Nice, sunny afternoon, pal decided to get the hood down on his old MG and go for a run up the coast, we ended up in Burntisland in Fife for a short stop, wandered through the wee funfair, sudden rush of childhood memories – if we came back this way when I was a kid my mum and dad couldn’t get past here without me spotting it and a stop off would normally ensue. Nothing huge at it, but when you’re six it’s fun!:
From a distance we thought this was a helter-skelter, but when we got closer we realised it wasn’t a slide spiralling down the tower, it was a track and wee cars ran down it. How the heck did they get up to the top though? We watched and it turned out the cars went right up inside the tower – kids get in them, it enters then flips up so it is sitting on it’s backside and goes up vertically with the passengers lying on their back, then at the top it emerges, flips back to horizontal and starts its spiral downwards, looked fun.
Let’s start the week with some wonderful weirdness (start as you mean to go on, after all). John Cusack, guest blogging on BoingBoing, celebrate the work of the ‘Prague alchemist of film’, Jan Svankmajer, a truly remarkable, artist who has been one of my favourite animators for many years. From Cusack’s post: ” They call Svankmajer a surrealist, but his visions make as much sense to me as escalators or velcro. It’s hyperreality, and after all, it exists because he made it, so there it is —just like styrofoam and Fresca. Absurdism is the logical extension of the truth— or of current trends. Surrealism is true becouse it unearthers the subconscious, the stuff of fever dreams and fractured memory. It exists if one has the guts or madness to bring it to be… ( combine Surrealism and Absurdism and mix it with Dada, you get the Sex Pistols).”
(a clip from Svankmajer’s Alice in Wonderland)
I’ve been in love with the cinema of Svankmajer for a couple of decades – like Cusack I can’t remember where I first saw his work, probably a short piece somewhere, but it got under the skin and into the brain, seeping, trickling, dripping slowly into the subconcious where it lived and moved, casting strange shadows on the screen of the mind… I sought out his feature works in the arthouse cinemas and anywhere else I could find them – and as Cusack notes in his article, one of the wonderful things about today is that you can now find huge amounts of his work easily online through YouTube. When I first found Svankmajer’s works I had to look about arthouse cinemas for a screening or a retrospective at a film fest, now you can go and explore it whenever you want – god, sometimes I love the web… His work is fascinating; often mixing live action with various forms of animation; it can be funny, it can be creepy, it can be downright disturbing, combining the seemingly everyday then watching the unusual, the odd, the downright weird and surreal bleeding through that everyday, a world where logic can melt and flow like a Dali timepiece.
And since I’m on a Svankmajer kick, here’s a clip from Dimensions of Dialogue, which many of you have quite probably seen a bit of without knowing who it was by as it has been used frequently in a number of programmes over the years and spawned countless imitators:
As with all the most interesting artists in any medium I’ve found developing a fascination with one artist has lead me to others that I might never have come across otherwise, which is one of the remarkable qualities of any good art, be it animation, comics, books, music, film, you never take it in isolation, other works you’ve seen feed into your experience of the new work and the new work sparks ideas and images in your imagination that lead you on paths to other works and those lead you to more… Here’s the Brothers Quay (huge admirers of Svankmajer) with their famous Street of Crocodiles:
and part 2:
Considering how easy it is to find some of this work nowaday you owe it yourself to go exploring for more – especially if you love work by people like Tim Burton or Edward Gorey or Neil Gaiman, or you devoured the disturbingly weird old Doom Patrol strips. Go look; if you haven’t seen them before, you’ll thank me later, if you have seen them you’ll be delighted to find it is so simple to rewatch them now. And you’ll have strange dreams…
While exploring for some completely unrelated animation work I came across something else, as is the way with such searches, which sidetracked me because I thought it was a cracking wee bit of animation and finding it by accident made it a nice surprise:
Photographer Jim LoScalzo toured lost ghost towns in the Appalachians, once thriving mining towns which became deserted when those mines closed down, leaving the decaying, abandoned structures as ghosts of the past, crumbling monuments to the everyday life of the many men who toiled beneath the ground and their families who they toiled so hard for (and often lost their lives for, deep below, away from the light of the sun and the caress of the wind). Link from Selectism, via Jonathan Carroll.
