Monday, April 30, 2007

Beware the Conservationist Barbarian!



It's difficult to know where to start with this one. Surely nobody would expect a work of genuflection from this unrepentant architectural traditionalist towards a Moscow Mayor who has been responsible for an astounding amount of architectural desecration, a demolisher of historic buildings and erecter of gross edifices on an appropriately Stalinist scale. There are two interesting things about Jenkins' seemingly easily pricked bubble of Blimpish bombast, however. First of all the evident Victorian preference for reconstruction over restoration. While an uninteresting 19th century ensemble might suddenly take on some life with the addition of dirt, weathering, the marks and scars of history, what Jenkins and his ilk really want is history as a theme park, unblemished by the effects of actual historical change. The other interesting element in this guff being the invocation of (here we go) democracy. That demolition of the Modern and the reaffirming of the imperial is what Muscovites want might rankle with the inhabitants of the Narkomfin building, or the other housing projects left to rot, but nonetheless.



Apparently, given the choice, most Londoners would plump for Luzhkov's Disney approach to the rebuilding of long-demolished historic structures over Livingstone's preference for steel and glass towers. It takes something to make me want to defend the drearily unimaginative selection of edifices that make up 'Ken's Towers', but surely what people like about London is its historical messiness and speed of change: what can create in one corner of the square mile a collision of a medieval church, a regency bank, Rogers' neo-Constructivist masterpiece at Lloyds and the gherkin looming wobblily up behind, all seemingly facing each other off in architectural combat. While this might mask a reality of stagnancy and avarice, its surely preferable to this fantasy of cosy homogeneity. What the traditionalists, pasticheurs and the remnants of pomo want is a city where you can't see the joins: for all their critique of Modernism's alleged fetish for the ex nihilo act of creation and the clean sweep, these are people that would wipe away London's chaotic energy with one of Yuri Luzhkov's Speerian flourishes.

Baroque Buttocks



On the subject of Oscar Niemeyer, I've just finished his autobiography The Curves of Time. What a very peculiar book it is. Naturally, one doesn't necessarily expect lapidary literary precision from a man in his 90s, but it's a deeply odd, contradictory thing even so. On one level, this is a manifesto for a gloriously libidinal conception of architecture and life: much of it seems to consist of Niemeyer and pals drinking and arguing about politics and existentialism before romancing girls who 'had the baroque buttocks we all favoured' - something that seems to jar somewhat with his rep as designer of the Apollonian capital of the postwar stabs at the Ville Radieuse, with the Platonic obsessiveness of its central square, an alignment of three ideal forms. The phrase just seems perfect for Niemeyer's aesthetic though: bulging, warm, yet classically symmetrical. Ahem.



Then there's his astoundingly unreconstructed Communism: to read someone in the 00s writing unconcernedly of his admiration for Stalin is, well, bracing, particularly when in the same book he writes of how impressed he was by the East Berlin Stalinallee on a '50s Eastern Bloc junket (apparently Moscow in the 1950s was 'the land of people that loved peace and freedom') - this at a time when Niemeyer was actually working on the West's unashamedly Modernist response to the Stalinist boulevard, the Hansaviertel in the Tiergarten (his block for which has some particularly sublime steatopygous columns, of the sort that Corbusier called 'thighs' rather than Pilotis). Yet we also find him in the book disdaining the building of social housing as a distraction from the revolution, while designing what would inadvertently become one of the emblems of 'Brazilification', the viciously harsh polarisation of rich and poor. But no matter how wildly contradictory it is, what a rich, ambitious conception of art, architecture and life he has: I'd take this 99 year old sculpting concrete anti-yankee monuments for Chavez over all the architecture schools' fashionable mock-Deleuzian wafflers.

