April 24, 2015

#FridayFlash – The War

I dreamed of the bombers again last night. Their steady drone filled the air, and orange flames tore open the skies. I woke up with my hands clamped against my ears, fighting to block out the banshee wail of the sirens. I thought I smelled the damp earth of the shelter, and I expected to see my mother bent over me. But my eyes adjusted to the gloom and made out the pink floral wallpaper and old wooden dressing table.

I lay in the darkness, waiting for my breathing to slow. Sirens still screamed in the street, like the perverse nocturnal mating call of the police. Fire tore open the world, but these flames came from the hands of youths, and the glass bottles they wielded.

I switched on the radio, hoping to block out the sounds of violence. Baton on bone, fist on flesh. I burrowed into the strains of Chopin, leaving behind the cacophony of war. Not my war, not back in the good old days when the baddies hid in castles on the continent and we fought over decency and common sense. No, this war is alien to me, fought between citizens on the same side. Or what used to be the same side.

I sniff back a tear. I never thought I would be nostalgic for that old Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. I loved the old boy, until he left for France and never came back, but in a way, I’m glad my dad isn’t here.

It would kill him all over again to see what’s become of the country he died to protect.

April 23, 2015

Free Book for World Book Night

335601_10150289991415378_1809677991_oIt’s World Book Night tonight, so in the spirit of the moment, I’ll be giving away a free and signed copy of my first novella, The Guns of Retribution! All you have to do is share this post on Twitter (using my handle @IcySedgwick so I can see it) or Facebook (tagging in my Icy Sedgwick page), and comment on this post to tell me what your favourite Western is! That can include books, TV series, video games or movies – so are you a mad fan for Hell on Wheels, or is Tombstone close to your heart?

I’ll choose a winner at random on 30 April so make sure I have some way of contacting you but you MUST leave a comment on this post for your entry to be counted!

You can also buy The Guns of Retribution from Amazon for the Kindle.

April 20, 2015

Bringing Spectacle back to Cinema

Tyneside Cinema, by The JPS (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since television became the must-have gadget in every living room, cinemas have been trying to devise ways to bring audiences back into theatres. They’ve tried Cinemascope, 3D (several times), surround sound, and IMAX screens, always peddling the idea that cinema gives you “the experience”, something you can’t quite capture with television. Even watching a widescreen TV in full high-definition with surround sound speakers can’t quite match sitting in a darkened auditorium to enjoy a decent film (although at least you won’t have to sell a kidney to afford the popcorn).

That said, the cinema often focuses on the technology, promising bigger screens, better sound, or other gimmicks to give you an experience that’s difficult to replicate in a domestic environment. Given the explosion of high quality TV serials, with their high production values and big name stars, it can seem like the only card they have to play…or is it?

screenage kicksBased in the north east of England, Screenage Kicks are dedicated to the ‘pop up’ movement, specialising in small, one-off screenings in venues that suit the chosen film, featuring actors re-enacting key scenes and décor that reflects famous moments or props. Previous screenings have been The Big Lebowski (1998) at Lane 7, The Breakfast Club (1985) at the Boiler Shop Steamer, and a double-bill of Beetlejuice (1988) and The Lost Boys (1987) at the Tyne Theatre. Their last screening of 2014 was that of Batman (1989), with Newcastle’s Vermont Hotel pressed into service as Wayne Manor. ‘Alfred’ was on hand to welcome guests, while the Joker’s mob kept the audience in check. The masked ball vibe meant guests arrived as masked party goers, or masked villains and heroes from the DC canon.

redrumFriday’s big event was The Shining (1980), shown in the Grand Ballroom at the Memorial Hall in Wallsend. The theme was that of a 1920s ball, to reflect the 1921 ball depicted in the film, and the setting could not have been more apt, since the hall itself was built in 1925 in memory of those who lost their lives during the First World War. Costume choices included characters from the film, murder victims, or ball-goers in their gladrags. Bathroom mirrors were daubed with the ominous ‘REDRUM’ from the film, while a map of the Overlook Hotel maze greeted guests in the ballroom itself. Everyone was handed the key to the infamous room 237, and a broken bathroom door was available as a photo opportunity. During the film itself, ‘Danny’ rode around the room on a tricycle, pursued by ‘Stanley Kubrick’ with a movie camera, while ‘Jack’ pursued ‘Wendy’ up the aisles, and conversed with ‘Floyd’ at the bar.

