Monday, August 27, 2012

I’ve been in some weird-looking toilets in my time, but this one is truly something special: upstairs in The Old Crown on New Oxford Street in the men’s toilets, the trough-like urinal features engravings of assorted dictators and political figures (along with, inexplicably, some bunny rabbits and sunflowers). So when you pee, you’re doing it on Vladimir Putin et al. You have to hand it to any pub that stumps up something like this; it comes as a surprise after a few pints, that’s for sure…any help with who the dictators are indicated with a question mark below would be much appreciated. 

Top row: Saddam Hussein, ?, Kim Jong-il, ?, Adolf Hitler, a bunny rabbit, Idi Amin.
Middle row: ?, Leon Trotsky, Imelda Marcos, Josef Stalin, Muammar Gaddafi, Pol Pot.
Bottom row: a bunny rabbit, Vladimir Putin, another bunny rabbit, Yasser Arafat.

The pub is also worth visiting for checking out the huge murals on the wall of the adjacent street. One seems to depict the Queen with an incendiary device in her hand (or can of spray paint), an illegible (to me anyway) slogan above her, while directly underneath it The Beatles are depicted covered in terrorist-style face scarfs. Topical, you could say. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Really enjoying the current issue of the BFI's Sight & Sound magazine, with its 2012 poll of 'The Greatest Films of All Time'. I normally hate 'Top 100 lists' but this one is pretty interesting. There's actually two polls, the first of which involved "more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" submitting their ten favourites, from which the top 100 films were compiled according to number of votes; the other a top ten list polled by 350 directors. You can view the lists for both here, but what’s most of interest is seeing Citizen Kane not topping the list this time – a film that I only managed to get round to seeing recently, and which seems to be beyond reproach. While it’s a great enough film in of itself, somehow it doesn’t strike me as any more special than any of the other films on S&S's list.
As many of the contributors of the first list mentioned themselves, compiling a list of ten has meant just as much about what’s been left out as kept in. Being limited by only ten choices has meant an almost agonising process of leaving out almost equally important films for this writer. There's four key London-set films which really should be on there somewhere, given the name and nature of this blog (Blow-Up by Antonioni, The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa by Neil Jordan, and Performance by Cammell/Roeg); instead I ended up settling for Blade Runner, a film I've always loved since adolescence (as with the Coppola, Malle, Scorsese and Kubrick choices - so there's slightly selfish reasons for my list), and which is still as great a dystopian vision of a future city as it gets. There's also directors such as Kurosawa, Buñuel, Bergman, Vigo, Greenaway, French new wave cinema, Metropolis, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Herzog's Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo…not to mention more well-known classics such as Alien, This Is Spinal Tap, Taxi Driver, The Shining, The Blues Brothers and Apocalypse Now. All magnificent in their own way. Then there's more recent cinema, from which highlights include Darren Aronofsky's Pi and Requiem For A Dream, Todd Solondz, British productions such as Children of Men and Never Let Me Go, and films from as far afield as Iran to Australia. The more you think about it, the more you realise that limiting to just ten is a near impossible task.
My list (below) is in no particular order, with the exception of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is the one film that I’d take to a desert island. Why? Because it’s simply perfect, visually and thematically. No other film asks as bigger questions of humanity. Any suggestions for reader's own top tens?

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
2. Raging Bull (Scorsese)
3. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky)
4. Stalker (Tarkovsky)
5. The Holy Mountain (Jodorowsky)
6. Three Colours Triology (Kieślowski) *
7. The Godfather Part II (Coppola)
9. Blade Runner (Scott)
10. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Herzog)

* Actually three films, so technically cheating – but what the heck…

Thursday, August 02, 2012

So the London 2012 Olympics are now with us. I enjoyed the opening ceremony, from the astonishing angel-like winged bikers floating around the stadium during the Arctic Monkeys’ cover of The Beatles "Come Together", to hearing Fuck Buttons on the soundtrack, to the sheer Spinal Tap nature of the opening sequence, in which a morris dancing-filled green and pleasant land makes way for industrialisation under the watchful eye of Kenneth Brannagh, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel. You almost expected Stonehenge to appear.

Unlike the stately, all-powerful, slightly totalitarian nature of Beijing four years ago, the London 2012 ceremony felt like a much more alive and vibrant event, celebrating individuality as much as the collective (even if the text messaging bit did feel slightly naff, as if trying to “get down with the youth”). The whole thing was a truly hallucinatory, lysergic affair, what with the flying Mary Poppins, giant Lord Voldemort, cauldron-like rings lifted into the air, fluorescently clothed dancers, aforementioned winged bikers, and a huge house in the centre of the stadium turned into a giant graphic equaliser. God knows what it must have looked like on LSD. Director Danny Boyle’s uncompromising vision included a brief snatch of a lesbian kiss from Brookside (no doubt a two fingers up at Saudi Arabia, where such footage is banned) and the NHS (a two fingers up at, well, Cameron and Clegg, with their plans to dismantle it), as well as a brilliantly varied celebration of British music – from rock to disco to grime to indie.
More generally, I always enjoy the procession of athletes too, with a parade of grinning athletes from frequently obscure countries such as the Federated States of Micronesia or Turkmenistan or Nauru. Perhaps I’m the only one who enjoys this section of every opening ceremony, as going from A to Z with nearly every country in the world is a length progress…
As I write, it’s day six, London transport is holding its own despite huge worries, and Team GB have just leapfrogged up to fifth place in the medals table, with my rooting for teams in sports that I’ve never even watched before, never mind cared about – so who knows what can happen next? All I can say is that I still, despite the euphoria, reserve the right to find the Olympic mascots deeply sinister looking (looks like I'm not the only one), as I mentioned a while ago. You can image them from a John Wyndham sci-fi novel. There’s just something about those evil CCTV-like eyes… 

Photo by; photos of Olympics ceremony at top of post courtesy of