Friday, May 27, 2011

Top 10 Films about Painters

Bunuel's vision of The Last Supper in Viridiana

1. ANDREI RUBLEV (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
Tarkovksy's epic (205mins) black and white tale of the 15th century Russian icon painter.

2. EDVARD MUNCH (Peter Watkins, 1974)
Watkin's also-epic (210mins) docudrama of the Norwegian expressionist painter, using non-professional Norwegian actors re-enacting scenes from Munch's life as well as being interviewed in situ, is an exhausting, harrowing and rewarding experience. Ingmar Bergman called the film a work of genius.

3. CARAVAGGIO (Derek Jarman, 1983)
Jarman's best film, about the Italian Renaissance painter as famous for his tumultuous life as for his bold use of chiaroscuro, features such anachronisms as typewriters and calculators.

4. LA BELLE NOISEUSE (Jacques Rivette, 1991)
Another epic at 237 minutes, this one sometimes feels like watching paint dry, but in a good way. It stars Michel Piccoli as a (fictional) reclusive painter and features very long takes of the process of drawing and painting. Only Rivette can get away with this sort of thing. I remember going to see it at the cinema when it came out. Exhausting.

5. LUST FOR LIFE (Vincente Minnelli, 1956 ) / VINCENT (Paul Cox, 1987) / VINCENT & THEO (Robert Altman, 1990) / VAN GOGH (Maurice Pialat, 1991)
Filmmakers are inevitably drawn to Van Gogh's passionate and tortured life. There are other films about the artist, but these four, from four great directors, are probably all you need. All are very different in style.

Controversial filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Vincent's great-nephew, was murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam in 2004.

6. REMBRANDT'S J'ACCUSE (Peter Greenaway, 2008)
Hard to pick just one Greenaway. Originally trained as a painter, most of his films seem to be about artists of one kind or another: Nightwatching, The Pillow Book, The Draughtman's Contract, Belly of an Architect and Goltzius and the Pelican Company, his latest film about Hendrik Goltzius, a 16th century Dutch printer and engraver. I met Greenaway in the early 1990s. He seemed very nice.

7. THE QUINCE TREE SUN (Victor Erice, 1992)
Tragic that Erice has made only three features. This one, his most recent, is a documentary of the Spanish painter Antonio Lopez.

8. PASSION (Jean-Luc Godard, 1982)
A film within a film, with the director making a film also called Passion, recreating 19th century paintings. Visually splendid; it's perhaps no coincidence that this was Godard's first film shot by Raoul Coutard since Week End, fifteen years previously.

9. BASQUIAT (Julian Schnabel, 1996)
Directed by fellow painter Schnabel, with David Bowie playing Andy Warhol, there's plenty to enjoy in this biopic of the graffiti artist.

10. POLLOCK (Ed Harris, 2000)
Ed Harris was born to play (and direct) this film of Jackson Pollock.

Do say: Where's Exit Through the Gift Shop, Rembrandt, Love is the Devil and The Agony and the Ecstasy?
Don't say: Where's Girl with the Pearl Earring?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Notes on having a baby

I find it extraordinary that you need to pass a test to drive a car, but nothing to have and raise a baby. There should be exams!

For the baby, the transition from womb to world is as great as sea creatures evolving into land creatures – except it takes hours rather than millions of years.

A newborn baby is like a new computer without any applications or programmes. It's up to the parents, to a certain extent, to load what information they feel is best onto it.

Like in The Truman Show, she doesn't know for sure she's being watched, photographed and videoed virtually constantly by a multitude of people, but she may have a vague idea something's afoot.

As a baby she used to often look in the middle distance. After she was upset she used to lash out at something. Her eyes seemed to follow something invisible (to us) around the room. Babies can see things, good and bad things like angels and devils, perhaps, that, by the time it comes for them to talk, they have forgotten all about.

Breast milk for a baby is like a drug! It's like blood for a vampire! When the mother even just starts thinking of her baby… her breasts start getting hard and she produces milk. My only (crude) analogy with men is them thinking of a naked woman and getting an erection.

Crying and feeding is what she's really passionate about; everything else just seems to be filling in time between screams and feeds.

I had a great idea for a hovercraft buggy which hovers a few inches above the ground.

An inevitable thing we end up doing when having a baby is guessing what the little thing is going to grow up to be. Every little action the baby does inspires the parents (and grandparents) to fantasise about possible future abilities or careers. The baby starts walking early: he's going to be an athlete! The baby likes dressing Barbie dolls: she's going to be a fashion designer! The baby talks early: she's going to be a linguist! The baby likes looking at planes: he's going to be a pilot! The baby likes books: she's going to be a famous writer! The baby likes examining things: he's going to be a forensic scientist!

We all want our children to be special, and of course they are, but we want them to exceed at something, be better than other people, have better jobs and earn more money than we did. We try to put it to the back of our minds that they're probably going to end up living in Bromley, working in office admin on £14K a year.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Busy bein' busy

Beth: Hey, Greenberg, what are you doing these days?
Greenberg: ...I'm really trying to do nothing for awhile.
Beth: That's brave at our age.
– Greenberg (2010)

Don't just do something, sit there
– Author unknown; possibly Buddha

Busy is the new happy. In fact, happiness doesn't even enter into the equation, as if it's an out-of-date fairytale notion; just being busy is enough. Happy is boring; busy equates with, er, being busy and, perhaps, success – far more important than happiness (which people just don't have time for). What have you been up to? I've been busy. It's a great, all-encompassing excuse for not doing something else: Why didn't you…? Oh, sorry, I've been busy. It doesn't matter what one's been busy with – no doubt it will be something dull, like work or chores. I personally hate being busy. Even if I'm busy doing something 'fun' (though for some reason I don't equate the two), I'm counting the hours and minutes when I can be back doing nothing, thinking, smoking, reading, listening to music, but best of all, napping.

'Idle hands make the devil's work' goes the saying, implying a lazy and bored person is easily seduced by the devil. I imagined the saying was invented by a corporation, but it's actually Biblical, which is just as bad; anyway, corporations and multinationals as well as the media have long-since usurped religion, government and possibly education too. Apparently idleness and mischief go hand in hand. It's good for society to have people busy, keeping the cogs turning; if they sat around thinking they might incite a revolution or something. Then again, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'.

Technology helps us do things quicker and with the comfort of not having to leave home. So traditional, communal activities such as music, cinema, shopping, sex, sports, games and socialising can all be done in front of a screen at home. The internet is meant to free us but has in fact made us antisocial, selfish slaves to the system, Tweeting generic emotions to a machine, addicted to catching up on Facebook, ordering avocados from Ocado.

When people retire, they're often stuck on what to do with the remainder of their time on earth. Either they have a heart attack and die, fill in their time by volunteering in charity shops, watching daytime TV and/or doing courses. Best of all, though, is doing nothing. Surprisingly, it is difficult, for there is an art to it. But the benefits are plentiful; not only does it make time go slower but it's fun and satisfying too. I'm seriously thinking of running a course on how to do nothing successfully.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy 70th birthday, Bob!

'May you stay forever young.'

Expect to have a meltdown any minute now.

Image adapted from the famous poster by Milton Glaser (left) and a Dylan advert in Playboy magazine, September 1976.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Notes on Zach Galifianakis

A fat man with a beard and an unpronounceable (Greek) surname. That makes him automatically funny, right? Zach Galifianakis is everywhere at the moment, in as many media outlets as possible: at the movies he's in The Hangover Part II; on TV he's been hosting Saturday Night Live and co-starring in HBO's Bored to Death (was I? Almost); online he's doing his awkward, embarrassing (and presumably, hopefully, staged) Between Two Ferns, three-minute interviews with celebrities such as Natalie Portman, Bruce Willis and Ben Stiller. If it wasn't for Zach Braff (no, I haven't heard of him either), Galifianakis would be the most popular Zach on the web.