The Ballard of a Thin Man



In case anyone hasn't got their tickets yet for From Shanghai to Shepperton at UEA this weekend, I'll be giving a short paper on the 'Ballard's Imaginary Communities' panel entitled something like 'Vermilion Sands, Paul Scheerbart and the Ballardian Ideal Suburb'. The gist for this is, to the surprise of nobody, Ballard and Architecture - specifically, on how this works in his Vermilion Sands stories, a series from 1957 to 1970 set in the titular resort, a linear city in the desert populated by the elegantly idle rich, relating this to the work of Scheerbart, a German Wilhelmine proto-SF author and theorist of Glasarchitektur, as well as to Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa's radiant city in the desert, planned and built while Ballard was writing the Vermilion Sands stories. The interesting question being how unlike the High Rise, or Estrella de Mar, Eden-Olympia or the other quintessentially Ballardian tainted utopias, Vermilion Sands actually works. Nobody eats their neighbour's dog, there are no pogroms into the banlieue, civilisation doesn't regress into horrifying atavism: as Ballard himself remarks, 'it is a place I would be happy to live'...

Incidentally: here's Ballard on Michael Powell, from a couple of years ago. I knew it was more important to see T-Men and White Heat than listen to FR Leavis lecturing on Virginia Woolf.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Zine, Heard

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Art Can't Kill The Constructivist International



"A CONSTRUCTIVE LIFE IS THE ART OF THE FUTURE.
ART which has not entered life will be numbered and handed over to the archaeological museum of ANTIQUITY.
It is time for ART to merge with life in an organised fashion.
A CONSTRUCTIVELY ORGANISED Life is HIGHER than the bewitchingly intoxicating art of magicians.
Down with art as a bright PATCH on the medoiocre life of a propertied man.
Down with art as a precious STONE amid the dirty, dank life of the poor man.
Down with art as a means to ESCAPE A LIFE that is not worth living.
LIFE, as a conscious and organised life, capable of SEEING and CONSTRUCTING, is contemporary art.
WORK for LIFE and not for PALACES, TEMPLES, CEMETERIES and MUSEUMS.
Work in the midst of everyone, for everyone, and with everyone.
Down with monasteries, institutes, ateliers, studios, offices and islands."
From Alexander Rodchenko, 'Slogans', 1920/1
Compare:



"1: The Situationist goal is immediate participation in a passionate abundance of life, through the variation of fleeting moments resolutely arranged. The success of these moments can only be their passing effect. Situationists consider cultural activity, from the standpoint of totality, as an experimental method for constructing daily life, which can be permanently developed with the extension of leisure and the disappearance of the division of labor (beginning with the division of artistic labor).
2: ART CAN CEASE to be a report on sensations and become a direct organization of higher sensations. It is a matter of producing ourselves, and not things that enslave us.
3: There is no freedom in the employment of time without the possession of modern instruments for the construction of daily life. The use of such instruments will mark the leap of a utopian revolutionary art to an experimental revolutionary art."
From Guy Debord, Theses on Cultural Revolution, 1958

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

London: Cine-City (Part Two)



The Continental Threat to the London sexual unconscious, Hitchcock (again) and the non-seediness of Blairite space...

In The 39 Steps, Hitchcock's London is revealed as a distinctly rum place. Its 'hero', Hannay, is a lanky, vaguely sinister Canadian cad with a propensity for music halls and picking up strange East European women. He lives in Portland Place, on the other side of Oxford Street, but his spiritual home is clearly Soho. Throughout the film Hitchcock plays on his attractiveness and his existence outside of the law, with his near-seduction of Peggy Ashcroft, his eroticised act of accidental kidnapping: chained hand to hand with Madeleine Carroll, leading to the explosive sexual tension of the scene where the handcuffed couple try to sleep away from each other. The people here, and the stark city they move around in, is a definitive instance of London - City of Seediness, the city of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, of Verloc in Conrad's The Secret Agent, and of Bill Brandt: in all of these cases, continental immigrants and the grimy city fuse themselves into a murky, sexualised threat to Victorian verities.



