Talking of lost corners of the world (see Day #29/365)…
Part of a (smallish) library of books that document Soho back in the day… I used to have this Soho Night & Day book – I think I bought it for tuppence ha’penny back in the day from a charity shop or maybe a second hand shop…
…now, well, it’ll cost you a pretty penny, particularly the hardback edition.
It’s a raw written and photographed snapshot of Soho in the mid to late 1960s and now seems like a capturing of a world far, far away, particularly as the redevelopment (or literal demolishing to give it a probably more precise word) of that corner of the world has gathered pace somewhat.
“…a gravelly love letter to Soho, London. About 40 or 50 so real life vignettes written by Frank Norman, detailing both the history of the once notorious streets of Soho (Old Compton, Dean, Brewer, Greek, Poland, Berwick, Wardour, Romilly) and the stories of the larger than life characters who once graced its streets, restaurants, clip joints, alley ways, bars and clubs like old neon bulbs which once lit up a once upon night but whose names are largely forgotten or have entered urban folklore.”
(Indeed, the book was written/photographed by two of those whose names have to different degrees entered those annals of inner city folklore from lives, living and (sometimes) working amongst those streets – Frank Norman and Jeffrey Bernard.)
I’ve had a soft-spot for this image/collage for many a year now.
It features Ms Christine Keeler in a somewhat archetypal L-Shaped Room-esque abode in the heart of town and for me it seems to capture a sense of the bedsit life behind the glamour and headlines.
It’s a curious thing the 1997 film Mojo.
It was based on Jez Butterworth’s play of the same name – indeed he directed the film.
Set in 1950s Soho, all rival night club owners, coffee bar rock’n'roll discoveries and early Gallon Drunk-esque quiffery/brylcream (well, in intention at least – Aiden Gillen looks somewhat contemporaneous and out of place). All the elements are their and it’s something of a curio but if memory serves correctly it doesn’t quite gel and deliver that, well, Soho period glamour and grime in the requisite manner. Shame really.
I say if memory serves because I remember seeing it at the cinema when it came out and perusing the soundtrack around the same time…
…and since, apart from a TV showing it seems to have more or less disappeared from view and apart from a dubbed Italian video (renamed Soho) I don’t think it’s been sent out into the world on shiny discs and the like.
And talking of the soundtrack – it’s a curious thing. A mixture of indie pop of various shades (St Etienne, Warm Jets, Beth Houghton), sometimes Soho habitue Marc Almond, a touch of jazz, American mondo R&B (J.J. Jackson & The Jackaels – Ooh Ma Liddi), doowop-esque crooning from The Skyliners and most curiously for me a collaboration by Nick Cave & Gallon Drunk on the once upon a time Toni Fisher “smash hit” The Big Hurt.
Although Gallon Drunk in various ways and forms have crossed paths with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (sharing a stage, James Johnston playing with the band at various points, Terry Edwards playing on Where The Wild Roses Grow and so on), I think this is the only time that the two conjoined in such a way and so the soundtrack has tended to stick in the old mind.
Peruse the soundtrack here.
Day #28/365a: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and the converse glamour of a dash or more of seediness…
“They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me. Little men, drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands… civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives…” Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold / England Sandwich by Earl Brutus.
Although the film was released in 1965, this laserdisc cover to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold seems as though it could well belong to – or at least be a precursor of – Richard Burton’s work in the 1970s such as Villain, when he could lend his roles an air of bitter, corrupt, seediness (and indeed where the films themselves seem heavy with an air of such things).
Although more overtly bitter, in a way his work at this time reminds me of Robert Mitchum in the 1970s in The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (and possibly The Big Sleep – see Day #10/365a / Farewell My Lovely – see Day #3/365a) – the same sense of tiredness, of world weariness, of a man who knows somewhere deep down that his fingerholds are nolonger there…
Which brings me back to seediness, the converse/curious glamour it can have and this quote:
“Seediness has a very deep appeal… It seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost; it seems to represent a stage further back…” Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps – stumbled upon I expect via the writing of Retromania author Simon Reynolds.
Peruse the current day sending forth of the film 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.
From the forthcoming Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity book.