Reminded me a little of a day wandering around Prestongrange mining and industrial museum, early in spring, not another soul around, just me and rusting rail tracks, the long-disused winding wheel and old machinery. Not quite the same as his piece with the abandoned homes but still that feeling of ghosts of people, of a whole way of life gone forever, although at least here people can still come and explore that part of their industrial heritage.
I was also struck by another of his works, this time a more modern yet no less haunted ghost town, empty areas of New Orleans, street lights still working but few people returned or some neighbourhoods even devoid of those who once lived there...
I’m enjoying some time off and lo and behold the grim, gray weather of the weekend vanished to be replaced by gloriously sunny, spring-like weather (although still pretty cool, if not actually frosty in the shade). Good lord, good weather on a week off? Gasp. And it’s that beautiful, golden quality of sunlight at this time of year, not the brighter, bleaching sunlight of summer (well, when we get sun in summer in Scotland…) while the air still has that clear quality from winter, a combination which is especially good for taking photos, I find, especially of some buildings. Yesterday the sunlight was complimented by a wonderfully clear sky, like a blue crystal dome, utterly cloudless, as I decided to head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Despite the fact I have lived in the city since the start of the 90s I’ve rarely been down to the Botanics, mostly because it’s never really been near where I lived or worked, nor is it close to any friend’s home I might be going to or any other place I might be visiting.
I ended up spending hours walking through the greenhouses, from the lovely original Palm House (above), which dates from 1834 and is a splendid example of the glass, iron and steel construction the Victorian period pioneered so spectacularly. Still gorgeous today – especially on a bright day – but imagine how much more impressive this structure must have appeared to the Edinburgh citizens of the 1830s, who lived in a city of tall, impressive stone buildings.In the Old Town towering stone tenements used the limited space effectively but also make for shadowed canyons; even the New Town with its Georgian splendour and much larger windows and wider streets still would not have this quality, a space flooded with huge amounts of natural light sparkling through glass suspended from a seemingly frail – but actually very strong – slim latticework of iron. Being midweek it was fairly quiet and I often had entire glasshouses to myself and it was delightfully peaceful. I shot far too many photos as I toured through the various public glasshouses (there are others which are for research) from the Palm House through tropics and arid biospheres; I’ve only uploaded a few so far and will do the rest later, although I also shot a brief video in each of the glasshouses as I went through them and I’ve edited them together into a ‘virtual tour':
BoingBoing points out this delightfully creepy animation by Rodrigo Blass: Alma is a short, five minute piece with some lovely animation and the feel of the old style fairy tales (before they were all made acceptable and twee for small children):
I see that this fab remix of the late and much missed Carl Sagan’s word from Cosmos that has proved popular on YouTube is getting a release as a traditional 7 inch vinyl. Funnily enough a friend sent me some music tracks he came across recently, from Cosmos, which we both remembered watching; it was instant nostalgia for me. As a boy I adored the series; I was already fascinated by astronomy and the exploration of space and this fueled it, as well as introducing me for the first time to Sagan. Years later I’d admire him for speaking out for the importance of scientific research for the sake of research and not simply for commerce, for the value of knowledge over susperstition and the need to take care of our own remarkable world, so different from the other planets we were exploring – he even publicly berated Margaret Thatcher once when she was Prime Minister, scolding her for her lack of support for pure research and environmental awareness, telling her it was shocking that someone who actually had proper scientific training could be so foolish.