As I mentioned in Part One , the city transformed by Thatcherism and Blairism into one where the financial district has its own police force but the city as a whole has no municipal council, has caused sudden outbreaks of pure cinematic space: the icy beauty of the Jubilee stations, the neo-Modernist Norman Foster office blocks, the bars full of the international plutocracy at play, all alongside a multinational and vastly poorer parallel city with its crumbling infrastructure and its incoveniently towering housing projects. A statistic told me by Bat: the only area in Britain that has a non-white majority is above the fifth floor. One of the few recent films to try and chart at least some of this space is Michael Caton-Jones' Basic Instinct 2. While the unintentionally hilarious tourist fantasy of Match Point uses say, the Gherkin as a bit of local colour, as they would the Sagrada Familia or a Guggenheim, this piece of oddly ambitious Hitchcockian exploitation analyses these spaces, as pointed out by K-Punk, guesses what sort of people reside in the steel and coloured glass curves of Foster's buildings. David Morrissey's performance as the psychoanalyst with the office in the Gherkin evokes nothing other than the members of the current Shadow Cabinet, a decidedly Cameronian pinched brutality and estuary mock-classlessness, and with his lustings after a Costa Coffee waitress, he seems a likely occasional columnist for thelondonpaper.



Interestingly, the film has an utter lack of any actual sexual tension, of any thrill or eroticism: Sharon Stone's performance, though wonderfully hammy, has all the sexlessness of contemporary porn's athletic treadmill. The Hitchcockian or Brandtian city of seedy allure is entirely absent: and perhaps it is from London as a whole. Basic Instinct 2's protagonists spend some time in Soho, but the vice seems so much more boring than it would have been presented by the Hitchcock of the 1930s. One of the earliest of Bill Brandt's British photographs, after the Weimar/Red Vienna apprenticeship, is of lovers in a Soho bedroom: in a darkened corner of a nearly bare room, with its prettily Victorian wallpapaper seeming a sick joke. Its all black lines and murk, repudiating the Neue Photographie he was trained in, with its abstract plays of light for a totally monochrome newsprint griminess. It's bleak, but oddly sweet: there seems to be some comfort in this uninviting room, a brief escape from the cold outside towards human contact and affection. In order to actually depict a convincingly eroticised London, however, Brandt had to distort, had to make a conditional return to continental abstraction: his nudes of the 1940s and 50s stretch and distend the body into a liquefacient, utopian thing, free from the solidities of his 30s' Soho. At least part of their effect though, comes from the interiors: the grand but production line regency terraces outside, the tortuous curve of the Victorian furniture, the excresences, again, of the wallpaper. The space of the London quotidian is made seductively strange.



His cinematic near-equivalent, Hitchcock, was far too Catholic to make a similar re-imagining towards this sort of emancipated carnality. The 1960s did however see at least one return to the grimly enticing Soho of Brandt's early years: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom. Here we have as well a return of the pornographer-as-protagonist familiar from Conrad's The Secret Agent. Verloc, the astoundingly mercenary continental spy of the title, earns his living selling anarchist pamphlets and pornographic postcards. Yet he seems remarkably sexually uninterested in the voluptuous delights of his English wife, who is at first sanguine about offering herself to him: only later to become utterly ashamed and offering herself instead to an Anarchist pimp even more amoral than Verloc. In this, the Polish writer plays on the unease the European purveyor of filth creates in the Edwardian reader, and its notable that in Hitchcock's adaptation of the book as Sabotage in 1936 Verloc's profession is left unclear. In Peeping Tom Powell has no qualms about unleashes the psychotic, destructive European pornographer Karlheinz Böhm on Soho. This world is still as furtive as Verloc's, however: the contrast between the timid, shrinking photographers and the ballistically proportioned women, such as Pamela Green, who features in the film, who made up the 60s 'glamour' genre is vast. Peeping Tom's 'photography adviser' was the pornographer George Harrison Marks, whose work had an occasionally Riefenstahlian tinge: and his world of furtive voluptuousness infuses the film.



