Wednesday 21 November 2018

Punitive economic sanctions no barrier to a rich cinematic culture

(This article follows on naturally from my last post and the two can and I believe should be read in conjunction with each other.)

Many people who have grown up in English-speaking societies are completely oblivious to the rich cinematic heritage of countries deemed "official enemies" by the logic of the Cold War. I certainly was for many years.

Thanks to the Internet it is now easier than ever to find out about this history, although to do so may still require dedicated time spent trawling through the pages of IMDB and Wikipedia to find sparsely written articles about films which may, or may not, be available on DVD, and which even then may be untranslated for the English-speaking world. Rarely are they available through corporate 'on demand' services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Those that aren't readily available in this format may have been posted (in some form) on video sharing sites like YouTube or The Daily Motion, but even then may not necessarily have subtitles.

What I'm getting at is that exploring the full wealth of world cinema can be challenging. But it can be rewarding too when a world opens up to you that you had previously been unaware of.

How interesting it is, for example, to compare Francis Ford Coppola's epic 1979 Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now with a Vietnamese war movie such as Hong Sen's Canh Dong Hoang (in English: The Wild, or Abandoned, Field), released in the same year. How eye-opening, as a westerner, to see the Vietnamese people (the people, remember, who the United States government claimed to be trying to liberate) depicted as more than one-dimensional characters. In fact represented as ordinary people, often ordinary families, struggling bravely and resolutely in extraordinary circumstances to free their country from yet another foreign invasion.
Perhaps the most striking comparison to make between the two films is in their depictions of the enemy. A US war plane shot down towards the end of Canh Dong Hoang reveals a pilot with a photo of his family back home, effectively making the point that the US draftees have been dragged from their families just as the Vietnamese have been dragged from theirs. This regard for "the other" is not something we are used to seeing in the more imperialistic narratives of US film-makers, which often confine their criticism to depicting the mental degeneration of war on the personalities of ordinary draftees.

Another Vietnamese film I enjoyed is Em Ba Ha Noi (Little Girl of Hanoi) (1974), which is touching if somewhat implausible. One of the reasons why it is so interesting is because it was filmed in the closing days of the American War, against a backdrop of the genuine war-torn landscape around Hanoi, and perhaps for this reason there are elements that are also more openly propagandistic (curiously, more in the service of Vietnamese nationalism, rather than socialist internationalism). It makes for an interesting compliment to films like The Green Berets (1967), which are also propagandistic (in the service of US imperialism) but for some reason rarely recognised as such by western reviewers.

The cinematic heritage of Cuba, another small country which successfully defied the will of US power throughout the twentieth century, is also interesting to explore. Some Cuban films made in the 1960s, like those of Santiago Alvarez, are deliberately and overtly propagandistic (far more so than anything I have seen produced by the Vietnamese), and combine this with a searing satire that must have played well when imported by art house theatres in the US frequented by members of the burgeoning counter culture. As someone who has grown up with the products of the US counter culture of the 1960s and 70s (especially its music and underground comix), I find this aspect of Cuban films from this time weirdly familiar.
The Alvarez film NOW! (1966) remains a punchy short film against racist police violence in the USA. All of 6 minutes in length, this proto-music video is set to a stunning song by Lena Horne. Other films by Alvarez from the 1960s, such as his tribute to the recently deceased Vietnamese nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh - 79 Primaveras (79 Springtimes; 1969) - are poignant and poetic, whilst maintaining the same kind of remarkable 60s rock n' roll soundtrack as NOW! and some of his other films.
There are other Cuban films from this period that go deeper into the history and identity of a people whose national independence, much like those of the Vietnamese, has been hard won. Humberto Solas' 1969 film Lucia is one of these, telling the story of different stages in Cuban history through the eyes of a different woman, each named Lucia.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

True to the spirit of internationalism that has driven Cuba to deploy its doctors around the world in much the same way as its northern neighbour uses its military, over the years the Cuban ICAIC film company has collaborated with film producers in other Latin American nations on various joint productions. The 1982 Nicaraguan film Alsino y el Condor (Alsino and the Condor) is a notable example.

