Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 5 Christmas albums

1. Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart (2009)
Go on, give it a go. Surprisingly, it's a lot of fun. My daughter, and amazingly, partner, love it.
2. Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for you from Phil Spector (1963)
Often called the best Christmas album ever. Released on the day JFK was assassinated.
3. Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas (1987)
The one with the Keith Haring cover. Features a fine selection of 80s recording artists from RUN DMC to Whitney Houston and Bruce Springsteen. A classic.
4. Low – Christmas (1999)
I'm sure it's good.
5. Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Another one I haven't actually heard but is meant to be great.

Have a great Christmas and New Year, and I'll see y'all in 2010: the follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey that no one went to see.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Peter Saville Show

BBC2 has just finished showing their School of Saatchi series, following a bunch of would-be artists for the coveted prize of being Charles Saatchi's bitch (the prettiest girl won). Before that we had Design for Life, with product designer Philippe Starck being rude to a bunch of useless Brit would-be product designers for the coveted prize of being Starck's bitch (the prettiest girl won).

What's needed next is: The Peter Saville Show. Take a bunch of would-be graphic designers and get them to design a derivative album cover, but – most importantly: they must turn in work late and over-budget; get up at 11am every morning with two supermodels in bed with them, then smoke a cigarette; be photographed in their dressing gowns by Wolfgang Tillmans; and, finally, make their covers so iconic and influential that they are still reminiscing about them thirty years later – and in fact have made a career out of talking about them and doing very little else (follow-up show 'thirty years later' required). Only apply if you're pretty and female. If you are male you will need talent and Bryan Ferry handsomeness (and then you may come second).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bests of the Decade

What an exciting time for list-obsessed, geeky bloggers, websites, newspapers and magazines everywhere. Not only is it time for the top lists of the year, there's top lists of the decade. You'll be pleased to hear I'm NOT going to do one. Well, not properly anyway.

Some have been a disappointment. The Times lists, in particular, have been fairly mainstream, what with The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter featuring in their book list (I know, they've been hugely influential and popular but that doesn't mean they're well written); Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears and Take That in their music list and those dreary, dreadful Bourne movies (#2) in their film list. I think somewhere along the line popularity got mixed up with quality. I like to read the lists to discover books, films or music I might have missed. The Times lists are way too obvious – either I've seen, got or read it – or, more likely, I don't want to.

There also seems to be a case of amnesia (no, not the Radiohead album). After a few nods to 2001, 2004, compilers seem to have got lazy and included way too many items from 2009. I'm guessing they all have short-term memories – as is especially the case with most bloggers who are geeky 14-year-olds locked in their rooms thinking The Dark Knight is the best film ever made.

In music, Radiohead's Kid A (yawn) has featured high in most lists (#1 on Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Times), as have The Strokes Is This It? (NME #1), Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Arcade Fire and most things concerning Jack White (The White Stripe's White Blood Cells #1 in Uncut). Good to see The Streets Original Pirate Material number one in The Guardian's poll. In books, Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The Road was number one in The Times and NewStatesman's lists. Other notables include White Teeth by Zadie Smith and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers). In films, director Michael Haneke has been popping up all over the place with Cache (#2, Time Out), The Piano Teacher and his latest, White Ribbon, featuring in many lists. No Country for Old Men, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, City of God, There Will be Blood and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (yawn? I fell into a coma!) were also popular.

Okay, okay, if you insist I'll do a list or two – off the top of my head (though I think that's the trouble with most Best of lists...) and in no particular order:

Books: Cloud Atlas David Mitchell; The Corrections Johnathan Frazen; We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver; Chronicles Bob Dylan; No Logo Naomi Klein; The Road Cormac McCarthy; Atonement Ian McEwan; The True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey; Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth Chris Ware; London Orbital Iain Sinclair

Music: The Strokes Is This It?; Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion; Bob Dylan "Love and Theft"; Beck Sea Changes; LCD Soundsystem LCD Soundsystem; Boards of Canada Geogaddi; Johnny Cash American III: Solitary Man; Nick Cave Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus; The Streets Original Pirate Material; Ali Farka Touré Savane; Ry Cooder Chavez Ravine; Sigur Ros Agaetis Byrjun; The Fiery Furnaces Blueberry Boat; Badly Drawn Boy The Hour of Bewilderbeast; Deerhunter Microcastle/Weird Era Continued; The Knife Silent Shout; The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; Lambchop Nixon; Pulp We Love Life; Manitoba Up in Flames; Kate Bush Aerial

Films: Mulholland Drive, Sideways, Lost in Translation, Donnie Darko, 28 Days later, Shaun of the Dead, Tarnation, Grizzly Man, Cache, Cloverfield, Let the Right One in, The Proposition, Battle Royale, Monsters Inc., Momento, Far from Heaven, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I'm Not There, The Last King of Scotland, Together, Sin City, Russian Ark, OldBoy, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Uzak, Gosford Park... I could go on, so I won't.

Finally, here's my Top ten lists of the decade:
1. Pitchfork Music: P2K The decade in music
2. Time Out (London) Top 101 films of the decade
3. Uncut 150 Albums of the decade
4. The Guardian Albums of the decade
5. The New Yorker Films of the decade
6. Time Out (New York) Top 50 movies of the decade
7. The Times 100 Best books of the decade
8. Paste Top 25 Album covers of the decade
9. Paste 20 Best books of the decade
10. Rolling Stone 100 Best albums of the decade

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Star Wars Lego

I'm always the first to berate people for their old-fashioned, nostalgic, harking-back-to-childhood-bad-tastes, be it 'Allo 'Allo, Pizza Hut, Enya or Ghostbusters. So people, naturally enough, are wondering: why am I building up a sizable collection of Star Wars Lego. I have to admit, I have no defence. I love it. As a child I loved Star Wars and Lego. Period. It wasn't until I was an adult that they teamed up. Star Wars Lego is a combination of absolute genius. Like Gin and tonic. Baked beans and toast. Bacon and eggs. Cigarettes and alcohol. I couldn't resist. They're just so cute. Hopefully one day they'll be worth something too. My daughter's finally getting into Star Wars. I've just got her say, "They're coming in too fast! Pow! Pow!"

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Expecting Rain Daily

I've just had an extremely geeky email about Bob Dylan box sets posted on one of my favourite Dylan sites, the Dylan Daily. Read it here. Along with Expecting Rain, they're just about the only Dylan sites I look at.

Nick Hornby amusingly describes a Dylan fanatic in his book, 31 Songs, thus: 'I have a friend who stays logged on to the Dylan website Expecting Rain most of the day at work – as if the website were CNN and Dylan's career were the Middle East – and who owns 130 Dylan albums.' I'm pretty bad, but nowhere near that bad a fanatic. Twice a day. Tops.

Footnote: Talking of rain... this very post was link #1 on Expecting Rain, Tuesday 15 December, 2009.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The films of Walerian Borowczyk

From Les Jeux Des Anges to Emmanuelle 5
With cinema's potential for fetishistic lingering on detail, its desire for flesh, its capacity for the extreme close-up, and its final, inescapable, unavoidable superficiality, it’s a wonder the porno film has not been elevated to the status of art. But the low budgets, seediness, decidedly dodgy camerawork, the bad acting and narratives have assured its place in the hands of exploiters and perverts.

The films of Walerian Borowczyk (1923-2006) testify to an elegant, erotic obsession with ‘the object’ (in the surrealist meaning of the word), flesh and things superficial and sexual. It almost comes as no surprise that, after starting off as an animator, he drifted into the realm of softcore pornography, and still didn’t lose his elegant style and unique way of looking at ‘things’. Only Borowczeck could fuse everyday objects with an awkward sexuality and beauty.

An influence on Jan Swankmajer (now often cited as the 'best' animator in the world), early David Lynch, the Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam, the Polish Borowczyk studied painting at college and produced film posters in the mid-1950s, revealing a mixture of painting, collage and photo montage.

(Polish film posters are finally getting the recognition – and the prices, unfortunately – they deserve. Posters from the 1950s up to the 1990s are amazingly imaginative – often, you'd hardly recognise the Hollywood blockbuster it was depicting (yes, that's a good thing). Ironically – or not... remember my dictum 'all art comes out of shit' – since Poland's political and social restrictions have lapsed in recent years, so has the quality of its poster art.)

Borowczyk began his animation career in the late 50s with fellow animator and surrealist Jan Lenica. They studied at the same film school as Roman Polanski, another Pole whose early films also demonstrate the bizarre and surreal. Borowczeck’s early work recalls the work of surrealists such as Max Ernst, abstract expressionists like Kurt Switters, the Cubism of Braque and Picasso and even the unclassifiable Joseph Cornell with his worlds in a box.

For animation, easier and more effectively than live action, has the capacity for creating new and enclosed worlds. Borowczyk’s best animations, Dom (1958), Les Astronautes (1959, with Chris Marker) and Les Jeux des Anges (1964) revealed an eclecticism of techniques – painting, drawing, stop-motion photography and collage, as well as an over-riding bleak and destructive tone.

