Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Top ten British seaside films

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside... especially when it involves Teddy Boy gangs, radioactive children, prostitutes, murder, drugs, desolation and hopelessness. Things sure have changed since Carol Reed's Bank Holiday (1938).

1. Brighton Rock (Boulting, 1948) BRIGHTON
2. The Damned (Losey, 1962) WEYMOUTH
3. Bait (Jenkins, 2019) CHARLESTOWN
4. Quadrophenia (Roddam, 1979) BRIGHTON 
5. The Birthday Party (Friedkin, 1968) WORTHING
6. Wish You Were Here (Leland, 1987) BRIGHTON, WORTHING & BOGNOR REGIS
7. Archipelago (Hogg, 2010) ISLES OF SCILLY
8. Last Resort (Pawlikowski, 2000) MARGATE
9. London to Brighton (Williams, 2006) BRIGHTON
10. Bhaji on the Beach (Chadha, 1993) BLACKPOOL

Elsewhere on the web
Films on the Strange British Coastline at Celluloid Wicker Man

Previously on Barnflakes
Fisherman's Friends vs Bait
Art of the seaside 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Phone box bookshops

BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme (which costs £1), introduced in 2009,  has given a second life to hundreds of the iconic yet defunct red phone boxes around the UK – from miniature museums and cafes to defibrillators and nightclubs (though the best I've seen is undoubtedly an aquarium) – yet the most popular enterprise seems to be the book shop (or swap shop or library). I can imagine them lasting about a day in London but there are three within a mile of us here in Cornwall, including the brightly-painted one pictured above. With bookshops, libraries and charity shops still shut, these phone boxes are the only place to find books (without using the internet, I mean) at the moment.

Here's my lockdown reading so far:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Absorbing recasting of Thomas Cromwell as the good guy.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Classic haunted house story, made into several films and TV series.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Apparently the zeitgeist novel of the decade (the last one, presumably), featuring two, erm, Damaged People. Similar in plot and technique to David Nicholl's One Day.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Wildly imaginative and entertaining novel featuring the devil and his cat coming to Moscow in the 1930s and causing havoc, interspersed with Pontius Pilate's trial of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by Erich Fromm
Classic text exploring man's tendency to destroy or control life.

Previously on Barnflakes
Don't Just Be Yourself
The top 100 books
Notes on Giles Gilbert Scott
Sex workers' cards Gilbert and George style
London through its charity shops #12: Kingston

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Worst five all-female films

Who you gonna call? The Samaritans, probably. 

1. Ocean's 8 (Ross, 2018)
2. Ghostbusters (Feig, 2016)
3. Hustlers (Scafaria, 2019)
4. Charlie's Angels (Banks, 2019)
5. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (McG, 2013)

How many women make an 'all-female film'? 3? 8? What makes an all-female film? A lack of men? Women behaving like men? Women behaving worse than men? Women getting one over on men? All of the above?

What's interesting – and I realise I'm now perpetuating this – is how many articles there are highlighting the failure of these all-female films (not Hustlers, mind, which inexplicably got 4 stars in the Guardian – we (one of whom is a woman) found it unwatchable; I mean, not just that it was boring and had no plot or characters; no, rather that this is what a feminist film apparently is: women getting their own back on men. And buying lots of expensive handbags.), but any recent film consisting of a female reboot – Ghostbusters in particular bore the brunt – is automatically going to be accused of cashing in on the #metoo movement rather than being a genuine celebration of womankind.

Of course there are lots of excellent, genuine films featuring strong, female characters who are not just out-doing men: look at virtually the whole Studio Ghibli output, most Ingmar Bergman films, the recent Little Women adaptation, The Duke of Burgundy, 3 Women (inspired by Bergman's Persona, and a dream), Bridesmaids, and the French 8 Women and Girlhood are a few that spring to mind.

