Little thoughts on the death of Lou Reed

29 Oct

Lou-ReedIt was Nick Cave who told me. “This is for the great Lou Reed, who died today,” said Nick, from the stage of Hammersmith Apollo, at the beginning of the end of his set, as The Bad Seeds started playing ‘Push The Sky Away.’ I’m not going to say much but I want to say something. I don’t know much about the man, own only a few of his records and haven’t even heard his most famous solo LP, Transformer. So I don’t know much but I do know what most people who ever responded to one of his records knows: that this was a difficult, indefinable, ungoverned artist, a man whose life and music were his own.

I think that by then Lou Reed had been in my life for 21 years, since a girl called Liz made me a tape of the Retro compilation, the last track of which, The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin,’ led to me buying, on cassette, almost certainly from Bee Bees in South Woodham Ferrers, The Velvet Underground & Nico, which became and remains one of my favourite records ever.lrvu

A vivid memory of my teenage years, one which returns every time I hear the song, is walking home from school via the creek in Woodham, shortly after being given Retro, with Lou Reed’s ‘Coney Island Baby’ playing inside my head. I don’t even remember if I was listening to the song through earphones but it’s almost certain I wasn’t as I never use them- yet the memory of the song, its feel, matched the perfect summer light and heat and the blue cloudless sky and the green shining grass of Saltcoates Park.

This would have been around ’93 and The Velvet Underground (I’ve still only heard their first record) were reforming (I later learned they headlined Glastonbury that year); their box set was released, there was a documentary about them on Channel 4 followed by a broadcast of Chelsea Girls in full (I didn’t make it through that, though this should remind us how great Channel 4 once was) and I saw (or was this later?) the short version of their ‘Velvet Redux’ Live MCMXCIII, that ends with a new song, the wonderful ‘Coyote’.

I missed out on tickets to his show at the Royal Festival Hall last year and never got to see him perform a full set, but I did get to share a room with him and see him play, with Metallica, on Later…With Jools Holland, performing two songs from their collaboration Lulu as well as ‘White Light/White Heat.’ Reed was also interviewed by Holland and what the TV viewer didn’t see was at the end of the interview Lou being helped across the room, back to his place alongside Metallica. I was a bit shocked at the surprising frailty of the man (then 70) who minutes earlier had been fronting an “avant-garde theatrical” rock group.lou reed 2

I’ve never heard Reed’s famously antagonistic full-frontal feedback assault Metal Machine Music but I love it anyway. And I’m so pleased that his last record, the Metallica collaboration Lulu, seemed to piss people off nearly as much. It didn’t just win a host of negative reviews; some enraged Metallica fans sent Lou Reed death threats. It’s a brilliant record- bonkers mad and psychotic mad; it’s difficult, indefinable and ungoverned, which is where we came in.

I was in the room when this performance took place and couldn’t believe what I was seeing:

So this isn’t an obituary or career overview, it’s just some of my thoughts and feelings about the impressions this man has left on me so far. For me there’s still much more of him to delve into, deeper to go. Lee Ranaldo called him ‘irreplaceable.’ That’s certainly true.

A real and genuine loss of a unique artist: tough, punk, trans; wild, soulful, untamed. I’m grateful I got to see him. RIP Lou Reed.

lou reed

1942 – 2013

2012 in things I saw and did

1 Jan
A typically busy week in my diary

A typically busy week in my diary

It’s nearly the end of the year and time to flick back through the diary and reflect on the best and less-than-best of the things I saw and heard and read and did in 2012. I do often moan about living in London and how I miss Essex but of course I get so much from the capital’s culture via the all the wonderful of theatres, cinemas, concert halls and libraries. It’s the cinemas I make most use of, though more for old films than new.

Clara Bow. Brightening up the year since 1922

Clara Bow. Brightening up the year since 1922

Right back at the start of the year I saw my favourite Woody Allen film in the cinema, as well as the so-called Best Picture of 2011, the maddeningly over-rated, hugely disappointing The Artist. I love silent films and saw quite a few screened this year. As well as seeing Chaplin and Keaton and Lillian Gish I saw one of my favourite actresses, the wonderful Clara Bow on the big screen for the first time, at the London Film Festival in the recently restored Wings, which was the first (and only other silent) Best Picture winner. As I type this I’m looking forward to seeing Clara on the small screen (a sadly rare occurence) as she’s made the Christmas TV schedules (hurrah!) in Arena profile Hollywood’s Lost Screen Goddess.

Another cinema highlight this year was seeing one of the best films of all time, Ken Russell’s The Devils, screened in its rarely-seen Director’s Cut (perhaps not superior after all), followed by a Q&A with some of the cast and crew. I saw Bollywood classic Awaara and watched this clip from it endlessly on YouTube. I saw, among many others, Calamity Jane, Michael Snow’s great experimental film Wavelength, David Lynch’s wild INLAND EMPIRE, and a screening of Pink Flamingos, uncutfor the first time in the UK.

The Devils (1971)

The Devils (1971)

I watched Titanic again. The first time I’d seen it was on a portable telly in the corner of my then-girlfriend’s bedroom. It had little impact on me and I’ve been snooty about it ever since, so no one was more surprised than me when I found myself loving the IMAX 3D rerelease. I went to the premiere of Peter Doherty’s acting debut in Confessions Of A Child Of The Century, panned by the critics but actually very interesting (with Peter, who avoided the premiere, having nothing to worry about). I also went to a preview of William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, at the eye-popping end of which, when ‘Directed by William Friedkin’ hit the screen, I burst out laughing in the cinema in what I can only suppose was actual catharsis at the grand guignol finally hitting its peak. Friedkin was there and afterward, as I stood in line to meet him, the chap in front of me handed Friedkin a copy of Peter Biskind’s classic book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, open for autographing at a relevent page. Friedkin looked at the cover and ejaculated “This is shit!” He then autographed the page with ‘This book is shite. William Friedkin.’

