Thursday, April 21, 2016

Eye catching

I tried to catch her eye
On the 8:15
To East Sheen
But it rolled on the floor
Got caught in the door
Causing a delay
That lasted all day.

Her eye got the squash
But for not much dosh
She bought an eye patch
Which went well with her hat:
A perfect match.

After that traumatic event
Some fury she had to vent.
First she quit her dull job
And became a form of yob.

To be exact:
She became a train pirate
Which went well with her name
(It was Violet)
She sailed the rails all day
Better, certainly, was the pay
The work varied and interesting,
Hours flexible.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Courtyard cress* haiku

Covet the courtyard cress
as it covers the corners
of the cobblestones

 *It looks like cress but is actually soleirolia soleirolii, commonly known as mind-your-own-business or baby’s tears.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wiltshire Winter Haiku

Friday, April 15, 2016

Top ten dialogue-free* openings in films

Aside from Steve Reich, the coolest person to ever wear a baseball cap...
Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas
1. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)
4. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
5. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
6. Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
7. Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972) 
8. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
9. There will be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
10. Le Samourai (Jean Pierre Melville, 1967)
It's a bold move for any film-maker to have no dialogue at all in a five, ten or even twenty minute opening sequence for a film, but it can set the mood of the movie perfectly, and besides, film is meant to be a visual medium. The opening sequence of many of these films is the best part of them: Paris, Texas would have been great as a ten minute short film; once the dialogue and story begin, all the mystery and beauty vanishes and the film turns very average indeed.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Women don't understand film"

Labelled under: Controversial (perhaps)

The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of the author.

I mentioned on a previous post that women don't do top ten films and music, and that men do (because we're geeky and on the Asperger's spectrum etc etc). I asked a female work colleague what her favourite film was (I also asked her what her favourite album was; she said she didn't know the title of any albums). She said her favourite film was Run all Night, a terrible Liam Neeson action thriller from last year. Another (male) colleague said dryly to her, "You may want to rethink that answer" before uttering the immortal lines: "Women don't understand film".

An outrageous statement perhaps but a quick survey in the office reveals women's favourite films to be mainstream at best, terrible at worst: Child 44 (never heard of it; oh, it's a terrible Russian thriller), Steel Magnolias, Dumb and Dumber, Love Actually (there's a great blog post about Love Actually not actually being about love at all), Pretty Woman and "anything with Russell Crowe".

Recently some women at the office have seen Batman Vs Superman (at the cinema; it's had universal terrible reviews) and 50 Shades of Grey (on DVD; the book was dire; the film is worse). Male colleagues have seen High-Rise, Anomalisa and Victoria.

Here's the thing: the average guy, who wouldn't consider himself a film buff, at least knows a potted history of film: classics such as Citizen Kane, Vertigo and The Godfather; a few foreign films; they would have heard of David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles. Most women wouldn't.

Mainly women don't care about film or its history (there are great female film critics – Pauline Kael and Dilys Powell spring to mind); they don't care for directors or cinematographers. It's not on their radar. They like sexy actors and a good story. They'll watch what's on. When they judge their favourite film, it's an emotional response which doesn't take in the history of cinema; usually, it'll be something they've seen last week and thought was great.

Now, I'm not completely pretentious (only a bit) and can enjoy a lighthearted film as much as anyone: recently I was in stitches watching Bridesmaids (so there; it's not even very good but I found it hilarious!). But my favourite films would be more along the lines of L'Atalante, Belle de Jour, Mean Streets, Eraserhead, Touch of Evil, Stalker...

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 film critics
Sex and the City 2 Vs. Greenberg

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Relics of the recent past

As technology hurtles ahead at breakneck speed, we find ourselves more and more obsessing over our ever-increasingly recent past, whether through 1980s discos or remakes and reissues (Simon Reynolds wrote a good book about this subject called Retromania, which I've also mentioned here).

