Sketchbook, Southbank, 2013 © Thomas Hogan
Lawrence Schimel, Skating Beauty
Like the uninvited
thirteenth fairy at the christening,
I am standing just outside
the place where they’re skating
and I want to curse them
for my not being a part
of such easy youthful
Forget the prick of a finger
on a spinning wheel’s needle,
let them crush their hands
beneath the spinning wheels
of their skateboards!
But I want more than just
belonging; it is you I crave:
a beauty that could exist
only in fairy tale,
where magic or alchemy
transforms a catalogue of parts–
eyes, lips, lithe torso that twists
just so at the waist–into something
wondrous and unique, delicate and fierce,
hovering on that threshold
between boyhood and manhood.
Almost shy when on the ground,
unaware of your own desirability,
your board, tucked under your arm
like a shield, blocks the view of your
naked torso as you constantly shift
position, less nervousness than
restless excess of energy.
Then you mount your board.
Everything changes: you are
a modern-day centaur, board and boy
a single being whose grace
and almost preternatural calm
draws the attention of every eye.
Suddenly you launch into the air
legs bent at the knees. You soar,
your board flying up beneath you
and time stops
…………………………..for a hundred years
with you suspended in this moment
and only a kiss from me
could make it start again.
© Lawrence Schimel.
Lawrence Schimel was born in New York and lives in Madrid where he is a Spanish-English translator. His most recent poetry collection is DELETED NAMES (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013).
Stanley Kubrick on the set of A Clockwork Orange. © Dmitri Kasterine 1969.
From A Clockwork Orange, dir.: Stanley Kubrick, 1971:
………………………………One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie,
………………………………howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp
………………………………blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking,
………………………………rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his
………………………………age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one
(… and with that, Alex and his three droogs start attacking an old tramp lying in the underpass shown below.)
This week’s offering on The London Column is a short series on Stanley Kubrick’s use of London as a giant prop basket. Dmitri Kasterine’s portrait shows the director in his pomp: extravagantly booted, Arriflex to the ready, the world-conquering auteur of 1969. Only 41, he already has The Killing, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey behind him, an amazing achievement – which might explain why he looks a little weary. But his tiny camera and huge boots suggest the nature of his new project, a film far removed from the 70mm, Cinerama world of 2001. SK’s new one is set much nearer home.
Kubrick’s withdrawal of A Clockwork Orange in the UK – a ban that lasted from the late ’70s until his death – lent the film a mystique for all those British film fans unable to see it. I bought a pirated VHS tape of it (£15 in 1991) from a stall in Greenwich market and was, inevitably, hugely disappointed. A friend who watched it with me commented ‘Whatever I expected, this isn’t it.’ It is prescient in many ways, especially in its depiction of the dissemination of sexualised imagery (even if it exhibits some old-world sexism in the process), but time has not been kind to the Kubrick/Burgess brand; Kubrick’s other films of the ’60s and ’70s stand up much better. But it remains a terrific showcase for 1960s architecture.
Kubrick shot A Clockwork Orange quickly and cheaply in found locations within easy reach of his Hertfordshire lair. Carefully chosen new builds in Wandsworth, Uxbridge, Sydenham, West Norwood, Borehamwood and, most famously, Thamesmead, served as ready-made cycloramas for the director’s realisation of Burgess. The film’s opening atrocity is committed by Alex and co. in an underpass beneath Wandsworth roundabout. Like the Westway and the approaches to the Blackwall Tunnel, the roundabout and its environs constitute a sort of Birmingham in London: an imposing 1960s circulatory system just south of Wandsworth Bridge, complete with truncated and pointless autostrada carrying traffic to and from Wandsworth Common, where the motorway peters out in despair. (Wandsworth roundabout’s other claim to cultural distinction is the Sunday in 1973 when, during a furious row with his wife Jill Bennett, John Osborne drove his Mercedes into it.)
The pedestrianised centre of the roundabout is an assemblage of geometric concrete forms, served by brooding, permanently shadowed underpasses: ideal for Kubrick’s purposes and, subsequently, anyone else seeking to create representations of urban anomie. In fact, the association of Brutalist buildings with urban hopelessness has become such a cliché that it is worth noting that A Clockwork Orange pioneered the look. Francois Truffaut had shot Fahrenheit 451 in similar fashion a couple of years earlier, using Roehampton’s Alton Estate as a setting for a future society where the printed word is forbidden; but the dreamy, otherworldly mood of his film is worlds away from Kubrick’s visceral scenario. In seeking a cinematic equivalent for Burgess, Kubrick used Brutalism to create a visual shorthand for future awfulness. One can only imagine the dismay of early seventies architects and civic engineers seeing the finished film, which simultaneously treasures and trashes the well-meaning buildings on show, and explicitly links massed concrete with looming dread.
