On Coincidences

I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.

Jonathan Ames – US writer, columnist, novelist, scriptwriter

Making films not throwing bombs

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder

I was standing under this poster at the foot of Waterloo Bridge on a Skype call to Germany, homeland of Fassbinder. The poster was on the wall of the BFI/NFT advertising a new season of films. The bridge is the next road bridge down the Thames from Westminster Bridge. The call was to fellow participants of Berlin-based Documentary Campus and we were discussing the films we are all working on.

I was Skyping from my phone on the street because I had an adjacent meeting about the creation of an app to address the global problem of 10,000 children dying every day from preventable diseases. I had no time between the call and the meeting so had to dial in from the open air.

The other call participants commented on the noisiness of the London streets – sirens, helicopters, traffic. I said this was just normal for London (which it often pretty much is along the river there). Then one of the callers from Germany said no it’s not, there’s been a terrorist attack. For a moment I hesitated to see if it was some kind of joke, the same reaction as one or two of the other participants. But then it became clear he was not joking, that the site of the attack was around Westminster.

A strange way to learn of such a tragedy.

33592905545_7e22ae807b_oThis was the blood red sky in the direction of Westminster as I left the meeting.

thames london attackThis was the blood red sky as I reached the river under Waterloo Bridge.

33435945812_8afd4c2077_oThis was the view towards Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The blue lights were still flashing.

A second big indiscriminate attack on the multicultural population of this greatest city in this grim period for the world. Innocent bystanders from Brittany and Romania, Lancashire and Lord knows where, no more than the perpetrator knew where. This beautiful view in stark contrast to the ugliness of the act and the ‘thinking’ behind it.

Coincidence No. 393 – Bright

13/3/17

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I got up and went to enjoy the early morning sunshine in the garden, reading Jay McInerney’s  ‘Bright, Precious Days’. I noticed for the first time that the word ‘bright’ recurs in his novel titles: Bright Lights, Big City; Brightness Falls; Bright, Precious Days.

I went to a funeral at lunchtime. In the service human life was compared to a passing shadow and the religious leader drew attention to the brightness that created that shadow.

In the evening I saw ‘An American in Paris’ at the Dominion (where Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’ was premiered in 1931). In that show the composer character has a revelation that what his tunes are missing is brightness in the wake of World War Two and the occupation of Paris.

 

 

Shards from the Boneyard

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In a word

a Man

God’s finger touched him

Oh for the touch of a vanished hand

Into thine hand I commit my spirit

Underneath are the everlasting arms

Only to us a short time lent

Until the end of our days

 

Our lights have gone out everywhere

No morning dawns no night returns

 

 

A place is vacant

 

Our family chain is

broken

 

A bitter grief, a shock severe

The shock was great, the blow severe

The cup was bitter, the shock severe

Tragically taken from us

 

Many a lonely heartache

When we are sad and lonely

This sad life of toil and care

Troubled in life

After great suffering patiently borne

Peace after pain

 

In the midst of life we are in death

Lay down thy head

I am not dead

but sleepeth here

I am not there

when sleeps in dust

A faithful friend lies sleeping here

who fell asleep

called to rest

entered into rest

for they rest from their labours

At rest

Good night, God bless

 

Beyond the sea of death

to shape the ships he loved

accidently drowned

lost his life while saving a dog from drowning

He gave his life for one and all

Every restless tossing passed

Fell like warm rain on the arid patches of my imagination

 

So much of hopeful promise centred there

One of earth’s loveliest buds

A sweet flower plucked from earth

A loving sweetheart my only chum

I have loved thee

I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need

He loved in youth

to walk with me throughout my life

 

In death ‪they were not divided

A short while apart,

together once more and never to part

together again forever

we’re together in dreams, in dreams

love always

love never ends

 

She was an angel

A warm smile

In her tongue was the law of kindness

A devoted mother

Widow of the above

Breathe on her

May the angels take you

 

He did his best

By his good deeds you shall know him

Kind to all

Upright and just to the end of his days

A fond father and a kind husband

His merry spirit is with me yet

Your spirit lies within us

Always content

 