10989188_931787463499714_7486381171953376411_oPart of the success of Screenage Kicks is their choice of film, but I think another reason they’ve been doing so well is that they offer something different. Newcastle upon Tyne is an infamous party city, but if you’re not interested in pub crawls or clubs, it can seem as though there is little to offer. Screenings such as these are a good alternative for those who want to enjoy a film – and have a laugh at the same time. The screenings feel like communal experiences, and they put the ‘performance’ back into cinema. The fancy dress theme is an added bonus, and because the screenings aren’t every week, there’s little time to get bored with the concept.

If you like the sound of Screenage Kicks, their next event is Apocalypse Now, on 15th May at Battlezone Laser in Gateshead. You can buy tickets here.

April 17, 2015

#FridayFlash – Urban Legend

Lady Bird Lake, Texas, by Wing-Chi Poon

They say that if you go down to the old Town Lake at midnight on the first Friday of the month, you can see young Jessie O’Conner, the tormented soul that lingers on the spot where she died seventy years ago. The details have changed over the years, with Jessie turned from blonde to brunette, a twenty-four year old from a nearby farm to a nineteen year old too poor to go to college. It doesn’t change the core plot, that Jessie was murdered by her boyfriend, a callous older man from town who didn’t want his wife to find out about her. No one remembers his name, but they do remember the fact that he didn’t just murder one person that night – he murdered two. Folk swear they see her, just walking back and forth on the shore like she’s looking for someone. You have to be careful she doesn’t see you though – people have disappeared out at the lake. It doesn’t stop them going up there though, especially the high school kids.

It was easy enough to get the legend started. Whisper in enough ears, and the story is repeated, the teller always swearing that it happened to ‘a friend of a friend’. No one stops to ask who this friend of a friend is, but everyone’s convinced it’s true, and isn’t it such a pity that the newspaper archives burned down before they could digitise the records?

Of course, I know exactly who started the legend, too. I did. After all, even a dead girl has to eat, especially when she’s eating for two.

April 13, 2015

Going Goth: Exploring the English Landscape

Yellow Plants

Lindisfarne © Icy Sedgwick 2012

A rather long yet oddly compelling article appeared on the Guardian’s website on Friday, exploring the eeriness of the English countryside. The post explored the move by writers and artists towards an exploration of landscape, picking apart notions of ownership, heritage, and the rather nebulous concept of “belonging”. Robert Macfarlane, author of the piece, manages to name drop his own work alongside that of photographers, writers and musicians, and it is clear that he has a lot of passion for this new engagement with “the eerie”. He points out the tendency of humans to resort to the supernatural when faced with that which defies explanation, and he explains that “contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters”.

So far, so good. Trouble is, he treats all of this as if it’s something new, something that only contemporary artists have been bothered to engage with on a larger level. True, he does point out that a lot of this “recent rise of the eerie coincides with a phase of severe environmental damage”, and these factors can’t be ignored. He looks at military infrastructure, capitalism, and even the state surveillance to which we’re all exposed as being factors in this resurgence of “the eerie”. Still, none of this is new. The Gothic has been dealing with these concerns since the eighteenth century. In fact, the eerie has a lot of crossover points with the sublime, an idea explored by Edmund Burke in 1757. The sublime is provoked by something magnificent, yet so magnificent that it causes fear, such as rugged landscapes that threaten to overwhelm the viewer, or dangerous cliffs. The sublime is beauty, but beauty that threatens with destruction. (Landscape and the Sublime by Philip Shaw for more on the sublime)

Atmosphere

The sublime in North Wales © Icy Sedgwick 2008

As well as the sublime, from its earliest years, the Gothic has dealt with landscape in a range of ways. The first novels located its castles and ancestral houses in gloomy forests, or on windswept moors, each location a symbol of isolation. Later forms of the Gothic moved their narratives into the urban environment, with the densely-packed cities of Dickens becoming soaked in fog, treacherous spaces that either concealed crime, or promoted it. As the Gothic has moved into the domestic space, so the wider public have regained their fascination with ruins, now bleached of their negative associations and repaired by the heritage industry, rehabilitated as symbols of our shared past. When the Gothic was born in 1764, the English countryside was already studded with the ruins of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and served to remind viewers of the crushing power of the state. They were the symbol of the devastating passage of time, but now these ruins are the subject of ruinenlust, an attraction towards that which we fear, only we no longer fear them. Instead we’re proud of them, and proud of our long English history that produced them. We even have a charity named English Heritage, who care for over 400 historic sites, including 33 properties in Northumberland alone.

Ruins

Fountains Abbey © Icy Sedgwick 2014

The past is a crucial element of the Gothic, and buried secrets that are uncovered by an engagement with Gothic landscapes becomes deeply important to return of the repressed. Macfarlane uses the phrase in passing during his article, and it essentially comes from Freud. The idea is an old one, but it is in Freud’s essay on The Uncanny in 1919 that it is given its more familiar form. While Freud relates everything back to sexuality, and sexual impulses, it boils down to a belief that in order to become an adult capable of functioning socially, excess beliefs and feelings are repressed. Within wider culture, this becomes all sorts of practices or ideas that are ‘swept under the rug’, so to speak, only to return at a later date. The process of repression naturally distorts the material undergoing repression, and it follows that it returns far darker, and more twisted, than it was in its original state. In horror fiction, this gives rise to monsters and spectres, each more vengeful than the last. In terms of landscape, this becomes bodies hidden in bogs, disused signs of industry left to decay before they claim lives through accidental discovery, or even the dangers associated with fracking.

Stormy Skies

Yorkshire © Icy Sedgwick 2012

I do agree that there has been a greater engagement with “the eerie”, but I don’t agree that it’s anything new. In 2012, the British Library hosted Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, a fascinating exhibition that explored the relationship between British fiction and its landscape. Look at the wild moors of Wuthering Heights, and the “dark Satanic mills” of William Blake. The secularisation of English society, largely since the Second World War, has led the population to embrace the landscape in a different way, with the rural idyll of second homes in the country undercut by rising mortgages and falling successes in the agricultural industry. This “green and pleasant land” risks its biggest defilement yet if the HS2 rail link goes ahead, and who knows what kinds of monsters could be unleashed if we start fracking beneath our national parks.

One only needs to look to the Mines of Moria to find out what happens when you dig too far and too deep.

April 10, 2015

#FridayFlash – Foundling

I rise at 5am, as I do every day, and I make my rounds of the dormitories. They are empty now, and it has been many years since children laid their heads there, but it never hurts to inspect them nonetheless. Glass cases now occupy the rooms, detailing the daily routines of the children. Printed text refers to them as ‘foundlings’, idealising the children that were left here to preserve the moral characters of their unwed mothers. I do not blame the children, and I do not even blame the mothers, for who among us has not let slip our moral guard from time to time? No, I do blame the authors of this text, for they never encountered some of the little darlings. One would be hard pressed to describe Johnny Mayhew as an angel after five minutes in his company.