Previously on Barnflakes
My daughter's top ten films, aged 13

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Notes on Max Pam, photographer

Max Pam (b. 1949, Melbourne, Australia) is my favourite photographer no one's heard of. I came across an exhibition of his randomly whilst living in Sydney in 1999: Signature Works – 25th Anniversary Exhibition was showing at the Australian Centre for Photography. I was blown away by the exhibition and some of Pam's books on display, including the award-winning Going East, which looks at his Asia photos over a twenty year period. I'd arrived in Sydney after spending six months in SE Asia; Pam's extraordinary black and white travel photos resonated with me.

With a spirit of adventure, Pam had set off for India, aged 19, having never left home before. Influenced by 19th century British photographers and travellers John Thomson and Samuel Bourne, who were some of the first photographers to record China and India respectively, Pam spent the next two decades photographing the continent with a medium format camera, from vistas of the Himalayas to intimate portraits of prostitutes in Manila.

Shooting with a wide angle lens and a long exposure (up to five seconds), many of Pam's photos are 'street portraits' – outdoor, posed shots of people who he builds a rapport with, maybe two or three individuals, with all manner of life going on around them – and often at least one blurred element, usually a person moving. For Pam, aside from the connection to the 19th century pioneers (who didn't have fast exposures for their cameras), the blurring represents "that power that is swirling all around... it's that energy that is inherent in everyone." (Pam never takes candid photos, going so far as to call them 'stolen' photos and an aggressive act.) But it's hard to pin Pam down. He also takes wonderful shots of nudes, and pictures of hands holding strange objects. In his books, he's interested in the juxtapostion of the double page spread.

Like Stephen Gill, Alec Soth, Martin Parr (who has published three volumes on the subject; Pam's Going East features in volume two) and many other contemporary photographers, the photo book is paramount to Pam. Drawing inspiration from traditional Indian illuminated manuscripts, and admiring of the sketchbooks the painting students filled in whilst he was at art college in the 1960s, Pam has produced many photo books which contain journals, found objects, drawings, maps and collage. In this respect, they are similar to the work of Peter Beard, the photographer once described as 'half-Tarzan, half-Byron', who died a couple of weeks ago. His extraordinary collage books contain extracts from his diaries and journals which contain all manner of found objects and photos, densely multi-layered, from blood and calligraphy to paintings and pressed flowers. The Journals of Dan Eldon – the English photojournalist stoned to death in Mogadishu in 1993, aged 22 – published as The Journey is the Destination, also contains a delightful and intimate mix of collage, painting, found objects, writing and photography.

All three photographers – Max Pam, Peter Beard and Dan Eldon – blur the line between photographer and artist, their diaries and journals are living, chaotic and creative accounts of their lives, with photography being just one element in the multi-layered mishmash of writing, painting, graphic design, collage and found object.

Pam has published twenty books in a career spanning fifty years. He now teaches photomedia in Perth.

Visual Instincts was an Australian TV series and book, edited by Max Pam, published in 1989 which explored five contemporary Australian photographers: Emmanuel Angelicas, Jon Lewis, Fiona Hall, Grant Mudford and Max Pam. The series can be found free to watch on Kanopy, which I mentioned recently.

There is a Max Pam on Instagram but there's only a few shots of book spreads on there. Anyway, a missed opportunity – he should have gone for the username InstaPam.

There's an interesting interview with Pam at The Kitab, an Indian website which explores the photo book.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Notes on Stephen Gill, photographer

I've been admiring Stephen Gill's photography since first seeing his work in The Guardian Weekend magazine in the early 2000s. Initially focusing on London's East End where he lived after moving from Bristol, Gill built up an experimental and conceptual body of work on all aspects of his chosen part of London, from its ponds and waterways to its markets and allotments, its themes ranging from cultural to environmental.

Like Alec Soth, who is everywhere all the time for no apparent reason (I'd never heard of him until a year ago, even though I recently found I'd had a photography book of his for years), Gill is keen on the idea of the photographic book, and self-publishes them through his company, Nobody Books.

