Sunday, July 16, 2017

London libraries #6: Carnegie Library, Herne Hill

I can almost bear the concept of library plus coffee shop (though not really), but library plus gym, even if it's a "bookish gym" (Lambeth's phrase)? That's a huge WTF?

That is the plan being put through by Lambeth Council. Meanwhile, the library has been closed for over a year (costing nearly as much keeping it closed as being open). There were protests earlier in the year by 'Defend the 10', the group trying to keep open the ten libraries in Lambeth that are threatened with closure.

Carnegie Library was built in 1907 with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (most famous for his eponymous Hall in New York City). It's a striking and beautiful brick and terracotta Grade II listed building, apparently well-loved before it was closed in March last year. It currently stands empty and locked up, with leaves in the entrance and overgrown plants in the front. Posted all around the railing are quotes from famous authors on the importance of books and librarians.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London libraries #1-6

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
The best photo ever, ever, ever taken in Herne Hill

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Top ten Prince food songs

The artist formerly known as Quince, then Mince, who resided in Parsley Park, was a bit of a foodie. Here's ten of his most edible:

1. Little Red Courgette
2. Sign o' the Thymes
3. Raspberry Brûlée
4. Alphabet Spaghetti St.
5. U Got the Cook
6. Lemon Crush
7. Do Me, Gravy
8. I Could Never Take the Plaice of Your Man
9. Under the Cherry Moon
10. Cinnamon Girl

Previously on Barnflakes:
Lionel Richie tea

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Negan must die

Long live Negan!

This post contains spoilers about season 7 of The Walking Dead

There's a new kid on the block. He has flashy white teeth, a black leather jacket and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire called Lucille. He's always grinning, generally having a good time and has some killer (usually literally) one liners. Okay, he's a complete sadistic sociopath and psychopath but you know what, I can't help liking Negan! (Not least because of his rock 'n' roll demeanor, something of a cross between Lou Reed and Jamie Hince.)

Understandably, most of Rick's crew don't like Negan. In the first episode of season 7 he batters Abraham and Glenn to death with Lucille (his baseball bat). The rest of Rick's group stand around, aghast, yet do nothing. Which is what they do for the first eight episodes, as Negan beats up and kills other members of Alexandria (the community where Rick and co. live), takes half their supplies, and generally force them into a life of servitude (it should be noted – they could leave Alexandria at anytime. They could find a nice boat and sail to the Maldives!) which includes kneeling before Negan and thanking him for slipping his dick down their throats (Negan's words).

It's bizarre. In one episode alone, there were about eight of Rick's posse all looking to kill Negan, whilst all the time he's relaxing at Alexandria on his own (i.e. without any of his posse), drinking lemonade, eating pasta and shooting some pool, surrounded by about a dozen other people who also want him dead yet seem incapable of doing anything. My theory is if they killed Negan, the rest of the Saviours wouldn't be too fussed; they're basically all in slavitude too, presumably all hate but fear Negan, and he seems to have one-sided monologues with most of them, belittling and humiliating them at best, threatening and torturing them at worst.

Potential weapons are lying around all the time; okay, guns have been confiscated (but there was ample time before to take him out with anything from a pistol to a rocket launcher), but there's Lucille (his baseball bat), which Negan gives to Rick and Carl to hold for him, there's a cut-throat razor blade, there's a snooker cue; basically, any one at any time could have killed him. But if that had happened, the season wouldn't have dragged on for so long...

Even in the later episodes, guns, a tiger (!) and a zombie Sasha can't kill Negan. Like Rick, he is invincible. After sixteen episodes, Rick says exactly the same words to Negan as he did in the first episode (when he was also tied up and on his knees); "I’m gonna kill you… Not today. Not tomorrow. But I’m gonna kill you". Understandably, Negan laughs in Rick's face (but doesn't kill him).

Nothing really ever works out for Rick. But for Negan life seems a bowl of cherries. He has a harem of wives, undying loyalty and can generally do as he pleases. Before the zombie apocalypse, God knows what he did – barman in a biker bar? Banker? MD of a company?

People's previous lives and work are rarely mentioned. Post-apocalypse you either sink or swim. After seven seasons, any survivors can kill a zombie as easy as turning the page of a book. No, zombies aren't the problem at all – it's other humans. 

Season 8 will be broadcast towards the end of the year.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on the Walking Dead
The Walking Dead recipe
Dinosaurs & zombies

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The art of arranging flowers

Michael Andorfee takes the lift up to the offices at Dogma9, admiring his hair and Japanese jacket in the mirrors whilst reflecting with relish that any woman in the office would probably give him a blow job in the lift, if he asked them. He just hasn't asked yet. How to get (a)head in advertising. He walks through the office in slow motion, like a movie star or royalty. The creative guru has arrived. In the kitchen, the timid new office manager says she likes his jacket and asks if it's vintage (and not, is it new?). Thanks, Michael says, yes, yes it is vintage, with an approving lilt in his voice. I got it in Japan recently. Since Japan he's been to New York, and now he's back in the London office, partly to check the design mock-ups for a pitch for a new client.

Andorfee swans over to the design desks to view the designs on screen. Six other people suddenly materialise behind him; creatives, account handlers, groupies. Michael first looks at James's work. James has spent days on it. He looks at it for maybe five seconds, says it's too fussy, too complicated, and moves over to Alex's desk. This is more like it, he says. Alex is beaming. It actually looks like a Gap ad or a black and white Calvin Klein ad from the 1990s. With bland, meaningless text wrapped around some chiseled male figures.

Michael likes the photos… they remind him of a photographer whose name he can’t remember… Alex jumps in with “Terry Richardson?”, presumably the first, hip photographer he can think of. No, no, no, chants Andorfee. I like Terry but not what he does with kids. Cue canned laughter. There’s the implication that he’s worked with Richardson. Andorfee finds the photographer he was thinking of online and shows Alex. Ah, yes.

Michael Adorfee doesn't like the text. The text needs to be organic, he says. I can change it, enthuses Alex. Try handwritten text instead, suggests Michael. Alex immediately looks for handwriting fonts. No, no, no, intones David. Try actual handwriting. Genius! Everyone applauds. It occurs to James – whose designs were dismissed in five seconds – that Michael looks maniacal and crazy and may be an idiot. There's something of the Emperor's New Clothing about him, and not just the Japanese jacket.

Michael strolls over to his own desk and brings back a book with a spine some two inches thick: Shozo Sato's The Art of Arranging Flowers. Published in 1966, this book has acquired cult status for pretentious designers and creatives with more money than sense. To everyone else it just looks like a boring, old-fashioned book of flower arranging. Inside the book is the invoice, from IDEA, the poncy 'super' bookseller on Dover Street Market, said by Vogue to be the 'coolest publisher in the world' . The book cost Michael £125, though can be bought on eBay for about £17. It's all about context.

Michael tells Alex the book is beautiful and useful for inspiration. Alex stares at it blankly but gushes, 'Of course, brilliant, yes!' Michael asks him if he'd like to borrow it. As he hands the book to Alex – i.e. there's no option but to borrow it – there's a moment of awkward confusion as Michael also has his notebook in the same hand, and Alex thinks he's asking him if he wants to borrow his notebook. 'Well, don't you need your notebook?' Asks Alex in confusion. Not the fucking notebook, says Micheal, the book. Relieved laughter all round. In fact, every time Michael says anything, there's nods, yeses or laughs from the groupies.