I complete my circuit of the building by 8am, and I reach the central staircase in time to see one of the living unlock the front door. I cannot remember her name, for she has not worked here long, but she has a cloud of red hair, and a scattering of freckles across her nose. She is kind to the visitors and she leaves the remains of her sandwiches outside for the birds, so I am predisposed to like her. I watch her fiddle with the electronic contraption in the entry hall, and the incessant beeping stops.

I follow her around the hospital, now called a museum, as she straightens up, and readies the building for the trickle of visitors who will no doubt tramp across the floors, leaving sticky marks on the exhibition cases and disgusting smells in the lavatories. At 9am, the red-haired girl opens the front door, admitting a stream of early morning sunlight into the foyer. I dare not stray too close – I miss seeing my beloved London, even if it is only through an open door, but I do not trust the light. I have seen it once before – I avoided it then, and I shall avoid it now. I will leave when I am good and ready.

By 11am, I am exhausted from following the visitors around. They tut and coo over the new exhibitions, dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs when they read the stories of children handed over by unwilling mothers, and they sob uncontrollably in front of the case that contains the keepsakes that should have been passed to the children, but never were. Some of my charges race through the museum, and I have to pry them away from the glass so they do not leave cold hand prints behind. Some of the living seem to sense them, pausing in the centre of a room to cock their head and listen hard, but my charges see it as a game and freeze, holding their breath and hiding in plain sight for anyone who could truly See to do so.

Some of the visitors bring their own children in with them, and I glare at them in turn. What could possess them to bring children into such a place? My charges are happy enough, now that they are free of more earthly concerns, but it was not the case many years ago. Still, this hospital is no place to willingly bring a child. We cared for our charges, and we loved them in our turn – we gave them a start in life that they would not otherwise have had. But this was never a home.

I am standing on the second floor landing, cursing a particularly stroppy brat who is intent on squealing like a stuck pig while its mother pleads with it to behave, when I realise that I am not alone. A human stands on the stairs, gazing up at me. She is watching me. I turn my head slowly so as not to startle her, but she is not easily frightened. She is curious. Still, it is so long since anyone noticed me that I have quite forgotten what it is like to be the subject of another person’s gaze.

I move along the landing. Her gaze follows me. The mother of the errant child finally drags him from the room so as to cease disturbing other visitors, and she passes directly through me. The human on the stairs does not even flinch. She would appear to be a medium of some kind. I remember reading about them when the Spiritualist craze swept the land, though many of the newspapers believed them to be con artists, or simply insane. This woman would appear to be neither.

The red-haired girl approaches the woman and she finally breaks my gaze. The girl asks if she is alright, though she looks up towards the landing. She looks right at me but I can tell that she does not, cannot, see me. The woman tells her that she is fine, but the girl contrives some excuse to lead her back down the stairs. The medium keeps glancing up at me as she follows the staircase around the square hall, descending towards the foyer. Two of my more rambunctious charges flee toward her, and her withering glare pulls them up short. Interesting.

She disappears into the foyer with the red-haired girl, and I ascend the stairs to my quarters, once my own private room, and now an office filled with old paperwork and broken furniture. The medium will return, I know she will. And when she does, I will find a way to make her stay. I could use the company – and her way with the children.

April 8, 2015

Free Crochet Pattern – Neckwarmer and Mittens

I bought four balls of Sirdar Husky in Misty while it was on sale in my local yarn shop and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it – I just knew I liked the feel of it, and the colourway (mine is grey with black spots). Still, it can sometimes be problematic to buy yarn with no specific project in mind, just in case you run out of yarn partway through!

Luckily, I found this beret pattern in Simply Crochet 29, which worked up in less than an hour on a 9mm hook, and used about a ball and a quarter to complete. It’s got a lovely open pattern so it’s well suited to cool spring days, rather than freezing winter mornings. So far, so good!

But what to do with the rest of the yarn?

