Four for a Friday #1

I, of course, feel bad that the Forecast has fallen into abeyance, not least because I recognize that the process of posting things here, no matter how trivial, is productive for me overall. I suspect it is a familiar trap for those whose work involves writing that, however much you know that writing generates writing, writing a blog post feels like it is keeping you from the actual, proper writing you are supposed to be doing right now, but which somehow you are unable or not ready to do at this precise moment. And then, as a consequence, no writing at all gets done.

I’m going to try to break this deadlock with an occasional series of posts that detail some of things that have come across my radar and piqued my interest. This, I suppose, was meant to be the point and purpose of this space all along: helping you navigate choppy cultural waters. So, here we go.

1. The Modernist #9. One of the pleasures of returning from a trip is slowly sorting through all the stuff you picked up along the way on your travels with the intention of giving it a good, proper read or listen later. At the CCA in Glasgow, I spotted Issue number 9 of The Modernist, a journal published by the Manchester Modernist Society that looked like just my sort of thing.

The Modernist

The magazine bills itself as “A Quarterly Magazine about 20th Century Design” and contains a number of short articles (usually just a double-page spread) that are rich in detail and frequently take up idiosyncratic and unusual topics. Their ninth issue contains articles on the Fiat 500 (the “Cinquecento”), the history of prefab houses, the origins of the modern postage stamp (published before the death of Tony Benn, who plays a key role in the whole story), the Czech modernist Karel Teige (whose significance to modernism does seem underappreciated, if not wholly unrecognized), and several others.

It’s difficult to pick my favorite article of the bunch, but it may just be Aidan Turner-Bishop’s piece on micro- or bubblecars. These fuel-efficient three-wheeled vehicles flourished in the era of rationing immediate following WWII, not least due to the fact that the purchase tax on them was that of motorcycles (22%) rather than of standard automobiles (60%). Their popularity waned when petrol rationing was lifted and four-wheeled cars became more affordable, but the 1950s and early 60s saw the production of a whole host of different models. You can certainly spot them in a handful of films from the period and they stand at the point where modernist convergences with cute.

Isetta Ad - From The Modernist #9You can purchase subscriptions to, and back issues of, The Modernist here.

2. Exhibition (Joanna Hogg, 2013). I saw a number of great films at the 2014 Glasgow Film Festival, including Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013), Lav Diaz’s Norte, The End of History (2013), and Mati Diop’s Mille Soleils (2013), but I was especially happy to have the chance to see Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition, since I was so taken with her previous film Archipelago (2010). The film is about a husband and wife, both artists, who have decided to sell their modernist house. He is more eager than she to sell and the film is about the tensions that arise because of this difference of opinion as well as about one’s attachment to a space. The central roles are played by two non-actors, both tremendous: Liam Gillick (a visual artist) and Viv Albertine (former member of punk band The Slits whose memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys Boys is forthcoming from Faber in May).

ExhibitionIn its investigation of metropolitan bourgeois anxiety, Exhibition reminded me of Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds (2013). The two films also share a sense that it is sound as much as vision that structures relations within a house as well as between neighbors. Exhibition is so precisely attuned to the sounds of its London neighborhood that it could be part of the London Sound Survey.

Exhibition is released in the UK on April 25th and you can watch an exclusive trailer at Guardian Film.

3. Echo and the Bunnymen. “Ocean Rain” (1984). Somewhat strangely, perhaps, the LP I have been listening to most of late is Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain (1984). It’s not really a return to the album since I don’t think I even heard it at the time of its release. I remember “The Killing Moon” and its video quite vividly, but I was most certainly a latecomer to the Bunnymen, and even then I probably didn’t get much further than the singles package Songs to Learn and Sing.

It’s the title track of Ocean Rain that has captivated me recently. It’s very much of the echoic, epic, early eighties school of pop, perhaps not a million miles away from “The Great Dominions” by the Teardrop Explodes. The lyrics are suggestively metaphorical rather than concrete or particularly coherent. The song, appropriately enough, evokes something of a passing storm, swelling at a key moment into something rather majestic, if not fully sublime.

The Bunnymen performed it on The Tube in December 1984 and Ian McCulloch notes at the beginning that the song is “a slowy.” There’s a lovely Velvet-y drone (on cello rather than viola) at the beginning of the track before the drums kick in and the song picks up pace.

Simon Reynolds’ chapter on Liverpool bands in his Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 is essential reading, not least because he so precisely delineates the difference between the sonic grandeur of the Bunnymen and the bombast and grandiosity of U2. There is a bigness to the sound of each band, as well as loads of ambition, but, as Reynolds argues, Ocean Rain “veered away from rock toward pop” and this I think makes it a pleasure to listen to, rather than an ordeal. And I suppose we shouldn’t forget as well that Ian McCullough was sexy in a way that Bono never could be.

Echo and the Bunnymen - Porcupine

Even though I suspect Ocean Rain is the better album, I do have a soft spot for Crocodiles (1983). I only recently discovered that the cover photo for that LP was taken at Gullfoss in Iceland, with the band standing moodily by the frozen waterfall. They later played a concert at Laugarsdalhöll in Reykjavík. The Icelandic Music Museum has a comprehensive collection of reviews of the show and of Bunnymen releases, but you’ll need to be able to read Icelandic to understand any of them.

4. Slavoj Žižek. Event. London: Penguin, 2014. Žižek’s latest short book mostly condenses arguments made elsewhere and presents them with, in some cases at least, new jokes and examples. I particularly enjoyed his withering introduction to his short discussion of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011): “Although one cannot but be repelled by The Tree of Life‘s excessive pseudo-spirituality, the film contains some interesting moments.” (21). And, following on from that, Žižek delivers a short, but I think quite brilliant, Lacanian reading of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011). Whatever reservations I have about some of von Trier’s other work, I do think Melancholia is a great film and Žižek’s analysis helps me understand some of its force.

This entry was posted in 1980s, Architecture, Critical Theory, Design, Film, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *