Friday, August 17, 2018

Swan Lake

Swan feather floating on the water.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Revenge of the VHS tape

Like everything else retro from vinyl to the Nokia 3310, VHS tapes have been making a comeback for some time. If half the internet consists of cats, the other half consists of 1980s VHS horror film covers. Until recently VHS tapes were given to charity shops or chucked in the bin; eBay is now awash with rare 1980s horror titles and select Disney films worth hundreds of pounds (according to The Sun and BuzzFuze, anyway).

As featured on Eye on Design recently, Vault of VHS goes one step further (or back) and showcases the cases of blank VHS tapes. The cases usually contained bold graphics and gradients. For quality, my preference was always the TDK EHG (Extra High Grade) tape (which came in a plastic rather than card case), reserved for recording the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Bunuel from Channel 4 seasons of films.

Vault of VHS features American cases but the ones above are a few of my old UK case spines. I still own a fair variety of video tapes, including VHS, VHS- C, U-Matic, Video8, Hi8, Betacam and MiniDV, none of which I can actually play any more. Which I'm not at all sorry about – editing with two video machines was a painful experience; editing with 16mm film was more fun. And when iMovie, Premiere and Final Cut Pro came along, it was like a dream come true.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The top ten most valuable CDs
Homeless Movies DVD out now!

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
YouTube Channel

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Random Film Review: Straw Dogs

Dir: Sam Peckinpah | 1971 | USA & UK | 117mins.

Many years ago, a Cornish acquittance vaguely informs me, the parish of St Buryan had sovereignty whereby the law couldn't touch you if you were in the district. Therefore the area attracted a cornucopia of criminals of the day. Nowadays, it has a reputation for white witches, and John Le Carré lives nearby. Most famously, though, Straw Dogs was shot there in 1971.

Like with Andrei Rublev, I hadn't seen Straw Dogs for at least two decades. Being one of the infamous, banned films of the 1970s, along with A Clockwork Orange, I watched a dodgy VHS copy of it in the 1990s (the uncut version would only be released on video and DVD in 2002). And the other day, I watched a dodgy YouTube copy of it. Has anything changed? Maybe not in Cornwall...

1971 is only a few years after Dustin Hoffman starred in the Graduate (1967), and he still has something of the Benjamin Braddock in him in Straw Dogs. Indeed, the scene where he finds the strangled cat in the wardrobe (still pretty shocking), reminded me of Hoffman's nervousness when fumbling with putting Mrs Robinson's coat in the wardrobe in The Graduate.

Sam Peckinpah, famous for his elegiac, beautiful westerns with their trademark slo-mo violence, here, in his first non-western feature, evokes a low budget, rough, bucolic and entirely unsentimental feel for the Cornish landscape, which feels more apt and realistic than the clichéd, tourist-friendly sunsets and turquoise crystal clear seas as seen recently in the BBC's Poldark.

Nevertheless, Straw Dogs explores similar themes to other Peckinpah westerns, as Hoffman's nerdy mathematician, David Sumner, moves into his wife's (Amy, played by Susan George) childhood home in a small village in Cornwall in order to have peace and quiet to write. The locals soon make their dislike of the American outsider known, with teasing leading to bullying and violence. Their desire for Amy is also apparent (understandable as there's only about three females in the whole village), and she flaunts her sexuality as she becomes increasingly frustrated with David's cowardice.

The problematic rape scene, where Amy is seen to enjoy the experience (at least the first rape anyway, which is with a former boyfriend), isn't that different to the climax of series two of Poldark, where Ross overcomes Elizabeth, who eventually succumbs to his rough advances. Indeed, the tide seems to have turned for Straw Dogs. Once cited – along with A Clockwork Orange and Dirty Harry – as the epitome of 1970s violence in the cinema, it now has Little White Lies calling it a feminist film.

The violence and rape scene have in the past overshadowed many of the film's qualities, such as the depiction of domestic tensions of the newly-married couple, and Dustin Hoffman playing a record of bagpipes very loudly when the vicar comes round for tea. Carry on Cornwall, anyone? Indeed, it takes an hour for Peckinpah's trademark slo-mo violence to kick in; there is much to enjoy before then. 

