Friday, 16 December 2011

The Awakening

WARNING: contains spoilers
The Awakening, written by Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy, who also directs, is an English ghost story set in the aftermath of the First World War. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), a strong-willed and independent modern woman, has taken it upon herself to be the scourge of occult charlatanry and fake spiritualism, exposing the methods of mystification, the table-tapping trickery through which people are fooled into believing that they are once more connected with people who have passed from their lives. She has become something of a minor celebrity, having written a book detailing her investigations which was a great popular success. Having thus gained a widespread reputation as a ghost hunter and demystifying detective, she is hired by a teacher, Robert Mallory (Dominic West), to employ her methods at Rookford, an isolated boys’ boarding school in the north in which he works. The spectral apparition of a boy has been appearing in a succession of school photographs and haunts the night corridors, its presence seemingly leading to the death of one pupil. Florence expects to discover some elaborate schoolboy prank, or sceptic-baiting hoax, and Mallory, in calling upon her services, is also apparently seeking a rational explanation. There are complex currents of repressed emotion running through the school, and she soon finds herself being pulled into their undertow, and finds it difficult to leave or find easy answers to the mystery. When the school breaks up for the holidays, she is left in the great, empty mansion in which the school is housed, with only Mallory, Judd the groundsman (Joseph Mawle), Maud the nurse and housekeeper (played with typical quiet restraint by Imelda Staunton) and one pupil, Tom, for company. As well as whatever else may be present.

The Awakening is a ghost story of self-conscious classicism, with many of the traditional and familiar elements intact. There is an isolated manor house, cheerlessly grey and labyrinthine, with a full compliment of locked rooms and concealed passages and basements; a still, stagnant pool with an old and disused boathouse offering a shadowy, secluded space at its edge; dark woods and twisted rhododhendron thickets bordering the grounds, forbidding places even before night begins to fall; and a journey across bleak and sparsely populated moorland to arrive at the school. It is just the kind of setting in which Florence would expect a supernatural drama to be played out. When we first meet her, she is anonymously taking part in a séance, which unfolds with all the stagy spookiness of old-fashioned cinematic illusion. There is carefully masked illumination to highlight certain actions and direct attention away from others, sepulchral set dressing to evoke a supernatural mood, simple special effects and atmospheric sound, mechanical stage props, and transformative make-up and key lighting to create a suitably cadaverous pallor on the faces of the actors. Florence contemptuously tears open the curtains to throw daylight across the shadowy room, dispelling the otherworldly aura and laying the mechanics of the performance bare. It is as if someone were to slash the cinema screen and stand in front of the projector making mocking hand shadows.

When Florence is invited to Rookford, she anticipates coming across a similarly elaborate theatrical set up, played out on a larger stage. Part of the sense of narrative anticipation lies in the question of how her disbelief will be challenged, and whether it will be worn down. Volk’s script and Murphy’s direction also makes play with the classic ghost story elements, with allusions to various scenes from the relatively few notable cinematic examples of the form. The ball bouncing down the stairs has echoes of similar children’s balls thrown by an invisible hand in Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill, Peter Medak’s The Changeling and Nigel Kneale’s TV adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. Pale faces pressed to the windowpane also make an appearance in Charles Gordon Clark’s adaptation of MR James’ Lost Hearts in the Ghost Stories for Christmas sequence, in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, and again in Kill Baby Kill. A figure suddenly turning to reveal hideously deformed features is something of a horror film staple, and is used (on a regular basis) in John Irvin’s Ghost Story and in The Others. Two minor characters, a couple with the surname of Vandermeer, would also appear to tip the hat to contemporary curators of the weird in literature and other forms, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. The all-pervasive sense of knowingness, whilst never spilling over into empty parody or pastiche, is given a rationale in the final revelation that the genuine hauntings also have their theatrical aspect. Its part of the humanisation of the spirit world that its inhabitants are allowed to have a playful side, as much as the children who participate in the original ‘fake’ haunting. The smeared, open-mawed and gaping socketed visage which has caused so much terror is in fact the ghostly boy pulling faces. He is playing a role as much as anyone else.

Stephen Volk’s script is in some respects a period version of his TV series Afterlife with the roles reversed. In Afterlife, Alison is a troubled medium who receives messages from the dead and is sometimes able to see them. She becomes an object of study for Robert, a lecturer in psychology, whose treatment of her as an academic case implies a distanced standpoint of objective non-belief, which begins to shade into active hostility as he becomes more personally involved. He is interested in mediumship as a social and psychological phenomenon rather than in any possibility of a spiritual dimension. Florence is like Robert but is more actively hostile to spiritualism and the paranormal, wanting to expose rather than merely document the practices of mediums, and dispel the superstitious belief in hauntings to which they claim to be sensitive. Believing that they are inherently fraudulent and self-serving, she sees them as purveyors of emotionally manipulative exploitation (the view of many censorious souls towards cinema over the years). Not all of those who are saved from such exploitation are necessarily grateful for her interventions. The woman who was the client at the séance subsequently strikes her. The solace offered by the medium, the hope of renewed contact with someone whom she loved, has been abruptly torn away, leaving her with emptiness once more. The film has a prefaratory text explaining the rise in interest and participation in spiritualism in the wake of the huge loss of life in the war, and through the flu pandemic which coincided with its ending. People cling to necessary illusions in order to make life bearable. ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’ as TS Eliot put it in The Four Quartets.

The Awakening also resembles Afterlife in its humanisation of the supernatural, of the ghosts which it manifests. Afterlife, in the course of its two series, used its supernatural premise to unflinchingly explore some of the most traumatic and emotionally shattering experiences of life, confronting fundamental fears and universal anxieties, with death in its varied guises being the ultimate unspoken reality underpinning them all. Need, desire, jealousy, hatred, longing and loneliness – the whole panoply of human emotion – are common on both sides of the spiritual divide. The hauntings in Afterlife and The Awakening give form to feelings which are too overwhelming to bear ordinary expression. In The Awakening, this is at least partly the national trauma and benumbed daze of the war’s aftershock. There is an element of the ghost story which dovetails, to a greater or lesser extent, with the detective story. The nature of a haunting, its origins in a particular event or feeling which has yet to find resolution, has to be discovered. When this discovery has been acted upon, the haunting can be brought to an end, the case closed. Both Florence and Alison are psychic detectives in their own way, and both are ultimately working towards a resolution of unspoken traumas in their own childhoods. The confrontation of initially terrifying intrusions into the rational world allows them to face their fears and find an empathic connection with the inhabitants of the world beyond. Fear is dispelled through understanding and compassion. Alison lays ghosts to rest, helping them to move beyond the material world in which they have become temporarily trapped. Florence is dedicated to laying more material spirits to rest, figuratively whipping away the white sheet to reveal the prankster beneath. Both ultimately face their own ghosts in the form of monstrous parents – Alison her terrifyingly manipulative mother, the manner of whose death is designed to create an unbreakable bond; and Florence her murderous father. Human psychology as much as supernatural emanation is at the heart of these hauntings.

Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofornes
The 1920s setting allows for an examination of the way in which notions of masculinity and femininity, and the roles of men and women, were changing (at some levels of society, anyway). Florence is very much the embodiment of the new woman, self-confident and assertive in pursuing her own ends. She dresses in mannish clothes, is curt and to the point, unconcerned with any need to appear demure and retiring in speech and manner. She smokes cigarettes, not waiting for someone else to light them, and doesn’t even use a holder! She is the primary protagonist of the story in an active way, not in the passive sense of female characters up until this juncture. With her scepticism and sardonic manner, she exhibits traditionally male traits which complement her dress, and go against the idea of women being more ‘sensitive’, ‘open’, and ‘understanding’ (all of which could be qualities ascribed to Alison in Afterlife). She attracts opprobrium from some people she encounters, just as women were viewed with resentment if they tried to maintain their position in the workforce into which they’d been welcomed during the war. The fear of women’s growing independence is dramatically expressed in the huge painting which hangs above the stairs at Rookford: Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofornes, in which the Jewish heroine is in the process of effortfully cutting off the head of the Assyrian leader, whom she has first seduced. A castration image, Freud would no doubt hastily have concluded. It’s a choice of picture that suggests that the single sex school and the household which preceded it is a hotbed of repressed feeling and sexual anxiety. The groundsman at Rookford, Judd, is portrayed as a weaselly man, impotent and cowardly, an anti-Mellors (the groundskeeper in DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover). His only way to display his manhood in the face of Florence’s open disdain is to attempt to rape her. Mallory looks like the standard rugged, heroic figure, handsome and a little distant. But he is also vulnerable, his stutter giving him a hesitancy suggestive of a lack of self-assurance. He becomes the object of her gaze when she finds the peephole bored into the wall of the bathroom, and it is only later on that she willingly offers herself to what she believes to be his regard before the same hole. He prises open his old war wounds until they bleed, a modern day fisher king figure whose unhealing wound is connected with the surrounding malaise.

