Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Portland & Austin: tales of two cities

We can never fully imagine a place until we've actually been there and felt it, smelt it. The body needs to smell the coffee, feel the air, the pavement beneath the feet. Reading about a place, hearing about it, seeing photos or videos of it; it doesn't matter – they're all subjective accounts; there's no such thing as armchair travelling – it has to be done in person.

We all have different ideas of what a place will be like before we've been there. I remember Rachel imagining Bangkok to be all wooden shacks (which it wasn't); I imagined New Orleans to be the same – and it was, mostly. Likewise, cities such as San Fransisco, Ho Chi Minh and Jakarta conjured up preconceived ideas before I actually visited them. Once I got there, most of my preconceived ideas went out the window. In a good way.

Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas are two such places I haven't been to but my mind has built them up as semi-mythical cities; liberal, progressive, creative and pleasant to ride a bike in. I know people in both cities; hopefully they'll put me up for a few nights and I'll find out. Both cities are as deeply steeped in myth and mystery (for me) as, say, Damascus and Bethlehem.

The main thing about both towns is they're just so cool. My Own Private Idaho was shot in Portland, and Old Joy, starring Will Oldham, ends there, after a weekend camping in the near-by Cascade mountain range. Steve Jobs quit Reed college, Portland, after a term, but it didn't seem to affect him adversely. Harry Smith, Lance Bangs, Mel Blanc, Matt Greoning, Elliott Smith, Courtney Love, Stephen Malkmus and Gus Van Sant were all born (or live/d) there.

Chuck Palahniuk, writer of Fight Club and resident of Portland, wrote a quirky guide to the city, Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon in 2003. The title comes from Katherine Dunn, author of cult novel Geek Love, who calls Portland the home of America's 'Fugitives and refugees'. No ordinary travel guide, Fugitives and Refugees tells you the location of Palahniuk's tonsils (in a bush) before delving into 'strange personal museums, weird annual events, ghost stories and sex clubs'.

Beth Ditto (of Gossip), waxes lyrically about the city in The Guardian way back in 2007, calling it 'The friendliest big little city in America'. She cites its cheapness, temperate climate, creativity, abundance of thrift stores and 'its amazing music scene – Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, the Dandy Warhols and the Shins have all been based in Portland'. I really think she should lay off those waffles, though.

'Keep Portland Weird' is a local bumper sticker slogan, based on the 'Keep Austin Weird' slogan, both of which are intended to promote local businesses and keep the cities individual.

Austin, Texas is the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world. I first remember seeing the place in Richard Linklater's movies Slacker (1991) and a few years later, Dazed and Confused (1993). The city has loads of film and music venues and festivals (such as SXSW). Cool famous people who have lived there include Wes Anderson, Terence Malick, Daniel Johnston and Mike Judge. Uncool famous people who have lived there include Owen Wilson, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, who live under a bridge. Cult Brit writer Iain Sinclair sold his literary archive, forty years worth of shopping lists, notebooks and dead insects, to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin.

What makes both cities cool is they're not really big tourist destinations, there's no must-see attractions (except the bats). The best things to do in them, from what I gather, is hang out, walk around, listen to music, buy some books and records. The perfect things to do in a city.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Infographic of my music collection


Do you find the above: Confusing? Ugly? Pointless? Yes, yes and yes? Oh good, then check out The Guardian article about the backlash against infographics.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Animal Architecture: London Zoo's Penguin Pool



Just as the residents of many listed council estates in England are probably unaware they're living in architecturally significant buildings, so the penguins of London Zoo's Grade I listed, Berthold Lubetkin-designed Penguin Pool were probably also oblivious to the importance of their modernist habitation.

Though the penguins haven't lived in Lubetkin's creation since 2004, it's doubtful they've given it much thought or missed it since. Especially as earlier this year they moved into the new Penguin Beach, four times the size (making it England's biggest penguin pool) of their last home and a lot more pleasant all round. The penguins certainly seem a lot happier.

The Lubetkin Penguin Pool (built in 1934) is a key modernist structure, being one of the first made using the then-new material reinforced concrete. But Lubetkin, like many architects, whether designing for penguins or people, seems completely oblivious to what it means to actually live in one of their structures. His Penguin Pool seems a sterile and soulless environment for both penguins and visitors, having to look down on the penguins over a wall. Penguin Beach, by contrast, has underwater viewing areas where visitors can watch penguins swim at eye level, or platforms for watching them from above.

After the penguins moved out of Lubetkin's pool, it did retain a water feature. This now seems to have gone and the pool looks a bit dilapidated. Sad but typical of how we look after our listed buildings. I'm not a huge lover of nature (or zoos) but do like a lot of the older buildings at London Zoo, many of which were designed by prominent architects. The zoo holds two Grade I and eight Grade II listed structures. If the animals could speak, I'm sure they wouldn't share my architectural enthusiasms: not many of them look very happy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Warminster folk


Welcome to Warminster

It's tempting coming from a cosmopolitan city to look down on country folk as being simple, narrow-minded, boring and lacking culture (except skittles) and sophistication. But I do feel bad being so harsh on Warminster, Wiltshire (like here and here); okay, so it does consist of the elderly, the disabled, the moronic and the terminally dull, but there are still some good people there. Some of them exude a quiet dignity, grace and contentment you don't often see in the city. In other words, they seem happy. They like to tell a funny tale (usually the same one multiple times), and are warm, giving and entirely unpretentious.

Take Arthur. Of gypsy stock, he was literally born in a circus tent some seventy-six years ago. His parents were gypsies and it's said his pregnant mother was actually dancing before she gave birth to him. And when she did it was on a bed of hay. Then she continued dancing. People were tougher back then.

Arthur's had a colourful life. He was a semi-professional football player and was offered a professional position at Crystal Palace but Arthur's wife, Maureen, didn't want to leave Warminster. 'It's always the women who hold us back' (we joked, some time ago). Arthur married Maureen – whose parents had sawdust on the floor of their home – in his early twenties. Since the football he's had a variety of (mainly menial) jobs: driving trucks for the nearby M.O.D; unpacking bananas in supermarkets; working in local factories. He used to swim across Shearwater lake every day, before and after work. Arthur's also been a singer and actor, and still sings and acts, when they let him, for the local theatre. Even in his seventies, a head full of bright white hair, he keeps busy, as a pheasant beater and still doing some driving. Over the years Arthur has seen UFOs, aliens, ghosts and a huge green man straddling a road as he drove between his legs. He's never been abroad and didn't have a passport until a couple of years ago. It's his ambition to go to the States, 'where the cowboys are'. But he can't find anybody to go with.