As a sometime cartoonist the realisation that Cuba has its own distinct animators also came as a surprise. One notable example from the 1970s and 80s are the films starring Juan Padron's Elpidio Valdes, an Asterix-like character who lives at the time of the independence war against Spain at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Many film-makers in Hollywood seem intent on going back and remaking old, and sometimes not so old, films of their own country, so that a new generation can watch young actors playing characters they have probably already seen on television or streaming Internet services. This strikes me as such a waste, partly because it makes the studios look very risk averse, unwilling to take a chance on scripts by young, unknown writers, but also because of this wealth of global cinema that if spread more widely could do so much to promote a truly internationalist mindset.

How many people reading this, I wonder, can name a single English-speaking remake of a classic movie from the socialist world? Feel free to respond in the comments section...

Tuesday 20 November 2018

How I reached adulthood without ever seeing a Vietnamese film

When Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's documentary series The Vietnam War was aired by PBS in the U.S. in the autumn of 2017 (it was released on DVD in the UK) it was met with mixed reviews. Oliver North wrote for Fox News, decrying the depiction of “the heroic” American GI's as a bunch of pot smokers, and also complaining about the exclusion of interviews with figures like Henry Kissinger. In fact, the film-makers appear to have made a deliberate decision to avoid interviewing any big and potentially divisive names, opting instead for a centrist approach in which the stories of ordinary people take precedence.
Many on the left have also been critical of the ongoing failure of American film-makers to think beyond the established parameters, such as the persistent assumption that this was a noble intervention pursued with good intentions that the United States could have won if they had just been more determined, or had the press been more subservient perhaps. Independent journalists, Vietnam veterans and peace activists such as John Pilger, S. Brian Willson and others are more keen to challenge film-makers like Burns and Novick to confront the harsh but arguably necessary reality that a key reason why the United States lost the Vietnam War was because they had as much right being there as the Soviet Union did of being in Hungary or Czechoslovakia.
The release of this new documentary and the various critiques surrounding it made me think about just how much my own perceptions of that conflict have been shaped almost entirely by American films and television shows. Despite the fact that I grew up in a country – England – which had the cautious mindset under Prime Minister Harold Wilson to refuse to commit troops to the war (although Wilson also refused to join the Prime Ministers of Sweden and – eventually – Australia in openly criticizing the U.S. aggression), my perception of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people was for many years shaped by a western-made lens.
This perception contributes to an all too frequently one-dimensional and at times insulting perception of the Vietnamese as support actors in an American story, as enemies in their own land, which persists in large sections of western society.
While Burns and Novick have done a service to the historical record by seeking out the stories of North and South Vietnamese people for their series, they will still be seen in the context of a U.S.-produced and financed documentary series, ultimately made for a U.S. audience. There is also a concern that this may fuel further failures of cross-cultural understanding and an unwillingness to confront the hard truths that might prevent such imperial aggression in the future.
This is a phenomenon that is not unique to the States, but which pervades much of western culture, my own country included. It is actually conveyed remarkably well by the central character in British author Alex Garland's debut novel The Beach (1996). Whether this was intentional or not I have no idea. If you have read the book you will recall that it recounts the first-person narrative of a young traveller from London named Richard who is drawn to south east Asia on a gap year, more for the warm weather and cheap drugs than any meaningful desire to understand and connect with the people (in this instance those of Thailand) and their culture.
The self delusion of Richard's first person narration is illustrated with startling clarity by his desire to draw a clear distinction between what he describes as “travellers” and “tourists”, with Richard classing himself as a traveller. This is a distinction sadly not borne out by his own behaviour. Even though the story is set in Bangkok and the gulf of Thailand, we witness Richard tripping out on fantasies derived from a youth spent watching U.S. television shows like The A Team and films like Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Apocalypse Now (1979).
The ensuing tragedy stands as a dramatic warning of what can happen when affluent westerners see an economically underdeveloped region merely as a playground for their own Hollywood-shaped fantasies. Apocalypse Now, of course, merely used Vietnam as a convenient contemporary backdrop for a retelling of Joseph Conrad's Second World War novel Heart of Darkness, which takes place in the Congo, in much the same way as Garland’s protagonist and his friends use the islands of the Gulf as a backdrop for their own hedonistic adventures.