In 2014 Gill moved to Sweden, where he spent over four years working on his book, The Pillar, which came out last year. Ostensibly a bird book, though possibly not one twitchers or professional nature photographers would approve of as such; the stunning photos were taken with a low-resolution motion sensor camera set up next to the titular pillar, a wooden post nearby to Gill's home in the wilds of Sweden. Capturing a variety of birds from a sparrow to an eagle, the birds often appear awkward and contorted yet somehow more natural than we're used to seeing them.

As Karl Ove Knausgård writes in The Pillar: "I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives. Ancient, forever improvising, endlessly embroiled with the forces of nature, and yet indulging too. And so infinitely alien to us."

Monday, April 27, 2020

Max Klinger: A Glove

A Glove, or Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove, is a series of ten etchings produced by the German artist Max Klinger in 1881, when he was twenty-one. The sequential series tells the story of the artist himself finding the glove of a young woman at a Berlin ice rink. The seeming normality of the narrative soon descends into nightmare and obsession as the artist imagines losing the glove at sea, retrieving it again, only for it to be stolen by a winged beast.

The ten etchings, titled Place, Action, Yearnings, Rescue (pictured, top), Triumph, Homage, Anxieties, Repose, Abduction (above) and Cupid, have a dream-like logic and display a mastery of the techniques of engraving, etching and aquatint, especially for one so young. They were an immediate success when first exhibited, and Klinger would go on to produce further narrative cycles of etchings, but none matched the darkness and desire of A Glove.

The etchings, created towards the end of the 19th century, seem to prefigure numerous 20th century concerns, such as surrealist (see Max Ernst and Dali) and metaphysical (see Giorgio de Chirico) art, fetishism, materialism, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams and the graphic novel.

See them all here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Notes on Ilse Breit

Not much is known about the Austrian artist Ilse Breit (1908-1992) except that she painted lovely pictures of girls being attacked by cheeky farmyard animals. This one, a lithograph called Goose Girl or Girl Beset by Geese, was painted when Breit was a young teenager. She was taught, along with many other children, by Frank Cizek in Vienna. A portrait and landscape painter, Cizek was also a pioneer in art education. In 1897 he established art classes for children, called Jugendkunstklasse, at the School for Arts and Crafts in Vienna.

Dr Mary V Gutteridge, a contemporary teacher, describes walking into one of Cizek's classrooms in 1929 thus: "...most striking was the riot of colour springing from every wall, desk, and easel, and even from the floor. Against the drabness of the walls, the wet and smeary windows and murky November light, there seemed to be living color and form in paintings and art objects."

And: "No restrictions, no orders, and, it appeared, no instruction was given. The children, painting as they felt and as they wished, looked as if they had entered heaven."

Cizek's teaching methods would still be considered controversial today, let alone over a hundred years ago. He advocated minimal teaching for children, encouraging them to foster their own imagination and express themselves freely. His classes became famous the world over, with exhibitions of his students' art shown at home and abroad in England, America and Australia. Poster reproductions of the students' paintings were popular in nurseries, schools and peoples' homes.

Yet there's something slightly sad about all the wonderful illustrations and paintings that came out of Cizek's classes: there's no biographical information about any of the artists (though there's plenty about Cizek). Ilse Breit and her sister Herta, Berta Zuckermann, Gretl Hanus, Steffi Krauss, Grete Blatney, Hansi Bauer and many others (mostly girls) were all accomplished artists by their early teens. Many of their works are now owned by the V&A Collections. But what became of the young artists? Presumably none went on to become prominent artists, otherwise there would be information about them.