One of Arthur's favourite stories is about the deadly, tropical spiders that used to be found in the banana boxes when he worked in the supermarket unpacking them. One night in bed he was woken by a noise on the floor in his bedroom: a spider had got in (from his coat?) and was creeping across the carpet. He got up, threw a blanket over it and stamped on it. A variation on the story involved a friend of Arthur's who stuttered. The two men were in Arthur's home and the man with the stutter pointed to a spider on the floor and wasn't quite able to get the words out: 'T-t-t-t-here's a sp-sp-sp-sp-spider o-o-on the f-f-f-f-floor!' I have heard Arthur's spider stories more times than I have met him.

One of his best and oldest friends is Tom. They still play skittles together sometimes. Tom walks like John Wayne with his bow legs. His wife, who actually can't feel her own legs (but apparently walks fine), wants Tom out of the house all day, every day, so he amuses himself by doing odd jobs like removals.

The man who walks around town singing was in a car accident some years ago and has lost much of his memory. Though he seems loopy wandering around singing, whenever I visit Warminster I find his voice reassuring and soothing. I've overheard him talking to people in shops and he seems surprisingly lucid, talking about his daughters and local matters, so I'm not sure exactly what's wrong with him. He's certainly got a good voice.

Small towns have more than their fair share of gossip, intrigue and scandal. Sometimes the locals are a bit too desperate for gossip. We were alerted recently to a rumour about Jane Silbury, old school friend and mother of three, having a nervous breakdown and seen 'wearing strange clothes and talking nonsense' – but it was a false alarm: she's been wearing strange clothes and talking nonsense most of her life.

At my ex-partner's secondary school, Kingdown, back in the mid-1980s, 50-year-old Heather Arnold, head of maths, became obsessed with fellow maths teacher Paul Sutcliffe, 39. In a fit of jealousy, she butchered his wife Jeanne and their eight-month-old daughter Heidi with an axe at their home in Westbury. The next morning she taught her classes as usual, before going on the run and eventually being caught by police. On her way into court in 1987, some 150 people jeered Arnold and threw 'oranges, dog food and coins' at her. The slightly-built and grey-haired woman broke down in court when she was handed a double life sentence. (She has now apparently been released.)

Kingdown school has now cleaned up its act but in the 1980s and 90s it didn't have a lot of luck with its teachers. Besides the maths teacher being a murderer, two other teachers, Mr Lucas and Mr Kirby, were probable paedophiles (Lucas certainly was; Kirby had an affair with a student and used to talk about sex all the time).

There have been several other grisly murders in recent memory which really affect small towns like Warminster or nearby Westbury (or Hungerford – not that far away – the sleepy, pretty, Berkshire town will forever be known as the place where Michael Ryan killed sixteen people with rifles and a pistol in a Rambo-style massacre in 1987), including the death of Billy the homeless man. Billy lost his job, home and wife, eventually becoming a homeless alcoholic. One night, after getting into an argument with another homeless (and mentally ill) man, he was brutally beaten to death. Another homeless man, Rory, was a brilliant mathematician who looked like a big bird and was usually to be found perched on railings or in the cricket pavilion in the park. He couldn't take normal life; he was a tragic character and just faded away and died.

Former soldier Miles Evans murdered his nine-year-old stepdaughter, Zoe, in 1997. Her disappearance sparked what was then the biggest ever police search for a missing person. Zoe's body was eventually found in a badger sett near her Warminster home.

There has also recently been a spate of middle-aged (or older) men hanging themselves in the area. This sometimes happens in places where there's not much to do. When people retire (or get made redundant or get divorced) they have even less to do. It's no accident that Warminster's premiere website, Warminster Web, has the phone number of the Samaritans directly above its masthead.

Names have been changed – except for the murderers and paedophiles.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Notes on Beth Gibbons & PJ Harvey

Beth was born in 1965, Polly Jean in 1969; both were raised on farms in Devon and Dorset, respectively; two counties that border each other in the west country of England. Beth Gibbons is lead singer and writer with the band Portishead; she's also recorded an album, Out of Season, with ex-Talk Talk bassist Paul 'Rustin' Man' Webb. In total she's recorded five albums in twenty years (and that's including a live album). PJ Harvey has recorded ten in the same amount of time. Both make popular yet dark, depressing music, some might say. Unlike many British musicians, they didn't go to London to pursue their dreams but stayed put to lead their bucolic existences. Both seem shy, withdrawn, and don't go out much, or do a lot of interviews (though Harvey has done a lot more than Gibbons). Whilst PJ is at least a little odd, Beth seems pretty down to earth, almost one of the girls, and most of the time lives a normal life, until having to perform with Portishead reminds her she's sort of famous. PJ, we imagine, lives the artistic life to the full, sitting in her cottage all day picking at her autoharp. Neither are conventionally beautiful yet exude sensuality and dark passions. Seeing them live only confirmed my suspicion that they are both national treasures and goddesses.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Films of Dario Argento


One hell of a headache... Suspiria

In terms of thematic consistency it's said that all great directors remake the same film over and over. And then there's Dario Argento, who seems to quite literally make the same film over and over again.

The Italian horror maestro started his career as a film critic whilst still at school, then became a screenwriter, most noticeably on Leone's Once Upon in the West (1968). Soon after he directed his first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), which perhaps owes a debt to Leone for some of its compositions and close ups; also, perhaps, for its music as Leone regular Ennio Morricone supplies the soundtrack, as he would for the next two Argento features, Cat O'Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Nevertheless, Argento, aided by ace cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to work closely with Bertolucci and Coppola), makes the film all his own and it includes what would soon become his trademarks: spectacular, stylised set pieces, misogynist ultra violence, lavish camerawork, bold use of colour and great music, courtesy either of Morricone or the Goblins (who had composed music for George Romero). These elements would reach their peak in such films as Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977), where he dared to go where Hitchcock only dreamt about going.