And so it is with physical excavations too. It used to be people would get excited about dinosaur fossils being dug up – now it's Atari games. In 2014 a landfill excavation in New Mexico revealed Atari video games (mainly E.T., often cited as the worst video game ever made) and consoles, to the excitement of geeks the world over, apparently. A documentary by Jak Penn has been made about the event.

Also in 2014, excavations began in the California desert for the buried film sets of Cecil B DeMille's first version of The Ten Commandments, made in 1923. After filming wrapped, the sets were knocked down, buried, and left for the sands of time, and the desert, to cover them for ninety years until journalist and aspiring film-maker Peter Brosnan heard the story and began his own investigations. He unearthed a Sphinx – then obviously made a documentary about the experience.

Closer to home (if you live in London), in 1916, printer and bookbinder Thomas Cobden-Sanderson spent six months dropping a ton of metal printing type from Hammersmith bridge into the Thames. He was destroying his own lovely font, Doves Type, due to a feud with his one-time friend and business partner, Emery Walker (this is the most exciting font story ever. Read more about it here). Long thought lost, over a hundred years later designer Robert Green went looking for the lead type on the bank of the Thames by Hammersmith and managed to unearth 150 pieces. No documentary but there is now a digital version available of the typeface.

(There's another story that I heard of a font in France being thrown into the sea. There's a relationship between fonts and water – no, not the church sort used for baptisms but the letter sort.)

What future generations will make of our rubbish is anyone's guess – presumably there is more of it now than anytime in history. Future historians be able to date our landfills in a similar way to geologists dating earth rock by its layers.

Russell Hoban's novel, Riddley Walker (1980), set more than two thousand years after the world's devastation by a nuclear bomb, features the eponymous protagonist living a stone-age existence in post-apocalyptic 'Ingland', struggling to come to terms with the distant past having had greater technology. The past, in the form of any object found whilst foraging in the mud – a fragment of a book, mangled machinery – is scrutinised over with reverence, but no sense can be made of it. 

Further watching:
Atari: Game Over
The Lost City of Cecil B DeMille 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Forward to the Past: Riddley Walker

Monday, April 11, 2016

London through its charity shops #33: Sydenham SE26

There is not much of interest in Sydenham (I've looked!), though it has some great greenery around it, including the lovely, ancient Sydenham Hill Wood, which has this interesting folly. Syndenham High Street has six charity shops (all of which are closed on Sundays).

From the top there's a lively St Christopher's Hospice, with a wide range of bric-a-brac and a Kids' Zone, and downstairs, excitingly, a whole room of music and books. ALDLIFE is like a smelly jumble sale. Out back there's a room with lots of kid's stuff, books, records, CDs and DVDs. RSPCA is small but nice. Sue Ryder is quite big with decent stock and has a nice vibe to it. Next is a small, average Cancer Research. Then finally a small Scope, mainly clothes, with a small book section and some records.

Records. I still look for them but I don't know why. The ratio of looking though stacks of records to actually buying one I want must now be something like 1000:1. It seems the days are gone when I used to pick up something like this for 92p.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Notes on Ben Stiller

I had a sneaking suspicion that I preferred Ben Stiller's 'unpopular' films to his more popularist outings, and after watching recently The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), it was confirmed. That film, along with Greenberg (2006) and While We're Young (2015) make a sort of loose trilogy of dreamer/loser films which I relate to: in Greenberg he's a drifter who returns to L.A. to sort his life out; in While We're Young he's a failed documentary filmmaker having a mid-life crisis; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty finds his job in jeopardy after a company takeover. At least two of these things have happened to me in recent years.

It's so random when films (like music) directly speak to you. They don't have to be good in any way; they can even be very bad, but something about them sparks a feeling, thought or memory that has meaning.

The three Ben Stiller films all have darker humour and more realism than his more mainstream box-office hits such as Zoolander, Night at the Museum or Meet the Parents. Even though he plays a similar character in most of his films, his popular, gross-out comedies involve slapstick humour and have more mass appeal. Mainly, though, Greenberg, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and While We're Young, well, they just aren't as funny (though I found them hilarious!), and the characters he plays mostly aren't very likeable.