Michael is regularly interviewed for creative magazines where he makes predictions such as '2017 will be the year for creativity in advertising'. Naturally he's working on a novel, a screenplay and a play but doesn't have time to finish them. His Instagram account has 15k followers but being a creative, Michael states that Instagram is 'for writers', and posts photos (rarely his) of an advert or newspaper headline or screenshot and writes besides it witty cynical commentary (self-deprecating yet superior sounding), to which his many admirers comment 'you are the best', 'bravo', 'incredible' and 'you are amazing', which certainly doesn't go to his head. Annoyingly I find myself chuckling at his clever copy, but at the same time realising it's fairly similar in tone to, say, the Dos and Don'ts in Vice magazine I also used to chuckle at. Some comments celebrate that he's 'STILL GOT IT'. Implying, one day, one day, he won't. Advertising and social media are fickle friends and he's almost the wrong side of 30.

Michael gets up and goes somewhere else, perhaps to go do some Japanese flower arranging. Like a puppy eager to please his master and still basking in that warm glow, Alex jumps up and gets everyone in the office to write a sample of their handwriting on a piece of paper. James rolls his eyes and almost imperceivably shakes his head. I walk out and presumably never go back.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Vertical Video Violation

We’ve all shot vertical video. We hold the phone vertically, use most of its functions vertically, take still photos vertically and often don’t even think twice about pressing the record button on the video vertically. Perhaps it’s only when we upload the video on YouTube or when the BBC have some amateur footage of a disaster or terrorist attack, and the video is played a third smaller with fuzzy grey bands on the left and right, that we realise the error of our ways. And thousands of people watching the video is thinking to themselves, ‘Why didn’t the idiot just hold the phone horizontally?’ (Presumably they didn't really have time to think about correct phone orientation in the middle of a terrorist attack.)

Films and videos have been shot and displayed in the landscape ratio for the last hundred years or so in cinemas and then on TV (though in early silent cinema and older TVs the ratio was 4:3, almost square – all through the 80s and 90s I was crying out for TVs, and then computers, to be widescreen; technology usually, eventually, catches up with me (see here and here, for example)). Then along come smart phones with video recorders and there’s the (unfortunate) option to shoot video vertically. I guess this is pretty logical – there's a fine tradition of portrait painting in, erm, portrait orientation dating back at least five hundred years, and photography has always been acceptable in portrait and landscape modes. Painting, drawing or photographing a person – the predominant subject of all art – seems correct in the portrait format as the human figure is long rather then wide.

But horizontal seems to be the dominant format in the digital age of widescreen TVs and computers; and the internet, from splash pages to web banners, all look best horizontal. And our eyes are side by side, not on top of each other, so horizontal feels more natural. There's almost a whole online movement to get people to shoot video horizontal: websites, YouTube tutorials and apps all to prevent Vertical Video Syndrome (yes, it's a meme).

Nevertheless, I feel there's a place for vertical video, alongside traditional portrait painting and photography. The technology just needs to catch up, as usual.

Elsewhere on the web:
It's time to take vertical video seriously

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Missed photo #743

On the train to Paddington somewhere in the countryside just past Pewsey. A sunset – and yes, I generally think photographs of sunsets as over-rated and clichéd – but this one was so sudden and unexpected, and possibly better than the ones in Bagan, Burma (and that's saying something).

It had been a boiling hot day. The hills were shrouded in mist receding into the distance, and the sun obscured by wild swirls of red clouds. It was perfect and beautiful. There was nothing I could do – I fleetingly thought of pressing the emergency cord to stop the train so I could get a decent photo of it. It would be gone in a matter of minutes; it was getting dark outside and brights lights were on in the carriage so a picture was impossible. Sometimes you've just got to be in the moment, sit back and appreciate the fleeting beauty of the world. That's what I did; I had a beer and a packet of crisps. Things could be worse.

I'm still working on that book of missed photos...

Previously on Barnflakes:
Book of untaken photos

Friday, June 16, 2017

Generation 'X'

As reported in the Guardian, Oregon has become the first state in the U.S.A. to allow the third gender option for driving licences and IDs. So, instead of the usual 'M' for Male or 'F' for Female, gender fluid persons can now mark themselves with the letter 'X'. X seems a curious letter to use – wouldn't an S, U or W designate fluidity better? (When presented with a form that asked Sex? as an adolescent, and come to think of it still today, the immature desire to answer 'Yes please!' was almost overwhelming.)

The letter X has many connotations and meaning, depending on context, many of which are negative, from Nazi symbolism and poison, to pornography and death. Films used to be rated X, implying violence or sexual content, and the letter is still used to designate extreme forms of pornography (XXX); there's the X-Files, associated with mystery, the unknown and the forbidden; it is the sign of Satan; the crossbones of the skull and crossbones symbol is an X.

On the other hand, it has less nefarious meanings too: in maths, it is the unknown factor and the axis on a chart; to Romans it was the number ten; there's Christ on his cross; the X-factor (though to me it's the epitome of evil); XX and XY designate the male and female chromosomes; it's a size of clothing; X marks the spot on maps... the list goes on: in short, its broad array of meanings means it's a confused symbol (here's a blog from Psychology Today exploring the many meanings behind the letter X).

Anyway, the letter X is the least of the confusion. There's a whole plethora of jargon for third gender people. Not only is it confusing – for them and us – but many of the terms sound like the stuff of sci-fi (a mix of Burroughs, Dick, Ballard and The Matrix springs to mind; a line from a gender fluid person who "expresses multiple genders at the same time" sounds like it came from Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly): third gender, non-binary, intergender, agender, bigender, gender fluid, amalgender and xenogender are just a few of the terms...

And I have a strange feeling that technology is to blame; the loneliness, anonymity and avatars of the online world and social media, where we can be who we like, has spilled into 'real life'; politics and schools and traditional media have no choice but to follow suit.

(Bear with me – imagine a sci-fi film, called Battle of the benders genders, set 1,000 years in the future. Countries and borders have vanished, race is a thing of the past, the real battle is between the genders. There's a world war, men and women lose, the third gender is victorious. We all have to wear matching white outfits, we all look odd, bitter and unhappy. The Miss World contest is banned, as is Woman's Hour on Radio 4 and International Woman's Day; in fact books and art are banned and burned as the world embarks on its bland genderless future where we live in blissful unhappiness being told what to think.)

At the risk of sounding transphobic, all this third gender stuff is absolute nonsense (for the first time in my life I find myself siding with Piers Morgan, whose recent TV debate with Fox and Owl, two gender fluid young people who say "I never felt truly comfortable in my body. I struggled in my teenage years with puberty and was confused with myself and didn't know if I fit into this world", neatly summing up every teenager in the world, caused a storm on social media). Worse than that, it's dangerous.

In my day there were two genders, male and female. This is still a biological fact. I don't care if you wear blue (boy) or pink (girl) clothes, or are a truck driver (man) or work in marketing (woman), if you have a penis you are male, if you have a vagina you are female. Fact. (There are a small percentage (0.5) of people born intersex – though to me it's a congenital disorder, an anomaly akin to being born with three fingers, two hearts or one eye; blimey, even the term hermaphrodite is now outdated – presumably one day Jeffrey Eugenides' fine book Middlesex will be banned). What you choose to do with your genitals is your business (sex is another jargon minefield – are you androsexual or gynosexual)? If you have a strange feeling that you don't belong or never felt comfortable being a man or woman, that is an emotional feeling, not a biological state.

What if I've always felt uncomfortable as a middle class, British, white, male human (which, naturally, I have)? What if something inside me says to me I should have been born in the Galapagos Islands as a turtle in the year 1784? Can I get rights to live like a turtle, laze around on the islands all day, go swimming and become an Ecuadorian citizen? Nope. Tough luck. To a certain extent, we are what we are born and have to make do with that.