But, still, it's hard to know exactly where one stands with Argento. On the one hand, I picked up so-called classic DVDs of his in Poundland for – yup – £1 each, where they look like budget exploitation flicks, and indeed I usually think of Argento as a misogynist sleaze merchant. But on the other hand, his work is seriously debated on the blogosphere as high art, and recently many of his films have appeared on Blu-Ray with Suspiria being praised as a semi-surreal masterpiece (though his more recent films aren't received as well).

But I've always felt, with their preposterous plots (where I guess who the murderer is within minutes – it's usually the most unlikely candidate), hammy acting and dodgy dubbing, all we really need to see of Argento's films is the edited highlights – the glorious, gory set pieces – a sort of best of Dario Argento (which you can probably find on YouTube). After all, most bands and singers have a Greatest Hits, so why not filmmakers?

Psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?

Argento himself is quite a weird and creepy-looking guy. There's a funny piece of footage on the extras section of the Poundland DVD of Cat O'Nine Tails. Argento and Tim Burton are being filmed at Argento's geeky horror/sci-fi memorabilia shop and museum in Rome. But whereas Burton is all smiles and autograph signing, Argento is retiring and awkward, looking like a serial killer. Bless. In fact, for such a strange looking man, it's amazing he's fathered such a foxy (in a creepy kind of way) daughter, Asia Argento.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Four funerals and a wedding

People like to divide the world up into two types of people: the rich and the poor, say, or the beautiful and the ugly, the have and the have nots, the givers and the takers. One of my own is those who can talk well and those who can write well (those who can do both well are exceptional). My other is those who get invited to weddings, and those who get invited to funerals. I'm strictly funerals; indeed, in the space of a year I have been invited to one wedding and four funerals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Top 10 Australian Bands

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
2. AC/DC
3. The Triffids
4. The Birthday Party
5. The Avalanches
6. The Go-Betweens
7. Cut Copy
8. Cold Chisel
9. Midnight Oil
10. Wolfmother

Do say: Couldn't give a XXXX
Don't say: Where's Crowded House, Jet, Silverchair and INXS?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Notes on fashion

Like history, soap operas and, well, virtually everything, the story of fashion is a circular one. But also a tricky one. The actual amount of people indulging in 'pure fashion' in any one period is very slight. When we think of the 1960s we think of flower power, free love, drugs, bell bottoms, Mary Quant and psychedelic tie dye clothing as if everyone in the western world were indulging in such practices. In fact, it was only forty-seven people on a sunny afternoon in Carnaby Street in August 1967. Everyone else was going about their business, wearing old-fashioned suits and flat caps. In fact, take any so-called fashion epoch and the same thing occurs: only a handful of people are indulging in the fashion of the day, and these are the ones who get picked up by the media and photographed (in the postmodern 1980s was everyone wearing either shoulder-padded suits or acid-house 'smiley' T-shirts? Er, perhaps? No. The answer's no). Or, in the old days, the fashionable were the rich, powerful, religious or royal who could afford to have their portrait painted. In 16th century Renaissance Italy we think of everyone wearing flowing robes and capes, but this was only the important people likely to be painted. Most common people were actually walking around in jeans and T-shirts.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On the buses

The bus chugged away towards Walthamstow tube station for a while then conked out and came to a standstill. Unable to get any response from the driver, we patiently waited. And waited. Most passengers got off, including the pretty woman who had sat next to me. I was tired, so I stayed put. The bus was almost empty now, then suddenly revved up and was back in action. Some people piled back on to the bus, others went for the one behind. The same pretty woman came back upstairs and sat back down next to me again like a new formed habit. My mind drifted, briefly, and I imagined she and I were a couple, living in a flat in Walthamstow, on our way to work like we'd done so many times before. There was no need for conversation, we were tired anyway, yet content sitting next to each other staring into space. She gets off, suddenly, without so much as a goodbye. But that's okay, she wasn't really my type, rather prim and dressed in a business suit. What I mean is, I wasn't her type.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Top 10 films about film-making

1. Day for Night (Truffaut, 1973)
2. 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)
3. The Player (Altman, 1992)
4. Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001)
5. The State of Things (Wenders, 1982)
6. Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)
7. The Last Movie (Hopper, 1971) 
8. Beware of a Holy Whore (Fassbinder, 1971) 
9. Le Mépris* (Godard, 1963)
10. Strangers Kiss (Chapman, 1983)

See also: Living in Oblivion, Shadow of a Vampire, White Hunter Black Heart, Man Bites Dog, Last Tango in Paris, Son of Rambow, Passion*.

But the thing about films about film-making is the films they're making in the films always seem to be rubbish.

*I know, I know, aren't all Godard's films about film-making?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

London through its charity shops #16: Wood Street, E17


Wood Street in Waltham Forest is rather rundown in a nice way, but at first glance, with its fried chicken joints and budget mobile phone shops, perhaps unappealing, but spend some time there and its charms reveal themselves. For a start, it's nice to see a High Street (of sorts) with no boring chain shops.

There are two charity shops. New Life charity shop is cheap and tatty with loads of clothes and bric-a-brac, as well as a fair amount of books and CDs. FEI Education & Cultural Trust charity shop is quite small so half its stock is outside, such as boxes of records (pictured, above right). Inside are a few books, CDs, lots of clothes, including some colourful Indian dresses, one of which my boon companion bought for £4. My barngain of the day: Wild Beasts – Smother, CD as new, £1.

Wood Street also has a charming, if smelly, Antique City Market and Collectors Centre (above left) with lots of interesting stalls and little shops selling records, books, bric-a-brac and tat. Further along the road is a cool Australian-like wooden shack called Second Nature, selling Organic and Wholefoods.

The word plaza is a Spanish word, consisting of an open urban space with a cathedral, administrative centre and law court. Wood Street's recently-built 'plaza' will probably never get confused with one in Spain, consisting as it does of a concrete wasteland and five blocks spelling the word PLAZA (otherwise you wouldn't know it was one). Though it lacks the three Spanish architectural ingredients, it does have three of its own: a monstrous tower block, a post office and an Co-op.

Just off Wood Street is the fascinating Gods Own Junk Yard, an amazing collection of 'New & used neon fantasies, salvaged signs, vintage neons, old movie props and retro displays'. Most recently featured in October's Vogue magazine, above. The owners run their own sign-making business over the road, and will open the Junk Yard up if you ask them. The signs have been collected from films including Batman, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Eyes Wide Shut.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a Box


Unable to get to sleep late last night, I pulled off the bookshelf a book of Joseph Cornell's selected diaries, letters and files (called Theater of the Mind). It was just the thing to send me off to sleep, Cornell's diary entries alternating between the list-like and dreamlike.