Borowczyk’s first two ventures into live-action feature films, Goto, Island of love (1968) and Blanche (1971) were well received by critics. Austere, extraordinary, beautiful to look at, their flattened perspective, lack of shadows and characters often filmed in profile recall animated films and early Renaissance painting. Indeed, Blanche was set in the Middle Ages, and the costume, camerawork, music and acting depicted tales of illicit love that felt like they were filmed five hundred years ago. Blanche features the great French actor Michel Simon, who looked pretty old in Vigo's L'Atalante (1934); here he looks positively ancient. Also, like animation, the films were about closed-off worlds.

By 1974 with Immoral Tales, Borowczyk was slipping into the realms of softcore porn. Though still often visually striking, and like his animations revealing enclosed worlds (with the ol' flattened perspective), with one tale essentially about a blowjob and another featuring an attempted rape of a young girl, it can't disguise its sordidness.

After the well-received Story of Sin (1975), things started going downhill with La Bête (also 1975), a ridiculous soft porn, misogynistic work: a beast runs around the countryside with a huge hard-on chasing an almost naked woman in a wig, still had moments of surreal beauty, such as the snails on the woman’s high heel shoe, perhaps revealing a Bunuel influence. The film has its admirers: and not just perverts – even film critics.

It's difficult to dismiss his later films as purely soft core trash. There's always more to Borowczyk than that. Behind Convent Walls (1975) is filmed like a Renaissance painting, or maybe a Vermeer. Blood of Dr Jekyll (1981) was a partial return to form, depicting Dr Jekyll's transformation into Mr Hyde as a backlash against Victorian morality, and starred decent actors, including Patrick Magee and Udo Kier. But by the time Borowczyk directed Emmanuelle 5 (1988), which I saw on video in a newsagent (some time ago!) for £4.99 (Borowczyk in a newsagent! That’s how you bring arthouse films to the masses!), I had lost all hope, even though a couple of shots were filmed with his now-signature flat like an animation, revealing the animator at heart. Maybe.

Goto Isle of Love was released this year on DVD by Nouveaux Pictures. But what's really needed is a DVD box-set of his early animations. You can watch some on YouTube and ubu.com (a great site for obscure films and videos) but the quality's not great.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Mary Poppins: Practically Perfect

"Our daughters' daughters will adore us"
– Winifred Banks

My daughter is obsessed with the Disney film Mary Poppins (1963): sometimes we watch it twice a day. At first I found Mary Poppins – played with glee by Julie Andrews (who won an Oscar for her role) – somewhat annoying; she's prim, proper and prissy. Then I started to find her attractive (it was her licking the "rrrhhum" [rum] punch flavoured medicine off her finger that did it). Now I think I may adore her. She is 'practically perfect in every way' (as her tape measure says); and it's the practically that makes her interesting. She's an irresistible mix of prim and dirty, innocence and experience, dull and wild, virgin and whore.

I'm guessing it's intentional but it seems ironic that Winifred Banks, the mother of the two children Mary Poppins is nanny for, is an enthusiastic suffragette (the film is set in 1910) – at least superficially: she may sing the songs ("though we adore men individually/We agree as a group they're rather stupid), wear the banners and go on the marches and demonstrations, but at the end of the day she is subservient to her husband ("What will Mr Banks say?" she asks nervously), George Banks, who sings "It's the age of men".

Mary Poppins, on the other hand, is a free spirit, almost a kooky Annie Hall-type character (dresses funny), unburdened by a husband or patriarchal society in general. It helps she can fly and do magic. Winifred doesn't seem to be aware of Mary Poppins's uniqueness (tellingly, they never actually speak together in the film) and goes on her suffragette marches oblivious to her own subservient position in the household – which has four women (wife, nanny, cook and servant) and only one man. Mary Poppins not only routinely disagrees or ignores pompous George Banks (job references, she tells him during her interview are "old-fashioned"), she manages to influence his thinking – more than his nervous wife does for most of the film.

We first see Mary Poppins sitting on a cloud – doing her make-up. She may be free from the shackles of marriage, but she still likes to look her best; she checks herself in the mirror some five times in ten minutes of screen time.

In her role as nanny, rosy-cheeked Mary Poppins first displays her have-some-fun-then-deny-it persona. She takes the children for a great day out (entering chalk pictures; encountering animated characters and animals – who all love Mary Poppins and sing, "It's a jolly holiday with Mary/No wonder it's Mary that we love"; riding an animated horse race on carousel horses; singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with some Chelsea pensioners) then, later, promptly denies it, as well as being offended: "a respectable person like me in a horse race? How dare you suggest such a thing!"

It's obvious that she is familiar with Bert (Dick Van Dyke), the chimney sweep cum artist, but it's never explicitly stated in what way. Bert reels off names of his other female friends as Mary epitomises mock-annoyed – until the last line, Mary is "cream of the crop" and she's all smiles again. Mary Poppins is often mock-disapproving and fairly short-tempered towards most people – Bert, the children, 'Uncle' Albert (in whose scene she employs sarcastic hand clapping), George Banks, but usually – begrudgingly – comes around in the end, to the joy of all around.

By the end of the film, she has done her job – George Banks is a more understanding husband and father, and the family go off to fly a kite. Mary looks longingly at them, obviously feeling some jealousy. Maybe she's destined to be single and free – but it doesn't look like much fun, even if you can fly.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Top 10 Bob Dylan Years

1. 1966
2. 1975
3. 1965
4. 1964
5. 1976
6. 2005
7. 1967
8. 2001
9. 1974
10. 1978

Measured in terms of album releases, live performances, and general popularity.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dawson's Creek: better than The Wire?

"It's more than beautiful... it's awesome!"
– Jen, Dawson's Creek

Warning: contains spoilers!

Friends, colleagues, family and the mass media still incessantly implore me to watch The Wire (get over it!). I still read about it every week in The Guardian as being the best programme in the world. Ever. Now there's some seminar about it. Obama loves it – so it must be good. I'm sure if I ever bothered to watch it, I'd like it. But you know what, I can't be bothered. It's that simple. And I don't really like TV. I don't like being sucked into something that I've got to watch episode after episode, week after week – and getting involved with characters, god it's almost like having to keep up with friends. I'm sure The Wire's great, but like, I'm sure the Maldives are great, or abseiling, or Harry Potter books, but I just don't feel the need to do these things (I don't have the time, the energy, the money). Besides, although I do occasionally watch TV, I don't watch cop shows, or hospital shows, or reality shows. I'm sure the Wire is one of those. I mean it can't be that groundbreaking, it still fits into a mould – even if it cracks it once in there. In the 80s I watched a bit of Hill Street Blues, that felt pretty real and 'groundbreaking' at the time but look at it now.

But the other reason I'm not watching The Wire is I've been watching the whole of Dawson's Creek on DVD. Yes, the teen soap. It's true. And it's better than The Wire. Seriously. Probably. Friends boast of watching five DVDs of The Wire. Dawson's is 34 DVDs. 6 Seasons. 4 episodes a disc. 23 episodes a season. 16 hours a season. 42 minutes an episode. Over six years. This is epic. This is life. Only £35 too. You do the math.

With Dawson's constant reference to popular culture, films, songs and TV shows, and its simultaneous debunking of and conforming to the limitations of a teenage TV show, it's no wonder it was written by the man (Kevin Williamson) who wrote Scream (which one astute Amazon reviewer calls 'Dawsons with knives') – the first (of many) post-modern, in-joke, self-referential horror movies. Dawson's Creek, along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, paved the way for dull, post-modern eponymous angst-ridden heroes; smart, precocious dictionary-for-breakfast teenagers wondering why their lives had become like bad 1980s John Hughes movies (answer: because the writer watched them in the 80s).

I never watched Dawson's at the time (1997-2003), I was probably travelling or watching Bunuel films or something. I wouldn't have given it the time of day. But now, well, I quite like it. Don't get me wrong – it's still kinda in that time before TV got good and cinematic and exciting (Lost, 24, Heroes, Prison Break, er, The Wire – probably) but it has its moments.

I've never been able to relate to most TV shows: hospital dramas (ER, Holby City, Casualty) and cop shows (CSI, The Bill, Law and Order) in particular, mainly because they're boring. However, a sexually immature film student (Dawson) – now that I can relate to! I love Dawson as the film student – probably because I was one (albeit with more talent than Dawson, natch). While it is true that film-makers should make films that are close to them, just how personal is a moot point. My girlfriend at film school, whilst we were still dating, made her graduation film about our relationship, going as far as to use the dialogue we'd spoken, the books I'd read, the clothes I'd worn and the bed clothes I'd slept in. It was surreal, kinda flattering, and a bit creepy (and I'm still annoyed that the actor playing me ruined my copy of Arthur Rimbaud's Collected Poems). Dawson does a similar thing with his early films (except the one with the monster) – they're all about Joey, with identical dialogue and situations... then he does it all over again when he makes a teenage soap about it and gets rich and gets Spielberg on the phone... but I'm jumping a bit here.