The war is itself seen as a crisis in Victorian and Edwardian ideals of masculinity. Mallory may take his name from the explorer George Mallory, the mountaineer who died during an ascent of Everest – a heroic man who also shared the open sexuality of the Bloomsbury group, having affairs with both men and women. Then again, it could also refer to Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books, set in a girls’ boarding school. Judd is a troubling figure. On the one hand, the war is seen as being a prolonged and horrific nightmare, a slaughterground upon which men’s lives were meaninglessly thrown away. It created a new mistrust of the establishment and their motivations and fomented revolution on the continent. On the other hand, Judd, who is cast in an unsympathetic light throughout, is seen as despicable coward (by Florence as much as by anyone else) for having faked injury to escape his fate as expendable cannon fodder. Judd is like Mallory’s shadow self, a manifestation of his fear and loathing, and of his attitude to the war and its aftermath, which remains unspoken. He is representative of the psychological rupture of war, its explosion of meaning and purpose, which are left to lie in rubble and ruin. Judd is always seen outdoors, often in dark, liminal places such as the moorland, the woods or the rhododendron thickets, whereas Mallory is generally to be found within the school building. Mallory’s evident dislike of Judd is first made manifest when the latter is seen up a ladder leaning against the side of the building. It as if he has come to close, pushing up to the boundaries of Mallory’s world. When Judd assaults Florence in the woods, Mallory finds himself mysteriously locked into his room, from which he can only escape to the roof to impotently look out. It’s as if his ignoble, bestial self has been let loose. There’s also a class element to the Mallory/Judd dualism. Judd, like Lawrence’s Mellors, is a working class figure with a pronounced northern accent, and Mallory’s disease with him is partially a reflection of this fact. Mallory’s wartime suffering, horrific through it is, is given a certain noble cast. It’s the suffering immortalised in verse by the likes of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon – the sensitive officer class. Judd was supposed to be one of the foot soldiers who died namelessly in the mud, their bodies never to be recovered. That he evades this anonymous fate results in his being held in contempt, not least by Florence, his survival regarded as a negation of his manhood. The malaise of violent masculine authority is traced back to the paternal atrocity which is the singular event lying at the heart of the Rookford hauntings. The roots of this individual tragedy, which has scarred Florence’s life and which she has suppressed for years, are thus linked with the wider international tragedy of war, which has affected her as it has affected everyone, directly or indirectly. Mallory is trying to suppress his memories of the war; his fellow teacher Malcolm McNair, a man with a bitter aspect, may also be haunted by it, his persistent hacking cough perhaps a constant physical reminder of a trench gas attack.

Haunted houses are often repositories of repressed emotion, physical edifices built from unconscious materials. Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, and Robert Wise’s adaptation of it as The Haunting is a classic example, with the house itself seeming to possess a malign persona which amplifies and absorbs Eleanor’s self-negating, unassertive character until she is a spectral aspect of its unnatural architecture, a lonely ghost walking its corridors. Similarly, in Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Stone Tape, the bricks of an old building act as a kind of receptor for violent emotion, a storage battery for terror and nameless dread. In The Awakening, the house becomes a metaphorical locale for the attempt to strip Florence of her self-assurance and wordliness, to return her to a pre-war notion of female domestication. Like Eleanor, Florence is confronted with her own underlying anxieties and nagging sense of self-doubt. Her boyfriend, whose offer of marriage, made from the front, she rejected, has died in the war. Her choice of independence is thus shaded with guilt, as if she was somehow, through her rejection, responsible for his death.

A large doll’s house takes on a sinister import as the film progresses, with Florence reluctant to approach too closely and see what’s inside. When she does, she has the ontologically vertiginous experience of seeing a direct representation of what she has experienced, including a figure of a woman peering into a small doll’s house. It seems as if some godgame is being played out, the demiurge of the house toying with her sense of self and her perception of the nature of reality. This vertigo, of the world as she knows it receding rapidly before her eyes, is also experienced by the lakeside, where she loses the keepsake given to her by her dead boyfriend. Gazing into the water, she impulsively rolls in, sinking below the surface. Is it a suicide attempt, or has she been drawn in by some mesmeric force? The metaphor of the doll’s house as representing women’s imprisonment within the domestic sphere was most famously explored by Henrik Ibsen in his play The Doll’s House. Here, it serves a similar purpose, Florence being slowly led towards permanent entrapment within Rookford’s walls. It is partly her discover of an old doll containing a musical box which triggers her memories of what had happened to her as a child in this house. The sounding of the box’s chimes had been what alerted her father, in the midst of a murderous psychotic breakdown, to her hiding place. For him, she was his fragile doll, and with the disruption of his perfect domestic set up, occasioned by his own philandering, he intends to smash everything that was a part of it. The housekeeper, Maud, who was also there in the house during Florence’s childhood, desires to have her two spirit children with her forever, and attempts to poison Florence as she has poisoned herself, so that they will be a spectral family, a permanent aspect of the house. She is expressing, in extreme form, the idea that the woman’s place is in the home. A letter in the January 2012 Sight and Sound, responding to the previous month’s review, pointed to the ambiguity of the film’s ending, in which no-one seems to see Florence as she walks through the school, term now reconvened and the corridors full of bustling activity. We never actually see whether Mallory succeeds in rescuing her, and for a moment wander whether she is actually dead. But there seem to be definite indications to the contrary. For a start, she has regained her confident air, striding in a self-assured way with a smile upon her face. The chaplain, who talks about her without acknowledging her presence, has treated her with distanced disapproval from the start. She leaves the building and gets a cigarette from Mallory, which he lights for her, an acknowledgement of a degree of comfortable dependence. Her indulgence in a material pleasure such as smoking gives us firm assurance that she is still in the land of the living. And her independence is confirmed when she calls for a car to take her away from Rookford – awakened and out in the wide world again.

Friday, 9 December 2011

On the Trail of Arthur Conan Doyle

I seem of late to be haphazardly falling in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle, happening upon memorials marking various moments of greater or lesser import in his life. A couple of weekends ago, making our way back from the Royal William Yard in the Stonehouse area of Plymouth, we started to notice small lengths of coppery metal embedded in the paving stones of Durnford Street, a late 18th century road lined with smart Georgian terraces. They bore inscriptions which, upon closer peering inspection, revealed themselves to be select sayings of Sherlock Holmes. These fragmented quotations passing by beneath our feet revealed various facets of his complex character: his rationalism and empirical scientific methodology; his fear of or indifference towards women; his need of excitement and danger to stimulate a mind too easily clouded by melancholia; his sense of drama and love of rhetorical flourish; and his underlying sense of moral order. The rationale behind this seemingly random street decoration became apparent as we reached number 96, where a plaque informed us that Durnford Street was where Conan Doyle had first set up in medical practice. In fact, this practice was at number 1 Durnford Street, but since that building no longer exists in its original state, number 96’s well-preserved façade serves to give us an idea as to what it would have looked like.

Conan Doyle had studied medicine at Edinburgh University, from which he had graduated in 1881. He signed up for a brief and unhappy stint as a ship’s medical officer aboard the Magumba, part of the African Steam Navigation Company’s fleet bound for the west coast of the continent. After this uncertain start to his career, he was only too happy to receive an invitation from George Tournavine Budd, a flamboyant senior student at Edinburgh whom Doyle had become friends with, to join him in a new practice he was setting up in Plymouth. This was opened in Durnford Street in April 1882, and Doyle stayed with Budd and his wife in a grand residence in Elliot Terrace, an imposing mid-nineteenth century block of white-washed housing on the north west side of the Hoe commanding a sweeping view over the Sound. The luxurious appointment of this dwelling is indicative of the extravagant standards of living which Budd, the scion of a wealthy medical dynasty whose profession he inherited as a birthright, was accustomed to enjoying. He was, by all accounts (including Doyle’s), something of a rogue, albeit a periodically charming and frequently brilliant one. He prescribed medicines which, thanks to lucrative deals with pharmaceutical companies, were his major source of income, with carefree abandon. Doyle disapproved of such flagrant profiteering and their partnership, and friendship, soon hit the rocks. Doyle took a steamer from Millbay Docks sailing to Portsmouth in June, and set up in a practice of his own in neighbouring Southsea. It was here that he began writing in earnest, producing what would become A Study In Scarlet, published in 1888 and marking the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. So did the highly colourful George Budd have any influence on the creation of the great detective? It’s usually said that the primary figure who inspired Holmes’ character was Dr Joseph Bell, whose lectures Doyle attended at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, and under whom he worked as an intern. But perhaps some of Budd’s self-assurance and wayward methods of diagnosis, his offhand manner with his patients, also coloured his creation. The divergence in personality between his eccentricity, noisy flashes of inspiration and ostentatious display and Doyle’s quiet and methodical manner may certainly have informed the odd couple equilibrium of the Holmes and Watson partnership, even if that proved more successful and longer lasting. It might seem a trifle opportunistic to memorialise such a brief stay in such an expansive way (not just one house, but a whole street). But we are talking about the creator of possibly the most famous fictional character in the world. The impulse to draw attention to any connection, no matter how tenuous, is nigh on irresistible.

