Thursday, May 25, 2006
The fifth issue of TB shall be vaguely officially launched tomorrow at 93 Feet East.
Edited by myself and R William Barry, it features deliquisitions on Minimalism, The Residents, Jessica Rylan, the politics of zombies, noise and other edifying subjects by a cast of several, including some names that should be familiar.
I will be playing records, which I have not done publicly in quite some time. Be considerate, eh…?
Pick a Decade
Not wholly unconnected to the rumness related below, an excellent time was had at the Sunday Cabaret in Greenwich last weekend.
Not wanting to name any names, the day was spent at an event nearby which was like all the worst elements of the 1970s all in the wrong order- stroppy youths at one end with guitars in tight black jeans fulminating with a now utterly tedious angularity, watching them beard wearers and kaftan-sporters, looking sage while their girlfriends skin up for them. The fantasy 1940s was more odd and disjunctive than the ersatz 70s- the Puppini Sisters singing ‘Panic’ in the style of the Andrews Sisters suggests all manner of alternate histories. The evening was rounded off delightfully by Jonny Trunk and Wisbey’s Dirty Fan Male, a highly unlikely conflation of Razzle and Noel Coward…
Pulchritude & Productivism
‘What I love about the way I’m living now’, she says, ‘is that I can be addressing a load of people at the V&A on modernism (the museum rang her up and said ‘you look modernist- what do you think about modernism?’) and the next day I’m taking advantage of a 40 per cent sale at Halfords’
Erin O’Connor, ES, 19/05/06 (courtesy of the IT girl)
Though this quote deserves mockery and derision, it does evoke a question which I shall mostly avoid talking about in the third (and really very probably final) part of the Modernism piece on The Measures Taken. Viz- the undercurrent of the frankly sexually intriguing in much of the stuff on show.
Obviously the easy connection of modernism=puritanism & austerity is a bit off- the textiles and flapper dresses of such hardliners as Sonia Delaunay, Tatlin, Stepanova and Popova, are frequently very striking and glamorous things, as I wrote last June here. But running through that also is that odd figure of a woman, featured much in the films of Vertov and prominently in the exhibition, exercising vigorously on the roof of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in the film L’Architecture d’aujord-hui- powerful of thigh, bobbed of hair, enthusiastic of expression. Or, most stunningly, the wonderful Hertha Thiele, strutting with a combination of vulnerability and non-pissing about Bolshevism through Kuhle Wampe and Madchen in Uniform. I have the same haircut, probably coincidentally.
This fascination is not especially ideologically pure, I grant you- it runs through much of the pop culture of the inter-war years. There’s a similar magnetism about the women in H.M Bateman cartoons. They seem like ridiculously English refractions of your Clara Bows or Gloria Swansons, with their boyish figures in tight, officious dress-suits, with outrageously huge and accusing eyes- or the consumer voraciousness of the eponymous girl who ‘buys everything in Woolworths’.
Early silent film starlets have this in spades, the evident filthiness of someone like Edna Purviance or Mabel Normand, unencumbered by any sexual blatancy. Another version of this combination of conservative/alluring in the pre-war period, is the phenomenon of the ‘bathing beauty’, principally in Keystone comedies- wearing clothes that nowadays would crate nary the bat of an eyelid, but still eliciting a promise of all manner of illicitness, presumably in somewhat Graham Greene-esque seaside towns.
In fact I own a book by the late Ronnie Barker in which he writes staggeringly unfunny links to his collection of postcards and ephemera on this very subject. Which reminds me- if there are any Two Ronnies fans reading this (unlikely, I know), I recently turned over to watch it and wondered what on earth an army of leather clad women were doing roaming round the English countryside. Most unsettling.
14 ways to describe rain
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I can well understand the psychological attitude of the teddy boy with his Edwardian dress; like all of us he wants attention, romance and drama in his life. Why should he not indulge in moments of exhibitionism or horseplay, as does the public schoolboy with his gadding and ragging? Is it not natural that when he sees the so-called better classes asserting their foppery he wants to assert his own?