48% of trans people under the age of 26 have attempted suicide in the UK (compared with 6% of non trans people). No wonder – I'd be suicidal working out which category I belonged in. Probably just the one called 'depressed'. I don't think the statistic is even to do with them being trans or suffering from transphobia – it's do with them being mixed up, confused and weird. You know, being a millennial. But instead of simply being a frustrated and confused teenager full of angst for no apparent reason – aside from hormones, now they have an explanation – of course, it's the dissatisfaction with the gender I was born with.

It's a playground fad that has got out of hand – even my daughter (just turned 11) speaks of gender fluidity whereas twenty years ago she would have just said tomboy. Indeed, long before that, actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn donned male suits and ties and would now be described as gender fluid – but back then they were being individualistic trailblazers. Today they'd just be part of the new in-crowd, getting categorised and pigeon-holed and likes on Instagram.

Political correctness is a form of censorship and fascism which rewrites the past and stigmatises those who don't adopt the latest correct jargon (almost impossible to keep ahead of with the latest race terms let alone gender). It's Orwell's Ministry of Truth where the past is rewritten or forgotten, and Newspeak which redefines language (though now it's in a more complicated form, rather than simpler). As Orwell writes, "language merely reflects existing social conditions". It's impossible for us to see out of our own epoch, to see the past for what it was, and the future for what it will be. We've been through this before, right? Rights for women, blacks, gays... wrong. This is completely imaginary and ludicrous, like teenagers wanting Jedi to be classified as an official religion.

I'm exaggerating? Hardly. Words get banned before our eyes; if you don't keep up to date you're blasted on social media. Germaine Greer gets banned from speaking at a university for her transphobic comments. This is the opposite of freedom of speech or expression. This is think what we think or else. This is the thought police, totalitarianism. And this is just the start. Be afraid. 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Satorial sexism
Gender bender
Portland & Austin: tales of two cities
Notes on afflictions

Elsewhere on the web:
It’s dangerous and wrong to tell all children they’re ‘gender fluid’
– The Spectator

Friday, June 09, 2017

Barnflakes is on Etsy

 
Barnflakes is now on Etsy. Yes, you can now buy merchandise from all my anti-social media outlets – films, photography, design and writing. Go on, put your money where your mouse is. Only a couple of items on at the moment but check back weekly for that beautiful barnacled barngain you've always desired.

Coming soon: posters, postcards, photos, books, greetings cards, wrapping paper and more... 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Notes on the UK's recent terrorist attacks

Yes, this is filed under Controversial (Perhaps).

The three terrible terrorist attacks and their aftermath in the UK this year (so far) follow a similar pattern. First is the attack itself (more likely than not, a white van and guys with knives); chaos, confusion and terror ensue. Then the 'swift response' of the emergency services and the 'everyday heroes'. Next are Tweets by May, Corbyn, Khan et al, expressing various obvious and meaningless outrage: 'shocking', 'terrible', 'horrific' etc. Then comes the media (traditional and social) frenzy, followed by a vigil (with football players and pop stars if you're lucky) and perhaps a benefit concert.

(I get pushed and ignored on a daily basis in London; then there's a terrorist attack and we all love each other, we're all as one. It only happens in times like this. I don't see it any other time. Remember the Blitz? Oh, those were the days. I don't see it. On the day of the Westminster attack, there was a blind woman struggling along a tube platform; no one helped her, people pushed past her. Women on their own struggled up stairs with huge suitcases; no one helped.)

Despite the apparent random nature of the attacks, their aftermath is fairly predictable and follow a set script. It's become a bit like an episode of 24 or a soap opera. There are 'what we know so far' reports and 'live updates' for days; the reporting gets so bogged down in details. Someone three miles away from the London Bridge attack heard something and is interviewed; the editor of the Spectator informs us he got a cut-price taxi ride home after the attacks – yes, this was reported on Radio 4. The make and model of the van used by the terrorists is reported. Video footage and photos are examined in minute detail.

In other words it's all about the 'how' and very little about the 'why'. What drives a 22-year-old to kill himself and others (isn't it tragic that for a young person to get noticed, it is far easier to do something negative than something positive)? There's little debate on the wider issues of why it's actually happening – surely it's as tragic for the terrorist to die like this as for the victims, their families, the witnesses and the emergency services dealing with it. Like with paedophiles, daring to even think about a terrorist's motivation is tantamount to siding with them or being sympathetic. We do not want to understand the terrorist – they are pure evil and beyond comprehension.

Jermy Corbyn has recently made unspeakable (yet rather sensible) comments: he's blamed the UK's foreign policy in the middle east as the cause for the attacks (which I thought was obvious); he's said the war on terror isn't working; he's said he'd rather sit down with a terrorist and talk instead of shoot him. All this seems logical to me. Western intervention in the middle east has always been a disaster; the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality has never worked; understanding and getting into the mind of a terrorist is more productive and useful than a dead terrorist (as my ex-girlfriend said, if you turn around the mindset of a terrorist, and get them to act as an advocate and ambassador for peace and understanding, that's far more useful than murder. For example, most councillors working in addiction are former addicts). But of course, for all Corbyn's rational comments, he received a storm of abuse – in the Mail and the Sun ('Apologist for terror' and 'Jihadi comrades', respectively), you'd expect it, but even in The Guardian comments.

Also, around the time of the attacks at London Bridge, there was a truck bomb in Kabul which killed 150, many of whom were women and children. Hardly made the news here (I know, I know, when it happens here it's an affront to democracy and the western way of life). More important (most read on the BBC website, as of today) is Phil Collins postponing a show after a fall, grim reviews for The Mummy and a hairdryer gran being a 'national hero'.

Anyway, General Election here today. Almost touching, really, that at the polling station it's still an old guy with a computer print out, a pencil and a ruler to check the voters. This election has been about Brexit, terrorism, immigration, personalities, back-stabbing. Hopefully one day someone with give a shit about the environment before it's too late.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on murders and sex crimes
The Paedo files

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Lookalikes #39: Henry Darger and Marcel Dzama

I've written about Henry Darger previously; Marcel Dzama is a contemporary artist who also works in scultpure, film and collage. His paintings have adorned album covers, he's had books published. Henry Darger, outsider artist, was a caretaker and hermit, creating his deeply personal art in his apartment at night. I love both Darger and Dzama, but almost can't imagine Dzama's art existing if it wasn't for Darger.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Lookalikes #12: Feels and Henry Darger

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Top ten influences in my life

1. e e cummings (poet)
2. Sandra Bernhardt (woman)
3. Buddhism (religion)
4. Bacon (meat)
5. Luis Bunuel (Spaniard)
6. The 07:52 to Waterloo (transport)
7. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (film)
8. Noam Chomsky (American)
9. Akzidenz-Grotesque (typeface)
10. Jeremy Corbyn (man)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two dreams

1.
I was at a sort of jumble sale in a 1970s-style council building. I saw a bunch of records that a woman had just bought. She was half-way between a landlady I had in Sydney and an old school friend who lives in Cornwall; she was a hippy, with a kind of satisfied look about her, though she was looking flustered at first. I noticed I owned some of the records she'd bought; in particular I saw a boxed set of The Cream of Eric Clapton (which I don't own, and which actually doesn't exist as a vinyl box set) and asked her about it. I told her I had it at home, along with some of the others, and asked if my parents had taken my records and bought them to the jumble sale. She said no. I asked if I could look through the pile. She let me, and I noticed some Procol Harum and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos (ie Eric Clapton).