Oh yeah: saw my first Bond film since Goldeneye and was so pleased that Skyfall was as good as everyone said. I loved it. If there’s any justice it will at least be on the card for Best Picture. I hope it is.


Javier Bardem in Skyfall

There was a lot of Joe Orton in my life this year, following on from all the Kenneth Williams I soaked up in 2011. Orton’s diaries were one of the best things I read this year and I saw a performance of Loot a pub theatre too. Between these I went to an exhibition of the original library books artistically defaced by Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell, prior to a ‘retrial,’ conducted by real solicitors and a real judge, asking if, in this day and age, Orton would still be found guilty of criminal damage for his library book alterations. Interestingly, he was.

Mark Rylance as Johnny 'Rooster' Byron in Jerusalem

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

I’d entered 2012 with the intention of seeing more theatre. One of the great highlights of the year happened back in January when, at about 1am, I joined the back of a queue at London’s Apollo Theatre hoping for day tickets to the final performance of Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, finally collecting one fourteen hours later. I’d already seen the play and had queued for 3 or so hours that time. The play, with its unforgettable leading performance by Mark Rylance, blew me away and in the final weeks, when chances to see it again diminished by the day, I knew I had to before it was gone, so I joined the last night queue, at the the front of which was a man who’d been there for three days. Fourteen hours in a queue breeds camararderie. Those reaching the front of the line, when all the tickets were gone and, one by one, returns became available, became the ‘leader’ of the line, and by the early afternoon this role fell to me. I conducted the crowd from an inherited list of people next in line for tickets to, first, the matinee and then for the final performance. Wine appeared. When does this happen? This wasn’t a red carpet appearance, a film premiere, not even a new musical. It was a straight play, in its third London run. I got myself a ticket, gave it to someone else, holding out, even at this late stage, for a better seat at this last performance. I don’t remember what I paid in the end but I was sat in the centre of the circle, the best seats in the house as the curtain rose and this great, great production began for the final time (to date).

Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Phaedra Cox in Jerusalem

Aimee-Ffion Edwards in Jerusalem

At the final curtain Rylance, who, like Fonzie, got a cheer at his first entrance, handed the cloak he ends the play huddled in, to someone in the centre of the front row. It was the man who’d queued for three days. I saw this individual in the foyer. He was in a daze and spoke of maybe getting a tattoo like Rylance’s Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron sported on his arm and spoke of not knowing what to do tomorrow, not being able to see the show again. I saw pretty much the whole cast (including Rylance, resplendent in white silk scarf and smooth speaking voice unlike his character’s hazy delivery) at the stage door, where Aimee-Ffion Edwards, magical as the play’s catalyst Phaedra Cox, noticed that in my rush to join the queue I’d put odd shoes on, and concluded a surreal, unforgettable 24 hours by accosting some bloke who’d fled a resteraunt without paying and frogmarching him back to the waitresses.

Wabriya King and Anna Lukis in Serious Money

Wabriya King and Anna Lukis in Serious Money

Surprisingly to me, I’d never attended either the Old Vic or the Donmar Warehouse and did both this year, as well as returning to the Royal Court for the first time in over a decade to see a production of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money by the graduates of the Oxford School Of Drama. I’m glad I did, as the cast was superb. Many of them regrouped in an anthology show later in the year called Bitter Pleasures For A Sour Generation. This was more variable but the last piece featured a turn by Alice Fernandez that was one of the best things I saw anywhere this year. Fernandez, Jessica Burgess, Nell Hudson, Kate Dylan and Alexandra Dowling among others are all names to look out for.

Naomi Delamore as Laurey Williams in Oklahoma!

Naomi Delamore in Oklahoma!

It took two goes for me to see Mark Rylance’s return, as Richard III, at Shakespeare’s Globe. The first brought a torrential downpour even Lear would have sheltered from; I ended up seeing it the next time in a box shared with Nana from The Royle Family. There was more Shakespeare in the Globe’s Henry V and the Donmar’s all-female prison-set Julius Caesar, an unusual addition to Christmas week. I took my two annual trips to see Enfield Light Opera and Dramatics, this year performing 42nd Street and, with my own girlfriend wonderful in the lead, a great Oklahoma!

My first produced play

My first produced play

For me there was one other major theatrical event of the year and that was having my first play produced. South London Theatre put on my one-act play Close Up The Walls as one half of a double bill and did a brilliant job of it. I wrote it on the night shift at work last year. Director Jack King took the play, a monologue, finessed the ending and cast Eileen Coan, who delivered a chilling, faultless performance. On the final night of the run I almost didn’t get in, as it had sold out and even with added seats there was no room at the inn for me. I sat in a nearby churchyard drinking a beer while my friends and family were all in the theatre.

Theatre and cinema seem to have taken over, then, where once it was London’s gig venues that had me through the doors most weeks. I did see some shows this year, though. Of course, I saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at their unmissable Hyde Park show, in which Jon Fogerty, Tom Morello and Paul McCartney all took part before the plug was finally pulled when they just wouldn’t stop playing. I saw the magnificent Dirty Three for the sixth time and at the risk of sounding like a pensioner, Warren Ellis’ violin was so f**cking loud I gave myself a hearing problem I still have. Saw a new band, too: my mate Rob Marenghi’s Cats On The Beach. Give ’em a listen here.