Although dead

Lost to sight

Interred nearby

Passed away but not lost

Gone but not forgotten

Forever in our thoughts

Silent thoughts and tears unseen

Sacred to the memory

Always remembered

Lovingly remembered

Remembrance is the sweetest flower

Live on the memories of days that have been

 

I never wanted memories George

I only wanted you

 

The bosom of our lord

Where I have longed to be

But that we think of thee

I will fear no evil for thou art with me

 

I have fought a good fight

Life’s race well run

He was summoned

The lord gave and the lord hath taken away

Exchanged mortality for life

Wipe away all tears from their eyes

 

Hope

In my father’s house are many mansions

We would walk right up to heaven and bring you home again

I am the resurrection and the life

I am a thousand winds that blow

Until the day dawns

Joy cometh in the morning

Nothing could be more beautiful

Inwardly we are being renewed day by day

Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper

Peace be with you

Perfect peace

Ubique

Requiescant in pace

Love never ends

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This poem was constructed from fragments from gravestones in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley, London N2.

Coincidences No.s 390, 391, 392: Someone up there

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No. 390

I’m sitting in – what turned out to be the very appropriately named – Spiritland in King’s Cross chewing the fat with fellow WordPress blogger Thom Hickey of The Immortal Jukebox when a voice comes from my right saying my name in a slightly uncertain way. That’s because we haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. K is the former girlfriend of my old friend S. It would have been S’s birthday on Monday just gone. The day before I went for a kind of memorial walk in honour of S with the third friend in the photo above. We talked about K. I hadn’t talked or even thought about K in a long time. So Sunday I unusually find myself talking about her. On Friday I bump into her. (Someone up there is pulling strings.)

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No. 391

I’m brushing my teeth this morning and (happily) hear my nephew from Dublin, Sean, downstairs playing ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis on the (blue) guitar. I’m on the tube back from dropping Sean at King’s Cross and meeting Thom [see No. 390 above] when I find myself in a carriage with a really good busker with a (red) guitar. He engages much of the carriage and gets people not only talking but singing along. He rounds off an enjoyable communal entertainment with Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’. The Welsh woman in the headband has a brilliant voice and does all the response/echo lines (I know she’s Welsh because he’s got us all talking – he tells me I’m the only happy Londoner he’s met). So Oasis in the morning, Oasis in the afternoon – for a man who owns no Oasis records and never plays their music. To round it off, I came home to work on a documentary series entitled ‘What’s the Story?’ which involves Oasis.

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No. 392

I was reading an interview of Martin Scorsese by Paul Schrader (scriptwriter of ‘Taxi Driver’) yesterday morning at the front of the Faber book of the ‘Taxi Driver’ script which I picked up in the wake of the screening the other night. On the page I stopped at Schrader mentioned Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’ when he’s listing his most memorable moments in cinema. I haven’t seen the film for years or thought about it for a good while.

I was reading ‘Mandy’ by Mandy Rice-Davies on the DLR on the way home from work yesterday afternoon. She mentioned meeting Kim Novak.

Not as Twilight Zone as No. 390 but still not a bad coincidence.

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4 reasons to go watch ‘Taxi Driver’

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Just back from watching ‘Taxi Driver’ for the first time in years, on the big screen at the National Film Theatre, London. The latest sortie in an on-going campaign to expose the Enfants Terribles to the best of 70s cinema – from ‘The Godfather’ via ‘Serpico’ to ‘Chinatown’. And this the day after bumping into Martin Scorsese on the mean streets of London.

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1. The Beginning

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As the shark-monster wing of the yellow New York cab emerges from the cloud of steam to the epic music of Bernard Herrmann (to whom Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece is dedicated) we know this vehicle is more than a jaundiced automobile – it will take us from here (a neon-lit metropolis littered with sin and evil goings-on) to there (a patient study in alienation and trying to do right but failing in an oh so human way) for a few dollars but we’ll leave the slick pavement on the journey and transcend to higher places (including a climactic moment in which we float over the ultimately murderous outcome across the ceiling of the blood-spattered room in a bold overhead shot). This film is blood red like the Technicolor crimson lipstick in ‘Black Narcissus’ which Scorsese so admires, like Powell & Pressburger’s ‘Red Shoes’, like the blood of Christ and the neon in the city night.