Then it seemed like I was getting a lift with her and some of her children. I gathered she was a kind of teacher. We arrived at her house in the countryside, which looked like a ramshackle boarding school. Children were everywhere, and a brother and sister took a shine to me and showed me round. It was then I noticed the children turning into various animals and birds. Foxes, badgers, birds, insects. They made a hand movement when they changed, there was a sparkle in the air, then they were an animal. I had to make a phone call, from an old red phone box in the huge garden. I couldn't get through. One of the children told me I could change if I wanted, into a bee. How? I asked. He showed me the hand movements, Like this, he said. I was about to do it, my cat jumped up on the bed and meowed in my face, and yes, of course, I woke up.

What can I say? Production values weren't high; it looked like it was shot on 16mm then transferred to VHS, but that was part of its charm. There was a magical yet eerie lyricism about the dream. It felt like those great 1970s BBC kid's programmes – The Owl Service, The Changes, Children of the Stones. Acting was good, natural. Special effects, not bad for the time – kids turning into animals.

I had a late breakfast; scrambled eggs and caviar on toast, a pot of proper coffee. Life wasn't bad. The cat meowed, wanted feeding.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Children of the 1970s

2.
The 13-year-old boy had expensive camera gadgets plus a drone. I hid them from him under a rug. He asked me where they were. Stolen I said. Oh no he cried. He told his parents and they called the police. The police couldn’t find them until I tried to move them. They caught me and I went to jail. The boy filmed me in jail with his phone and put the video on YouTube. The video got millions of hits and made him a YouTube superstar. I got out of jail and filmed myself watching his video of me in jail on YouTube, then filmed myself smashing up my phone, then uploading the video. It got like 2 or 3 hits.

When I'm happy and busy, I never remember my dreams. When I'm listless and despondent, I have really vivid dreams, such as these.

Previous dreams here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Banning bags on London transport

In a controversial move to ease congestion on London's over-crowded travel network, officials have announced the banning of all bags on trains, tubes and buses, estimating this will free up 39% of space on the networks. Rucksacks in particular take up the space of one person, a TFL official explained, and are extremely annoying, seeing as the oblivious owners whack other people with them when they turn around. "At worst rucksacks present a security issue and may contain an explosive device; at best they contain pointless clutter – either way they are a nuisance", the same official explained.

Free transport!
It would seem churlish not to take advantage of the endless engineering works besetting the rail network. So, travel for free! The replacement buses and coaches put on never check tickets, so hitch a ride for free, even if it's not to where you want to go, even if it does take four times as long as the train. 

A while ago I had to endure a bus replacement ride to Fleet in Hampshire. The train from Clapham Junction to Fleet usually takes 45 minutes; the replacement bus got lost and took nearly four hours. Still, it was a free journey, and I enjoyed seeing countryside I'd never seen before.

Previously on Barnflakes:
See it. Say it. Sod it
Public transport courtesy cards
Pet hates #1,287: the rucksack

Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Random ADHD Film Reviews

Two films where the lead teenage boys both suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); neither film is exactly cheery but both are superb, extremely moving and rewarding.

THE SELFISH GIANT
Dir: Clio Barnard / 2013 / UK / 91mins.
If the title sounds like it might be a Roald Dahl tale, put that thought away – it is actually more Dickensian than Dahl. Loosely based on Oscar Wilde's story of the same name, the film is set in modern day Bradford, in deprived, slum estates that are reminiscent of Don McCullin's photos of Bradford in the 1970s. The film follows two teenagers, the hyperactive and out-of-control Arbor (whose name made me think of the film The Arbor; then I discovered both were directed by Clio Barnard) and the slow and sensitive Swifty. After being suspended from school, the boys start making money by roaming the streets collecting scrap metal and selling it to a local dealer, Kitten.

Presumably the selfish giant of the title, he is played with relish by Sean Gilder (of Shameless fame), a Fagin-type character and monster, illegally employing and exploiting local children desperate to make a few pounds. Kitten also competes in local, illegal, horse harness racing, and when he finds out Swifty has a way with horses, Kitten gets him to ride his horse to compete in the races. There is not a nice bone in Kitten; he constantly shouts, swears, threatens and hits the kids. His scrapyard is his castle and it's like a vision of Hades, all fire and metal.

A social realist film in the British tradition, by which I mean depressing, it is alleviated by the remarkable acting of the two young leads and their shifting friendship; the poetry for the countryside and a terrifyingly exciting horse race along a motorway at dawn. Near the end the tragic and shocking denouement is only exonerated by the last few scenes in the film, and the final shot, the only glimpse of sentimentality in the film, but by this point a bit of sentimentality is allowed and deserved.
– 5/5

MOMMY
Dir: Xavier Dolan / 2014 / Canada / 138mins.
Being filmed in a 1:1 ratio (i.e. square) made me immediately think of Instagram but this apparently wasn't the intention. The intention was to create a private, repressive, enclosed world, which the film does. The screen opens up to wide screen twice, for about five minutes each time. The first time, halfway through the film, has Steve actually pull the screen wide open. He's running along the middle of a busy road with a shopping trolley full of groceries wearing large white headphones with Oasis's Wonderwall playing on the soundtrack; it's one of the most thrilling moments in the film. Music is key to the film – as a form of escape and release. I didn't want the scene to end, or the screen ratio to return back to 1:1, but knew it would.

Steve is the son of the eponymous Mommy of the film, a charismatic but violent and extremely anti-social teenager. Released from juvenile detention centre for setting fire to the cafeteria, it is up to hard-as-nails mommy, Diane, to look after her son and try to hold down a job. Kyla, a neighbour from across the street – a shy teacher with a stutter on a sabbatical – helps to school Steve, and the three form an unlikely yet inseparable trio.

Mommy contains some of the most exhilarating scenes of anti-social behaviour combined with music I've seen for years. And not necessarily good music – Celine Dion, The Counting Crows, Dido, Sarah McLachlan and Andrea Bocelli all populate the decidedly unhip soundtrack. Nevertheless, the mix of ballads and pop create an emotional escape to the difficult situations in the film  – Steve's violent and outrageous anti-social displays are contrasted with dreamy, slow motion, music video-like sequences full of hope and happiness.
 – 5/5

I have no opinion or expertise on ADHD; both films suggest it stems from poverty and lack of a father figure; I wouldn't know. That the only solution seems to be pills and institutions I would disagree with – these don't address the core of the problem, only mask it. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a better alternative.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The lost art of the double bill 
Notes on afflictions
Top ten affliction films
Stuttering in the movies

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Rayfaring Stranger

 
For Ray on his lonesome wayfaring travels.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The lost art of the double bill

A Google search of the term 'double bill' reveals the Everyman cinema showing a double bill of Guardians of the Galaxy along with the 'amazing' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Now, the last time I saw a double bill at the Everyman it was two Japanese erotic classics in the 1980s: Woman of the Dunes plus Ai No Corrida (yes, I've mentioned this before). Times have changed. Double bills used to have imagination, they used to make you think about the connection between the two films. They could complement each other, or be at odds with each other. The relationship might be opaque or tenuous. You might not have even heard of one of the films. Good!

