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Up the Junction and Over the River: Battersea and its Bridges

10 May

 

Albert Bridge, (Mason-Ordish & Bazalgette, 1873-87) And a very serendipitous rainbow.

Albert Bridge, (Mason-Ordish & Bazalgette, 1873-87) And a very serendipitous rainbow.

Battersea isn’t a glamorous part of London. What little recognition it gets outside of its boundaries focuses on Giles Gilbert Scott’s iconic power station (which isn’t even in Battersea) and the cruel-but-sort-of-true ‘South Chelsea’ jokes suffered by its famous red trouser brigade. It’s an in-between place, separating capital-W West London from South London proper.

I know lots of people my age who live here; none of them fit the guffawing sloane stereotype. They’re cash-strapped young professionals rather than trustafarians, people who don’t see the sense in stumping up the deposit for a bedsit with no lav in Earls Court or a hyper-inflated rent in Hackney.

Defaced sign outside the now-closed Duke of Cambridge pub, Battersea Bridge Road.

Defaced sign outside the now-closed Duke of Cambridge pub, Battersea Bridge Road.

There are still some extremely deprived areas in Battersea. But in terms of bourgeois attractions, it’s home to some awful, awful night spots, a first rate Vietnamese restaurant and an unfortunately mis-attributed mainline railway station. It’s getting a tube station. Battersea is residential, unremarkable and fairly central. Few places evoke the phrase ‘it’ll do – for now’ quite like it.

But for a long time, Battersea was a poor borough with a history of radicalism and progressive politics. In 1892, the constituency elected the union activist John Burns, who had been arrested on numerous occasions for ‘sedition and conspiracy’ as an independent Labour MP. He later became one of the first working class cabinet members, before resigning from government in August 1914 in protest at the declaration of war.

John Burns circa 1911. Source: Wikimedia Commons

John Burns circa 1911. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1913, while Burns was representing Battersea’s interests at a national level, John Archer, a liverpudlian of Barbadian extraction, was elected to head the council, becoming Britain’s first black mayor. Archer stayed active in local politics until his death in 1932, and was instrumental in Shapurji Saklatvala’s historic electoral victory in Battersea North in 1922. Representing the area until 1929, Saklatvala was one of only four members of the Communist Party of Great Britain to win a seat in the Commons. Imagine that happening in ‘Nappy Valley’ now.

It’s also racked up a respectable number of pop culture references. There’s Black Hearts in Battersea, of course, and Up the Junction (as in ‘Clapham’) is another obvious one; a great panorama over Chelsea Bridge and Manfred Mann’s title music make it a must for this piece:

Norman Foster’s Albion Riverside complex played on-screen house to Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson in what might be the worst film I’ve ever seen, Ben Elton’s Maybe Baby. Money shots of Albert Bridge are not in short supply: (for masochists only, this)

Here’s Richard Burton keeping a low profile at the labour exchange in Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold:

Richard Burton at 'Battersea Labour Exchange' (probably a studio set) in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965)

Richard Burton at ‘Battersea Labour Exchange’ (probably a studio set) in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965)

Burton returned to nearby Nine Elms six years later in a cult video nasty called Villain, in which he played a gangland psychopath:

Richard Burton by the Nine Elms gas rings in Villain, Michael Tuchner, 1971

Richard Burton by the Nine Elms gas rings in Villain (Michael Tuchner, 1971)

Musically, SW11 offers a lot but delivers little. Latchmere by the Maccabees is about a swimming pool in south Battersea. I’d post a video, but having just listened to it for the first time in seven years, I’m not going to. (It’s not very interesting, but nor is it as stand-out bad as the trailer for Maybe Baby.) Squeeze’s Up the Junction is decidedly Clapham-centric, so it wouldn’t count even if it weren’t shit. Babyshambles recorded a characteristically terrible song called Bollywood to Battersea and Morrissey’s You’re the One for Me, Fatty (‘All over Battersea/Some hope and some despair’) isn’t much cop, either. Better is the Super Furry Animals’ Battersea Odyssey 

So Solid Crew came from the soon-to-be-demolished Winstanley Estate, near Clapham Junction. (A link between Manfred Mann and Asher D – who’d’a thunk?) The cover of Irish new wave group Microdisney’s first album is a shot of the World’s End towers in Chelsea, taken from Battersea Bridge. For no reason other than its wonderful opening lines, here’s a song from it:

