Monday, November 19, 2012

Fallen by the wayside

Literally! And this blog has too. But I do hope to continue soon. I've become what I used to hate (ain't it just the way): being far too busy.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Top 5 Bruce Willis sci-fi films

With the recent release of Looper (above), Bruce Willis' numerous sci-fi roles are almost enough to qualify for a sub-genre.

1. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
2. The Fifth Element
(1997)
3. Sin City
(2005)
4. Looper
(2012)
5. Armageddon
(1998)

See also: Planet Terror (2007), Unbreakable (2000), Surrogates (2009) and The Twilight Zone TV series (1985)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lookalikes #32: Syriana and Argo

Syriana is a 2005 political thriller set in the Middle East starring George Clooney as a CIA guy with a beard*. Clooney also produced it. Argo is a 2012 political thriller set in the Middle East starring Ben Affleck as a CIA guy with a beard*. George Clooney co-produced it.

It's taken me years not to hate Ben Affleck (and Matt Damon, his 10th-removed cousin, who had a role in Syriana). Then I had years of apathy. Now, I don't even mind either of them. Ben Affleck has proved himself more competent behind the camera than he ever was in front of it, directing Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Affleck and Matt Damon won an Oscar back in 1997 for their screenplay Good Will Hunting (though they did get help from Rob Reiner and William Goldman). They both have funny middle names: Ben's is Geza; Matt's is Paige. They both like to play poker, Ben being better; Matt never was very convincing in Rounders.

*Meaning they want to be taken seriously. And make people think of great 1970s American films directed by the kids with beards: Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman, Malick.

Argo: Not to be confused with Argo, the ship Jason and the Argonauts sailed on; Argos, the largest general-goods retailer in the UK.
Syriana: Not to be confused with Syria, a country in western Asia.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Top ten most boring bands – EVER!

1. R.E.M.
2. Oasis
3. Manic Street Preachers
4. Primal Scream
5. Snow Patrol
6. Radiohead
7. Bruce Hornsby and the Range
8. Counting Crows
9. Stereophonics
10. Pearl Jam

Friday, October 05, 2012

Bond books

With the Bond franchise celebrating its 50th anniversary today, the imminent arrival of the new dull Bond film, Skyfall, and Adele's new Bond theme being declared a classic before anyone's heard it, 007 seems to be everywhere.

I've never been a big Bond fan but I'd obviously buy a first edition hardback Bond book with dust jacket from Oxfam for couple of quid, which I actually did do a few years ago. It was this one, above, which I sold immediately. I like the covers, but not the books or the films.

Firebox, a website which sells completely pointless tat, has released Bond Kindle Cases, reproducing a bunch of early Bond covers so you can keep "your delicate reading matter top secret". Presumably meaning 50 Shades of Grey. It's funny, I was just thinking on the tube the other day how private the Kindle is, you can't see what people are reading. I used to like seeing what book people were reading and judging them. Perhaps every book bought on a Kindle should come with a printed cover to wrap around it.

The early Bond covers were all illustrated by Richard Chopping, a writer and illustrator whose paintings were seen by chance by Ian Fleming's wife, Ann, at a London art exhibition in the 1950s also featuring Francis Bacon. Later, Ann took her husband to see Chopping's paintings, and said he should commission Chopping to do the next Bond jacket. He went on to illustrate nine Bond covers.

In 1965, Topping wrote as well as illustrated his first novel, The Fly.

A recent rewatching of Patrick Keiller's excellent (but flawed) 1994 film London reminded me of the Ernö Goldfinger-designed Alexander Fleming House (now called Metro Central Heights) at Elephant and Castle, quite near where I currently work in London Bridge. I've managed to do the four charity shops in Walworth Road in a lunch hour, so I'll check out the Goldfinger building sometime.

Ian Fleming famously named his Bond villain Goldfinger after the humourless Hungarian architect. Fleming, a near neighbour of Goldfinger's, had apparently objected to the pre-war cottages in Hampstead being knocked down to make way for Goldfinger's modernist house at 2 Willow Road.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Better read over shoulder (5, 7, 4)*

No matter if it's the Guardian, the Sun or a freebie like Metro or the Evening Standard, newspapers are always more interesting read over someone's shoulder or on someone's lap sitting next to me on public transport. Even if I have the same newspaper as the person beside me, I'll find myself glancing over at the page they're reading – and it's always more interesting than the page I'm on. But even if we're on the very same page on the same newspaper, their copy will always be more captivating than mine.

*Other people's news

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Cadbury wins ownership of Pantone 2685C purple

We're used to brands owning their logos and slogans but now Cadbury has gone a step further and patented the colour purple on their wrappers, officially known as Pantone 2685C. There's no real cause to panic, however, as the patent only applies to chocolate bars and drinks. You're still allowed to wear your purple trousers. For the time being. In 49 BC only Julius Caesar was allowed to wear a purple toga in Rome; if an ordinary citizen wore one, they'd be executed.

Purple has long had connotations with power and royalty, something Cadbury always wanted to exploit, claiming eating their chocolate was a 'rich and indulgent experience'. Though it's often scoffed at by chocolate aficionados as not being real chocolate, Cadbury has always been my choice of chocolate bar.

Update: A year later in October 2013, Cadbury lost its right to trademark the colour.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Fake Tintins

The morning my brother and I were leaving St. Malo to head back to England (one of the most depressing boat journeys in the world – leaving St. Malo and arriving in ugly Portsmouth), we happened across an antiques market opening up, not unlike the one featured at the start of The Secret of the Unicorn. Wandering through it, I glanced at a book stall unpacking its books. A book seemed to jump out at me: Tintin et les Blues Oranges, one of only two rare Tintin books I didn't own (the other being the book of the film Tintin and the Golden Fleece). I picked it up immediately and almost put it down again after looking at the 16€ price tag: not only was it tatty but it was in French. But before I could put it back a voice boomed out: 'dix'. Ten euros. I examined the book some more and said 'cinq'. The man gave a typically French shrug and held up eight fingers. I held up seven and he said 'okay'.

My brother mocked me afterwards, pointing out that the price went down from 16€ to 10€ in the time I'd merely picked up the book; he was obviously keen to get rid of it. I thought I'd gotten a bargain, however; it's pretty hard to find. The live action films Tintin et les Blues Oranges (1964) and Tintin and the Golden Fleece (1961) were both released on DVD by the BFI last year, but their accompanying book versions have been out of print since the 1960s.

I still reread my complete set of 24 Tintin books. But with the last one being published in 1976 and Hergé dying in 1983, there hasn't been a huge amount of new Tintin material since. There's been loads of merchandise produced by Moulinsart, but it's hardly essential, though I am guilty of owning some of it. No, the only real surprises in Tintin world since Hergé's death has been the publication of Tintin and Alph Art, the final unfinished Tintin story, consisting of sketches and notes; and the English translation published a few years ago of the controversial Tintin in the Congo (first published 1931). Also interesting was Tintin and I, the 2003 documentary about Hergé; and books about Tintin including Tintin in the New World (A Romance) by Frederic Tuten (a friend of Hergé's) in 1993, a novel with Tintin finally discovering women; and the academic, post modern Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy (2007). Of course, there's also been last year's horrendous Spielberg film.