Durnford Street, Plymouth
Exploring the rather more grandiose Georgian streets of Marylebone in London a few months earlier, we came across Conan Doyle’s old consulting room at 2 Upper Wimpole Street. This was marked by a plaque in green rather than the more commonly seen blue, put up by Westminster City Council and the Arthur Conan Doyle Society. Doyle had left his Southsea practice to set up as an opthalmologist in London in March of 1891, having had a brief period of study in Vienna. He’d had to swiftly concede that his grasp of German was woefully inadequate to the task of comprehending the lectures he was attending. Nevertheless, he felt he had sufficient knowledge, combined with practical experience from his work in Southsea, to establish a practice. He installed himself and his family in apartments in Montague Street, opposite the British Library, and set out to his Wimpole Street rooms across the divide of Tottenham Court Road each morning. He was later to claim that he had virtually no patients, with a waiting room in which no-one waited, and whilst this was undoubtedly an exaggeration, he did find himself with plenty of time to write. The literary endeavour to which he was most committed at this time was his novel The White Company, a lengthy historical romance of noble derring do set during the Hundred Years War in the reign of Edward III. It was a great success during his lifetime, a bestseller for a good while, but has not lasted well, now appearing turgid and overburdened with descriptive period detail.

2 Wimpole Street, London
He had already published two Sherlock Holmes novels by this time, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, which had found a degree of success. In 1891, whilst working as an opthalmologist in his Wimpole Street consulting room, he submitted two short stories featuring Holmes and Watson, A Scandal In Bohemia and The Red-Headed League, to the newly launched Strand Magazine. The Strand was first published in December 1890 and combined journalistic articles, profiles of well-known figures and copious illustrations. But at its heart was fiction, and its literary editor, Herbert Greenhough Smith, immediately recognised that he was onto a good thing with Doyle’s Holmes stories and commissioned him, with a handsome financial incentive, to write four more. The first two stories, published in July and August, were a huge success. The mass popularity which the Sherlock Holmes short stories so swiftly achieved was intimately bound up with their regular publication in The Strand, and it was from this point that the worldwide Holmes phenomenon blossomed. It could have been tragically short-lived, however. Doyle caught a bout of influenza, epidemic throughout London, and a disease which could claim a high mortality rate in Victorian times. He recovered, however, and whilst recuperating made the decision to abandon his career as a medical practitioner to concentrate on his writing. By June, he and his family had moved south of the river to a sizeable villa in South Norwood. His opthalmological endeavours in Wimpole Street had lasted barely 3 months, but these rooms can make a good claim to be the birthplace of Sherlock Holmes as a literary phenomenon and iconic fictional character.

The College of Psychic Studies, Queensberry Place, Kensington
The College of Psychic Studies was one of the buildings open to the public during this year’s London Open House weekend, and as it fell on our route between two other destinations, we stopped off to explore. What lover of supernatural fiction, of psychic detective stories featuring Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence or William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki, could resist such an enticing open invitation. We were shown around by the amiable president, who pointed out the spirit trumpets, ouija boards and planchettes, relics of old methods consigned to historical display the cabinets. We passed many a portrait of former august members, a well as framed examples of automatic writing, channelled drawing and painting, and photographs supposedly capturing ectoplasmic manifestations in full spew. The College was originally known as the London Spiritualist Alliance, and was founded in 1883 at the behest of the wonderfully named Rev. Stainton Moses. It changed its name to the College of Psychic Science in 1955, finally becoming the College of Psychic Studies in 1970. Conan Doyle had long been fascinated by Spiritualism and the occult, although he initially maintained a position of determined scepticism. He had rejected the Catholic faith of his parents, but was evidently searching for a belief system to replace it with. He took a brief interest in Madam Blavatsky’s theosophical movement, which seemed to hold an attraction for many writers and artists, but concluded that her ideas were too vague and ill-formed. He needed something which offered more certainty. In 1887, he attended a séance with a medium who he felt revealed personal information, in the form of automatic writing, which no-one else could have known about. From this point onward, he began to adopt a more open attitude towards Spiritualism and its claims to offer channels of communication with the spirits of the dead.

Sir Oliver Lodge - tuning in to the voices in the Aether
He remained circumspect about his developing beliefs for many years, aware of the potential damage it might do to his reputation, but ‘came out’ as a Spiritualist at a meeting of the London Spiritualist Alliance in the autumn of 1917, chaired by his friend Sir Oliver Lodge, a fellow member of The Ghost Club, another organisation dedicated to the investigation of paranormal phenomena. Lodge is a fascinating character himself, a proponent of the theory of the all embracing medium of the Aether and pioneer of radio wave generation and transmission. These new phenomena, of disembodied voices floating in an invisible and apparently dimensionless space, were themselves suggestive of spirit worlds, a conjunction of the worlds of science and the occult. The period of the First World War saw such an overwhelming loss of life, both in the trenches and as a result of the pandemic of Spanish flu which swept the country, that many sought solace in the belief held out by Spiritualists and other mystics that those who had been so suddenly and savagely taken away could be contacted, and final goodbyes properly exchanged. Lodge lost his son Raymond in the war in 1915, and wrote several heartbreaking books claiming to detail his communications with him in the afterlife. Doyle, who had lost his sister Annette to influenza in 1890, saw his son Kingsley die from the flu in 1918, followed shortly afterwards by his brother Innes. The emotional impulse to find evidence for a continuation of life beyond death was clearly very strong. He had maintained a patriotic view of the war as a noble enterprise right up until the end, all evidence to the contrary, and wrote a six volume military history, whose final instalment was published in 1920, and which has been largely forgotten, so uncritical is its approach. This bullish outlook is reflected in his stance on Spiritualism, too. Once he had set his mind on something and determined his views to his own satisfaction, nothing was likely to divert him from his dogmatic path.

Conan Doyle became an energetic evangelist for Spiritualism, travelling the world to spread the word, engaging in lively debates which, as a highly accomplished speaker, he invariably won. He wrote regular articles for Light, the journal of the London Spiritualist Alliance, and was its president for much of the 1920s. The Association became more firmly established geographically when it found a permanent base in 1925 in a four storey Victorian terraced house (in the Second Empire style, we were informed by the president, himself and architect) in Queensberry Place, Kensington. A year later, Conan Doyle, then in the midst of his presidency, published his compendious 684 page History of Spiritualism, which no doubt graces the shelves of the College’s extensive library, alongside such occult volumes as the Malleus Maleficarum, Madame Blavatsky’s and the output, fictional and (purportedly) otherwise, of adherents of the Order of the Golden Dawn such as WB Yeats, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. All this in addition to works by less esoteric and more homely modern mediums in the Doris Stokes line, more intent on bringing a little comfort into people’s lives than penetrating the great mysteries.