Anyway, here's ten of my own double (and quadruple – this would usually be an all-nighter) bills:

Retired Cops With A Nagging Hunch No One Listens To:
THE PLEDGE (2001) + HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

The River Journey Is The Destination: EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015) + APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

Maverick Directors Go Normal: PATERSON (2016) + THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999)

Social Comment Ensues When Aliens Land In The U.S.A:
THE BORROWER (1991) + BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)

Writer & Artist Retreats: ARCHIPELAGO (2010) + TAMARA DREWE (2010)

National Geographic Photographers Having Affairs In Faraway Places: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995) + GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988)

Twisted Relationships In The Manor: ADELHEID (1969) + THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)

Transformations: PHOENIX (2014) + SECONDS (1966) + VERTIGO (1958) + EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

We're Watching You: THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) + BATTLE ROYALE (2000) + THE RUNNING MAN (1987) + HUNGER GAMES  (2012)

Depardieu Eats Meat: WELCOME TO NEW YORK (2014) + LOULOU (1980)

Previously on Barnflakes:
Double Bill Me
Scala Forever!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alton estate of mind – the book


The Alton estate of mind book(let) is finally finished. It's a personal and architectural guide to the Grade II listed Alton estate in Roehampton, where I lived many years ago. The text is mainly the same as on this very blog (see here); some of the photos are on Flickr. But there's nothing like  holding a book (or going to an exhibition). You know, the physical, tactile thing. I still have to get it printed, mind. Watch this space (again).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yellow parrots on pylon

Okay, I admit it. I regularly look at the website Pylon of the Month. And I'm old enough to remember the BBC series The Changes, with its fear of pylons (referred to as 'bad wires'). The parrots? Dunno, just looked like it needed a splash of colour.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Morris Dance Murders Movie

I’ve always been slightly afraid of the pagan, cultish and violent aspects of Morris dancers so it came as a delight to come across The Morris Dance Murders, a little-known, low-budget cult British horror film from the early 1970s. Starring no one famous and directed with surprising aplomb by first-timer Vivian Cluster, who seemed to vanish after the making of the film, it displays a mastery of British landscape seen only from Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General) and Nicolas Roeg (cinematographer of Far From the Madding Crowd, as well as director of such classics as Performance and Don't Look Now) around the same period. It echoes those films, and of course The Wicker Man, in its depiction of British ritual and tradition gone astray.

Set in the middle ages, the plot focuses around a troupe of Morris dancers who travel from village to village murdering random folk, then each other, with ever-increasing inventive ways (à la Dario Argento) using batons and handkerchiefs. Expect certain staples from Hammer Horror such as busty barmaids and some cranky acting, but be surprised at the lush photography, the attention to period detail and some fantastic set pieces. It's also pretty scary without being gratuitous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

William Blake's vision of angels in Peckham

Top: possible oak tree planted in honour of Blake; bottom: Blake mural at Goose Green
It takes almost as much imagination as artist and poet William Blake had to picture him, aged 7 or 8, walking to Peckham Rye on his own and having his first (of many) vision of angels there, but that's how the story goes: "A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars". Around 1765 the boy William, not liking built-up central London where he lived, liked nothing more than to walk seven miles or more (sometimes as far afield as Croydon) to the common at Peckham Rye. One Blake scholar says these formative walks had a strong influence on future poems such as Songs of Experience.

Locating the actual tree is impossible now; for one thing the common was a lot larger than it is now, for another, even if it's still there, does it actually matter? We had enough trouble tracking down the small oak tree that was planted in 2011 by artist John Hartley in honour of William Blake (there's no plaque or sign, and we had only had a vague map of the park with a red cross where the tree is. It was a case of not being able to see the tree for the trees). Nearby, on Goose Green, there's a mural to Blake's vision of angels, painted in 1993 as a community project.

(Did we see any angels? was the inevitable question asked us when we returned from our wanderings. Well, actually yes. I thought I spotted one on the common, but it was a dead tree. But we saw them on the mural, and then in Nunhead cemetery, our next stop.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rashisms: The Book of Rash

My friend and colleague Rashpaul passed away almost two years ago, and he is still sorely missed by many. I've been meaning to create a book of his sayings and hilarious photo montages since he died. I finally have, and will be printing it soon. Watch this space.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Pulp Poetry posthumously published

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rocky's Rockland Road Rocky Road

My famously delicious Rocky Road finally has a logo! The full tongue twisting title – Rocky's Rockland Road Rocky Road – has its origins in a cat I had when I lived on Rockland Road.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Updated Southern Rail ads

I wouldn't mind the Southern Rail ads on the trains being so badly designed and ugly if the service wasn't so atrocious, but there's something about the smug, smiling faces on the ads and the pretence that everything is hunky dorey that irks me to the point of redesigning the ads to show what it's really like. I'd actually been cycling everywhere for weeks, so hadn't had to endure the service, but I took a Southern train the other day, and, yup, random cancellations and stops at red signals every few minutes still happening. Reassuring, almost, to know some things never change.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Travel first class on Southern trains
Public transport courtesy cards

Friday, May 12, 2017

Letraset after sex

Potential lame cover for a East London hipster band/design collective (naturally released on limited edition red vinyl; comes with a set of white Helvetica Letraset), inspired after seeing a Joy Division-esque poster for the band Cigarettes After Sex (they're actually quite good, despite the name) then talking Letraset.

Concept: James W
Design: Me

Friday, May 05, 2017

Random Film Review: The Dark Backward

Dir: Adam Rifkin / 1991 / 101mins / USA

I was surprised and saddened at the unexpected death of actor Bill Paxton in February this year. I'd admired him in a lot of films, he was a good character actor, very likable and watchable. Inevitably, in the wake of his death, there was a flurry online of top ten Bill Paxton films/roles, most of which I couldn't disagree with: the adrenaline-pumping Aliens, the near masterpiece One False Move (perhaps my favourite Paxton film), A Simple Plan and Near Dark (tell a lie, this is my favourite film of his). Even smaller roles in films such as Weird Science, Terminator and True Lies are memorable.

But one film (another is Talking Tiger Mountain, an experimental, sexually explicit, black and white 'psychotropic apocalyptic odyssey' shot in Wales and Tangier in 1983; another still is the horror film Frailty, the only film Paxton starred in and directed) absent from most lists was The Dark Backward, made in 1991, the same year as One False Move. I saw it when it came out at London's sleazy Scala cinema, which was the perfect venue for it. It got mostly terrible reviews, then vanished.

The Dark Backward, whose title comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest, features Marty Malt, garbageman by day and terrible stand-up comedian by night. Gus is also a garbageman, as well as an accordion player and Marty's best – and only – (back-stabbing) friend. Marty's career as a stand-up comic is going down the pan until he develops a lump on his back, which turns into a small hand, which turns into a full grown arm and hand, his fortune starts to change and Hollywood beckons...

Even an outline of the bizarre plot does nothing to prepare you for the carnivalesque sun-drenched filth of The Dark Backward. And though it's reminiscent of other films and filmmakers – imagine Gilliam's Brazil and Robinson's How to Get Ahead in Advertising remade by David Lynch, John Waters and Fellini with mise-en-scene via Soylent Green, the classic 1973 dystopian sci-fi thriller with Charlton Heston – the world it inhabits is like no other in cinema.

Filth, grime and decay oppressively permeate every inch of the film, so much that you can smell it. The streets are covered in rubbish, rats and cockroaches. Fish swim out of sewer pipes into the gutter. A Big Brother-style multinational named Blump's has 1950s-style advertising everywhere and seems to own everything from the garbage company to food: squeezable bacon, cartons of pork juice and cheddar-scented cheese are just a few of the choice morsels on offer.

Most of the cast play against type, and what a cast it is: Judd Nelson plays Marty as a sweaty, introverted loser, dressed in ill-fitting, over-sized polyester suits whilst his sleazy, over-bearing, maniacal, pushy and obnoxious, so-called best friend, Gus (Bill Paxton), in a constant state of grinning, jeering and accordion-playing, betrays him at every opportunity. James Caan is a useless at best, sadistic at worst quack doctor, Lara Flynn Boyle a sulky waitress, Rob Lowe (hard to believe the last time Nelson and Lowe appeared in a film together it was the ultimate Brat Pack film St Elmo's Fire, just a few years previously) as a sleazy talent agent, and, in an inspirational piece of casting, singer and entertainer Wayne Newton plays Marty's manager.

