Friday, November 15, 2013

Notes on Giles Gilbert Scott

It seems amazing to me that the man who designed the Battersea and Bankside Power Stations also designed the red telephone box, such defining, iconic images of London as they are. The future of two of them remains in doubt: the telephone box has been made obsolete by mobiles and poor Battersea Power Station has been left to rot and crumble for decades. At least now it's finally being redeveloped, and with Lord Foster and Frank Gehry on board (his first English project too), it's a vaguely exciting prospect.

Born in 1880, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott must have felt architectural tradition weighing heavily on his shoulders; his father, uncle and grandfather were all prominent architects. But Scott's greatest ability was to marry the tradition of the previous century's architecture with the modernity of the 20th century. His work includes scores of churches and cathedrals, bridges and memorials.

In 1928 Scott designed Whitelands College in Putney, now converted into luxury apartments. He also designed his own house (pictured), on the outskirts of Hyde Park, and lived there from 1926-1960.

Previously on Barnflakes:
2 Willow Road
Inside Battersea Power Station

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Random Film Review: Gravity

Dir: Alfonso CuarĂ³n | 2013 | 90mins | USA & UK

My boon companion and I had arranged to see Gravity in Greenwich on Sunday. When we got there it was fully booked (we saw Captain Phillips instead). So we arranged to see it last night in the West End. We met early, somehow lost our bearings around New Oxford Street, entered a Twilight Zone, and proceeded to walk around in circles several times. When we finally found the cinema, it was fully booked (Orange Wednesdays, presumably). We headed to Marble Arch for a later showing. Due to some fault, there was no heating in the cinema and it cost over £30 for two tickets. By now, we hated the film. All the great reviews and packed cinemas had magnified it into the best film ever, a role the film would never live up to. Still, in the end, it wasn't half bad. Nearly beautiful, nearly riveting (I'll give it four stars). At least it was relatively short.

We arrived in time to see the trailers, including one for 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen's latest film. It used to be that people in advertising would move into film directing (Ridley Scott et al); now it's experimental artists making mainstream movies. We had Sam Taylor-Wood's recent Nowhere Boy, about the early life of John Lennon, and McQueen's Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and now 12 Years a Slave, which has received glowing five star reviews globally.

I knew someone who knew Steve McQueen whilst at Goldsmiths in the early 1990s; she said what she remembered about him most was that he worked really hard all the time. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's posit that genius and success = 10,000 hours and Grayson Perry debunking the common notion of lazy art students in his recent Reith Lectures. Those who actually want to be artists work hard at it.

An ex-girlfriend's mother had been keen to see a photography exhibition of her favourite actor, Steve McQueen, some years ago in an art gallery. I can only imagine her surprise when, instead of shots of the iconic actor, she was greeted with one of artist/director Steve McQueen's experimental short films, Bear (1993), consisting of two naked black men wrestling. I don't think she went away altogether disappointed.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The old wooden kitchen table

The old wooden kitchen table has seen so much. All those breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Newspapers read and, once upon a time, letters written on its surface. Cigarettes smoked and tea drank. Joints rolled. Children drawing and painting. Card games and chess. Conversations, celebrations, good news and bad news. Sometimes sneaky sexual intercourse and once vomited upon one drunken Christmas Eve. Numerous spillages. The old kitchen table gets taken for granted. It's like the human body; it remembers everything, and has the scars and blemishes to prove it. Underneath the table, on its underbelly, children's graffiti from long ago. It feels so solid, like it's always been there, the wooden table, in the kitchen, and always will be. It will outlive us all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My top 5 unrealised film projects

Over the years I've tried and failed to write some feature film screenplays. I've never done anything with them and probably never will. But they'd all make superb films.

1. The Hills Were Joyful Together
I recently met an old friend I hadn't seen for years and he reminded me of my ill-fated cinematic adaptation of The Hills Were Joyful Together, a book I had first studied for A Level English (ie 25 years ago). Written by Roger Mais, the novel is set in the 'yards' (sort of shanty towns) of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1950s. Even when studying it as a 16-year-old I could see it as a great film. It has all the ingredients: colourful characters with lashings of sex and violence as well as elements of spirituality, beauty and poetry. Part heist movie, part prison movie, part romance, part rich soap opera that is life, part social commentary – it has it all. I always loved the title too.
What would it be like? The Harder They Come meets The Shawshank Redemption meets City of God.

2. Pigeon's Luck: Tretchikoff
I mentioned this recently (and not so recently), that I'd love to make a film version from Tretchikoff's autobiography: it would be a glorious 1950s Technicolor/CinemaScope musical in the style of Vincente Minnelli. As the book cover says, 'It reads like a thriller' and indeed the film would be an arty, kitsch mix of thriller, war movie, rags to riches tale exploring notions of taste, art and celebrity, spanning Russia, China, Singapore, Indonesia and South Africa.
What would it be like? Lust for Life meets I'm Not There meets Performance meets Douglas Sirk meets Powell and Pressburger.

3. Grey Belt
An urban martial arts film set in London conceived of around the time of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix, I wrote some of this over a decade ago in a small town near Cannes with a woman who developed a limp (detailed here). It features a horseback chase scene through Brixton and Wimbledon and a fight scene on the tube. We never finished it.
What would it be like? Well, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets (say) Bullet Boy.

4. Trilogy of Westerns
Yes, there's another more famous trilogy of westerns in existence but these ones, set in New Orleans, Tijuana and Jakarta respectively, are decidedly modern in outlook (maybe even post-modern). I wrote a few pages of dialogue with a waiter in New Orleans almost twenty years ago; it hasn't really progressed that much since then. But they do all involve a stranger wandering into town...
What would it be like? Erm, it would be like the best trilogy of westerns EVER!

5. Found Object
This is the time travelling antiques roadshow movie mentioned recently. It'll be a novel first, to be followed swiftly by a blockbuster movie.
What would it be like? Indiana Jones meets the Antiques Roadshow.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Homeless Movies, my DVD six years in the making.

See also: Barnflakes on YouTube.