I love matching sets, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough left for a scarf and a pair of handwarmers. I started off on the handwarmers first, reasoning that I could use what was left for the scarf, and they ended up being super simple to make. Here’s the pattern if you want a go yourself – just remember that the yarn is considered a ‘super chunky’, and the recommended tension is 9 stitches and 12 rows to 4″/10cm squared on 10mm needles. I used a 9mm hook throughout, and both of the following patterns use UK crochet terminology (but if you don’t use UK terminology, a dc is otherwise known as an sc, and a htr is otherwise known as a hdc).

Mittens
Chain 17.
Row 1: Dc in the first stitch from the hook. Dc until the end of the row (16 sts). Ch 1 and turn.
Row 2: Dc in back loop of the first stitch from the hook. Dc in the back loop of each stitch in the row. Ch 1 and turn.
Repeat row 2 fifteen more times.
Fasten off and sew up the side seam, leaving a gap for the thumb. Repeat for a second mitten!

Infinity scarf
Chain 16.
Row 1: Htr in the second stitch from the hook. Htr until the end of the row (14 sts). Ch 2 and turn.
Row 2: Htr in the back loop of the first stitch from the hook. Htr in the back loop of each stitch in the row. Ch 2 and turn.
Repeat row 2 until the strip is as long as you want it to be. Mine was 1.2m. Fasten off, and sew the ends together. Voila!

This is the set when worn together. The yarn is thick but super soft, which is one of the main features of the Sirdar Husky line. It’s also machine washable, and is an acrylic/nylon blend, for those who can’t wear wool. I bought mine in Wooly Minded in Newcastle for £1.99 a ball, but Loveknitting have a choice of five shades for £3.15, Black Sheep Wools have it for £2.79 per ball, and it’s £2.87 per ball at Deramores.

The use of the back loops when crocheting the infinity scarf and handwarmers gives the appearance of ribbed fabric, so there’s a little stretch there.

So much stretch, in fact, that my handwarmers are now a little too large, so you might want to only repeat row two thirteen times instead of fifteen! Otherwise they can be worn over a pair of thinner gloves for extra warmth.

I also gave the set a test drive on 29 March by wearing them to work, and they were lovely and warm! Excuse the less than amused facial expression but I was getting funny looks for taking an obvious selfie on the train.

The infinity scarf neatly fits into the collar of my coat, and the beret helps to keep my ears warm. I did add one extra round of double crochet to the beret before I fastened it off, but that was more for personal preference than anything else.

The patterns featured here are super easy for crochet beginners, and they take no time at all to make up. Let me know if you try them so I can see what you come up with!

If you like the look of my textile items and want to buy something readymade, I’m currently having a 10% sale over at my Etsy store, Icy Handmade. Simply enter SPRING10 at the checkout!

April 6, 2015

Good Sci Fi Gets At The Truth

I had a rather sci-fi themed weekend, going to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut and Metropolis on Friday and Saturday respectively. They’re a pair of films that work exceptionally well as a double bill, exploring the representation of the future, the infiltration of humanity by robotic technology, and of the city. On the surface, they look as though they represent the dystopia (Blade Runner) and the utopia (Metropolis) afforded by the urban environment, but on closer inspection, they’re not a million miles apart. I’ve often enjoyed science fiction as a genre, but until now, I’d never really stopped to consider how good sci fi can, and should, use its generic trappings to reveal the truth about the society that produces it.

Rick Deckard clings to a crumbling building in Blade Runner.

Let’s start off with Blade Runner. It’s been re-released by the BFI, following the 2007 release of The Final Cut. I hadn’t seen it for some years, and could still remember the original ending and noir voice-over from the 1982 version. Adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, it tells the story of a rain-soaked Los Angeles in 2019, where replicants are used ‘off world’ as slave labour, to do the jobs no human wants to do in the expansion of human colonies – they’re actually banned on earth, and any that defy the ban are hunted and ‘retired’ by special police, known as blade runners. To prevent the replicants from having any real power, they come equipped with a built-in fail safe mechanism, in that they expire after four years. Much like some governments.