– 4/5

(The rather pointless 2011 remake of Straw Dogs – relocated to the States – at least contains a crazy performance by James Woods and a beautifully atmospheric misty morning hunting scene. Interesting to note, though, how the object of man's sexual desire has changed in the decades between the two films. In the 1970s, it was Susan George's busty and saucy Amy; in the 2011 remake, it was cold-as-ice stick insect model and actress Kate Bosworth. What can I say? Busty and saucy has always done it for me.)

Other films shot or set in Cornwall:
Jamaica Inn and Rebecca (two early Hitchcock films set in Cornwall)
The Plague of Zombies (classic Hammer Horror flick)
Archipelago (filmed on Tresco on the Isles of Scilly)
The Witches (the big hotel is in Newquay)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Fuse Factory, Tuckingmill

After the fire station in Redruth, Bickfords Fuse Works in Tuckingmill is my next favourite derelict building in the area. I think it’s right that the mines remain in their derelict state, but as with the fire station, it’s criminal that such an important (William Bickford's safety fuse, created in 1831, saved many miner's lives in Cornwall and worldwide) and beautiful building remains in such a perilous condition. The old factory covers such a large area of land that in the current ‘housing crisis’, I’d rather see the area converted into flats than remain derelict. But I’m adding some flourishes, naturally. The actual factory, pictured above, whose frontage I believe is a protected structure (though it has been twice turned down for listing status), is without roof and an empty shell inside (apart from a decade’s worth of buddleia). I would like to see it with a glass roof with Eden Project-type plants and flowers inside. And a cafe. The rest of the site to be low-rise flats with trees and greenery around them, with as many of the original buildings (or at least their frontages) protected as possible. Other buildings on the site contain wonderfully ornate stonework.

Read more about it here on Cornish Mine Images, a comprehensive guide to Cornish mining with lovely black and white photos.

Monday, August 13, 2018

My daughter's top ten films, aged 12

It's not my fault: San Andreas in at No. 10

1. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012, USA)
2. The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017, USA)
3. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977, USA)
4. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Ol Parker, 2018, UK/USA)
5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (JA Bayona, 2018, USA)
6. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
(Tim Burton, 2016, USA)
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
(David Yates, 2011, UK/USA)
8. A Dog's Purpose (Lasse Hallström, 2017, USA)
9. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980, USA)
10. San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015, USA)

Previously on Barnflakes:
My daughter's top ten films (aged 11)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The old fire station, Redruth, Cornwall

Naturally, on moving to Cornwall, I was instantly attracted to the old derelict buildings in the local area – mines and mills, farmhouses and fishermen houses. In particular, though, there was one old building in Redruth which caught my attention (and needs a lot of attention) – the old Victorian fire station. I instantly fell in love with the Grade II listed building; its shape, its turret, its elegant doorways... but I couldn't find anything about it online. Recently, however, it's come on the market, and will be auctioned next month. Starting price is £20K (a barngain, you all shout. Yes, but you haven't been inside it. At a conservative estimate I'd say it will need £200K worth of renovation).

I know it's a derelict wreck. But. My dream for it is a part-community arts centre, consisting of design studio and letterpress workshop, gallery, cinema, cafe and shop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Spilling the beans

Spilt coffee on the steps of Goldsmiths University, London.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Water in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky

Water in the films of Tarkovsky (other motifs in his films include fire, dogs and horses) always looks so lush and inviting (when it doesn't include falling masonry). Characters in his films rarely change to bathe – they usually go into the water fully-clothed. His water is often subterranean and where it shouldn’t be; an abandoned building, a leaking ceiling (sometimes in a dream or fantasy sequence). Whatever its context, I always want to be in it. The camera lingers on it, zooms into it, characters stare at it, verdant underwater plants dance in it. Only the animated films of Studio Ghibli come close to showing the beauty of water.

From top to bottom: two from Stalker; Andrei Rublev; Mirror; Nostalgia; The Sacrifice; two from Solaris

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Random film review: Andrei Rublev

Iconic: a still from Andrei Rublev

Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky | Soviet Union | 1966 | 183 mins.

There's a running joke between my daughter, partner and myself that when we're deciding on a film to watch of an evening, I always say how about a four-hour Russian black and white movie? They always sigh, and say no. The four-hour Russian black and white film I'm always referring to is Andrei Rublev (actually just over three hours long but I exaggerate for effect). I first watched it aged 18 as an art student, and watched it again recently.