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2. The Acting

DeNiro, the year after his triumph in ‘The Godfather II’, brilliantly conveys the building total exhaustion of a man who can’t sleep despite 12 hour overnight shifts in the cab. His eyes gradually darken as does his outlook. Returned from Vietnam, wounded in body and mind – all shown and not told (scars on his back, his named combat uniform, Nam references in a political speech) – Travis Bickle tries desperately to get back in touch with the world but his 26-year old head just isn’t there. He reaches out to presidential campaigner Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but can’t remember why taking her out to a porn movie on a date might not be right. He tries to engage the kiosk girl in a porno cinema to no avail, foreshadowing the failed date as well as spotlighting a painful innocence. DeNiro’s performance is a patient portrait of isolation and aloneness. When we first see him in the brilliant revelation of his radical Mohican haircut in a tilt up from his hands opening a bottle of pills, up his combat fatigues, past his We Are The People badge, to reveal his final descent to animalistic warrior basics, he is standing alone at the edge of a crowd.

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That strange smirk

3. The Writing

Paul Schrader’s script is full of classic lines, as epic and resonant as Herrmann’s score. The biblical passage near the front about washing all the filth off the city streets – Manhattan as Nineveh (which has an added dimension in that Nineveh is now Mosul and Mosul is now being cleansed of IS animalistic psycho-warriors) – is masterful.

May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.

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I can’t quite look at this shit

4. The Ending

The romantic shot towards the end of Betsy, framed in the taxi rearview mirror, surrounded by soft-focus glittering city lights, is literally a rear view, a coma fantasy drawn from a more promising time. The sounds of the hospital life-support machines subtly playing in the background (at least that’s how I read it). The sound design is fabulous throughout, many grim scenes of guns and prostitution underlaid with the shouts and play of children in the city streets. The Betsy in rearview mirror shot was referenced by John Mackenzie in the ending of ‘The Long Good Friday’ four years after this movie – in that case a young Pierce Brosnan fixing a resigned Harold/Bob Hoskins in the reflection. There Harold Shand is being driven off to his death. In the last moments of ‘Taxi Driver’ it is a comatose Travis Bickle who pulls away in his taxi from his dream of love and connection (in the fantasised form of Betsy) and drives off on his own to his own death and fade to black, leaving us with a powerful sense of wasted human potential, the urge to do right, to help, to save, to connect, to reach out, which somehow goes wrong…

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I got some good ideas in my head after the inspiration of watching such a flawless film. It has just been re-released in the UK to mark its 40th anniversary.

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Teetering on the edge

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Jodie Foster, just 14 at the time, yet such a mature performance

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Sport: “You’re a funny guy.” – tees up another classic Scorsese scene 14 years later: “It’s a good story, it’s funny, you’re a funny guy.” (Goodfellas)

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Object of desire

 

Service

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Coincidence No.389: Something to do

An email comes in from Goodreads website based in San Francisco at 10:01 today:

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I go to a website I set up a few years ago to add it, Quotables. When I add it the site detects that it has been added before – by me! 3 years ago. I start scrolling down recently added quotations and 5 down I see this, added 19 hours ago by a teacher:

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Why I love London…

…because you can bump into Martin Scorsese (and Tom Ford) totally by accident on your way home from work…

 

Marilynne Marilyn – Picture of the Month: The Only Blonde in the World by Pauline Boty (1963)

The Only Blonde in the World 1963 by Pauline Boty 1938-1966

The Only Blonde in the World (1963) by Pauline Boty 1938-1966

My mum is called Marilynne Marilyn. Not a lot of people know that. My grandfather couldn’t spell the name, got it wrong on the birth certificate, wasn’t allowed to cross it out, so had to have a second go. Marilynne Marilyn is a blonde.

Today I have been reading about Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo Affair notoriety. Another blonde in the world. Her real first name was actually Marilyn. Not a lot of people know that.

Marilyn Monroe, as the biggest star in the world and the epitome of late 50s female sexuality (at least as far as men were concerned), was a popular subject for Pop artists on both sides of the water.

Marilyn Diptych 1962 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987

Marilyn Diptych (1962) by Andy Warhol 1928-1987

Monroe died (or was hounded to her death, as Boty might say – she considered Marilyn “betrayed”)  in August 1962 from an overdose of barbiturates. Warhol spent the rest of ’62 creating images of her, all derived from a publicity photo for Niagara (1953). The right-hand half of the diptych speaks of fading and mortality.