The main facet of Tintin which has been growing since Hergé's death and rise of the internet is fake Tintins. Mostly these are just fake covers; sometimes they're whole books (the most bizarre being Tintin au Congo a Poil; which is, er, Tintin in the Congo, nude). Fans are mixed about them; fakes are, strictly speaking, illegal, and a good percentage of them are sexual (Tom McCarthy identified three types of parody: the sexual, the political and the artistic), so they're not really as Hergé would have envisaged them. However, a lot are drawn by true fans who are obviously passionate about Tintin. The best ones continue the legacy of Tintin and are a tribute to Hergé, showing great imagination and technique. Canadian Yves Rodier is one such artist producing Tintin parodies; he is perhaps most famous for unofficially completing Tintin and Alph-Art.

Tintin's iconic look, his innocence and Hergé's crisp, clear lines make him ripe for parody. Fakes seem to be all the world. I remember seeing Tintin T-shirts and posters in South-East Asia: Tintin in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia. He only had twenty-four adventures in the books; the parodies let him keep on travelling. 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Hergé's favourite Tintin panels
Lookalikes #10: Thomson and Thompson
Eponymous heroes 'largely dull'
Tintin never went to Cambodia

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Relative Relatives

There's a saying that goes we choose our friends but not our family, but is this strictly true? The idea first occurred to me when my uncle divorced my auntie, and suddenly my auntie wasn't my auntie any more. I had a new auntie, my uncle's new wife, and my old auntie was no more. She wasn't even the ex-auntie. Aside from parents and siblings, this can happen with other members of one's extended family: husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, cousins and all the in-laws.

As for friends, do we even choose these? What if I wanted Brian Eno or Martin Amis as friends? Would this be possible? It's doubtful. No, friends, unfortunately, are just as much a product of environment and chance as family is.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Daisy Meadows' Rainbow Magic books

Having a pseudonym is a common practice for many writers, from George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) to George Orwell (Eric Blair). More recently, bestselling crime writing duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have been writing together as Nicci French; and Swedish crime writers Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril are known collectively as Lars Kepler. I've blogged previously about the books of Lambert M Surhone and his team, who 'write' books by copying and pasting from Wikipedia.

Now I feel compelled to write about a series of children's books about fairies called Rainbow Magic, written by Daisy Meadows and published by Orchard Books. Daisy Meadows, it turns out, is also a pseudonym for a group of writers who seem to work from one story template, only changing names and places for different books. There are now over a hundred fairy books in the series, all based around best friends Kirsty Tate and Rachel Walker and their encounters with good fairies and bad goblins.

Dreadfully written books that are huge best sellers are a pretty common phenomenon, with Dan Brown's novels, JK Rowling's Harry Potter series and 50 Shades of Grey being three recent examples. The Rainbow Magic books are no exception, with their cut and paste story lines and terrible illustrations, so it comes as no surprise that over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide.

There's a seemingly inexhaustible range of Rainbow Magic books, with each series of seven books consisting of a different kind of fairy, be it Weather Fairies, Sporty Fairies, Dance Fairies, Music Fairies or Pet Fairies. Bland and dull, with predictable, repetitious storylines and characters, it's looking like the series could continue ad infinitum.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Baby Books and TV Programmes

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme (200ml) has 539 reviews on Amazon, with one review by Andrew, entitled DO NOT PUT ON KNOB AND BOLLOCKS, amassing 1,083 comments (with 23,386 people finding it helpful). An article last month in the Guardian entitled Pubic Hair Has a Job To Do – Stop Shaving and Leave it Alone, informing readers of the health implications of removing hair down there, received over 1,000 comments. Another Guardian article from last year, called Pubic Hair Removal: The Naked Truth, looked at women who shave down below. Elle and Vogue also had articles about the phenomenon.

Body hair – or rather, lack of it, is a hot topic. If the 1970s were the decade of hair excess – where sexiness in a woman included having a bushy bush and in a man, a hairy chest, bouffant hair and a beard, then this last decade or so has seen hair gradually disappearing from our bodies and from our nether regions in particular.

It's now not unusual for, say, male cyclists and athletes to shave their legs, for gay couples to give each other a sack, crack and back wax, and for heterosexual metrosexuals to give their pubes a trim (though, worryingly, many metrosexuals and hipsters seem keen to grow beards, the results usually being somewhat scraggy). And a shaved head on a man has (thankfully) become more acceptable than the dreaded comb over.

The sex Bible of the 1970s, The Joy of Sex, with its hand-drawn illustrations depicting the man with beard and pubic hair and the woman with bush too, is a quaint anachronism. A hairy chest is no longer the sign of manliness. The phrase 'to put hair on your chest', meaning a food or drink will make you strong and healthy (or drunk), is rarely used nowadays. It seems real men have all but vanished, being replaced by hairless Peter Pan-like boys.

Obviously, men and women have been removing hair from parts of their bodies for centuries (and in different cultures, say Islam, removing pubic hair has long been seen as a sign of cleanliness; in prudish Victorian society pubic hair was never seen on naked women in paintings until Courbet's still-provocative Origin of the World); women – their legs and underarms, mainly, and around their bikini line; men – their faces. Now the whole body is game for that pre-pubescent look: backs, heads, genitals, legs. But who's to blame? Is it just the fickle fancy of fashion, or pornography (or Barbie, or Carrie Bradshaw)?

The widespread availability of internet porn has meant many of us have seen porn stars without pubic hair, admired it (apparently) and emulated it. Men apparently think their penises look bigger uncluttered by hair. As pornography, by its nature, is degrading towards women, whether women want their pubic hair removed or whether men have implemented the notion is a controversial point (in the same way as it was a man who invented the high heel). Women have gone from American waxing to French waxing to Brazillian waxing to 'The Sphinx' (full removal, named after a hairless breed of cat) in a relatively short period of time.

In pornography, women's lack of pubic hair allows for their vaginas to be explored in almost gynecological detail, whilst giving them a prepubescent, childlike appearance; a paedophile's delight. So completely has pubic hair been removed from mainstream pornography that female models with pubic hair are tarnished with the term 'hairy', a niche porn subject heading, along with 'mature', 'retro', 'anal' etc. Degrading terms for women's genitals such as 'gash' or 'car accident' sort of make sense on the hairless, open-legged woman; it's like a raw wound.

A history of female pubic hair fashions can best be seen in Playboy magazine, where pubic hair wasn't actually shown in the magazines until the early 1970s and a full bush (or at least a French) was on display from the mid-70s until the 1990s, when the Brazilian took over. By 2007, women were mainly sans hair down there.

I'm old fashioned about it all and prefer a hairy bush. Like a burka, it's the mystery of hidden delights contained inside.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pet hates #1,287: the rucksack

I try to look objectively at the ubiquitous rucksack (also known as a backpack) but can only come up with one conclusion: I hate them. Rucksacks are ugly, impractical and uncomfortable. Someone wearing one knocks it into me at least once a day on the tube, not seemingly factoring in that they are twice the size whilst carrying one. And looking like a hunchback. The few times I have donned one, my shoulders ache, my back sweats and I'm always paranoid someone's going through the pockets. And I have to take it off to get something from it. Really can't believe they're so popular.

Rucksack is a German word mean back and pack; the term backpack comes from the States.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lookalikes #31: arms on album covers

Clockwise from top left: The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever (2010); Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (2002); Spiritualized, Amazing Grace (2003) and Trust by Low (2002).

Three of these came out within a year of each other. It (sort of) reminds me of films with similar subjects coming out within a few months of each other, such as:
Dangerous Liasons and Valmont
The Prestige and The Illusionist
Twister and Tornado
Antz and A Bugs Life
Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line
Capote and Infamous
Tombstone and Wyatt Earp
Deep Impact and Armageddon
Dante's Peak and Volcano
The Truman Show and EdTV
Robin Hood and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

But like identical twin brothers or sisters, where one is usually more attractive than the other, one film is always a lot better than the other, and performs a lot better (though not necessarily the same one, of course.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

'Having a job makes you sick'

Last week's London Evening Standard featured a hard-hitting 'Special report' regarding youth employment. Apparently, the hidden cost of youth employment is depression and poor physical health. For thousands of young people the brutal reality of life with a job is the start of a spiral into depression, anxiety and ill health. They start work with high expectations but their dreams come to nothing.

Having a job can lead to depression, inertia and a sense of worthlessness, the report continues. A random cardiologist stated that "there's strong evidence that the employed are more likely, through boredom and low self-esteem, to indulge in excessive alcohol consumption and smoke."

A random professor then virtually repeats this by saying how "employment has an impact on health behaviours. It is associated with increased smoking, alcohol consumption and decreased physical activity, contributing to an increased risk of serious illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and cancer."

This will strike a chord with most office workers, who sit down and stare at a screen for eight hours a day, with regular after work drinks in the pub and possibly smoking and even doing drugs. On top of that, the "unhealthy atmosphere" of many offices, combined with being crammed like sardines on public transport, mean diseases, from man flu to Ebola, can "spread like wildfire".

Controversially, the professor goes on to say that unemployment is "good for health. London boroughs should seek to stimulate unemployment opportunities, particularly those that help young people stay out of work."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

H for Horrific*

I'd been meaning to go to the Cinema Museum in Lambeth for years, so it was great to see it as part of Open House weekend, as it's usually open by appointment only. A registered charity, the museum houses a huge collection of cinema memorabilia, artefacts and equipment, mainly concerned with (what used to be, anyway) the pleasure of actually going to the cinema. This includes old cinema fittings, like some fine art deco looking doors, as well as carpets, banisters, signs, seats, lobby cards, posters, signs and usher uniforms. The museum also has a large collection of projectors and a massive archive of printed publications and documents, including over a million photographic images. The place is a truly fascinating hotchpotch of memorabilia and a national treasure.

For over a decade its home has been the fine Master's House in Kennington. This fine Victorian Gothic building (whose chapel is now Grade II listed), the former Lambeth workhouse, was where Charlie Chaplin spent time as a child.

*This comes from an early and rare, pre-X certification board on display at the museum, where 'U' is universal, 'A' is for adults and 'H' meant the film is horrific.

As part of the Open House weekend, my boon companion and I also went to:
18 Stafford Terrace, 'remarkably well-preserved' former home of Punch illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910).
Leighton House, former home and studio of painter Lord Leighton (1830-96); 'one of the most remarkable buildings of the 19th century'.
The Library Space, former library in Battersea converted into an art gallery.
The De Morgan Centre, museum housing Evelyn's Pre-Raphaelite paintings and William's tiles and pottery; 'one of the most beautiful small museums in London'.

These can all be visited outside of Open House (as can most of the buildings in the booklet), the main advantage of seeing them during Open House weekend is not having to pay. And having architectural chats to people whilst queueing up to see the buildings.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Open House: St Annes, Soho
Safe as Castles

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Lookalikes #30: Stonehenge & Sacrilege



Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument constructed around 3100 BC and situated in the county of Wiltshire.

Sacrilege is a life-size replica of Stonehenge, made as a fully operational bouncy castle. It's lots of fun. It's been doing a tour of the UK since June and is now in its last week. Try to catch it if you can. Sacrilege is by Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, who has also done all kinds of other interesting and fun things, such as a documentary about Depeche Mode fans and a reenactment of The Battle of Orgreave, the confrontation between miners and police during the 1984 miners' strike.

sacrilege2012.co.uk

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Notes on Rhodia notebooks


When I used to go on family holidays to France as a child, I'd always get a Rhodia notepad or two to doodle in. I used to love French stationery in general and the iconic orange Rhodia notepads in particular. The square graph paper pads came in a variety of sizes and were held together by nothing more than a staple or two at the top. There were score marks towards the top for easy folding over. Over the years I stopped using them for one reason or another, migrating to other alternatives, from Filofax to the rather pretentious Moleskine with its Chatwin and Hemingway lineage.

But on a recent visit to France, my love for Rhodia was reignited, mainly perhaps because this time round I couldn't actually find any Rhodia notebooks. In place of Rhodia were generic, supermarket brands such as Bloc, Oxford and Casino*. It took me searching in dozens of tabacs and Hyper U supermarkets to track a genuine Rhodia pad down. Rhodia now do other types of notebooks, including, inevitably, the Moleskine kind, but my favourite remains their simple orange pad, which they've been producing since the 1930s.

Next time, though, ahem, I think I'll get my Rhodia online from Ryman.

Related: I so want this gorgeous French stationery kit.

*Supermarkets do this all the time, don't they? They copy the packaging of popular brands – 'parasite packaging', according to the Mail – apparently in the hope that shoppers will mistake them for the real thing. They must take us for idiots. We buy them because they're a fraction of the price, not because we think they're the real thing. And as much as I hate most brands, it must make them awfully pissed off, spending millions on branding, advertising and packaging, just to see Sainsbury's replicate their packaging for next to nothing. Apparently there's no law against it. The supermarkets have all the power.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Scala Beyond


After the success of London's Scala Forever season last year, which celebrated the long defunct sleazy cinema club in King's Cross, we now have the nationwide Scala Beyond, which has already been going for a couple of weeks but also runs throughout September. The season celebrates all forms of cinema, but mainly, thankfully, the weird and wonderful. But if this season lacks such Scala fodder as Jodorowsky, Meyer and Argento, it makes up for it by focusing on independent cinema, apparently thriving in the UK, and having film workshops and showings in clubs, festivals, pop-up venues and even schools and homes.