My correspondent acb of this:

This is without mentioning this godawful Petula Clark ode to Battersea Park from 1951:

It’s connected to the U-world by three magnificent bridges – from east to west, the Chelsea, the Albert and the Battersea. In the Londoner’s imagination, the two most central of these are inextricably linked to the grandeur of the north shore, the first by name association, the second by dint of its high-maintenance beauty and unreliability in times of need; the cameramen on Made in Chelsea are keen on dropping in shots that ogle its suspension. Happily, this distracts viewers from the ghastliness of the cast.Albert Bridge, cast of Made in Chelsea not shown.But to the Royal Borough, Battersea is welcome to its eponymous river crossing. Jospeph Bazalgette’s bridge of 1890 is a sturdy, practical design that, by comparison to its society neighbours, feels like a staff exit. It’s thin and busy, and due to the restrictions on the Albert, often constipated with traffic.

Traffic on Battersea Bridge, yesterday.

Traffic on Battersea Bridge, yesterday.

On the south eastern corner, there’s a slippery staircase which leads all the way down to the sludgy beach. This liminal slip of not-quite land can’t help but remind me of the characters in Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore, which is set on a group of houseboats just a little further down the river. My shoes sink into the slime and beer cans rattle over the mud in the wind. Even with the architectural cupcakes of Chelsea in sight, it’s bleak as hell.

A view from the beach, looking east.

A view from the beach, looking east.

Looking west towards World's End

Looking west towards World’s End

On the north shore, there’s a small garden that leads down to a balcony, from where you can throw stuff at low flying pigeons. From the parapet of the bridge, a statue of James McNeill Whistler, who painted the bridge and the stretch of river around it numerous times after moving to London in 1859.

James McNeill Whistler (Nicholas Dimbleby, 2005)

James McNeill Whistler (Nicholas Dimbleby, 2005)

The American painter’s depictions of Old Battersea Bridge are interesting, to say the least. He described Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, the most famous – and most exciting – of these, as ‘an artistic interest alone, divest(ed) of any anecdotal interest that might otherwise have been attached to it.’

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (James McNeill Whistler, c.1872-75)

Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (James McNeill Whistler, c.1872-75) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

He had painted the bridge in a more naturalistic style shortly after arriving in London:

Brown and Silver Old Battersea Bridge, 1859 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Brown and Silver Old Battersea Bridge, 1859 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

From a 21st Century perspective, the later painting seems almost hallucinatory; the supports are stretched out of all realistic proportion, turning the squat, rickety wooden structure of the earlier painting into a towering, awe-inspiring arch. Could the figure by the boat – is he pulling it in? – at the base of the support be one of the men we see pushing out a similar vessel a decade before? He’s there to show the distortion of scale, just as the figures in Brown and Silver provide a measure of perspective.

Meanwhile, a dusting of gold illuminates the masts of the tall ships further down the river. Whistler would take this disintegrating firework effect further in the extraordinary Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket of 1875. The painting depicts a celestial explosion of lights over Cremorne Gardens, just upstream from Battersea Bridge. It was the last of his London Nocturnes, and by far the most controversial.

Nocturne in Black and Gold - The Falling Rocket (James McNeill Whistler, 1875) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket (James McNeill Whistler, 1875) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Unsurprisingly, the endlessly tiresome John Ruskin didn’t approve. When the painting was shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, Ruskin’s review of the exhibition dismissed Whistler as a ‘coxcomb’ and expressed exasperation at the artist asking ‘two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.’ Having slagged off a fair few contemporary artists in reviews myself, I can understand the temptation to write nasty things about cocky stylists. But Ruskin really did make an arse of himself with this one.

An Appeal to the Law, Punch Magazine, 1878

An Appeal to the Law, Punch Magazine, 1878

Nevertheless, the review severely damaged Whistler’s reputation; patrons abandoned him and sales dried up. In 1878, the notoriously hostile artist sued the critic for libel, initiating a farcical court case. The jury ruled in favour of Whistler, but awarded him only token compensation; the action contributed significantly to his declaration of bankruptcy the following year. It would take a long time for him to re-establish himself.