The journey that American feature film and documentary film-makers have taken over the last half a century appears to have been a process of slowly coming to accept the humanity of the Vietnamese people and the legitimacy of their struggle for national independence. Yes, they were and still are officially a Marxist-Leninist one party state, but only because the 1917 revolution in Russia seemed to offer both a workable model and willing ally at that time for economically underdeveloped countries seeking to industrialise in a very short space of time. 
Let's not forget that Ho Chi Minh and his colleagues based the 1945 Vietnamese declaration of independence was on the United States' own declaration of independence. Who can say how things could have unfolded had the US not made the tragic decision to supplant French colonial interests rather than support Vietnamese national independence, or seen its foreign policy warped and subverted by the logic of Cold War realpolitics? But I digress...
This perspective is something to be welcomed, even if a deeper understanding of their countries’ role in the world often remains excluded from much mainstream American discourse.
In 1968 for example, the year of the My Lai massacre, Hollywood was still producing fairly traditional propaganda like the John Wayne film The Green Berets. By the 1970s, when it had become clear that the U.S. had lost the war, American film-makers turned to making fraught dramas, character studies of the tortured psyches of individual veterans such as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Michael Cimono’s The Deer Hunter (1978), both movies that helped launch Robert de Niro’s acting career.
This theme was developed and refined during the 1980s with increasing reference to the lived experience of real (white, western) people from that period. From the U.S. forces disc jockey portrayed by Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam (1988), and his slow awakening that the story he had been sold by his government was really a lie, to Ron Kovic, whose journey from idealistic young patriot to outspoken peace activist is depicted by Tom Cruise in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
Meanwhile, as the US exported its cultural output to the rest of the world, and even as the Vietnamese government of the late 1980s implemented market-friendly, economic "renovation" policies that removed many of its leading socialist policies, most people in the west remained effectively blind to Vietnamese voices and perspectives.
Occasionally you might find a depiction in these American films of the Vietnamese as more than one dimensional characters in an American story, but no recognition of the fact that, despite its underdevelopment, Vietnam nevertheless managed to invest in its own homegrown film industry, where Vietnamese characters take centre stage in their own stories. The Vietnam Film Studio was established in Hanoi shortly after partition in the 1950s. The U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam had its own film industry too based in Saigon, and they remained separate entities until reunification in the 1970s.
Yet today anyone in this age of globalisation who searches the Internet for classic Vietnamese films will find precious little available on DVD or on streaming video services for English-speaking viewers, in contrast to the diversity of films from Japan, South Korea and even China that are widely available for English-speaking audiences. 
Those genuinely interested in finding Vietnamese perspectives on “the American War” (as it is known in Vietnam) must rely on occasional specialist film festivals or fall back on random postings to video-sharing websites where, if they are lucky, they may find a version with subtitles.
This article therefore is deliberately designed to fill the vacuum that exists in the minds of many westerners with regards to Vietnamese culture, and particularly Vietnamese cinema.

