Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lookalikes #23: Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman

They both had the same surname; they both came from Sweden; they both worked in the movies. They were not related in any way.

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), serious, weighty, intellectual filmmaker, praised by everyone from Woody Allen to Andrei Tarkovsky. Made many great films including Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal and Persona. His films are long and intense but well-worth watching. From 2014, his face will appear on the new Swedish 200 kronor banknote.

Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), actress, starred in such classics as Casablanca, Notorious, Stromboli and Voyage to Italy. Ousted from the States after her affair with Roberto Rossellini, she returned triumphantly in 1956 with Anastasia, winning her second Oscar.

Ingrid actually acted in one of Ingmar's films, Autumn Sonata (1978). I wonder if there was any confusion on set.

Don't worry, I will stop doing these Lookalikes (or should that be Soundalikes, one keen reader quipped to me the other day) soon. I realise it's like my own private joke in public. Just humour me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bergman via Guthrie

Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman,

Let's go make a picture
On the island of Stromboli, Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman, you're so perty,
You'd make any mountain quiver
You'd make my fire fly from the crater
Ingrid Bergman

This old mountain it's been waiting

All ist life for you to work it
For your hand to touch the hardrock,

Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman

If you'll walk across my camera,
I will flash the world your story,

I will pay you more than money, Ingrid Bergman

Not by pennies dimes nor quarters,
But with happy sons and daughters,

And they'll sing around Stromboli, 
Ingrid Bergman

– Ingrid Bergman by Woody Guthrie (1950)

Ingrid Bergman is one of Woody Guthrie's unpublished songs that he never recorded. Bob Dylan, in his autobiography Chronicles Volume One, mentions how Woody told him about a bunch of songs he'd written when Dylan used to visit him in hospital. The songs were left in Guthrie's house on Mermaid Avenue when he died in 1967. In 1998 Billy Bragg and Wilco put the lyrics to music on the album Mermaid Avenue.

I went through a bit of a neo-realist phase back in the day, but Stromboli (1950), though a key film of neo-realism, I always found to be more neo-surrealist. Watch the last ten minutes with Bergman writhing about on the volcano. Magnifico!

The film came about after Ingrid Bergman watched two of director Roberto Rossellini's films, and was so impressed she wrote to him offering her acting services. He replied, and the rest is cinematic history. They would make five films together, the first of which, Stromboli, contains the justly-famous, magnificent fishing scene and the volcano itself, Stromboli (off the coast of Sicily) erupting right on cue for filming.

Behind the scenes things were also erupting, with Rossellini and Bergman embarking on a well-publicised affair when both were married to other people, and Bergman getting pregnant, which caused a huge scandal at the time. Bergman gave birth to a son, Renato. Bergman and Rossillini eventually got their divorces and were able to marry each other. They had two more children, Isabella (model and actress in Lynch's Blue Velvet) and Isotta (professor).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lookalikes #22: John Cage, JJ Cale & John Cale

I never wrote a song called 'Cocaine'
I never told a lie
I never wrote a song called 'After Midnight'
But my name is Cale
You can call me John
Yes my name is Cale
I know, I know, I know
How that will be
– From What's Welsh for Zen, The Autobiography of John Cale (and a song occasionally performed live by Cale).

John Cage (1912-1992), influential American avant-garde composer, most famous for his composition 4' 33", consisting of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence. You really must hear it. Or not.

JJ Cale (b. 1938), American blues musician and songwriter, most famous for songs After Midnight and Cocaine, covered by Eric Clapton. Born John Cale, a Vegas nightclub owner employing him in the 1960s came up with the 'JJ' to avoid confusion with the other John Cale.

John Cale (b. 1942), Welsh, founder member of the Velvet Underground and record producer. Since leaving the Velvet Underground, Cale has released over thirty solo records of variable quality. He has also produced probably more, including The Stooges' first album, Nico's The Marble Index, Desertshore and The End, Horses by Patti Smith and The Modern Lovers debut LP.