Nevertheless, Cizek and his ideas were influential on many educators and theorists, and his teachings left a legacy for the child art movement and art therapy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Shakespeare in the time of coronavirus, a top ten

"Now is the spring of our discontent"
– Richard III, Act I, Sc I

"We have seen better days"
– Timon of Athens Act 4, Sc 2

‘A hearse! a hearse! my kingdom for a hearse!"
– Richard III Act 5, Sc 4

1. A Detergent of Venice
2. ASDA You Like It
3. The Taming of the Barbeque
4. Bronchitis Andronicus
5. Two Gentlemen of Corona
6. A Tragedy of Carers
7. Henry IV, Part Achoo
8. Leisure for Leisure
9. Not Too Much About Nothing
10. Coronalanus

Thanks to Ray and Nind!

Previously on Barnflakes
Kill Bill(ions)
It's a Shame about Ray – the book
50 Shades of Ray / Catching some Rays
Top ten Prince food songs
Lionel Richie tea

Monday, April 20, 2020

Notes on cyanotypes

A cyanotype is a cameraless photography process that originated in 1842, not long after the birth of photography. It involves coating paper (or any other material) with a mixture of two chemicals – ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide – and exposing it to sunlight or UV light. When the paper is rinsed in water it oxidises to create beautiful Prussian blue (not exactly cyan) images.

By placing interesting objects (leaves and feathers are always a winner but any object with a distinctive shape will do, making it the perfect lockdown project – there's no need to leave the house) on the paper in the sun, the paper exposed to the light will go blue, leaving a white silhouette of the placed object.

If this sounds technical or complicated, it's not, for I accomplished it with ease. Look online for packs of cyanotype or sun sensitive paper. On a sunny day, place the paper either outside in the sun or on a sunlit windowsill inside. Put the objects on the paper for 10-30 minutes, depending how sunny the day (if using flat, light objects like leaves or feathers, it's a good idea flattening them with a piece of glass against the paper; the images will turn out sharper and they won't blur the picture by moving). Rinse the print in cold water for a minute, then leave in a shallow tray of water for five. If you're into photography and will probably never have a darkroom, watching the image magically appearing as you rinse it is probably the nearest you'll get to the darkroom experience.

It's much easier buying pre-coated paper in packs, but if game why not try buying the two chemicals and coating your own paper or other material (I've seen examples online printed on shells).

Cyanotypes were invented by Sir John Herschel. He thought they had no artistic merit, and indeed the process was used by engineers up to fairly recently to produce architectural blueprints. Photographer and botanist Anna Atkins used the process to illustrate her herbarium. Although the intention was largely scientific, the results were beautiful, and her 1843 book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, is said to be the world's first photographically illustrated book.

On Flickr
A cyanoytpe I did years ago of water pistols turned out pretty cool, like an X-ray.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Recent random cinematic top tens

For your lockdown viewing pleasure.

1. Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968)
2. Kill List (Wheatley, 2011)
3. The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973)
4. Race with the Devil (Starrett, 1975)
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin, 2011)
6. Midsommar (Aster, 2019)
7. Mandy (Cosmatos, 2018)
8. The Endless (Benson & Moorhead, 2017)
9. Children of the Corn (Kiersch, 1984)
10. Holy Smoke! (Campion, 1999)

(NB: Quentin Tarantino chose to rewrite the history of the Manson Family in last year's Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood.)

It doesn’t have to be low-budget, weird, sleazy and violent, but it helps.

1. Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977)
2. Carnival of Souls (Harvey, 1962)
3. Freaks (Browning, 1932)
4. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929)
5. The Honeymoon Killers (Kastle, 1970)
6. Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 1955)
7. Onibaba (Shindo, 1964)
8. Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)
9. Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! (Meyer, 1965)
10. Killer of Sheep (Burnett, 1978)

1. Watership Down (Rosen, 1978)
2. Harvey (Koster, 1950)
3. Donnie Darko (Kelly, 2001)
4. Fatal Attraction (Lyne, 1987)
5. Alice (Švankmajer, 1988)
6. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box & Park, 2005)
7. Us (Peele, 2019)
8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Zemeckis, 1988)
9. Inland Empire (Lynch, 2006)
10. Night of the Lepus (Claxton, 1972)