In October last year he smoked a joint on live American TV. But it turned out it wasn't real. He apparently gets embarrassed doing sex scenes in films but shows little embarrassment while, for instance, trying to force Michael Cera to massage his inner thigh on Between Two Ferns.

His film and TV credits neatly sum him up; since 1999 he's played (amongst other roles): Pizza Boy, Pathetic Guy, Bus Stop Man, Weird Wally, Homeless Man, Himself, Dave the Bear, (another) Homeless Guy, Heavyset Man, Hermit, Himself and Humpty Dumpty.

Do say: I love his blend of antisocial behaviour and childish innocence
Don't say: He looks like a younger John Goodman

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An A-Z of favourite films

This rather pointless exercise has been done loads on other blogs (search for Cinematic Alphabet), usually with dreadful, seemingly random films (Almost Famous, Bull Durham, Chasing Amy etc). I like to think that my list is the best. I've cheated just slightly by having foreign films listed by their English or original foreign title, depending on which fitted in best.

Atalante, L'
Blue Velvet
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise, The
Fear Eats the Soul
His Girl Friday
Jules et Jim
Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The
Long Goodbye, The
Mean Streets
Night of the Hunter
One-Eyed Jacks
Quatre Cents Coups, Les
Touch of Evil
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The
Woman of the Dunes
X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes*
Yeux Sans Visage, Les

*Yes, this film does start with an X. There was no way I was going to have an X-Men or X-Files film in there.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lookalikes #10: Thomson and Thompson

Ole Ahlerg's Magritte-like painting of Thomson and Thompson

Though 80s synth band The Thompson Twins named themselves after the bumbling detectives in Tintin, Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond in French) aren't actually twins – they don't have the same surname for a start. However, they do look very alike; in fact the only way to tell them apart is from the shape of their moustaches – Thomsons curves outwards at the bottom.

• Steven Spielberg's animated film version of Tintin, The Secret of the Unicorn, is due out towards the end of the year. Jamie Bell plays Tintin; Gollum is Captain Haddock; Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are Thomson and Thompson; Daniel Craig is Red Rackham. The trailer's just out for it. Using the same kind of animation as Polar Express, it's gonna be awful and pointless, lacking Hergé's genius, charm and humour.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CD of the week: Springsteen at Main Point, 1975

This much-bootlegged concert, originally broadcast on a radio show, finally gets a semi-official release through a legal loophole whereby its copyright has lapsed. It's a great show with good sound quality which captures Springsteen midway between his second and third albums, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle and Born to Run. One striking aspect of the concert is Suki Lahav's violin; reminiscent of Scarlet Rivera's violin playing on Dylan's Rolling Thunder tour the same year, and on his album Desire in 1976. Springsteen here is still in the shadow of Dylan, playing a cover of I Want You, though he forgets half the words (which doesn't matter, much). We also get the chance to hear early versions of Born to Run material including Born to Run, Jungleland, She's the One and Wings for Wheels which would soon become Thunder Road. He forgets the words here too, or perhaps hasn't actually written them yet. No matter. There are also great, extended, energetic versions of songs from the Wild, the innocent and the E Street Shuffle.

The cover is awful. The best bootleg artwork of this performance (and with the best title) was You Can Trust Your Car To The Man Who Wears The Star. The version above has been tackily coloured in, but the original vinyl copy, a black and white, pen and ink illustration, is way better.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 Bruce Springsteen albums

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lookalikes #9: Lloyds TSB and R&S Records logos

Lloyds TSB bank and R&S Records, James Blake's record label.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The album art of Neon Park

Most famous for his long term collaboration with the rock group Little Feat, who considered him a member of the band, Neon Park (born with the more prosaic name Martin Miller, 1940-1993) was an American artist and illustrator whose surreal paintings graced all but one of Little Feat's album covers and perfectly complemented the band's surreal sensibility. Though he will always be synonymous with that group, his other famous album cover was for Frank Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh. Though his paintings remained kitsch (in a sort of late-style Magritte way), surreal and humorous throughout his career (most notably in his pin-up ducks period), in the late 80s he concentrated on a 'taping' technique whereby he would combine two paintings using taped stripes. Mexico, where he spent a lot of time, also figured in his late paintings. His wife had the almost-as-catchy name Chick Strand (though born Mildred Strand).

Notice on the middle far right of the Sailin' Shoes cover (top), a portrait of a dandy-looking Mick Jagger dressed as The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough (the painting that inspired Robert Rauschenberg to paint). Park was apparently inspired by the film Performance which starred Jagger. On the back is the artist Bruegel, hiding behind a bush.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Amazing Album Art of Mati Klarwein

Friday, May 13, 2011

Swearing bands

'Oh no, no regrets at all. It took her about ten years, but my mom even says it now.'
– Paul Leary, guitarist for the Butthole Surfers, on the naming of the band

There have always been bands with rude names. Usually they are pretty unknown (Crazy Penis, Happy Jizz Girls), death metal (Anal Bleeding, Fuck Off, GoatPenis) or punk (The Clit Cops, Harry Pussy, Motherfucker 666); often a combination of the three (Anal Cunt). I guess the intention of these bands was to be offensive as possible. Some bands almost made the mainstream with rude names which weren't really that offensive (Barenaked Ladies, Butthole Surfers, The Pooh Sticks, Shit Robot). Other bands even tried to hide their rude origins: 10cc is said to be an above-average amount of sperm ejaculated by men; The Fugs name comes from the pronunciation of the F word in Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead; Throbbing Gristle is apparently northern slang for a hard-on.

But now there's a bunch of bands with the F word in their names who have almost made it mainstream, with three of them being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize a few years ago: Holy Fuck, Fucked Up and Fuck Buttons.

I'm quite a bit fan of Fuck Buttons, an electronic band from Bristol, who chose their name to sound 'playful and abrasive'. The same might be said for Fuckin' Shit Biscuits, 'the world's first Punk Jam Band'. There are in fact many bands with Fuck in their name. Is it a sign that the word has become desensitised or are the young still trying to offend their parents? Probably the former, thanks in part, perhaps, to hip hop, the internet and TV (though mainstream American TV is still pretty conservative: 24 is full of 'Damn it!'). Fuck may have lost its power to shock, but it'll probably be a while before Anal Cunt becomes mainstream.

But I wonder if having a more PC name would have made rude bands more successful to a mainstream audience. Even searching for them on Ebay presents problems*: type in Fuck Buttons and you're asked if you meant 'fcuk buttons' (43 items).

*Other band names which didn't preempt or consider people trying to search for them on the internet: The Band, Spoon, Low, Can, Mazes, Garbage, Hole, Oasis, Pixies, Queen, R.E.M, Ride, Live, !!!, The The, The Music, The Books, Magazine, Loop, Main...

Monday, May 09, 2011

Skinny dipping in the movies

Clockwise from bottom left: Helen Mirren in Age of Consent; Jenny Agutter in Walkabout; Jane Asher in Deep End

In which three quintessentially English actresses take their clothes off and go swimming in three unique films made forty years ago.

Age of Consent | Dir: Michael Powell | 1969
Deep End | Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski | 1970
Walkabout | Dir: Nicholas Roeg | 1971

Michael Powell's career never recovered after his controversial (at the time) masterpiece Peeping Tom (1960), though it was made the same year as the equally shocking yet popular Psycho. Conservative English film critics essentially destroyed Powell's reputation and career; he would never make a film in England again. Age of Consent, made almost a decade later, was shot in Australia and stars James Mason, playing a successful artist who moves from New York to a small island on the Great Barrier Reef, and a 22-year-old Helen Mirren, who plays a native of the island. Some of the best scenes feature her swimming naked in the ocean.