He knows that the machine obeys his will as it does the will of any class; that it requires no special mentality to shift a gear or press a button. In this insensate age is he not as formidable as any Lancelot, aristocrat or scholar, his finger as powerful in destroying a city as any Napoleonic army? Is not the teddy boy a phoenix rising from the ashes of a delinquent ruling class, his attitude perhaps motivated by a subconscious feeling: that man is only a half-tame animal who has for generations governed others by deceit, cruelty and violence?
Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography
Et tu, Brute?
I confess to being extremely flattered by being in these footnotes.
Lots can be said though about the affinities between brutalism and pop- coiners of the term (via critic Reyner Banham, (who wrote a very hard to find book on this, New Brutalism- Ethic or Aesthetic), Alison and Peter Smithson were after all in the Independent Group and especially closely aligned with Eduardo Paolozzi- who in turn was very close to Ballard at this point- feeding into the geometric festishism of the Atrocity Exhibition, perhaps.
Despite the term's puritanism, there's an opposition here to the mainstream international style's functionalism. The Smithsons' first unbuilt project for Golden Lane in Finsbury (pic above) was designed as a kind of pop montage a la Richard Hamilton- traversing the walkways of this mooted council project were Marilyn and DiMaggio, Nehru, a young Terence Conran...they were also obsessive collectors of adverts and popcult minutae...see also their House of the Future project, made entirely of plastic. Alison Smithson claimed that the effect of their house of the future would be 'summed up in one word- glamour'
swallowed in the stomach room
It's apparently only partly finished, but nonetheless I strongly recommend you go here to this excellent site by animator, sleeve designer and occasional usher Lydia Thompson, The Stomach Room- a compendium of pieces fleshy and mechanical, like Heath Robinson channelling Cronenburg. More on this anon, hopefully...
Friday, May 19, 2006
Two girls concoct a fantasy, an endless victorian melodrama. But they sit and watch it, they can't influence it- sometimes it's boring, sometimes not, sometimes it seems stuck in a loop- and we watch them.
According to David Thomson, Rivette's Celine et Julie vont en bateau was 'the most innovative film since Citizen Kane'. This would suggest he hadn't seen Vera Chytilova's Daisies, which takes the same ideas to vastly more disruptive extremes- but nonetheless this is a wonderful little film (well, at three hours it never once seems slow or ponderous). The only problem really is Paris- one would think all these nouvelle vague directors could do something other with their city than make it look insufferably twee...
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Go see this place while you can- it currently seems to be being dismantled floor-by-floor, making it evoke the end of High Rise in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
and another effort
Second part up at The Measures Taken.Machinery, nice pictures, Stalinism, it’s all there…
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Ghost Pubs and Ghost Galleries
An interesting feature of Deptford High Street, currently champing at the bit of gentrification (only the one gastropub, but you can tell they're coming), is the amount of it that is pointedly disused. There are two places where this seems to be thus, firstly an odd collection of pubs half way down the street which I have never seen open in seven years. There are persistent rumours of these being IRA tax-circumventing operations but why this should persist now is a little baffling. And a peculiar bedfellow to these faintly terrifying un-pubs, akin to that used in the video to The Fall's 'Eat yself Fitter', are various un-art galleries.
One, known as 'Tend towards a contradictory nature, both hard and soft' I have never, ever seen open- another, 'Gallop' seems sometimes, say once a month, to be nominally open, though housing only seemingly random collections of glossy tat- and when, after years of disuse, the grandly named 'Museum of Installation' finally closed to make way for a bookies, posters appeared on the high street berating 'yet another gallery becoming a bookmakers'. Preposterous as this all is, it's worth cherishing before they all gradually turn into Costas...
'in the extreme idiom of the day'
IT's photos of Nunhead Cemetery, evoking nicely a post-apocalyptic scenario of undergrowth devouring Victorian edifices- one day, Holborn will look like this (we can but hope)
Forming a gleaming concrete contrast with this unnerving advance of nature over our fair city, her photos from the aforementioned (and allegedly jocular) Hampstead and Chelsea interwar modernism walk are up on dissensus along with unfortunate evidence that I don't look like the picture on the right. Though I would like to point out that the rate quoted is negotiable.