In the 1960s it apparently embarrassed John Cale that people confused him with John Cage, a musician Cale respected. 'And I sometimes got the royalty receipts of JJ Cale,' remembers John, 'and I think the bluesman got mine'.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lookalikes #21: Anna Karenina and Anna Karina

Anna Karenina is a 19th century Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karina is a Danish-born French actress, most famous for her films made with Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s, including Une Femme est une Femme, Bande à Part, Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou. As well as being Godard's muse, she was also his wife. They were divorced in 1965 and she's been married four times since.

I'm not surprised to learn there is a band called Anna Karenina/Anna Karina (and one called The Death Of Anna Karina, though she is currently alive).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Bands named after actors

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lookalikes #20: Flesh Gordon & Flash Gordon

It's hard to say which version is camper (or sexier): Flesh Gordon, a 1974 soft core porn spoof of the original 1936 Flash Gordon TV series, or Flash Gordon, made in 1980, which often seems like a parody of Flesh Gordon. Flesh Gordon has surprisingly high production values for a porno film, but this was the early 70s, when porn threatened to go mainstream with films such as Deep Throat (1972), The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) and Emmanuelle (1974).

In Flesh Gordon, earth becomes infected by a 'sex ray'; Flesh, Dale Ardor and Dr Jerkoff set off in a penis-shaped (well, aren't they all?) spaceship to planet Porno to defeat the evil Emperor Wang (though his original name, Emperor Ming, sounds ruder). There is much nudity and sexual innuendos throughout. The impressive special effects were created by Mike Minor, Greg Jein and Rick Baker, who, between them, would go on to design effects for key sci-fi films of the 70s including Star Trek, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Rick Baker would become most successful as a special make up effects designer, earning an Oscar for An American Werewolf in London and working on many films including Videodrome, The Howling, Gorillas in the Mist, Ed Wood, Batman Forever and Men in Black. Memorable special effects in Flesh Gordon include the penisaurus and the hilarious Great God Porno (a monster with personality!), both created using stop-motion animation, recalling films such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. Indeed, the similar use of animation makes the effects look like Ray Harryhausen's with a hard on. And it's worth noting that the Great God Porno's unofficial name is Nesuahyrrah (which is Harryhausen spelt backwards. Harryhausen is also the name of the restaurant that gets vaporised in Monsters Inc.).

The special effects and acting in Flash Gordon are possibly worse than its soft core cousin – but that's part of its charm. Based on the comic (rather than the TV series) and written by Lorenzo Semple Jr who wrote the equally-camp Batman TV series (though, inexplicably, he also wrote the excellent – and serious – films The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor), the film performed great in the UK but really badly everywhere else. Also inexplicably, it was directed by Mike Hodges, who made the hard-as-nails Get Carter (though before Flash Gordon he'd directed a sci-fi film, The Terminal Man, and would go on to make the moronic Morons from Outer Space).

A decent cast (amongst the bad acting), including Max von Sydow as Ming, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed and Robbie Coltrane, did not extend to the eponymous lead, played by Playgirl magazine model Sam J. Jones, who had all his lines dubbed by another actor in post-production. But Jones' hunky looks suit the role, his dumb blonde persona a perfect foil to the British (or European) thespians, who all look like they're having a great time. The whole film is pure over the top fun; a pop art cartoon, kinky, gaudy, with a great Queen soundtrack and terrific, sexy costumes.