London skyline, seen from Lavender Hill, SW11

London skyline, seen from Lavender Hill, SW11

But back to Battersea, and a detour back inland to Lavender Hill. Rarely do you see such a vast swathe of low rise buildings in inner London. While Whistler and Ruskin were battling for their reputations at the High Court, Victorian developers were knocking up a modern town. The population rose from 3,000 in 1801 to 169,000 a Century later. Huge agricultural estates were sold to speculators, and terrace after terrace sprung up in the hinterland of the old riverside settlement to accommodate the influx of labourers. Stretching from the river to Clapham Common, the borough looks much as it did then. The contrast with the deranged hedgehog of development on the horizon is astonishing.

Hancock on Battersea Bridge, May 2014.

Hancock pays homage to Whistler’s Nocturnes, Battersea Bridge, May 2014.

As our old friend John Archer told his constituents in his 1913 victory speech,

‘Battersea has done many things in the past. But the greatest thing it has done has been to show that it has no racial prejudice and that it recognises a man for the work he has done.’

Even apparently uninspiring and drab places can be rather remarkable.

 

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Melbury Road, W14

9 Mar

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Located in the triangular vacuum created by the traffic vortex of Addison Road, the second-rate shopping of Kensington High Street and the splendid rococo weirdness of Holland Park,  Melbury Road might be the most discreet tourist attraction in London. There are more commemorative decorations here than living inhabitants, and even they look to be turned into blue plaques sooner rather than later; Michael Winner spent most of his life resident in the Norman Shaw-designed No.31, and not to suggest I have a death wish for Jimmy Page (who owns the Tower House, pictured above, itself once occupied by Aleister Crowley) or anything, but I really do hate Led Zeppelin. Of the dead, notable are painter Luke Fildes, William Hamo Thornycroft, Holman Hunt, Marcus Stone (who illustrated the serialisations of Dickens’s later works) and Michael Powell, a film director who was famous for, uh, making films rather than being rude to restaurant staff and appearing in viral insurance adverts.

Given its decidedly necropolitan character, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest there might be something a little stalkerish about those  few sightseers who do venture up the street, even if they are posing as connoisseurs of bravura Victorian architecture or as overspill from the nearby Leighton Museum. The pavements are more often than not deathly quiet, but since January distraught fans of the late Fat Pig Diet author have been holding a stubborn vigil outside his former residence. When last I happened to find myself traversing Melbury Road’s noble concourse (as a keen supporter of the Leighton Museum and, uh, connoisseur of bravura Victorian architecture myself), I couldn’t help but notice this sorry fellow:

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The Winner takes it all (forgive me).

Hammersmith Bridge

17 Feb

P1040354Not living in Barnes (why else would anyone visit it?), I have precious little reason to cross this rather fine bridge. Designed by Joseph Bazalgette, it was built between 1883 and 1887, replacing an earlier structure, the foundations of which it rests on. As a vehicle crossing, it’s not up to much; a friend of mine from Notting Hill who went to primary school on the Barnes side grew up chanting the nursery rhyme London Bridge with a slightly altered lyric:

Hammersmith Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down

Despite its severe weight restrictions, the bridge was a primary target for the German invasion plan of 1940. Given that it can barely support off-peak traffic, I wonder how it would have coped with a regiment of Panzers rolling over it…

Thankfully, we will never know. For any reader who has ever watched Jules Dassin’s fantastic noir Night and the City, however, Hammersmith Bridge will have sinister connotations for different reasons entirely; the parapet in this photo is where the protagonist, expat lowlife Harry Fabian, meets his end at the hands of burly Maltese gangsters. It’s a bleak conclusion to an unrelentingly crepuscular film- but don’t let that put you off…

 

London Film Festival: Days Four to Seven

19 Oct

OK, so it’s been a while since you last heard from this blog- or as it has now become, me. I spent the first two days waiting for Dilworth to post, then I got a little freaked out and went looking for him. I admit it- I don’t know London. And hey, why should I? I’m a foreigner and I can’t get with the whole “chips/fries” thing you guys do here. I may not know the city, but I know Dilworth- after a coupla days spent around Leicester Square, I found him outside the Japan Centre on Haymarket with a can of cider begging for small change. I swear, give that man three minutes on his own and he turns into the biggest alcoholic since some apocryphal down and out picked up a dirty beanie and decided the old “quality v. quantity” equation didn’t apply to booze. I couldn’t get much sense out of him, but he claimed he’d taken up residence in an abandoned pub around the corner. It has no internet connection, he says. Yeah, right.