The Cottingley Fairies
Conan Doyle’s wholehearted embrace of Spiritualism made him a tireless and forceful advocate. But his single-minded absorption in the belief system he’d chosen to adopt, and his refusal to countenance dissenting voices led him to fall frequently into injudicious credulity. He seemed at times to be setting out to embody GK Chesterton’s dictum that ‘when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything’. This could prove embarrassing to those he was vocally supporting, the publicity which he inevitably attracted subjecting them to more ridicule than they already received. His best remembered stumble into foolishness and absurd gullibility involved his validation, in the December 1920 edition of The Strand, of the photographs taken by two girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, of fairies capering at the bottom of their Yorkshire garden in the village of Cottingley. Certain as ever of his rightness in the matter, he later elaborated on his position, developing fanciful notions of the nature of fairy realms as if they were real insights, empirically arrived at. His 1922 book The Coming of the Fairies was tersely described by Russell Miller in his biography The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle as ‘undoubtedly the nadir of his non-fictional work’, sounding embarrassed on his behalf. But Arthur Conan Doyle’s tenure as president of the London Spiritualist Association and his support of its work in the face of ridicule and even legal action (he appeared as a supporting witness at the trial of two mediums, Claire Cantlon and Mercy Phillimore, accused of vagrancy under an obscure law defining fortune tellers as beggars) means that he is still a presiding presence at Queensberry Place. There is a dedicated Arthur Conan Doyle Room in which a signed photographic portrait prominently hangs alongside other memorabilia.

Conan Doyle himself turned up in some footage shot at his Sussex home, playing with his dogs, in a short preface to the 1925 film of his novel The Lost World. This played in the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre with an atmospheric synth score by John Garden. It’s chiefly memorable, Wallace Beery’s splendidly grumpy and pugnacious portrayal of Professor Challenger aside, for Willis O’Brien’s stop motion dinosaurs. Long before Spielberg’s Lost World, with its CGI herds of sauropods, O’Brien had massed hordes of triceratops and allosauruses stampeding across a plateau to escape the fires of an erupting volcano, the predators occasionally taking advantage of the panic and leaping onto the backs of the herbivores.

Alongside chance encounters with the geographical markers of Conan Doyle’s life, career and beliefs and glimpses of him on film, I’ve been enjoying Jeremy Brett’s wonderful portrayal of the great detective. It’s a wilfully eccentric performance which makes of Holmes a self-conscious actor at the centre of his own drama, full of manic gestures followed by lengthy funks. Edward Hardwicke’s Watson is the long-suffering friend who has to put up with his demanding and inconsiderate behaviour in the knowledge that it is the necessary condition for the continued functioning of his remarkable mind. In modern terms, Brett’s Holmes would be classified as having borderline behavioural difficulties and obsessive compulsive traits. In The Adventure of the Dying Detective, Holmes fakes a serious and potentially fatal fever, hiding the spurious nature of his illness from Watson in order to ensure the authenticity of the Doctor’s feelings when calling on the aid of a dangerous and sharp-witted adversary. His pitiful, whimpering requests for Watson’s ministrations, broadcast from the couch across which he has limply draped, says much about the relationship, however. Brett’s Holmes is a needy character, evincing an emotional dependence on Watson which he can never fully admit to. In The Golden Pince-Nez, Watson is absent (and here the TV adaptation differs significantly from Doyle’s story), his place taken by Charles Gray’s imperious Mycroft Holmes, very much the solicitous elder brother, naturally assuming a position of superiority. Holmes is all at sea, and relies on his brother’s prompts to prod him in the right direction and get to the bottom of the case (another featuring the settling of old scores incurred in far flung climes on English soil). I love the scene at the end of The Red Circle in which we see Holmes standing at the back of a theatre box, unobserved by any other, listening to a dramatic operatic aria. This is a momentary coda to the TV episode which draws from the final line of Conan Doyle’s story, in which Holmes says to Watson ‘by the way, it is not eight o’clock, and a Wagner night at Covent Garden! If we hurry, we might be in time for the second act’. Brett’s Holmes’ eyes are rhapsodically closed, his body overwhelmed by waves of painful emotion as he listens to the music. He suggests a character of great complexity, self-consciously concealing its troubled depths with a mask of cold, ascetic rationalism and analytical rigour.

The adventures of Holmes and Watson are as popular as ever, as demonstrated by their transportation into 21st century London in Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ BBC series and Anthony Horowitz’s new and warmly received Holmes novel The House of Silk. We’ve also been selling Holmes audiobooks online at the Exeter Oxfam Music shop on a regular basis recently, read by the Actorish likes of Roy Marsden and Christopher Lee (who told the Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, appropriately enough). We’ve still got a couple left at the moment, both read in the distinctive and commanding tones of Robert Hardy. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes takes four stories from Conan Doyle’s second collection: The Adventures of the Yellow Face, The Stockbroker's Clerk, The 'Gloria Scott', and culminating in The Final Problem,Conan Doyle’s futile attempt to kill his creation off in a struggle to the death above the Reichenbach Falls. There are also four stories from The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which really was the final collection of tales featuring the great detective, published in 1927: The Adventures Of The Three Gables, The Three Garridebs, The Lion's Mane, and The Retired Colourman. A further selection taken from various collections features The Adventures of the Three Students, The Sussex Vampire, The Greek Interpreter, and Charles Augustus Milverton. These are stories which really benefit from a characterful reading, just as the illustrations by Sidney Paget and others added an extra dimension to them in The Strand. Holmes and Watson are always just waiting for someone to conjure them from Doyle’s undemonstrative prose and bring them to life – so that once more, the game will be afoot.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Wire at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter

And Exeter on the 30th

Wire played at the Phoenix Arts Centre last week, their first visit to Exeter since 1979. They were supported by Talk Normal, a female guitar and drums duo from Brooklyn with the immaculate new/No wave stage names (at least I am presuming they’re assumed) Sarah Register and Andrya Ambryo. Ambryo plays circular, roiling rhythms on her spartan drumkit, her tubthumping stuttering into off-kilter patterns as it incorporates pauses, hopsteps and added beats. Sometimes she stands up to beat the drums, bringing to mind the steady pounding of Moe Tucker with the Velvet Undergroung (if this is any longer a cool comparison to make after her recent born again Tea Party outburst) or a more frenzied version of Mimi Sparhawk from Low. Her drumming gives the music a tribal feel, a ritualistic air furthered by her occasional sharing of shouted call and response vocals, directed upwards to the pendant mic, and the semi-darkness in which they were shrouded for the whole set, relieved only by low and baleful red lighting. Register played her guitar as a white noise generator, turning up the distortion and reverb to produce a more or less constant wave of sound which flooded around the propulsive drum patterns. She intoned rather than sang over the top, vocals curt and unmelodic. They finished with style by turning the background interval music back on whilst the feedback was still dying down, and immediately set about packing their equipment away, dissipating the low-lit performance mystique which they had built up. It was only a show, after all.

Wire wandered on with little ceremony and got down to business straight away, with no time wasted on introductions. They were a trio tonight, with Bruce Gilbert having called it a day, possibly for good. This left Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Gotobed, although is should be added that they were joined on this tour by Matt Simms. He looked like he’d arrived from a different musical world, another band, another era. Hunched in ecstatic absorption over his guitar, his long hair covering his face, he’d have seemed equally at home crunching out riffs and launching into heavy solos in a stoner rock band. But he filled out the sound to good effect and remained self-effacingly in the shadows at the side of the stage. The regular Wire trio remained bracingly efficient and chary of rock gestures, keeping communication to a minimum and swiftly progressing from one number to the next. Bass player Graham Lewis, a fashion school graduate from a while back, sported a fetching Scottish Glengarry cap in recognition of St Andrews day. Colin Newman looked bookish and studious in his spectacles, referring to what looked like a notebook on a small lectern at the end of each song. At the end of the show, he lifted it up and it became evident to me, as it probably had to everyone else from the very beginning, that it was a compact piece of digital wizardry, the flicking over of pages really the closing and opening of programmes or adjustment of settings. Robert Gotobed looked ascetically gaunt as ever, wearing a vest top in anticipation of the sustained athletic task of keeping up his concise, driving rhythms with unflagging precision.

Wire have self-consciously subjected themselves to many transformations over their stop-start history, with the result that you never know quite what you’re likely to hear at one of their concerts. They combine the cerebral and the visceral, producing music of the head and the gut. They also occasionally produce music of the heart, although their songs are generally too lateral, inquisitive and playful to be openly emotional. There will always be many, both young and old, yearning of a blast of the early, angular punk, a nostalgia which is antithetical to Wire’s progressive ethos. The refusal to retread old ground is what has kept them together, despite several hiatuses. When they reached the end of one particular road, they went their separate ways, meeting up again when they’d found a new route worth exploring. The original and retro punks get a fair sampling of what they’re here for tonight, however, resulting in an outbreak of pogoing at the front of the hall. The likes of Pink Flag are still startling in their stripped down brevity. They say what they have to say and then stop, without indulging in unnecessary repetition. The abrupt end of some songs can still bring you up short, though. Drill, from their second phase in the 80s, is a song which is elastic in its timing. It relentlessly pounds towards an endlessly and tantalisingly delayed resolution, reaching towards the conclusion of a verse before an anticipated chorus which never arrives. On this night, it didn’t stretch out into one of the lengthier excursions; this was a medium-sized Drill, just long enough to exert its pummelling effect of stunned hypnosis. You either give in to it or it drives you to distraction. The former is the preferable choice.