The sort of material euphimistically referred to as 'Educational Books' in Peeping Tom was no doubt akin to the magazines that Malcolm Maclaren and Vivienne Westwood would sell in their 70s shops precisely because the ludicrous proportions of their models and the evident air of guilt about the whole proceedings fitted perfectly into their war on the natural, carefree sexuality posited by the late '60s. As if to reassert the essential sexlessness and uncomfortableness of the English as its only true representation, the unique contribution of the British aesthetic being its repression, its seediness and its refusal of the possibility of release.

Part Three: London and Catastrophe. The Blitz, It Happened Here, H.G Wells and more!

Plakaty 138

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pennies In Hell



It seems I was too hasty in bemoaning lack of response to Inland Empire. Both K-Punk and Antigram (as part of a three-part piece) weigh in with excellent discussions of this extraordinary film: Daniel's quotation from Civilisation and its Discontents in particular nails down its distinctly un-nailable structural logic.

In the Zone



More Constructions: NVO's Wikipedia page of Moscow Constructivism, and Richard Pare's contemporary images of the remnants of the Soviet avant-garde, which appropriately make the speed-obsessed, gleaming visions of the 1920s resemble the grimy stasis of Tarkovsky.

Plakaty 137



This is one of Mayakovsky's ROSTA window public information posters, if I'm not mistaken. An explanation of what these are is provided in the extensively recently rewritten (by me) Constructivism page at Wikipedia. Perhaps my doing this reflects a certain megalomania - faked essays all over the world's universities will be based on something I wrote! (hmm, maybe I ought to keep that impulse private) The weight of history though does bear upon one's shoulders when writing such pages, which is my excuse for spending countless hours that could be spent on all manner of more sensible activities fiddling with the damn things.

Werke



In the 'I thought you had disappeared off the face of the earth' corner: The Original Soundtrack is back, and hearteningly seems to be much the same as ever: mentions of Berlin power stations, cognitive analyses of DJing and 'analogue synthesiser epics'. More please.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Banham and his Bubble



Momus on Reyner Banham, my favourite beard wearing pop artist, architectural historian and occasional practitioner (the 'Environment Bubble', which you can see him and his beard sat in above). There are so many things about Banham that endear him to me: the wit (an extremely rare thing in an architectural writer: lovely sentences like 'I learned to drive to read Los Angeles in the original'), the attempt to place Futurism rather than Platonism as the spring from which Modernism emerged, the coinage and prosleytising on behalf of The New Brutalism (now there's a book that needs reissuing), and the hymn to the romanticism of the grain silo in his A Concrete Atlantis...but must dissent from Momus' characterisation of Banham as 'pomo'. Not only was he enormously scathing about the 80s 'return to masonry and historical reference, seeing it a return of what he called 'the Swedish retreat from Modern architecture' way back in the '50s, even his most perverse, Warholian work implied a forward motion, the very thing which made pomo so sniffy.

Gun Talk



The Tomb, fairly definitive on this issue.

Sprawl, Justified



A link recently sent me: an article featuring the posters with which London Transport enticed the populace from the teeming, revolutionary city into the social death of the commuter belt, or the garden suburbs as they were termed, although I can't imagine Lewis Mumford was a fan of Cockfosters.

Friday, April 20, 2007

'Miserable and Hairy'



As well as being able to take photographs of other bloggers looking somewhat socialist realist (the look into the corner distance, as if visualising glorious proletarian future ahead) I.T occasionally (but not occasionally enough) writes extremely good polemical pieces. Like This One:
For the disproportionate fear that the statistically and historically minimal group of women who were both angry and had hairy legs have inculcated both in their detractors and in their faux-successors, we should salute them as often as possible.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Faciality

Just to own up that I am not, in fact, a girl (I thought the name was a giveaway but apparently not - nor am I Hertha Thiele)

From Gardens Where we Feel (In)secure



So, I gave a paper yesterday evening to the denizens of the Hertfordshire Architectural Association: it was really much more enjoyable lecturing to lots of old folk - they seem so much less worried about looking hep than the 20somethings I've usually given papers to: the questions were very sharp, there were no non-sequiteurious interventions asking me to 'reinscribe' or 'traverse' anything: and best of all, I got to read it in a castle, in a market town with a delightful Modernist town hall and the more expected rustic pleasures. Beats Goldsmiths College, anyhow. The paper in all its lengthiness and pretty pictures is now up at The Measures Taken.

From Frahaus to Sivill House



Further to the remarks below, here's a fine example of how not to be archival and revolutionary at the same time. There's an exhibition on at the moment at the Agency Gallery, at Cremer St in East London. It's called Frauhaus, and if you give your exhibition a name like that I'm obviously going to go along. The premise is an engagement with German and Soviet Constructivism on the part of contemporary female artists. Although this comes with the assumption that there was an essential maleness about this movement - something that Varvara Stepanova, or Marianne Brandt might have had things to say about - its all mildly interesting.



This is in a sense sort of reassertion of the lines connecting the Berlin-centric art of he 2000s and the Berlin-centric art of the 20s: Gal Kinan's rather grimy, cheap looking Bauhaus womenmachine dolls, jerkily waving their arms, or Heidi Kilpelainen's paintings nicking images from SF and horror and collaging them with Suprematism, which appropriately pulpifies the 'new world' imagery. It's all hopelessly dry and gallery bound though: one of the promises of the Berlin fashionista underground was always about a certain sort of practice: Chicks on Speed with their homemade clothes, or the proliferation of flyers and records, all suggested something that would be part of life, not for mere contemplation. Tellingly, one of the exhibits, by Sadie Murdoch, reimagines a photo of Charlotte Perriand's rather glam reclining pose in her chaise longue: a leaflet has some (intelligent enough) rhetoric about it referencing the ignored pro-leisure bent of the Constructivist moment This is true enough - and it's appropriately elegant, but like everything else here so underambitious, so lacking in urgency compared with the revolutionary intent of the work being referenced. They seem daunted by it, content instead to play with its imagery rather than re-activate it - and its this that is so desperately needed.



For a better understanding of Constructivism's lingering presences, go to the gallery, wander round for a bit, then walk round the corner for 2 minutes to the huge Lubetkin co-designed (with Francis Skinner and Douglas Bailey) Dorset Estate, just by Ravenscroft Park, built in the 50s and 60s. Lubetkin's VkHUTEMAS training results in patterned, interlinking Constructions, their non-objective detailing evoking Malevich or their pinwheel shapes and angles, stunning in the central tower, Sivill House, which takes off from Melnikov - but for better or worse, its lived in, lived with, becomes a part of the everyday, and provides surprises and shocks within that: the residents, from seemingly every corner of the globe, provide their own interventions. This is what Constructivism was always for, rather than to be cross-referenced, played with and reinserted into the space of fine art, an area where nothing really happens.

Kosmonautentraum



Normal obsessive service now semi-resumed: lots should be up in the next few days. In the meantime, look at the very pretty cosmonaut matchboxes linked to by I Like: fine examples of 'miniscule art', like the series of stamps of 60s universities that I really ought to scan at some point.

Archives of Pain

di

One of the many pertinent things raised in the Fisher-Reynolds faceoff is the question of how pop – and, I would add, culture in a much more general sense – is being strangled by the archive. This is the conundrum at the heart of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, and an obsession at the heart of one of the more Benjaminian of bands, Disco Inferno: the pile-up of history that overwhelms and smothers any attempts to create something ex nihilo. Like Benjamin, DI’s response to this was montage, the collection of fragments and through them an attempt to blast open the continuum: the poignancy of the ‘my eyes point ahead’ at the end of their ‘The Last Dance’, after their outlining of the grim hold of history and its ‘layers of rubbish’. But isn’t the real problem the taking the archive for granted, the reducing of it to something atemporal, the extraction of the alienation effect that resides in history? The problem with the archive model as it is now is that it isn’t historical enough.

