Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Trusted

"Some words of advice: Never introduce your mother to your lover. Never date a celebrity with a drink problem. Never look back. Not all advice, however, is worth taking."

Melanie May has just finished her first novel, The Trusted. It's available to buy on lulu.com. I designed the cover and layout – but don't let that put you off. It's a great read.

For more information about the phenomenon that is lulu (and another plug of Mel's book), check out this blog by Mel's journo friend, Simon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lookalikes #3: Roxy Music's Country Life


Clockwise from top left: Sweet Apple Love & Desperation (2010); Roxy Music Country Life (1974); German artist Pia Dehne's interpretation of the cover (2008); alternative U.S. censored version of it (1975).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Flâneur Magazine


Travel magazines are such a dull affair – in fact, they shouldn't even be called travel magazines – tourist magazines would be a more apt description. More concerned with the best beach resorts, hotels and restaurants than anything about the country in question or its people, they are mostly bland affairs for people with money but very little imagination.

It's quite surprising there's been no 'edgy', interesting travel magazines on the shelves, so it's a pleasure to receive a few issues of Flâneur (a flâneur is someone who likes to wonder a city). Like a cross between Colors, Vice and Eye, it's a visually exciting as well as a fascinating publication, featuring a bewildering array of obscure features, graphic design and photo essays such as Arabic type faces, international cinema posters and cigarette packets, belly-dancing clubs in Cairo, chess in Kuta, oysters in New Orleans, Indonesian poetry and Mexican guerrilla dolls. And that's just the first five pages of issue one. 'Either everything matters or nothing does.' Interestingly, it has a different design and masthead each issue.

Flâneur magazine – 'A travel magazine for the discerning loafer' – is published quarterly, priced £6.

(Obviously I've just made this magazine up, but if someone wants to finance it for real, that would be great.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Inside Battersea Power Station


Talking of crumbling, abandoned iconic landmarks (see yesterday's post), here's what the inside of London's Battersea Power Station looks like. Yep, it's an empty shell of its former self. Without a roof. What to do with the building has been hotly debated for the last twenty years, in which time the Grade-II listed building has been left to decompose. Umpteenth plans have been submitted over the years (when I was a kid it was going to be a theme park), all of them collapsing, like the building will do eventually, unless it's purposely knocked down and the prime land next to The Thames sold off.

The latest plans (after many setbacks) include a rather pedestrian mix of offices, shops, housing and restaurants. The joint owner, playboy property millionaire Johnny Ronan, has had his private life in the news lately. He jetted off to Marrakesh for the weekend with a former Miss World – the cost of which apparently could have saved the ailing iconic white pillars.

In a perfect world... it should have been preserved as it was, given to English Heritage and turned into a museum with parkland around it. Naive idealist, moi?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sound Mirrors


You'd be forgiven for thinking these were either purpose-built sculptures, satellite dishes from an ancient civilisation or some kind of alien apparatus. They are, in fact, concrete sound mirrors, an early form of radar. Made to detect approaching enemy aircraft, they were soon made obsolete when radar was introduced in the 1930s.

Built in the early part of the 20th century, sound or acoustic mirrors were littered along the English coast, the most famous remaining ones (three of them, pictured) can be seen at Denge in Kent. (If you are in the area it's well worth popping to nearby desolate Dungeness with its bleak landscape, nuclear power station, black wooden houses and Derek Jarman's garden, now owned by his surviving partner. Dungeness is one of the largest shingle areas in the world and has unique flora and fauna.)

There's no public access to the mirrors, so a guided walk is the only way to see them – they are now surrounded by a moat and a usually locked swing bridge is opened a couple of times a year for visitors. My boon companion and I arrived late (even though we were travelling at 90mph in an Alfa Romeo Sprint) and hastened across the shingles and pebbles to find the group. We came across more lost people, who at least had a map and compass, and between us we found the group just as they were about to close the bridge to the mirrors. Make no mistake, they are pretty difficult to find (they're in an old gravel pit in the middle of nowhere); you don't really see them in the distance, then suddenly they're right in front of you, and there is a feeling akin to stumbling upon, say, Borobudur, Angkor Wat or some other relic of a lost civilisation.

Further details here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wiltshire Barmaid Eaten by Tiger

In 1703 Hannah Twnnoy, 33, had the dubious honour of being the first (and last?) person in Britain killed by a tiger. Twnnoy, a barmaid in the Wiltshire town of Malmesbury, apparently teased the tiger, who was part of a travelling circus. The tiger wasn't amused. It broke free and ate her.

Her gravestone reads:

In memory of
Hannah Twynnoy
Who died October 23rd 1703
Aged 33 Years.

In bloom of Life
She's snatchd from hence
She had not room
To make defence;
For Tyger fierce
Took Life away
And here she lies
In a bed of Clay.
Until the Resurrection Day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Whatever happened to Chris Cunningham?