Perhaps the best Vietnamese film for English speakers to begin with is Tran Van Thuy's 1998 documentary Tieng vi cam o My Lai (The Sound of the Violin at My Lai), which is only half an hour long. It is particularly good for anyone who enjoyed Born on the Fourth of July as it focuses on other U.S. veterans turned peace activists, in this instance Hugh Thompson and Larry Colborn, who witnessed the massacre by their fellow soldiers and bravely intervened to stop it. The Vietnamese film crew record Thompson and Colborn's return to the village three decades later to meet survivors, and the result is a heartfelt, touching and ultimately hopeful film about the importance of memory and the human yearning for peace and reconciliation.
In contrast Dinh Hac Bui's feature film Ha Noi 12 ngay dem (Hanoi 12 Days and Nights) (2002) is a fairly typical war movie, but still interesting to watch to better appreciate the Vietnamese perspective. The film is about the bombing of Hanoi by U.S. B-52 bombers which took place over 12 days and nights in the lead up to Christmas 1972, before peace talks were due to begin in Paris. These attacks drew condemnation not just from natural allies like China and the Soviet Union but also the governments of western nations, some allied to the U.S. like the government of Gough Whitlam in Australia (whose people had already suffered much for its support of the Americans), others steadfastly non-aligned such as that of Olof Palme in Sweden.
(Source: Wikipedia)
Perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences of watching this film as a westerner is not simply the novelty of watching a Vietnam war film made from the point of view of the North Vietnamese, but the opportunity to see actors of European-descent playing small supporting roles in a Vietnamese story, as opposed to the reverse that we are so used to. Another contrast is the more central focus on the experience of female characters one sees in a number of Vietnamese films about the war (Mua gio chu'o'ng, or Season of the Whirlwind in English (1978), Canh dong hoang, or The Abandoned Field (1979) and Bao gio cho den thang mu'o'i or When the Tenth Month Comes (1984) being quite good examples), in sharp distinction from the depiction of women in many US-made films about the same conflict. 
In the Vietnamese films you see women not just as wives and mothers, but also as important participants in the war effort, while in US films (Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket being one notorious example) Vietnamese women are more likely to be depicted as prostitutes.
A criticism of Hanoi 12 Days and Nights from a purely artistic angle is that some of the acting is a little stilted. This is offset by a much more triumphant ending than we are used to seeing in most U.S. films about this particular war, a reminder that for the Vietnamese people the war ended with a triumphant victory against yet another foreign invader, and the reunification of their country.
A much earlier and artistically more impressive film, with a more ambiguous ending, is Hai Ninh's moving drama Em be Ha Noi (Girl from Hanoi) (1974), which is set (and indeed was produced) during the immediate aftermath of the same U.S. bombing campaign of December 1972. The film used real bombsites as locations to tell the story of a young girl, Ngoc Ha, who is desperately searching for her family, violin in hand, who have been missing following the bombing of her city. For me, the similarities to the German Luftwaffe bombing of London are palpable.

Following reunification the Vietnamese were subjected to punishing economic sanctions, and these clearly difficult years are reflected in the production values of their films, most of which were still being made in black and white well into the 1980s. One of the films mentioned above, Dang Nhat Minh's film Bao gio cho den tháng Muoi (When the Tenth Month Comes) (1984), is no different in this respect. Despite these setbacks however the director utilizes stunning cinematography to tell the heart-wrenching story of a young woman struggling to continue life as normal in a war-ravaged land, unable to tell her father and young son that her husband has been killed.
While it remains difficult to find examples in the west of the Vietnamese framing their own perspectives on the war, except in the context of interviews by western documentary film-makers, in recent years there has nevertheless been a concerted effort to bring more contemporary Vietnamese films to screens in the English-speaking world.
For example, every two years the Vietnamese-American Arts and Letters Association organises a Vietnamese Film Festival, which in 2016 was hosted by the Village Cinema Sunshine complex in Melbourne, Australia, where it screened recent work by Vietnamese film-makers from various countries around the world. Included were the comedy Taxi, Em Ten Gi, (Taxi Driver, What's Your Name?), the action film Lat Mat (Face Off), Trot Yeu (Love) and Tuyen Quang Nguyen's Cau Vong Khong Sac (Rainbow Without Colours). In that same year the 60th BFI Festival in London, England screened nine films, including the multi-award winning Tôi thay hoa vàng trên co xanh (Yellow Flowers on Green Grass) (2015), Victor Vu's story of two young brothers set in the 1980s. All these films, and there are many more, demonstrate how far the Vietnamese film industry has come from the old, black and white days of hardship and deprivation that defined their lives and cinematic output in the difficult years of peace that followed victory and reunification.
Many of these films that are only available to people in the west through social media video-sharing websites receive thousands of views. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with a large Vietnamese expat population you may find a local library well stocked with Vietnamese film and television shows on DVD, as I did one time while visiting the Melbourne suburb of Flemington not very long ago. 
I hope we can look forward to a time when far more of these classic films, alongside more contemporary fare, can be remastered for the western television and streaming Internet market, or to buy on DVD, so we can better understand each other. When this happens a world of true understanding and peace, rather than a mere cessation of hostilities, may become possible.