In Greenberg, with hip credentials in the form of music by James Murphy, formerly of LCD Soundsystem, Stiller plays the eponymous curmudgeon Roger Greenberg, a carpenter just back in L.A. after a nervous breakdown whilst living in New York. His character isn't that nice; he doesn't know what to do with his life; he treats people pretty badly (though still gets to shag Greta Gerwig). There's a lack of plot and cynicism to the film I quite enjoyed.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, and has since entered into common language as an ineffectual person who daydreams, stars Stiller as Walter Mitty, a negative assets manager on Life magazine. The magazine is about to be taken over by a corporation, Mitty's job is in jepody and he has to track down the final print edition cover image taken by photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), the negative of which has gone missing.

His daydreams of adventure and daring become his reality when he tracks down O'Connell by flying to Greenland, jumping from a helicopter into shark-infested waters, skateboarding to Iceland and fleeing an erupting volcano. He finally tracks down O'Connell in the Himalayas. As it turns out, the negative was in a wallet O'Connell gave Mitty at the start of the film. The final scene has Mitty and co-worker/girlfriend Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) seeing the final Life cover at a news stall, with a black and white picture of Mitty sitting outside his office building reading a copy of Life. The irony of Mitty working for Life magazine, when he didn't actually have one, cannot have been lost on him, but by the end of the film, he's finally lived, though got sacked, and, well, sits in coffee shops on his laptop applying for jobs (this is the problem with travelling – you have all these amazing experiences, come back home, then end up in a soulless office, wondering how it happened). God, that's almost as bad as actually having a job.

(The first five minutes are actually the funniest, with Walter at home on his laptop trying to contact co-worker Cheryl on a dating website, debating over and over whether to press send, eventually plucking up courage, then realising his connection is down.)

While We're Young (one of my films of the year last year, and the Guardian's), has Josh (Stiller) and Naomi Watts (Cornelia – has anyone actually been named that in the last hundred years?) as a couple in their forties who have tried and failed to have children. Stiller is a struggling documentary film-maker who has been working on the same film for years. The release from the frustration of their relationship comes in the form of two young freewheeling hipsters who befriend the older couple. At first Jamie (Adam Driver), an aspiring film-maker, looks up to Josh and becomes his protégé, but soon Josh is embarrassingly emulating his hipster buddy with bikes, hats, manual typewriters, vinyl records and other hipster memorabilia. Then things turn darker altogether.

All three films fared badly at the box office, due to their dark tone, unsympathetic characters and lack of a narrative (apart from Walter Mitty, which is full of plot and pretty light, but touches on important issues). One star DVD reviews on Amazon testify to their unpopularity: While We're Young: "rubish" [their spelling]; "crap"; "dull"; Greenberg: "tedious"; "boring"; "pointless"; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: "boring"; "tedious"; "waste of money". 

Partly because he's roughly the same age as me, like Ethan Hawke in the Before Sunrise trilogy, I feel as if I've grown up with Ben Stiller. I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan, but he's got a funny face and his look of "quiet desperation" (The Guardian's phrase) strikes a chord with me.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Sex and the City 2 Vs Greenberg
James Murphy: the Emperor's Old Clothes
Busy being' busy
Film dreams

Thursday, April 07, 2016

London through its charity shops #32: Beckenham SE20

Ah beautiful Beckenham, one time home of a young Bowie and with a gracefully curved High Street full of lovely charity shops. Before we go up the High Street, though, a quick trip over the road to Croydon Road, where there's a Mind charity shop. It's okay, smallish but with a wide variety of sometimes quirky gems (The Beatles' White album was there on vinyl when I popped in – for £60). A few doors along is a decent, large, if overpriced, record shop called Wanted Man.

Back onto the High Street and first up is the Salvation Army; I've never found anything interesting in there and it's quite small; mainly clothes. Over the road is a decent British Red Cross, small too but full of goodies, including a Jellycat teddy (my daughter's current obsession) and my barngains of the day: two brand new Pantone coffee makers, for under a tenner. Good selection of books, clothes and bric-a-brac, nicely laid out.

