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)