Red Barked Tree
It was the more melodic and even poppy side of Wire which came to the fore on this occasion, however. I sense that this is the mood which prevails on their recent album Red Barked Tree, although I confess I’ve yet to hear it. Newman’s tuneful ear and pleasantly light vocal style were much in evidence as he became the de facto frontman. He sported an attractive sky blue guitar whose pastel colour seemed to suit this more open, less aggressive aspect of their music. It also pointed to the importance which visual and graphic style has always played in Wire’s art (and art is an apposite word to bandy about when talking of the group). The guitar sound was also light, lent an airy jangle by whatever technology was being used to shape it. The likes of Map Ref 41°N 93°W and Outdoor Miner sound like the more adventurous end of early 80s pop, exploratory (as Map Ref’s cartographic title suggests) without being afraid of lyricism. The lyrics are also allusive, playful, revelling in the sound of words and sentences, and sometimes plain good fun. Having said that, the sound balance, or possibly just the nature of my hearing, meant that I couldn’t make out many of the words on this night. Lewis took the vocal lead on a couple of songs, his deeper baritone, with its echoes of John Foxx, goth scowlers and even Phil Oakey contrasting nicely with Newman’s lighter tones.

Newman replaced his blue guitar with an oval-bodied white model, familiar from Pink Flag days and photos, for a few numbers, which betokened a shift to a more raucous sound. He became a little more animated towards the end, and both he and Lewis put aside their distanced stance to exchange a few words with the audience, evincing a genuine sense that they were having a good time. They played the rock game sufficiently to come back for two encores. The raw fierceness of the Send LP was reserved until the end, with 99.9 (I think) exploding into a splintered roar, its dying feedback squall sculpted into howling electronic noise, sending us all out with ringing ears – the music reverberating beyond the venue, fading away sometime in the night, in dreams.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Clock Keeps Ticking: 11.15 'til 12.45

Peter Fonda about to discard time in Easy Rider

I returned to Plymouth and The British Art Show 7 a couple of weekends ago to see another segment of Christian Marclay’s 24 hour film The Clock, whose screened collage of time contained and observed within movies and TV programmes remains congruent with the daily passage of time in the real world. Having previously witnessed the events of the late afternoon, this time I caught the period between 11.15 and 12.45. One of my speculations, voiced in previous comments below, was answered. Peter Fonda looks meaningfully at his wristwatch in Easy Rider before discarding it onto the rocky New Mexican ground, affording us a clear glimpse of the time: 11.38. Young Lukas Haas also attempts to cast aside the tyranny of time in the TV movie David and Lisa, after first having told his psychologist, played by Sidney Poitier, that he has invented an atomic watch which will tell the precise time for centuries. Poitier suggests that people might not want to be constantly reminded of the passing of their lives, which leads Haas to rail against time and mortality, finally throwing something at the grandfather clock in the corner of the office and shattering its face. It’s also clock smashing time in the Laurel and Hardy short Dirty Work, in which Stan, inadvisably left to look after the fireplace end of their chimneysweeping enterprise, knocks a heavy carriage clock off the mantelpiece. His frantic efforts to silence its loud and incessant chiming culminate in his wrapping it in canvas and bludgeoning it with a handy nearby shovel. Stan also wanders vacuously through the corridors of the County Hospital in which Ollie has been laid up, an absently approaching nemesis with a bag of hard boiled eggs and nuts in his hand. The clock in the lobby behind him clearly indicates the time, counting down the minutes until his friend will be plunged into yet another nice mess. A recovering Ollie will later ruefully and wearily repeat Stan’s vaguely stated reason for visiting at this time: ‘You had nothing better to do, so you thought you’d come and see me’.

Stan tries to silence time - Dirty Work
Late morning and early afternoon seems to be a time when mortality preys on the mind, perhaps a side effect of low blood sugar mood dips as lunchtime looms. Columbo has a blood pressure check up at the doctor’s, admittedly more to test out a few theories requiring medical know how than to allay any health fears. There are a couple of chill post mortem scenes in grey mortuaries in which slabside analyses are made before small gatherings of ruminating detectives, and the time of official conclusions noted. There is an agonisingly drawn out wait as the bureaucracy of execution is observed, leading up to the release of gas into a sealed chamber, ending a young woman’s life. Another life is ended as a body drops through the trapdoor of a gallows with shocking suddenness. Emmanuelle Beart returns as a very solid ghost, a revenant returning to the house in which she committed suicide in Jacques Rivette’s L’Histoire de Marie et Julien. Colin Firth’s college professor in A Single Man disconsolately addresses his bored students on the theme of anxiety in literature, the sense that a life can pass in which no-one listens to or really cares about you or anything you say. He is evidently not talking in the abstract, but articulating his own feelings.

Going through the motions - Bergman's Winter Light
This is the part of the day when time hangs heavy for some, and seems to move with a weighty slowness, as if affected by a dense gravity. In The Breakfast Club, the rebellious students set off a group whistle-along of Colonel Bogie, the theme from A Bridge Over the River Kwai, to alleviate the dullness of their confinement in the library. The church organist in Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light glances at his watch whilst he plays, the pitifully meagre congregation muttering the words of the hymn whilst Gunnar Bjornstrand’s priest, his faith hollowed out and scoured away, goes through the minimal motions of religious observance once more. In The Day the Earth Stood Still, the elevator carrying Michael Rennie’s celestial visitor and Patricia Neal, the woman whose son has been helping him, judders to a halt. Asking her what time it is, she replies ‘almost twelve’, and he casually notes that the worldwide stoppage that he has instigated through ‘neutralising’ all electrical activity has taken effect. In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Franz Biberkopf slumps in a shadowy café, hiding away from the daylit world outside. He glances listlessly up at the clock, but pays it little heed, his day lacking any sense of urgency or purpose. Humphrey Bogart looks nervous and twitchy in a cheap apartment room, waiting for a fateful knock upon the door. When it comes, he hesitantly walks over and opens the door, but we never get to see what is on the other side. The Clock does this with several sequences, teasingly creating tension without resolution and making you want to discover the original film to find out just what does happen. This is certainly the case with Five Minutes to Live, the bank heist thriller in which Johnny Cash’s psychotic hoodlum holds the manager’s wife hostage, waiting for the phone call from his accomplice which will tell him the ransom money has been successfully transferred from the bank vaults. As the minutes tick away, events at the bank spin out of control, and the hapless employee who has been brought along for the ride is left saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve just done’. Does the wife live, or does mad Johnny get to pull the trigger which he is so evidently eager to squeeze?

The end of time - Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone
The bank is one of the hubs of the daytime business world, the centre through which the flow of commerce is channelled, and it is such a place in which Burgess Meredith’s meek and unassuming clerk works in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone story Time Enough At Last. A bibliophile whose greatest joy in life is reading, he is never afforded the chance either at work or at home, having to snatch what quiet moments he can. One such involves taking his lunch in the sealed environs of the bank vault, and it is here that he is shaken by a sudden seismic tremor. He emerges to find himself the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust, the city a blasted ruin around him. Wandering about in a state of existential fear which is typical of most characters in the Twilight Zone, he talks to himself and begins to go mad with loneliness, until he stumbles across the remains of the city library. It’s here we find him in The Clock, surrounded by a literary calendar made of neatly piled up books divided to fill the months of his solitary years. ‘At last I have time’, he says with a resurgence of hope. Marclay doesn’t show us the conclusion of this conte cruel, however, in which this terribly poor sighted man drops his glasses in his excitement, smashing the lenses. ‘It’s not fair’, he quietly whines to himself, ‘it’s not fair’. The effective loss of literacy marks the final and absolute collapse of civilisation.

The rhythms of the business day are also felt in Wall Street, in which Charlie Sheen’s eager yuppie, after an endless wait, is told that he can have five minutes with Mr Gecko. He adjusts his appearance in the mirror, and gears himself up to make an instant and lasting impact. In The Hudsucker Proxy, head of the company Waring Hudsucker sits at the far end of the long boardroom table high up in the glass and steel corporate tower over which he has presided. He has a slightly unhinged smile fixed upon his face, and is psyching himself up to use the table as a runway, launching himself through the window and into a brief flight down to the sidewalk many stories below. We don’t witness this plummeting flight in The Clock, but see Paul Newman’s cold and calculating corporate shark peering down through the broken window (which, given the cartoonish nature of much of the film, might as well be in the shape of a wildly leaping, spreadeagled man), happy at the successful conclusion of this board meeting. At the other end of the business spectrum, a rank of assembly line workers mechanically rise in perfect formation to make way for the next shift in Rene Clair’s A Nous La Liberte.