Monday, May 15, 2006
People in Glass Houses
Really ought to link to From Here to Modernity, particularly as I've ripped it off so bloody often. This is an Open University guide to British Modernism with a wealth of details, videos, histories and links. I always feel a sense of great achievement on finding a building from the period not on the site...
Also pertinent is a great piece by Oksana Bulgakova on Eisenstein's previously unknown to me sci-fi project The Glass House, and it's links to the utopian glass architecture of Functionalism and Zamyatin's glass streets...wonder how pertinent it is that so many projects of Blairism have such a widespread use of glass, such as the imminent Elephant & Castle redevelopment...a kind of assumed bureaucratic transparency...
I discovered Futurism in a book I got from a bookshop in Charing Cross Road, it looked like a bauhaus book but it was too colourful. And it was actually a book about Fortunato Depero, the Futurist poster designer, and I thought, ‘who’s this’. I was learning enough to say OK, it’s the Italian version of Modernism, its Futurism, it’s more colourful- and hasn’t someone said something about Futurism? I thought hang on, Marinetti or something so then I’d go and learn something. And I kind of felt that the Futurists would love New Order, I felt that Marinetti would fucking love ‘Everything’s Gone Green’.
Spent much of weekend typing up the transcript of K-Punk’s Peter Saville interview. All sorts of interesting things spiralling off from this, not least on the question of Saville’s relationship to Modernism- as he is an odd example of a kind of postmodern appropriation of Modernism. (he namechecks as early influences Philip Johnson’s designs for the AT&T building, which is something of a giveaway- as well as the neo-classical second half of the career of Jan Tschichold) in a kind of curatorial, almost evangelical sense- plundering functionalist austerity for 12” singles, replicating the 20s reaction to the ornamentalism of the past, except here the past is prog rock and Roxy Music rather than Victoriana- and it’s someone else’s reaction being borrowed. But it totally avoids the raised eyebrow smugness of po-mo, instead it works as an enthusiast’s perspective- ‘look at this great stuff!’
On which note, look at these fonts.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Darling, shall we go to The Tate Modern?
Like a charcter in Match Point, I was planning a visit today to the middle-class disco this afternoon for a talk on top Industrial Fetishist and Vorticist Edward Wadsworth- bafflingly, it's been replaced by something on some St Ives bore of some description. So in the meantime, here are some excerpts from the Blast Manifesto
Another effort, Britons, if you would be Modernists
May I draw your attention to the first part of what will hopefully be a comprehensive piece on the rather unexpected fad for inter-war modernism that seems to be a-sweeping the chattering classes, over at The Measures Taken...
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
all the english groups act like peasants with free milk
Monday, May 08, 2006
Monday 8th May, 1967
We had dinner at a restaurant called Nino’s. A notorious Italian runs it. When we asked what had become of Abdul-Kador, the waiter he employed last year, he pursed his lips in disapproval and said simply, ‘a prostitute’. Kenneth gave me four Librium tablets and then gave Bill Fox two, and the ex-Navy man called Alan two also. They seemed to have an alarming effect on Bill, who was drinking wine with his meal. ‘I simply must take it up the arse tonight.’ He said, ‘or there’s no doing anything with me tomorrow.’ He said he had been a miner when he was fourteen. ‘I was first fucked down a mine,’ he announced to Nino. ‘Yes?’ Nino said, not understanding. ‘among the coal’, Bill said, trying to explain. ‘A miner did me.’ Nino shook his head. ‘Another prostitute, yes?’ ‘She thinks I did it for a bucket of coal,’ Bill said.