Next is Scope with lots of books and some records. British Heart Foundation is probably my charity shop of choice, and this is a good one with lots of clothes, CDs, bric-a-brac and books. A decent Cancer Research is next, followed by a long and spacious Oxfam with tons of books at the front; clothes, books, records and CDs at the back. And a tiny clothes rail for men, as usual. Next there's an average Sense. Around the corner at 24 High Street is a St Christopher's Hospice; I hadn't high hopes for it but turns out it's a bit of an Aladdin's cave – a buzzing atmosphere, with piles of bric-a-brac and pictures, plenty of clothes, books, DVDs, records and CDs. Reasonably priced too – men's Versace and Hackett shirts were £4.50.

Nine in a row: by then I'd had charity shop fatigue.

There's generally good quality stuff in all the charity shops – but not great for men's jeans, though: I imagine the demographic is quite elderly and conservative. Far too many beige pleated chinos with elasticated waists.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Bedlam: the art of madness

Monday, April 04, 2016

Notes on the Walking Dead

Like the characters in Eastenders never watching or talking about soap operas, so in the Walking Dead no one mentions the word zombie or talks about zombie films – mainly, they're referred to as 'walkers'. Dracula/vampire films and TV shows are at least self-referential and aware of their history but with the Walking Dead, it's like George Romero never existed.

The core characters mostly live such a feral, grim, miserable day-to-day existence, wearing rags, covered in blood, surviving on found tins of food, rodents and snakes, tramping through forests, seemingly going round in circles and sleeping rough (at least in season five anyway). They must be aware that other people are probably living decent lives – oh yes that's right, and when they find these decent people, they usually kill them. And they're meant to be the good guys.

By season six, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has gone psycho (it's his demented concept of family that's done it; he'll do anything to protect his gang). He's usually to be found covered in blood with an axe or gun in his hand and a crazed look on his face – vaguely reminiscent of Ash Williams (the great Bruce Campbell) in the original Evil Dead films. Wherever he goes, humans as well as zombies die; and he doesn't seem to mind which he kills. Whenever he enters a compound of humans, who have survived for years peacefully and without bloodshed since the outbreak began, within five minutes of Rick entering, mayhem ensues. Usually it's him killing a human, but give him a few days and they'll be fires, explosions, the walls of the compound, which have survived years, will collapse, zombies will enter and all the humans will die, except for Rick and his buddies. Rick is a psycho! Why anyone would let him into their house is beyond me.

The thing is, they've become so used to their feral existence that they don't know how to cope any more with a 'normal', civilised existence. Basically, after about five minutes, they're bored by it. Nice homes, clean shirts, freshly baked cookies – it's just not as exciting as chopping zombies to pieces.

Aside from never mentioning zombie movies, they never talk about art or culture at all. They all seem very narrow-focused, just trying to get through the day. There's no enquiring nature in any of them – they've never wondered what the rest of the world is like. They've never thought of checking out the White House, seeing Area 51, nicking an original Van Gogh painting. Why not find a nice mansion to live in? Or move to the mountains or desert for a bit, just for a change of scenery?

If I was alive after a zombie apocalypse, I'd probably have more ambition than I have now. After all, money is no object, friends and family are probably all dead, mortgages are a thing of the past. Perfect time to make a fresh start. Hook up with a bunch of fine human specimens, go to the coast. Find a luxury boat. Get a map. Sail to the Caribbean or any small, beautiful, desert island with bountiful natural resources. Kill any zombies there; it's self-contained, so once they're all dead, no more will come. Start a family and community. Live happily ever after in paradise.

The Walking Dead spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead, is similarly oblivious to the concept of zombies. The characters all seem to take the outbreak in their stride – the only character who has a bit of a breakdown (understandably in the circumstances) gets chucked into a Guantanamo Bay-type detention camp, and never heard from again.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Walking Dead recipe
Dinosaurs & Zombies