If this is the time at which the wheels of commerce are already busily turning, for others, more attuned to a nocturnal clock, the day is barely beginning. We see Paul Newman again, younger and in a white vest rather than a grey suit, sprawling in bed and marvelling at the fact that his companion is up and working on her art. Another bleary eyed couple pull back the sheets, she commenting that she is normally an early morning person, and that, as he clearly is not, this is never going to work out. In another room in another film, in a seedy, crowded apartment block, a woman awakes, sees the lateness of the hour and immediately starts to hustle her bedside partner out, panicking that he might be seen by her returning husband. The pleasures of the previous night have faded, their memory rejected in a desperate rush to reassert a façade of dull daytime normalcy. Forest Whittaker’s lone urban samurai in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog gears himself up for the day with some rooftop zen routines. Meanwhile, Bill Murray’s neurosis-ridden Bob leaves his apartment in the late morning, bidding goodbye to his beloved goldfish Gill and forcing himself out into the world in What About Bob?

Timing L'Arlesienne - The Prisoner
The hours in which the day has built into full bustling business is also the time for spying and detection, for observing purposeful forays and transactions, piecing them all together to form coherent stories. We see Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoin Doinel in Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses, furtively dodging through the streets of 1960s Paris as he follows the woman identified by his client at the detective agency which he has haphazardly ended up working for. He is the most amateurish of detectives, peering over newspapers, dashing into doorways and slowing and accelerating his pace in the most conspicuously suspect manner imaginable. In Laura, Dana Andrews’ seedy, down-at-heel detective looks disinterestedly at Vincent Price’s collection of fine art objects, a sneer irremovably fixed to his face. When he meets the unctuously eager to please Price, he doesn’t bother to disguise his proletarian contempt for such fancy display. Columbo, meanwhile, goes through his deceptively polite and apologetic rounds of questioning, sidling towards the seemingly inconsequential but crucial point. Here, he examines the identical LPs of Bizet’s L’Arlesienne from which Number Six has assiduously sampled the opening motif in the Village shop’s listening booth, checking his watch as he does so (the time is twenty to twelve). Surely there must be some hidden message. ‘You say he was timing them?’ he asks the shopkeeper. Some variation in tempo, perhaps. Patrick Macnee’s Steed prowls around a seemingly deserted airfield in The Avengers, the silence broken by the sound of a receding milk float which draws his attention to the dead body of Roy Kinnear’s amiably bumbling tramp. In The Prisoner episode Hammer Into Anvil, Patrick Cargill’s thoroughly unpleasant Number Two is driven to a state of paranoid apoplexy by Number Six’s apparent communications with his superiors. Another eerily deserted setting forms the backdrop for the 80s Twilight Zone revival story A Matter of Minutes, in which Adam Arkin and Karen Austin find themselves shifted four hours ahead of the progress of present time. The familiar elements of the town in which they live are being assembled around them, reality seemingly a hastily constructed set with props introduced as required. How will they get back in phase with the normal flow of time? Or will they be edited out now they have glimpsed what goes on behind the curtain?

Traintime in Grand Central - The Palm Beach Story
Railways and Westerns both continue to feature, with the two sometimes combining. Claudette Colbert’s looks around the vast temple of Grand Central Station in Preston Sturge’s The Palm Beach Story, looking for the train on which she can escape from New York and her husband, and the person who’ll provide the money for a ticket. Tom Courtenay’s back stage dogsbody pleads with the engine driver to delay the departure of the train for a few moments to await the arrival of The Actors in The Dresser. He receives short shrift, and the train begins to steam off, only to shriek to a halt at the commanding thespian tones of Albert Finney’s Shakespearean veteran, whose bellowing cry of ‘stop that train’ echoes throughout the station. Colin Firth plays the characteristically flustered and awkward Englishman standing on a London platform with Irene Jacob, both realising that their respective friends aren’t going to turn up for their holiday and deciding to take the train together anyway. In a horrifying scene from Richard Lester’s sceptical San Francisco summer of love drama Petulia, a Mexican boy runs from the ticket booth at which Julie Christie is buying him a ticket to send him back to his own country, dashes out between the ranks of Greyhound buses idling at the station, and is run down by a passing car.

The time of the accident - Petulia
In No Country For Old Men, Josh Brolin’s modern day cowboy waits in the desert with a pair of binoculars, looking to observe the outcome of a drug running exchange. In Once Upon A Time In The West, Henry Fonda black-clad villain paces warily through a deserted Western town, trying to pick out the hidden bounty-hunting gunmen who are trying to kill him. Charles Bronson looks laconically on, remarking ‘time sure flies – it’s already past twelve’, thus drawing Fonda’s attention to the shadow of a rifle falling on the face of the clock painted onto the side of a building past which he’s walking. It marks out time where none yet exists on clocks without hands, in a frontier civilisation still in the process of being constructed. The pendulum propels time towards a fateful midday in High Noon, which provides a climactic moment around which others gather in the countdown to the clock striking twelve, a northward pointing meeting of the hands which seems designed for dramatic conclusions.

Carbine sundial - Once Upon A Time In The West
As we cross the threshold of midday, we move into the flexible period of lunchtime. Meryl Streep presides over a family table reluctantly and sullenly gathered. ‘Say grace’, she prompts, to which her teenage daughter sardonically bites back ‘grace’, plunging headlong into her food. Two Chinese men wordlessly chow down bowls of noodles in a streetside bar, chopsticks a blur of motion. Dustin Hoffmann’s autistically precise Raymond in Rain Man notes ‘of course, lunch time 12.30’. His yuppie brother Charlie, played with consummate narcissism by Tom Cruise, is too busy striking deals on the phone to pay him any attention, and Raymond marks the passing of that all important median dining moment, halfway between 12 and 1, with a note of rising distress at routing and structure disrupted: ‘of course, now 12.31’. Presumably if we’d stayed on a little longer, we might have seen the pub lunch (six pints of beer and four packets of peanuts) which Arthur and Ford down and scoff in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as they await the end of the world, Ford making the profound observation that ‘time is an illusion; Lunchtime doubly so’.

Watches and clocks take on an elevated emblematic or symbolic importance at various points. Christopher Walken’s imposing general tells a young boy the rather insalubrious tale of how his father’s watch has been kept safe through years of war and imprisonment before passing it on to him, a precious heirloom bearing a weight of family history. Matt Damon and Alain Delon play Patricia Highsmith’s amoral character Tom Ripley in adaptations of The Talented Mr Ripley separated by almost 40 years. In the 90s version, Ripley lies on his hotel bed and stares at the clock which represents for him the easeful elegance which his rich American acquaintances effortlessly exude. In the 1960 French version, retitled Plein Soleil, Delon’s Ripley looks at his new friend’s stylish watch with similar envy. A loquacious customer in a jewellers shop looks at watch after watch, unable to make up his mind which one he wants. He directs the assistant’s attention to one behind the counter, swiftly sweeps the whole display tray left on top into his briefcase and scarpers. It’s a rather unsubtle attempt to steal time. The thief in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket is rather more expert and artful, and we see the various hiding places in his spartan room where he has stashed his plunder. A stolen watch is strapped around the leg of a table, revealing the time. Roger Moore’s watch proves to be a lifesaver in The Man With the Golden Gun, a handy Q gadget which includes a mini circular saw. This cuts through the ropes which suspend him above the inevitable shark tank into which he is being lowered in a typically overelaborate supervillain execution method which favours poetry over practicality. Marclay seems to have slipped up at one point, the clock on a mantelpiece in The Browing Version some 20 minutes ahead of real time in. But then Michael Redgrave’s traditionalist teacher notices the error and sets the hands back, a true conservative. Robert Powell’s Richard Hannay tries to literally stop the progress of time (or at least its horological demarcation) in the 1978 remake of The 39 Steps, climbing out on to the glass face of Big Ben and hanging on to the big hand as it approaches a quarter to twelve, the time at which the chimes will ring out, on this occasion triggering off a large explosive device. It’s perhaps the ultimate of many appearances made throughout The Clock’s duration by Big Ben, that instant signifier of London as a location as well as handy background indicator of the time of day.

Stopping the official progress of time - The 39 Steps
Actors are seen at various stages of their lives, making startling leaps in age, growing old or rejuvenating before our eyes. The more actorly take on widely different personae whilst stars remain essentially the same throughout. Dirk Bogarde is a northern-accented, calculating gentleman’s gentleman in The Servant and a high-collared Regency dandy in another film (possibly A Tale of Two Cities?) We see a young and self-assured Richard Gere choosing from his extensive wardrobe in the 1980 Paul Schrader film American Gigolo, and an old, grey and downbeat version from more recent times (The Mothman Prophecies?) Dustin Hoffman is Raymond in Rain Man from 1988, and is seen in early 70s youth riding a bicycle alongside a river, a clock attached in a back basket. Paul Newman is youthful in black and white in the 50s in a white vest and older in colour in the 90s in a sober grey suit. Al Pacino crops up from time to time, although at this point in The Clock’s day, he seems to be mostly present in later grizzled form.

And so it goes. The clock ticks on, sweeping through film history, crossing generic boundaries and travelling around the world, taking in all life as projected through the cinematic lens. A sprawling work of art which manages to be about pretty much everything – just like in the movies.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Shelagh Delaney and Lindsay Anderson: From A Taste of Honey to If... on the White Bus

Shelagh Delaney, who died on Sunday 20th November, provides a link between two of my favourite films, A Taste of Honey and If… A Taste of Honey was her first play, which she wrote when she was 18 in a short break from working full time in jobs such as shop assistant, cinema usherette and photographic lab assistant. She was never happy when critics and journalists pointed this out (as they invariably did), since it tended to paint her as some sort of doubly freakish prodigy, remarkable both for her youth and for her ordinary background and self-motivation, and carried with it a faint whiff of patronisation. But her origins and experiences did directly inform her work, and also provided hope and inspiration for others in similar circumstances. Not least amongst them was Steven Morrissey, who featured her on the cover of The Smiths single Girlfriend in a Coma and the compilation Louder Than Bombs, and who drew directly from her writing. Her short story All About and To A Female Artist, a collage of extracts from letters and reviews, real or imagined, shows the downside of being held up as such an example, with vituperative and snarky criticism abutting needy, desperate or simply unhinged communications, which assume common experience and feeling. Delaney’s failure of her 11 plus and subsequent marshalling into a secondary modern school, which focussed on practical rather than academic schooling, setting its pupils up for the home or factory, also demonstrates the damaging divisiveness of that post-war educational system. It was only through her own efforts and self-belief that she was able to rise above its rigid expectations.

Having completed A Taste of Honey in a short burst of intense and intuitive creativity, she made the serendipitous decision to send off to Joan Littlewood and Gerry Raffles at the Theatre Workshop. She had read about their troubles with the Lord Chamberlain, at that time still the arbiter of what was acceptable for the English stage, over the play You Won’t Always Be On Top, which was set on a building site. Their evident preference for drama depicting the real lives and thoughts of ordinary people over the conventions of genteel drawing room plays structured around well-bred and mannered conversation appealed to her. Ironically, a rundown church depicted in the 1960 BBC Monitor programme Shelagh Delaney’s Salford advertises a performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit on its noticeboard, just the sort of play against which A Taste of Honey set itself (without necessarily dismissing it out of hand). She couldn’t have chosen a better place to get a theatrical education than the Theatre Workshop. Littlewood and the cast worked through her script with her, developing the characters and adding new elements where they seemed appropriate. Some of the dialogue was trimmed down if it was felt that it didn’t work in performance, but they were careful to retain the essence of Delaney’s structure and style, and her best lines were all kept in. Which thankfully leaves us with such gems as: ‘I’m not talented, I’m geniused’; ‘The only consolation I can find in your immediate presence is your ultimate absence’; ‘I hope you exercised proper control over his nautical ardour’; ‘In this country there are only two seasons, winter and winter’; ‘I can’t stand people who laugh at other people. They’d get a bigger laugh if they laughed at themselves’; ‘My usual self is a very unusual self’; and ‘I feel like throwing myself I the river’ – ‘I wouldn’t do that – it’s full of rubbish’. Delaney gained immensely from the collaborative experience of creating a play as a work to be shaped and altered through rehearsal and discussion, and was entirely at ease with this process. In the BBC Monitor film Shelagh Delaney’s Salford, directed by the late Ken Russell and broadcast on 25th September 1960, she affectionately refers to the Theatre Workshop as being ‘a daft lot…a marvellous lot of people…quite different from the usual actors’.

King and Queen of Salford - Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin in A Taste of Honey
The play was a huge success when it was first put on in the East End of London at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, where the Workshop were encamped, opening in May 1958. Frances Cuka played the young Jo, taking her first faltering steps into the adult world of love, work, and motherhood, with Avis Bunnage as her feckless mother Helen, with whom she is constantly sparring. Murray Melvin, who had only joined the Workshop a year earlier as a student apprentice, found his dream role as Geoffrey, Jo’s kindly friend and alternative ‘mother’ (or the ‘big sister’ to which she likens him). Delaney writes these characters with a warmth and humour which makes them real and likeable, for all their faults. They are much more than illustrative bundles of social problems or mere mechanical vessels for the author’s political views or opinions. They are the sort of people amongst whom she grew up, and whom she has observed with sympathy and understanding. The play moved to the West End in 1959 with the same cast, and was then filmed a couple of years later by Tony Richardson for his Woodfall Films company, with Delaney collaborating with him on the script. Melvin returned in the role which he had made his own, and for which he won a best actor award at Cannes. Frances Cuka and Avis Bunnage didn’t make it to the screen (you can see them both in Littlewood’s sole film Sparrows Can’t Sing, however), with Dora Bryan playing Helen and Rita Tushingham making a wonderful Jo, dreamy, moody, joyful and sharp-tongued by turns. The two rooms between which the two acts of the play are split are opened out considerably in the film, which makes richly atmospheric use of its Manchester and Salford locations, with back to back terraces, cobbled streets, smoking factories and mills, and small barge and large ship canals. The influence of Free Cinema films such as Lindsay Anderson’s O Dreamland, Lorenza Mazetti’s Together, Karel Reisz’s We Are the Lambeth Boys, and Richardson’s own Momma Don’t Allow (made with Reisz), several of which were filmed by A Taste of Honey’s cameraman Walter Lasally, can be seen in the kinetic scenes of Blackpool larks (complete with a laughing automaton dummy booth out of O Dreamland), a fairground ride in which the camera’s point of view sends us spinning around beside Geoff and Jo, in the observation of the Catholic parade progressing through the city, the roving close-up tracking dancers across the ballroom floor, and in the chanting, hollering hordes of urchins which swarm around the characters wherever they go. We also see Jo’s resentful and wholly inept participation in a netball game at school at the start of the film, and her mixture of dreaminess and rebellion in the classroom, all of which serves to lend her a rather solitary individuality different from that which is framed in the play in reaction to the other characters. The film even affords the opportunity for her and Geoff to escape the city for the afternoon in a double-decker bus, running up onto the moorland heights and taking a candlelit tour of the caverns below.

A couple of years after the release of the Taste of Honey film, Delaney published a collection of short stories called Sweetly Sings the Donkey. Its wry tales, with their keen depiction of the details of the everyday, contained hints of autobiography and personally observed characters. Their cast of sickly and bullied children, desperate letter writers, fantasisers and dreamers, and detached tourists show a sympathy for and identification with the outsider and those who look on and observe life. The bullying and abusive teacher who is the title character of the story The Teacher enjoys mocking the physical characteristics of his pupils which make them stand out. The unnamed narrator notes that ‘I was the tallest child in the school, so I was ‘the long streak of nothing’’ – a direct reference to Delaney’s childhood sensitivity to her own height, with the story itself perhaps marking a small piece of score settling. Another story, The White Bus, also features an unnamed narrator, and is in part a riposte to the good burghers of Salford who complained about the negative image with which they felt she had tarred the city. A young woman, who is readily identifiable as Delaney, returns from London to Salford, where she boards a magic bus which turns up to whisk everybody off on a selectively edifying tour of the city, presided over by the Mayor. He asks the quietly observant narrator ‘aren’t you that girl – the one who writes?’ When she replies in the affirmative, he chides her for ‘writing all this sexy stuff about this city. Unmarried mothers and things and homosexuals – you’ve given us a bad reputation in the eyes of the country, you know’. Despite his surface disapprobation, he proceeds to get rather excited about meeting her, and she has to ask him ‘would you stop feeling my leg, please?’ Delaney in fact remained greatly fond of Salford, as she made clear in the Monitor film. Whilst she regretted some of the changes being wrought upon the city, she revelled in the vitality and spirit of its people.