A group of replicants make it to earth, ostensibly to find a way to expand their allotted life spans. Given a form of bond is shown as existing between the replicants, it’s easy to believe that they may have outgrown their programming and begun to form more human attachments to others. This isn’t entirely implausible since replicant Rachel (Sean Young) is a newer model and along with memories of a childhood, she also has the capacity to demonstrate emotion. Retired blade runner Rick Deckard, played by by Harrison Ford, is employed to hunt the four renegade replicants down. Deckard is, by all accounts, a fairly useless detective, blundering from encounter to encounter, and he displays little of the high level of skill that apparently makes him ‘the best’ at what he does. Indeed, he almost loses Zhora in a chase through busy city streets, and Leon would have killed him were it not for Rachel’s intervention. A lot of discussion around the film also focuses on Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), but I was far more interested in the representations of Pris (Daryl Hannah).

Pris.

Pris is described as being a “pleasure model”, so is clearly expected to have little purpose beyond her sexuality. Pris outgrows this limitation, and Hannah plays her in such a way that I saw a lot of Harley Quinn in her performance – although Harley didn’t make her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series until 1992. But here’s the thing. Pris is an android, a liminal figure who is coded as human through her physical external appearance, yet technological through her design. Despite this liminality, she’s still reduced (by her male creators) to being used solely for sex. It’s hardly surprising that she’d break free and attempt an existence on her own terms. She rejects a traditional feminine appearance, painting her face white and adding a black bar across her eyes as a form of ‘mask’ in a typical play with identity, and her acrobatic prowess makes her more threatening than alluring. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe Pris as a feminist icon, since she only operates in conjunction with Roy and has little agency of her own, but she is still a female figure who rejects the role she has been assigned. True, she uses her feminine wiles as part of Roy’s plan, but Pris moves into a monogamous role as Roy’s partner, away from the role she was given upon inception. Here, the language and signifiers of science fiction allow the representation of women to be explored through the very fact that a corporation would deem it necessary to invent a female sex robot.

Shift change for the workers.

Pris is also the figure who links Blade Runner and Metropolis in a way that the representation of the city never could, but more on that in a moment. Metropolis is a landmark film from the era of German Expressionism, directed by Fritz Lang, and it was released in 1927. Unfortunately a lot of the film was cut, and has only been restored after a virtually uncut (although heavily damaged) version was located in Buenos Aires in 2008. The Tyneside Cinema screened Metropolis as part of their What Have The Europeans Done For Us? programme. The point of the programme is to explore what Europeans have contributed to the world of cinema, which is particularly pertinent since seven European countries will hold general elections this year. That in itself seems somewhat ironic given the nature of the narrative of this truly expansive film. In a nutshell, the city is here depicted as having two sides. The ‘depths’ house the Machines that run the city, as well as the Worker’s City that houses the workers who run the machines. Above ground, gleaming skyscrapers and elegant roadways soar high above Metropolis, presided over by a single man – Joh Fredersen. The film is ostensibly a critique of capitalism, with the workers swallowed up by insatiable machines while the sons of the captains of industry enjoy an indolent lifestyle in nightclubs and luxurious pleasure gardens. Maria, a wholesome and virginal young woman in the Worker’s City believes a mediator will come who will help the workers to gain some degree of equality with those above. Freder, son of Joh Fredersen, hears her message and throws off the expectations of his rank in his attempt to help her.

The Machine-Man, who will later become Evil Maria.

This is where the Pris comparison comes in. Rotwang, an inventor, has developed a Machine-Man, who will be indistinguishable from humans. Fredersen has learned of the secret meetings of the workers and decides to discredit Maria. Rotwang turns the Machine-Man into a robot version of Maria, a hyper-sexualised figure who becomes equated with the Whore of Babylon, and who incites the workers to revolt against the city and smash the machines that keep it running. This in turn puts the children of the workers at risk, and the real Maria has to rescue them. The key here though is the equation of robot and sexual woman, as if both are unnatural and must be controlled. It’s interesting to note that Fredersen’s method for discrediting Maria involves painting her as being sexual, which thus makes her morally corrupt – it equates with the drive to silence outspoken women today with threats of publishing sex tapes or nude photographs online. The expression of sexuality as being somehow wrong is still used as a stick to beat women into submission if they try to reject their assigned roles.