rod

Yesterday on BBC4 there was a fascinating documentary on Edwardian consumerism – the era’s obsession with branding, health food and so forth. Enlightening as this was, it was a symptom of the prevalent model of showing how historical period x were just like us: the making strange that the archive can create is scrupulously avoided. In the late 1920s, ‘Factographers’ like Sergei Tretyakov and Alexander Rodchenko developed the idea of the revolutionary archive (see for this the essential Factography issue of October a few months ago). This would necessitate a massive collection of data, via the most modern networks of production and communication. Yet what makes this so different to the current model of the archive is that it was necessarily tendentious: an agitational archive, assembled for revolutionary purposes. This is what can potentially separate the museum from the archive. In this we should remember that all revolutions present themselves as a reactivation, as the last revolution without the mistakes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Military-Industrial Complexes



An intriguing site recently brought to my attention - the Tomorrows Project, a distinctly sinister oblique animated maze of 70s TV footage of industry, surveillance, nuclear bases, shots of tower block-filled cities in their brief moment of utopian promise and a general tendency towards 'if the Parallax View had been directed by T. Dan Smith'. Its proprietor has a similar site on Cumbernauld, the oft-derided new town that features in Gregory's Girl and in television programmes about the horrors of 60s architecture.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A peaceful path to Real Reform



I'm going to be giving an hour long talk, with pictures (obviously) on Garden Cities and Garden Suburbs at (I don't know where it is either) Hertford Castle for their local RIBA next Wednesday. Any Hertfordshire Crew (oh yes) e-mail me and I'll let you know the details, well as soon as I know them all...

'Architecture can be Avoided'



Some wag once opined that 'architects are the second oldest profession, only without the standards of the first'. Now there are occasional exceptions to this rule, but generally it holds true that they'll do whatever they're offered. I mentioned this once in conjunction with a Zaha Hadid interview where she essentially said that she'd rather be designing hospitals and schools than whimsical towers in Dubai. Well, according to today's papers she has just designed a school - a City Academy in Brixton, to be precise, funded as always with these operations by some dubious entrepeneur, free from any democratic control, and no doubt destined for the sorry fate back-door privatisations have tended to fall into.



This seems to be a pattern with any good, new public buildings in London, such as David Adjaye's great, Scheerbartian Whitechapel Library. You can't unreservedly enjoy it, because some bit of glaring Blairist idiocy will hit you - in the Library's case, the moniker 'Ideas Store' (imagine the focus group meeting on that one - no, library's a bit fusty, call it a store and people will come, you know like they do to Bluewater, sniff sniff) and its role in the closure of the Library at the Aldgate end, 'the university of the ghetto', which had a priceless collection of Jewish literature. As ever, the Corbusian question 'architecture or revolution' seems appropriate, if worth answering the other way round.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Eye of the Teige



When the Robert Hugheses of this world talk about the sexlessness of Constructivism, other than reaching for my revolver I usually would point them in the direction of the work of Karel Teige - a Czech critic/designer who was at once a totally hardline Functionalist/Constructivist, dedicated to expunging bourgeois sentimentalism (with its 'erotic banality' as he puts it in The Minimum Dwelling) in favour of the mechanistic joys of existenzminimum, and at the same time a overheatedly Freudian Surrealist photomontageur, piecing together a sort of sinister siedlung sexuality out of porn and modern architecture photos, which I've written about elsewhere. This site showcases his utterly covetable book covers.



Teige's 1930 Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia was fairly recently reissued with a rather nondescript cover by corporate-Deleuzian waffler Bruce Mau (Massive Change my arse, etc). It's an excellent read, not only for Teige's prose, which no matter how sachlich he tries to be, always crackles with futurist excitement, but for the way in which he rates Constructivism as the wave of the future, not as an 'art movement' but as a way of approaching the world that is as totally revolutionary for aesthetics as Marxism for politics of psychoanalysis for psychology. Now that we generally titter at such things for their unreconstructed Hegelianism, Constructivism, when not in the museums is something that - to the likely horror of someone like Teige - exists as fragments of something past.



The New Constructivism that has been talked about is of course the only true solution to the general aesthetic impasse - but in lieu of that, some fragments are interestingly presented in the following places: Galinsky's photo-profiles of Narkomzem, Isvestia, Tsentrosoyuz (the names themselves have a certain thrill, do they not?), while St Petersburg's Wandering Camera documents the remnants of Leningrad Constructivism: the building above is known as 'Ispolkom'.

Plakaty 136

London - Cine-City (Part 1)



It's soon after a discussion of The 39 Steps with Hitchcock himself, that Truffaut offers his opinion that the Master's leaving Britain was somehow stylistically inevitable. These oft quoted lines make the claim that Britain is inherently 'uncinematic' - has too literary a sensibility, has an entirely uninteresting verdant countryside and so on and so forth. There are so many infuriating things about this statement, but surely the most glaring is its context: Hitchcock's original 1935 39 Steps has some of the most compellingly strange settings in cinema up to that point, from the noise and chaos of the opening Music Hall, to some wildly Constructivist shots of corners and slices of the Forth Bridge, to a return to the stark contrasts of an inky, neon West End. Its no accident that Bill Brandt, that most filmic of photgraphers, always claimed Hitchcock's London films - where his training in German expressionism resulted in The Lodger's dark, seedy glamour or the paranoid city of Sabotage - as a primary inspiration: in them, London is sublimely estranged and made utterly cinematic without ever ceasing to be London. And aside from Hitchcock, is there a purer cinema than the vast scale and overwhelming colour of Powell and Pressburger?



What Truffaut really meant, although he put it in an irksomely chauvinist way, is that the British middle classes are uncinematic, which is true enough. His ability to seek out and use the uncharted corners of British modernity came out in the startling mise-en-scene of Fahrenheit 451. The entire Ghost Box aesthetic can be found presaged in the opening scenes, where in the environs of the fantastic geometrically arranged slab-blocks that cap Roehampton's vast Alton Estate, a pile of beautifully designed Penguin paper backs are thrown on a pyre, with sensibly dressed folk standing around it as if in some sort of ceremony. But needless to say, the brit bourgeoisie has infected British cinema, either through its own pure representation in offensive nonsense like Iris or Notting Hill, or in their sentimentalisation of the old proletarian East End in their endless gangster flicks - an episode of The Bill, running forever.



London today is so absurdly cinematic, in its outrageous contrasts of wealth and scale, that its almost criminal that no-one is doing anything with it. Recently I was on the mighty Jubilee Line extension with someone taking photos on their camera phone, and looking at the pictures had the appropriate Shklovskian effect of highlighting the extreme peculiarity of this futuristic, yet oddly superfluous underground line. Its history is almost worth a film in itself, charting the sinister history of London changing from a place to live to a place to exchange capital - the extension of what was originally planned in the '70s as the 'Fleet Line', depressingly later renamed for jingo purposes, was to connect the Centre with the South East periphery all the way to Thamesmead, where Kubrick had found his dystopian future city - now, this line goes to the desolate dome at North Greenwich, the already dated Blade Runner fantasy of Canary Wharf, through to yet another Blairite bread and circuses project in the offing at Stratford. A whole cine-landscape of grey metal and vaulting space, all just waiting for someone to point a camera someone running along it.

(Part Two, if and when I write it, is on Peeping Tom, pin-ups, Conrad's Secret Agent, seediness, Bill Brandt and other such things)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Church of Mies



'I don't care about your church. I didn't ask you to do it. And if I do it, I'll do it my way. It interests me because its a plastic work. It's difficult.'
Le Corbusier on his Ronchamp chapel

Now that the fervent celebrations of the death and resurrection of Christ are over, it seems a good time to link to the delightfully titled Nearer my God to Mies, on Modernist churches in the USA: a rather tragicomic subject that Simon remarked on a little while ago. My favourite in this field is the one on the Heygate Estate on the Elephant and Castle, with its concrete walkways, plus a great, raw Expressionist one I went to with Luka in Eltham last year.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Loos' Ornament and Crime



Someone kindly saved an article for me (in a magazine called Allergy - I'm not making this up) the other day that consisted of an interview with a woman claiming to be called 'Carrie Grant' (oh right) on her struggle with the menace of Crohn's disease (apparently she's on the X Factor, but thankfully my TV is broken so I can only watch videos on it). It was headed 'Carrie's War', cue more hilarity. So I have someone to add to the vaguely famous fellow sufferers list, which is a motley bunch - Beth Orton, unlovely cod-soul foghorn Anastasia, and Eisenhower. What they would have to say to each other over dinner, eh, etc.



