Sometimes one comes across an image that is indeed more eloquent than any number of words (or even of notes?) could possibly be, and the convocation of beautiful people that just took place in Florence, in and around the fashion trade-fair at the Fortezza da Basso, is an occasion welcomed by those looking for just such a picture to overshadow all captions or commentary; but even so it’s not often that one meets with a photograph as striking and self-sufficient as is the portrait that was published by the New York photographer Scott Schuman last Thursday on his website The Sartorialist, surely one of the very best he’s taken, insofar as it positively overflows with the innate poise and presence of its subject and incites in response the beholder’s curiosity: who is this man who looks like a cool, very cool jazz musician, and what has brought him there?
Fortunately, however, Schuman’s readers did not neglect to provide the basic data about him. It turns out he is in fact a tailor and clothing-maker, born in Ghana and living in Bergen, Norway, although the name he utilizes in his professional endeavors, T-Michael, seems more fitting for a musician than for a fashion designer; and so, alerted by this choice of moniker, it was not entirely surprising also to discover that the scope of his activities extends beyond the sartorial sphere alone, even crossing into this website’s major field of interest. (Something which, of course, justifies my devoting this text to him.)
For, perusing T-Michael’s website, his blog, or Facebook page, one discovers that he also has tried his hand at film-making, with a number of short works to his credit, including, just a few weeks ago, one entitled Coal, which may be viewed on his website or on the Vimeo channel of Dunderland Film, the Norwegian production company which issued it. This latest, a project of that international collective (which is based – where else? – in London) of fashion and film-making dandies known as Art Comes First (in which the musician Kalaf Ângelo, a member of the band Buraka Som Sistema, also participates), was written and directed by T-Michael and Finn-Erik Rognan, while the filming took place over the course of a weekend in an abandoned insane asylum just outside Oslo.
This choice of setting was most likely no accident, as the film, whose enigmatic aspect is perhaps in part intended to suggest just this, seems to intuit that in and around dandyism as such – but whether today there still are or can be any dandies in the full meaning of the term, is a good question – something like an element of madness may swirl, a twofold power that dwells within the dandy while also haunting him from without; and, at bottom, what is it, or rather, what was it, being a dandy, if not the pursuit of an exquisite feeling for what’s fitting – of a sense of the precisely right time and place for a posture, a gesture, a turn of phrase, an article of clothing, or . . . – finesse to which the dandies were devoted and which society, the society that claimed implicitly to have a monopoly on decorum, in fact disregarded, if it even would have known it at all whenever it did happen to see it – a sense which they, however, at the very same time, could not but betray continually and be pursued by in turn – a turnabout which for them must have been at the very least inwardly maddening?
(In Strindberg’s farewell letter* to Nietzsche – and they each bore more than an incidental resemblance to the dandy – it seems to me that something of this madness was fathomed. “Litteras tuas non sine perturbatione accepi et tibi gratias ago,” the dramatist replied to the philosopher’s previous, nearly delirious missive, and then, after citing an impossibly moderate piece of counsel, delivered to him instead a double-edged admonition: “Interdum juvat insanire!” . . . Conversely, if there was a little bit of Nietzsche, and/or a little bit of Strindberg, in every dandy, what undertones of madness might then have sounded through the music in his mind, and resounded within the music in which dandyism itself were well expressed?)
* Dated December 31, 1888.
Now, without delving further into the enigmas of the film, let me simply note that it is offered in two versions, each provided with its own soundtrack, and this lends the one a rather different atmosphere than the other.
Here is the shorter version of Coal, with a score by Tord Gustavsen – in which what perhaps we’re given to hear, is the slightly mad music running through a dandy’s mind.
While for the longer of the two, the director’s cut, it is Marianne Sveen who has composed the music, and in this one it’s the genius loci itself – for this institution, one gathers, must have been frightful back in the heyday of its operation – that is more strongly audible and visible.
The two versions, taken together, supplement one another and add up to a complex subtle work, and it’s a pleasure, by the end of a circuitous stroll through the Internet, to have made its acquaintance – and to anticipate the shape and the sound of whatever it will be that T-Michael and his fellows undertake next.