Thursday 11 October 2018

The Rich World of Bulgarian Electro

I know precious little about Bulgaria or Bulgarian culture, but that is slowly changing.

Up until recently the image I had of Bulgaria was defined by a cartoon by R. Crumb, published in the US satirical magazine Help back in the 1960s. The caption reads: “A wide variety of home appliances have been made available to the Bulgarian housewife,” while the image depicts sturdy women perusing old fashioned stoves and even a mangel! 

This sarcastic perception of Bulgaria says more about western prejudices about eastern Europe. It also conceals the fact that, during the period when the country was aligned to the USSR, Bulgaria maintained a fairly high standard of industrial production, exporting to many countries in Europe and Africa.

This trend continues under a more democratic system. The only difference being that now Bulgarian manufacturers are contracted more by western corporations than the Russian state. For example, we bought some glassware from the Swedish-owned chain IKEA once which have “Made in Bulgaria” stamped on the bottom.

Yet all I hear about this country seems to be negative.

There is, of course, much more to the country than perceptions of industrial backwardness. It has a culture of its own. Take the phenomenon of Bulgarian electro music, which spans the country's recent history as both democracy and Marxist-Leninist one party state.

According to the Continuo blog:

Simo Lazarov, real name Simon Leon Lazar (b.1948), is the most important electro-acoustic music composer in Bulgaria. In 1973, he founded the Studio for Electronic Music at Bulgarian National Radio. During the 1980s, he pioneered home-studio techniques and the use of personal computers for composers in Bulgaria. Since 1996, he has been Computer Music teacher at the New Bulgarian University, and has also been lecturing during summer courses in US universities (Ann Arbor U. and Michigan U.) … He released 9 LPs, 26 CDs and a 30 CD-set was published in 2003, spanning his entire career. His first records were released on the state label Balkanton and are said to offer a choice of more accessible tracks compared to his experimental work. His first LP, The City, came out in 1984, while Nature-Electronic Music  was released 1988, possibly his 3rd LP. It’s basically 2 side-long mixes of various electronic tracks, interwoven with environmental recordings (river, children playing, storm). The music is entirely composed on synthesizers and sequencers, and the style reminds early Bulgarian progressive rock band FSB (for Formation Studio Balkanton), particularly the all-synthesizer 1978 II LP...”

The band FSB, cited above, was formed by three musicians in Sofia in the mid-1970s as a primarily studio-based outfit. They released their debut album Non-Stop in 1978. More funk-oriented than musicians like Lazarov, they would later tour widely throughout eastern Europe, making a notable collaboration with Jose Feliciano in 1990, before disbanding in 1996 after making two more albums. Ten years later they reformed and are still performing today, an eponymous album appearing in 2010. Their music is not difficult to find online either, being available through Apple Music. Yet the perception of Bulgaria painted by the more explicitly racist sections of the British mass media tend to paint the country exclusively as a source of marauding gypsy gangs. 

