Sunday, September 30, 2018

Meeting Ross Poldark

We set off early and wandered around the sunny side streets of Penzance, stopping off at a friend of H’s exhibition, before having a coffee opposite the gallery at the stylish Artist Residence, a boutique hotel with a restaurant and cafe. We were the only ones in the cafe until a loud, posh guy sat nearby with a lady friend, who he ‘insisted’ on buying coffee for. We didn’t hear her voice at all, for he spoke non-stop about his busy, possibly famous life: “someone knocked on my door at 10pm last night. I thought it would just be a friend but it was my ghost writer! My ghost writer is stalking me.” We didn’t recognise him (although we would see him again much later in the day), finished our coffees and left.

H was keen to leave the concrete for some countryside, so we journeyed on to Lanyon Quoit (between Madron and Morvah), not an ancient bus shelter as I first suspected, but a single-chamber megalithic tomb, known as a dolmen.

We drove a little further and parked opposite the home of Ian Cooke, author of Mermaid to Merrymaid: Journey to the Stones. We crossed a stile and walked along a grassy path through moorland, to Nine Maidens, a circle of granite megaliths (supposedly nine girls turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath).

The day was sunny and warm, so I forgave myself for not recognising that we’d been here before, almost six years ago, on one of our first dates. That day had been gloomy, rainy and windy, the paths muddy and wet; I remembered my boots being caked in mud.

We weren’t sure of the path to Ding Dong mine (yes, actual name), visible all around due to its dramatic lofty perch on the otherwise flat moorlands, so we asked a man walking his dog. He showed us the way, and we arrived there soon after.

More difficult to find was the Bronze Age Men-an-Tol, a formation of three small standing stones, hidden in the moorland. The main one is circular with a hole in the middle, like a bagel or ringed doughnut, said to be a cure for illnesses and instant pregnancy for a woman who passes through the hole backwards seven times during full moon.

We saw the man and his dog again. The man was a local, and very chatty. The dog was his neighbours, but they never took it for walks, so he’d been doing so every day for nine years. He used to have a dog, and a wife, both now dead, but “missed the dog more than the wife”. He lived alone now. People who live on their own tend to talk a lot. We played with his dog; throwing a ball for it until I lost it in some brambles. After we told him where we lived – near Redruth, he said, “Tell me your address, I’ll send you a sympathy card and a bill for the lost ball”.

We made a brief visit to the Yew Tree gallery before heading into St Just. I’d told H about the great pizzas (for £6) at The Square cafe but we’d arrived too early for the pizza oven, so rather than wait an hour for it to open (at 3pm) we decided to settle for coffee and cake (mine was caramel flavour, amazing), and return for the pizza at 3. That was the idea, anyway.

H took me to see Carn Gloose, a Bronze Age burial mound, just outside of St Just. From there we thought we may as well walk to Cape Cornwall, the only Cape – where two bodies of water meet – in England. It’s a stunning headland with great views.

From the headland I could just see the bottom of Kenidjack valley, which I’d visited before to see the arsenic mine further up, but hadn’t been all the way down to the coast. I said to H we may as well walk there. She sighed, but agreed. It was a pretty steep, windey and precarious coastal walk to the arsenic mine. All I could think about was pizza. And beer.

The path winded its way above the valley and down to the arsenic mine, now a wonderfully peaceful area, the mine overgrown with ivy and a beautiful stream – actually Tregaseal river – running alongside it to the Atlantic. The water is clear with lush and verdant plants either side of it and the only sound to be heard is the trickling of the water.

We crossed a small bridge and walked to the coast from the other side, following the river down and seeing other parts of the arsenic mine I’d not seen before. Another steep climb up the other side of the valley and we were near another mine.

From a distance H noticed there were a lot of people. Then she exclaimed, “They’re filming Poldark!” And indeed they were. I hadn’t watched any of it before I’d moved to Cornwall, but in the last month or so we’d watched all four seasons, and we’d heard they were filming the final season at the moment.

H sprinted along the coastal path until we were stopped by security guards and BBC folk with walkie talkies. We could just make out Ross filming in the distance, with his hat and long black coat. The shot finished and we were allowed to walk past the mine, catching glimpses of the miners in costume but no Ross. H was disappointed. Let’s walk back, I said. We walked back half way, stopping to look up at the mine. Ross looked our way. Normally quite restrained in public, H let all reserve go. She jumped up and down, waved her arms, made heart palpitations, then shouted, “Ross, we love you!” Then she blew him kisses. Ross blew kisses back. I stood there. H turned red. I’d never seen her so excited. A passer-by stopped to inform us they’d have trouble with their green screen as it had two shades of green. He got technical, we didn't care, and we moved on, looking at the wonderful Botallick mines, perched on the cliff edge looking out towards the ocean.

We walked back to St Just. We passed the BBC production trucks and trailers where hoards of fans were waiting for a glimpse of Ross. We didn’t wait. There were also some ladies – of a certain age – waiting on the roadside, armed with paperbacks of Poldark. Ross’s Land Rover came along, stopping briefly for them. There was Ross, now Aiden Turner, wearing a beanie hat, signing a few autographs. It broke the spell for H, seeing him out of his black hat and coat.

About half a mile from St Just, another Land Rover passed by; we just caught a glimpse inside of the posh guy from the cafe in Penzance. It was 6pm. The pizza was good. It was been a great walk, finishing with Ross and pizza. On the way back, as a treat, we stopped at Sainsbury’s just outside of Penzance. There must be like two Sainsbury's in the whole of Cornwall. Tesco have a monopoly in the county. I’d always preferred Sainbury’s. I’d missed their instant mashed potatoes (Tesco’s are tasteless; Smash is just as bad).