If the film has no sympathetic characters, and is a one trick pony (or three-armed geek), it astonishes in its detail and depravity: Gus stripping off his garbage man overalls and getting butt naked with three morbidly obese women on Marty's bed; Gus licking the breasts of a dead naked woman in a landfill site or Gus eating rotting chicken. In fact, the only tender scenes in the film are with Marty's third arm, pulling the bed cover over him at night or consoling him with a pat on the shoulder.

Watch it here.

4.5/5

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Around Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

From top to bottom: the new Cabinet gallery; Ashley Bickerton Bali painting; staircase, Newport Street gallery; Pacman Ghost on side of pub, Lambeth High Street; terracotta and glazed tiles, Southbank House

The last time the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens contained any kind of pleasure – of a legal, civilised kind anyway – was round about 1850. Since then it’s fallen into despair but, lo and behold, the area is being regenerated. We visited on a fine afternoon, the day before St George's Day, and there was a St George's festival on and it felt like a village fete, with a Punch and Judy show, sword fighters and stalls. There were donkeys on display, come from Vauxhall City Farm on the other side of the gardens. Old style jazz was billowing out of the lovely Tea House Theatre cafe (which blissfully doesn't serve coffee), where a slice of their stale cake sets you back £5 (worth having once for the experience).

I’d been earlier in the week to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to visit Cabinet, the gallery having recently moved from east London and now residing below offices in a purpose-built structure on the corner of the gardens. Though I was none too inspired by Pierre Guyotat's childlike sketches of figures with huge dicks, it's nice to see another gallery in the area. Five minutes walk out of the park in a converted Victorian building, once a school, is Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery on Newport Street. We popped in to see their current exhibition, Meditations on the Anthropocene, which consists of huge black and white screens in large dark rooms, slowly animating, with discordant, creepy music. In other words, a Disney horror movie shot by Tarkovsky (perhaps). There's a nice vegan cafe downstairs.

Damien Hirst's Newport Street gallery is at the other end of the road. My usual stock response to being asked about his gallery is the staircases are better than any of the art, but I thoroughly enjoyed the playful new Ashley Bickerton exhibition. The shark in a strait jacket on the exhibition’s website homepage does no justice to Bickerton’s work which encompasses sculpture, photography, sculpture and graphic design. My daughter naturally preferred the scary monster heads with bird of paradise flower tentacles coming out of their heads, but I loved the lurid Bali paintings with their ornate wooden frames depicting traditional Balinese life, whilst the painting themselves show a kind of psychedelic modern Bali.

An interesting interview with Bickerton by Paul Theroux (how has his talentless son, Louis, eclipsed his father, one of the best travel writers of his generation? Oh yes, because pa writes books and son is on TV. Louis' recent film, My Scientology Movie, is a Nick Broomfield-esque textbook documentary about failing to make the documentary you intended; Tickled, by contrast, a recent documentary about competitive tickling, is a fascinating piece of investigative journalism where both you and the filmmaker start off thinking it's going to be about one thing, only to discover it's about something else entirely) can be read on the Guardian website.

On the corner of Lambeth High Street and Black Prince Road is the spectacular Southbank House, the only remaining example of the Doulton pottery complex in the area. This Grade-II listed building is being turned into flats, of course, but the ornate exterior will presumably remain. The outside is covered with reliefs, glazed tiles, moulded terracotta and polychromy, all to show off how great Doulton were at pottery (read a better description here, with photos). Nearby is the huge art deco Fire Brigade Headquarters on Albert Embankment, which has fine reliefs. A quick look at White Hart dock, across the road, concluded our tour. The dock was made around 1868, and used as an emergency water supply during the Second World War. Anyway, we were hungry by now and went to get lunch in a nearby cafe.

Really, I enjoy London's art and parks more than anything else in the city. I quite like the area around Newport Street – there's hardly any people or cars compared to the mayhem around Vauxhall.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Barngain of the day: Flora by Nick Knight

I found this book in a charity shop in Croydon. It was priced at £2.50; already a barngain until the shop assistant informed me there was a half price sale, so it was £1.25. I've vaguely wanted this book for years (first published 1997) not because I'm that interested in flora, but because it's a beautiful and elegant book (and tall; it doesn't fit in my bookshelves).

Nick Knight is British fashion photographer who came to prominence in the 1980s with his book of photos of skinheads; a stint at i-D magazine led to photographing Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto's fashion catalogue (like this book, in collaboration with Peter Saville). He has also photographed album covers for the likes of Massive Attack and directed music videos.

Peter Saville art directed the book (though Paul Barnes actually designed it; presumably he did all the actual work). Never one to rush his work, Saville's poster for the opening of the Factory nightclub in Manchester famously turned up late for the event. His own website has been 'under construction' for years.

Photographers from Karl Blossfeldt (whose book Art Forms in Nature was very successful when it came out in 1928) to Irving Penn (whose book of flowers was published in 1980) have produced books of flowers and fauna in close-up, exploring their beautiful forms in much the same way Georgia O'Keeffe did with paint.

Flora is a result of Knight visiting the herbarium (library of pressed flowers) at the Natural History Museum and sifting through thousands of samples; forty-six of the 'most beautiful' were chosen. They are stunning; a riot of colour, texture and shape, all beautifully arranged. The second half of the book has text by Sandra Knapp explaining each plant photographed. Most interestingly, though, it lists when and by who each sample was collected. Amazingly, some date back to the 1800s, and as Knapp rightly states, the stories behind how they were collected would fill volumes and be almost as fascinating as the plants themselves.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barngains
London through its charity shops

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Moomins in London

2017 seems to be year of the Moonins in London. Over Easter Kew Gardens are hosting Moomin Adventures, with the creatures hiding among the flowers, and there’s an Easter Trail and craft workshops too.

There’s still a few weeks to go to see the South Bank’s ‘immersive, interactive’ Adventures in Moominland exhibition which I think I enjoyed more than my daughter. Entering through a large Moomin book cover, we entered different Moomin and Tove Jansson environments, from tents and rocky islands to snowy forests and cabins, with rare illustrations and insights into Jansson’s life along the way. Appropriately situated under the stairs in the Royal Festival Hall’s Spirit Level. Thoroughly recommended.

Still a while to wait for the Dulwich Picture Gallery to house the first major retrospective of Tove Jansson’s art in the UK. Beyond the Moomins will showcase newly discovered artwork by Jansson from 25 October 2017 to 28 January 2018. If that's not enough, the magical Moomin shop in Covent Garden is one of my favourite shops in London.

Frank Cottell Boyce, writing in the Guardian, sums up Tove Jansson's unusual life pretty well: “Jansson was an upper-middle-class bohemian lesbian, living on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland”. Unfortunately when I was in Finland, I wasn’t able to go to the island where Jansson lived, but managed to fill my bags up with as much Moomin memorabilia as I could get. I probably own more Moomin stuff than a grown adult ought. Yes, I have some books of course, but also, erm, a mobile (no, not a phone, but you know, the 'type of kinetic sculpture constructed to take advantage of the principle of equilibrium' – Wikipedia's useful description), pillow covers, towels, notebook, a soft toy and a pack of teabags.

I had a great dream about Moomins when I was in Finland. They were riding on the back of a giant hare through the snowy streets of Helsinki at night. You had to be there, obviously.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The start of basic income for the Finnish
Illustrated children's books (for parents)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Graphic Designer URGENTLY required

Fabulous, unbelievable and once in a lifetime opportunity to work in a niche but perfectly formed 360 degree omni-platform boutique agency, based in a lovely yet somehow hollow office somewhere near an area someone in Time Out said was cool… once. This cutting edge yet utterly pointless company URGENTLY require a Graphic Designer to URGENTLY start last month. Must be able to time travel and have strong design and Adobe CC skills, along with UX design, Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro, Sketch, embroidery, nuclear physics, juggling, Microsoft Word and Excel, video, web, espionage, psychotherapy and civil engineering. A knowledge of HTML, CSS, SQL, KGB, BBC and NASA essential. A PhD in thermal dynamics is handy but not mandatory.