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) made collages and films but is most famous for his exquisite wooden boxes made from every day objects he found and collected. His assemblages have a mysterious, surreal, dreamlike quality with their surprising juxtaposition of objects. They often contain worlds he would never see: of international travel, hotels, flight, European art, theatre and glamour. Joseph Cornell remained strictly on the ground. He lived in the splendidly (and aptly) named Utopia Parkway in Flushing, New York, with his mother and disabled brother his entire life, and remained there when he outlived them both.

Entirely self-taught and somewhat reclusive, spending his days scouring secondhand bookshops, junk shops and flea markets, Cornell had all the makings of an outsider artist. But towards the end of his career he became quite well-known, meeting artists including Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol, writers like Susan Sontag and filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage and Larry Jordan, all of whom embraced his work. Of course, fame didn't affect him at all, except he was able to hire assistants (usually young women).

(Like my theory that all lonely, strange, perverted men could be cured of their woes by the love of a good woman…. all outsider artists could be cured by hanging out with famous artists – which perhaps saved Cornell from total obscurity.)

His short films, too, are like extensions of his boxes and collages: self-contained, dreamlike worlds and found objects. His most popular film, Rose Hobart, 1936, comprises almost entirely of re-edited footage from a B movie in which the actress Rose Hobart starred and Cornell was obsessed with. In Cornell's hands it almost accidentally becomes an experimental, surreal, dreamlike experience. Later, with the help of Brakage, Jordan and Rudy Burckhardt, he shot his own material, usually filmed in parks around New York City and featuring birds and/or young women, such as The Aviary (1955) and the lyrical Nymphlight (1957), both of which now look like direct influences on my Pigeons are People (1993) video.

After his mother and brother died, Cornell produced less work and became more lonely and reclusive. He died, alone, a few days after his sixty-ninth birthday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

John Carpenter & Kurt Russell


Russell and Carpenter on the set of Big Trouble in Little China, 1986.

Sure, there's Ford and Wayne, Scorsese and DeNiro, Hitchcock and Grant/Stewart, Herzog and Kinski, Burton and Depp but least we forget John Carpenter's string of great films made with Kurt Russell: Elvis (1979), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and, er, Escape from LA (1996; unfortunately a pointless remake of his earlier classic). With the exception of Elvis in 1979, a made-for-TV movie (Carpenter had just finished Halloween and wanted to try a non-horror genre; it's actually pretty good), their subsequent films together cast Russell as a tough (yet flawed), cocky, wise-cracking anti-hero. Best seen wearing an eye patch.

John Carpenter has only made one film since 2001's poorly-received Ghosts of Mars (though I loved it) and that's this year's poorly-received The Ward (I hadn't heard of it until like ten minutes ago). And Kurt Russell's not been in a good film since, er, Stargate (1994)? Overboard (1987; hilarious)? It surely must be time for a reunion. Au contraire, reckons Carpenter in a recent interview:

'[Kurt Russell's] so rich, he doesn't need to work with me anymore. He has a vineyard, he has a bottle of wine that he sells. Kurt's an entrepreneur, he doesn't need to work with me again. But it would be fun to work with him again.'

What about a follow up to Big Trouble in Little China? 'Kurt Doesn't want to do it, he's embarrassed by the failure of that movie.'

What about the embarrassment of every movie he's been in since then? Huh? I loved Big Trouble in Little China. It sort of successfully transported my favourite genre(s) – the Hong Kong Kung Fu Comedy Horror Film – to Hollywood. And it had Kurt Russell in it.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Tedium is the Message mentions a curious, little-known Kurt Russell fact.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Face, Off


Mirror, mirror... Eyes Without A Face, Face of Another and Seconds

With its themes of identity, change, disfigurement, beauty, appearance and superficiality, films about plastic surgery (and obviously, Hollywood is a place where every actor has it done) can make for visual, complex and captivating cinema which explores both the physical and psychological aspects of the process.

Even before plastic surgery was commonplace, films were made about the subject. The Raven from 1935 stars Karloff and Lugosi in an adaptation of Poe's poem. The Face Behind the Mask (1941) stars Peter Lorre as a man facially deformed in an accident who eventually saves up enough money to have a realistic mask created for himself. Dark Passage, 1947, starts Bogart and Bacall. More recently there's been Cronenberg's Rabid (1977) and John Woo's Face/Off (1997). And if we are to take the etymology of plastic surgery from its Greek origins, meaning 'the art of modelling malleable flesh', then there's the revolting Human Centipede films.

Pedro Almodovar's latest film, The Skin I Live In, features Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon. Its poster is reminiscent of Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage), made in 1960. At a time when most films were shot in colour, Franju's French masterpiece was made in black and white (as both Hitchcock's Psycho and Wilder's The Apartment were also, in the same year). An unsettling, horrific, yet often poetical and surreal film, Eyes Without a Face concerns a doctor attempting to reconstruct his daughter Christiane's (Edith Scob) disfigured face. He does this by kidnapping young, beautiful women and grafting their skin onto his daughter's. Gross-out scenes include a graphic depiction of a woman having her face removed; poetical scenes include Christiane walking silently around her empty house wearing her blank ghostlike mask, as she does for much of the film. And the justly famous, final shot of Christiane walking away from the house, releasing her father's dogs with the freed white doves flying around her.

Two more notable black and white plastic surgery films from the 1960s are Face of Another (Tanin No Kao) and Seconds, both made in 1966.

Face of Another pairs writer Kobo Abe and director Hiroshi Teshigahara together once again, after they made the extraordinary Woman of the Dunes several years previously. It features a Japanese businessman who receives a lifelike mask after being facially scarred in a fire. The mask gradually changes the man's personality and his wife eventually leaves him.