If Kubrick were making the film now, one wonders what visual cues he would employ. The social idealism of Brutalism has been supplanted now by an aggressively ingratiating public architecture based on consumerism, a landscape pithily described by Owen Hatherley as ‘the post-1979 England of business parks, Barratt homes, riverside ‘stunning developments’, out-of-town shopping and distribution centres.’ Which locations would Kubrick use today? Bromley? Woking, maybe? Corporate faux-vernacular would offer the right look. Saturday night in a modern British provincial town offers ample scope for rape and pillage, the pedestrianised shopping precinct the perfect setting for a spot of ultra-violence. Hell is the walkway between Nando’s and Asda.
Southern underpass, Wandsworth Roundabout. © David Secombe 2012.
… for The London Column.
Corner shop, Brunel Road, Rotherhithe, London, July 1974. © Geoff Howard.
Gentrification by Charles Jennings:
Two geezers in overalls flicking litter into a truck (‘Could’ve bleeding stayed in bed, didn’t know it was only this one’). Keeping their ends up against the taggers and bomb artists on the main road. ‘That shouldn’t be allowed ’cause they laid out a lot of money’. You’ve got your haggard local shops, giving out, giving in, ‘Houses & Flats Cleared, Apply Within’, a stupidly optimistic fingerpost. The coughing of the birds, the single, muted noise of a car driving along in first a block away. ‘Big Reductions on Room Size’, with a tiny old lady picking at some cream-vinyl dining chairs stuck out on the pavement as if they were poisonous, a dysfunctional boy pulling at the hair of a girl in a newsagent’s doorway, the sullen rumble of a train. Who’s going to be passing through? Dead cars, living cars, stuff you do to your car, garages. Those jaded avenues of small houses, nervy pre-dereliction, the effort to keep up. The midget shops, the kebabs, the roaming crazies (woman in a tank top scouring the bins: ‘Fucking said to him, “Fucking listen”‘). This tomb of obscurity: drowning in toxins, grimed-up, catching screams from the estate on the west side, the traffic barrelling to hell on the roundabout. Sort myself out a nice K-reg Astra. It’s shy of life, but only because it’s keeling over.
… for The London Column. © Charles Jennings 2012.
London Bridge. Photo © David Secombe, 2002.
From The London Nobody Knows, Geoffrey Fletcher, 1962:
Begging, pure and simple, seems to have almost disappeared from the London streets, even the most impoverished making an attempt to offer some trifle in exchange for a coin. Mayhew’s book on the London poor is one of several books necessary for a study of the city’s pavement life, of which now only fragments remain. Victorian London was full of such harrowing sights as the man I saw years ago, legless and armless, selling ballads, or the festering bundel of rags covering the remains of a woman I saw more recently on the Embankment – a bundle of rags, however, that did not lack vocal abilities. On my starting to draw her, she cursed in language which would have given a bargee the shudders, and so I pushed off.
The dolls in the photograph above were situated in the elevated walkway which links London Bridge with London Bridge Station, and formed part of an elaborate and idiosyncratic beggar’s pitch. The beggar in question had taped dolls holding lit joss sticks to three posts in the walkway, and as commuters hurried past him and his installation he performed a manic, shuffling dance, jerking back and forth violently, lunging at them with his cap. I asked him if he would mind having his photo taken and he declined, although he didn’t object to me picturing the dolls. He was clearly very proud of his pitch, which seemed more suited to White Cube or Flowers East than a begging bowl on London Bridge Station. There is probably some earlier precedent for his particular schtick, but I can find nothing like it in Mayhew, and he may have invented a new form: avant-garde panhandling.
Given time, certain members of London’s homeless communities become landmarks. In his ‘biography’ of London, Peter Ackroyd mentions the lady who appeared to live in a doorway near the shop Forbidden Planet on New Oxford Street for much of the 1990s: as Ackroyd noted, she had sat there day in, day out for so long that her outline was impressed upon the stone behind her. And there was the eccentrically dressed but actually quite beautiful woman who was a fixture in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for many years. I don’t know what became of the doll man, but I rather hope that his fate was less grim than the elderly oriental man who is a current fixture on Hungerford Bridge. He has a kind of toy guitar equipped with one string and a little hammer which he taps on it, feebly hitting the same note over and over again. He is worthy of Mayhew, and Fletcher, in authentic human misery.
… for The London Column.