David Tennant as Will in The Minor Character

David Tennant in The Minor Character

The best thing on TV this year was without a doubt Storyville’s moving, inspiring film From The Sea To The Land Beyond: Britain’s Coast On Film. A collage of footage from the BFI archive scored by British Sea Power, this film deserves a cinema release. As well as still loving Sherlock and Downton Abbey I also tuned in with eagerness to Sky’s Playhouse Presents, which I’d hoped would be a revival of the weekly single play tradition once common on our screens. It didn’t turn out to be that good, all told, but the opening play, The Minor Character, starring David Tennant, was perhaps the best piece of writing for television this year, scripted by the inimitable Will Self. I hope The Bletchley Circle gets recomissioned and given a chance to breathe as I thought its far-fetched premise of female Enigma codebreakers as late 1940s sleuths was a lot of fun. Arena‘s documentary on The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, followed by a rare screening of the film was another TV highlight of the year. I know I’m forgetting other good telly. It was mainly the Olympics and the Jubilee. We all enjoyed them, right?



I braved the deluge during the River Pageant to catch but a glimpse of Her Majesty and a glimpse of her majesty is about what I saw, squashed into St Katherine’s Dock with other glimpse-cravers. I watched the back of a waving man stood on the deck of a brage for a bit. I’m pretty sure it was the Duke Of Edinburgh. When Jess Ennis and Mo and the ginger long-jumper did their thing I was proudly watching, at work, on the night shift again. I was in a Croatian hotel room when the dancing horses event took place, and like everyone made tea in our kitchen when every nationality in the world trooped past grinning and waving their flag during the opening and closing ceremonies (I loved the Olympics btw. And the Jubilee. 2012 belonged to the UK).

Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald

In the early Nineties I missed the chance to see Seamus Heaney read his poetry and caught up with that finally this year, seeing the great man give a surprisingly jovial reading on the South Bank while my girlfriend sat beside me and fell asleep. Another of the best things I saw all year was a poetry reading; one of the finest poets in the country reading from her best book. When Alice Oswald began reading from Memorial I was impressed that she seemed to be doing so without the book (always a good trick). And then she just kept on going, and going, and, despite the woman sitting next to me craning around to see if there was an autocue screen at the back of the room, succeeded in delivering the entire text from memory.

I dined in Fortnum & Mason. Fabulous luxury. Loved it. Sandwich, cake and tea as it was meant to be.

I stood in the V&A and stared at the actual costumes De Niro wore in Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy.

Someone I loved my whole life died.

Oh yeah, and Bears played together again!

Impromptu Bears reunion in Camden

Impromptu Bears reunion in Camden

I won’t bore you all by going through the photo album of what I did in my personal life this year; suffice to say that I moved up a notch at work and went from South London to North London, completed an NVQ, met up again with my old schoolmates at Merc & Laura’s wedding, went on two amazing holidays (in one year- unheard of!) with my gorgeous girlfriend, to Dubrovnik and a magical stay at Disneyland.

Three famous people I met in 2012:

  • Chas Hodges from Chas & Dave
  • Pluto
  • Father Christmas (it was definitely him)

Three good things I bought in 2012:

  • A photo of Clara Bow from a woman on Ebay
  • A pair of theatre seats from a junk shop in Whitstable
  • A beautiful kitten from a bloke in Dagenham

Three good books I read in 2012:

  • Bessie by Chris Albertson
  • The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
  • Eleven Kinds Of Loneliness by Richard Yates

Two not so good things I watched in 2012:

  • Ragtime at Regents park Open Air Theatre. It was set on junkpile or something. No.
  • BBC2’s The Dark Charisma Of Adolf Hitler. Rubbish. Even Channel 5’s Was Hitler Gay? was less pointless.

Two people from Downton Abbey who crossed my path in 2012:

  • Daisy (Stage door of the Apollo Theatre)
  • Carson (Sat in front of me at a screening of Steamboat Bill, Jr.)

It probably took you most of the new year to period to read that. If you were interested enough to do so, we must be friends. Do please send me your recommendations for things to do and see in 2013. Happy New Year!

A Clerihew For Charles Hawtrey

2 Oct

A clerihew is a funny little poem. Charles Hawtrey was a funny little man.

I was introduced to Hawtrey (weren’t we all?) through the Carry On films, in twenty-three of which he played such roles as Sir Roger de Lodgerley, Eustace Tuttle and Private James Widdle.

I was introduced, yesterday, by George Szirtes, to the clerihew.  Szirtes invited friends on Facebook to contribute a few on the topics of Irish writers, the world of film and stars of TV and radio (lovely to see stars of radio mentioned).

Charles Hawtrey

Soon there were a couple of hundred on there. I wrote a few. This one I was pleased with:

A Clerihew For Charles Hawtrey

Charles Hawtrey
had a thought: re
fame’s long idyll
I was Private Widdle.

(PS: I have yet to read a biography of Charles Hawtrey but have always remembered this one fact my A Level Drama teacher Justine Wenman told me about him- that onstage he could laugh ‘indefinitely.’ 

At home, whenever he appeared on the telly, which would have been quite often, my brother being a huge fan of the Carry Ons,  my mother could always, without fail, be relied upon to say “He had an awful death. He lost his legs.”

My mother is very much one for retaining and repeating single facts about people. How pleased I was to hear Bridget Jones’ mother routinely describe the Jap(ane)s(e) as “a cruel race” as this was also some of my own mother’s imparted wisdom. Watching ‘Steptoe & Son’ it was always “They’re both dead. He died first.” And finally this has put me in mind of the hilarious scene in ‘Carry On Camping’ where Peter Butterworth as campsite owner Mr Fiddler charges Sid James and Bernard Bresslaw a pound for every little thing (booking fee, rent, etc); when watching this scene once with my mother she was genuinely aggrieved at Mr Fiddler’s greed. “Cheeky bastard.”) 

Charles Hawtrey as Private Widdle in 'Carry On Up The Khyber'


Kelvin Arena

3 Sep

Kelvin Arena is a very exclusive live music venue, recording studio and creative space in North London. It’s recently been announced that these legendary rooms will cease to exist as we know them at the start of November.

