Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Top ten British seaside films

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside... especially when it involves Teddy Boy gangs, radioactive children, prostitutes, murder, drugs, desolation and hopelessness. Things sure have changed since Carol Reed's Bank Holiday (1938).

1. Brighton Rock (Boulting, 1948) BRIGHTON
2. The Damned (Losey, 1962) WEYMOUTH
3. Bait (Jenkins, 2019) CHARLESTOWN
4. Quadrophenia (Roddam, 1979) BRIGHTON 
5. The Birthday Party (Friedkin, 1968) WORTHING
6. Wish You Were Here (Leland, 1987) BRIGHTON, WORTHING & BOGNOR REGIS
7. Archipelago (Hogg, 2010) ISLES OF SCILLY
8. Last Resort (Pawlikowski, 2000) MARGATE
9. London to Brighton (Williams, 2006) BRIGHTON
10. Bhaji on the Beach (Chadha, 1993) BLACKPOOL

Elsewhere on the web
Films on the Strange British Coastline at Celluloid Wicker Man

Previously on Barnflakes
Fisherman's Friends vs Bait
Art of the seaside 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Phone box bookshops

BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme (which costs £1), introduced in 2009,  has given a second life to hundreds of the iconic yet defunct red phone boxes around the UK – from miniature museums and cafes to defibrillators and nightclubs (though the best I've seen is undoubtedly an aquarium) – yet the most popular enterprise seems to be the book shop (or swap shop or library). I can imagine them lasting about a day in London but there are three within a mile of us here in Cornwall, including the brightly-painted one pictured above. With bookshops, libraries and charity shops still shut, these phone boxes are the only place to find books (without using the internet, I mean) at the moment.

Here's my lockdown reading so far:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Absorbing recasting of Thomas Cromwell as the good guy.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Classic haunted house story, made into several films and TV series.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Apparently the zeitgeist novel of the decade (the last one, presumably), featuring two, erm, Damaged People. Similar in plot and technique to David Nicholl's One Day.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Wildly imaginative and entertaining novel featuring the devil and his cat coming to Moscow in the 1930s and causing havoc, interspersed with Pontius Pilate's trial of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by Erich Fromm
Classic text exploring man's tendency to destroy or control life.

Previously on Barnflakes
Don't Just Be Yourself
The top 100 books
Notes on Giles Gilbert Scott
Sex workers' cards Gilbert and George style
London through its charity shops #12: Kingston

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Worst five all-female films

Who you gonna call? The Samaritans, probably. 

1. Ocean's 8 (Ross, 2018)
2. Ghostbusters (Feig, 2016)
3. Hustlers (Scafaria, 2019)
4. Charlie's Angels (Banks, 2019)
5. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (McG, 2013)

How many women make an 'all-female film'? 3? 8? What makes an all-female film? A lack of men? Women behaving like men? Women behaving worse than men? Women getting one over on men? All of the above?

What's interesting – and I realise I'm now perpetuating this – is how many articles there are highlighting the failure of these all-female films (not Hustlers, mind, which inexplicably got 4 stars in the Guardian – we (one of whom is a woman) found it unwatchable; I mean, not just that it was boring and had no plot or characters; no, rather that this is what a feminist film apparently is: women getting their own back on men. And buying lots of expensive handbags.), but any recent film consisting of a female reboot – Ghostbusters in particular bore the brunt – is automatically going to be accused of cashing in on the #metoo movement rather than being a genuine celebration of womankind.

Of course there are lots of excellent, genuine films featuring strong, female characters who are not just out-doing men: look at virtually the whole Studio Ghibli output, most Ingmar Bergman films, the recent Little Women adaptation, The Duke of Burgundy, 3 Women (inspired by Bergman's Persona, and a dream), Bridesmaids, and the French 8 Women and Girlhood are a few that spring to mind.

Previously on Barnflakes
My daughter's top ten films, aged 13

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Notes on Max Pam, photographer

Max Pam (b. 1949, Melbourne, Australia) is my favourite photographer no one's heard of. I came across an exhibition of his randomly whilst living in Sydney in 1999: Signature Works – 25th Anniversary Exhibition was showing at the Australian Centre for Photography. I was blown away by the exhibition and some of Pam's books on display, including the award-winning Going East, which looks at his Asia photos over a twenty year period. I'd arrived in Sydney after spending six months in SE Asia; Pam's extraordinary black and white travel photos resonated with me.