So, I look forward to sharing a more detailed post about the Bulgarian arts and music scene as I find out more.

Friday 5 October 2018

Art in El Salvador

I have to confess to a quite extensive ignorance, until very recently, of the rich artistic culture of the tiny Central American country of El Salvador. Above the main entrance of Westminster Abbey, here in London, there stands a rendition in stone of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24 1980 by a CIA-backed death squad while saying mass, in the early stages of what would become a horrific, decade-long civil war.

So my abiding impression of this tiny country was one of darkness and pain.

What a delightful surprise it was, therefore, to discover the work of an artist like Fernando Llort, a Salvadoran artist who died only this year. Llort, described by some cultural institutions in the country as El Salvador's National Artist, produced bright, colourful, joyous paintings and murals, as well as a range of handicrafts. They have been described by some as reminiscent of the playfulness of Joan Miro.

Llort originally studied architecture before moving to Europe to continue his studies in theology in France and then Belgium, before settling on art while in the USA. To escape the tense political situation in the cities and large towns of his home country, Llort and a group of other artists moved to the town of La Palma, in the mountains up in the north of El Salvador, quite close to the border with Honduras.

Here they led a simple life, getting to know the landscape and people of the town well, and where Llort began to paint in the simple, two-dimensional primary colours he would later become synonymous with, where nature blends with day-to-day rural life. They carved handicrafts out of wood and sold them from their own Semilla de Dios (Seed of God) workshop, inspiring a local handicrafts movement, with many more cooperative workshops soon opening up in the local area.

Llort maintained his connections with the local handicrafts movement around La Palma even after he was forced to return to San Salvador.

You can see the work of Fernando Llort on his official website:

Monday 24 September 2018

I have been discovering the popular music of Kazakhstan

I have found that, thanks to the interweb, I have been able to expand my musical horizons far beyond what I used to hear on John Peel or Andy Kershaw's radio shows, as I hope this post will demonstrate.

Kazakhstan is a not-insignificant-sized country which shares a very long border with Russia, and a somewhat shorter border with China, but which is generally associated by people in the west of a certain age (my own) with a deeply cringeworthy film and television character created by a British comedian and filmed on location, not in Kazakhstan at all, where his character is supposed to come from, but from a very poor part of the eastern European country of Romania.

You can imagine what a pleasant surprise it was therefore to discover that, not only was the real country of Kazakhstan not only home to the Soviet space program, and has facilities which still contribute to the international space program to this day, but that it is also a country that has had its own quite interesting homegrown music scene, often influenced by western pop styles, but also distinctly Kazakh.

The gateway group for me has been the progressive beat combo Dos-Mukasan.

Dos-Mukasan were a vocal and instrumental group created in 1967 by students of the Kazakh Polytechnic Institute in Alma-Ata (the former capital of Kazakhstan, in the south of the country, which is now called Almaty).

The founders of the ensemble and its first performers were Dosym Suleev, Murat Kusainov, Khamit Sanbayev, Alexander Litvinov (the name of the ensemble was due to the reduction of the names of the participants: Dos - the leader of the ensemble Dosym Suleev, Mu - Murat Kusainov, Ka - Kamit Sanbayev, "San" - Sanya (Alexander) Litvinov). Later, Dariga Tursunova, Sharip Omarov, Bakyt Dzhumadilov, Shomotov Aknay, Askar Djankushukov, Nurtas Kusainov and Kurmanay Omarova joined the ensemble.

They performed their own original works of psychedelic-tinged pop-rock in both the Kazakh and Russian languages. In an approach that was not unlike the artists of the Chilean “new song” movement, they also performed their own modern arrangements of classic Kazakh folk songs.

The first major performance of the group was in 1971, when they appeared at the All-Union Festival of Friendship of Peoples, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. They recorded several albums, in 1971, 1973, an eponymous album in 1976, 1980 and 1983, and won several awards at festivals from Minsk to Berlin.