Maybe it's the black and white combined with the brutally realistic depiction of medieval Russia but I look on the film as a virtual documentary on the life of the icon painter Andrei Rublev (circa. 1360-1430) though at least 90% of it is presumably made up, seeing as little is known of his actual life. Nevertheless, it feels a truthful, spiritual, and profoundly moving experience watching the film as we follow the monk Rublev (played by Tarkovsky regular Anatoly Solonitsyn) wandering the harsh Russian landscape looking for work as an icon painter and encountering naked pagan rituals, brutal Tatar raids, famine, war and, finally, the casting of a giant bell, where Rublev breaks his vow of silence and desires to return to painting (he'd had years of self-doubt, questioning the role of the artist in society and the point of art amid so much war and bloodshed). The epilogue is the only colour segment of the film, where we see close-ups of Rublev's paintings.

However, not a lot of actual painting is seen during the film (so, no, it's not like watching paint dry). In fact, the guy doesn't even so much as pick up a paintbrush in over three hours (though there's one scene when Rublev is seen sketching an icon). For those looking for the clues to his genius, there is none. It's more like an anti-biopic. After two hours he goes on a vowel of silence. Then gives up painting altogether. In old age he becomes an extra in his own biopic (doesn't that happen to us all eventually? We just become an extra in our own life?).

When I went to Russia a few years ago, aside from the churches and brutalist Soviet architecture, the main thing I wanted to see was Rublev's paintings in the flesh. And they were stunning and beautiful, the colours still fresh and bold. The film had haunted me for many years, and it felt a profound experience to see the paintings, which no doubt I wouldn't have heard of if it wasn't for the film, over twenty years after first watching it.

– 5/5 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten films about painters
Andrei Tarkovsky's top ten films
Top ten foreign sci-fi movies

Random film review: I, Daniel Blake

Dir: Ken Loach | UK | 2016 | 100 mins.

England on celluloid is one of extremes: it's either Richard Curtis or Ken Loach. Real life is somewhere in between for most of us, hopefully. But a few lives are like a Richard Curtis film, far more, most likely, are like a Ken Loach film.

First off, I, Daniel Blake is an important and moving film, charting as it does the benefits hell of Geordie Daniel Blake, who is unable to claim Employment and Support Allowance following a heart attack. His doctor has found him unfit to work but a five minute Work Capability Assessment deems him fit and able, so he has to make a claim for Jobseeker's Allowance. This means he has to actively search for work and provide evidence, but he has to turn work down on the advice of his doctor.

Caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare of benefit bureaucracy, what comes across is the seemingly intentional dehumanisation and humiliation of people caught in the benefits system, where through no fault of ones own – accident, loss, illness, redundancy – a person has to turn to the state for help and is treated like a number. What saves the film from being totally depressing is the spirit and humour of Daniel Blake (played by comedian Dave Johns) and his friendship with Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mum of two from London, recently arrived in Newcastle.

I'm glad Ken Loach is making films, but too often find him didactic, his characters mere pawns to express his view on society. It seems hard to believe that, Blake, a man in his 50s with a decent job (carpenter) would never have used a computer or the internet before (though I realise we still live in a country where some people can't read or write). Hence we have a scene in the library where Blake puts his mouse against the computer screen to move the cursor, having never seen or used such a device in his life. Other elements verge on cinematic cliché – Katie turning to escort work, for example, rather than looking for work in a bar or shop.

At the risk of sounding facetious, the film sometimes came across as a DIY manual – how to heat your home with bubble wrap, tea lights and a flower pot, for example, and I was thinking (after a bit of internet training, natch) Blake should launch a YouTube channel of instructional videos. Seriously though, he could at least have set up a small carpentry business; it's a great skill to have, and very much in demand. If he did small projects (like his treasured mobiles, the only thing in his flat he wouldn't sell), it wouldn't have affected his heart. 

After it ended, I did imagine a Hollywood remake: Blake takes an Uzi into the job centre and guns everyone down, blows the building up and runs off to Mexico to live with Katie. But it's a Loach film, and there was no happy ending.

– 4/5

Be good to your fiends


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Top ten missed vinyl barngains

 One that got away... Popol Vuh's soundtrack to Herzog's classic 1972 film Aguirre, Wrath of God (though it only contains two tracks from the actual film)

Missed, lost chances and regrets swirl around in my head, whether it be job opportunities, friends, lovers, photos, books or records. I have no explanation for why I didn't buy these records, most of which were under a tenner, and all of which I now of course desperately want.