With a spirit of adventure, Pam had set off for India, aged 19, having never left home before. Influenced by 19th century British photographers and travellers John Thomson and Samuel Bourne, who were some of the first photographers to record China and India respectively, Pam spent the next two decades photographing the continent with a medium format camera, from vistas of the Himalayas to intimate portraits of prostitutes in Manila.

Shooting with a wide angle lens and a long exposure (up to five seconds), many of Pam's photos are 'street portraits' – outdoor, posed shots of people who he builds a rapport with, maybe two or three individuals, with all manner of life going on around them – and often at least one blurred element, usually a person moving. For Pam, aside from the connection to the 19th century pioneers (who didn't have fast exposures for their cameras), the blurring represents "that power that is swirling all around... it's that energy that is inherent in everyone." (Pam never takes candid photos, going so far as to call them 'stolen' photos and an aggressive act.) But it's hard to pin Pam down. He also takes wonderful shots of nudes, and pictures of hands holding strange objects. In his books, he's interested in the juxtapostion of the double page spread.

Like Stephen Gill, Alec Soth, Martin Parr (who has published three volumes on the subject; Pam's Going East features in volume two) and many other contemporary photographers, the photo book is paramount to Pam. Drawing inspiration from traditional Indian illuminated manuscripts, and admiring of the sketchbooks the painting students filled in whilst he was at art college in the 1960s, Pam has produced many photo books which contain journals, found objects, drawings, maps and collage. In this respect, they are similar to the work of Peter Beard, the photographer once described as 'half-Tarzan, half-Byron', who died a couple of weeks ago. His extraordinary collage books contain extracts from his diaries and journals which contain all manner of found objects and photos, densely multi-layered, from blood and calligraphy to paintings and pressed flowers. The Journals of Dan Eldon – the English photojournalist stoned to death in Mogadishu in 1993, aged 22 – published as The Journey is the Destination, also contains a delightful and intimate mix of collage, painting, found objects, writing and photography.

All three photographers – Max Pam, Peter Beard and Dan Eldon – blur the line between photographer and artist, their diaries and journals are living, chaotic and creative accounts of their lives, with photography being just one element in the multi-layered mishmash of writing, painting, graphic design, collage and found object.

Pam has published twenty books in a career spanning fifty years. He now teaches photomedia in Perth.

Visual Instincts was an Australian TV series and book, edited by Max Pam, published in 1989 which explored five contemporary Australian photographers: Emmanuel Angelicas, Jon Lewis, Fiona Hall, Grant Mudford and Max Pam. The series can be found free to watch on Kanopy, which I mentioned recently.

There is a Max Pam on Instagram but there's only a few shots of book spreads on there. Anyway, a missed opportunity – he should have gone for the username InstaPam.

There's an interesting interview with Pam at The Kitab, an Indian website which explores the photo book.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Notes on Stephen Gill, photographer

I've been admiring Stephen Gill's photography since first seeing his work in The Guardian Weekend magazine in the early 2000s. Initially focusing on London's East End where he lived after moving from Bristol, Gill built up an experimental and conceptual body of work on all aspects of his chosen part of London, from its ponds and waterways to its markets and allotments, its themes ranging from cultural to environmental.

Like Alec Soth, who is everywhere all the time for no apparent reason (I'd never heard of him until a year ago, even though I recently found I'd had a photography book of his for years), Gill is keen on the idea of the photographic book, and self-publishes them through his company, Nobody Books.

In 2014 Gill moved to Sweden, where he spent over four years working on his book, The Pillar, which came out last year. Ostensibly a bird book, though possibly not one twitchers or professional nature photographers would approve of as such; the stunning photos were taken with a low-resolution motion sensor camera set up next to the titular pillar, a wooden post nearby to Gill's home in the wilds of Sweden. Capturing a variety of birds from a sparrow to an eagle, the birds often appear awkward and contorted yet somehow more natural than we're used to seeing them.

As Karl Ove Knausgård writes in The Pillar: "I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives. Ancient, forever improvising, endlessly embroiled with the forces of nature, and yet indulging too. And so infinitely alien to us."