24 July 2021

Frog, Woodley, Greater Manchester

At an entrance to the shopping precinct in Woodley stands a frog called 'Baker Frog'. It strongly resembles the frogs displayed all over Stockport a few years ago, and indeed the frogs which were all over Hull to commemorate Philip Larkin a number of years before that. But I have no idea what it's doing there. And nor do I have a clear idea of what relationship the model, with the baby frog sitting on its head, has to do with the name. A Google search came up with nothing.

William Frederick Wallet, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

1813 - 1892
International circus and
stage entertainer
Moved to Beeston in 1862
lived here from 1879'

Thomas Humber, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

1841 - 1910
made bicycles
motorcycles and cars
here and later
in Coventry'

Louis Frederick Pearson, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

1863 - 1943
Co-founder of Beeston Foundry Co
gave this park in 1923 as a
recreation ground to the
people of Beeston'

A sculpture in the park represents the various local industries.

21 July 2021

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante (1934)

Juliette (Dita Parlo), a young woman living a montotonous existence in a village, marries Jean (Jean Dasté), a sailor working with the older and eccentric Père Jules (Michel Simon) and a cabin boy on the canal boat L'Atalante. The same day, she begins life on the boat. She at first is shocked by the lack of laundering, then by the cats that swarm around Jules, although she soon becomes fascinated by Jules's stories of his travels and the curiosities that he has picked up around the world over the years. She longs, though, to see the bright lights of Paris.

During an evening in the capital with Jean she becomes spellbound by the street pedlar and singer (Gilles Margaritas), and later leaves the boat to go off in search of him. Jean is disgusted when she doesn't return and tells Jules to cast off to Corbeil and leave her behind. Juliette realises how stupid she's been when she sees the missing boat, so she prepares to get a train ticket to Corbeil but has her purse stolen.

Meanwhile Jean too realises his huge error, particularly when he dives into the water and sees a vision of Juliette:  his bride had told him that people see the person they truly love when they stare into water.* Worried for Jean, Jules returns to Paris and finds Juliette, hauls her across his shoulder in true he-man fashion, returns her to the boat, and the lovers are reunited. L'Atalante is considered as one of the greatest films in French – even in film tout court – history, and has influenced large numbers of film directors. Truffaut, for instance, used Jean Dasté in a cameo role as the doctor in L'Homme qui aimait les femmes.

*In some respects, the film is an amalgam of realistic images and dream-like sequences.

19 July 2021

Michel Hazanavicius's L'Artiste | The Artist (2011)

Set between 1927 and 1932, this nostalgic study of the silent movie, containing many references to the history of the cinema – earned a huge number of prizes, including best film, best director, and the first-ever French actor Oscar for Jean Dujardin's performance as George Valentin. George is a hugely successful silent movie hero who often performs with his trained dog Jack, although he knows that his star will fall with the advent of the talkies. He accidentally runs into a young woman while leaving the cinema to an adoring crowd when he picks up a purse dropped by Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). The photo of the brief encounter in the newspapers is aptly (but quietly) prophetic in that it highlights the past on the left and the future on the right. And as Peppy rapidly climbs up the ladder of fame, George just as rapidly falls down it.

George is stubborn, and he's proud: even his hugely faithful chauffeur-cum-butler Clifton (James Cromwell), who later becomes Peppy's chauffeur, recognises that pride comes before a fall. And what a fall: his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) boots him out, he goes from a palacial house to auctioning off his former treasures, to setting his own precious films on fire in a suicide attempt from which he's only saved by his dog notifying a police officer. George is recovering in hospital when Peppy – who's been faithfully following him from a distance like a virtual puppy dog – takes George to her palacial house to recover, where he finds that Peppy bought all his possessions at the auction. And cinematically (that's talking talkies) they set off together, Peppy along the ladder, George back up it. I can understand why it has appealed so much, both to the general public and the arthouse.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub My Love (2017)

Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub My Love – the first of a trilogy – is the follow-up to the director's highly successful (and ultimately highly controversial) La Vie d'Adèle, and like Kechiche's previous La Graine et le mulet is set in Sète and also features Hafsia Herzi, this time as Camélia. It's not so much a narrative as a drift, a hymn to youth and young life, concentrating on (mainly female) bodies on the beach, in the sea, in restaurants, and clubbing. At almost three hours one critic said that it would have made a good ninety minute film, but this would have anchored it far too much into the artificial: Mektoub (meaning destiny) is a movie that moves slowly, and radically cutting it would have reduced its impact. This film, like Rohmer's, is never boring, and to some extent it's a sexier, more modern update of (in particular) Rohmer's beach films.

The male gaze is present from the beginning of this film set in 1994, when Amin (Shaïn Boumédine) – a former medical student in Paris who's decided to take up photography and perhaps become a film director (autobiographical hints here) – returns to Sète and spies on his friend (although he'd rather be her lover) Ophélie (Ophélie Bau, who's supposedly engaged to someone else) having sex with the local lothario Tony (Salim Kechiouche), Amin's cousin. The voyeuristic element, with Amin peeping in through the external blinds of the bedroom, has echoes later in the film, the camera dwelling on parts of the female anatomy in more social as opposed to private scenes.

Very different from his sexually adventurous cousin, the shy Amin prefers to watch, to stand on the sidelines, ideally using his camera. While Tony chats up Charlotte (Alexia Chardard) with experienced ease, in a later long dance scene Charlotte's friend Céline (an ever-vacantly smiling Lou Luttiau) is stolen from him by a local.

Whereas Amin's Tunisian parents run a restaurant, Ophélie's parents have a sheep farm, and Ophélie treats Amin to all the photographs he likes of arguably the most stunning long scene in the film: a ewe giving birth to two lambs to the musical accompaniment of Mozart. Mektoub is a feast for the eyes, but not for the brain. 

Anne Fontaine's Comment j'ai tué mon père | How I Killed My Father (2001)

Maurice (Michel Bouquet) is the prodigal father who suddenly, unnannounced, returns to see his wildly rich son Jean-Luc (Charles Berling), who has a gerontoloogy practice in Versailles. His other son Patrick (Stépane Guillon) hardly remembers his father because he was only about four at the time his father left, and that must have been about twenty years before. Patrick's life is very different from his brother's, and he is his chauffeur also working as a stand-up comedian in clubs.

The tension is palpable here as Jean-Luc sees his father as a threat while he temporarily stays with the family, although Jean-Luc's wife Isa (Natacha Régnier) quickly warms to him. Both of them are doctors, although whereas Jean-Luc has grown affluent pandering to the whims of rich, elderly patients, Maurice has been aiding the poor in Africa. Something has to give, although the ending is far from clear.

17 July 2021

Julia Ducournau's Grave | Raw (2016)

I've not yet seen Julia Ducournau's second film, Titane, which has only recently been released, although a tale of a female serial killer having sex with a car and becoming pregnant by it is, well... Grave is perhaps more believable, although it concerns an adolescent vegetarian being forced into eating a raw rabbit kidney during her bizutage (hazing ceremony) at veterinary school. This leads not only to her craving cooked meat, but to developing a taste not only for raw meat, but for cannibalism and even autophagia (yeah, eating yourself).

In Belgium, sixteen-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier), who has been brought up as a vegetarian by her mother (Joana Preiss) and father (Laurent Lucas) with a slightly older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is shocked that her sister denies, on the day she begins the veterinary school that Alexia already is a student at, that she is vegetarian. Reluctantly, Justine eats the kidney. She then tries to steal a steak from the canteen, eats a meat sandwich at night with her student friend Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) at night when she can't be seen, but the meat lust in her nature continues.

Her first taste of meat may well have provoked a severe instance of psoriasis, but it can't stop her once started. When Alexia uses a painful kind of depilatory wax on her vaginal hair she has to use scissors, but Alexia accidentally cuts off her finger in the process. When she's unconscious, Justine drinks the blood from the finger and then eats the finger itself: coming to, Alexia sees this and the whole matter is blamed on her dog, which is put down.