1. Pickpocket (Bresson, 1959)
2. Le Boucher (Chabrol. 1970)
3. Les Diaboliques (Cluzot, 1955)
4. Le Samouraï (Melville, 1967)
5. L'Appartement (Mimouni, 1996)
6. The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Audiard, 2005)
7. Tell No One (Canet, 2006)
8. A Prophet (Audiard, 2009)
9. Cache (Haneke, 2005)
10. La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995) 

A little while ago, it felt like every other film we watched started with a deer hunt, usually as an ironic metaphor for the movie to come: the hunter will soon become the hunted.

1. Bambi (Hand, 1942)
2. The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978)
3. The Hunt (Vinterberg, 2012)
4. Hanna (Wright, 2011)
5. Captain Fantastic (Ross, 2016)
6. The Hunger Games (Ross, 2012)
7. Prisoners (Villeneuve, 2013)
8. Straw Dogs (Lurie, 2011)
9. Last of the Mohicans (Mann, 1992)
10. Big Game (Helander, 2015)

(NB: Yorgos Lanthimos' excellent Killing of a Sacred Deer does not feature any deer at all; come to think of it, his 2015 film The Lobster contains no lobsters.)

1. Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar (Ray, 1954)
2. Julie Christie in McCabe and Mrs Miller (Altman 1971)
3. Millie Perkins in The Shooting (Hellman, 1966)
4. Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara (Siegel, 1970)
5. Natalie Wood in The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
6. Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time in the West
(Leone, 1968)
7. Jane Russell in The Outlaw (Hughes, 1943)
8. Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (Marshall, 1939)
9. Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou (Silverstein, 1965)
10. Doris Day in Calamity Jane (Butler, 1953)

Alternative cinematic streams

If, like me, you don’t have or like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney+ (though I occasionally watch them), there are still plenty of places online to watch great – or at least interesting – free films.

Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn scored a hit with Drive, which I always rename Drivel, but then he made Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, which were even worse. Anyway – Refn is a collector of obscure old black and white exploitation films. He started restoring them, initially as a hobby, but since 2018 Refn has put them online to watch for free, on his website.

It's a lovely website and I applaud the intention and execution: divided into volumes with such titles as Smell of Female and You Ain't No Punk, You Punk, with accompanying essays and photos, it's a lovingly curated project of forgotten cult films. My only problem with it is some of the films themselves. Now, I don't mind low-budgets and amateur acting but some of the films are just plain bad. Nevertheless, the director's favourites are certainly not without merit. The most famous film in the collection is undoubtedly Night Tide, a bona fide cult classic, starring a young Dennis Hopper as a sailor who falls in love with a mermaid.

Spring Night, Summer Night, shot in 1969, feels like a Walker Evans or Robert Frank photo come to life. Set in a small town fallen on hard times in rural Ohio, it tells the scandalous story of a young woman who has an affair with her half brother and becomes pregnant. Lyrical and poignant, the film comes across as a slice of Italian neorealism of a bygone era. There is a great, extended scene early in the film of a Friday night in the crowded local bar that feels like a documentary. Sadly, the film was re-edited soon after its initial release and re-released as an exploitation flick. Refn, and others passionate about the film, lovingly restored the film and it's one of the best on the website.

All you need is a library card to access and watch thousands of free films through Kanopy, a streaming service provided by your public library or university. From foreign arthouse films like L’Avventura and Wadjda, to great documentaries including The Act of Killing, Kanopy has a fine selection of challenging films. The only caveat is that no more than six films a month can be viewed.

