Watch “Bells of Atlantis,” an Experimental Film with Early Electronic Music Featuring Anaïs Nin (1952)

For decades, out­side of fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship and read­er­ships, French-Cuban-Amer­i­can diarist, nov­el­ist, and essay­ist Anaïs Nin was pri­mar­i­ly known through her famous friends—most notably the exper­i­men­tal nov­el­ist Hen­ry Miller, but also psy­cho­an­a­lyst Otto Rank. She had affairs with both men, and inspired some of their work, but Nin has always deserved much wider appre­ci­a­tion as an artist in her own right, whose sur­re­al­ist explo­rations of sex­u­al­i­ty, and sex­u­al abuse, and posthu­mous col­lec­tions of erot­i­ca rival Miller’s body of work—and for many read­ers far sur­pass his tal­ents.

Now Nin’s expres­sive face and orac­u­lar quo­ta­tions have tak­en over the Tum­blr-sphere, such that she has been called the “patron saint of social media” and com­pared to Lena Dun­ham. Whether one finds these terms flat­ter­ing or not comes down to mat­ters of taste and, prob­a­bly even more so, of age. But those who wish for a short intro­duc­tion to Nin out­side of the world of memes and macros will sure­ly take an inter­est in the 1952 film above, “Bells of Atlantis,” shot and edit­ed by her then-hus­band Ian Hugo (also known as banker High Guil­er), with Nin in the star­ring role as the queen of Atlantis. Coil­house offers this suc­cinct descrip­tion:

Over cas­cad­ing exper­i­men­tal footage, Nin reads aloud from her novel­la House of Incest. We catch glimpses of her nude form swing­ing in a ham­mock, and we see her shad­ow undu­lat­ing over sheer fab­ric blow­ing in the wind, but for the most part, the imagery, cap­tured by Nin’s hus­band Ian Hugo, remains very abstract.

But it is not only the rare, hazy glimpses of Nin and the snip­pets of her read­ing that should draw our atten­tion, but also the bur­bling, whistling, hyp­not­ic elec­tron­ic score, com­posed and cre­at­ed by the hus­band-and-wife-hob­by­ist team of Louis and Bebe Bar­ron. Over a decade before Delia Der­byshire wowed audi­ences with her Dr. Who theme, the Bar­rons were mak­ing unheard-of exper­i­men­tal sounds using the tech­nol­o­gy avail­able at the time—tape machines, oscil­la­tors, micro­phones, and oth­er such low-tech ana­log devices.

“The Bar­rons were true pio­neers of elec­tron­ic music,” writes Messy Nessy, “and one of the crown jew­els of their audi­to­ry col­lec­tion is the sound­track for the 1956 thriller sci-fi film, For­bid­den Plan­et,” the first major motion pic­ture with an all-elec­tron­ic score. “Bells of Atlantis” breaks ground as an even ear­li­er exam­ple of the form, and its hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry visu­al jour­ney recalls the sur­re­al­ist film­mak­ing of decades past and looks for­ward to the psy­che­del­ic 60s.

Both the sounds the Bar­rons pro­duced and the visions of Hugo turn out to be, in my hum­ble opin­ion, the per­fect set­ting for a brief intro­duc­tion to Nin’s voice. After watch­ing “Bells of Atlantis,” put on some more ear­ly elec­tron­i­ca, and read Nin’s 1947 House of Incest for your­self, a hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry prose-poem about, in Nin’s descrip­tion, the “escape from a woman’s sea­son in hell.”

via Messy Nessy/Coil­house

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Anaïs Nin Read From Her Cel­e­brat­ed Diary: A 60-Minute Vin­tage Record­ing (1966)

Hen­ry Miller Makes a List of “The 100 Books That Influ­enced Me Most”

Meet Delia Der­byshire, the Dr. Who Com­pos­er Who Almost Turned The Bea­t­les’ “Yes­ter­day” Into Ear­ly Elec­tron­i­ca

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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