The many highlights include The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein on 19 September at London's Horse Hospital, where my boon companion and I finally got to watch the extraordinary Thundercrack at last year's Scala Forever; and a rare screening of Alan Clarke's visionary Penda's Fen on 25 September.

scalabeyond.com

Previously on Barnflakes:
Scala Forever!
Double Bill Me

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Mr Brainwash: art for the brain dead


Good news for some, perhaps, that Mr Brainwash's first solo UK art show at The Old Sorting Office on Oxford Street has now been extended for an extra week until 7th September.

Mr Brainwash is familiar to many via Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy's 2010 'documentary' about Frenchman Thierry Guetta, who adopts the name Mr Brainwash during the course of the film and puts on his own art show in L.A. The film seemed like a hoax, things not adding up, just another Banksy trick. Yet here still is Mr Brainwash, designing covers for Madonna CDs, having huge solo exhibitions, his 'art' selling for thousands.

I'm not hugely bothered if Mr Brainwash is or isn't Banksy; I'm not even bothered that Mr Brainwash has no artistic ability and employs a team (not of artists, note, this is not art; but of graphic designers) to carry out his work (after all, everyone from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons has done the same); if I'm bothered at all it's that his work is so completely derivative, endlessly recycling Warhol and Banksy until it is devoid of any meaning or originality.

Still, the exhibition is good fun in a trashy and kitsch kind of way; presumably aimed towards people who don't normally go to art exhibitions because they don't get modern art. With Mr Brainwash's work there's nothing to get. I wish I'd taken my six year old daughter; she would have appreciated it more than me.

I can't complain (much), though, there are numerous freebies at the (free to get in) exhibition: a Mr Brainwash spray can, three posters, three postcards and a bottle of Coke and water.

[The same day I'd gone to Mr Brainwash's exhibition, I went to see Grayson Perry's series of tapestries at the Victoria Miro gallery (above). Examining notions of taste and class in the UK, the six tapestries were based on the Channel 4 series All in the Best Possible Taste, which was presented by Perry. It was a worthy contrast to Mr Brainwash. Here was art with meaning; original and thought-provoking, it even told a story, you know, like all art used to do. Perry states that he's 'interested in the politics of consumerism' and shows us how we attach emotional importance to objects. With Mr Brainwash all we get is the objects.

mrbrainwash.com

Previously on Barnflakes:
Banksy vs Bristol Museum

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Top ten best smells

1. Freshly cut grass
2. Rain on hot concrete
3. Frying bacon
4. Cigarette smoke
5. Bonfire
6. Fresh pine
7. Petrol
8. Coffee brewing
9. Freshly baked bread
10. Suntan lotion

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Vertigo knocks Kane off top spot


Saul Bass' poster for Vertigo

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. La Regle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)

BFI's top ten films 2012. See the full fifty here.

If Chris Marker had lived a few days past his 91st birthday he would have been pleased to see one of his favourite films, Vertigo, knock Citizen Kane off number one place in the BFI's influential list of the top fifty greatest films, which they compile once a decade and has just been published in Sight & Sound magazine. A decent, if dull list, with Ozu, Coppola and Kubrick featuring too heavily for my liking, but a good dose of Tarkovsky and Dreyer, Vigo's L'Atalante at No. 12 and Lynch's Mulholland Dr. the most recent film (2001) in at No. 28. Chris Marker's own La Jetée just makes the list at No. 50. La Jetée and Sans Soleil both make reference to Hitchcock's classic, and are, like Vertigo, concerned with the power of memory, both real and imagined.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RIP Chris Marker, 1921-2012



Experimental French filmmaker Chris Marker died a few days ago on his 91st birthday, 29 July. Though he made dozens of films – or film essays – he is most famous for his influential post-apocalyptic time travel cinepoem, La Jetée* (made in 1962), loosely remade by Terry Gilliam as 12 Monkeys (and films such as Inception sharing some common themes). Composed mainly of black and white still images, I remember watching La Jetée at the cinema for the first time many years ago and being mesmerized by it; in particular the only few seconds of moving footage: a woman waking up in bed, opening her eyes (apparently Marker could only borrow a moving film camera for one afternoon). The sudden few seconds of moving footage after all the still images struck me as the art house equivalent of the universe exploding in a blockbuster sci-fi film.

Notoriously private, where he was born remains a mystery and only a few photos of him exist; for publications requesting a picture of him he would supply a photo of a cat. Other notable films by Marker include Sans Soleil (which comes with La Jetée on DVD, a nice introduction to the man's work), AK, Les Astronautes (made with Walerian Borowczyk) and A Grin with a Cat.

*The film has been partly ruined by an ex, who tends to hold no reverence for art house films. She breezed past whilst I was watching it on DVD, and asked why the man (pictured above) had a bra over his eyes. She's also made similar insensitive – but quite amusing – comments about other art house films.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Three Mills


The fabulous Three Mills are situated on the River Lea, near Bromley-by-Bow station. Though its conical towers recall the oast houses of Kent, the mills are tidal and were originally used to ground flour (oast houses were designed for drying hops). Grade I listed and built in 1776, it is apparently the largest tidal mill in the world.

How to get there: from Bromley-by-Bow tube station cross the hideous A12 (there is an underpass), past the ugly, derelict office blocks and burnt out car, and venture through the horrible, massive Tesco's. It's a painful but rewarding journey.




Previously on Barnflakes:
South London Windmills

South London Windmills


Windmills used to be a familiar site in London but now only nine remain intact, including two fine, Grade II* listed examples in South London, one in Brixton and one on Wimbledon common, built within a year of each other.

The Brixton windmill is the only inner London windmill remaining with sails intact. Built in 1817, by 1862 the surrounding area had become too built up by new houses for the sails to function. The sails were removed a few years later and the building used for storage. It was restored last year with Lottery funds and looks magnificent, tucked away in a small, unassuming park off Brixton Hill. In fact, it's almost impossible to see from a distance, being obscured by trees and buildings, so it's quite a surprise when it suddenly appears. My boon companion asked if it was painted black because it's in Brixton. I had to set him straight and say no. Though it was originally brick, it was painted with black tar to make it weatherproof.

Wimbledon windmill was built a year later than the Brixton one, in 1817, and remained operational until 1864, when it was converted into a house. The sails have been restored to their former glory and the building itself is now a museum.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Top ten Dire Straits songs


Mark Knopfler is not an ugly man but Dire Straits were never exactly the best looking or coolest band around. Even so, they were huge in the 1980s, with their 1985 album Brothers in Arms album shifting some 30 million copies. Looking back at Knofler in those days, no, not an ugly man, but kinda average, with bad hair and a bit weedy, and when seen sporting a red suit with a pastel T-shirt and a head sweatband, it's like he committed some of the worst crimes against fashion ever.

