NOBLE. Count of Vitepsk.
PAPA UBU. What’s your income?
FIRST NOBLE. Three million rixdales.
PAPA UBU. Condemned!
He grabs the Noble with the hook and puts him down
I strongly suspect that did not go over particularly well with the French audience at the tail-end of its imperial belle epoque.
The point of all of this is, for some reason, I am often reminded of Ubu. Perhaps it’s the debraining machine and the noble hook? At one time, I invented a mythical weapon known as “the brain claw” that was subconsciously inspired by Jarry’s quirkiness. And, naturally, it occurred to me to ask Midjourney AI to render me a few scenes.
I love the costumes.
I’m a big fan of Olaf’s work, since his breakthrough book Chessmen, which I discovered by accident at a used photography bookstore in San Francisco in the 90s. Since then, he’s gone in all sorts of amazing directions involving building exacting theatrical sets with carefully controlled cinematic lighting. His work is surreal and the portrait above really captures the style beautifully. It’s impressive.
Prompt: a detailed, realistic photo by erwin olaf of a scene from ubu roi: “Bring the first Noble, and pass me my Noble hook. Those that are condemned to death I’ll put through the trapdoor and they’ll fall into the basement of Pinchpork and then into the room below where their brains will be removed by the debraining machine. (To the 1st Noble.) Who are you, you buffoon?
It can be really fun to hand the AI a chunk of song lyrics or other writing as a found sample, to see what it does with it.
This stuff makes me wish I could take a computer back in time and spend a day or two in the Paris of my imagination, with Andre Breton, and Alfred Jarry, to see their delight and shock at the AI image generator. Such creative surrealists would surely have done some amazingly weird things.
The style of the image above is strongly reminiscent of Olaf’s Chessmen. The other images are in the style of his newer works.
I would title them “the Twitter followers”