You might never have heard of Kelvin Arena. Few if any places in London have managed to maintain such a semi-mythical exclusivity. I mean where these days doesn’t have a website? You won’t be able to Google Kelvin Arena.

The Chorus playing live at Kelvin Arena in 2005

Of course, despite being named an ‘arena’ the live area is smaller than the smallest club. Original artworks hang on the walls. A cat, Billy, reaches out a paw from under the red velvet sofa by the entrance and swipes at your ankles. I first found myself in Kelvin Arena after the singer-songwriter Robin Elliott got me to send a demo he & I were writing there. When the song was finished I travelled up from Essex to visit Robin at Kelvin and for the first time, late one night, walked into the main room. There were artists there, designers, jewellers and us musicians.

(The song we wrote, ‘Fiona, We Gotta Quit Drinking,’ would eventually appear on Robin Elliott & Sodi Cookey’s brilliant, ultra-rare ‘Live At Paul’s’ LP, along with a version of The Chorus’ ‘Mary Harper.’  I urge you to hunt that record down if you can.)

This was before I’d seen any bands play there. Anyone who has watched a gig at Kelvin Arena will know that the intimacy (it’s tiny in there), the rudimentary sound, the lack of entrance fee (or stage) all provide an atmosphere no other London venue has ever delivered. Robin and Sodi played there, as did Hatcham Social, Nine Ashes and my own band The Chorus. Nine Ashes’ gig was brilliant, perhaps the best time I ever saw them. When they eventually morphed into Shakers In The Dark the band recorded many of their strongest tracks in the studio upstairs.

Kelvin Arena’s most common live events were the after-hours acoustic sessions that sprang up in the kitchen area whenever a musician got asked. No one ever said no.

One of the many drunken, late-night kitchen sessions, this one in 2009

So, I was back at Kelvin Arena this week to rehearse a couple of songs with Paul Green; we’ve been asked to play at our friends’ wedding on the weekend and were keen for it to be perfect. We did the rehearsal and made a recording and it occurred to me this might be the last recording I would make at KA. I was left alone in the old place the following night and couldn’t resist switching on the webcam and making one last video there. I’ve recorded videos here before: ‘Mary Harper,’  ‘Open Season’ and a cover of ‘Come As You Are’ were all shot there, just for fun, to upload on YouTube. No other footage I know of has been shot at Kelvin Arena. So, I just shut the door behind me and Kelvin Arena’s quiet; if this Hank Williams song I just filmed myself playing really is the last recording made at Kelvin Arena then I’m pleased it’s me that made it.

A well-known jewellery designer has recently used space downstairs to create bespoke pieces while upstairs tracks were recorded and people got drunk in the kitchen. The current tenants are splitting. There are other spaces like this in London, I’m sure. This was one. It’ll soon be gone. It was great and I’m glad to have been a part of it.

Film Education Night – Barton Young’s ‘FEN Ten’

7 Jun
My friend Patrick put a post up on Facebook when his wife Jen confessed to him that she’d never seen Taxi Driver. In order for their marriage to remain viable he decided to implement FEN – Film Education Night (tagline ‘If it’s not fun, it’s FEN’). Mondays are Film Education Nights and, having claimed Jen ‘not a complete filmistine (a word I just invented) as she has seen the two Godfathers that matter and once saw a Matrix/Blade Runner double bill at the Soho Curzon,’ Patrick requested his known cinephile friends, of which I was deigned one, to come up with requisite Top Tens, a task beloved of men (and we were all men) everywhere. Instead of compiling as requested and as my fellow FEN curators did, Top Tens of the 80s, American New Wave, etc, I thought it’d be a good idea to put together a user-friendly list of ten films for ‘a not complete filmistine’ that would reward viewing and also open up avenues for further exploration. Easier said than done, of course. This list, in its endless revisions, took not one break at work but the whole week and more so I’ve posted it on here as I’ve spent more time on it than most other things I’ve written/done recently.
Okay, let me pre-empt some of the following objections. No Citizen Kane, Casablanca or Gone With The Wind No Kubrick, Kurosawa, Hitchcock or Chaplin? Surely Lawerence Of Arabia should be here? What about This Is Spinal Tap? Where’s Vertigo or Psycho? Not even one Spielberg, really? The Searchers? You need to have The Battleship Potemkin. And hang on, no Blade Runner or Jules Et Jim? Oh, come off it, mate, not even The Wizard Of Oz? 
Calm down.
Like I said, this list is meant to offer some films that show some of the things cinema can do. We all know there are others worthy of selection, whether deserving of a Best Of list or a Favourites list (they are different). This list is not definitive, people. It doesn’t even tally up especially with a list of my own Favourites or Best. What it does do is introduce different styles, ways of telling stories, visions. It’s a good introduction to broader realms of cinema. It’s ten (well, thriteen) brilliant films. It is, hopefully, a FEN Ten For Jen that will provide classic examples that work, outstandingly, on their own and also as basis for comparison. For example, Stagecoach is a pretty different Western than Once Upon A Time In The West. I know which I prefer, but maybe Jen, or whomever, may think differently. Taxi Driver complements Raging Bull and other Scorsese films well, but Taxi Driver also counterposes The Searchers (portrait of a man on the cusp of violent madness),  Manhattan (New York as heaven/hell), The Deer Hunter (effects of Vietnam on returning veterans) and morePerhaps It Happened One Night is more your type of romantic comedy than Annie Hall. Do you prefer (French) cinema before or after A Bout De Souffle? You don’t have to decide, but that’s the dividing line. You may prefer the scriptwriter to do the storytelling more than the director. This list is just a place to start.
In writing about these films my prose started getting unacceptably purple so I’ve scrapped it all and kept my commentaries brief.
There are no spoilers here. In fact, as I know many people prefer to see films without any prior knowledge at all I’ve largely eschewed reference to the plots of these films.
Okay, here’s what I eventually went for in my chronological, non-definitive, embrace/deride/ignore FEN Ten:

1.  Pandora’s Box  (1929, dir. GW Pabst)

Pandora’s Box

Whether it’s to your taste or not, to know film you have to know silent film. The Gold Rush is probably the best place to start but silent comedy is its own seperate place and is, in a way, more difficult for a modern audience to connect with as changing ideas of what’s funny can make silent comedies seem more dated and remote.  Received wisdom will place The Battleship Potemkin as the silent film you have to see. You do have to see it and it’s undeniably impressive but really it’s not that much fun. Pandora’s Box is smoky, mysterious, exciting and altogether different. If all you know of it is Louise Brooks’ bob then be reassured that…okay, I said no spoilers. But it’s a heady cocktail. 

Sunset Boulevard

2. Sunset Boulevard  (1950, dir. Billy Wilder)

It’s quite a leap from there to here but look at how things have changed. Silent film, long before the 50s, was obsolete, forgotten. Never mind that the great stars and directors of the silent era were actual, still-living people; Hollywood is ever-moving and here it looks back with disgust at the relics of the past, played, shockingly, by the relics themselves. Hollywood-on-Hollywood films are a sub-genre of their own, as is Film Noir, whose cynical aesthetic is at work here, making this a tip to both those genres as well as nailing shut the coffin lid of the great days of early cinema.

3.  The Seventh Seal (1957, dir. Ingmar Bergman)

The Seventh Seal

This is one of those films that routinely make the Best Of lists of the true cinephile hierarchy. Citizen Kane, The Battleship Potemkin, Bicycle Thieves, Le Regle Du Jeu (which I’ve never seen) would be among the others. These heavyweight titles all have things to recommend them and I’ve chosen this one. Firstly, it stands as an example of what can very broadly be called arthouse cinema, that is to say cinema made not strictly for escapism and/or pleasure.If you’re going for something serious, go for the grandaddy of them all. The Seventh Seal, set in the Middle Ages, is a timeless study of a man roaming the earth (a prototypical Western/road movie standard) looking for home, God and the meaning of life. It’s an existential nightmare in which Death is one of he main characters. It’s not light viewing but is essential.

A Bout De Souffle

 4.  A Bout De Souffle  (1960, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)

I’ve not selected films on the basis of their Importance because those films, hopefully, get reached inevitably when taking in the broad scope of cinema. This is the exception. Its place in French cinema and world cinema is such that it does provide a before and after point in the way films were shaped, acted and cut. The director is the key element here, in this, one of the earliest examples of director as ‘author’ of a film, the ‘auteur’ theory now commonplace in film. It’s on the list too because it’s fun, not reverent or without flaws but still living and breathing after all these years. It’s more likely that if you like this flm, you’ll like other films that tell their story (if they have a story) in a different way, using different means. This is where that stuff started and it’s still cool, young and fun.

Once Upon A Time In The West

5.  Once Upon A Time In the West  (1968, dir. Sergio Leone)

A genre choice. The Western may be the only essential cinematic genre. Its relationship to American cinema is absolute, a mythology of the country’s history that has shaped and influenced culture like no other. This vision of the West, seen through the close-up eyes of an Italian has it all and makes it unique. Westerns have to about the West and America itself to avoid being some other genre in cowboy clothes. Once Upon A Time In The West is a super-stylised telling of the dreams- trampled on, denied, and sometimes, maybe, won- that exist in a huge, empty country dotted with wandering men, farms and distant, encroaching trains.  As my prose is gettin a bit purple again, so I’ll use this old line: If you only see one Western (and that would be foolish),  this is the one to see.


6.  Badlands (1973, dir. Terrence Malick)

This might be one of those love-or-hate films; it’s certainly one that I saw at a tender age (fifteen) and returned to again and again. Badlands was written and directed by Terrence Malick. His direction, which captures and displays the emptiness of both the location and the characters, has been eulogised since the films release, but it is the screenplay that’s key in making this so different. The story is slight- a modern-day Romeo And Juliet where the lovers exist in a world of their own making- but the telling is not. The dialogue (what there is of it) is largely mumbled gibberish, of little narrative importance. What we know of these characters, who exist in their own heads, is conveyed to us through the voice-over of Sissy Spacek’s Holly, who otherwise spends most of her time on screen in a semi-catatonic daze. The quintessential American arthouse film, it remains a timeless, dreamlike and adult experience.

7.   Taxi Driver (1976, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Taxi Driver

As cinematic character studies go, this is the big one. Travis Bickle, from that awkward name outwards is a profoundly disturbed, emotionally warped loner, watching the world through the windscreen of his taxi, taking his place in it, against it, outside it. While the film portrays New York as venal, Bickle, in his own mind moral, does not emerge as a hero nor a villain either- we simply watch him and keep watching as we’d watch, fascinated, a sickening accident happening in slow motion. It’s part of the film’s power that much of the time Bickle’s rage is justified by the misogyny, sadism and ugliness all around him in the post-Vietnam American culture that his generation has died to preserve. De Niro is mesmerising- when he speaks, when he doesn’t, his interaction with the world is that of someone who wants to act along and can’t manage it; a pathetic loser in need of a self-concept, a bad actor in need of a role, rage in need of an outlet. It’s an ugly, sad film- but an undeniable, complete vision, and masterpiece.   