Brian, bless him; Sam, a Flash in the pan

Since its initial relative flop and negative reviews, Flash Gordon seems to have been reappraised on the web as a cult classic (Flesh Gordon was always, inevitably, going to be a cult classic). And Sam Jones' performance may have even contributed to some people's sexuality; well, he does approach his execution wearing just handcuffs and a pair of leather trunks – that kind of image is going to affect certain young, male, sensitive souls. In my case, I was exposed to Flesh Gordon far too young (aged 8), though what the long term psychological consequences of that are, I'm really not keen to speculate.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Modern architecture is rubbish

It regularly gets voted as one of the ugliest buildings in London and has been threatened with demolition for over a year now, but I have a soft spot for the Marco Polo House, otherwise known as the QVC Shopping Channel building. It's an imposing monolith overlooking Battersea Park and sitting next to Battersea Power Station. Designed by Ian Pollard, not actually an architect but a developer, it was built in 1987 when postmodernism was in full swing and brash architectural statements were all the rage.

With the lease on the building ending in July this year, staff of QVC are planning to move to Chiswick Park and there are plans to demolish the glass and marble structure to build, inevitably, blocks of bland, ugly luxury flats. Which look like the architectural equivalent of terraced rice paddies on a hill.

Another postmodern eyesore is No 1 Poultry in the City of London, which came number five in Time Out's poll of London's ten worst buildings a few years back. Like the QVC building, I actually don't mind No 1 Poultry, it's only because the beautiful (and listed) neo-gothic Mappin and Webb building was demolished to make way for it that I feel bitterness towards it and all involved in it (who need to be rounded and shot for crimes against aestheticism). An interesting blog here, though, about its history and rooftop garden.

Beauty and the Beast... Before and after

This is apparently quite a regular occurrence, with councils of course having no regard for architectural beauty and history but only to make a fast buck. Iconic Pimlico school was apparently demolished a few months before it was to be listed. Built between 1967-1970, it was designed by John Bancroft (who died last September) and a fine example of brutalist architecture. In recent years the school had been performing well too, but Westminster council had let the building deteriorate and a friend of mine whose son attending the school, heard rumours of the school falsifying its performance, i.e. stating it was doing worse than it actually was in order to make the academy seem an appealing prospect. Although not always the case, it would have been a lot cheaper to keep the old school and renovate it rather than demolish it to build the academy. But the academy – owned by a venture capitalist with close ties to Tory Party front bench – went ahead and is now a specialist arts college. Just what we need, then, when public spending on the arts is being cut to pieces.

Similarly, according to uban75, Erno Goldfinger's (who designed iconic Trellick Tower) Coronet cinema in the Elephant & Castle was demolished the weekend before it was to get listed. Not that even being listed makes any difference; if the beautiful, listed Mappin and Webb building can get demolished, what hope has a concrete cinema in south London?

A similar fate befell the beautiful Firestone Factory in West London, demolished days before it was to get listed status. At least they kept the front gates. In all these examples, when reported in the news, it starts with the now obligatory phrase, 'despite protests...' It's always a losing battle.

In my daydreams, I often think it would be nice to stop demolishing or building any new buildings for, say, five years, and in that time, preserve, regenerate and convert what we have, ie buildings that have been left empty for years to rot. There is now close to a million empty homes in the UK and over 10% of office space in the City of London has remained empty for years, as well as many vacant government buildings around the country.

Councils allowing luxury apartments to be built all over the place certainly isn't going to solve the housing crisis, not least because (ironically) many of them remain empty, bought as they are by rich Asian and Middle Eastern businessmen as an investment and destined to remain vacant for years, or bought by landlords to rent out at exorbitant rates (still, at least the council get their money, even if they are knocking down important buildings, or even just practical ones, you know, like schools, colleges, hospitals, post offices and pubs). Normal flats for normal families to be able to buy just aren't being built any more. My top ten ugly buildings wouldn't be any of Time Out's top ten, most of which I quite like but, rather, all ten would be modern apartment blocks and all they represent.

Besides, though it does seem as if ubiquitous ugly over-priced apartment blocks are turning up all over London, ruining it bit by bit, in fact only 129,000 homes were built in England in 2010; only 2.8 per cent of which were converted offices. But if all long-term empty office space were converted it would create 250,000 new homes; add that to filling up the million empty homes and you've solved the housing crisis (temporarily) without ruining the country.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Death of the High Street
Postmodern Teapots

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Top 10 foreign sci-fi movies

In the zone: Tarkovsky's Stalker (above), like many of the sci-fi films on this list, relies very little on special effects, just extraordinary imagery and severe obfuscation. One of my favourite contemporary writers (who I've mentioned before once or twice), Geoff Dyer, has just had published Zona: A book about a film about a journey to a room, an examination of Stalker, a film Dyer is obsessed with.

1. Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979, USSR)
2. La Jetée (Marker, 1962, France)
3. Brazil (Gilliam, 1985, UK)
4. Alphaville (Godard, 1965, France)
5. The Man who Fell to Earth (Roeg, 1976, UK)
6. La Planète Sauvage (Laloux, 1973, France)
7. Solaris (Tarkovksy, 1972, USSR)
8. Tetsuo (Tsukamoto, 1989, Japan)
9. Battle Royale (Rouaiaru, 2000, Japan)
10. 2046 (Kar-wai, 2004, Hong Kong)

Also: Metropolis (Germany), Le Dernier Combat (France), Fahrenheit 451 (UK/France), A Clockwork Orange (UK), Akira (Japan), Timecrimes (Spain), The Host (South Korea)

Friday, February 03, 2012

She Leaves: The Remake!

I know I'm the first to bemoan European art house filmmakers who sell their films to Hollywood only to have them remade into bland, pointless, mainstream blockbusters, but it appears a similar fate has befallen one of my early student films, She Leaves (made at film school in 1993). Well, sort of. I worked with producer Bruce Webb in 1995 on a low-budget road movie shot in Nottingham and Morocco. Since then he's run a successful production company, Whatever Pictures, and recently directed his first feature film, The Be All and End All, about a youth with a heart condition not wanting to die a virgin, featuring, among others, Liza Tarbuck.

Anyway, what I'm getting to is that Bruce remembered me telling him about She Leaves in Morocco when it had for its soundtrack the Shipping Forecast (now it's just Boards of Canada). Something about it caught Bruce's imagination (presumably the naked woman in a bath). He asked my permission last year to re-make it. Bemused, I of course said yes and promptly forgot all about it. Now he tells me he's actually shot it, though it's a long way from being finished as he's going to spend a lot of time on the sound. The edge he has over my version – apart from skill, experience, budget, proper actors, technology, etc – is he knows the man who reads out the shipping news and is getting him to do the voice over.

Disregard what I said at the start – remakes? They're the ultimate compliment! I'm looking forward to seeing Bruce's interpretation. In the meantime, you'll probably want to revisit my original (above). And be reminded about my DVD. Which Bruce and his girlfriend love, by the way.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Marc Bolan's Barnes Rock Shrine

After picking up a double LP of T-Rex's Greatest Hits in a charity shop for £1, I remembered that Marc Bolan had died round the corner from where I live, in Barnes, Southwest London, just before his 30th birthday in September 1977. His girlfriend, American singer Gloria Jones, was driving home with Bolan (who couldn't drive) when she lost control of the car and hit a tree on Queens Road. Bolan died instantly; Jones suffered only minor injuries. Marc Bolan's home, a short distance away at 142 Upper Richmond Road in East Sheen, was looted by 'fans' who took most of his possessions.

Though he is buried in Golders Green, the site of his death soon became a shrine with fans leaving flowers, notes, photos, and, of course, white swans and feather boas. In 1997 the memorial stone was created. In 1999 the T-Rex Action Group (TAG) was formed to care for the site. The bust was unveiled in 2002 by Marc's son, Rolan Bolan. Since 2007, the site has been officially recognised by The English Tourist Board as Marc Bolan's Rock Shrine in their Guide to Sights of Rock 'n' Roll Importance.

Nearby: Sir Richard Burton's Bedouin Tent Tomb