Walkabout is also an Australian film made by an English director, the one and only Nicholas Roeg. Made just a year after being in the saccharine Railway Children, Jenny Agutter stars as a schoolgirl lost in the outback with her young brother, after their father has killed himself. Befriended by an Aboriginal boy (ubiquitous Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil), they track for days through the desert. Jenny Agutter swimming naked in a pool they come across is one of the most famous sequences, but the whole film has an extraordinary, almost hallucinogenic visual sense and Agutter's journey becomes one of sexual awakening.

The freshly 'found' (after apparently being 'lost') Deep End has a short run at London's NFT, as well as a couple of other places. Like fellow Łódź film school graduate Roman Polanski, director Jerzy Skilimowski came to London from Poland and gave us a slice of surreal, dark and erotic London no British filmmaker seemed capable of. And like Powell and Roeg in Australia, seeing a place with fresh eyes often gives fresh and original insights. Polanski had made the dark, surreal psychological horror film Repulsion in London in 1965 (after his first Polish feature, the largely water bound Knife in the Water), exploring Catherine Deneuve's demented inner state through visual means including dream scenes, cracking walls and later, most famously, grabbing hands coming through walls.

Jane Asher, now more famous as a cake decorator than actress (or the woman who was engaged to Paul McCartney in the late 60s; she ended up marrying illustrator Gerald Scarfe) was 24-years-old when she starred in Deep End as Susan, a red-haired temptress who works at a swimming pool. Innocent school-leaver Mike (John Moulder-Brown) gets a job there and swiftly develops a crush for Susan. Though the story begins as typical teenage angst, it eventually turns into sexual obsession and the film captures seedy London at the end of the swinging sixties like no other with its stark, surreal visuals and music by German band Can and Cat Stevens (Hal Ashby's bizarre black comedy Harold and Maude, made the same year, also has a great Cat Stevens soundtrack). A surreal fantasy sequence of Mike swimming naked with a cut-out cardboard lookalike of Susan, which suddenly morphs into the real thing, shows Mike's inability to tell reality from fantasy. The film's visual motif of liquids – water, ice (turning into water), even paint – inevitably ends with the most visual of all: blood.

I guess it goes without saying that male film directors like nothing better than a beautiful, young woman taking their clothes off for the camera yet there is something visually poetic as well as erotic (for men anyway) about a naked woman swimming underwater.

Film critic David Thomson mentions in this month's Sight & Sound review of Deep End the similarities with Jean Vigo's water bound masterpiece L'Atalante (1934). Both films feature water as a symbol of sexual desire; Vigo uses water as a poetic, often surreal motif throughout L'Atalante, with Jean Dasté searching for his missing wife (the delectable Dita Parlo) through water (including hugging a block of ice); she had told him he would only know he knows he truly loves her when he sees her in water, culminating in the lyrical, moving scene of seeing her appear before him dancing in her wedding dress when he dives into a river.

• Deep End at the BFI

Previously on Barnflakes:
Jean Vigo and L'Atalante
Top Ten British Film Directors

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Kindle Despise

Anthony Burgess once said owning a book is as good as reading it, which, according to the best-selling book Freakonomics is true, as studies have shown that merely having books in the house is as good for your child as actually reading them a book.

The death of the physical book has been predicted for years, and though Amazon like to say their Kindle is the best-selling item on Amazon as well as having the most 5-star reviews of any product, I've yet to see more than one in public (though I've seen loads of iPads). Maybe people use them at home or on holiday. Anyway, in theory it's a great idea as people are decluttering their cramped homes and trying to make room for… other crap.

However, being a book lover and collector, it goes without saying that I prefer the physical item of a book, turning the pages, gazing at the cover (if it's good) etc. I own over 600 books, possibly a quarter of which I haven't read, but even if I don't buy another book for the next five years (doubtful, as I buy about one a week), it will probably take me that to read what I already have.

