In the mid-1980s documentary film maker, photographer and teacher Lou Stoumen was commissioned to produce a series of photographs that would accompany Raymond Chandler’s classic, archetype 1930s detective fiction book The Big Sleep.
The resulting photographs were intended to look like stills from a film of the book and the process of creating them shared a number of similar aspects with that of film making; casting, location scouting and so forth.
What he produced he called “a paper movie”.
In the book’s Photographer’s Note, Lou Stoumen talks about how he was a street photographer (he photographed New York’s Times Square for 45 years – work that was published by Aperture), that his camera eye eschewed fiction and that he had always though that there in the streets was where visual truth manifests itself.
In a way the finished product reminded me of the staged mod/scooter boy photographs that accompany The Who’s Quadrophenia album; although a photographic fiction, they seem like a definitive, minds eye observation of the spirit of the subculture from which they sprung.
I think the Lou Stoumen accompanied version of The Big Sleep quietly wandered into my mind at a pivotal, transitional point of my own Afterhours work. Not so much the photographs themselves, as the intention of creating a film on paper.
It helped move my own Afterhours work towards where I had always wanted to be; not so much a document of particular scene or subculture, more a reflection of the filmic Soho noir that played behind my eyes, an expression of my own particular Soho of the mind.
Peruse the book here.
View a selection of Lou Stoumen’s other work at Luminous Lint.continue reading
A brief precis: Magic City was a series that was set in late 1950s Miami and follows the stories that surround the owner of the (fictional) greatest hotel of the time and his battles with the mob, family, dames, showgirls, politicians, unions, the revolution in Cuba, the CIA…
Post Mad Men there seemed to be quite a slew of TV series that took as their aesthetic that kind of late 50s/early 60s American stylishness – or to borrow a phrase from Thomas Hines – that were populuxe-esque.
Few them seemed to quite live up to their inspiration (although I thought the short lived Playboy Club series showed promise)…
…until, well, I relatively recently discovered/saw Magic City.
Which at the moment, for my money, steps up to and over Mad Men’s mark.
To be honest though, I don’t think it’s probably really fair to compare and contrast the two: Magic City’s creator Mitch Glazer first wrote a version of the series pre the broadcast of Mad Men and it draws from his life growing up in and around the grand hotels in Miami, stories that he heard and things he saw.
It looks beautiful – this is a series where the screen is full of beauty, style, suspense, corruption, sexuality, greed, desparation, brutality and intrigue.
Quite frankly, it’s a work right up at the top of things - I discovered it at a time when Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity was recoalescing and its sense of glamour and its darker flipside seemed to help bring things together.
It was cancelled after just two series, which is a great pity to me and indeed the world of entertainment; one of those time where I thought if I had the money I would be putting it down on the table to help make and be able to see more of this world and its stories… though reading and re-reading about it just now I think it may have a future further life.
More about that possibly later around these parts…
I’m wary of writing about this particular book/s or photographs, for the sake of respect for those passed.
With that in mind, beyond a very brief background I’ll be concentrating on the story of a book and my visiting of it than a story of a life.
This is literally the last photographic sitting by the iconic actress Marilyn Monroe and over three days Bert Stern took 2571 photographs; something of a feat in such pre zero and ones lightcatching days.
In 2000 Schirmer / Mosel Verlag published a somewhat monumental 464 page book that collected every last one of those photographs.
To repeat a phrase that I seem use a fair bit around these parts, it is now out of print and costs a penny or two if you should wish to purchase or peruse it.
However, a few years back, via the magic of library systems (albeit and unfortunately not an overtly publicly accessible one) I was able to sit down in a quiet basement and undertake the task of taking in the book.
I was only to have the one chance and moment to do so – the book had travelled a fair distance from another collection of such things and was considered too rare and precious to be allowed to leave the walls of the building.
It is a tribute in a way to what a photography book can do – the gathering and representing of such a large body of work. Almost too much and too many images to comprehend at one sitting.
Now, it seems like an almost magical, unobtainable object. The situation in which I viewed it, the quality of the work and the scale of it all contributed to that, as may have he human emotion/story behind it but it’s more than that.
There was a magic at work in this Last Sitting and the book somehow captures that. Evanescence is a word that come to mind.