The plus (or minus) of watching what should have taken six years to watch but actually took a month or two* means the characters' exponential growth rate and their accelerated fashion and haircut changes are rather alarming – especially Jen's. And their maturity. One minute they're 14 year olds playing around like kids, then suddenly they're twenty, burnt out, bitter, reflective, having lived all there is to live. Then they're twenty-five and successful millionaires (what the fuck are they going to be like at forty?). Except The One Who Dies (Jen).

Dawson's Creek is essentially a will they won't they sleep together between straight-laced, dull Dawson Leary (James Van Der Beek) and doe-eyed, uptight Joey Potter (Mrs Tom Cruise herself, Katie Holmes) – that lasts six years. They kiss at the end of every season, and have sex eventually – at the start of season six, then it's all over by the following morning. They end up as eternal soul mates. To me, soul mates always seems an easy way out – I've had a few female friends (notice how soul mates are never same sex?) tell me we're soul mates – which goes beyond friendship, or sex, or having to keep in touch at all in fact – and then never heard from them again. And I never got to sleep with them. Well, maybe once.

It starts in 1997 – so long ago! – and they're all sipping lattes strolling across lawns and using the internet (Mac, of course), even though they're like fourteen or something. I didn't even hear of a latte until like 2001 and didn't write my first email until around the same time (probably exactly the same time). These kids were born precocious.

Dawson's and Joey's closest friends, Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson), Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams, yes her who had Heath Ledger's baby then Heath died) and later additions to the group, Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith), his sister, Andie McPhee (Meredith Monroe) and Audrey Liddell (Busy Phillipps, though I always fondly think of her as Busty Phillipps) are way more exciting than the two leads (who tend to over psycho-analyse events before they're even over) – even they admit Dawson and Joey are boring, though can't help falling in and out of love with them. Pacey gets Joey in the end, poor sod, and Dawson gets Spielberg on the end of the phone. Audrey, LA girl – always on the outskirts of group – when being truthful (ie drunk) and outspoken usually says how boring they all are. She's like one of us – the audience – looking in at this incestuous little group of self-absorbed teenagers.

Joey and Dawson (DJers to their fans) are such highly moralistic, dull people for most of the series: they don't even drink, smoke or date. Come to think of it, hardly anyone smokes in Dawson's. Except: an old, haggard gypsy palm reader; a thief, mugger, drug dealer and potential rapist; an arrogant, stressed British film director (Todd – who sums up Dawson succinctly: "you're boring"); Jack (once) when he reached rock bottom; Audrey when she's drunk and suicidal (even then she only has two puffs) and a black waitress (who quits when Pacey sees her smoking).

All figures of authority (ie all adults – except Principal Green, the black school Principal, one of the only black characters in the series – the other being his daughter and the aforementioned waitress) are flawed: parents, teachers, bosses, in fact anyone older than Dawson and his chums. They're either weak, afraid, evil, bullying or deceitful. What Dawson or Joey don't get at the time (but hopefully have by the end of the series) is: that's life. People are weak, afraid and all those other human foibles; Dawson and Joey were too naive and young to understand. They had impossibly high standards of people.

Dawson's Creek is full of really heavy metaphors – the soundtrack, the films they see, TV they watch, other characters – all seem to exist for Dawson and Joey (and sometimes Pacey). The Last Picture Show, Star Wars, even Shakespeare become mere metaphors for the Dawson-Joey-Pacey ménage-à-trois. It's like Much Ado About Nothing was written 400 years ago for the express reason of being a Dawson-Joey-Pacey metaphor in 2001. Songs, especially, inform the narrative like a sledgehammer, with trite lyrics summing up trite scenes. I truly believe it would be much better if it had a better soundtrack. The songs are truly terrible. Someone like Springsteen on the soundtrack at least would have given it some gravitas what with his songs about small-time losers wanting to escape their small towns.

And film references permeate Dawson's Creek. Although Dawson is a cineaste, his taste is somewhat mawkish and limited: Steven Spielberg, Frank Capra, er, that's it. Joey, as the English literature major is similarly limited by her environment and upbringing in her tastes – her favourite book is Little Women by Louisa Alcott. They're certainly more prosaic than Prozac.

But who can fault, in the space of a couple of episodes, references to: Samuel Fuller, the Guggenheim, Bilbao ("a giant artichoke" – Pacey), enveloping artist Christo (Henry's love for Jen), Pauline Kael, Ford's The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, Lynch's Blue Velvet, Jean Luc Godard, Nic Ray, Lazlo Kovacs, Henry James, Evelyn Waugh, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Slanted and Enchanted (by Pavement) and, er, Notting Hill (the film – apparently only gay people like it).

There are some interesting cameos. Bizarrely, four characters from Twin Peaks pop up: Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Wise, Madchen Amick and Dana Ashbrook. Hope from Thirtysomething plays Jen's mum until she's replaced by Mimi Rogers. Well, wouldn't you? Principal Peskin is Harry Shearer, aka Derek Smalls from This is Spinal Tap. Oh, he also makes $400,000 an episode doing voices for The Simpsons.

Season six, the final one, is like watching your kids grow up, leave home and go to college. Except you get to see everything they do. Like kiss all the time, frequent rowdy bars and go to MTV beach parties in L.A. Two brash, British characters appear in season six (Todd Carr, film director, and Emma Jones, in a punk band/works in a bar) displaying typical American view of Brits – it's all bloody hell, chum, bugger, even a wanker, taking the piss – with accents you'll never hear outside of Bridget Jones and Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels.

After a bad start with the Brit director, Dawson becomes his assistant, then gets to make his own film. Dawson wants to make his personal film, which is essentially Dawson's Creek – the films he's been making, er, all through the series (one of his early works is called Creek Days). Though Dawson's Creek isn't as knowing and clever (or cool and funny!) as Seinfeld, it becomes vaguely reminiscent of 'The Pilot' episodes of season four when the characters get to produce Jerry, a TV series about themselves. Anyway, Dawson, idealistic film-maker he is, doesn't want his 'personal' film being turned into a skin flick, so rejects an offer to have it made with compromises. The name of his uncompromising, personal film: Creek Days.

Joey has a Wonder Boys-type almost affair experience with her tutor, Prof. Wilder (Season 5, 2001). Hold on, though, wasn't she actually in Wonder Boys (2000) and played the student who nearly has an affair with her tutor, Prof. Tripp (Michael Douglas)? Those watching it at the time must have got a distinct sense of déjà vu, though at least she was a bit sexier in Wonder Boys. Whilst at college, Joey went relatively wild, having affairs with two, yes two, bad boys before doing the deed with Dawson.

Joey has other kind of action too. Early on, she meets a serial killer, possibly narrowly escaping being murdered. Then she's attacked by the rapist in the library (lucky her one lesson of kick-boxing came in handy). Finally, she gets mugged (yes, by the one who smokes) but he gets run over and dies later in hospital. Even when being mugged she has a witty rapport with her would-be assassin. She just doesn't know when to shut up.

When Joey watches Dawson's new teen soap called Creek Days, suddenly five years in the future (we can tell it's in the future – Joey's wearing glasses and drinking wine) in Paris, with her boyfriend ("The writers must sit around with a thesaurus", he says about the soap), the end credits font and music are the same as Dawson's Creek – Dawson has been making Dawson's Creek all the time (he even has a knowing smile to camera as he's filming his indie film).

But Pacey gets the girl (Joey), Jen dies, Jack gets Pacey's brother, Dawson sells out, is lonely, but rich and has Spielberg on the phone... it seems a small consolation. Pacey gets to screw Joey first and direct an episode of Dawson's Creek before Dawson does – actually quite a funny episode too. I realise I'm getting my fantasy/reality mixed up here. Oh yeah. Joshua Jackson, who plays Pacey, directs an episode of the sixth season. He doesn't appear in it – a la Orson Welles directing Citizen Kane. In real life he did date Joey too.

(Even minor characters do better than poor James Van Der Beek. Henry, who fell for Jen in a big way (until he wisely dumped her), has fared better than any of them in real life. Henry (Michael Pitt) went on to reveal all in Bertolucci's The Dreamers (2003), and worked with other powerhouse directors too: Gus Van Sant in Finding Forrester (2000) and Last Days (2005), Larry Clark in Bully (2001), and Michael Haneke in his own remake of Funny Games (2007). Dawson the film-maker (and James Van Der Beek the actor) would be green with envy.)

And Joey: after years of obsessing over getting A grades (a B- was a near suicide), studying all the hours God gave her, she ends up as some editorial assistant on a magazine in an office. I thought at least she'd be a writer, anthropologist, naturalist. You know, something worthy. Something Joey. *Sigh* Growing up is such a disappointment. And then to get to marry Tom Cruise... Joey Potter would have called her real self a sell-out.