In fact, he's looking the best he's ever looked right now, judging by the recent BBC4 documentary about the man, which got me digging out my old Dire Straits records. I was kinda into them as a young teenager when Brothers in Arms came out. Then I didn't listen to them for years; but they're good, a bit pub rock but low-key and melancholic with Knopfler's vocals sometimes just a whisper. He plays the guitar pretty good too.

1. Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits, 1978)
Apparently the perfect song length to boil a hard boiled egg to (5:34).
2. Romeo and Juliet (Making Movies, 1980)
3. Brothers in Arms (Brothers in Arms, 1985)
4. Tunnel of Love (Making Movies, 1980)
5. Walk of Life (Brothers in Arms, 1985)
6. Money for Nothing (Brothers in Arms, 1985)
7. Why Worry? (Brothers in Arms, 1985)
8. Where Do You Think You're Going? (Comminique, 1979)
9. Your Latest Trick (Brothers in Arms, 1985)
10. Telegraph Road (Love Over Gold, 1982)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Landlord’s daughter

With the landlord’s daughter
Should you oughta?
Large, she moves in slow motion–
No commotion or emotion
‘Cause she ain't going
Nowhere.
The fat, freckled arms,
Mouth open sleeping, many chins...
Yes, she’s American.
But that's okay
In a laconic kind of way.
She shaved my chest, then the rest.

(1996/2012)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lionel Richie Tea


When enjoying a nice cup of tea from this lovely Lionel Ritchie teapot and tea cup (via Etsy), it would only seem right to play some classic songs from his back catalogue, such as: Typhoo, Say Me; (Chai) Endless Love; All Night Oolong; Dancing on Darjeeling; My Endless Mug; Three Cups of Lady Grey; Hello (Is It Tea You're Looking For?); My Des-Tea-ny and Brew It To Me One More Time.*

Whilst drinking your tea and listening to the music, why not complete the occasion with a Lionel Rich Tea biscuit?

Previously on Barnflakes:
The New Shape
Postmodern teapots
Not for all the tea in China
Tagalog for Tea

* I can't take credit for most of these dreadful puns – that dubious honour goes to my work colleagues.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Percentages

‘What percentage of the world do you think has been photographed?’ he asked.
There was a pause.
‘That’s an interesting question,’ she said, thoughtfully, sincerely.
Then they both burst out laughing. As if.
A butterfly strolled by. A leaf broke out in a cold sweat. Life sure ain’t what it used to be, old bean.

(Ronda, Spain, 1999)

See also: The Stowaway

Monday, July 09, 2012

Three free female exhibitions

Three free retrospectives by three iconic female artists have opened recently, two in London and one in Oxford. All are worth a look.


Yoko Ono: To The Light (Serpentine Gallery)
The 79-year-old conceptual artist has never been much liked by critics or public. Critics call her work either too facile (her anti-war pieces) or too obtuse (everything else) and the public hate her because John Lennon fell in love with her. Go figure. Me, I quite like her. Controversially, I find her music more exciting than Lennon's ever was. I love her last album, 2009's Between My Head And The Sky. Oko was actually an established artist before she ever met John, so she's been producing art and music for some fifty years now. She's had an amazing life and is now a cultural institution more than anything else. See it and smile.


Madge Gill (The Nunnery)
Outsider artist Gill was born in East Ham in 1882 and grew up in an orphanage before spending her teens in Canada. She married her cousin and got very ill after giving birth to a stillborn baby, losing the sight of her left eye. During her return to health Madge became increasingly interested in spiritualism and became possessed by Myrinerest, her spirit-guide. Under the spirit's guidance she produced all kind of art, including drawing, knitting and weaving. In the 1930s she became a medium, conducting seances in her living room. She never sold any drawings in her lifetime (though she did exhibit), fearing it would anger Myrinerest. After her death in 1961, thousands of drawings were discovered in her home.

The small retrospective at the Nunnery, near Bromley-by-Bow tube, shows a selection of her intense, intricate pen and ink drawings.


Jenny Saville (Modern Art Oxford)
Jenny Saville's unflinching large scale paintings will be familiar to most via two Manic Street Preachers' album covers, 1994's The Holy Bible and 2009's Journal for Plague Lovers.

Even though she's been a professional artist since the early 1990s when her entire degree show was bought by Charles Saatchi, and she had her work exhibited with the YBAs (Young British Artists) at the controversial 1997 Sensation exhibition, amazingly this is the first time Saville has had a solo UK exhibition. If you're wondering why it's in Oxford, it's because she lives there (or, as the publicity blurb says, she's 'based' in Oxford. People don't 'live' in places any more, they're 'based', implying some detachment, a lack of commitment, the possibility of uprooting at a moment's notice. Maybe it just sounds cooler. Either way, it comes across as poncy and I don't like it).

Anyway, I love her paintings. Though obviously a figurative painter, in the documentary which accompanies the show, Saville surprisingly describes herself as an abstract and landscape painter. But standing in front of the paintings, it's not so surprising. They're monumental in size (a nipple the size of my head), the folds of female flesh evoking hills and dales. Up close, the large paint strokes appear blotchy, splattered and abstract.

Saville also has two large drawings in the nearby Ashmolean. Almost doing a Banksy in Bristol, where the graffiti artist planted artworks amongst the other – more traditional – exhibits in the gallery, Saville has likewise placed her drawings alongside traditional Italian Renaissance paintings. The comparison doesn't really work, as Saville's are drawings and the rest paintings but her technique is brilliant – one drawing is based on Leonardo's cartoon in the National Gallery and Saville's looks as good as the master's.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Recent Barngain LPs


Often I'll buy a record in a charity shop if it has a nice – or bizarre – cover. Though you shouldn't judge a book by its (usually bad) cover, perhaps one should judge a record by its cover if it's a good'un. All the above, none of which I'd heard of, turned out to be great.

Clockwise from top left: Fargo, I See it Now (1969): religious pop psych from Salt Lake City, Utah; The Butterfield Blues Band, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (1967); Sharks, Jab It in Yore Eye (1974) and the self-titled debut by Upp (1975), a British rock/jazz fusion band, featuring guitar by Jeff Beck, who also produced the record.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Top 10 Roman Polanski films


1. Chinatown (1974)
2. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
3. Repulsion (1965)
4. Knife in the Water (1962)
5. The Tenant (1976)
6. Cul-de-Sac (1966)
7. Tess (1979)
8. The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
9. Bitter Moon (1992)
10. Macbeth (1971)

Whilst discussing Rosemary's Baby with a girlfriend at film school some twenty years ago, we were both amazed to discover our favourite shot in the film was exactly the same one. It wasn't a scary or dramatic scene; it wasn't a particularly arresting or amazing shot (which makes the coincidence more incredible – in case you're wondering, in case you think one of us was making it up – say, to impress the other, we literally both said it at the same time); it occurs approximately 24 minutes into the film, when Rosemary and Guy are having a vodka blush at the Castevet's home – there's a shot of Roman holding the tray and spilling some liquid on the floor; Minnie bends down to wipe it up (a shot echoed at the end when Minnie picks the knife Rosemary has dropped off the floor and rubs the mark made by it). That's it. But there's something innately cinematic and graceful about it; perhaps the shine off the silver tray, the movement of Minnie; I – we – didn't know; there was something unexplained and mysterious, beautiful yet ordinary about it. (I also remember seeing most of the Fearless Vampire Killers for the first time with the same girlfriend on a black & white fuzzy TV in Wales; I was drunk and watched most of it upside down. And loved it.)