For his model work on the film Judge Dredd, he caught the eye of Kubrick, who then died, but Spielberg hired him for special effects and models for his (dreadful) version of A.I. After that he became a film-maker.

For a while in the 90s, Chris Cunningham was making the best, most original and disturbing music videos in the world. I remember wanting to be him. His videos for Aphex Twin, Bjork and Portishead seemed like mini-feature films and I felt like he was too good for mere pop promos. He made cool ads too – remember that PlayStation one with the girl with the big head?

The next logical step for him was to direct features. I wondered if he was going to expand on his videos and make an urban horror (Aphex Twin's Windowlicker) or sci-fi porn (Bjork's All is Full of Love). Apparently he had plans to make a film of William Gibson's Neuromancer (the book that gave us the term 'cyberspace') which ended up amounting to nothing. Richard Linklater then beat him to adapting Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly.

In the early 00s he did some video installations. Then in 2005 came Rubber Johnny, a very disturbing (even by his standards) short film put out on the Warp label. This was his personal home movie (perhaps too personal), over three years in the making, and shot largely at weekends using the night-vision option on a DV camcorder, and demonstrates what happens when film-makers aren't given the constraints of time and budget. I saw it once when it came out and it's pretty gross. And pretty embarrassing as a home movie.

I revisited Cunningham's earlier work by watching his DVD put out on the Director's Label in 2004. Other film-makers on the label had gone on the great things – most notably Michel Gondry and Spike Jones, but Cunningham seemed stuck in the past. Some of his videos and a few of the ads still hold up well but there hasn't been anything by him like it since.

More recently he took some typically disturbing pictures of Grace Jones for Dazed & Confused magazine and produced a few songs on The Horrors fine album, Primary Colours (2009). He also directed a video for them. He's been talking about doing his own music for years. You might be able to hear some next month at London's South Bank Centre's 'hugely anticipated multimedia experience' combining new video work and his own music, as part of their Ether festival. Check it out here. I'm sure it will be great.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Scarlet Cups


We stumbled across these striking looking fungus (left), sarcoscypha coccinea, otherwise known as scarlet cup, whilst walking in a local meadow. My daughter exclaimed that they look like jam tarts. Even though red usually symbolises danger in nature, apparently they're edible after cooking. I don't really fancy them though.

In fact, given the choice, I'd probably rather eat the mushroom on the right, which looks rather like a common field mushroom, unless someone told me it was called a death cap mushroom.

A verdict of accidental death was finally recorded yesterday after a Thai woman living in the Isle of Wight died in 2008 from eating death cap mushrooms.

You never can tell with mushrooms. Best only eat the supermarket variety, just in case.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Top 10 Cinematographers*

...Plus the films and directors they're best associated with.

1. Gregg Toland [Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath] Key director: Orson Welles
2. Gordon Willis [Manhattan, The Godfather I &II] Key directors: Woody Allen, Francis Coppola, Alan Pakula
3. Vilmos Zsigmond [The Long Goodbye, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind] Key directors: Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg
4. Raoul Coutard [A Bout de Souffle, Le Mepris, Weekend] Key director: Jean-Luc Godard
5. Nestor Almendros [Ma Nuit chez Maud, Maîtresse, Days of Heaven] Key directors: Eric Rohmer, Francois Truffaut
6. Vittorio Storaro [Apocalypse Now, Reds, Last Tango in Paris] Key director: Bernardo Bertolucci
7. Robby Müller [The American Friend, Paris, Texas, Down by Law] Key directors: Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch
8. Christopher Doyle [Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love] Key director: Wong Kar-wai
9. Laszlo Kovacs [Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, New York, New York] Key directors: Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich
10. Frederick Elmes [Eraserhead, Blue Velvet] Key director: David Lynch

I've had to leave out Haskel Wexler, Russell Metty and Nicolas Roeg. Sorry.

*Nowadays more prosaically called Directors of Photography. There is a subtle difference apparently, but I'm not sure what. Look it up.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Lookalikes #2: Playmobil girl and Drey Barrymore


Playmobil girl (1995) and Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer (1998).

See lookalikes #1 – Paul Daniels and Michael J Anderson – here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Visions of Alice


Three of the best, from top left: Disney's surreal, almost kitsch Alice in Wonderland (1951); Jonathan Miller's austere black and white version for the BBC (1966) with a sulky and bored-looking Alice and a who's who supporting cast of British film and theatre actors including Wilfrid Brambell (from Steptoe and Son), Peter Cook, John Gielgud, Alan Bennett, Peter Sellers and Michael Redgrave; Jan Svankmajer's typically macabre Alice (1988) combining stop motion animation and live action to creepy effect. Right: one of John Tenniel's brilliant illustrations for the original book (1865).

The great thing about the Alice books though – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872) – is we all have our own version of them in our imaginations.

Tim Burton's new version – with a nineteen-year-old Alice – opens nationwide tomorrow.

Read my previous post about Alice Liddell's grave here.