Dawson's Creek: Key Cultural Resources
Key films: Say Anything, E.T., American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show
Key actors: Tom Cruise (mentioned at least four times – Risky Business seems a favourite, and Jerry McGuire, The Color of Money – more than any other actor; obviously Katie Holmes ends up marrying him in real life – well, semi-real life. Funnily enough Audrey mentions to Joey how her film geek, Dawson, looks like Tom Cruise), John Cusack (it's the cool yet geeky effect)
Key novels: Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger; Little Women by Louisa Alcott
Key film directors: Steven Spielberg, Frank Capra, John Hughes
Key poet: Emily Dickinson
Key singer: Bruce Springsteen (though he's only heard once, unless you count Henry doing an acoustic version of Glory Days at a beach party)
Key song: Daydream Believer (not by The Monkees though, but Mary Beth Maziarz)

*How we watch TV now
It used to be, we'd all turn up to our office jobs in the morning and someone would ask, did you see Lost/24/whatever last night? This is now a thing of the past, what with people watching stuff on Freeview, satellite, web, download, DVD and sometimes even on ol' terrestrial TV, it's very rare that anyone at all will be at the same episode in a TV series as anyone else.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Vampires in Havana



















Small wooden, yes, wooden, film advert for Vampiros en la Habana, a Cuban animated film released in 1985, directed by Juan Padròn.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mr Benn celebrations


From l to r: creator of Mr Benn, David McKee, having a laugh at the fancy dress party in Festing Road, Putney, London on Saturday 28th November 2009; commemorative paving stone; David posing with two Mr Benns. [Photos courtesty of J. Attwell]

Read my original Mr Benn post here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My daughter's (aged 3) top ten films

1. Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964)
2. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Hughes, 1968)
3. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Stevenson, 1971)
4. Raymond Brigg's The Snowman (Jackson, 1982)/Father Christmas (Unwin, 1991)
5. Lady and the Tramp (Geronimi, 1955)
6. Cinderella (Geronimi, Jackson, 1950)
7. The Jungle Book (Reitherman, 1967)
8. Dumbo (Sharpsteen, 1941)
9. Alice in Wonderland (Geronimi, Jackson, 1951)
10. Monsters Inc. (Docter, Silverman, 2001)

No real surprises there, I guess: 90% of them are Disney films (don't worry, I'll have her loving Jan Svankmajer's version of Alice by the time she's four). What is vaguely surprising is none of them (apart from Monsters Inc.) were computer animated, and the majority were made at least forty years ago. She hates modern stuff like Shrek, with its smutty jokes and knowing post-modernism. I've always said how most computer animation lacks the warmth of traditional animation, and here's the proof. Interesting, also, that Dick Van Dyke features in choices one and two, and David Tomlinson in choices two and three. It may be no coincidence that my partner is obsessed with these fine actors too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aspire to be average

Mostly, we're constantly told to excel – at school, by parents, friends, at work, advertising, TV, films; what matters, if we want the car, the girl (or boy), the career, the cash – excellence is what is required. To be the best – you must be ruthless, career-driven – in short, you must be boring and selfish. But not everyone can be the best.

Better to be average. Aspire to be average. Average is wholesome, good, heck, average is 99.9% of us – though none of us would ever admit to it, because perhaps none of us are really. Well, either all of us are average or none of us are. Average people, on average, live longer and are happier. Extreme, non-average people, such as (say) artists and musicians, are depressed, miserable and burnt out. They fail at relationships. They go into rehab. They fail at life. They may even kill themselves. Or die young.

Every human endeavour, 'achievement' and action is detrimental to the planet. Every invention, object, shop – every item we buy is in someway damaging the earth. Better for the environment for humans to do as little as possible. Ants and bees are more vital to the planet than humans. The world is better off without us.

With population growth one of the many problems facing the planet's future, there's going to be a lot more average people (and only a few more best ones). A child's traditional ambition of 'I want to be an astronaut/fireman/nurse/on Big Brother' may become a thing of the past: 'I want to be nothing' may be the only way forward. They'll be no room to do anything else. In fact, forget average: aspire to be nothing: absolutely nothing, it's the only way to save the planet. I'm doing my bit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Anyone for table tennis?

I predicted table tennis becoming chic geek some time ago – after watching Jeff Daniels and his Tourette's suffering son playing in his NY loft apartment in The Squid and the Whale. Then I was flicking through some old Creative Review magazines and noticed how several cool creative design agencies had tennis table tables in their offices – not to play on but to store pretentious art books, display proofs and generally use as you would a coffee table.

Now The Saturday Times magazine has highlighted table tennis in its Radar section as the next big thing: bars in London's east end are installing tables and famous people in New York like, er, Matthew Broderick, Ed Norton and Susan Sarandon are playing the game. Sigh. Time to move on. My next prediction for chic geekness: chess. You read it here first.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alice and Arthur


Buried just a few miles apart from each other in the New Forest are the graves of Alice Hargreaves and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Alice (Née Liddell) Hargreaves was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. I can't think of two English fictional characters who have been more enduring, influential, inspirational and captured the collective imagination as much as Alice and Sherlock Holmes. It's like they've always existed and the authors just had to pluck them from the air and put them into print. The books are some of the richest and most imaginative stories ever created.

I was imagining they had bumped into each other during their lifetimes but Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) never actually lived anywhere near Minstead, the small village where he is now buried (as far as I can tell, the only reason he's buried there is one of his lesser known books, The White Company, is largely set there). He was moved there in the 1950s from East Sussex, where he had lived and died – and been buried there upright (because he was a Spiritualist, apparently). The church of England were 'mildly embarrassed' by his spiritualism, so buried him on the outskirts of the graveyard in Minstead. There's no mention of Holmes on the gravestone but we found a (broken) pipe on it.

Alice Hargreaves (1852-1934) lived in Lyndhurst in her later life and is buried in the graveyard of the church there. The house where she lived, Cuffnell's, was knocked down in the 1950s. Lyndhurst is celebrating the life of Alice this year with a range of arts and activities. There seems to be no discernible reason why this year has been chosen.

N.B. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was, however, good friends with J.M.Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, another classic, timeless creation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The films of Jeff Keen


Jeff Keen was born just a few miles away from where I now live, in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1923. He started making films relatively late, aged 37 – the same age as I am now. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end, as Keen is now an octogenarian experimental film-maker who this year had a bfi boxed-set released of his forty-odd short films. They're an extraordinary experience: seeing them all at once (570 minutes of mayhem!) would be rather akin to being Malcolm McDowell in a Clockwork Orange with his eyelids pinned open, eyeballs bulging, being forced to watch a stream of non-stop sex and violence. Mixing mediums is his mantra: animation and live action, high- and low-art, glamour and war, double exposures and over exposures, they're like an Eduardo Paolozzi collage come to life (on speed). I can't imagine what it was like watching them in the 1950s; even today they feel fresh and imaginative (though sometimes headache inducing), especially compared to the dull drivel we sometimes call narrative cinema.

Apparently unaware of similar contemporary experimental film-makers across the Atlantic (such as Warhol, Jack Smith, Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren) in the 1950s and 60s, Keen pursued his own path, being more influenced by surrealism and abstract expressionist paintings and experiences of war than other film-makers. The Guardian called him 'our very own Kenneth Anger', a comparison of sorts, but Anger lived in Hollywood and had acted in films. Keen had no experience of film-making at all, until he borrowed a super-8 camera. The rest is a small slice of cinematic history.

GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen was released on DVD and Blu-Ray by the bfi in February this year. £25 from Amazon, or even better, £15 from MovieMail. I haven't actually got the boxed-set, but Christmas is just around the corner. Anyone? We can watch a few in between the Queen's speech and Coronation Street. To get a taster of his films, visit his website or watch some on YouTube. There's a better blog than this about him here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Being Mr Benn


Mr Benn was a children's cartoon (and book) series broadcast in the early 1970s. Mr Benn is always dressed in a black suit and bowler hat but doesn't seem to have a job (I was given a Ralph Lauren pin-striped suit in the 1990s. I didn't have a job at the time. But I used to change into it at around 6pm and walk around town acting as if I'd just finished work. I felt pretty good in it). He spends a lot of time going to a fancy dress shop (but never buying anything), trying on outfits and being transported to various fantasy worlds with the help of the shopkeeper (a mysterious man in a fez) via a magic door in the changing room. Mr Benn becomes a knight in medieval times, a jungle explorer, an astronaut in space, a cowboy, meets King Neptune, pirates... typical boy's fantasies, though Mr. Benn looks in his 30s.

Maybe he's just bored. Well, he is living in Putney. Mr. Benn lives in 52 Festive Road – a scant disguise for 52 Festing Road, beside the Thames in Putney, SW London (see picture). The writer, David McKee, also used to live in the road.

The animation is rudimentary to say the least. But it works. It has more the feel of a picture book really – and with it a sense of mystery. Today's children's cartoons leave nothing to the imagination; it's all laid out for you – they're fast, loud and garish with far too much dialogue and plot.