Open Culture, ‘the best free cultural & educational media on the web’, is a blog with links to a huge amount of free culture, including free courses and audio books. It also includes 1150 films, from Hitchcock to Vertov. UbuWeb is ‘All avant-garde. All the time.’ It features art, magazines, music, sound, writing and a huge section of film and video, featuring hundreds by and about artists, from Laurie Anderson to Orson Welles. The Internet archive has millions of free books, music and films, including silents, shorts and home movies.

If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to get free trials. Aside from the obvious big streamers, it’s worth looking at less well known providers. Criterion Collection DVDs have an online channel with over 1,000 classic and contemporary films. Annoyingly, the channel and 14-day free trial seems to be only available in the States. The BFI Player has a library of free regional archive films, a rental section for recent films plus a subscription service for classic films, which is £4.99 a month, with a 14-day free trial (though if you access the BFI Player through their Amazon Prime Channel, you get a free 30-day trial). MUBI has everything from ‘cult classics to modern masterpieces’ and has a 7 days free trial, after which it’s £9.99 a month.

Of course YouTube has billions of free films. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed films from the Cult Classics channel, including Larry Cohen's God Told Me To (starring Tony Lo Bianco, also seen in the classic cult film the Honeymoon Killers), Carnival of Souls and Ride in the Whirlwind, to name just a few from the collection of sci-fi, film noir and westerns.

I forget that most people probably own Smart TVs (I still famously/pretentiously don't own any kind of TV), but if you don't, there's the BBC iPlayer, ITV and Channel 4, including Film4, online too.

Previously on Barnflakes 
Top 30 films on Amazon Prime right now
Lifetime subscription

Friday, April 17, 2020

Kill Bill(ions)

Exciting news that Quentin Quarantino is to remake his classic 2003 movie Kill Bill by giving it a Coronavirus reboot. Tentatively titled Kill Billions, the film is to be shot entirely in Quarantino's bedroom. It will feature a star-studded cast of cardboard cuts outs, including Ben Affliction, Harrison Bored, Bradley Bupa, Nicholas Caged In, Tom Handkerchief, Brad Spit and Goldie Yawn. Not coming to a cinema near you soon...

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Top ten things to be positive about during the Coronavirus pandemic

With millions of people around the globe entering isolation, losing their jobs and getting into debt, as well as thousands dying, it’s understandably hard to remain upbeat at the moment. Here’s ten ways to look on the bright side.

1. Air pollution in the UK halved during the first day of the lockdown; similar results have been recorded in Europe and Asia.

2. When I’ve been out for my daily walk, I’ve heard the sound of children playing and birds singing, instead of cars.*
3. Nature is loving it. Birds and animals are everywhere. Nature is able to breathe.*
4. People are generally being friendlier, and it’s mostly bringing out the best in them.
5. Spending more time with family doing things – creative projects or games.
6. Doing proper cooking and baking at home (my daughter, aged 13, has made olive bread and naan bread, and cooked a curry, so far)
7. Everyone has instantly been cured of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), an anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere. Don’t worry, it’s not.
8. You’re not in an office.
9. There are loads of free stuff online, from concerts and plays to films and apps, including two cool synthesiser apps from Moog and Korg.
10. It's a great time to be an introvert – extroverts have had their day (if only social media didn't exist)!

*On our brief country walk today, we encountered a woodpecker, horses, swans, squirrels, crows, dogs, cats, a partridge, water rats, a rare North American black fox, goats, two emus and a reindeer (I'm cheating slightly here – the last four were seen whilst walking through Feadon Farm, though we were lucky the fox was being taken for a walk as we wandered past).

We had a brief chat (from a distance, obvs) with a couple who pointed out to us two water rats in the lake at Tehidy Woods.
Enjoying your walk? They asked us.
I said it's a beautiful world without cars or people.
The man agreed, though said he was ready to get back to reality.
This is reality. Nature. What an artificial bubble we created with offices, cars, shops, roads. A false reality. Nature was here before us and will be here after.

Previously on Barnflakes
Staying at home: a guide to enjoying isolation
Armchair atlases