For a fair while I was somewhat obsessed with a handful of images from Roswell Angier’s 1976 photography book/project “…a kind of life”: conversations in the combat zone.
The top two on this page in particular seemed to capture a certain kind of afterhours rogueish that I wanted to, well, capture with my own Afterhours photography/work and they also put me in mind of Mr Joe Whitney’s photograph from outside portal that was The Black Gardenia in Soho, London (see Day #15/365a).
(Although I’ve tended to work more in amongst a kind of imaginitive theatre of such things whereas ”…a kind of life” is actually a very raw examination of showgirls and others lives amongst the underbelly of a certain area of Boston in the US.)
The photograph below puts me in mind of David Lynch’s work around the time of Blue Velvet (see Day #24/365a) and Twin Peaks – one of those times when life seems to have crossed over into a beyond real story (see Day #13/365a).
View more on ”…a kind of life” at American Suburb X here and here – well worth a wander for a particular take on fine art photography that draws me in while also often having a not-quite-definable transgressive and seediness to it.
(PS Tread carefully when viewing those links – as I said a moment ago, this is life somewhat in the raw).
Peruse the book here.
Day #24/365a: Now It’s Dark; Blue Velvet and a sublime touch of Angelo Badalamenti courtesy of Ms Rossellini
There was a point where David Lynch seemed to be the go-to chap for accessible but experimental thrillers – around the mid eighties to the turn of the decade – when Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart were either peering into the underbelly of the American picket fence dream or taking the viewer or a rollercoaster ride with Sailor and Lula.
As I was wandering along to this here computer this morning I wandered what category/genre you would put Blue Velvet into? It has elements of neo noir but I’m not sure that’s quite right. Transgressive noir? That’s possibly getting near to the spot.
Anyway, one of the highlights in a film full of highlights (if that’s the right word for a celluloid tale such as this) for me and a part that can stand on it’s own separate to the film is Ms Isabella Rossellini’s music montage in the Slow Club – all crushed velvet plushness, seediness, broken dreams and rather lovely blue lighting that puts me in mind of Kiera Knightley’s tube station during the Blitz singing performance in John Maybury’s Edge Of Love (another director who somehow manages to sneak really rather experimental elements of film making into often quite accessible films).
When I watch it, it tends to make me think (hope?) that somewhere in the world there’s a full album and maybe even a full recording of this performance – well, without the unsettling elements and story that accompany it.
Peruse the film here.
“You are a terrible little deviator, Freddy, and you are in a diabolical lot of bother.”
This page is a tribute to the late Derek “Cookie” Raymond, in particular his Factory novels.
For a while I was obsessed by them and they were quite a point of reference.
What would you call his books? Well, they’re a form of noirish crime fiction in a way (and resolutely a British take on such things), though he preferred to call them black books. But that’s to try and define them too narrowly I think.
Dark, not always an easy read but there is a poetry and a striving for dignity to them.
“Don’t you fall to bits on me like a cheap screwdriver.”
What more can I say?
Well, I never really thought I would watch a Cliff Richard film and think “That’s kind of quite decent actually”.
Expresso Bongo is the 1959 (almost) film debut by Mr Richard and is the celluloid adaptation of the West End musical.
At points it wanders into not-so-decent more mainstream cheese and even exploitation but and although it’s no Small World of Sammy Lee (see Day #7/365a), nor a World Ten Times Over or even a Beat Girl, it’s actually a rather decent capturing of that just pre-swinging London and Soho period that I have something of a soft spot for.
Although it doesn’t necessarily have Sammy Lee’s inherent grit/edge, if memory serves correctly it does share some kind of sense of Soho hustle and basement showgirl-ness.
The book was written by Wolf Mankowitz – who also appears in the film credits as a sandwich board man that announces his own credit… which is a nice touch and along with a few others, such as the pin-up girl stage curtains, makes the film at the very least an interesting curiousity.
The film was directed by Val Guest, whose work has made an appearance around these parts before – see Hell Is A City at Day #21/365a – and who was also responsible for the somewhat classic and Flaming Stars song title lending The Day The Earth Caught Fire (and by the 1970s, like much of the UK film industry he had wandered into British smut comedies such as Au Pair Girls and Confessions Of A Window Cleaner).
Peruse the film here.