Which brings us to this photograph of recent innovations in public receptacle technology, a very important thing for me, the General and the aforementioned minor pop singers. Obviously development in this area is extremely welcome, seeing as the main pattern is for a general regression to the pre-Victorian (doesn't the phrase a 'Public Convenience' seem like something to chill a Blairite's blood?), as seen by the general closure of perfectly functional (if stylistically rather outre) 19th century public loos, only rarely being replaced with those awful malfunctioning automatic pissoirs in Central London - standing room only, of course. But look at the area around this impeccable futurist loo - one of those weirdly desolate landscapes that seem to pop up on the former industrial hinterlands - here, surely, we have the first Ballardian Public Toilet. However the bench is such a nice touch. (Pic at top from Derelict London's fine hauntology of the public toilet)

Monday, April 09, 2007

An Ideal for Living



Some curiously connected things worth a detailed perusal - the Impostume on Adam Curtis' The Trap (do wish he'd put some bloody pictures up, though...), the Twentieth century society on The Pimlico School's machine for being educated in, and me on The New Objectivity, which needs just a little footnoting. Anyone...?

Functionaries of the Future



Right, the holiday is now over as far as I'm concerned (thank the Lord) so I can without guilt spend my time fiddling with this instead. Current non-holiday listening is Xylitol's Functionary. Now obviously anyone who puts the Tricorn Centre on the cover of their 3" CD is after my own heart, but this is really a very lovely thing indeed - as bouncily danceable as dancehall, as tinnily electronic as something oddly invigorating playing on someone's mobile at the other end of the 188 bus, exhibiting as much commonality with the fruity loops constructions of grime when it was interesting as with the more expected Neue Deutsche Welle and Radiophonic Workshop affinities. And as Martin sort of points out, it closes with a distinctly fey voice hymning the joys of being a skinhead. Marvellous.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Locomotion for Revolution



Not entirely connected with Voyou's remarks on Communism, film and train travel (surely the socialist mode of transport), here's Chris Marker's The Train Rolls On, his 1971 film on the cine-train of Alexander Medvedkin.

Part One:


Part Two:


Part Three:

Frozen Music

As I'm going to try not to post anything much for the next few days (as I am supposed to be being convivial) I hope these keep you going. First - the Bauhaus building in Dessau, soundtracked by tracks from the first Kraftwerk album (oh yes) from one 'Mr Bauhaus', who also provides a great short on the history of the Grossmarkthalle, centre of the 1920s' 'Neue Frankfurt' and its decidedly murky history. Next clip is a short film on Vladimir Tatlin's Third International Tower (see also this clip on Malevich. Both a little dry, but the er, 'realisations' are quite interesting, especially the montages. Also this on Rodchenko- and there's one on Meyerhold, though both have a certain Late Review bent that seems somewhat counterrevolutionary...)

Ghosts of the Ideal



If you're visiting Utopia hoping for something spectacular, be prepared to be disappointed.

The story of Utopia, Ohio: founded by followers of the great socialist, fantasist and proto-Situationist (not the 'founder of a religious sect') Charles Fourier as one of their Phalansteries, communes that would have much influence on Le Corbusier and Ivan Chtecheglov, it is now apparently a garage and a couple of houses. Says it all, does it not...?

'Bad van the Rough One'



There isn't going to be a series of posts about Google Translator I promise: but just to inform that the phrase above is its rendition of 'Mies van der Rohe'...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Under the Paving Stones



Or, more precisely under the concrete slabs. See Homo Ludens on Constant Niewenhuys' Situationist urbanism and Brutalism, then have a look over the great Dancing Bears.