On paper, Seconds looked like it was going to be a great success. Directed by John Frankenheimer (Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate), photographed by James Wong Howe (Sweet Smell of Success) and starring Rock Hudson, it flopped during its initial release but has since become a cult film. The opening credits (created by Saul Bass, who also designed the – unused – poster, above right) give an indication of what's to come, with a human eye filmed in close-up by a distorted lens (looking like Repulsion's title sequence for a second) to give an unsettling, paranoid feel. The film has the bored, frustrated and middle-aged businessman Arthur Hamilton contacted by a mysterious agency, 'The company', to create a new identity for him. This involves faking the death of his old self and with the help of plastic surgery, giving him a new one, in the form of Tony Wilson, played by Rock Hudson. Wilson tries to adapt to his life as a handsome artist on Malibu beach, a life not all that bad really, but finds something lacking and feels an emptiness inside.

Eyes Without A Face, Face of Another and Seconds form a trilogy of sorts. All are highly stylised, filmed in stark black and white and often alternatively beautiful and frightening. All are thematically rich, exploring ideas about identity, society and image. All have depressing endings. As a general rule, films about plastic surgery tend not to end happily.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Notes on Vincent Gallo


I don't spend much time thinking about Vincent Gallo (b. 1961), and when I see him in a good film, such as this year's Essential Killing (which is essential viewing), where in a starring role he doesn't have a word of dialogue, I can even briefly forget about what a jerk and egomaniac he is. But then I saw his website. It's hard to know whether to take him seriously or not. It's obvious he takes himself very seriously indeed.

I'm still not exactly sure what he's famous for (or what he should be famous for). Sure, he's been a model for Calvin Klein. For a while he was a painter. He's been in a few unknown bands; one of which, Gray, was with a then-unknown Jean Michel Basquiat. Since then he's released some albums, mainly of film music – alarmingly, I find myself owning one of them: Recordings of Music for Film; actually fairly pleasant if monotonous tinkerings. In the extensive, amusingly candid liner notes ('the chubby film student girl paid me $15 to fuck her, clean her apartment, and do the music for her'), as well as consisting of much blagging and slagging off, it mentions that by 1983 he owned 5,000 records, which, if true, is possibly the most impressive fact about Vincent Gallo I've ever read. He is currently in a band called RRIICCEE.

He's been the director of three films, one a near masterpiece, Buffalo 66; one a disaster, Brown Bunny, and one presumably so bad he's decided to shelve it (Promises Written in Water, 2010), along with, apparently, every film he makes from now on. He's also an actor (Goodfellas, Arizona Dream, Palookaville, Coppola's Tetro a few years ago). But even after this impressive and interesting resume, I still think he's most famous for being a narcissistic, weird, offensive*, outspoken jerk. And then there's his website, 'for Vincent Gallo by Vincent Gallo'. Looking like it was designed in the late 1990s, it's mainly pretty standard, consisting of an extensive CV of his acting, directing, music, artwork, writing and photography credits.

Then there's the merchandising section, where you can seemingly buy everything he owns (at a price), from a 'Good Brown Hat', signed, $750 (sold out) to, er, his sperm, for $1,000,000. If, ladies, a million bucks is out of your price range (and assuming you find Gallo irresistible – not everybody does, it seems), for a mere $50,000 you can book an evening or weekend with the man to fulfil your 'wish, dream or fantasy'. Other artifacts range from a childhood bedspread – 'only one available' – still available for $3,120 to a 'spectacular' signed photo from the set of 'his masterpiece' Buffalo 66 for $1,575. And T-shirts, wallets, gloves, helmets, purses, girls skirts, books, paintings, tables, drumsticks, an inflatable Charles Manson… all signed by Gallo. And worryingly, mostly sold out. Or so it says.

The classified section of his website is almost even more bizarre, consisting of his want lists: mainly old Western Electric hi-fi equipment, microphones and guitars. From the liner notes of Recordings of Music for Film I guessed he was pretty into his recording equipment by the way he geekily listed each item he owned: 'a Western Electric 91A amplifier, a Marantz Model 1 and a Western Electric 757 speaker… a Garrard 301 turntable with an Ortofon arm and cartridge'.

Cool or fool, geek or freak? All and more, more or less. Maybe he's lonely. But his ego is that far ahead of his talent that he reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan.

Why Vincent Gallo? is a blog that unfortunately doesn't answer its own question.

*When critic Roger Ebert called The Brown Bunny the worst film in the history of Cannes, Gallo responded by calling him a 'fat pig with the physique of a slave trader'. Gallo then apparently cursed Ebert with cancer, which, er, Ebert actually now has.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My daughter's (aged 5) top twenty films


1. Grease (Kleiser, 1978)
2. Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983)
3. Sleeping Beauty (Geronimi, 1959)
4. The Fox and the Hound (Berman, 1981)
5. Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981)
6. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Hessler, 1974)
7. Pocahontas (Gabriel, 1995)
8. Tarzan (Buck, 1999)
9. Tangled (Greno, 2010)
10. Peter Pan (Geronimi, 1953)
11. The Railway Children (Jeffries, 1970)
12. Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue (Raymond, 2010)
13. Bambi (Hand, 1942)
14. Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964)
15. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Stevenson, 1971)
16. Aladdin (Clements, 1992)
17. Pirates of the Caribbean (Verbinski, 2003)
18. The Aristocats (Reitherman, 1970)
19. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Hughes, 1968)
20. Star Wars (Lucas, 1977)

I last did a similar list a couple of years ago, when my daughter was three. There I mentioned getting her to watch Jan Svankmajer's version of Alice in Wonderland by the time she's four. Well, it took me a year later, and though it's not on the list, she did love watching it, aged five. Really, though, I don't know how half this stuff gets on her list. Grease? Star Wars? Pirates of the Caribbean? And only three films from the last decade? I'd have a word with her mother.

Previously on Barnflakes:
My daughter's (aged 3) top ten films
Chapman or Chapman (mentions in passing my daughter's film watching habits)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Australia first country to ban cigarette branding


If all goes according to plan, from December next year Australia will be the first country in the world to have cigarettes appear in plain packaging. The logo-free packets will feature horror movie-style photos of toothless and blind people with slogans like such as 'Smoking Causes Blindness' (really? does it? I thought masturbation did. Do they mean smoke can get in your eyes? Alcohol seems more likely to cause blindness (blind drunk?). In fact, I know of someone who did temporarily go blind after drinking too much. Anyway, the man in the photo looks like he can actually see, or if he can't it's because there's a pair of forceps pulling his eyeballs out).