This is perhaps what I like about Polanski's films: they may be horrific or surreal, but it's all in the detail and there's always that elegance, no matter what the subject matter. It's fair to say, like Woody Allen, I love all Polanski's films, the good, the bad and the ugly. Also like Allen, I don't really have a huge problem with his sexual shenanigans. These guys are geniuses; let's give them a bit of latitude.

Roman Polanski's personal life is famously as eventful as his cinematic career: he born in 1933 in Paris but soon moved back to Poland with his parents. By the start of World War II his family had been moved into the Krakow Ghetto. His mother was killed at Auschwitz; he saw his father being taken to Mauthausen. Roman himself witnessed many horrors and endured starvation and beatings, surviving the war by remaining in hiding. He was reunited with his father after the war and eventually went to the famous Lotz film school. His first feature film, Knife in the Water (1962), his only film made in Poland and nominated for an Oscar, already shows themes that would feature in all his films: that is, a claustrophobic location; a pessimistic, dark view of life as well as sexual jealousy and psychological games. Three films made in Britain followed: Repulsion (1965), Cul-de-Sac (1966) and The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Polanski moved to the States to make Rosemary's Baby a year later. It was in 1969 when his second wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was amongst the guests murdered by the Manson Family at Polanski's house in L.A. (while he was in Europe filming).

Controversy would continue to dog Polanski's life. In 1977 he was arrested for sexually assaulting a 13 year-old girl. Polanski fled the States, never to return. There's a theory that Polanski's cinema mirrors his personal life. Indeed, after the murder of Sharon Tate, Polanski directed a bloody version of Macbeth. After the sexual abuse scandal he directed Tess, starring the 15 year old Nastassja Kinski, with whom he had an affair at the time. Both The Pianist (2002) and Oliver Twist (2005) mirror Polanski's experiences in wartime Poland.

Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion and The Tenant make up the loose 'apartment trilogy', presumably because they are largely set in apartments. His most recent film, Carnage, recently released on DVD, is wholly set in an apartment. The premise is vaguely reminiscent of Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, in which a group of middle class dinner guests find themselves unable to leave the room for no apparent reason (according to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, this idea was given to Bunuel by Owen Wilson in 1920s Paris), it's also similar to Christos Tsiolkas's novel and TV series The Slap – the catalyst for Carnage is a boy being hit with a stick. The parents of both boys meet up to discuss the incident. The result? Carnage.

Even Carnage – adapted from a play and set in an apartment – has the same innately cinematic feel as all Polanski's films. His films seem to work best when limited to a particular place: the boat in Knife in the water; a west London apartment in Repulsion; the island of Lindisfarne in Cul-de-Sac; the prime minister's isolated house in Ghost Writer.

Polanski's latest film goes one step further than Damon Albarn's album Dr Dee by calling it simply D. It's based on Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish artillery officer falsely accused of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. He eventually had his name cleared by the french writer Emile Zola. Comparisons to Polanski's own life are already inevitably being drawn.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Children of the 1970s


It's partly because kids in the 1970s are now adults waxing lyrical about their now-idealised childhoods; it's partly because modern TV is crap; it's partly because teenagers now are more likely to watch adult TV than specific teenage TV; it's also because we are living in a time of Retromania (thanks in large part to the internet) – Simon Reynolds coined the word and wrote a book about the phenomena.

Whatever the reason (though it's mainly because I never watched any of them first time round, being too young, and have only recently heard of them), I've found myself watching four cult 1970s children's TV programmes/series over the last few months: The Owl Service (1969-1970), Penda's Fen (1974), The Changes (1975) and Children of the Stones (1977). Exploring notions of old England, known as Albion, in a supernatural and lyrical way, together they represent the pinnacle of challenging, thought-provoking and cutting edge children's drama – though to appreciate them fully it helps to be an adult.

Two of the four were adapted from then-recently published books: The Owl Service (1967) by Alan Garner and a trilogy of books (1968-70) by Peter Dickinson became The Changes. Penda's Fen was written by David Rudkin as a TV play and shown as part of BBC's Play for Today series. Children of the Stones was written for TV by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray.

Though the programmes were written and made for children/teenagers and broadcast in the late afternoon/early evening children's time slot, they all deal with fairly heavy, traditionally adult themes such as identity, myth, magic, sexuality, ecology and class (to name just a few!) in an original and often experimental way. (NB: this may be another reason why these now-cult programmes are being rewatched by adults – none of them as kids knew what they were watching at the time; now in their 40s, they can fully understand them). Landscape is paramount in all the programmes: they all have a distinct sense of place, and show the British countryside in an often lyrical way. In Children of the Stones it is Avebury in Wiltshire (called Milbury in the series); in The Owl Service it's rural Wales; Penda's Fen is set in the Malvern Hills and The Changes in Bristol, the Forest of Dean and Sharpness.

The Owl Service, the book, was enigmatic, elliptical, obscure and opaque, whilst dealing pretty realistically with questions of myth, class, national identity and teenage love. The TV series is, well, pretty much the same. In fact, it was only the rather prosaic-sounding recap at the start of each episode which helped me understand the book and the TV series. Beautifully filmed in 16mm colour, it featured the attractive Gillian Hills (who a few years before was in Blowup and a few years later would be in A Clockwork Orange – now she's married to the manager of AC/DC, working as an illustrator) as Alison and the dark, brooding Michael Holden (who would be randomly murdered in a London bar in 1977. I made the mistake of Googling the actors midway through watching it; it cast a dark shadow over the rest of the series) plays Gwyn, the insecure Welsh boy trying to escape his upbringing. The whole series is unsettling and creepy, exploring as it does the story of the mythical Welsh figure of Blodeuwedd and a girl seemingly possessed by owls. I can understand children watching it at the time to be freaked out and confused by it.

Its music (a traditional folk piece) and imagery has been hijacked in recent years by the Hauntological mob, in particular the record label Ghost Box (who I've written about here): above left, still from The Owl Service credits; right, cover for the Ghost Box release by The Advisory Circle, As the Crow Flies.