In the meantime, I’ve broken up my detective works with watching movies that fit perfectly into the categories good, bad and the ugly.

Of the last category, I think it’s fair to say that Swedish director Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die, might be the most appropriate to mention; focussing on the daughter of an unemployed Montenegrin immigrant to Scania, it tells a heartbreaking story about a fringe of Swedish society that doesn’t once fall into fatalistic poverty porn but at the same time never gives us any true reason to celebrate. Ruzica Pichler is faultless as Rosi, the lead, and the photography is so ceaselessly inventive that it makes even the salad-packaging factory where she works so wonderfully cinematic that it made me want to wear a hairnet as a fashion statement. Then I realised I’d look like a dick.

White Elephant was another ugly motherfucker, this time set in Argentina and focussing on a flawed Belgian priest working in a favela. I enjoyed what I saw, but I fell asleep halfway through. Fuck Dilworth- I was up until 3am looking for him.

Of the movies which fell into the “bad” bracket… well, what can I say? It takes a lot of mismanaged money to get a movie that stinks into a film festival, but these were bad, and not in the Shaft way. Shot over a five-year period, Michael Winterbottom’s new picture Every Day took two interesting gimmicks (the five-year bit and some shit about the family patriarch being in jail) and did a great big NOTHING with them. Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, on the other hand, took every gimmick in the postmodern director’s handbook and tried to do everything with them. It failed on almost every count. It turned stereotypes of both the Irish and the Californians into grotesque, annoying stereotypes of themselves while stringing us along with meta-plots that even a guy who’d just watched the seen-it-all-before new Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane found it hard to care about. This, for me, marks the death of the Tarantino generation, the unfunny joke by which the Campbell’s Soup tin of split chronology and self-referential narrative was finally heated beyond boiling point. At one point, Quaker dog-kidnapper Hans (Christopher Walken) accuses author Martin (Colin Farrell) of writing women into his scripts only as window dressing- self-referential and knowing this may be, but it doesn’t make it OK. If you happened to be a female character in Seven Psychopaths, you’d either be killed off after thrity seconds of sex and dialogue or simply dismissed as a ‘cunt’. If this was funny maybe it wouldn’t be so offensive, but it’s not, so it is. It got a lot of laughs from the more jockish wing of the theatre- I’m guessing this is going to be a hit with the kind of cro-magnons who have a mistaken belief in their own intelligence. Oh yeah, and if you can find a more irritating supporting actor than Sam Rockwell in any movie that comes out in the next twelve months, I’ll buy you a beer.

What was good really was good, though. Movies like No by Pablo Larrain and Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog, for example. While the first completes the Chilean director’s Pinochet trilogy with the story of the General’s downfall at the hands of a stupidly handsome and annoyingly self-confident proto-Don Draper (Gael Garcia Bernal), narrating the transition to democracy through the medium of advertising and blurred film stock, the second must be Belarus’ first true Spaghetti Western . Just make that ‘lard’, rather than ‘spaghetti’ and attach the acronym ‘USSR’ onto the end of ‘Western’. This is also the best war movie since Downfall. Close-ups of partisans staring at trees and local policemen and ex-communist Nazi cronies also looking up trees must take up half the running time, but when the action comes, it comes like a man who hasn’t touched his penis in a decade. It’s the most devastating thing to come out of these parts since the Chernobyl fallout, and it has a body count to match. Enough with the national stereotypes- though I might just throw in a “Lukashenko” while I’m on the subject- if this movie does eventually screen in whatever country you have the misfortune to be in, you gotta see it. Ditto No- Larrain’s distinctive blend of mixed media and unconventional camera-work has come of age, and it defies everything anybody ever tiredly burps out about “Latin American Cinema”. It’s a feelgood picture with a feel-bad subtext- now that’s something I’d like to see more of.