Tip of the hat to you Miss Monroe and indeed Mr Stern, wherever you both may be.
The television adapatation of Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm, from 2004, is a fine piece of work – in fact the first three (of four) episodes are some of the best British television I’ve seen.
The series tells a set of stories concerning characters who are interlinked by their connection to Harry Starks – a gay “but not poofy” gangster who still adores a (now) broken Judy Garland and who is mired in his own personal and “work” problems that take in wayward lovers, corrupt Lords of the land, property deals gone bad…
The stories, as with much of Jake Arnott’s work, draw broadly from real life events and lives - the aforementioned past-her-peak Judy Garland, The Krays, Lord Boothby… but I think what it draws from mostly is the myth, glamour, corruption and stories of a London and Soho that is a character unto itself.
Ruby’s Story is a particular favourite, where Lena Headey plays a once minor film star, still all old school glamour in the face of the coming of swinging London and mini-skirt-ed upstarts. In it Ms Headey brings a swish and swirl of Diana Dors era style and a warm heart caught up in this appealing but actually very dark and hard world.
As an aside, below is the author of the original book, Mr Arnott, in a blink and you’ll miss him appearance during Ruby’s Story…
I think it would be fair to file The Long Firm alongside a set of films and television programs that have been pointers/touchstones for Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity in their representations of back-in-the-day Soho basement glamour (and grime); filed alongside suspects who are/no doubt will be familiar from around these parts The Small World Of Sammy Lee, The World Ten Times Over, Das Phantom Von Soho, Our Friends In The North etc.
The people/photographs in Jurgen Vollmer’s Rockers book (also released as Rock’n'Roll Times) could well be one of the original sources that Karlheinz Weinberger’s rock’n'roll took and reimagined into their own image of such things.
Vollmer’s photographs from the late 1950s/early 1960s (?) document young teenagers, rock’n'roll and early Beatle’s fans; their style being a subtle version of what we now think of as 1950s rock’n'roll / rockabilly, post the first swell of such things but pre the move towards a more 1960s, mod or Swinging London style.
I’ve lived with these photographs for a long time without realising it; they were used on the cover of The Smiths album The World Won’t Listen, which I bought many years ago when it very first wandered out into the world.
At the time I don’t think I really understood them. My cultural antennae were not necessarily yet well tuned towards recognising period detail and I think I may have thought they were just photographs of some young chaps on the cover and some young gals at the fair on the back.
Looking at the photographs more recently I think they made more sense; the subtle turn of the decade rock’n'roll style is a somewhat Morrissey-esque, low key, kitchen sink friendly take on such things.
More a once-Manchester-Northern-England-like cup of tea version of such things than the exotic, otherly flamboyance of say Elvis or Little Richard.
I’ve seen a few different versions of this book, some of which can be perused below:
Rock’n'Roll Times, Rock ‘N’ Roll Times: The Style and Spirit of the Early Beatles and Their First Fans and Rockers.continue reading
Now, if you’re of a younger age than my good self, it’s probably hard to imagine what the cultural landscape was like the best part of twenty years ago, particularly in regards to what has come to be known as vintage, retro and burlesque and a world where department stores sell hair dye called burlesque red (they’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworths)…
Aside from say the more traditional side of rockabilly, there was tumble weed out there compared with modern times.
Some of my favourite clubs for such things were often just once a month, there may well be 20 or 50 people there (but those that were, really were there)… and finding music, books and other related culture was a constant good old trawl through a scattered selection of shops, charity shops and stalls (and that’s even if you were living somewhere like central London).
Anyway, back in those days of late night Soho shennanigans, one particular beacon were the Las Vegas Grind albums. Just the covers were enough, without having to spin the discs themselves… but if you did, well, you might well be transported to a foreign land. To quote this gent, this was music “from the garages and wiggler bars from across America”, music that ”swings, howls and growls”.
Willie Wright & His Sparklers, Andre Williams, The Playboys, Mo’ Taters, Oooba Goooba and in particular Genteels Take It Off… what more could you need?
Well, how about artwork from the pens and pencils of that fine capturer of vintage American desparation, sweat and faded dreams Mr Daniel Clowes?
Or indeed covers draped with back-in-the-day burlesque bump’n'grind gal of some renown Lilli St Cyr?
Visit Mr Daniel Clowes here.
If the people in Karlheinz Weinberger’s 1950s photographs could be said to have created their own version of rock’n'roll after having discovered their source material via an out of tune radio (see here at Afterhours)… well, the more contemporary Tokyo Rockabilly Club could be said to have taken their source material and refined, distilled and customised it into a black leather, foot high quiff archetypal image of sharp rock’n'roll rebellion.
A reimagining, not a recreation indeed.
Perhaps if the Elvis 68 Comeback Special fell through a portal to become mixed with The Cramps Creature From The Black Leather Lagoon, a touch of the spirit of Mr Weinberger’s subjects and some of the attention to detail that can be found amongst the 21st Century Rockers who can be found in Horst Friedrich’s book were mixed, matched and dallianced with one another – well, maybe you wouldn’t be too far away from the image of rockabilly that they have created.
It is an exceedingly photogenic subculture and style and not unexpectedly they have been photographed by a fair few shutterbuggers – almost making it into book form via the work of Paul Mueller-Rode and recently the Quarterly photography magazine featured images of and interview with the club by Noriko Takasugi (the images here are from that article).
One of the things that’s interesting about the members of the club is their age; involvement in subcultures is easier or more often found in those who are young in years. The people interviewed in Noriko Takasugi’s feature are keeping the flames alive at variously 51,41, 53, 48, 37…
More photographs, background and history can also be found at the cornucopic MESSYNESSYchic.
It’s curious the things that stay with you over the years – for a fair few years now I’ve been slowly sending the shelves and shelves of books, records, magazines and the like that I’ve amassed over the years (at the same, it seems, slowly filling up the self-same shelves with more books, records, magazines and the like)…
Anyway, one thing that has survived those various clearings out is the vinyl version of the The Dance With A Stranger 1985 film soundtrack.
It’s a fine collection of songs – all pre-swinging, pre-cool London – She Wears Red Feathers, How Much Is That Doggy In The Window and a lead vocal by Ms Beehive Mari Wilson.
One of the things that makes it, is that it isn’t just a clean presentation of the songs but rather is interspersed extensively with dialogue from the film, which sets the scene, story and atmosphere and which have become as memorable as the music itself for me and help invoke the film itself.
Aside from and with utter respect for the sad, indeed tragic story of Ruth Ellis, for me the film was an early(ish) pointer towards what has become Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity – in particular the – unlicensed? – afterhour bar scenes (with a future Ms Christine Keeler, Joanne Whalley, as a barmaid no less)… all “set” hairdos, suits and late night dissolution.
I remember seeing Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang book back when it was published – being drawn to the cover, the 1950s imagery and quiffs but something stopped me from buying it, despite at the time being somewhat taken by culture that in part drew from such times and style…
Now, on a recent wander through the work, I think I know in part what that something was.
As the years pass, previous era’s culture, imagery, photograpy and style can gain a romantic layering, come to represent or be reinterpreted as something other than the day-to-day life it once portrayed.
But with the passing of the years, Bruce Davidson’s photographs have remained what they were originally: there is a certain brooding style to those in the photographs but this is a somewhat gritty, documentary view of life amongst alienated youth.
I don’t know enough of the story to speak definitively but for me there is in part a desperation, a dead-end feeling to these photographs and the lives in them, even though they are often set amongst the symbols of fun, youth and frivolity such as tattoo parlours, fairgrounds, the seaside, smiling soft drink adverts, jukeboxes and coupling.
In a way they remind me of Tom Wood’s Looking For Love photography book of early to mid-1980s nightclub documentation of working life, love, coupling and escapes or possibly the subcultural snapshot that is Chris Steele-Perkins and Richard Smiths The Teds book…
However, Brooklyn Gang is different; there isn’t the same escapist, raucous sense of life and fun that can be found in Looking For Love and The Teds.
That is not to be dismissive of them at all. They’re fine images but not necessarily suitable source material for a young mind interested in the creation of imagined otherly worlds.
The book itself has become one of those photography books that you will need a pretty penny or two to own nowadays – printed once, now long out of print. You can peruse it here and visit its publishers Twin Palms here.