Dos Mukasan performing an uptempo track on TV in 1972

I understand that founding member Dosym Suleev even went on to become the rector of his former college KazNTU.

Dos Mukasan appear to be such a significant part of Kazakh popular music that a bronze sculpture depicting the founding members of the group was even erected in 2008 on land owned by Pavlodar State University, Pavlodar, in north-eastern Kazakhstan.

They are far from alone, and there are many other musicians and performers from Kazakhstan, many of whom are still performing today. Notable examples include the Boomerang Jazz Ensemble (formed in 1973 in the town of Alma-Ata), electro group Medeo (known for their 1984 LP Ochotnik), and the singer Murat Ahmadiev (who sang in native dialect Uyghur).

Soul singer Roza Rymbaeva, who comes from a working class part of eastern Kazakhstan, is a graduate of the theatrical-artistic institute in Almaty, and began performing with groups like the Boomerang Jazz Ensemble and the pop band Gulder ("Flowers"), later on joining the pop band Arai, which her husband managed. She won the Gala-83 grand prize in Cuba, among many other song contests in eastern Europe. Sadly, because of the cold war, the distribution of her records was restricted to countries of the Soviet bloc during the 1970s and 80s, and it has only been since 2003 that record companies in the newly independent Kazakhstan have made her work available on CD.

Roza Rymbaeva on television in 1977, performing 
her tribute to Kazakh national hero Aliya Moldagulova, 
who died in defence of her motherland in 1944

In the period of independence there have been the younger pop groups to emerge like A'Studio, founded by Kazakh and Russian musicians in 1987 (as the USSR began to crumble), and more recently even a “boy band” called Ninety One.

Friday 21 September 2018

Flashback Video

Here's a flashback to a video I uploaded to my YouTube channel about a year ago, when I was getting to grips with different kinds of software. The footage was shot from a moving tram as it passed through the suburbs of Melbourne using an old iPhone. I then ran the thing through iMovie, adding titles and credits, and added a musical score I had created myself using the GarageBand app, which we had installed on one of Jane's devices and felt like the right tempo. Its short and sweet gritty. Enjoy!

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Hanworth's largest outdoor (unofficial) Street Art Gallery

An unofficial gallery of street art can be found in a derelict train yard. The site itself has been re-colonized by wilderness over the years, and recently has found itself slowly being transformed into an official Nature Reserve between Pevensey Road, Hanworth and South West Middlesex Crematorium.

Here are a few examples of the works on display by local artists. As is traditional, new works are painted over old. Presently you will find a nice mix of figurative and typographic. I'm afraid I do not know any of the artists whose work is presently on display, as I only became aware of the unofficial outdoor gallery when first attempting to walk the full Crane Valley, and I would caution anyone seeking to view the art in person to be careful as there is a lot of broken glass on the ground. Presumably some kind of interactive conceptual piece using found objects...

Tuesday 1 May 2018

Check out my NEW May Day design on Red Bubble!

If you like the Art Nouveau stylings of my May Day pencil drawing you may want to check out the higher resolution images now up on Red Bubble:

Thanks to the magic of Red Bubble you can also wear the design as a T-shirt, put it on your wall, or should you wish, get it as a greeting card to fill with messages of solidarity for your friends and family.

Monday 30 April 2018

May Day

In many countries around the world May 1st - International Workers' Day - is a national holiday. My own country, alas, is not among them.

May Day has its roots in the rites and traditions of our pagan ancestors who celebrated the spring festival Beltane around this time of year. It became associated with the labour movement in the late nineteenth century, after the execution of labour organisers in Chicago, USA who had been fitted up by local authorities led to a wave of international solidarity, protests etc.

Today many people and unions around the world continue to use the day to remember the achievements of the labour movement over the years, of which the 8 hour day and weekends may be the most notable and frequently overlooked examples.