1. Bob Dylan – The 50th Anniversary Collection 1963 
(6 LP set)
This is the only one I will probably never have the chance to buy again, seeing as it was released in a limited edition of 100 (snuck out by Sony/Legacy to prevent the recordings entering the public domain) and now sells for about £500. I can't remember why I was in Sister Ray early one Saturday morning in November 2013 but I saw it there. For £30. Seemed expensive at the time.

2. Popol Vuh – Aguirre (pictured above)
This one isn't worth a huge amount – about £40 – but the original pressing seems fairly rare. I'd seen it for £5 at a record stall at a car boot sale a few years back. I held it in my hands, put it back. Went back to the stall half an hour later – it was still there – again, held it in my hands, ummed and ahhed, but didn't buy it.

(Recently my mum returned from the V&A with a bunch of greetings cards – including one with the Indian painting of the lotuses on the cover of Aguirre – which even my daughter recognised immediately, as I'd been going on about it so much. For years. Sigh.)

3. Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers 
The one with the famous Andy Warhol crotch shot cover with an actual zipper on the original LP,  I saw this at the record stall in Barnes Fair. Quite rare for the cover to be in perfect condition (with an intact zipper, so to speak) but the vinyl had a large scratch on it so I passed. £4.

4. Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
£2 in a charity shop in Richmond, this one wasn't in very good condition.

5. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited / 
Bringing it all Back Home
Two classic Dylan albums in great condition at a car boot sale for £3 each. Don't ask.

6. Every single Steeleye Span album
I love Steeleye Span but don't have any of their albums. About a dozen or so had turned up in a charity shop, as well as solo stuff by Maddy Prior. They were all in perfect condition, and £2 each. I wasn't sure which ones to buy – aside from all of them – so opted for none. But I did get Liege & Leaf by Fairport Convention.

7. Crates of classic rock LPs including Led Zeppelin, 
David Bowie etc.
A van pulled up at the Chiswick car boot sale and unloaded about twenty crates of vinyl. Middle-aged men swarmed around them. I had a good look, they were all £2 each, but I felt a bit overwhelmed. There were multiple copies of, say, the first Led Zeppelin album, with different coloured covers. I couldn't remember which the valuable pressings were, so didn't buy anything.

8. Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica
Classic experimental album that is very painful to listen to. I've probably heard the whole album once. Nevertheless, seeing the first pressing, double LP in mint condition in a charity shop was tempting. But not for £20. I went back a few times, waiting for it to be reduced in price. The third time I went, all the vinyl was half price, but Trout Mask Replica was gone. There was other stuff left – including Safe as Milk for £5. I should have got it. But didn't.

9. The Beatles – White Album
Never much liked the Beatles anyway*. £6 a bit steep. Mentioned previously.

10. Crazy Horse – Crazy Horse
The debut album of Neil Young's backing band for £1 in a Crystal Palace charity shop seems a no-brainer but it was a bit tatty.

I very rarely make this mistake any more (i.e. if it's a pound or two, I'll  take a chance – go crazy – and buy it), and the amount of barngains I have bought runs to hundreds, so I'm grateful for what I've managed to find – but these missed ones nag at me like a sore tooth for some reason.


*I remember reading in Nick Hornby's 31 Songs how he wasn't a big Dylan fan but realised he owned about a dozen of his albums anyway. I'm the same with the Beatles (and David Bowie) – I wouldn't call myself a fan of either, but find I own, on vinyl and CD, virtually every album they ever released (as well as some rarieties).

I'm also not a fan of James Corden – but found myself watching his recent Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney. It was surprisingly moving as Macca visits his old haunts in Liverpool, then does a surprise gig in a pub he used to drink in as a lad.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Missed Photos
Letting the barngains go
Recent barngain LPs
Recent barngains
The month's musical barngains
Top 10 greatest missed  barngains
Top 10 most valuable CDs (Consistently one of my post popular posts for some reason)

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Corn + Wall = Cornwall

50 Shades of Ray / Catching some Rays

Just two (for the price of one) concepts from the 28-page book that is It's A Shame About Ray.

Here's what people are already saying about it:

"U r a fucking genius!!!!!!"
– Christian

"Makes me want to meet the legend"
– Mel

"You must have a lot of time on your hands"
– Caspar

"Brilliant work"
– Narinder

"No comment"
– Ray