Kindle advertising goes on about how you can store 3,500 books on it. Depending on which source you believe, the average American reads between 1 and 9 books a year, making 3,500 books sound a bit daunting. It's not like with music, where it takes less than an hour to listen to an average album and you make playlists where you choose whatever songs you like. A book will take at least a week to read (some people even take a month), so unless the Kindle employs an equivalent function to iTunes, where you could shuffle pages between different books randomly and employ a kind of William Burroughs' cut-up technique, 3,500 books is pointless (even for an avid reader, it's only possible to read about 3,000 books in a lifetime).

The Kindle works out quite expensive too. After shedding over £100 to buy the thing, you've got to buy the eBooks too, which with the price of the average physical book now pretty cheap (online, half price sales, supermarkets, charity shops) actually works out more expensive than buying the actual book.

I've said many a time how old-fashioned I am, but I do like to have a physical object for my money. I know we tend to only read books the once, but considering the amount of time we spend holding, turning pages and reading a book (hours, months), I think it's good to keep them on the shelf, gaze at the spines and think, yes, I read that (or at least am going to in the near future).

Friday, May 06, 2011

London through its charity shops #10: Goodge St

It's always a surprise seeing charity shops in the west end, there usually being so few, so it was close to a miracle finding three virtually next to each other along Goodge Street, W1, off Tottenham Court Road, and getting some barngains too.

Goodge Street is in an area of London known as Fitzrovia which has a fine history of bohemianism and crime. Formerly known as North Soho, the area was unofficially renamed Fitzrovia after the famous pub, the Fitzroy Tavern which, in its day, attracted a crowd of artistic and bohemian types including George Orwell, Augustus John, Dylan Thomas and Aleister Crowley. Artists and writers including Thomas Paine, John Constable, Walter Sickert, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and Arthur Rimbaud all lived in the area at various times.

Famous hangman Albert Pierrepoint was drinking in the Fitzroy Tavern when he witnessed the murder of Alec de Antiquis on the corner of Charlotte Street and Percy Street on 29th April 1947. Antiquis, a 34-year-old father of six was shot dead trying to stop the criminals of a botched robbery in a nearby jewellery shop.

According to The Daily Mail et al you'd be thinking there was more gun crime and teenage gangs today than ever before. This isn't the case. Post-war London had a huge influx of guns and gangs (12,300 gang members were convicted in 1947). The robbers who shot Antiquis were either in their teens or early twenties. Robert Fabian, the famous 'Fabian of the Yard', was in charge of a massive manhunt; the gang was eventually caught and two of them sentenced to death by hanging. The chief executioner at the hanging was none other than Albert Pierrepoint.

Coming from Tottenham Court Road, the first charity shop on the right is a fairly small and shaggy YMCA with plenty of clothes, some bric-a-brac, books and CDs. When I went in they had a fine assortment of CDs, including Beatles, McCartney and Dylan, though some of them looked a bit scratched. The CD pricing system seems quite imaginative, with prices based on the amount of songs contained on an album. I got the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, which didn't have a price on it, so I asked how much it was. The woman at the till counted the songs on it (16) and deemed it to be 99p. Other CDs – Bob Dylan's Christmas in the Heart (not exactly seasonal, but sealed); a live Lou Reed; Flight of the Conchords – were 49p. I also got a topical Saint Etienne compilation (99p; well, it does have 25 tracks) called Songs for the Dog & Duck, 'The soundtrack to an evening in Soho, epicentre of British pop since the mid-50s'. A great, eclectic selection, ranging from The Zombies to, er, Bill Oddie. The Dog and Duck was the pub of choice for local record company Heavenly Records, who produce Saint Etienne.

Next door is an Octavia, equally scruffy as YMCA but no bargains. A bit further on is a pretty large Oxfam with a downstairs containing a lot of books and music. Upstairs a decent selection of clothes and bric-a-brac and more CDs. Barngain of the day: Boards of Canada – In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country (EP; £1.49).