The job will entail designing beautiful layouts with the crispness of a Peter Saville, the roundness of a Rubens and the vigour of a Picasso. You will be designing for print, web, apps and holograms. 

Should you get an interview (though you won't, as the response will be predictably overwhelming), you will be required to do a one hour test which will involve jumping through hoops, general circus skills, and begging like a dog, plus be grilled on your entire life by a panel of five interviewers, all with less experience than yourself, then you will probably never hear back from us. You will be expected to be informed and passionate about the company which until ten minutes ago you didn't know existed. Should by a miracle you get the job you will reap the rewards of a £22,000 p.a. salary. All we require in return is your talent, soul, blood and time. Must be a team player i.e. enjoy being told what to do by people half your age.

Your portfolio will consist of only the best brands from the best agencies otherwise we don't care if you have a decade's worth of experience in publishing or some such dying industry.

Please apply elsewhere with CV, portfolio, shoe size and bank account details.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Random film review: Paterson

 (Jim Jarmusch | 2016 | USA)

Tom Cruise isn't good looking and he can’t act. He can’t even act being asleep convincingly. I did enjoy Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow however, so much so I’ve watched it twice (once with daughter), perhaps the only Cruise movie I’ve watched more than once. It’s a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, and pretty good, for a Cruise film.

Paterson is Jim Jarmusch's Groundhog Day. But not a Jarmusch film as we know it (it could also be Jarmusch's The Straight Story, with a bus instead of a lawnmower). Gone is the aching hipness and the irony, replaced with authenticity, sincerity, innocence and sentimentality. Apparently. Though all the way through the film I sensed something foreboding. I thought it was the music until I realised it was something almost Lynchian in the industrial factory settings, the loneliness, the odd encounters with strangers, the long dark shadows. It wasn't until the credits rolled that I noticed Frederick Elmes was the cinematographer, he who lit Eraserhead and Blue Velvet (the two films that redefined cinema for me), as well as several previous Jarmusch films.

The foreboding was also my wanting something to happen. Yes, something bad. Yes, sex or violence. Paterson was going to have an affair with the black chick at the bar! His wife would read the line of his poem in the (spoiler alert!) chewed up cherished notebook "I think about other girls"! But no!

Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver and unpublished bad poet in Paterson, New Jersey. He seems slow-witted and boring. The only interest in his job is listening to the – often highly implausible – passengers conversations (such as teenagers discussing Gaetano Bresci, the Italian anarchist and assassin of King Umberto I. To be fair, he did live in Paterson, as did poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson's favourite poet and inspiration for his own poems). Amazingly Paterson has an attractive and kooky wife, Laura, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. Laura spends her days dressing herself, their apartment and her cupcakes in Bridget Riley-style black and white patterns.

I can only call Laura sweet but delusional. She thinks Paterson's poems are amazing (when Paterson bizarrely starts chatting to a 10-year-old-girl who also writes poems, the poem she reads to him is far better than any of his). Laura wants to open a cake shop one day, be a country singer the next. She gets Paterson to buy her a black and white patterned guitar so she can practise. It's $200 on eBay (expensive for them, but apparently they think they can pay in instalments on eBay).

Which brings us to technology, which is a bit of a fault in the film. I wasn't sure when the film was set at first. Fairly contemporary I thought but there's no phones, no laptops, no technology – obviously a conscious attempt to get back to real values or something. But when it's revealed (repeatedly) that the only copy of Paterson's poems are in his cherished notebook, it's fairly obvious said notebook will come to a sticky end (plus they own a dog, plus Paterson leaves his notebook on the sofa when they go out one evening = the obvious). Laura (repeatedly) tells Paterson to go the Xerox store to get them photocopied (which he never does). The Xerox store? Photocopied? Where are we, 1987? Scan them? Write them up on Word? Publish a blog? Photograph them on her phone (he doesn't own one)? Never occurs to either of them.

I really didn't think the relationship would last the film: they don't have much in common; the relationship is still based on politeness (he forces himself to eat and pretend to like her Brussels sprouts and cheese pie; I'm not even sure he likes her cupcakes; he humours Laura on her daily whims); he's morose, she's hot; Paterson spends every evening on his own in a bar drinking beer...

I didn't recognise Adam Driver at all. He's in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (my daughter thought he was terrible in it). He was also in While We're Young and Midnight Special, two films I liked a lot. But you know what? Some geeky-looking guy swings a lightsaber around, kills some people in Iraq (probably; he was a U.S. Marine), does a stupid TED Talk (where he actually says "firing weapons is cool" and "self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder"), then does a few sensitive roles and suddenly he's up for awards and he's gorgeous and he's got range.

You know also what it is? You've as much chance of reading all of the poem Paterson by William Carlos William as you have watching the film Paterson and your eyes not glaze over.

2/5

Previously on Barnflakes:
Here's to you, Robinson

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Alternative CVs

I may have worked in places as diverse as Jakarta, Khao Ping Kan, New Orleans and Sydney... and been an actor, stunt double and backing singer (yes, really), but does it count for anything? Nope. A CV is a cold, boring look at a person's life, and I've often said a person's job is the least interesting thing about them (well, hopefully it is, otherwise you're in trouble). Adult Fulfillment Assistant was probably my favourite job title (but certainly not my favourite job)... I'll leave you guessing. Here are three 'alternative' CVs – mock Victorian poster; a pastiche of XTC's Go 2 album and a mock classifieds ad – I did some years ago, but of course never sent out. I quite like them. Maybe I should have.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tautological job titles

I used to work at a company where a work colleague* had their job title 'Writer' become 'Content Writer'. Is there any need for this extra word? Do you get the extra word in lieu of a pay rise? Can a writer write anything else but content? Similarly, there are jobs advertised for 'Visual Designer'. Again, the definition of designer is visual (unless you're a Systems Designer or something; either way Visual Designer is too vague – Fashion Designer? Graphic Designer?). Another company calls its consultants 'master experts'. But my favourite tautological job title, very rarely seen unfortunately, is Deadly Assassin.

*Deliberate tautological usage; a colleague is someone you work with.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The death of cigarette advertising



Is the earthy tone Pantone 448 C really the death of cigarettes? Doesn't seem so bad to me – but that's the colour picked by Australians as the ugliest colour in the world. And that's the colour they, and now the UK, has chosen to replace all branding on cigarette packs, along with 60% of the pack surface consisting of health warnings and photos, and the logos reduced to a small standard generic sans serif typeface. Whether it has or will reduce cigarette smokers is another matter, but one immediate outcome is the confusion cashiers have of trying to find your brand of choice – the packs do all look exactly the same.

The 1970s and 80s was the most imaginative decade for cigarette advertising – and the start of the end. Advertisers weren't allowed to show cigarettes as evoking youth or coolness or even display a person smoking a cigarette on their adverts so companies such as Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges devised creative and surreal methods to evoke their brands.

Cigarette advertising was banned on TV in the UK in 1991 (also lamented; for example, the famous Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet campaign is often voted as one of the top TV adverts of all time). In the early noughties cigarette advertising was banned from sport (snooker and Formula One used to display prominent advertising at its events); then advertising was banned altogether. In 2007 smoking was banned from enclosed public spaces such as pubs and restaurants.