Annie Hall

8.  Annie Hall  (1977, dir. Woody Allen)

There was no way I wasn’t going to include a comedy on this list, an easy mistake to make among heavyweight titles. So why this one? Well, it’s a romantic comedy that’s about actual relationships and is actually, genuinely hilarious. You’ll be laughing all the way through. Sight gags, killer one-liners of the type only Woody Allen (still) seems to be capable of. That could describe any number of great screen comedies; what distinguishes Annie Hall from these is the ambition and confidence in Allen’s direction of his brilliant screenplay. As the turning point between his ‘earlier, funnier’ films and his more serious style to come, this straightforward love story brims but never overflows with ideas: Brechtian meta-techniques, flashbacks, long takes, monologues to the audience, even animation are not new but are scarcely the usual ingredients of romantic comedy and even more scarcely all used in the same film. As drama, as comedy, it’s auteur cinema par excellence, one of the most deserving and adult winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Don’t forget- it’s hilarious.

9.  Apocalyspe Now  (1979, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

Apocalypse Now

It’s not a war film. War films are about war. The Vietnam war is just the backcloth. To use the kind of trite analogy you see on every film poster these days, if you took The Seventh Seal and diagnosed it with a terminal illness to be medicated with LSD you’d be getting a vague impression of Apocalypse Now. It’s total cinema, a lurid vision of hell on earth where the goal is death and the journey to the end of the river could, at any moment, show you anything. The world, in this film, has finally gone mad. Literally unforgettable, it’s also unmissable, heavy, unique film-making.

Nil By Mouth

10. Nil By Mouth (1997, dir. Gary Oldman)

A last-minute inclusion to the list. Why this? Well, I wanted a British film on there, a film set today (well, not long since today), a film able to hold its own with the likes of Taxi Driver, its nearest companion here. It’s all those things. It’s London and Londoners that look and sound recognisable even though not everyone viewing will have experienced the extremes on the screen. And, most of all, it’s an absolutely lacerating dissection of the male persona, Ray Winstone’s unflinching, terrifying performance as Raymond going beyond any screen portrait of (fractured) masculinity, bar none.

Wild Card:  The Star Wars Trilogy (Star Wars, 1977, dir. George Lucas; The Empire Strikes Back, 1980, dir. Irvin Kershner; Return Of The Jedi, 1983, dir. Richard Marquand)

The Empire Strikes Back

Few things described today as iconic are remotely so. The Wizard Of Oz is iconic. King Kong is iconic. Star Wars is iconic. None of these I’ve ever considered among my favourite films. But as a complete cinematic vision this is hard to argue against. Maybe it’s because I’m a boy – Star Wars does seem to be a boy’s (not a man’s) thing; perhaps too it’s because I am a certain age and these films (and, of course, toys) were such important iconographical objects and images when I was a child. Darth Vader himself has enough screen presence in a still image before you consider the way he moves, his cape flapping behind him, his urgency and stillness, the way his arms and hands express his character, his voice, his very breath, and consider that his face, the central focus of screen acting, is literally a fixed mask, plastic and unmoving. C3-PO has the same restrictions and the same animation; R2-D2 communicates enough for us to care without arms, hands, a face or intelligible speech. From the beginning of the film, under one of the greatest film scores ever composed (see also Once Upon A Time InThe West, above), the screen delivers to us in each shot (everything in every shot) a payload of  visual and aural detail. Think of the Death Star, the Stormtroopers, Jabba The Hutt, Boba Fett, Yoda, the Millennium Falcon, lightsabers (hear them, consider how much sound brings to these films); Mos Eisley,Tattooine, Dagobah, Bespin, Hoth; Jedi Knights, The Emperor, The Force- these things weren’t on the pallette already, they were imagined and, crucially, brought to the screen in living, breathing life and without a sense that this is the whole of the universe. All of it visually, aurally, intricate and co-existing and all of it there on the screen, real, complete and new.

NB – Sadly, folly requires me to clarify that I am referring to the original theatrical version of Apocalypse Now and decidedly not the longer 2001 Redux cut. Ditto the Star Wars trilogy; the original theatrical versions are the ones to see, not the 1997 editions which added scenes, shots and added to shots. We might also avert our eyes from the subsequent, diminishing prequels trilogy, though I’m less evangelical than some on this subject.

Two Martin Sheen films? Well, yes. When the films are Badlands and Apocalypse Now and he plays the lead in both, I guess he got pretty lucky.

Problems with the list: 1. It’s a bit of a bloke’s list. 2. It’s a bit of a heavy list.

It was never going to be complete or, as I said, definitive. If I could have had one more film, I would have chosen The Wizard Of Oz (1939, dir. Victor Fleming).

So. Start there. That’s my FEN Ten.

Carly’s On The Show

2 Jun

Next, a woman at breaking point. Carly’s on the show, guys.

Clapping, taped music as I walk.

Carly, welcome to the show.

He doesn’t wear a tie, open throat, a lookalike of a man who’d put a pill in your drink, smile.

Who’s Dean?

I say my boyfriend, two years and because I love him.

Want to meet him? 

Dean sits like he would with his dinner on his lap, or gently gripping his pint in the pub in  front of the big screen football. Everyone there, the girls sat apart; or just us, curtains drawn, hands saying bedtime.

But that’s not all, is it, Carly? What happened next?

I fell pregnant.

Dean the father? Hundred per cent?

Hundred per cent.

So Dean, are you working? There’s a surprise.

Some laugh or boo, but not really. We’re too boring, look stupid to them and this man who doesn’t look real. Dean with his legs apart trying to stare him out. New cap on. Security man on the side of the stage and a boy with headphones and tissues.

Look at her. She’s terrified of you.

Think you’ll pass?

 Our lie detector said.

Sorry darling, you’re boyfriend’s a cheat and a liar.

What? Like you did to her?

This is pointless. I thought it would help me but it hasn’t. Nothing can. It’s just talking. Dean doesn’t care. We don’t live here.