Mr. Benn – along with Captain Pugwash, The Mr. Men, Bagpuss, The Clangers, The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles – hark back to an age when a cartoon being basic was part of its charm. They have also lent themselves to myriad interpretations – drugs in The Magic Roundabout, sodomy in Captain Pugwash, recycling in The Wombles. But the thing with Mr. Benn is he's so average and normal he's truly bizarre.

UPDATE...UPDATE...UPDATE
"The present inhabitants of Festing Road – “Festive Road” in the series – are to lay a commemorative paving stone. The costs of engraving and replacement are being paid for by subscriptions raised by the street. When the stone is unveiled on 28th November, it is planned to celebrate with a fancy dress party, involving many of the costumes worn by Mr Benn."

Can't wait!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Happy 50th Birthday, Alton Estate!


Roehampton's Alton estate, that fine Grade-II listed example of Brutalist architecture on the leafy slopes near Richmond park, is 50 this year. An old school colleague, Adam Gray, has published a student newsletter for Roehampton university, Change, which features an article about the Alton written by me (click on image to enlarge). Unfortunately, he's left out all the juicy stuff, but you can read my Alton adventures in full at www.barnflakes.com > Alton Barn.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Being John Cusack

Watching Say Anything the other night, I was reminded how much I like John Cusack. Never a method actor, or a big personality, he always seemed just a cut above average, not too smart, not too handsome, skinny, but funny and cool, maybe a bit nerdy but with some charm – a nice guy; me and my friends wanted to be him because we weren't actually that far away from being him (NB: he's my exact height). He gave us hope. His weren't the unobtainable looks of Tom Cruise or Robert Redford, the personality of Jack Nicholson or the method and madness of Robert De Niro. Cusack was just a normal guy – but with an edge. And he was always into cool music. And when he scores with a beautiful woman it's partly down to his charm but mainly due to luck and good timing – like it was with most of us.

He was a few years older, but it felt like we watched him grow up with us. His first role in the otherwise dreadful Class (1983) has him flick a cigarette around into his mouth when a school teacher approaches; when she leaves he flicks it back out again. It's the only scene I remember in the film. He was supporting cast in a few films – including Brat Pack classic Sixteen Candles (1984) and Stand By Me (1986) – before finding his stride with The Sure Thing (1985), Better off Dead (1985), Tapeheads (1988) and Say Anything (1989). The following year, with The Grifters (1990), he grew up.

But if I could take any two Cusack films to a desert island, it would be two which hark back to his nerdy high school days: Grosse Point Blank (1997) and High Fidelity (2000). Both films could be unofficial parallel universe sequels to Say Anything: one of its themes is what Cusack's character is going to do with his life post-high school. Well, he could quite easily ended up the list-obsessed record store manager in High Fidelity (in Say Anything he never takes off his The Clash T-shirt). Or, his other option, with his father in the army and wanting his son to follow, he could have joined up then gone freelance as professional killer (Grosse Point Blank). And the music's good in both of them too.

He's appeared in a few blockbusters (Con Air, Pushing Tin), a few by great directors (Allen (twice, though that doesn't mean much nowadays; look at Scarlett Johansson), Malick, Eastwood), horror films (1408) and dreadful films (America's Sweethearts) but I must admit I haven't seen him in much since Being John Malkovich (still the loser trying to get lucky with a beautiful woman) and High Fidelity. That's almost a decade ago. Maybe I've grown up too. Or just waiting for him to do another high school movie.

His best films feel like family affairs – both sister Joan and close friend Jeremy Piven (no, I have no idea who he is either) have acted in ten films alongside him; another more famous friend, Tim Robbins, has been in six with him. In his best films it's like he's given free reign – to have the music he likes on the soundtrack (he was music supervisor on High Fidelity and performed on Tapeheads), and wear what he wants, act with who he wants. His best films feel like home movies.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top 10 Bruce Springsteen Albums

Since The Guardian has officially declared Bruce Springsteen cool, I can now come out and admit I've liked him since the 1980s. I'm probably not a true fan: I like his first album and the Seegar Sessions albums too much (apparently not liked that much by diehards), and aren't that bothered about the E-street band ("the best pub band in the world"). Anyway, here's my top ten:

1. Born to Run (1975)
2. Nebraska (1982)
3. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
4. Born in the USA (1984)
5. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973)
6. The River (1980)
7. Seeger Sessions (2006)
8. the Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973)
9. Live Hammersmith Odeon 1975 (2006)
10. Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)

We went to see him in concert for the first time a few years back. At the end of every song it sounded like everyone was shouting 'Boo!' We were embarrassed for him; I mean, he wasn't that bad. It wasn't until later we realised they were actually shouting 'Bru–ce!' We think.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Homeless Movies on YouTube


"All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl"
*
– Jean-Luc Godard

* Godard: You need a camera too.

Most of my old films and videos are now up on YouTube, from Red Lipstick to Desire, Hope and Bourbon, and beyond. The DVD, as always, is coming soon. The Homeless Movies page of barnflakes.com has had a bit of a facelift, and you can watch some of the movies there too – the bonus being you can also look at the posters at the same time.

Gullible Travels to buy on lulu.com

Gullible Travels is now available to buy direct from lulu.com, as well as from gullible-travels.com. The advantage of buying through lulu is it accepts credit or debit cards as well as PayPal (payment through gullible-travels is PayPal only). Oh, and you may even save a pound or two buying it at lulu!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Straight Outta Imber


Poor Imber. The village, mentioned in the Domesday Book and located in the middle of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, was requisitioned by the military during World War II for training purposes. The military said they'd give it back after the war, but didn't. The inhabitants were given a month to move out, never to return. The ghost village – not marked on any modern map – is still used to this day for army training. Most of the original buildings have been destroyed; only the church, a pub and one or two others survive. The village now comprises of mainly purpose-built skeleton houses for the army to use.

The road to Imber, from Warminster, started pleasantly and peaceful enough with no traffic on the small road, rolling hills and birds singing in the sky. In fact, it's not until we drove past a wrecked, rusty old tank, and then another, that things started to feel like a war zone. Soon the whole landscape resembled a tank graveyard. Dotted on either side of the road are scaring signs declaring 'DANGER UNEXPLODED MILITARY DEBRIS – DO NOT LEAVE THE CARRIAGEWAY'. We didn't.

There are mixed feelings about the army being on Salisbury Plain (and owning land the size of the Isle of Wight). My partner thinks it's good for the countryside and wildlife – as no development is permitted. My opinion is it scares the hell out of me.

(I've written previously about Imber and the army on Salisbury Plain here.)

Imber village is open to the public a few times a year; usually around Easter, Christmas and the month of August. In the first weekend in September the church, St Giles, is open for services.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No Directions Home

I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know. And I'm an even worse map reader. I've been lost all over the world, and occasionally even get lost in the one horse town I live in. I'm actually slightly better without a map. With a map, I'll invariably end up going the complete opposite direction I'm meant to be going. Without a map, and with a bit of luck, I might actually get slightly nearer the intended destination.

It all depends if I'm on foot or driving. At least if I'm on foot, I can ask for directions. It usually takes asking at least three or four people for the way, and I'll get there in the end. Driving, I'm useless. All roads look the same to me.

But you know what, I don't care. People are so in a rush to get to their chosen destination, there's no time any more to get off the beaten track, explore, get lost, wander. At heart, I am a flâneur. And, after all, the journey is the destination.

I was recently introduced to the wonders of the satnav. So Bob Dylan's announcement he's going to lend his voice to a satnav system filled me with joy. Especially when the troubadour elaborated: "I think it would be good if you are looking for directions and hear my voice saying something like: 'Left at the next street, no a right – you know what? Just go straight.'"

But the funny thing is, people ask me for directions all the time. No matter where I am. About once a week or so on average. Usually I'm honest and say I have no idea. Other times I'll feel more adventurous and proffer either a general direction (it's sort of over there somewhere) or some complicated left, right, straight on, right again, third on your left. Either way, I make a hasty getaway afterwards.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More Ex-Ex Elliott

Since my blog about Elliott school's musical alumni, another band, The xx, have hailed from the south west London comprehensive. Pitched, if you will, somewhere between New Order, the Cocteau Twins and Young Marble Giants – with a hint of electronica and R&B (so say Amazon), they're meant to be pretty good. An 8.7 from Pitchfork too.

Which reminds me (sort of): during a recent viewing of the dreadful Love Actually, Elliott school features prominently towards the end when PM Hugh Grant goes with chirpy Martine McCutcheon to see the Nativity Concert. So now you know.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Longleat Lion Seeks Soulmate


Reads suspiciously like the one and only Lord Bath searching for possible wifelets who read the Guardian. From last Saturday's Guardian Guide. [Click on image to enlarge]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Davis & Dylan: Eggshells and Glue

Bob Dylan (b.1941) and Miles Davis (1926-1991), for better or worse, have always been at least one – and usually three or four – steps ahead of their critics and fans. Never pandering to what's expected of themselves, they've always done what they've wanted, endlessly reinventing themselves: both have had at least four musical reincarnations. And kept going when the going has got tough. One uses his voice as a musical instrument (Dylan) and the other uses his instrument (his trumpet) as a voice (Davis).