Marcus P. Hernandez

London Film Festival: Day Three

14 Oct

So Dilworth didn’t show up here last night, huh? He didn’t show up anywhere else, either- I came out of Lore and spent  20 minutes trying to get through to him on his cell. It went straight to voicemail, so I checked my A-Z and went down to Leicester Square to find him.

There are no tents in Leicester Square.

So I called his mom. She hasn’t seen him, but she says he called her to remind her to take out the trash. The way I see it, this is just unprofessionalism rather than something for your “bobbies”. Anyway, wanna hear about the movies I’ve seen?

If the amount of French shit “Digby” (I know you guys have some pretty WTF names over here, but that can’t be real) writes up here is any indication, I’m guessing you readers are pretty hot up on your croissant-munching art cinema, right? You’re gonna love Rust & Bone, the latest Jacques Audiard picture. I saw it at Cannes and I’ll most probably see it again. Trust me on this, it’s awesome. Audiard has a real genius for slipping in crucial viewing information through details in the mise-en-scène. You know the facts, but you can’t remember how you learned them- a lot like reading a primer in movie criticism after a college ketamine party. This movie opens with two figures walking up the kind of nowheresville street that could be anywhere between Saigon and San Diego. By the next scene, you know you’re in Belgium- how? Through reading the license plates of the cars that pass- they are the only images in focus. That got me scratching my head at Cannes, and it was good to clear it up in London. I could give you a plot synopsis, but for me the movie’s main shock comes too early on (and is waaaay too crucial to the rest of the narrative) to reveal to you poor saps of the general public.

I can’t tell you what happens in For no Good Reason, either, but that’s because I didn’t see it. I gave my ticket to a friend, who said it was ‘basically OK but all the cartoons made it too kooky’. This is a movie produced by Johnny Depp, for chrissakes- what do you expect? The idea is that Depp and the British artist Ralph Steadman sit around drinking beers (‘Raging Bitch’, specially produced by Steadman for the launch and very kindly distributed to members of the press at the screening) and talking about Steadman’s life. Sounds wild.

Antiviral is less- MUCH less- sedate. This is the directorial debut from Brandon “Son of David” Cronenberg, and lawdy is it nasty. Sometime in the near future, an extremely stylised clinic is charging customers for the privilege of being infected with celebrity viruses- and, we come to believe somehow, the suckers are lapping this helpful service up. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) cuts a vampiric (if ginger) figure as a lab employee who steals and modifies traces of the viruses for sale on the black market. Courtesy of the biggest celebrity of them all, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), he’s about to shoot up more than he can stomach…

The cinematography has an ulra-clinical tone, which makes the movie look like a cross between Mary Harron’s American Psycho and an early ’90s Volkswagen commercial. It’s a near-perfect Horror picture, and if you need the proof, here it is: I stayed put in my chair for the duration, but I spent the next 15 minutes puking up in the john of the Hayward Gallery. I don’t do that often.

And then there was Grassroots. It’s a small-time political movie made by Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall’s pop that features Jason Biggs from American Pie playing nursemaid to a kooky hippie who wants to be governor of his neighbourhood in Seattle (Joel David Moore). The comedy is unfunny, the grammar is incorrect (think !?!?!?), the photography unimaginative and the acting and screenplay worse than your ex-best friend from school’s “hilarious” YouTube videos. Don’t go see it- let’s kick this genre of US indie flick off the life raft.

I saw François Ozon’s In the House today but Dilworth made it clear that HE was gonna write about it here. If you’re reading, big boy, knock yourself out. I liked it- a lot- by the way. He said the same for first-timer Jeremy Teicher’s Tall as the Baobab, for which I believe “Digby” has done interviews and everything. I didn’t see it.

I did see Zaytoun thoughSet in Lebanon in 1982, it’s the feelgood exotic hit of the year, an Israelo-Palestinian Slumdog Millionaire, if you like. Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) is a preteen Palestinian refugee zealously involved in the activities of the PLO after the death of his father in an Israeli airstrike. After an enemy fighter jet is shot down over the camp, Fahed challenges its captured pilot (Stephen Dorff) to lead him back across the border so he can see the village his family came from for himself. It’s corny as hell, but I wasn’t the only one reaching for the (insufficient) Kleenex supply by the end. This movie is almost heroically mawkish, and it totally works. At the least, it deserves a nomination for one of those patronising minor Oscar categories.