Monroe died at just 36. Boty only made it to 28.

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by Peter Blake

Marilyn features on the centre line of one of the most famous of all Pop images, the one that was actually just a millimetre or two from the pop itself (in the form of black vinyl). She’s just above Ringo and Johnny Weissmuller, swamped in a sea of men.

‘Randy Mandy’ wrote of her bubbly blonde public image: “Every man’s sexual fantasy – it’s a curious role to play in life. I meet men who were schoolboys when my picture was front page news and they greet me as a figment of an erotic dream. There is nothing I can do about this, it has nothing to do with the real me. That Mandy is a pert blonde who is all things to all men. Perhaps that is her secret – she never disappoints.”

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Marilyn aka Mandy exiting the infamous trial of Stephen Ward (1963)

The big David Hockney exhibition opens at Tate Britain in a few hours, a retrospective of 60 years of painting. The Hockney generation at the Royal College of Art (at which I’ve been privileged to be working recently, under Neville Brody, Dean of the School of Communication) lusted to a man (bar presumably Hockney himself) after Boty who was every inch the attractive blonde.

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Pauline Boty

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in BBC Monitor ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ directed by Ken Russell

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1963 emulating Hockney’s muse

The blonde in Boty’s painting is far from the only one in the world. The title is ironic. It’s Marilyn. It’s Pauline. It’s Mandy. It’s Diana. It’s any number of fantasy blondes.

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Michael Winner directs Diana Dors (28th January 1963)

In ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ Marilyn is contained within a flat, abstract space – both the left and right green panels are higher than Marilyn’s panel. The designs of that space have echoes of Sonia Delaunay’s Orphism which was shown in London around this time.

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Sonia Delaunay 1942

The 2D green abstract panels slide open to reveal a glimpse of a ‘3D’ space in which Marilyn positively buzzes with energy. Her famous legs are descendants of Marcel Duchamp’s celebrated Nu descendant un escalier n° 2 (1912).

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Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) by Marcel Duchamp

I’m not sure where Boty’s Marilyn image is drawn from. Some critics and commentators say Some Like It Hot but I can’t find any such image – I think it may be from the premiere of The Seven Year Itch. It doesn’t really matter where exactly it came from, the point is I’m pretty sure there will be a specific photo out there that she used as a source, one in a magazine, to align with the popular culture focus of British and American Pop Art.

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Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio at the premiere of ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955)

The vibrating energy of Boty’s Marilyn reflects her genuine admiration of Monroe as a woman mythologised through pop culture. The grey background, which links out to the lines and swirls of the abstract framing image, picks white Marilyn out like a spotlight at a Hollywood premiere. She’s a flash of white brilliance as she crosses the gap. The journey between the two green panels is short but Marilyn still steals the show, as she did in her tragically short life.

Little did Boty know but her own would also be cut tragically short. They found cancer when she went for the first scan of her first child. The brevity of her life has left her to a large extent written out of British art history. ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ is the only Boty in the Tate. Otherwise the only British public gallery holding a Boty is Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The bulk of her paintings languished for many years in a barn. She was an exact contemporary of Hockney (born the year after him). She went to the Big Studio in the sky just three years after capturing’The Only Blonde in the World’. Had she lived and had time to evolve I wonder whether it might have been her massive retrospective opening at Tate Britain tomorrow…

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Celia Birtwell and some of her heroes (1963) by Pauline Boty 1938 – 1966

(That’s a young Hockney bottom right having a smoke.)

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Celia Birtwell by David Hockney

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Hockney in his Notting Hill flat with his friend and muse, textile designer Celia Birtwell (1969)

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Birtwell with Hockney in front of his ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’ (2006)

(Birtwell was married to fashion designer Ossie Clark)

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Hockney with Birtwell in ‘A Bigger Splash’, directed by my first boss, Jack Hazan (1973)

Related posts:

The last Picture of Month – also touching on the Profumo Affair

An earlier Picture of the Month featuring a young Hockney at the RCA

A recent Profumo walk related to Mandy aka Marilyn Rice-Davies

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