It begins like a humourous, if at times grim and snobbery bound, snapshot of a previous era in Britain’s history (the late 1950s/early 1960s to be precise) that is all kitchen sink-esque non-glamour and pre consumer choice/disposable incomes; condemned gas geysers, every meal tipped out of a can, twitching curtains and conformity, dead-end jobs and maybe one good suit or outfit to wear if you’re lucky.
It is a tale that is played out in a time before the true explosion of teenage tastes, styles and money to throw at fashion and fripperies; a time when glamour and style even of the young was nearer to hidebound tailoring, evening gowns and set hairdos.
The story is framed through the lens of a young gal (not yet twenty) who is desparate to improve herself, the circles she moves in and indeed her wardrobe.
Be careful what you wish for though.
Beauty and the body are a commodity to be traded for a nice pair of shoes or a plushly carpeted flat in Mayfair; the West End popsies who are these particular visions of loveliness look to the “favours” of moneyed older generations in order to acquire the fashions they desire…
…as time passes – and suprisingly little time or indeed few action/decisions, the steps from A to there can be but one or two – and the pages turn, the book takes a considerably darker, more cynical turn and comes to remind me of the scandal, sleaze and exchanges that may well have taken place around/around the edges of the Profumo Affair in the heart of London back then and when.
Read the (slightly misleading/possibly more morally hopeful than the tale itself) background information/blurb from the book here.
Peruse the book here.
In it he puts forward the idea that the mystery genre/private detective stories and noir fiction “are diametrically opposed, with mutually exclusive philosophical premises“.
I’ll reproduce an (edited) version of his arguement/distinctions here:
“Noir works, whether films, novels or short stories, are existential, pessimistic tales about people, including (or especially) protagonists who are seriously flawed and morally questionable. The tone is generally bleak and nihilistic, with characters who greed, lust, jealousy and alienation lead them into a downward spiral as their plans and schemes inevitably go awry… the likelihood of a happy ending in a noir story is remote… It will end badly, because the characters are inherently corrupt and that is the fate that inevitably awaits them.
“The private detective story is a different matter entirely. Raymond Chandler famously likened the private eye to a knight, a man who could walk mean streets but not himself be mean… They may well be brought into an exceedingly dark situation and encounter characters who are deceptive, violent, paranoid and lacking a moral center, but the American private detective retains his sense of honour in the face of all the adversity and duplicity with which he must do battle.”
Food for thought, as noir tends to be thought of as more an aesthetic than philosophical / existential concern. All moody 1940s detective film lighting, hats tipped over eyes in night time side alley and the like.
And all of which got me thinking and considering somewhat; although I expect it would not be hard to place many of the stories and characters of say James Ellroy’s own work reasonably firmly in the noir camp, where walks Oswald Mosley’s fictional often non-professional crime investigator Easy Rawlins?
Yes, he is a crusading knight in some ways but in the series of books there is a sense that the resolving of a situation or case may provide only temporary respite; that he is a man just about managing to tread water amongst the darkness / moral questionability that he walks amongst but which is also quite possibly within him and for which he is sometimes culpable for by his actions, non-actions or sometimes mere presence and intrusion.
I suppose essentially, it’s a case of such things not quite being black(noir) or white. A bit more and/or/both.
Read more on Otto Penzler, The Mysterious Bookshop and a life amongst such tales here.
Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins here.
Peruse The Best American Noir of the Century here.
…but then of course it wanders off somewhere quite different and over the years has gained a somewhat iconic status as a counter cultural document and similar to say The Wickerman, one where the stories that accompany its creation and sending out into the world have come to at least/almost equal the film itself.
It could well be seen to be part of rather mini-genre (two films?), alongside The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, where British cinema reinvented this particular class of film…
As I’ve mentioned around these parts before, I have something of a fondness for the artwork, sleeves and packaging that was created for now lost to time media… so, on this page there is one of the laserdisc sleeves that were produced and one of the VHS editions.