They both came from middle class families in small towns and escaped to New York (though in this they were not unique). They started playing music young, in small jazz and folk clubs. Miles Davis played in Harlem and the Greenwich coffee houses in the 1950s, where Dylan would play a decade later. Both were iconic and cool beyond belief in the 60s and 70s; both had a difficult 1980s. A recent poll conducted by Music for Grown-Ups of all-time top 10 musicians listed Dylan as number one and Davis as number two.

Other jazz musicians may have been more influential (and better!) – Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong – but the groups Davis put together and the albums he made were the thing. Similarly, Dylan has a knack for putting together a great band (such as The Band and the Rolling Thunder Revue) and making his records treasured items. Davis' Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew, and Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are four of the most influential and amazing albums you'll ever hear. They have both made more than 30 studio albums each – all of which are worth listening to.

Detractors say neither can play or sing. David Bowie (though he is a fan) sang on Song for Bob Dylan that Dylan's voice was like "sand and glue", and Miles Davis' tone has been described as "a man walking on eggshells". Their harsh tones can make for difficult listening to outsiders, but once you get them, you're hooked. Both have also expressed themselves with painting – and taken it pretty seriously, though the results have generally been disappointing.

Both were fond of improvising in the studio and on stage, with band members often struggling to keep up with them – sometimes not knowing what they were meant to be playing. Dylan's band still does struggle on occasion, judging by the stern looks he was giving them at a recent concert I went to. It's sometimes seen as if they Davis and Dylan have disdain for their audiences whilst on stage – Davis used to turn his back to his audience; Dylan usually has no interaction at all with them. But they are there just to play the music; all the rest is meaningless.

They possibly met together a few times in the mid-70s and there are rumours they collaborated on some music. I can't imagine how it would sound – like walking on eggshells whilst eating sand and glue, I guess.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top 10 British Film Directors

God, it was hard thinking of any ten, let alone a top ten. I toyed with Alan Parker, Ridley and Tony Scott et al but they're virtually yanks now. And only ever really made glorified adverts anyway. John Boorman and Neil Jordan were close contenders, but never quite fulfilled their early promise.

1. Nic Roeg
2. Derek Jarman
3. Michael Powell
4. Ken Russell
5. David Lean
6. Lindsay Anderson
7. Michael Winterbottom
8. Peter Greenaway
9. Bill Douglas
10. Terence Davies

It's almost tragic that now when thinking of British cinema inevitably the words 'crap' and 'gangster' come to mind when it was – at least up until the 1970s – a vibrant, social and imaginative force rather than an embarrassment.

Nic Roeg has never really got the full credit he deserves. He's an endlessly creative and innovative film maker who has made some of the most visually exciting films ever made – in particular, the four films he directed from 1970 to 1976, are extraordinary – Performance, Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don't Look Now. But even his 'minor' films are worth watching: The Witches, Bad Timing, Eureka, Insignificance, Track 29. He started off as a Director of Photography in the 1960s with Far from the Madding Crowd, Masque of the Red Death, Doctor Zhivago, Fahrenheit 451 and Lawrence of Arabia – these alone would have secured him a place in cinematic history.

His directorial debut, Performance, was co-directed with Donald Cammell, who seems to get more of the credit than Roeg amongst film critics – presumably because he's more of a cult figure. He even stylishly and pretentiously committed suicide by shooting himself in the head but was alive for 45 minutes before dying. He asked his wife for a mirror so he could watch himself die and asked her, 'Do you see the picture of Borges?'* Let it be known he also directed pop videos for U2**. Oh, he was also good-looking and had starred in a Kenneth Anger film. Film buffs adore him. Nic Roeg, on the other hand, looks like your bald uncle, retired plumber or school teacher. Though he did manage to marry steamy Theresa Russell.

Time has shown Roeg as the superior director. Donald Cammell's other films before he died were mediocre to say the least, whilst Roeg has continually pushed the limit with his imagery, cut-up editing, steamy sex scenes and Altman-like juggling of genres.

Performance (1969) starred a reclusive rock star (Mick Jagger) living in a basement in Notting Hill. His house is invaded by gangster on the run James Fox. Only superficially a gangster movie, it's also experimental and intellectual, and about identity, drugs and London at the end of the 1960s. Senses of Cinema say it's moving between the worlds of the Kray twins and the Rolling Stones. Full of amazing imagery, editing and music, lashings of sex and violence, Anita Pallenberg and even a not too bad performance by Mick Jagger, it's a great trip that Warner Brothers didn't know what to do with and promptly buried it whereupon it was destined to become a cult movie.

Walkabout (1971) was about as far as Roeg could go after Performance – literally. Largely filmed in the Australian outback, it told the story of two school children who go wandering in the desert and are befriended and helped by an Aborigine youth. Again, full of beautiful, mesmerising and mysterious imagery. A teenage Jenny Agutter is one of the children, and not since Helen Mirren in Age of Consent (Michael Powell, 1969) has a young woman swimming nude been so erotically observed.

The highly disturbing Don't Look Now, 1973, came next (not to be confused with Dylan's Don't Look Back). I still have nightmares about Donald Sutherland in the nude, no, I mean the evil little pixie woman dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. Never has Venice looked so haunting. Again, there's the extraordinary imagery, narrative-slicing editing and explicit sex scenes. This was followed by The Man who Fell to Earth (1976), starring another rock star, David Bowie, as an alien who lands on earth. Once again noticeable for its amazing, surreal imagery, sex scenes and a good performance by Bowie as an alien (he didn't need to act). Roeg would employ another musician as an actor on his next film Bad Timing (1980) – Art Garfunkel, with more lashings of sex and narrative splitting-editing.

His output has declined since the 1980s (though he made three films in 1995), and Puffball (2007) is the only film he's made in the 00s. He had a retrospective of his work at the Riverside studios in Hammersmith in 2008.

*A reference to a scene in Performance where Jagger is shot in the head and the bullet travels through to reveal a picture of blind Argentinian writer Jean Luis Borges.

** Cult directors last films can be disappointing. Sam Peckinpah's last piece of movie making was a pop promo for Julian Lennon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Desire, Hope & Bourbon


Here's an extract from Desire, Hope & Bourbon: On the Streets of New Orleans, a 35min. video documentary I made way back in 1996. It was made with a lot of help from Ivan, who I met up last weekend – the first time we've seen each other since 1996. That makes us old. Anyway, this fits in nicely with Gullible Travels as some of the best stories in the book are about the characters of the once fine city.

Find Barnflakes's Homeless Movies on YouTube here. I'll be adding lots more films and videos in the months to come.

Friday, July 31, 2009

GULLIBLE TRAVELS OUT NOW!


Gullible Travels, published by Chapbook Publishing, is now available to buy exclusively from the new look gullible-travels website. It costs £9.99 plus postage. It's a 343 page paperback book with some black and white photos. Expect 4-5 business days for delivery.

Here's a review of it:

"Like grey-faced foreign office officials around the world I am currently – eternally – negotiating peace (or war). My family is planning a holiday. Summits have been held, late night phone calls made, and finally, having worked around the clock or so it felt, success has been claimed: an agreement has been reached on the destination. Now, as they say, the real work must begin. Flights, shuttles, travel times, must-sees, tours, hotels, costs; it all needs to be researched, organised, proposed, discussed and agreed upon; it all needs to be itinerarised. And soon: we aim to leave in a mere eight months.

None of these aspects are paid much attention by Barnaby in his recently published book, Gullible Travels. Of course all non-fiction writers leave information out – travel writing often omits most of this common chunk of what travel actually entails – even if it were desirable to include all the boring and irrelevant details of life into a book it would be impossible. But in this collection of stories, it begins to seem less likely he was making any attempt, conscious or otherwise, to avoid the details of preparation, formalities such as getting immunised before travelling to SE Asia, than that such preparations may never have occurred. Indeed, he catches Dengue Fever – without any insurance – in Indonesia during its 1998 revolution (distracted by a prostitute who had stolen his video camera this event only became apparent to him after nearly all other foreigners had fled, the airport had closed and Jakarta smouldered around him).

Not worrying about consequences seems to be Barnaby’s approach to decision making in general and through this collection of stories we get to see how this plays out in Europe, the US, Asia, North Africa and Australasia. Every page is soaked in fear, embarrassment or loneliness – he spends a lot of time looking for sex and drugs – and yet Gullible Travels is an inspirational book: few people collect as many great stories in their lives."

Enjoy the book... but please don't judge me!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Top 10 Great Ideas

Here's some great money-making/society enhancing/planet-saving ideas. They are copyright free. You are welcome to steal them – I'm too lazy to do anything about them.

1. CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) Historical
This will be part-documentary, part-drama, as our anal team look back at unsolved real life cases and mysteries through history and apply their state-of-the-art forensic technology to try and solve them.
First episode: Michael Jackson.
Other episodes: Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Elvis Presley, Roswell, crop circles, how Gordon Brown got to be Prime Minister, etc.