Australians are a funny bunch. I used to work with lots of them. One in particular always used to correct me whenever I used a 'branded' word instead of a generic one. So when I said 'Pritt Stick', she'd correct me and say 'glue stick'; when I said 'Biro' she'd say 'disposable ink pen'; when I said 'Hoover', she'd say 'vacuum cleaner'. I'm not kidding; this is what she did. Every day. Was she taking the piss? I've no idea, but she was adamant that all Australians use generic names for things rather than branded names, even/especially when they're household names, like Biro or Hoover. I have no idea if this says anything about the Australian character. Or if it has anything to do with the no logo cigarettes.

William Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition features a marketing consultant called Cayce Pollard whose hypersensitivity to corporate logos and brands makes her a valued commodity. The more effective the branding, the more allergic Pollard is to it. She only wears black and removes all logos and tags from her clothing. If she smoked, I'm sure she would approve of Australia's forthcoming legislation.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Surreal Silk Cut cigarette ads

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Cover: Mother, Brother, Lover


There used to be a time when I would devour lyrics of songs, either by listening to the words or reading them (or both). This is something I tend not to do any more, either because I can't understand what anyone's singing nowadays (yes, I'm getting old) or, mostly, because with the majority of music, lyrics don't seem to be important (ie they're trite) and the human voice can be listened to like a musical instrument, which is fine by me. (Bands like Radiohead or R.E.M. make out they're serious or intellectual until you actually listen to the lyrics of their songs and realise they're meaningless or banal, such as, say, Radiohead's House of Cards: ' I don't wanna be your friend / I just wanna be your lover / No matter how it ends'. Zzzzz.)

I'll always listen to the words of certain singer songwriters – 'like it was written in my soul from me to you' – such as Dylan, Cohen, Reed and (Paul) Simon. But of more recent and younger singers or bands, Pulp and Jarvis Cocker spring to mind. Pulp usually printed the lyrics to their songs in their CD booklets, but advised people against reading them whilst listening to the music.

To save having to find all those old Pulp CDs, Faber have recently published a collection of Jarvis Cocker's lyrics, entitled Mother, Brother, Lover. It seems funny, at first, seeing the cover looking like an old Faber classic anthology of a famous poet, until you realise that Cocker is a famous poet of sorts and should be celebrated as one. I love the look of the book. Come on, this is something you can't Kindle. You've got to hold it and leaf through the pages.

• What I'm ever-so-subtly doing here (and here) is giving any readers who know me some ideas on what to get for my birthday and/or Christmas. At under £8, Mother, Brother, Lover is certainly the cheaper option than the Saul Bass book.

• Have I mentioned I saw Jarvis and his (then) wife and baby strolling along – Oh, I have? Okay, fine.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saul Bass book finally out


In my review of the sublime Phase IV, I moaned about there not being a book on Saul Bass. Well, though years in the making, and with numerous legal setbacks along the way, the book Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design is finally available. Designed by Saul's daughter, Jennifer, with over 1,400 illustrations and 440 pages long, it's amazing that it is the first book ever published about the design legend.

A graphic designer who was equally at home designing corporate identities, film title sequences and iconic film posters, Saul Bass (1926-1996) was also responsible for the visual look of the shower scene in Psycho (some saying he even directed it) and directed the cult science fiction film Phase IV.

He designed logos for companies including AT&T, United Airlines and Quaker Oates but is best remembered for his wide range of film posters and his title sequences for the Hitchcock films Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest, as well as a host of other films from Anatomy of a Murder to Goodfellas. Indeed, just as designer Peter Saville was 'rediscovered' in the 1980s by bands such as Pulp and Suede after being in the wilderness for some years, so it was with Bass. He produced comparatively few film sequences after the mid-60s until Martin Scorsese asked him to produce the titles for Goodfellas in 1990, followed by The Age of Innocence and Casino*.

Bass's film posters used bold, simple shapes to convey meaning visually. His title sequences came at a time, the 1950s, when titles were hardly thought about at all. Bass made them seem like short films in themselves and in some cases, most notably Walk on the Wild Side (1962), his title sequence was far better than anything else in the film.

There are several comments on the Lawrence King (the book's publisher) website about the book. One person remembers picking up a leaflet about the book over seven years ago at the Design Museum's retrospective of Saul Bass (which I also went to). Another commentator, who knew Bass, mentions the book was began in 1995 but had numerous copyright issues. Apparently when Bass was alive he was allowed to publish and promote any of his own work; when he died in 1996 this right ceased. One other person, echoing many (myself included), says how they've 'been waiting for this book for such a long time'. (My only complaint is the book should have a DVD of Saul Bass's title sequences to accompany it.)

Buy it for around £30 from Amazon.

*Though he also designed somewhat uninspired titles for the Michael J Fox film Doc Hollywood (a film I guiltily love, by the way) around this time. Similarly, Peter Saville designed numerous Wham! album and single covers; something you don't hear mentioned in the same breath as his iconic Joy Division covers. But hey, these guys have got to earn a living somehow.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The things Gary Glitter did to keep hold of Young Persons


In hindsight, rather unfortunate use of a celebrity in British Rail advertising. From The Face magazine, 1988.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Pulp Poetry posthumously published



Over fifteen years after Joy and I first started sending thigh poems to each other (don't ask), Pulp Poetry finally gets 'published' (by which I mean professionally printed. Previously, the only few existing copies were printed on home inkjet printers).

This is what it used to say on Barnflakes.com about the book:

Pulp Poetry started life as correspondence between Joy and Barnaby sometime in 1995. They can't remember who, what or why they started writing poems about thighs to each other. Some might have even called it bizarre. But the poems proved so popular that (three) other people joined in. These poems formed the basis of the anthology Pulp Poetry featured in Joy's now legendary art exhibition / happening, 'Much ado about nothing' in September 2000.
 The poems and book lay dormant in their somewhat amateurish state until some years later when the creators thought it needed a redesign and reissue. This is it.

The book was specially printed in memory of Joy Bedford. She will be dearly missed by many.

I still have some copies left. If you would like one, please email me at barnflakes@gmail.com for details.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hergé's favourite Tintin panels


From The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941): 'An entire sequence in one'


From Red Rackham's Treasure* (1944): 'It has it all'

As mentioned by Hergé in Tintin and I, the documentary based on transcripts of interviews between Hergé and Numa Sadoul in 1975. Though both look like rather average Tintin images, they express Hergé's desire to tell a story as economically as possible.