Apparently the B side of the single looks like the cover of the famous gold record disc which was placed in the Voyager spacecraft, so that long after they had completed their mission of exploration (which they did so magnificently) and headed out of our solar system and into the deep, cold depths of interstellar space, should they by some remote chance be found by another civilisation they could play them and hear sounds from Planet Earth – greetings in many languages, poetry and snatches of music, which Sagan helped oversee. Carl’s been gone a while now, sadly, but that gold disc is now travelling still, further than any man made object in the entire history of the world has ever travelled, waiting for the day when someone – something,perhaps – finds it and plays it. (via Third Man Records)
And while we’re at it, here’s a short video, the Pale Blue Dot, by Carl. As the aging Voyager reached towards the edge of our solar system he argued for NASA to turn it to face back towards us – no easy task when the vast distance meant even radio signal commands travelling at the speed of light would take some time to reach the craft, then longer for returns, assuming it even worked. But he argued and they did it and the result was ‘the family portrait’, a view of the worlds of our solar system as no-one else in the history of our species had ever seen it, a shot taken from the edge of what we know from a little machine about to cross that boundary, a parting gift from one of the great missions of exploration. And in that picture a tiny dot, a blue dot taking up even less than one pixel. That dot being the Earth. Everything we’ve ever known, every person who has ever loved and lived, every cat, every dog, every Triceratops, every dolphin, every fern, every bush, every fish, every work of art, all contained inside that tiny, tiny dot… Sagan had that wonderful gift of enthusiasm and the ability to communicate the sense of wonder to all, a great spokesman for science.
In early to work, out late so feeling a little narked; beautiful, golden autumn evening outside so decide to enjoy slow walk home to unwind, wander up the Royal Mile, camera in hand, coming across this bloke playing some jazz on his trumpet. Nice autumn evening, cool breeze, cool jazz, nice. Put some coins in his instrument case, took a couple of pics then just settled nearby to listen for a few minutes and enjoy it.
Some wag has reworked the subtitles on Downfall so now Hitler is ranting about the fucking awful tram line which is being imposed on Edinburgh (no referendum to ask the people like they did with the proposed congestion charge, but then the people voted against the politicians wishes and told them to shove that up their arses, so now they don’t give us referendums before ruining the city in case we tell them what they don’t want to hear. Democracy in action). Its a huge, multi million pound white elephant already running late and over budget and pretty useless since it is just one line which doesn’t go near where about 3/4 of the resident actually live, which makes it pretty useless as a transit system – I live fairly centrally and work centrally yet I can’t even use it when finished to go to work.
A couple of buskers on the Royal Mile doing the rock thing but with ukuleles instead of electric guitar, but doing the full guitar heroes movements; as I listened to them rocking out on their ukes I realised they were giving big licks to Queens of the Stone Age! First time I’ve heard QOTSA on ukuleles – I had to shoot a brief vid clip so I could share the sound as well as grabbing a photo:
A couple of evenings ago I was drinking in the city’s Grassmarket, an area I rarely drink in these days – its mostly tourists and first year students who go there – but I was meeting some friends who have been working abroad and arranged to meet several folks there. The whole square has been done up recently to make it more open; if you don’t know the city its a square behind and below the imposing bulk of Edinburgh Castle in the Old Town, one side lined with pubs and inns, some of which are very old (going back to the 1500s), some of which, when they were actual coaching inns, played host to Robert Burns on visits to Edinburgh. And as we sat outside on a warm evening we heard music. Not unusual in a public square, especially during the Edinburgh Festival. And we all turn to see where it is coming from and we see a man in evening dress and top hat cycling his piano through the Grassmarket as he plays. When I told other people of this the next day I got the ‘oh, Joe’s off on one of his magical fantasy land tales again’ looks, but I have documentary evidence:
I must apologise for the low quality of the pics, but shooting freehand (not that a tripod would have helped if I had it since he was moving most of the time) in a dark square at night is never going to give crisp, clear pics and the flash wasn’t much use in that situation either. But I had to try and grab some pics because even in Festival time Edinburgh you just don’t see a man cycling a piano through the city streets at night all that often. It was all wonderfully eccentric and delightful and magical and I loved it. Little bizarre delights like this that the city sometimes just throws up to you are part of what makes life fun. And here’s a very short video clip – its brief and even darker than the still pics, very murky night-time streets (and far away from the street lamps) but it was the best I could do on the spot to give you a tiny taste of this piano moving through the streets as he played: