Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Random Film Review: The Pleasure Garden

Dir: James Broughton | UK | 1953 | 37min

This short, black and white 'poetic ode to desire' is a real curio, filmed entirely in the terraces of Crystal Palace Park by American filmmaker and poet James Broughton. The film itself is a light souffle and very dated, interesting for featuring Hattie Jacques, John Le Mesurier and Lindsay Anderson, who would later direct the classic If... (1968) starring Malcolm McDowell. The Pleasure Garden has Le Mesurier as Colonel Pall K. Gargoyle enforcing his strict moral code, banning any kind of fun in the park by placing signs all around. Pleasure is eventually restored by Mrs Albion, a fairy godmother of sorts, played by Hattie Jacques, who banishes the Colonel from the park.

The real interest in the film, for me, lies in the location of the film: the terraces of Crystal Palace Park in 1953 is overgrown and littered with abandoned statues, many of which have now vanished from the park. Of the 77 original sculptures now only a handful remain, most of which are headless. Of the original dozen sphinxes, now only six remain, and they are in a state of dilapidation. Also, various fountains, urns, plinths, the Crystal Colonnade and the bandstand have either been demolished, lost, stolen or sold. In 1957 lots of the statues were auctioned off. It's a real shame; many of the statues and features survived the Crystal Palace fire and can clearly be seen in good condition in the 1953 film, some hundred years after the disaster, but in the years since the park has fallen into disrepair and neglect.

Fantastic research here of the original statues.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Deep excavations
London through its charity shops #25: Crystal Palace
The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top ten girls names in songs

1. Virginia Plain – Roxy Music
2. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
3. Angie – Rolling Stones
4. Layla – Derek and the Dominos
5. Lola* – The Kinks
6. Roxanne – The Police
7. Sara – Bob Dylan
8. Caroline Says II – Velvet Underground
9. Caroline, No – The Beach Boys
10. Cecilia – Simon and Garfunkel

*Erm, actually a man.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Near coincidences

I have a friend who tries to impress with stories of almost seeing famous people. I tend to needle him about this – but I am almost impressed; after all, he was standing in the space where Bryan Ferry stood just a few minutes before; at a party where Madonna left early. I appreciate the almost in life probably more than the actual. (He has a similar technique with architecture. Always notices the charm in an old building and makes a mental note of taking a photo of it but by the time he actually goes back to take the photo, the old building has gone, vanished. A glass and steel office block / Pret A Manger / ugly luxury apartment block [delete as applicable] is usually in its place.)

I'm the same with near coincidences; the only thing about them is no one knows if they've actually occurred. This is a minor point; the possibilities of near, missed coincidences is endless, though completely pointless even contemplating.

It could be an old friend you haven't seen for twenty years; let's say he's Australian. One year he visits your home country, the UK. He doesn't get in touch because he lost your details years ago; maybe he doesn't even know your surname (maybe he doesn't want to get in touch; let's imagine it's the days before Facebook). Anyway. So. You brush past each other at Waterloo Station and don't even notice. And never do. Never will.

Or it could be someone you've lived with for years; turns out you have a mutual friend you'll never know about. Or you were both at the same wedding in 2003 (you didn't meet until 2011). Or you were both in Shoreditch one sunny day in June 1997. Whatever.

There are probably hundreds of such near coincidences with everyone we know; it's just impossible to find out all of them, and mostly irrelevant too. I found out some with an ex-work colleague recently: we both went to the same art college at the same time, lived in the same seaside town at the same time; a film-maker friend of his was born in a small town I used to live near – his mother has recently moved there... and so on.

Actual coincidences are often amazing and head-spinning but near or missed coincidences are overlooked as they're not known about. But they're out there all the time. Nearly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Life In Art

I really don't have a problem with (say) Tracey Emin not being able to paint or draw. So what? When she declares that there's no separation between her life and her art, she reveals herself to be a true artist. So, if she can do it, why can't all of us?