Joe Orton, Diaries
'i'd rather have written that than flown through hitler's legs'
Robin Carmody makes one of his periodic returns.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
‘Sincerity has no place in popular music, any more so than it does in cooking’
have long intended to write a defence of/eulogy to stephin merritt- this might hasten it somewhat, as underneath the oh-so-ILM accusations of racism in the original piece linked to by SR there is a very interesting question here. this may fit into my semi-mythical piece on potter, brecht and buffy...if it ever gets written
‘advanced, forthright, signifficant’
Reading, courtesy of Deptford junk market, Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, a book that can’t help but seem very strange 50 years after its publication. What is so startling about it isn’t its conclusions- what we have here is a fairly schematic list of the comments of a few poetes maudits, painters and philosophers on the perennial theme of the world’s like, unrealness- but the demented erudition born of autodidacticism, the pile up of detail upon detail. The sense that the writer assumes the reader is interested in knowing stuff, has as ferocious a thirst for knowledge as he does. Accordingly it sits oddly today among specialisation and jargon on one side and empiricist obscurantism on another. This faintly silly book feels weirdly valuable, a product of a period of expansion of education, of class mobility- hence, presumably Simon Reynolds’ namecheck in his Ghost Box piece.
Being of activist stock, it always feels faintly sad when an election passes without my really noticing it (or indeed even registering, though if I was on the other side of the river in Tower Hamlets, well...). The fun end of parliamentary cretinism. I have a fond memory of attending various electoral Counts when young in Southampton- hazy recollections of attending with the Labour side, and the rare experience of having your enemy in the same room, close enough to run behind and goose. The wonderful sound of briskly shuffled paper, the vainglory of the speechifying. This all got rather more melancholy after 1997, when it would consist of watching family friends in the Socialist Party heroically losing their deposits. One tragicomic example that springs to mind- a Socialist Alliance candidate, middle aged with too many old Rakim albums, who after lambasting his Blairite opponent muttered to his numerically paltry comrades ‘when I grab the microphone/I make it hot!’
Ah, but do you have a b/6?
I seem to have spent at least half of my time in the last year in a seemingly endless war of attrition with bureaucracies ranging from medical to housing to the labyrinth that is the attempt to claim state benefits. While filling in the endless forms, or on one of the interminable walks to rescheduled appointments, or generally enjoying ‘Market Stalinism’, Welles’ version of The Trial occasionally springs to mind.
This entirely un-Kafkaesque film takes off from the proposition that Joseph K (played, appropriately, by Norman Bates) is utterly, irredeemably guilty, and riven with self-righteousness. So rather than as the cramped, cryptic world of the novel, the film plays it as a kind of mass comedy. A vast crowd of typists clatter away then suddenly stop. A Hard Day’s Night gaggle of teenagers pursue K. What Welles seems to understand is that the act of putting oneself at the mercy of bureaucracy (which is utterly unavoidable if you can’t, or won’t work) one always feels guilty- sure, these people might be ignorant or obstructive, but at least they’re working…
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
The Effluent Society
In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.
RIP JK Galbraith, conspicuous among his profession for sanity, wit, humanism, and accompanying total lack of influence on the course of the last 30 years' economic history.
I have never fully understood why revolution is supposed to be so drab. The dictatorship of the proletariat has so often been interpreted as the dictatorship of the ugly and shapeless that it begs the question why glamour is anathema to so many advocates of social upheaval? In all of recent revolutionaries I can remember- Che notwithstanding, who was handsome but also a scruffy bastard- were the drag queens of Stonewall in Greenwich Village who went toe to toe against the homophobia of the NYPD and scored a major victory for gay rights and the crucial liberty of sartorial self-expression. Ever since, I have been with them all the way, a true believer in the legitimacy of fighting the good fight in high heels.
…The left were totally unaware of the great tradition of the English working class dandy. The wideboys of Brighton Rock, the teds of the Fifties and the mods of the Sixties were all progressive versions of what Orwell described as ‘young men trying to brighten their lives by looking like film stars’ and George Melly later called ‘revolt into style’. One of the great attractions if the Blackshirts was that they offered unemployed louts snappy uniforms. The lone Red of my acquaintance who had both an awareness of power through style and the flash that came with it was a self-proclaimed Stalinist who rode a Triumph Bonneville and favoured Jim Morrison-style leathers and a swan-off Levi jacket, with a hammer and sickle in place of the motorcycle club patch. More than once he told me, ‘I’d join the hell’s angels, but it’s the bastards you have to ride with. They don’t have a clue. I mean, how many could I discuss Frantz Fanon and The Wretched of the Earth with?’