In contrast to those (or vice versa as other artwork that accompanied the film might say) not so long ago Performance re-wandered out into the world on shiny new bluray discs – though not officially yet in the UK, the one that is available is apparently region free, so you shouldn’t need all kinds of software and hardware jiggery pokery to play it on these shores…
Over the years the film has inspired several scribes and tomes: Mick Brown’s A-Z guide is a good, readable overview of the stories and cultural connections of the film… there have also been Collin MacCabe’s BFI Film Classic and Paul Buck’s Performance: The Biography of a 60s Masterpiece which looks like a particular labour of love and is sat on my bookshelves and I expect shall be perused properly once the aforementioned silver disc has also been perused.
Once upon a time, in the early-ish 2000s, there was a point when the band Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster seemed like the saviours of something…
…they sprung/were heralded/promoted from the indie music world but they were a creation unto themselves – one that seemed to channel the spirit of The Cramps and a kind of deranged psychobilly rock’n'roll horror (but without the sometimes lumpen-ness of that particular subculture)…
…but it seemed as though they had come upon such things and culture without being a homage to such things past.
Suave, punk, deranged. All words that could be applied. Birthday Party-esque might also be appropriate here.
They put out a single or few and one fine brief album – Horse Of The Dog and a primeval roar of a single in Celebrate Your Mother, that made you feel eighteen all over again even if that particular birthday was a fair few years away…
…and then it all seemed to fall apart. The second album wasn’t quite all that, moneyed record labels leant them a moment or two and then wandered away…
So, this particular day/page is something of a tribute or a homage to that brief moment when everything seemed possible.
Oh and to a commitment that if you’re going to tour the country on (I expect) tuppence ha’penny then having the decency to do it in a custom painted 1947 vintage Humber limousine is greatly appreciated.
A considered, quite moving tribute to the band and youthful faith by Aaron Merat can be found here.
Traces and continuations can be found here.
Restore youthful faith here.
Well, just before the shennanigans of The Profumo Affair tumbled into the world (early 1963 to be precise) Babs Windsor was heading towards the premiere of the film she starred in Sparrows Can’t Sing.
This was before she became the pin-up of the Carry On series and if memory serves correctly Sparrows is a knockabout but fairly feet-on-the-streets slice of East End life.
It’s the tales that surround it that I love though.
Like those other East End “stars” The Krays organising the post-film festivities:
“I arrived in a Roller with my first husband, Ronnie Knight,” recalls Windsor. “There were thousands of people lining the Mile End Road, cheering and waving flags. Evidently Ronnie and Reggie had turned them all out of their houses, saying, ‘Let’s welcome our little lady. Let’s show royalty how we are.’”
And how did The Krays come to be involved? Well, aside from geographical similarities, over to Ms Babs Windsor again:
“I’d been going out with Charlie and Reggie. “Joan said to me that she wanted a proper East End club. I phoned Ronnie and Reggie up and asked if we could use their place. They thought it was fantastic. Ronnie told Joan he didn’t usually allow shooting at their club. They stuck two of their guys on the door during filming – Big Scotch Pat and Scar-faced Willy. Anybody who tried to get in while we were working had to contend with them.”
And then it’s only a hop-and-a-step to that sometimes other Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity inhabitant, Soho In The Fifties author Daniel Farson (see Day #35/365a):
“Do you remember Dan Farson, the art critic?” asks Windsor. “Well, he was responsible, for some unknown reason, for getting the extras. And he’d gone down the docks and he’d got all these extras who were effing and blinding and saying they’d like to screw this one and that one on the set. So Reggie got to hear of it and they took them aside – there was quite a fight – because they didn’t like all that swearing.”
All quotes are from Stuart Jeffries article Carry on up the East End.
Peruse Sparrows Can’t Sing here (where it also shares space with The Small World Of Sammy Lee – see Day #7/365a).
Well He Would, Wouldn’t He is a 2013 Radio 4 drama which tells The Profumo Affair’s tales from Mandy Rice-Davies viewpoint – indeed it is introduced and narrated by Mrs Davies herself and in many ways it feels like the alternate angle accompaniment to the 1989 film Scandal.
