Sunday, March 29, 2015

Socks for Life

Suddenly, socks, which used to be hidden and purely functional, are now hip, ubiquitous and to be showed off. Before Christmas I noticed several adverts belittling the so-called dull tradition of giving socks as presents. Socks and underwear are like my dream presents. For me, nothing else gets more personal, practical and closer to the skin than socks and pants. So this year it's been good to see two features – in the Evening Standard and Time Out – featuring sock subscription services. Socks, ties and pants often seem like the only spheres where the average man can truly express himself sartorially. I love the idea of sock subscriptions – I am always getting holes in mine, and never have enough.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Random Film Review: Big Eyes

(Dir: Tim Burton | USA | 2014 | 106mins)

Big eyes may be Tim Burton's most conventional film yet, albeit one with the most extraordinary but true story. The film concerns Margaret and Walter Keane. In the 1950s Walter Keane became rich and famous for his 'big eye' paintings – pictures of young, waif-like girls with abnormally large eyes. Prints of the paintings were cheaply mass-produced and sold in their millions (similar to other 'kitsch' artists of the time, such as Vladimir Tretchikoff* and JR Lynch), making Walter a celebrity and household name. Only it wasn't Walter who painted the pictures – it was his oppressed wife, Margaret. She eventually left her husband and took him to court in 1970 – where the judge asked them both to paint a 'big eyes' painting in the courtroom. Walter could not – citing a shoulder injury; Margaret produced one in less than an hour.

(Obviously Walter taking credit – and money – for Margaret's work was wrong and he deserved to be punished, but there's a part of me feeling sorry for him. Up until his death – in 2000 – he insisted on his original story that he painted the big eyed pictures. As well as being a heavy drinker, he, unsurprisingly, suffered from delusional disorder. But the thing is, if it hadn't been for Walter's savvy marketing techniques, mousy Margaret would have no doubt remained languishing in obscurity.)

The story of Margaret and Walter reminded me vaguely of another film – the classic noir Scarlet Street (1945) directed by Fritz Lang, starring Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett. Robinson plays a retired, unhappily married man and amateur painter. He falls in love with a beautiful blonde (Bennett). When Robinson's paintings start selling for large sums, Bennett's abusive boyfriend makes Bennett pose as the painter, selling them in her name. Anyway, a case of life imitating art.

* Have I mentioned my vision of a Technicolor film of Tretchikoff's life – filmed as a lush, lurid, kitsch MGM Vincente Minnelli musical-cum-thriller-cum-romance? I have? Okay.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

In terms of moving forward

"Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life."
– Confucius

"How the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30am by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress... and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you make lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?"
– Charles Bukowski

I've mentioned the crazy, fast-moving office environment previously (I know, more than once); how office jargon changes on such a regular basis, it's hard to keep track of the hackneyed buzz phrases and clichéd idioms. Last year it was literally all about 'in terms of' and 'literally'.

But 'literally' has, literally, been tied up, shoved into a van in a grey sack weighed down with bricks and chucked into South End pier. Literally. Tellingly, the 'in terms of' sales guy has left, and the phrase died almost instantly. In its place, thanks to the new marketing girl, ground-breaking new phrases were ushered in, and took over the office like ebola within a matter of days: 'moving forwards', 'happy with that' and 'keen to catch up' (notice lack of pronoun text speak with the latter two).

Old ones were still heard from time to time: 'touching base' even made an appearance late on a Monday afternoon. 'Historically' and 'Oh right' reared their ugly heads from time to time. I can't be sure if I really did hear this smorgasbord of office speak in the same sentence: 'In terms of moving forward I'm literally happy with that', but I like to think that I did. Like Sherlock Holmes never actually uttering 'Elemenary, my dear Watson', it feels like he should have.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wasting time
Just a quick one
Four-day working week
Introverts vs extroverts
'In terms of' overtakes 'literally'
London Bridge Lunches
The Metros
Email étiquette
I'm literally not being funny but let me ask you a question
The Offensive Office

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Asterix vs Asterisk

In the 1970s and 80s there was a war raging between Tintin and Asterix. You either liked one or the other. I was – and am still – a Tintin fan, and never liked Asterix. The impish Gaul has been having adventures since 1959 and has proved hugely popular. He's not to be confused, as some people seem to do, with the humble asterisk [as-tuh-risk], derived from the Greek for 'little star', and is used as a reference mark or footnote*.

*Like this. It can be used to indicate additional or doubtful matter. Such as, be careful also not to confuse Obelix with obelisk.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Just another brick in the wall

Proclaimed by CNN as one of the 'ten must-see exhibitions in the world' and being a keen Lego fan, I was looking forward to The Art of the Brick exhibition, cleverly located on Brick Lane, East London, and running until 12 April and way over-priced. My daughter loved it – but she's eight. I was less than impressed and thought there was something of the Emperor's New Clothes about it. I wouldn't have minded so much if it didn't pitch itself so persistently as being ART. In the press, in interviews, in the plaques next to each piece, and of course in the title itself, The Art of the Brick, the exhibition consistently informs us it's ART, made by an ARTIST, Nathan Sawaya. Indeed, on the website it goes as far as to say:

Nathan Sawaya has earned a top position in the world of contemporary art and has created a new dimension by merging Pop Art and Surrealism in awe inspiring and ground breaking ways. His art consists of playing with the material, colour, movement, light and perspective.

Really? To me, the exhibition had nothing whatsoever to do with art (it lacks feeling for a start), unless it's the Daily Mail idea of art (which Jonathan Jones in the Guardian wittily explained a while ago in an article called Why does the Daily Mail love to hate art?) – ie bridges made out of matchsticks, ie CRAFT. Anything remotely thought-provoking, challenging or disturbing is dismissed by the Daily Mail (ignored if they don't understand it; shocked and outraged if it's disturbing). The work in the Lego exhibition is undeniably, technically adept, but let's not call it ART.

It copies ART. Literally. There are Lego reproductions of paintings by Van Gogh, Klimt, Munch, Michelangelo and others. They're technically well done, mostly. But the pieces that make up the rest of the exhibition, the pieces that the artist plummeted the depths of his soul to create, the pieces that are 'awe-inspiring' and 'inspired' looked to me like nothing more than clichéd business stock image photography.

For example:
Clichéd business stock image photograph.

Clichéd business stock image Lego exhibit.
There are loads of them just like this – all clichéd conceptual crap not seen since 1990s business magazines. I appreciate the work that's gone into the exhibition (over 1m bricks!), but come on, it's time to grow up.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Legoland wildlife
Lego Architecture
Star Wars Lego

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not So Bored Games

Over the Christmas period there were iPads and iPhones and crappy TV but we had most fun playing Scrabble and Monopoly. There has been a resurgence of interest in board games. Depending on your point of view, this is either due to a backlash against technology or simply just because they're fun, social and vaguely brain involving – the latter three I find myself not indulging in enough nowadays.

London's first board game cafe, Draughts, opened recently in Hackney, naturally (other recent themed cafes to the area include the Cereal Killer Cafe and Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium), claiming to house more than five hundred board games. Its website informs us there are board games cafes all over the world but none in London until Draughts. Even so, I've noticed a lot of pubs and cafes around the capital do have board games for punters. At a cafe in Vauxhall recently I noticed was half full of people huddled round a table playing a fantasy board game; the other half were playing draughts.

Like chocolate bars now coming in a thousand different varieties (when only one is really needed), so does the traditional board game now come in many various guises (and, of course, available on tablets and phones). Monopoly, especially, seems to have the, erm, monopoly in bizarrely themed editions. Aside from the mainstream Disney, Lord of the Rings and Batman editions, there is a Swindon Monopoly (yes, the town), a Bass Fishing Monopoly, a Sun Maid Monopoly (yes, the raisins), a Blackberry phone Monopoly, a QVC Monopoly (yes, the shopping channel) to name just a few.

Hipsters and other such folk are actually making quirky homemade board games. Indeed, two friends of mine have recently made their own: one, an Alton estate-themed Monopoly game (Altonopoly); the other, a self-proclaimed pointless and retro-feeling game called Meritocrazy (see image above, and here for more details).

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Top ten long films

What constitutes a long film? It seems that nowadays most films try to push the three hour mark (and the audience's endurance), from Boyhood (165mins) and The Dark Knight Rises (165mins) to The Hobbit (169mins) and Cloud Atlas (172mins). Long films aren't even classified as 'epic'; the three hour mark has become the norm.

(As I've written previously, in my humble opinion, a film generally shouldn't be more than 90 minutes; an album no more than 45 minutes in length and a novel no longer than 350 pages.)

Anyway, even the above films feel like mere nano seconds compared to some on this list, which all boldly pass the three hour mark (180mins). I don't mind long films at all; I have fond memories of seeing the extended version of La Belle Noiseuse (240mins) at the cinema – which included a twenty minute single take shot of a man drawing. On the other hand, I have fallen asleep during Bela Tarr films.

1. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966, 205mins)
2. Gone With The Wind
(Fleming, 1939, 238mins)
3. The Clock
(Marclay, 2010, 1440mins ie 24hrs)
4. Shoah
(Lanzmann, 1985, 613mins)
5. Tree with Wooden Clogs
(Olmi, 1978, 186mins)
6. Heaven's Gate
(Cimino, 1980, 219mins)
7. Napoléon
(Gance, 1927, 330mins)
8. Empire
(Warhol, 1964, 485mins)
9. Sátántangó
(Tarr, 1994, 450mins)
10. Céline et Julie en Bateau
* (Rivette, 1974, 193mins)

*I had to include a Jacques Rivette film but not his 760 minute (twelve hour), rarely shown epic Out 1 – recently released on DVD in a 5 disc edited version – only 253 minutes long.