Midnight’s Children is the other side of the cultural imperialist coin. It stays faithful to Salman Rushdie’s novel (no surprise, seeing as it was him who wrote the screenplay), but sucks it dry of every drop of its grotesque glory. The straight reading also gives it a 3-hour running time- you have-what?-70, 80 or 90 years to live. You can do better things with them, because apart from the deadpan humour of the Rawalpindi scenes in which our hero Saleem (Satya Bhabha) plays the foil to his uncle General Zulfikar’s (Rahul Bose) ridiculous military strutting, this is cinema as imagined by a clipart-crazed travel brochure. I’m telling you to read the book- which I swear I actually have. Just because I’m American doesn’t mean I’m illiterate, you snobbish bastards.

Marcus P. Hernandez

London Film Festival: Camping it up

10 Oct

… And so the London Film Festival begins. The excitement is palpable- And I should know. For the next week and a half, I shall be living in a tent in Leicester Square, surveying the crowds and accosting movie goers, assuring them that yes, I am a professional film critic and no, I don’t want their spare change (although if they have 50p, it wouldn’t hurt). As I’m sure you’ll come to infer, I take these events rather more seriously than my American colleague Marcus P.Hernandez. He’s staying at the Holiday Inn on Gloucester Road- does he not know what a festival is? A hint of jealousy, perhaps, clouds my judgement, but it is I, Jon Dilworth, who has chosen to be here: in more ordinary circumstances, my mother and I inhabit a very fine second floor flat in Tufnell Park, thankyou very much.

Perhaps I should explain how I came to be here: I do not know Digby well, but I like to perform the odd favour to the youngsters. This blogging lark certainly seems to be catching on, and I need to bring myself up to date: I am 54- by no means beyond the call of duty, but nonetheless susceptible to being left behind. For those new to my work, I am the author of the now-classic Smoking Cigarettes, Wearing Hats and Talking Rubbish: A Beginners’ Guide to New Wave Film, as well as the unfairly overlooked Naked Men, Naked Men: The Cinema of Ken Russell, and my 30-year career has taken me across Europe in the services of many a publication; I have supped with the great and the good and hobnobbed with the most foul-mouthed of industry figures from Los Angeles to Lahore. And yet hear I am in Leicester Square, depressed by the knowledge that it is only my duty to you, readers, that keeps me from slipping into the Underground Station and taking the last Northbound train, from escaping the White Lightning, the pale fire and the students outside my tent who won’t shut up about something called ‘dub step’.

But I shall stay put. Until the Police force me off, I shall stay unwaveringly loyal to you; I shall brave the drunks, the fools, the cold- the dirt collected on the mean streets of W1 will on its own keep me stuck into my cinema seat. I shall live to review, and review to live. Unless, that is, Hernandez gets there before me.

As for the film… well, I’m afraid to admit that I didn’t see Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie because I was asleep and when I did try to enter the cinema, the security guards told me that vagrants weren’t welcome. More fool them! By all accounts, though, it wasn’t quite Citizen Kane. 

Anyway, I must go- I must call my Mother to make sure she’s fed the cat. I look forward to bringing you all the latest.

Yours,

Jon Dilworth

Shards of Truth

18 Sep

Here’s something spooky:

Anything look familiar? Much as I’d love to turn this into a conspiracy theory, I’m feeling a bit too sane this morning, but I am rather taken with the thought that Renzo Piano might be a fan of this BBC adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. When it was broadcast in 1953, this sequence would have struck Londoners for other reasons entirely: at that point, St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in the city, and the Tower of the Houses of Parliament wasn’t far behind (or below, whatever). The scale given by the juxtaposition of the latter with the crudely superimposed Ministry of Truth might well have seemed improbable to contemporary viewers, even as the first high-rise council estates started to appear across the crater-ridden capital.

I still can’t get over the novelty of the new-look London skyline; The Shard still seems to me as though it had been pasted onto a panoramic photo, as impressive and alien as these eerily prescient images must have appeared to the few British families who possessed television sets in the early 1950s. Uncanny architecture aside, at least nobody’s watching Big Brother any more…