Thursday, February 21, 2013

Still from Under The Cranes, courtesy of Under The Cranes blog and Hackney Archives
Been busy lately writing a number of articles on local film for the Hackney Citizen newspaper, the latest of which is this feature on a film called Under The Cranes. Directed by radio journalist Emma-Louise Williams, the film is a meditative, impressionist evocation of Hackney over the decades (my native borough), using local voices intertwined with both contemporary and archival footage. In the BFI’s words:

“A polyphonic meditation on time and urban space, a cinematic version of one of Charles Parker’s ‘Radio Ballads’, this Michael Rosen-scripted evocation of the borough of Hackney is a joyous wonder, an instant addition to the modern canon of filmic London. Super-8 streetscapes and archival alleyways rub up against Al Bowlly tunes and Malian kora music, the testimonies of contemporary Congolese immigrants is heard alongside proud retellings of how anti-fascist Jews purged the neighbourhood of Mosley’s henchmen in the 1940s, and child rhymes hang beautifully over a much maligned and increasingly gentrification-threatened area.”

That’s the short description. There’s also a long description of the movie’s themes here.

As part of covering the film, I got to see a screening of it at the Bishopsgate Institute, a great cultural institute right near trendy Spitafields, that I've never had a chance to check out before. The warm-up music was spot on, with plenty of Joe Meek records (including the Meek-produced “Jack The Ripper”, sung by none other than Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages – LOL), while the Q&A afterwards with Williams, Michael Rosen, and Ken Warpole (pictured below), was illuminating in delving into the contexts of the film. 

Rosen’s mention of the convoluted nature of what is currently happening on Dalston Lane, with the boarded up shops on the road having been sold from Hackney Council to ‘some bloke in Dubai’, only for Hackney Council to then buy the property back, all the while stopping local businesses from being able to buy the property outright, is an example of the hugely convoluted nature of property in the borough at the moment. 

In any case, the constantly changing face of the borough is only one more reason for seeing the film. I’m not sure if you can get it on DVD, but the film’s blog has details on upcoming screenings.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hello! Is it me you're looking for?!

This sticker was spotted by me plastered on a skip in Camden Passage, Angel, a few months ago. I have deduced that it can only mean two things.
(1) It is genuine, and was part of Lionel Ritchie's equipment cargo boxes. I seem to remember him playing in London a few months ago. How it migrated to being on a skip in Camden Passage is a moot point, though.
(2) It's a postmodern prank dreamt up by a graphic designer with too much time on their hands, and who finds amusement in baffling passers-by.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to which one it is?

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Great West Road, captured by me in January's snowfall
So I am leaving my temporary abode in West London and returning to my native North-East London. Along the way, I’ve checked out a number of country manors that are down the road from me, all of which look deeply desolate in the winter. Osterley Park and House, for example, where the band The XX will inexplicably be playing in June (right next to that cool bookshop I mentioned in my previous post).

There’s also Syon Park & House, which looks like the kind of thing you’d see in Oxford or Cambridge or York rather than West London just beyond the Hammersmith flyover. You can imagine Vikings attacking its forts in 850 or whenever it was England was under King Canute’s Danelaw:

But what’s been most if interest to me is a rather fascinating, deeply dystopian-looking, art-deco edifice right near me – The Gillette Building, which happens to be a Grade II listed. In case you’re wondering, yes it is named after Gillette the razors, but Gillette aren’t there anymore. So what’s it used for?

Like Battersea Power Station, it’s all a bit of a mystery. Some of the scenes from the entirely forgettable Rowan Atkinson vehicle Johnny English Reborn were shot there. Other than that, who knows? There’s hardly any activity inside except for the occasional sinister photoshoot that you can spy taking place in the basement. Those forbidding red wavy grills on the windows (left) make it look like something out of 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale (the latter of which I’ve just finished reading) – you can imagine the Ministry of Truth or the Headquarters of the Republic of Gilead in there. It also reminds me of some of the decaying art-deco buildings that you see in pictures of Detroit, right down to these slightly creepy statues in front of the entrance:

Meanwhile, at night, it’s only lights come from the neon clocktower above, which – and this is extremely Orwellian – always has the wrong time. Perhaps secret plots are being hatched up there, a bit like in Hitchcock's Vertigo? Or...maybe not.

What a place it would be to have gigs and art happenings; you can imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor squatting a decaying building like this in recession-blighted Montreal in the mid-90s and playing songs about the end of the world. Sadly, there is a manned entrance at the side to the car park at the back, which is pretty much the only way you can get to the building. So it's clearly guarded in some way. Well, you could put a ladder over the fence…but I won’t. Just like Battersea Power Station (even with the ludicrous current plans, which will probably lead to another housing crash when everything goes wrong - you read it here first!), it’s an example of another amazing building in London left to rot. Whether or not you like Tesco's, at least the Hoover Building is being used for something.