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Random Film Review: I'm Still Here

Dir: Casey Affleck | USA | 2010 | 106mins

We naively assume documentaries tell the truth but truth can be very subjective, dictated by point of view, subject matter and a host of other variables. I'm Still Here (its title perhaps a sly nudge to the film I'm Not There, concerning Bob Dylan's multiple selves) came out amongst several so-called mock docs, including Catfish* (which itself was reminiscent of 2007's My Kid Could Paint That), Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Arbor. Though not the first mockumentaries – other cinematic examples of the sub genre include F for Fake, The War Game, Zelig, This is Spinal Tap, Man Bites Dog, The Blair Witch Project and Borat (as well as TV show the Office and Orson Welles' famous 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds) – these films seemed to capture the zeitgeist, exploring themes of identity, celebrity and technology.

Though I'm Still Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, is now known to be a hoax, following actor Phoenix in his retirement from acting and quest to become a beardy weirdy hip-hop star, the film can be seen as an indictment of the negative power of celebritism; how, if you're rich and famous (though I'm not exactly sure how Joaquin is famous; I've only seen him in Walk the Line) you can get or do whatever you want, even if it's obviously, clearly bad for you, and no one says a thing to stop you. You can enter into a hugely downward spiral and no one intervenes. Just look at Charlie Sheen: he seems genuinely ill but gets all the airtime he wants, innumerable 'goddesses', a touring sell-out show. People either laugh, ridicule or support his crazy behaviour but no one intervenes (not even his dad!). And Michael Jackson's doctor prescribed him drugs he knew weren't good for him, because Jackson was Jackson, and paid him. And so Jackson died. And Joaquin Phoenix – okay, so it's a hoax, but many people actually thought he was losing it, laughed at him when he seemed to be in trouble and let him carry on regardless.

As noted in The Guardian, Phoenix's role was 'celeb-savvy performance art'. If so, was there actually any need for the film at all? Could Phoenix have kept his persona up for a year without being followed by camcorders for the purpose of the 'documentary' but pulled it off just from catatonic TV interviews, public sightings and really bad hip-hop gigs? As it was, the film doesn't shed that much light on the man except showing he's a dick; it's a relatively dull affair, even when pulling off movie star clichés like snorting coke off a hooker's breasts. It would have made for a purer piece of performance art if the art was simply Joaquin Phoenix himself, without the film but with all the media attention.

*Look at the difference between The Social Network and Catfish. The Social Network is about the creation of Facebook and Catfish about the effects of it. It's like the difference between, say, a film about the making of a gun and a thriller.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

On Silbury Hill

Whenever I hear Peter Gabriel's song Solsbury Hill, about a spiritual experience the singer had on top of the Somerset hill and his leaving the group Genesis, I always imagine he's singing about the Neolithic Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (other people mishear the song as Salisbury Hill, which sounds nearer to Solsbury than Silbury; however, there is no Salisbury Hill but there is a Salisbury Plain). Silbury Hill, standing 40 metres high (similar in size to the smaller Egyptian pyramids) and dating back almost five thousand years (also around the time of the pyramids), is the largest man-made hill in Europe and one of the largest in the world. No one knows its purpose, but its close proximity to both Avebury and Stonehenge indicates a spiritual or cultural reason for the mound.

Since leaving late last year, Wiltshire has become like my spiritual home (not somewhere I'd necessarily want to live, but great to visit). This last bank holiday weekend – which started with a royal wedding and ended in the assassination of the world's most wanted man – I spent in Wiltshire where I managed to 'tick' most things I love about the county (aside from the obvious – my daughter and ex-partner): car boot sales, cheap(ish) charity shops, Avebury, Silbury Hill, Devizes, morris dancers, a Punch and Judy show, great weather, rolling hills… and a crop circle. This is the third one spotted in the UK this year so far (the first in the world was found in a rice field near Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia), and the second in Wiltshire. Situated in a 'magical' area for crop circles – on a hill over-looking Silbury Hill, close to the West Kennet Long Barrow and Avebury, it's not a particularly great example – probably because it was produced in a oilseed rape field which I guess is a more difficult crop to manipulate than wheat. Still, it's not bad and it felt good being in one again and knowing that crop circle season has officially started in Wiltshire.