It occurs to me I will probably never have enough room to display all my stuff. And it occurs to me I want to display My Life Of Crap. I want it out there. In public. Maybe just for a week or two (I'm not that much of an egotist). I'd been to see the Chris Marker exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery. He'd died recently and I thought the exhibition was like a celebration of his life, with his films, photos, travel guides but also letters, notebooks, sketches. This is how I want my stuff displayed in a similarly sized gallery. A huge space to display my life's work: paintings, drawings, sculptures*, films, photographs, sure, but also newspaper clippings, books and magazines, records and CDs, posters, clothes, toys, bric-a-brac. But I actually want to be alive when this happens, and curate it. Everything will be for sale (there would be barngains galore).

The idea of preserving an artist's or writer's room exactly as it was, ie Charles Dickens' or Thomas Hardy's study or Lawrence of Arabia's house, is how we should all be remembered. I've written about this before; that a gravestone is essentially a boring, impersonal reminder of a person's life, and far more intimate and relevant would be a recreation of the dead person's living room or bedroom with all their stuff. This is us now, right? Our stuff? (Even if it's digital stuff, it's still stuff.)

*Someone will have to recreate the giant plug switch I made out of leaves and grass and the huge cardboard light switch, the mini cinemas, palace of mirrors, etc.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Head in the Clouds
The Museum of Everyone

Monday, July 21, 2014

Top ten rain songs

1. Singin' in the Rain Gene Kelly
2. Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head BJ Thomas
3. I Can't Stand the Rain Tina Turner
4. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall Bob Dylan
5. Here Comes the Rain Again Eurythmics
6. Purple Rain Prince
7. Hey Mr Rain Velvet Underground
8. It's Raining Men Gerri Halliwell
9. Why Does it Always Rain On Me? Travis
10. Rain The Beatles

(FYI: This is post #700)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Heron tower fish tank

If you're ever find yourself taking part in an obscure London pub quiz and there's a question along the lines of 'What London office block employs three full-time divers to clean its fish tank?' you will now be able to answer without hesitation: The Heron Tower in Bishopsgate. Yup, it's true. The lobby of the building contains a 70,000-litre fresh water aquarium containing hundreds of tropical fish. Opened since 2011, the tank is Britain's largest privately owned aquarium. The three permanently on-site divers are employed to clean the tank twice a week. We didn't find out if they were pen pushers the rest of the week, only donning underwater gear for cleaning duties.

Elsewhere in Bishopsgate:
St Ethelburga's

Friday, July 18, 2014

St Ethelburga's

 © Copyright Robin Sones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Following my previous post about peace and war museums, yesterday evening I found myself in St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Formerly St Ethelburga's church, it was almost completely destroyed by the 1993 IRA bomb which caused extensive damage around Bishopsgate. Some 500 tonnes of glass were broken in the explosion and damage amounted to some £1bn. Mercifully, the bomb was detonated on a Saturday; only one person was killed and 44 injured. The church was only seven metres away from the truck bomb.

It  was reconstructed as a peace and reconciliation centre after the bomb and is now an oasis of peace, relaxation and beauty in the city. Dwarfed by the office buildings around it, the centre consists of projects, events and services focusing on 'transforming conflict and division into new relationships and peaceful communities', set in a lovely environment consisting of the rebuilt church, a yurt and secret garden.


Previously on Barnflakes:
More horses

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Imperial Peace Museum

The Imperial War Museum reopens its doors this week after a £40m transformation. It strikes me as rather distasteful, the idea of a war museum, and whilst war (and porn for that matter) are responsible for some positive things, such as advances in technology and science, it still seems bizarre that war is celebrated in such an unashamedly bold way.

I have actually been to a peace museum (the only one of its kind in the UK, in Bradford), which I think is a great idea, but it was rather underwhelming and underfunded (there's more money in war). It explores the 'often untold stories of peace, peacemakers, social reform and peace movements'. But I guess, peace just isn't as exciting as war. Guns and bombs and fighter planes are cool (though pointless death isn't). What does peace have to offer? Peace pipes?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Overheard #9

'How many opinions make a fact?'
'They're both boring but at least she's a woman.'
'Designers do it at high resolution.'
'He's a Libyan living in oblivion.'
'Do me a flavour.'
'Girls don't play
If you don't pay.'