Last night in the hotel Dean said he loved me. Tasted of beer. Slobbered on my face. A sex kiss. I know the sort of girls he looks at. I can see him now, when I’m at home and he’s drunk and the jukebox is playing and he’s laughing and making her laugh. Like when we met. Look in her eyes and kiss her, play with her hair. Too drunk to drive anywhere. Taking her round to the bins. 

He’s shouting at Dean, asking about the baby. The baby.

You just don’t care, do you?

Not really, Dean says.  

Do you care about the baby? Hear that Carly? He’s not even sure the baby’s his.

Of course it’s yours Dean. Tears stuck in my throat. Face going red. Not fair and not real, tomorrow it’ll all be normal again but what about Dean if he left me and the baby how could I cope looking out the window at the factories and the hills and the white sky and at the shops with the pram everyone laughing as I wipe my eyes and walk back to the flat past the butchers, the offy, the wedding dress shop, Dean playing pool in the pub and I’ll stare at the pub but never go in and now he’s saying to Dean so I’m paying for your baby while you sit at home smoking cannabis and Dean’s laughing.

Why are we here? Carly, why are we here?

Don’t know. 

I’ll tell you why you’re here. You want this waste of space out of your life.

The man looks bored of us, nothing left to prove. 

You’ve got two kids already haven’t you, Dean? You a good dad? Gonna be a good dad to this child when it’s born?

Now he’s talking to me, saying you know what I think Carly and Dean says at the end of the day and I didn’t even say it wasn’t just twice that Dean hit me it’s all the time and even once in Tesco and Dean’s standing up and walking away and the man’s holding up his arm and I have to leave as people clap and my bump feels heavy and  backstage it’s all wires and corridors and I can’t see Dean and now it’s over and when it’s on our telly everyone can see at the bottom of the screen it says You Tried To Trap Me By Having A Baby and I didn’t remember any of it like that and Dean just sits there smirking and I hardly speak and the man dances round us and the audience just watch, my hair looks greasy and I sit there looking fat and my clothes make me look old and when there’s nothing left of us the man says right, next up we have Michelle.

Don’t go anywhere.

Eye Con: Some people are imaginary.

4 Nov

Louise Brooks

Yesterday I saw a photograph of Louise Brooks. Not the Louise Brooks you’d have just imagined, the one from the twenties with the sleek jet bob and the pearls, the one that was and will always be Lulu in Pandora’s Box. This photo was of her but it was taken fifty years later. She was in her apartment, smiling happily, the hair long, and grey. That’s what I got in the brief moment anyway, because as soon as I saw the photo, I instinctively slammed the book closed.

Why? Well, like I say, I did it automatically. I felt, though, in that moment, that I was seeing something I wouldn’t want to have seen. Like those clips you see where an actor fluffs his line and the director yells ‘Cut!’ as everyone cracks up, or the monster’s roar is deafened as the human hand dips into shot revealing it as clay. I don’t want to know that King Kong wasn’t real. He is.

Why should Louise Brooks be like that? Or any person? I wasn’t ready for the shock cut, that’s all. But when someone’s identified with the way they looked in their youth, that’s them, that’s how they are, especially when they’re locked in amber on film.

It’s not always like that. If the person in question is someone who’s had a long career and we’ve aged on our side of the screen as they have on theirs, that’s one thing. Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Roger Moore, Woody Allen, even are just the first of many names that come to mind. These days the papers, not to mention the internet, show us and tell us more than we should ever see if anything like mystique’s meant to abide, if such a thing still exists. There won’t be another Hollywood Babylon. Anyway, degraded celebrity culture’s another subject.

BB in 'And God Created Woman.' She's naked behind that sheet.

When someone was young and beautiful and slipped out of the public eye do we want to see them when they’re older and look less perfect? Why shouldn’t we? We don’t owe our young selves anything, do we? Reputation is something that goes beyond aesthetics, obviously, but in showbusiness, where image is a primary constituent of appeal, reputation and collective memory get smeared together. Lady Gaga has said she’d never let her fans see her putting the bins out or wearing what she’d wear sat in front of the TV. That’s the idea of mystique that the Hollywood studios of old would so carefully manage. Stars as escapist symbols, idealised people, images to look up to. That’s gone now. Reality TV is just reality on TV. Anyway, again, that’s a whole other thing.

"Former sex kitten turned activist...' 2010

I was in my late teens when I first saw Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman. She socked me with wow. It’s been nearly thirty years since she retired and while there’s no denying she remains a fine-looking woman I think I’d probably have been happy having never seen her as she is now.

In music, the trend-spate of reformed tribute acts has shown this. Take That have done well, of course. But would we really want The Jam back, or The Smiths? Stuart Copeland posted online how ‘lame’ he felt The Police reunion tour was while he was still on it. 

When I heard The Libertines were returning (after just six years, that’s how fast things move on) my first thought wasn’t thrill at this band I loved getting back together for one last job but regretful concern at something that, while it could work, couldn’t conceivably be better.

The Libertines reunion, Reading Festival, 2010.

There was a band whose ramshackle bluster was part of their core, their spontaneity an essential ingredient that made a poor show by them almost as good as a great one.When I saw them play those reunion shows I got what I knew I’d get and that was the worst part- a band like that doing a gig for the (big) money, running down the setlist track by track until the last song. And that was all. Great to see them friends again, playing again. But was it really The Libertines? No, and this is the thing- it never could have been. You can’t recreate something organic and birth-bright. It was better than nothing, better, at least, than some cobbled-together Libertines with replacement members. That would have been unforgiveable. 

When The Specials reformed did their reputation benefit? When The Stooges, a band whose reputation was secure as influential, punk-starting milestone with those three wild albums then a split really need to add a fourth? Did Pixies need to come back? In their case they admitted it was for the money, though Kim Deal at least nixed a proposed LP. Why shouldn’t they? And didn’t I scramble to the front during most of these gigs? And love them? Who am I kidding?