2. Big Brother Special Needs
The popularity of Big Brother Tourette's Syndrome sufferer Pete Bennett proved that disabilities can be compulsive viewing. So why stop there? Let's have Big Brother Special Needs Syndrome Special with an assortment of people with disabilities and mental health issues including Down's syndrome, autism, bi-polar, schizophrenia and cerebral palsy.

3. 50p tube seat
To make a bit of extra money on the daily commute via bus, train or tube, wear a 'You can sit here for 50p' badge. NB: You have to have to be already sitting down to do this.

4. Perspex plant pots
So you can see the earth. Maybe some roots too.

5. The Sunday Times Poor List
Their Rich List is such a vulgar, inappropriate thing. They should do a Poor List instead.

6. Car crash art installation
With loads of wrecked cars, bodies and blood. In an art gallery.

7. Teaballs
Plastic balls of tea. Get optimum tea leverage by a small lever that allows different strengths of tea to be released into the cup. Re-usable.

8. Nap pods
Ever feel exhausted walking around a city and fancy a quick nap? Small nap rooms – like those Japanese capsule hotels – dotted around cities that can be booked for an hour or two. Have a nap, get out of the rain, or read a book – in warmth, peace and quiet.

9. Healthy receipts
Supermarket receipts which list the nutritional value of food bought as well as the cost. You are what you eat, after all.

10. Get a proper job
Eh?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Coloured Music

I'm getting confused – and bored – with recent bands having the word black in their name: Black Lips, Black Keys, Black Dice, Black Ghosts, Black Seeds, Black Velvet, Nine Black Alps, Dan Black. Is black the new black once again? White bands seem to pale by comparison: White Denim, White Lies and The White Stripes.

(Similar band names definitely seem to come in waves. During Britpop, bands were all one, usually short, word: Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede, Cast. Post-Britpop bands all seemed to be prefixed by The: The Libertines, The Rapture, The Strokes, The Bravey, The Knife, The Young Knives.)

Traditionally black has always been the cooler shade (it's not a colour) for bands: Black, Black Lace, Black Eyed Peas, Black Sabbath, Black Uhuru, Black Crowes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Flag, Frank Black (of The Pixies). The best white can come up is Whitesnake. And David Gray is sitting in the middle (in more ways than one).

What about other colours? There's Deep Purple, Blue, Pink, Silver Jews, King Crimson, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, Orange Juice, Blue Oyster Cult, Cream, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Maroon 5, Tangerine Dream, Goldfrapp, Al Green.

Album titles use colour too to convey an emotion or feeling. Blue is big in jazz: Mile Davis' Kind of Blue, Coltrane's Blue Train. Jazz is a form of the Blues, a genre 'meaning melancholy and sadness'. I don't necessarily associate the colour blue with sadness. Why wasn't it called the greys instead? The term has stuck, though, and transcended music to be a common phrase, having the blues.

There's Black, Grey and White albums by Prince, Jay-Z and The Beatles respectively. And Back to Black, Black Ice and Back in Black (black a popular choice for heavy metal music). Other coloured albums include Music from the Big Pink, Purple Rain, Blonde on Blonde, White on Blonde, Red on Blonde, White Blood Cells and White Ladder...

Any others?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swedish Dark Arts

Sweden, for a country that's meant to be peaceful, prosperous, happy, healthy and intellectual, and famous for little else other than its two most famous acronyms – ABBA and IKEA – is producing some pretty amazing, odd and disturbing films and music.

Its cinema will forever be polarised by the intellectual, depressing films of Ingmar Bergman on the one hand and 1970s porn (though sadly the traditional blonde and busty Swedish au pair/masseur has been taken over by the busty Pole) on the other. The director Lukas Moodysson looks like he's bridging the gap. His first feature, Together, an amusing look at hippies in a 1970s commune, gave no indication of where he would go next. But Lilya 4-Ever (about a girl kidnapped into sex slavery), A Hole in my Heart (about the making of a porn film, intercut with close ups of female genital surgery) and Container ("a silent movie with sound" – his words) are some of the disturbing films ever granted a certificate.

Let the Right One in (Låt den rätte komma in), which we saw last night, is a beautifully shot and performed low-key vampire film. About the relationship between a pale, bullied 12-year-old boy and a girl with a fondness for blood, what's more disturbing than the blood count is the generally unhealthy looking chain-smoking characters, the bleak, barren snow-bound townscapes and the dreadful fashions (though to be fair it looks like it's set in the 1970s – that's what I'm hoping anyway).

Musically, bands are doing their best to banish the image of ABBA forever. The Guardian has said, 'no bad pop music comes out of Sweden in 2009'. There's the eerie, icy electro brilliance of Fever Ray and The Knife as well as more conventional acts like Peter Bjorn & John, Jenny Wilson and First Aid Kit turning out their brand of quirky pop.

The thing is, happiness gets boring. And people tend not to produce great art when they're happy. They're just busy being happy. Great art comes out of shit. Look at music and cinema in the mid-60s, at the height of flower power. In the States and UK at least, it was a dull time artistically with the whole peace and love ethos. By the end of the 1960s, The Wild Bunch, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones Altamont concert and The Doors seemed to capture the prevailing mood of The Vietnam War, race riots and Charles Manson – and produce great art too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top 10 Westerns

1. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly* (Leone, 1966)
3. The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, 1969)
4. Red River (Hawks, 1948)
5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, 1962)
6. McCabe and Mrs Miller (Altman, 1971)
7. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Peckinpah, 1973)
8. One Eyed Jacks (Brando, 1961)
9. Bad Company (Benton, 1972)
10. Heaven's Gate (Cimino, 1980)

Before you ask, no, there hasn't been a great western made since 1980 (though Dead Man (1995), The Proposition (2005) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) are all pretty damn fine). You can quote me on that. I'm being generous too. I know movie buffs who would say there hasn't been a good one made since 1956. I asked my dad what his favourite was. He said The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood, 1976). I said "Pah!"

*If I was a true cineaste, Leone's majestical Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) would be here instead. As John Boorman noted at the time, 'It is the greatest and the last western.' I've never been a huge fan of it, finding it too self-conscious and post-modern. When watching it, Wim Wenders said he 'felt like a tourist in a Western.' I enjoy The Good, the Bad and the Ugly far more. I love the teaming up of Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Clef. Eli Wallach, in particular, is a revelation. And there's some great set pieces.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Double Bill Me


Seeing Deerhunter – the band, not the movie – at the Scala in King's Cross recently bought back nostalgic memories of watching all-night Kenneth Anger movies there when it was still a cinema. London's repertory cinemas are now all but non-existent. Even if a few remain open as cinemas, they are but shadows of their former selves: the Everyman in Hampstead Heath now shows the latest Harry Potter but back in the early 1990s we watched Ai No Corrida twinned with Woman of the Dunes there – two Japanese erotic classics. Likewise, Brixton's Ritzy now shows popcorn fodder but I remember going to a 'blue' all-nighter – that is, Blue Velvet, Betty Blue, Blue Sunshine and the Big Blue.

That was the best thing about the repertory cinemas – their imaginative programming. The Scala in particular had a bizarre mix of horror, porn, foreign and arthouse – and great programme flyers*. Nestled amongst double bills by heavyweight directors such as Kubrick, Fassbinder, Bertolucci, Polanski, Rohmer, Scorsese, Godard, Pasolini, Cronenberg and Herzog would be all-nighters by sleazier house favourites such as John Waters, Walerian Borowczyk, Russ Meyer and Dario Argento. Then an all-day Disney matinee would be followed by an S&M Triple Bill (actually pretty good with Barbet Schroeder's then quite hard to see Maitresse), or a Lesbian Vampire Triple, Triple Yuck (Society, Frankenhooker and Basketcase II), Camp Literature, or, scariest of the lot, all night Keanu Reeves. Other imaginative pairings included Hallucinating Hacks (Naked Lunch and Barton Fink), Rural Ravage (Straw Dogs and The Wickerman), Rent Boy Double (My Own Private Idaho and Midnight Cowboy) and, somewhat cryptically, as a tribute to Francis Bacon: The Last Tango in Paris and Polanksi's The Tenant.

Often the audience was a bizarre mixture too – an assortment of raincoat brigade, students, punks, trendies and the homeless. There was a nice cafe too, which served coffee and carrot cake – so much more civilized than popcorn and Coke. Things were cheap back then too. In 1991, an all-nighter of four films would cost about £5. I guess it was appropriate that the Scala closed over the showing of a (then) banned, cult, violent and misogynistic film: A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick sued and the Scala lost. I miss the sleaziness of the Scala, and its resident cat, who acted like it owned the joint.

Other repertory cinemas had to close down or go mainstream. It's like choosing between being kept alive as a vegetable by a machine or having the plug pulled – I'd choose death any day. Some survive. The Riverside in Hammersmith still has imaginative doubles (we saw The Passenger and Radio On a while ago) and great views of the Thames from its cafe. Of course there's always the stuffy NFT, and the Prince Charles off Leicester Square shows older films for £1.50.