Metropolis.

Obviously it’s impossible to think that Fritz Lang had any of that in mind in the 1920s while he was making Metropolis, although it’s notable that the film was written by Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou. However, it is the depiction of the city, and its relationship between its ruling classes and its workers, which are usually the points picked up in commentary about the film. Neither the ruling classes nor the workers come out of the film well – the former are depicted as lazy hedonists, while the latter are a mindless mass who are easily incited to violence by two different people. The design of the city was inspired by a visit to New York in 1924, as well as the Art Deco movement. Links can also be made to the Italian art movement of Futurism, that embraced technology and the industrial city. The Metropolis that is seen above ground is the gleaming sea of skyscrapers from idealistic advertisements, the utopia that the modern city might wish to be. Of course, none of it is impossible without the insatiable machines below ground, and the Worker’s City is one of uniform apartment blocks, devoid of ornamentation or individuality. The workers, and the buildings in which they live, are indistinguishable from one another, as the importance of the individual is stifled in favour of his contribution to the mass.

The city…always at night

Blade Runner is also a city of two halves, albeit in a less obvious way. Close to the ground, it never seems to stop raining, and the streets are a neon-lit labyrinth. Daylight seems to be a thing of the past. Yet when Deckard visits the Tyrell Corporation, high above the ground in their tower, he complains that it’s “too bright” in the meeting room, and blinds have to be lowered to keep out the harsh sun. The higher up the building, the more important you are – and thus the closer you are to decent living conditions. The inhabitants of the city are largely anonymous, nameless faces that pass Deckard by as he hunts down the replicants. He is represented as a loner, with few connections to others – something that any inhabitant of a major city will recognise as a constant and often pressing problem that results from urban living. The visual designs of Los Angeles in Blade Runner have become iconic, inspiring a whole range of cinematic cities in the process, and the animated billboards, soaring skyscrapers and neon streetscapes have become synonymous with dystopian science fiction. Yet that’s not even the part of the design that attracted me most.

The Bradbury

I absolutely loved the Bradbury, the crumbling apartment building that is home to J. F. Sebastian, the engineer enlisted by Pris and Roy to help them access the Tyrell Corporation. It’s a Gothic mess of high ceilings, rotting floors and broken windows, and the apartment of Sebastian is the antithesis of Deckard’s cramped cubby hole. Sebastian lives there with his creepy collection of living dolls, and his isolation turns the Bradbury into something I’d expect in a Frankenstein adaptation. It’s surrounded by modern buildings with neon signs, and is utterly anachronistic – much like Deckard. Unlike the traditional Gothic space, which must be penetrated and negotiated to reveal a secret that will unlock the narrative, the Bradbury is the setting for Deckard’s final showdown with Roy, and it’s the most logical setting the film could have used. Roy is literally approaching the end of his usefulness, while Deckard metaphorically approaches his, and the Bradbury has far outlived its capacity as the city has progressed around it. Incidentally, the final showdown of Metropolis takes place on the roof of a gargantuan Gothic cathedral, itself apparently outdated based on the actions of the ruling classes of the city.

I’m really glad that the Tyneside decided to show the two films so close together, because I’m not sure that I would have gotten so much out of either film in isolation. This, in itself, is the beauty of cinema – any film has the capacity to communicate meaning (except, perhaps, High School Musical), but it is when the films form a chorus that they can shout the loudest.