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Standard Man

If I say my relationship with the man who hands out copies of the Evening Standard often feels transcendental, I am not exaggerating by very much. It's a simple, unwritten relationship: every evening he yells out the word 'Standard', every evening I take the folded copy which he hands to me. Even though I don't particularly like the newspaper (especially since they cancelled their daily chess puzzle when it became free) there's something reassuring about taking the newspaper from him. It suggests a coda to the working day but it's more than that. It's a transaction, an agreement which I find very satifying, more satisfying than other relationships in my life, perhaps because it's so simple, reliable and clear cut.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book cover: Travels with my Aunt

Illustration by Stephen Russ (1919-1983) for the first UK edition of Graham Greene's 'fun' comedy, Travels with my Aunt (1969 for Bodley Head). Russ is probably best known for his work with Penguin books, including many of the experimental designs for the Penguin Poets series throughout the 1960s and the redesign of the flaming phoenix emblem for the cover of the then-infamous Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960:

Browse Barnflakes' book cover section here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The life and death of Michael X

Not be be confused with Malcolm X.
– Wikipedia

Born in 1933 to an absent Portuguese father from St Kitts and a black Obeah-practicing mother from Barbados, Michael de Freitas emigrated from Trinidad to the UK in his early twenties and moved to West London in the 1960s, where he became a gambler, pimp and hustler, eventually working as an 'enforcer' for the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman. He became immersed in the Black Power movement and, inspired by Malcolm X, de Freitas renamed himself Michael X and became a self-styled black revolutionary and civil rights activist. He was eventually exposed as a charlatan, but not before he'd hoodwinked John Lennon and Yoko Ono (among others) into giving him funds for his Black House commune on Holloway Road in North London. On the run from the UK for extortion, he was eventually hung for murder in Trinidad in 1971. A fascinating, complex character living in interesting times, de Freitas mixed with high and low life which included gangsters and pimps, artists and the aristocracy.

In the story of Michael X, there's something of the film Six Degrees of Separation (from the play by John Guare), starring Will Smith in one of his better film roles, a con artist (inspired by David Hampton) who poses as Sydney Poitier's father and infiltrates rich society in New York, hoodwinking them into accepting him and loaning him money.

The character of Michael X has appeared as a bit player in films and TV series about other, more famous people. But his story deserves centre stage: The life and death of Michael X would make a great film (or at least a BBC dramatisation). Perversely, perhaps, or at least as a contrast, I'd like to see the film of his life interspersed with a dramatisation of a book he'd been working on – a romantic novel, bizarrely, about a black man who wins the admiration of Lena Boyd-Richardson, a white English woman.

Previously on Barnflakes:
My top 5 unrealised film projects

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Remote control for life

As a child, long before it was invented, I used to fantasise about a time when I could watch the TV I wanted to, when I wanted to, by fast forwarding past the boring stuff and only watching the fun stuff. Sure enough, the technology eventually caught up with me (or at least I think it has – erm, can you do it on Sky or Freeview?). The only thing now is I don't own a TV and haven't watched it for years. Still, the idea always appealed to me*. Aside from creating endless paradoxes, what if we could do this in real life?

There are pluses and cons. The pluses are numerous: we fast forward through the root canal at the dentist, the painful break ups, the humiliations and embarrassments, the hours waiting for buses and trains, the tedious weeks and years spent in the office. But the cons are, well, we also miss out all that – and so the sum total of our life left, our life of fun, equals about six hours and nineteen minutes in total. Ideally, with the remote control, we can play the fun times over and over with the remote control, but even that gets boring and besides, isn't that what Mel Gibson does in Lethal Weapon and Michael Douglas in Falling Down (to name just two), staring at photos or replaying old home movies. It's what psychos do when they have only the past to live for.

So the linear life is probably worth living, with its ups with the downs. But if life is linear, how come time plays such games with our lives – when young, summer holidays last an eternity, and as adults, weekends go by in the blink of an eye whilst a working day lasts about sixteen years. When we get older, our biological clock slows down, giving the impression of time going quicker.

I wouldn't do anything different if I could replay my life again. There would be no way I'd take advantage of my youth more than I did; it was lived as it was. I don't look back or look forward.

*Naturally, as mentioned recently, once I know I can do something, there's very little incentive for me actually doing it.