This was before the age of Everything At Your Fingertips (DVDs and the web). If you wanted to see something obscure like Bunuel's Land without Bread, Polanski's early shorts or Flaming Creatures (we did, for some reason), the cinema – and this usually meant either the Scala, the Ritzy, the Everyman, the Electric, the NFT, or the Riverside – was the only place to see them. I know – this was only the 1990s, not the 1890s, but a lot wasn't on VHS and yes, Channel 4 and BBC2 (Moviedrome!) did show some interesting stuff but back then going to the cinema felt like a ritual and an adventure. In the case of the Scala, a real experience.
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* One of the Scala's programmer's was Stephen Woolley who went on to set up Palace Pictures (Diva, the Evil Dead, David Lynch), then produced plenty of really good British films including A Company of Wolves and The Crying Game. He directed his first film Stoned, about Brian Jones, in 2005.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Crop Circling



It must have been going to see the Banksy exhibition in Bristol and then seeing some crop circles in the same week that made me realise the similarities between the two. Graffiti art and crop circles are both clandestine operations, usually done at night, in pretty awkward places, neither exactly legal, but both very public, and questioning of what art can be. They either fade over time or are destroyed – that is, neither of them are permanent. The artists are either outlaws, folk heroes, criminals, vandals, con men or aliens. There are crop circles 'hoaxes' and there are Banksy 'fakes', but neither of them are really – they're still what they are.

We drove to Milk Hill, Alton Barnes, Wiltshire, on a misty Saturday morning which turned out glorious. From the top of Milk Hill we spotted four crop circles – including a great one being described as "a navigational tool to another world or dimension". When we returned home and checked the web updates, another crop circle had appeared below Milk Hill – since we'd been there. Other strange things happened like when we got home a parcel from my mother had arrived – with a clipping of the crop circle we'd just been in. I'd also been looking for a crop circle book I seemed to have mislaid about a year ago. As soon as we got home – I found it, and saw it was by Michael Glickman.

Look, I don't think it's aliens, but I don't think it's humans either – can we agree on something in between? James got an old Spirograph at Frome car boot on the Sunday – and we exclaimed, "So that's how they're made!"

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chapbook


It's all very well reading quality writing online but there's still nothing like holding a magazine in your hands and flicking through it. Afore-mentioned Chris Chapman (publisher of Gullible Travels) has done it again. His Chapbook 2009 – A Hard Slow Log is a fanzine (well, cunningly designed to look like one anyway) with parts pillaged from this very blog as well as Chris's own writing, photos, an amusing photo-strip called Vegan Girl and a world exclusive – the first review of Gullible Travels. My stuff reads even better in Chapbook than it does online – I promise!

Available to buy* now from... I'm not sure actually. Maybe you should ask him. Most likely small yet ubercool record/design/clothes shops in Shoreditch. They'll go like hot cakes. Buy/take yours now. You don't want to have to shell out three figure sums for one on eBay do you?

*I'm not sure either if it costs money or not. Probably free – these sort of ventures are done for love, not money. He'll make the money up on advertising and fame, don't worry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Banksy versus Bristol Museum


Banksy is now officially a British institution. From being chased by police for illegally spray-painting walls to having his paintings and prints sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds, a best-selling book published and his works hung in art galleries, Banksy must be laughing all the way to the bank(sy). He's now been given permission to run amok in his home town, Bristol, in its fine museum and art gallery.

His rise has been gradual and somewhat surprising, since we still know very little about him – not even his real name. Is he still wanted by the police or is it a marketing ploy now? Whether he even exists at all – like William Boyd's hoax Abstract Expressionist artist, Nat Tate, who some critics believed real when a monograph about him was published; even a party was held in his honour – is a moot point. The work is out there in the street and unavoidable, iconic and accessible to all. The public loves the underdog done good (but not too good).

Banksy's – attack is too much of a word; exhibition too little – new event, titled Banksy Vs Bristol Museum is a lot of fun, if nothing else. My three-year old daughter enjoyed it immensely – especially the caged chicken nuggets hatching out of egg shells. It appeals to the child in all of us – being able to poke fun at such a stiff, stuffy, elitist institution. Some of it is like a game – spot the Banksy – once you've seen the main Banksy rooms, there's the rest of the museum to explore and find a Banksy-defaced Old Master in between the boring real art. This is a partial shame – none of the other art in the museum gets a look in (unless it's been 'defaced' by Banksy). Having not been before – in fact, not heard of the place – it was great to see some of the other art – I will return when I'm not being swamped by teenagers taking photos with their phones of every Banksy in the building (one hundred, apparently). Old fart, me?

As much as I like Banksy, much of his work is didactic and gimmicky, poking fun at (now) obvious subjects such as big business, capitalism, fast food, the environment, fox hunting, zoos, CCTV, police, apathy, vandalism, art... every picture is a different target. Did I read he's like the Chapman brothers without the intellect, or did I just think of it? I think I probably read it somewhere but I do agree. His work is immediate, in your face – but is it art? Who cares – it's great fun. When was the last time you heard people laughing out loud in a museum or art gallery?

We got there early – having read we'd have to queue for an hour. We did queue for about an hour (well, I did; partner and daughter drank milkshakes in a nearby cafe), but on our way out there was no queue to be seen. Arrive late. No related merchandise in shop – Aarghh! The exhibition is free and runs until August 31st, 10am-5pm.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gullible Travels: The Book


I wrote this travel book about ten years ago and have been trying to bury it ever since. It doesn't seem to want to go away. In particular, Chris Chapman, long time advocate of the stories, has gone and designed and published it on lulu.com. It's not available quite yet but in the mean time, to whet your appetites, have a look at more of it on Chris's cool graphic design website, chapbook.cc or read a couple of the stories – if you haven't already – at gullible-travels.com. Get your wallets open and be ready for a summer release. Watch this space.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Fête of Lord Bath

My London sightings of obscure but (personal favourite) famous people are near legendary (Peter Blake, Jarvis Cocker, Steven Berkoff) – and did I mention I saw Roger Daltrey, Bill Nighy and Anthony Gormley at the Dylan concert at London's Roundhouse the other month? – but my west country celebrity sightings are somewhat lacklustre.

However, with the fête season in full swing last weekend (we managed three), I got a glimpse of one of my favourite West Country people: Lord Bath (unmistakable from at least 100m), The 7th Marquess of Bath, drinking a pint of ale at Horningsham fête in Wiltshire, which is part of the Longleat estate. As famous for his flamboyant, gaudy attire and 'wifelets' as for being the owner of Longleat estate – including its stately home and safari park, at 77 he still cuts a flamboyant figure with his colourful waistcoats, joie de vivre and wild white hair and beard. He looks like the 1960s never went away.

I got a peek into the workings of his mind when I visited his private rooms at Longleat House. Viewable by guided tour only, many of the rooms are coated floor to ceiling with his paintings and murals. Like his waistcoats, they are a garish mish-mash of every art movement of the 20th century, and a few he seems to have invented along the way. Painted mostly in the 1960s when he was in his late thirties, they consist of nothing less than a history of mankind – from Stone Age man and Wessex discos to fantasies and dreams . It almost goes without saying that some of them are quite sexually explicit.

On the tour, I also got a glimpse of one of his wifelet's rooms. Lord Bath's womanising is legendary and to house his extensive female companions – affectionately known as wifelets, he has rooms for them, as well as cottages in the nearby vicinity. At the last count, Lord Bath has had 74 wifelets. That's roughly one a year for every year of his life. He usually has 3 or 4 on the go at a time.

I first encountered Lord Bath – real name Alexander George Thynn – through the BBC's children's series Animal Park, which I used to watch with my daughter. The series followed animals and keepers around the safari park. Many a tear was shed watching the birth of a giraffe or death of an aardvark. Within Longleat there's also Longleat House (where the murals are), Postman Pat village, maze, adventure castle, Old Joe's Mine (with bats), a railway and safari boat ride (complete with sea lions and a look at Nico's – a gorilla – island in the middle of the lake, where you can see a depressed looking ape watching TV – though which came first the depression or the TV, I'm not sure).

Have a look at his fairly confusing web-site (his hyphen) lordbath.co.uk. It looks like it was designed in 1994 but has pictures of his murals and a comprehensive collection of his writings (much of it sexual): autobiography ('Chapter 2.5 – Childhood – Sex: unearthing the erotic mould'), songs (yes, sexual), poems (yes, yes – sexual – with lines like:

I see you on my couch
with legs apart
your pussy preening in my avid gaze

He's clearly not one to go for the delicate sexual metaphor when the actuality will do) and his journal. In fact, the only non-sexual section is his speeches to the House of Lords. When he says his intention is to put on record 'his total identity', you know he's not joking: he's apparently written six million words of his autobiography and he's only up to 1994.

You can purchase his paintings from the site for a cool £10,000 – with an estimated wealth of £157 million, you can see he clearly needs the money.