Read Nicholas Lezard's opinion of the new Tintin film, How could they do this to Tintin? in the Guardian. It seems to tally with my own thoughts about it.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Lookalikes #10: Thomson and Thompson
Eponymous Heroes 'Largely Dull'

*Er, though Hergé seems to have forgotten about colouring in the lower part of Haddock's blue jersey!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Christopher Wood, English Painter


The recent BBC film Page Eight, starring Bill Nighy, was a dismal, boring affair but it did introduce me to the work of Christopher Wood – Nighy's character, Johnny, gives Nancy (Rachel Weisz) one of his paintings before he disappears at the end.

It's a shame the BBC didn't make a biopic about Christopher Wood instead – it would have been far more interesting than Page Eight (though possibly couldn't have starred Bill Nighy). Born near Liverpool in 1901, Wood had an eventful yet tragically short life. He was educated at Marlbourough college in Wiltshire, whose previous alumni include great yet eccentric talents from William Morris to Bruce Chatwin.

Wood dabbled in architecture and medicine before settling on art, persuaded by the painter Augustus John whom he met whilst at Liverpool University. Wood studied painting in Paris, where he met important artists including Picasso and Cocteau, who introduced him to opium, before travelling in Europe and North Africa. Christopher Wood's colourful personal life at this time involved affairs with women and men, including a Chilean diplomat fourteen years older than him, Jean Cocteau and (a few years later) an heiress of the Guinness family.

Back in England he became associated with several art groups, befriending and exhibiting with married painters Ben and Winifred Nicholson. Wood briefly became attached to Cornwell's artistic community, and when in St Ives with Ben Nicholson met fisherman Alfred Wallis, whose 'primitive' paintings (nowadays he would be described as an outsider artist) influenced Wood.

Several successful exhibitions followed until one day in August 1930 when Wood went to meet his mother at Salisbury train station. Suffering from the effects of opium withdrawal, Wood, who had begun to carry a gun around with him, and possibly imagining himself being pursued, jumped underneath the London-bound train and was killed. He was 29.

Christopher Wood is buried in Broad Chalke, near Salisbury. His gravestone was carved by Eric Gill.

The excellent Pallant House Gallery (my new favourite place), currently showing the Edward Burra exhibition, has a number of Christopher Wood paintings, including the lovely Lemons in a Blue Basket (1922), above, which shows a Post-Impressionist influence, though his later paintings are more in the primitive style.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Who's that girl?


Search on Google images for 'female student' and she appears at number six. But rather than being the epitome of a young, pretty student on her way to college, to most she is the face you see when the website you're looking for no longer exists. It's tough being a stock image, not knowing in what context your photo will be used.

In my case, she fronts my now-defunct website, gullible-travels.com, which I am quite happy about. The site was so ugly anyway, I actually prefer the design now, with her smug smile promising faraway delights. Where is she now? What is she doing? Has she got her PhD in Chemical Engineering? Is she married? Is she happy?

Anyway, I actually felt a bit sad deleting the website; almost like admitting a relationship wasn't working and terminating it. Happily, the book can still be bought from lulu.com. I will incorporate parts of the old Gullible Travels website into barnflakes.com at some point.

But you know what I saw the other day in a charity shop? Billy Connolly's Gullible's Travels, published in 1982. Gah. It's impossible to have an original pun these days.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Edward Burra: 20th century man


The Snack Bar, 1930: Have you ever seen a more phallic-looking sandwich? asked George Melly.

I'm always in two minds when an obscure, favourite artist of mine finally gets the recognition they deserve. On the one hand I'm glad for them getting wider exposure, and on the other it's like a secret that only I know about has been exposed.

The painter Edward Burra (1905-1976), though popular during his lifetime, seemed to have been forgotten for a while, as if written out of the history of British 20th century art. Perhaps he is too quirky, too difficult to pigeon hole. He was also disabled and a bit camp (maybe gay) with an acerbic wit (and a reluctant interviewee). Worst of all, his preferred medium was watercolour rather than oil. It's all these supposed weaknesses that are his strengths. I can think of few other artists whose work so captured the 20th century's ups and downs as much as Burra, from the gay Paris of the twenties, to jazz clubs and black culture of Harlem in the 1930s, the Spanish Civil war in the 30s and then the Second World War, right up to England in the 1970s, with its new motorways destroying his beloved countryside.

But a reappraisal of the man has been coming for a couple of years now. Jane Stevenson's excellent biography of him, Twentieth-Century Eye, was published in 2007. In June this year, his picture Zoot Suits sold for over £2m, a record for a Burra. BBC4 recently had an hour long documentary about the artist, I Never Tell Anybody Anything: The Life and Art of Edward Burra. And finally, a major exhibition of his work , accompanied by a new monograph, has recently opened.

It's possible Edward Burra would have hated Chichester. After all, it's not so different to Rye, the town he grew up in and loathed, once describing it as 'ducky little Tinkerbell towne'. Still, it's Chichester that houses the first major survey of his work in twenty five years, so it can't be all that bad.

The wonderful Pallant House Gallery, tucked away in a side street, has grouped Burra's work into different-themed rooms, but whether it's a street scene, war scene, stage set, landscape or still life of flowers, all Burra's paintings have at least a hint of menace and mystery to them. Perhaps as a rebellion against his middle class upbringing, Burra was always fascinated by low-life, seediness and tawdry glamour, and his earliest paintings in his 20s depict street and dock scenes with sailors, wide boys and prostitutes. Watercolour on paper was his unusual choice of medium, used so densely saturated that some pictures look like they've been painted with oils. The surfaces are silky smooth. His colours are so vibrant and striking; Burra's blues are brilliant, his reds, ravishing.

Though he suffered ill health all his life, travel was one of Burra's many passions. His journeys to France and the USA inform his paintings of the 20s and 30s, depicting street and bar scenes, cabarets and nightclubs with exquisite detail and acute observation. But his pictures were in danger of becoming merely picturesque until he spent some time in Spain and witnessed the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Then came the Second World War. Suddenly, Burra's pictures were full of war and death, soldiers wearing Venetian masks and, slightly later, mysterious, surreal bird men wearing robes.

Approaching old age in the 1960s and 70s, Burra turned more to landscape and still life. Unlike much English countryside painting, though, Burra's depicted it unflinchingly, with pylons, motorways and traffic, yet still infused with a sense of mystery and spirituality.