But the two sisters have a terrible common bond: they are both of cannabalistic nature, and although they try to control each other it's not too easy. Interestingly, sexual desire is mixed with cannabalistic desire, a conflicting desire which Justine manages to control when she has sex with Adrien and takes a bite from her own arm. The climax to this bizarre orgy comes one morning when Justine wakes up next to Adrien. Everything seems normal, but when Justine looks closely she sees that Adrien is dead, his thigh partly eaten away. Crazily, believing that she has done it, she asks him why he didn't put up a fight. But then she finds Alexia slumped in a semi-catatonic state against the fridge, and realises that she's the guilty one.

And so Alexia is imprisoned, but the father reveals the family problem to Justine: they aren't responsible because when the father met the mother he couldn't understand why she didn't want to go out with him. But the first time they kissed, the father unbuttons his shirt and reveals the scars on his body, the chunks of flesh removed. He's sure Justine will be able to work things out.

This is a coming-of-age story in which our many identities are investigated, and as such is of far more value than the average horror film.

16 July 2021

Laurent Cantet's L'Emploi du temps (2001)

This film is based on the true story of Jean-Claude Romand, who famously spent many years pretending to family and friends that he was working as a doctor when he was in fact unemployed, but in the end – when it became inevitable that he would be discovered due to all the money he'd borrowed and couldn't possibly repay – his reaction was the most drastic imaginable: to kill himself and his family. As it happened though, he survived and was imprisoned for life. He was released in 2019.

Cantet's take on the story is very different, with different names, a different invented job, and the absence of a dramatic ending. Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) is an unemployed business consultant living with his wife Muriel (Karin Viard), his two sons and one daughter. He spends his days – many away from home sleeping in his car in hotels car parks, wasteland and suchlike – and also borrowing money from friends and 'business clients': he's done his homework and knows how to convince people that they're making a good investment. Slowly, he inevitably falls into the hands of Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet), a crook who's been intently watching his activities and only too willing to draw him into his web. But Jean-Michel doesn't fool Muriel.

Jean Benoît-Lévy and Marie Epstein's Peau de pêche (1928)

Peau de pêche (Maurice Touzé as a young boy, Jimmy Gaillard as a young man) is called so because, like the skin of a peach, he can easily go red. He lives in a slum in Rue Lepic in Montmartre (how times change) with his abusive, avaricious parents. One day he sees an important wedding and picks up a cross the bride has worn as a necklace pendant and returns it to her at her hotel. The woman is immensely grateful and – her husband being at war – she has a great deal of time on her hands and welcomes the boy, who is ashamed that his mother sells the new clothes she has given him to replace his rags.

A short time afterwards he is sent to his aunt and uncle's, where he rejoins his best friend La Ficelle (Pierre Lecomte) and his beloved Lucie (Simone Mareuil), whom La Ficelle also adores. In time a marriage is arranged between La Ficelle and Lucie, and a heartbroken Peau de pêche goes to his 'fairy godmother' to choke out his woe. She arranges to see Lucie and have a talk with her, and it transpires the Lucie has loved Peau de pêche all the time. Fin d'histoire.

If this sounds like a trite children's story it isn't: working within the numerous constraints of a silent movie, the actors have to give their all in order to express emotions which are only too easily expressed using the spoken word. I was most struck by Maurice Touzé's young man: although he may have a tendency at times to overact, his performance is very impressive. I was surprised by the lack of lulls in this feature-length silent film.

Luc Besson's Le Grand Bleu | The Big Blue (1988)

In Hadrien Bels's novel Cinq dans tes yeux (2020), there's a rather icy conversation between 'Stress' and a young woman on the beach in Marseille. He asks her what she's studying, and when she says cinema he asks if she's at university or perhaps (oh the sarcasm!) with Femis. No, 'BTS Audiovisuel'.  And she wants to be a film director! And what about her taste in films? Le Grand Bleu, she replies. Contemptuously, Stress says 'Ah OK'. Stress has been weaned on films, and when he reels off a list of directors she thinks she's heard of Pasolini, but thinks he's crap ('chiant').