Penda's Fen is described by Rob Young in his book Electric Eden as a 'complex meditation on the matter of Britain'. The film, directed by an Alan Clarke more famous for his social realist films (such as Scum and Made in Britain) than elegies to lost England, and though still unavailable on DVD (though it can be watched on YouTube), has had a resurgence in recent years, with Time Out last year featuring it in their 100 best British films, calling it a 'unique and important statement' and numerous blogs attesting to its brilliance.

The film centres around teenager Stephen, a somewhat wimpy middle-class pastor's son, as he comes to question his beliefs after a series of visionary encounters with an angel, the composer Elgar and the pagan King Penda. Along the way Stephen finds out he's adopted, is gay, and that England has a religion much older than Christianity, visualising itself in the pagan king. The landscape of the Malvern hills, birthplace of Elgar, is used to dramatic effect, like a character in its own right.

The Changes (also unavailable on DVD) sees England revert to the dark ages when freak weather conditions seem to cause people to turn into Luddites and inexplicably destroy all modern technology. The brilliant first episode features people throwing TVs and fridges out the window, attacking toasters and kettles in their kitchens, bashing cars and bikes in the streets, with cranes and trains ablaze, intercut with schizophrenic, global-warming-style weather: floods, earthquakes, landslides and snowstorms.

The series features Nicky, a teenage girl, who gets separated from her parents in the confusion, as she attempts to find them by walking to the south coast to try and get to France. Along the way she encounters Sikhs, bandits and witch finders. Indeed, it seems to take a matter of days before people resort to barbarism, racism and witch hunting. Any mention of technology is punishable as heresy. It makes Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, set a few thousand years in the future, seem rather logical and inevitable. The ending, like with Penda's Fen, lies in ancient Albion and another mythical figure: this time, Merlin.

Judging by YouTube comments on The Changes, this one really got to children at the time (and as adults now), especially the fear of pylons, which in the series are referred to as the 'bad wires'. One comment seems to sum up the feeling of most: 'Childhood in the seventies was pretty exciting, then the internet came along and it could all be retrieved.'

Both Penda's Fen and The Changes feature the eerie, atmospheric music of Paddy Kingsland, who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop throughout the 1970s. he was also responsible for music and effects for Doctor Who, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and other BBC TV and radio science fiction programmes of the time. The power of Penda's Fen and The Changes is partly down to Kingsland, employing spooky electronic effects and memorable theme tunes.

Like The Owl Service, Children of the Stones features the idea of actions played out again and again, ad infinitum. In The Owl Service it was the three children re-enacting the story of the ancient legend of Blodeuwedd; in Children of the Stones it's a time rift within the Avebury (called Milbury in the series) stone circle. The series opens with astrophysicist Adam and his precocious son Matthew arriving in Milbury to research the magnetism of the stones. They soon discover that they hold an ancient power, and the villagers are all held captive by the strange forces of the stones. Raphael Hendrick, played by Iain Cuthbertson (who also starred in two other great 1970s productions: BBC's spooky The Stone Tape, with Jane Asher, and The Railway Children, starring Jenny Agutter), plans to unleash this power.

Again, this was hardly suitable fodder for children (or most adults), featuring as it does temporal paradoxes, black holes and psychic bubbles. Still, it can be viewed on several levels (I saw it being about the difficulty of outsiders fitting into Wiltshire village life), and it's highly atmospheric and riveting TV on any level. Again, music is a key ingredient, with scary wailing and chanting sounding like it's coming from the stones themselves. Again, countless YouTube comments from adults testify to the series having affected them as children.

On another YouTube clip, comedian Stewart Lee reminisces about 1970s children's TV in general (taken from Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe on BBC4), and Children of the Stones and The Changes in particular, remarking how he feels lucky to have been a teenager in the 1970s, as there "there was something really comforting for nerds and weirdos about programmes like Children of the Stones and The Changes." Lee compares them with teenage TV shows today, such as the shallow Skins, which seems mainly to be about sex and drugs.

Who knows, maybe something like The Sparticle Mystery, a CBBC post-apocalyptic TV series filmed in Bristol last year (even I know the city well enough to notice the continuity error in the first episode when they drive past Fopp, then drive past it again a few minutes later. Also, wouldn't the kids naturally stop to nick CDs and DVDs? I certainly would.) is as good as The Changes. I was discussing this sort of thing with a work colleague a while ago. When we were younger, our minds were like sponges and we absorbed all kinds of films, TV shows and music. It was in our teens and twenties when we saw the best films and TV shows and listened to the best music ever. Now we're old, grey and cynical, we don't have the time, energy or inclination to be that impressed by new art – even if it is the best thing ever. Even so, I can't imagine children today in thirty years time waxing lyrical about the currently ubiquitous Tracey Beaker or Justin Fletcher TV shows.

The 1970s were a great time for many, a time when living and interacting with the British landscape on a more fundamental level seemed possible. Music, cinema and TV all seemed to align towards this: Paul McCartney was living in on farm, films such as The Wicker Man (1973) explored pagan religion and even more traditional children's TV adaptations such as 1975's The Secret Garden managed to explore notions of class, friendship, magic and nature in a lyrical way. Then in 1979 Margaret Thatcher got into power, the countryside has been raped and pillaged, and all hope has been lost.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Top ten male singers

"I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice"
– Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song

1. Bob Dylan
2. Rod Stewart
3. Leonard Cohen
4. Scott Walker
5. Al Green
6. Otis Redding
7. Roy Orbison
8. Serge Gainsbourg
9. Bryan Ferry
10. Lou Reed

Friday, June 22, 2012

Notes on Charters and Caldicott


You know, in public, I tell people my favourite Hitchcock films are Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho and North by Northwest. In private, I mean the ones I enjoy most and can watch again and again, and in fact do on a regular basis when I haven't watched, say, Vertigo for over a decade, would include The Birds, Notorious, The 39 Steps, The Trouble with Harry and, my favourite of all, The Lady Vanishes. What I love about it is nothing happening for the first half hour, by which I mean no plot. We forget we are even watching a thriller and become engrossed in the characters. The whole film unfolds into a great mix of suspense and humour, with splendid performances, great characters and sparkling dialogue.

Set in Bandrika, a fictional European country, a group of travellers eager to get back to England are stuck in the only hotel in town after an avalanche has rendered travelling by train impossible until the morning. Amongst them is musicologist Michael Redgrave, spoilt yet sparky socialite Margaret Lockwood and governess May Whitty. Best of all are the two Cricket-obsessed, uptight, stiff-upper lipped Brits Caldicott and Charters, played deadpan by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford. Permanently unimpressed at everything in general, and flabbergasted that no one seems to speak English, the feckless couple seem to get the short end of every stick. Though this was the first time Wayne and Radford had acting together, their repartee made them look like a comedy double act (the not too distant cousins of Laurel and Hardy) who'd known each other all their lives (or at least since Oxford).