April 3, 2015

#FridayFlash – Snap Happy

The cure is at hand

Are you a modern gentleman who is keen to learn how to use new equipment and take advantage of our huge leaps forward in science and technology? Do you tire of those who surround you, and wish you had a way to just make them stop?

Try our brand new Instapause, the very latest in time pausing devices, brought to you by your friends at Modern Man. Simply point the Instapause at your subject, click, and that nagging wife or irritating co-worker will be paused for anywhere between three seconds and a hour!

The Instapause is cleverly designed to mimic the latest camera models, and you’ll find it easy to use. It comes with fifteen different shutter speeds, and a lifetime guarantee. So don’t delay! Buy an Instapause now, and claw back some peace and quiet!

*Small print. Do not use near reflective surfaces.

 

March 27, 2015

#FridayFlash – Doll’s House

Image: Lee Cannon, cc-sa-4.0

There’s a house at the bottom of my street, a really ramshackle old place. The doors and shutters hang from crooked hinges, and paint peels from the battered old boards like it can’t wait to jump ship and find another house to cling to. It’s the kind of house that everyone avoids, except on Halloween, when fifth graders dare each other to knock on the door. They’ve given up for the last couple of years, but mostly since there’s not much of a door left to knock on.

Every six months or so, a realtor arrives and a ‘for sale’ board appears in the yard. I never see the realtor actually go inside, they just stand in the yard and tut. The board is only up about a week before it goes down again. My mother laughs and shakes her head whenever it happens.

“They’ll never sell that old place. She won’t let them,” she’ll say.

“Who? Won’t let them?” I ask, even though I know she’s going to give me the same answer that she always does.

“Why, it’s Doll’s house, muffin. Ol’ Doll won’t let that place go.”

“Who is this Doll? Does she still live there?”

My mother just smiles and wanders off to do something else. My father knows less than I do, and cares even less, and no one on my street seems to know anything. They’re all soccer moms who are too wrapped up in following Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest fad, or men in suits who work in the city and keep their head in the clouds.

The board is in the yard for two days before I work up the courage to go and check out the house myself. I’ve always kept away from it, worried it’ll fall down if I get too close, but I can’t stop wondering who Doll is, and who owns it now. Part of me wonders if she’s a crazy old lady who won’t let her grandkids sell her house from under her, the kind of woman who has an army of cats trained to attack on command. Then I worry about her, and wonder if something’s happened to her. The rest of me wonders how she died, and where her family are now.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning when I creep out of the house so as not to disturb my mother, and I head down the street. The lady who lives four doors down is doing yoga in the front yard so we can all see how health-conscious she is, and the guy who lives opposite is watching from his window while trying to pretend he’s fixing a broken set of blinds. These people are nuts.

A thick cloud the colour of gun smoke drifts in front of the sun when I reach Doll’s house. A sudden burst of cool air gusts up the street and I shiver when it makes contact with my bare arms. I stand in the shade and look up at the house, with its crooked window shutters and cracked porch.

“Hey, Doll,” I say, without really knowing why.

There’s movement inside, and a shadow moves towards the downstairs window. I can’t make out any features, but in my mind’s eye I see a tall woman with shining hair cut like Lucille Ball. She wears a checkered dress of red and white, with an apron around her waist. She frowns at me.

“My mom says hi.” I speak aloud, and raise a hand in greeting. I even manage a small wave. I notice the mailbox is leaning to one side, and I nudge it upright with my knee.

I look up at the window. The shadow breaks into a smile, and for a flash, the silhouette and the woman in my mind are one and the same. My hands start miming an action before I know what I’m doing, but I realise I’m asking her if she wants me to mow her lawn. The shadow nods.

“I’ll be back soon. I’ll get some of my dad’s tools to sort out the hinges too,” I tell her.

She waves and I turn away. I think my dad keeps the mower in the garage these days. It doesn’t matter, I’ll find it. I have to take care of Doll’s house now.

This flash was inspired by a story which can be found here!