Although I have an utter soft-spot for the stories, shennanigans and shutterbuggery of The Profumo Affair, I’m also very aware of the voyeuristic aspect of that interest and that these were people’s real lives.
To hear this often told story voiced by one of its participants, particularly after her sad and quite sudden death was moving, informative and reminded me of the fact that this is/was historical fact not a dream-like fiction.
The photographs of her entering / leaving court during the Stephen Ward trial capture her playful defiance and intention to not be bowed by events, the expectations / morality of the then establishment or public opinion.
That was something that struck me when listening to the play - the sense of a woman who wasn’t going to be defined or restricted by this one – or two – sets of youthful dalliances and actions (admittedly ones that had somewhat larger ripples than such things generally do in your youth) and to live life fully.
(As an aside she described her life as ”one slow descent into respectability” and you could follow a line from these early high profile starts to cabaret singing, restaurant/nightclub ownership, acting, writing and eventual companionship with once heads of state).
Charlotte Williams wrote the play. Visit her moving comments about it, the events and Mandy Rice-Davies here.
Visit the drama at the venrable British Broadcasting here (and wander why, despite quite possibly paying for it via licensing fees, you can’t actually listen to it).
One of the things that struck me on a recent rewatching of 2005 film The Notorious Bettie Page is the way that society and culture can sometimes project its wishes, ideas and iconography onto a particular person or idea.
Take Bettie Page…
Her becoming an icon stems in part from how she looked, photographed and the curious ability she had in images to be both the playful cheesecake gal next door and also when required something a touch darker – sometimes in the same photograph…
…but still, from amongst many hundreds or thousands of women who posed for pin-up and the like photographs back when, over the years she has come to represent something more over and above her contemporaries – a pinnacle, focus or distilling of a 1950s pin-up dream and imagined culture.
Although it’s a fair while since I’ve read it, for further unearthing’s of the story The Real Bettie Page: The Truth About the Queen of the Pin-ups could well be a start.
Peruse the film here.
Well, talking of 1920s prohibition era stores (see a brush, scrub and suave up)…
Not so long ago I watched the final series of Boardwalk Empire.
In some ways the earlier series could be seen to be a somewhat extended prelude to the main character Nucky Thompson’s full entry into a particular way of life…
The fifth and final series is a thoroughly entertaining, gripping, beautifully shot piece of work but what has stayed with me is the subtle but heavy, almost inescapable and palpable sense of a man who has had enough, who wants to walk away from the life he has built.
He seems tired and it has all quietly eaten away into him.
…in some ways, that balances the visual beauty of how this miscreant world is presented – the glamour (and I use that in both the more common place sense of attractive allure and also the connected but archaic sense of enchantment way) has a price and will have its way.
I think that’s one of the things I consider often when thinking of gangster/crime film, fiction and stories – yes, there is an excitement, glamour and escapism attached to them but the underlying stories from which they spring involve real lives and shall we say not quite up to par behaviour.
The byline for the fifth series is “No One Goes Lightly” but I tend to think of it as being nearer to “No Life Lived Like This Is Walked Away From Easily”.
It was good to see a uniquely British take on gangster history and one that was presented in a dramatically visual and cinematic style, with production values that equalled those from the other side of the pond (a lot of current drama from this side of the water doesn’t quite have a lived in look and there is almost a feel of it being children’s television in spirit and appearance somehow – I’m not sure if it’s to do with current film techniques and lighting but Peaky Blinders avoided such things).
The story of 1920s prohibition and misbehaviour in America has been told countless times in film and other form – but extra suave, dashing chaps from Brum on the make? Not such a commonplace story.
Apart from being a right rollicking set of entertainment and very particular eye candy, it also made you think and consider a set of social conditions, place, people and history that aren’t often considered amongst the well trodden tropes of crime drama; the mental and social upset that occurred post the First World War and how that fed into this (under)world, the abundance of firearms on the streets that had been brought back after the conflict, the sway of left-wing politics and uprisings…
…which was added an extra layer by what you were watching onscreen had its roots in fact and the history of an actual family.
This was rush home and make a date television – something that seems to be a rarity nowadays.
Peruse the releases of the series here.