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.