As a chronicler of the century's ups and downs, he has been compared to a modern day Hogarth; as a painter of low-life, bars, nightclubs and the grotesque, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dix and Grosz; depicting the horrors of war, Goya; but Burra's distinct style and his alternatively seedy, sinister, surreal, sensual and spiritual subject matter make him a unique figure in the history of British art.

If you're reading this in London, a cheap day return by train to Chichester can be booked online in advance for around £10. The Pallant House Gallery also has a fine collection of 20th century British art and a handful of European masters including Picasso, Modigliani and Leger, all housed in a beautiful building. There is a striking extension which was completed in 2006. The shop is pretty good, with lots of art books at reduced prices. Best of all, unlike most big exhibitions in London galleries, the Pallant was almost empty (though we did go midweek), allowing for leisurely viewing pleasure. We spent hours in there! Chichester has other stuff to recommend it, such as nearly a dozen charity shops and a fine cathedral, which has a Marc Chagall window, a Graham Sutherland painting and two magnificent 12th century Roman sculptures. Go on, treat yourself to a day out.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Dinosaurs & Zombies

Though I've previously moaned about The Walking Dead and Terra Nova, I still find myself watching both series. Mainly, I suppose, to moan about them some more. I do occasionally enjoy them too.

The thing about them both is that their key selling points – the dinosaurs and the zombies – are actually just devices to enable the writers to explore the human relationships within both programmes. So, really, they're not about dinosaurs or zombies, they're about how people cope in extreme conditions, how relationships evolve or collapse under content stress, how people deal with new environments, etc.

But here's the thing. We don't give a damn about any of the characters. We want to see dinosaurs and we want to see zombies. And lots of them. Not some in the first episode, less in the next, then almost none in every subsequent episode. We want to see dinosaurs and zombies ripping apart as many two-dimensional, cliché-ridden characters as possible. And all the time. Not for a few minutes every 45 minute episode.

And when there's no humans left, I'm quite happy to see just dinosaurs and zombies roaming around the place. Heck, let's even put them in the same series together and call it Dinosaurs & Zombies.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Crappa Nova
The Walking Dead Recipe

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.

– Steve Jobs' last words before he died. Was he seeing lots of Apples at the end of the tunnel? We'll never know, but Jobs once called death 'the single best invention of life'. Here's some other famous last words:

Get those fucking nuns away from me.
– Norman Douglas

Is somebody hurt?
– Robert F Kennedy

Drink to me!
– Pablo Picasso

The Sun is God.
– JWM Turner

I have not told half of what I saw.
– Marco Polo

It's very beautiful over there.
– Thomas Edison

Either those curtains go or I go.
– Oscar Wilde

I'm tired of fighting.
– Harry Houdini

Why not? Yeah.
– Timothy Leary

I'm bored with it all.
– Winston Churchill

Nothing, but death.
– Jane Austen

Does nobody understand?
– James Joyce

Et tu, Brute?
– Julius Ceasar

I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.
– Humprey Bogart

Nothing eases suffering like human touch.
– Bobby Fischer

I must go in, the fog is rising.
– Emily Dickinson. Well, it had to be a poet, didn't it?

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notable suicide notes

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Notes on murders and sex crimes

It very occasionally occurs to me that murder (or suicide) is a purely private and intimate affair, like the flipside of making love (making death?), almost, so subsequent murder investigations made by police, forensics, courts and reporting by the mass media mostly appear rather vulgar and intrusive.

The murder of Joanna Yeates by Vincent Tabak – obviously horrific and tragic (mainly, it seems, because it was around Christmas time) – has been examined in minute detail for the world to see. There has been an almost fetishistic obsession with detail, from the topping on the 'missing' pizza (tomato, mozzarella and basil) to which of Tabak's hands went on Yeates's throat, the reporting of which possibly reveals more about the nature of the mass media than about the murderer himself.

By all accounts Vincent Tabak seemed a happy and normal man, until a fateful five minutes around Christmas last year when he strangled the landscape architect in what, to me, seems possibly like a bizarre accident. The police, judge and media, however, looking for an angle, have gone for sex crime. The fact that Tabak also looked at porn and once or twice visited call girls (whilst abroad in Los Angeles) adds fuel to their fire.

Whilst I wouldn't say either porn or prostitution were necessarily healthy pursuits (though an ex-girlfriend's father used to say if prostitution was on the NHS there would be a lot less sex crime), just as doing drugs for the first time probably won't kill you, and watching horror films won't turn you into a serial killer, viewing porn or using call girls probably won't automatically turn you into a sex murderer. Otherwise half the population would be in prison.

No, the sex murder angle seems a desperate attempt to establish motive and looks to me like clutching at straws by employing cod-psychology (I'm surprised physiognomy hasn't been introduced to explain his narrow eyes). Not much is mentioned of the presumably happy three-year relationship with his girlfriend, though the Guardian mentions his 'only' having the one girlfriend, as if that in itself is a crime.

(And certain things don't gel. Like detectives finding a pornographic image on Tabak's computer of a woman wearing a pink top, and Yeates wearing a similar pink top when her body was discovered. If Tabak didn't put the top on Yeates after killing her – and no one seems to be saying he did [put the top on her] – then what are the chances of Yeates wearing the same pink top as the woman in the image Tabak had been looking at?)

The judge called Tabak a 'very dangerous man'; presumably just for the unfortunate five minutes in Joanna's flat and not the other 33 years of his life (he has been linked to no other crimes). He is called 'cold and calculating' when it seems he miscalculated a situation for a few minutes, which resulted in the unfortunate death of a young woman, then panicked and tried to cover it up.

Joanna's parents have understandably expressed never being to get over their loss. That's the thing about murder – it may be private, but has far wider repercussions.

In other news, a 25-year old woman has been charged with sexual assault after groping the male member of a, er, male member of the cabin crew of a Virgin flight from Johannesburg to Heathrow. Katherine Goldberg, of West London, made 'strong sexual advances' towards the steward and demanded sex after drinking a pint of whisky. It is assumed the steward, who cannot be name for legal reasons, is homosexual, because most stewards are and no heterosexual man in their right mind would object to a drunk woman groping their genitals. Miss Goldberg faces up to ten years in prison. Vincent Tabak will serve a minimum of twenty.