When we go on our walking adventures, we hardly see any people for miles. Then we’ll get to a car park, shop or cafe, and there they all are. They are surprisingly absent from the beautiful, natural areas – the Kenidjack valley, the rugged coastal areas, but they’ll always be swarming around car parks, cafes and shops. They don’t like to stray far.

In the evening, whilst munching on cheese puffs, we watched a couple of episodes of Amazon’s Outlander TV series. It seemed appropriate: a woman walks in a stone circle and is magically transported back to the 18th century where she encounters a dashing, handsome warrior.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Poster for The Last Movie

In a way, I wished I’d never seen The Last Movie, the film Dennis Hopper made whilst riding high (literally) after Easy Rider. I loved the story and myth behind the film: Hopper was given $850,000 to make the picture, which he would star in, direct and have final cut. The Last Movie is a film within a film, featuring a Billy the Kid western being shot in Peru. After an accidental death on the set of the film, Kansas – a  horse wrangler and stuntman, played by Hopper – quits his job in the movies to stay on in Peru. Turns out the Hollywood shoot has inspired the locals, and they decide to make their own film, but the camera they use is made out of bamboo and the violence isn't staged, it's real, as they have no concept of film-making.

It seems Hopper’s main reason for shooting in Peru was it had then become the cocaine capital of the world. The production of the film was, according to Hopper, ‘one long sex-and-drugs orgy’, with many scenes improvised. After shooting wrapped, Hopper holed up in Taos, New Mexico, to edit the film. Around this time, directors Lawrence Schiller and LM Kit Carson (writer of Paris, Texas) rocked up to make a documentary about Hopper, called American Dreamer (also ‘lost’ for decades, then recently ‘found’ and re-released). Then cult Mexican film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky turned up, criticising Hopper’s ‘conventional’ edit of the film, encouraging him to completely re-edit the film in a non-linear, experimental style. Which Hopper duly did.

The film was finally released in 1971; it won an award at the Venice Film Festival, then played in New York for a few weeks where no one saw it, it got terrible reviews, then vanished. 'A wasteland of cinematic wreckage' Roger Ebert wrote about it at the time, but time – and not being able to see it, and a fair degree of mythologising – have been kind to The Last Movie, with critics now calling it some kind of masterpiece. I remember it being pretty hard to watch; incoherent and self-indulgent – two traits in films I normally don’t mind; so I’m quite looking forward to seeing it again – it's getting an official DVD release in November.

Supposedly being an existentialist, experimental, anti-. neo-, post-western, I was also disappointed in the rather dull original poster for the film. And the VHS cover of the film was even more bland, seeming to have nothing to do with the actual film whatsoever. So I've designed mine to feature my favourite aspect of the film – the camera made of sticks. I suddenly thought the whole stick thing reminded me of The Wicker Man, so I used similar colours to the poster of that.

On the web, alternative film posters, created by fans, have become a sub-genre in itself, with many of them capturing a film in simple, bold graphics or beautiful illustrations, where often the original poster was formulaic. They remind me of Polish film posters, produced during the communist era as an alternative to banned American publicity material, yet always stunningly surpassing the pedestrian American originals.

The Last Movie is released on DVD by Arbelos Films, on 13 November.

Coincidentally, another near-mythical film-within-a-film lost for decades is also being released in November: Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind. Welles started shooting the film in 1970, and didn’t finish until 1976. After being in limbo for forty years, it is finally being released... by Netflix on 2 November.

I don't know. Sometimes lost, forgotten, unedited or unmade films are like that for a reason. Like the impossible dreams of Jodorowsky's Dune, Kubrick's Napoleon or Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno. Films that weren't meant to be seen, but to live in the imagination of fans (or get turned into documentaries). They're always better that way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Talking about Victorian fire stations…

Which I was: the one in Redruth (here and here), sold at auction for £59,000 the other day, way over its £20,000 estimate. It will be converted into a house (yawn; still, better than it remaining derelict). My vision for it becoming a gallery and letterpress workshop, etc, will have to wait (I'd also had the brainwave of having Poldark pole dancing dark nights, but would have to insert a fireman's pole first as it didn't have one when I looked inside the building).

But good news for a London derelict Victorian fire station – it has been converted into an art gallery. The former Peckham Road fire station had been nelgected for many years. I’d passed and noticed the boarded up fire station – next to the boarded up Kennedys Sausages factory – many times, and thought it looked lovely behind its hoardings.

In 2014 an anonymous benefactor gave the fire station to the South London Gallery (which is across the road) and it’s due to open later this month, courtesy of 6a Architects. The fire station is twice the size of the original South London Gallery, and will include a more experimental arts programme and educational space.

If this sounds like a press release, fine. I'm over the moon when an old building gets a new lease of life, especially as an arts space (rather than soulless flats). I don't believe old, disused civic, commercial or religious buildings should really be turned into flats or houses; they should continue life as being of benefit to the community.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Lookalikes #41: Kamikaze and Licensed to Ill album covers

Another poor album from the once-great Eminem, Kamikaze's cover is a 'homage' to the classic 1986 Beastie Boys album Licensed to Ill, which I bought at the time on vinyl. I'm tempted to buy the Eminem on vinyl too, just to put them side by side.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Album Cover Mash-up