So now with the advertising and branding gone, as well as the ever-decreasing places to smoke, there is more incentive than ever for smokers to continue smoking quit, I mean, obviously. The new No Logo non-branding branding is presumably intended to stop people (in particular, youth) smoking, as is the banning of packs of ten and small packs of tobacco (though smokers trying to stop always found the small packs useful; if you're trying to stop the last thing you want to invest in is a pack of twenty).

Long before I started smoking, I always admired the advertising and branding of cigarettes (maybe because I was an art/graphic design student going through a surreal phase). I remember one seminar on subliminal advertising at art college where the tutor tried to convince us of the skull in the pattern of the camel on Camel cigarettes and the words 'horrible jew' sort of spelt out in the Marlboro logo if you turned it upside down and backwards ('orlb jew').

Anyway, I guess it's a good move to make cigarettes less attractive. But why stop at cigarettes? Hopefully enlightened future generations will see alcohol advertising banned. Then car advertising. And certain food advertising banned (meat, chocolate). I'd like to see (or not see, as the case may be) crap films, music and TV advertisements banned too.

Previously on Barnflakes
Australia first country to ban cigarette branding
Cigarettes vs. smartphones
Surreal Silk Cut cigarette ads
Silk Cut anagrams
Life branded 'a health and safety risk'

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Adele plus Ed minus Amy

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins and Amy Winehouse were both born in the 1980s in North London. Amy was a fine jazz singer who wrote her own original songs with personality and passion. She gave us two albums then tragically died aged 27. Adele grew up being influenced by Amy Winehouse, as well as The Spice Girls, and writes and sings banal crap which sells by the truckload.

In my local Co-op and Sainsbury's the only two CDs I can buy are Adelle's 25 and Ed Sheeran's new album, ÷ (Divide). Never has there been a more apt title, with the album breaking chart records around the world whilst receiving terrible critical reviews – two out of five in the Guardian, and a 2.8 (out of 10) from Pitchfork. Neither album is actually music. Positioned next to the till, they are the equivalent of sweets and chocolate, to be grabbed in a moment of weakness and hopefully eventual regret.

In the Guardian's review of Adele's 25, released in December last year, though gaining one more star than ÷, the reviewer is lamentful at the lack of interest in critical opinion – as is the reviewer of ÷ (both perhaps worried about the point of their jobs); like with Fifty Shades of Grey (book and film), huge commercial success for both Adele and Ed is a foregone conclusion despite completely mediocre material.

The unimaginative mathematical album titles of Ed (+, x, ÷) and Adele (19, 21, 25) is no accident. 19 + 21 x 25 = a lot of $$$. Indeed, it's a formula. This is music by numbers; slick, sentimental songs written for Radio 1 and 2 (Sheenan himself admits as much in the Guardian review); likewise with Adele's 25. Both albums are anti-music. The death of music.

19, 21, 25... you have the feeling that, say, 30, 45 and 67 are going to sound exactly the same. And Ed's going to produce his mathematical symbols to ∞ (that's infinity).

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Recent random film reviews

ELLE (Paul Verhoeven, 2016, France)
I saw this months ago and it's only just out at the cinemas! Ha. Seriously though – how is Isabelle Huppert still hot after all these years (just as Catherine Denevue and Meryl Streep still are)? She was just as hot when she was making films a year after my birth – and now it's, er, 45 years later and she's still got it. Proper serious though – it's a fucked up film. No surprise, then, that Paul Verhoeven directed it; the man who bought us fucked up tripe like Basic Instinct and Showgirls, but it should also be remembered that he directed the fine Black Book, his early Dutch films are pretty good and Robocop and Starship Troopers are great. Huppert was in the equally deranged The Piano Teacher, but I'll always remember her best in Maurice Pialat's Loulou.
– 4/5 

PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, 2014, Germany)
Once you forgive the film's central conceit that a husband doesn't recognise his wife, even if her face has been reconstructed, a fine film shot in muted colours, suspenseful and with a great climax. Unusual to see a film set in post-war Germany (though here's some more). The opening scenes reminded me of Franju's brilliant Eyes Without a Face, with the bandaged woman wandering alone in an empty flat; and the entire film has a similar concept to both Seconds and Vertigo.
Sill got a few weeks to watch it on the BBC iPlayer.
– 4/5

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013, France)
I did think this film was Russian, probably because on the train from St Petersberg to Helsinki two Russian lesbians were sitting near us, and they reminded me of the girls from Blue is the Warmest Colour (not having seen the film at the time, only the poster). They were the only ones questioned in our train carriage and have their belongings searched (on another train journey on the Eurostar to Paris we were also sitting opposite two lesbians who were snogging all the way to Paris – we didn't know where to look!). Anyway, of course the film is French. White wine and oysters? Check. Smoking indoors? Check. Terrible music? Check. Teenagers discussing Schiele, Klimt, Satre, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and M. de Marivaux? Check. A teenage girl having sex with a guy one day and a chick the next? Check. There's some serious lesbian action in the film but it's no hot (or warm) blue movie. The camera adores Adèle Exarchopoulos, following her constantly and barely leaving her face – and her hair, body, sweat, tears, laughter – for three hours.
– 5/5

EXHIBITION (Joanna Hogg, 2013, UK)
Take Blue is the Warmest Colour and take away the joie de vivre, the warmth, the passion, the conversation – but keep the art and the sex, and you've got Exhibition. The film chronicles the every day ennui of two artists in a relationship working from home every day – from cleaning the oven to practising performance art to sex in the afternoon. Imagine Mike Leigh doing conceptual art.
 
Even though most of the film takes place in a large modernist house in Kensington (recently on the market for £8m, the Daily Mail informs us), I can't remember seeing a film that so captures London; not just the smarmy estate agents (one played by Tom Hiddleston), The Big Issue seller and the arguments over parking spaces, but the sounds – of ambulances, road works and arguments in the street; the film captures it brilliantly.

It's hard to believe the mild and meek 'D' is played by post-punk icon Viv Albertine (from the band The Slits); her partner, 'H', is Liam Gillick, a conceptual artist. In other words, both unprofessional actors, which works in this case. The acting often feels improvised as the filming style is calm with long static takes. The house is the third character in the film, often seeming to have more character than the humans inhabiting the huge rooms.
– 4/5

THE PHONE BOX (Antonio Mercero, 1972, Spain)
Take a large dose of late Bunuel (in particular The Exterminating Angel, where the guests inexplicably find themselves unable to leave the dining room), combined with the economy of style of Polanski's early black and white shorts, add atmospherics from 1970s European horror movies, and you have Phone Box, a 1972, half hour Spanish made for TV movie. The premise is simple: a man walks into a newly installed phone box to make a phone call – then can't get out. Passersby gather around him, he is ridiculed and laughed at. Various people try to prise open the door but to no avail. The man, played by veteran Spanish actor José Luis López Vázquez (who spoofed himself in the role in a Spanish phone advert made in the 1990s), runs the gauntlet of emotions from anger to boredom to terror. Eventually the phone company come to take the phone box away with the man still inside it, and... well, watch it here.

(Not to be confused with Phone Booth, a 2002 American thriller with Colin Farrell in the phone box, unable to leave for different reasons. The idea was originally pitched to Alfred Hitchcock by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen in the 1960s; they couldn't agree on a reason why the protagonist would stay in the phone box for the length of the film – Cohen revisited the idea in the 1990s and hit upon the idea of a sniper.)
– 5/5

KINDERGARTEN COP (Ivan Reitman, 1990, USA)
I saw this recently on a windy evening in Newquay. You know what? I don't think I'd ever seen it before, or not the entire film anyway. I didn't see it all this time, either. And okay, I know it's an 1990s Schwarzenegger film, but nevertheless, compared to a lot of European efforts, most American films to me just seem to lack any depth or originality. Still, half way enjoyable.
– 2/5

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Reviews