Being a prime example of le cinéma du look, Le Grand Bleu is largely set in and under the sea, with wonderful photography. Unsurprisingly, it was a great hit with the regular filmgoer, but rather less so with the critics: starring Jean Reno as Enzo Molinari and Jean-Marc Barr as Jacques Mayol, the film concerns their rivalry, their suicidal free-diving without an aqualung. In the end Jacques leaves a pregnant Johana (Rosanna Arquette) to join the underwater world forever. And essentially that is the story, which I found tedious and pointless.

In Cinq dans tes yeux, Stress's mate Nordine (who's obviously not received the same film education), says 'Le Grand Bleu, that's the guy swimming with dolphins [...] honestly, that's a lovely film'. Oh yeah, but...

15 July 2021

Luis García Berlanga's Grandeur nature | Lifesize (1974)

It's difficult to figure out what to say about this film, as although a mere piece of fluff on the outside, it's also a very interesting piece of fluff. At the time of its release some complained that it was objectifying women, but I can't see that: rather, it's infantilising men.

Dental surgeon Michel (Michel Piccoli) is discontented with his wife Isabelle (Rada Rassimov), so he buys a rubber doll with which he can do what he likes, indulge his fantasies, talk to it, and so on. His wife and friends think he's gone mad, but the real problem comes when he finds that his new lover is being used by others. He calls her a 'pute' and abuses her, and his only recourse is to kill both himself and 'her': he drowns himself with her, only she floats to the surface: fantasy rules over reality?

14 July 2021

Léa Pool's La Demoiselle sauvage (1991)


This film is based on a story of the same name in a book (of the same name) of short stories by Swiss writer S. Corinna Bille, which won the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle in 1975. Marianne (Patricia Tulasne) has been through a bungled suicide attempt after an obviously traumatic experience. Élysée (Matthias Habich) helps her after she's fallen down a hill of rubble, and nurses her to a kind of fragile health in a rough hut nearby: this is in the mountains in Switzerland close to the Italian border.

It becomes evident from her strange nervous and suspicious behaviour that she's been through a hellish ordeal. And that it's a police matter, although Élysée – who's an engineer and married with two children but rarely sees his wife because of their different patterns of work, has no intention of handing her over to the law and keeps her in the hut. Almost inevitably the relationship becomes sexual, but not intensely so on the part of Marianne.

In time Élysée discovered that 'Marianne' is wanted for murder: she has killed her violent, abusive partner. He goes to see a (female) lawyer about it and tries to assure 'Marianne' that she will get off with a light sentence. She, however, is terrified of spending time in prison. She completes the action she bungled in the beginning.

9 July 2021

Pebble left by #NTUROCK, Nottingham

I love finding these things, and it's particularly pleasurable to do so during the insane times we live in. This lovely rock (or pebble) is very different to the one I found in Ashford, Kent, which I now think had been left by truckers from the Preston area. Although I now live in the Manchester area, my partner and I (for personal reasons) frequently return to Nottingham, where I was born and lived (on and off) for many years. This pebble I found between the paws of the left lion at the Council House (or right lion if looking at it from the Council House perspective). It says 'hang in there', and on the reverse is says 'Post a pic using #nturock and rehide me.' As a Nottingham born guy, should I hide it in Nottingham, or as a reluctant Mancunian, should I release it there? (My Twitter account is impossibly compromised).

8 July 2021

Thomas Henry Barton in Chilwell and Beeston, Nottinghamshire


'T. H. Barton
Engineer, inventor, innovator
Pioneer of motor bus transport
Worked here 1913-1946'

The old Barton symbol at the side of the building.

Beeston Cemetery.
DIED JULY 26TH 1948.

George Henry Hurt, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire




started his hand-frame

knitting business here in 1912

Originally this building was a


built c.1781 for