The success of The Lady Vanishes meant the winning formula was reproduced for Night Train to Munich (1940), a comedy thriller directed by Carol Reed. Though not a sequel as such, it felt like a loose one if only because so many elements from The Lady Vanishes were repeated. It was written by the same duo, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, starred the same actress, Margaret Lockwood, as well as Wayne and Radford who actually keep their same names from the Lady Vanishes, Charters and Caldicott. It's like they've been typecast after one film together. Indeed, the poster for Night Train to Munich features them in the bottom corner: 'Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Laugh with the comedy pair of Lady Vanishes'.

They were Charters and Caldicott again in Crook's Tour (1941) and Millions Like Us (1943). A falling out with the BBC in 1945 meant they were contractually unable to portray the characters Charters and Caldicott any more. This didn't stop them from playing essentially the same characters under different names though: Parratt and Potter in Dead of Night (1945), Woolcot and Spencer in Double Bedlam (1946), Stalker and Gregg in Passport to Pimlico (1949) and Fanshaw and Fothergill in That's my Baby (1950), amongst many others.

Though Radford died in 1955 and Wayne in 1970, this didn't stop their characters Charters and Caldicott being used again: in the 1979 remake of The Lady Vanishes and a 1985 BBC TV series called Charters and Caldicott.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hansel and Gretel dream

I was in a small cinema with metal frame chairs watching an art house film version of Hansel and Gretel, being distributed by Artificial Eye. Filmed in Eastern Europe somewhere, it was startling, dark and scary. Suddenly I found myself in the film. I was a prisoner in the basement of the witch's house. Hansel and Gretel had decided to stay in the witch's house after murdering her. They were now middle-aged, fat and rich, living on the witch's precious jewels and continually having to renovate the house after eating it. The basement was patrolled by an evil old man. One day, whilst he was frying some eggs and had the small basement window open, I saw my chance. I ran towards the old miser and threw the frying pan in his face. He screamed; Hansel was alerted but was too fat to run. I quickly climbed through the small window. And started running through the forest. I saw a stunned-looking Gretel who merely dropped the logs she was carrying and stared at me. Whilst running I noticed, in a clearing, a large block of flats being constructed out of cakes, gingerbread and sweets.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fruity albums of the week: Apple & Cherry


LEFT: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do If you think that title's long, it's nothing compared to her 1999 album, called When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You'll Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You Know That You're Right. Otherwise known as When the Pawn Hits...

RIGHT: Neneh Cherry and The Thing: The Cherry Thing The Thing, a Scandinavian jazz band named after a Don Cherry tune, were destined to team up with the Swedish Neneh Cherry at some point. Born Neneh Karlsson, she was raised by her stepfather Don Cherry and took his surname. Playing in several punk bands in her teens, it was 1989's Raw Like Sushi, featuring the huge hit Buffalo Stance, which bought her fame. Two less successful solo albums followed but throughout her career Cherry has always collaborated with other artists including Youssou N'Dour, Michael Stipe, Matt Johnson of The The, Pulp, Tricky, Peter Gabriel and Gorillaz, amongst others.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

RIP Kaneto Shindô, 1912-2012


A late RIP this, for Japanese film director Kaneto Shindô who died a few weeks ago (May 29), a month after his 100th birthday (on April 22). Born 1912, he directed some 48 films and wrote 238 scripts in a career lasting sixty years (his final film as director was last year's Postcard). He directed films in all genres throughout his long career. When asked in an interview last year by actor Benicio Del Toro what was the most important thing he had learnt from his mentor, the Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, Shindô replied 'never give up'.

Shindô's most famous film and one of my all-time favourites is Onibaba, made in 1964, the same year as the similarly-themed and just as extraordinary The Woman of the Dunes. In equal parts chilling and erotic, Onibaba is a tale of sexual jealousy with two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law, who make a living by killing passing samurai warriors and selling their armour and weapons. When the mother uses a demon mask to scare her daughter-in-law from her lover, she finds the mask stuck to her face. Set in medieval, rural Japan, and based on a Buddhist parable, the film is notable for its sumptuous black and white photography, constant rustling sounds of the reeds and symbolism – holes, masks – Freud could have written a book about.

• The BFI are currently showing a season of films by Kaneto Shindô and his close collaborator Kozaburo Yoshimura.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lookalikes #29: wonky album covers


The Enemy's Music for the People (2009) and Orbital's Wonky (2012).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Metros

The Metros is a dreary new weekly BBC3 drama about a group of young, professional metrosexuals working together near London Bridge, at an unspecified yet obviously badly-paid and poorly run financial company with horrendous toilets.

The young men – all aged between 23 and 33 – see no contradiction between starting a sentence talking about football and finishing it talking about face cream.

We follow them week by week in the office, in the pub and in the gym as they pretend they're tough men by endlessly discussing football and drinking and finishing every sentence with the word 'mate'. However, the laddish artifice is eroded by their simultaneous debates about diets, hot lunches, tea, fashion, lotions, haircuts and jogging.

The series culminates with the metros discovering they are all, in fact, homosexual. After an out-of-office-orgy, and feeling guilt-ridden, sticky and dirty, they commit mass suicide.

But seriously, folks, in my day, anyone with an asymmetrical haircut and tight trousers was either weird or gay or both. Getting in touch with your feminine side was a way to get chicks into bed. But times and fashions have changed and trimming ones pubes is simply taking care of oneself.

Metrosexuals, once a nasty rumour in the 1990s, are now ubiquitous. And they're looking good (if gay) – well, they would, seeing that they've emulated homosexuals in just about every department. In fact, if anything, females have started to let their side down a bit. Men generally are looking better than women nowadays; they're making more of an effort and the results are paying off.

Although people generally like looking at those of the opposite sex, there's a theory that heterosexuals actually prefer looking at those of the same sex. We like to see how our own kind dress and act, possibly getting fashion tips and the like, and generally checking out the competition.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mike Mills album covers


Clockwise from top left: Beastie Boys' Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011); Wild Flag (2011); Sonic Youth's Washing Machine (1995) and Moon Safari by Air (1998)

I'm glad I finally bought the Beastie Boys' latest (last?) album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, on vinyl. It arrived yesterday and I was delighted to discover it containing two white vinyl records, a bonus 7", an iron-on T-shirt transfer and digital download. As well as a nice cover designed by Mike Mills, who, like with many designers, I find myself liking their work before knowing who they are.

Mike Mills (b. 1966) is a film & music video director and graphic designer. He directed indie flicks Thumbsucker (2005) and Beginners (2010), which was based on Mills' father who came out as gay aged 75 after his wife (i.e. Mike's mother) died of brain cancer.

Mike Mills' website and book.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

No durian, durian


Of all the signs in all the world, No Durians Allowed seems the most excessive. The king of tropical fruit tastes pretty nice but smells like 'pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock' (according to food and travel writer Richard Sterling). You either love it or hate it. Most seem to hate it. Throughout South East Asia durians are banned on public transport and public places like airports and hotels. I love the sign which, without the description 'No durians', would look more like a 'No Spiky Bombs'.