I don’t know. I do know that when I saw New Order headline the Reading Festival in 1998 and they played a three-song Joy Division set in the middle of the show, that I didn’t want to see that. No Ian Curtis, no Joy Division. Ian Astbury is not the frontman of The Doors. Buckler & Foxton touring as From The Jam could scarcely have been more reputation-withering.

Put it this way. Rich Hall: “So Iggy Pop’s selling car insurance now? Does this man have no shame?” I guess we’re going into Selling Out territory. Marlon Brando’s 1990 film The Freshman saw him playing Don Corleone. For laughs. In a Matthew Broderick comedy. Sure, get some guy to do an impression of Brando’s legendary performance if you really really must. But asking Marlon Brando to play the role? And him agreeing? No one wants that. No one really wants to see Robert De Niro in The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle. But getting him to parody, of all things, his role in Taxi Driver, and seeing him do it, is just too much. Why do they do it? Why would Iggy Pop, who, though he’s looked little different for years now than the rubber puppet of himself in those woeful ads, need to do it? He was the frontman in The Stooges. Don’t parody that.

Sure, careers go downhill, people put on weight, lose a bit of something they once had, we know this. And these people need to work. The camera’s locked gaze does funny things. When you’re perfect, is any less broken? No, of course not. Louise Brooks was never not lovely. Audrey Hepburn lived and died untarnished, like many. But here’s my last example.


Sex Pistols. Maybe the ultimate flash of unrepeatable noise. Getting together again twenty years on is one thing. Calling the tour Filthy Lucre and doing it for the money is another. Nevertheless, ten years after that, the thirtieth anniversary shows at Brixton Academy. There I am on the barrier. Despite Filthy Lucre, my thinking was that when the four of them start to play ‘Bodies’ where else would I want to be? I bought my ticket. I got down the front. They were never going to be the Pistols of the Punk and they had no new material to show us. A band so from and of and shockingly inside their time, with a single album and generations of reverberations still being felt in the bands of today could only play what was once the future, that is, show us their winning hand, their one winning hand, that won once, then. Matlock was there. Cook was there. Jones huffed and puffed at the back like a roadie. Like Louise Brooks, they belong young. Not diminished by reality. Lydon, then.  


He mock-snorted snot from his nostril. He pulled up his shirt and slapped his middle-aged spread. This was him now. Sure, that’s fine. John Lydon. But this guy was Johnny Rotten, once, and hasn’t he ever let us forget it. At the time, after the Pistols, he aced everyone by leaping forward and making PiL. He understood the force of current. Annie Nightingale’s face when PiL played ‘Careering’ on The Old Grey Whistle Test. He didn’t need the Pistols. He didn’t even need Sex Pistols. And he didn’t need any reunions. He understands image, cool, selling out, all that stuff. Go on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here– why should you care what people think of you? Only don’t walk out in a pathetically contrived rebel stance. Don’t advertise butter. But if you do, don’t reference the past in comments on British this- or that-ness. Be John Lydon but don’t be Johnny Rotten. I’m aware I may be taking this a bit seriously (they weren’t that bad at Brixton)* but that’s because it’s so important. This is heroes and dreams stuff. Some people transcend themself. Ray Davies has said he wished he was as good as ‘Waterloo Sunset.’

One man understood this: Julien Temple. In his brilliant Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury he interviews the band, as he has to. But unlike other documentaries that cut between the artist of today and the wild young thing they once were, Temple understands what legacy means, what image, the record of then that people have kept, carried, looked up to means, despite the dull fact that we’ve all changed, aged- and he films the band in darkness. John Lydon’s silhouette talks about Johnny Rotten. And it feels right that way.

When I started writing this, I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say, and I’m still not, except to have a vague notion that the perfect place to be (if you’re creative and fulfilled by creativity) is a position like Bowie’s, or Dylan’s, or Radioheads’s, or maybe Johnny Depp’s, where your work has remained current. Trying things, some that work, some that don’t. “One is always nearer by not keeping still,” Thom Gunn wrote. It’s tough getting fixed as something. Limiting. But even if you’re in the same groove and development doesn’t come naturally, don’t feed off the past with anything other than respect, or how can those who loved you then keep the faith? I’m not even talking about Brooks or Bardot or any of the beautiful young. Just the idea of imagery that is actually iconic, a word I hate hearing casually used.

Sometimes the past can’t be surpassed. I’d hate knowing that about myself, or that anyone thought it when they looked at me. Some people have managed to look, to seem, perfect. Some people are imaginary.

 Bowes Park, 3 November, 2010.



*Putting this together I noticed on YouTube that Julien Temple had filmed the gig, as Sex Pistols: There’ll Always Be An England Live From Brixton Academy – November, 10th, 2007. It shows a room full of people having a great time. Just goes to show you can get too pseud about this stuff. What do I know?

Blog on

8 Oct

So this is my first attempt at a blog.

My name’s Barton Young. I proudly hail from South Woodham Ferrers, Essex though I currently live in London. On this blog you can expect to read about current creative projects I have on the go as well as my views about films, poetry, books and the world.

This is where we are now:

I have a poem and short story to be published in Just Met  in mid-November. 

A screenplay I wrote for a short film is currently in pre-production.

I have a poem entered in the Camden History Poetry Competition and my book Eden Slums is currently being considered for publication in the form of  a prize for a debut collection.

I’ll tell you more about all these as their situations progress.

Okay, that’s the introductions over with. Blogging as a concept’s still dead new to me. I’ll get warmed up and get used to it and hopefully some of you will get to read some of it.

Talk soon.

Bowes Park, 28 October, 2010.