Riding The White Bus
The White Bus was made into a short film by Lindsay Anderson, with Delaney again collaborating on the script. Anderson had been very enthusiastic about A Taste of Honey when it was first performed by the Theatre Workshop, particularly enjoying the anti-realist elements; the addresses to the audience and the personal musical motifs to which characters danced on and off stage. He brought a sense of playful cinematic surrealism to the fore in The White Bus, creating deliberate distancing with absurd or fantastical intrusions, anticipating the tone of If… The White Bus was supposed to be part of an anthology film, combining with related segments made by Tony Richardson and Peter Brook (who both, like Anderson, were associated with the world of the theatre) based on other stories from Delaney’s collection. This was a popular form at the time, with major European directors contributing to the likes of RoGoPaG (an ungainly acronymic title referring to its directors Rossellini, Godard, Pasolini and one Ugo Gregroretti), Spirits of the Dead (three Poe tales, including Fellini’s celebrated Toby Dammit) and Paris Vu Par… (views of the city of light by, amongst others, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol). According to Lindsay Anderson in Never Apologise, a collection of his writings, Richardson and Brook tried to outdo his offering, and in their efforts completely abandoned Delaney’s work, presumably in order to go for some big auteur statement. ‘The subjects they chose were not good’, Anderson curtly noted (Brooks’ was a tale of a Wagnerian opera singer trying to reach the theatre on time and Richardson’s a mini-musical with Vanessa Redgrave), and they effectively dissipated the unifying structure of the film. The result, which was to have been called Red, White and Zero (coming close to anticipating Kieslowski’s colour trilogy) was shelved by United Artists and as a result, The White Bus, too long to be a short and too short to be a feature, has been little seen and remains unreleased.

The other Shelagh - Patricia Healey
Anderson and Delaney’s collaboration went well. They hit it off from the start and had an enjoyable working relationship (not always easy with the notoriously spiky but intensely loyal director). As Anderson points out in his 1994 commentary on The White Bus, included in Never Apologise, ‘I liked Shelagh very much; we got along well, although, once shooting was under way, she didn’t say much…I think she felt that the actual making of the film wasn’t really her bag’. Nevertheless, much of the dialogue from her story remains, as does its structure, its absurdist atmosphere and its mockery of petty authority, with its stilted and pompous rhetoric, overconfident self-assertion and foolish formal frills. Anderson wanted to make the autobiographical dimension of the story plain by having Delaney herself play the young woman returning to her hometown and boarding the bus which turns up from nowhere in nowhere. Actually, the protagonist of the film is first seen as an office worker in the Shell Building on London's South Bank, making her more of an everywoman. Delaney wasn’t comfortable with the idea of appearing as an actor, however, and suggested her friend Patricia Healey instead, who proves to be an excellent stand-in. She’s a striking presence, taciturn and at a slight remove from all that goes on around her, a wry observer very much in the manner of Delaney.

Christine Noonan in If...
The White Bus was Lindsay Anderson’s first film with Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, who had shot Ivan Passer’s Intimate Lighing and Milos Forman’s A Blond In Love and The Fireman’s Ball in his native country. He would go on to shoot If… and O Lucky Man! with Anderson. The White Bus lays the stylistic and thematic ground for If… It contains sudden and startling shifts from black and white to colour, familiar from the later film. These are present in a more consciously fashioned form, and perhaps give the lie to the claim that their use in If… was more a matter of chance and necessity than artistry. Even if there was an element of happenstance in the filming of If…, these sudden tonal changes had already been used to great effect. As Anderson puts it in Never Apologise, referring to the use of colour interludes in The White Bus, ‘it was this precedent that gave me the assurance – when Mirek said that with our budget (for lamps) and our schedule he could not guarantee consistency of colour for the chapel scenes in If…- to say, ‘well, let’s shoot them in black and white.’ In other words it was not (of course) just a matter of saving time and/or money’. The short bursts of colour in The White Bus often act as interludes between scenes, as when we see the children ushered across the road by a lollipop lady. They also highlight the flames of foundries and explosions, the burning oranges of molten metal, and the multi-coloured palimpsest of peeling posters outside the Odeon. The Mayor’s speechifying in The White Bus echoes that of the head, chaplain and teachers in If…, the official view of the city, country or world. He’s like Peter Jeffrey’s headmasters, walking the grounds with his select elite of senior pupils, all the while delivering a state of the nation address (‘Britain today is a powerhouse of ideas, experiment, imagination’). Such Wilsonian sentiments are also reflected in The Mayor’s reference to ‘the world of tomorrow’ and his gestures towards acknowledging social and technological change, as long as they continue to remain within the boundaries of tradition. There’s certainly much of Delaney’s language in these speeches, as well as in the dialogue of the boys, with all its freewheeling non-sequiturs and unfocussed, intuitive rebellion, its mixture of romantic dreaminess and flippant sarcasm. It’s probably a little fanciful to draw parallels between Christine Noonan’s raven-haired waitress revolutionary in If… and Delaney or her alter ego Healey, although they do all share a quiet blend of reserve and self-assured strength.

The White Bus also shares If…’s use of a circumscribed environment to represent the wider structures of the country or the world as a whole. It’s opening shots of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament make its state of the nation intentions plain. It is also reflected in the international cast of the tourists, with rank-signifying floral, top and bowler hats mixing in with characters dressed in traditional Japanese and African robes. Both films move for a time beyond their narrowly defined worlds. Travis and Johnny in If… break out of school and run into town, initially handcuffed together like escaped prisoners (or like Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser being taken to trial in 1967 in an iconic photograph later turned into a painting, Swingeing London, by pop artist Richard Hamilton). The ordinary sights of the modern 60s high street seem alien and strange to these boys who have been inculcated into the antiquated traditions and rituals of the school (and by extension, of the British establishment) day after day. We see that strangeness through their eyes, almost as if they are time travellers arriving from the past. And perhaps these shrinelike displays of consumer goods, objects of desire set upon their pedestals, are unnatural after all, dreams which offer more than they can ever deliver. Travis and Johnny play out their rebellion in front of them, miming the knife fight scene from Rebel Without A Cause, improvising a fatal ending.

Watching life through the window
In The White Bus, the young woman leaves the farcical civil defense display which she has been marshalled into watching at the end of the tour, and wanders through the streets of the kind of Salford which Delaney had depicted in A Taste of Honey, The Lion in Love and the stories of Sweetly Sings the Donkey. She crosses waste grounds and playgrounds, and walks along rain soaked terraced backstreets. She sees a frustrated young man (played by Barry Evans, who would express similar frustrations in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, this time in Stevenage) failing to have his way with a young girl in a rubbish strewn alley. Another girl plays a piano in a front room directly abutting the street, exemplifying the solitary self-education of Delaney and those like her. In the front room of another house, another window view illuminating moments of people’s lives, an old woman shaves her husband with an electric razor (an artefact of Wilson’s Britain). It’s a sacred composition, he with his eyes cast up in saintly contemplation, she looking at him and offering us her profile, a picture of patient, angelic tenderness. As the evening draws on and the street lights flicker into life, the young woman wanders into a corner chippie, where she sits as the couple who run it put the chairs up on the tables, closing up around her. The final lines of dialogue, which they speak, are taken directly from Delaney’s short story. The man suggests they leave the tidying up until the next day, since they are both tired and want to rest. His wife recites a repetitive mantra as she sweeps up: ‘If we don’t do Saturday’s work till Sunday, we won’t do Sunday’s work till Monday, we won’t do Monday’s work till Tuesday, we won’t do Tuesday’s work till Wednesday, we won’t do Wednesday’s work till Thursday, we won’t do Thursday’s work till Friday, we won’t do Friday’s work till Saturday and we’ll never catch Saturday’s work again’. They are caught up in the regimented progression of their working week, constantly chasing their own tails. As Travis says in If…, caught up in a very different but equally inflexible regimen, ‘when do we get time to live, that’s what I want to know’.

The human animal
The White Bus travels through an illustrative and emblematic landscape of English environments and pastimes, from the office to the railway station, the factory to pastoral parkland, with football, gardening, craft hobbies, music and literature (and kendo) in the background. Arthur Lowe’s Mayor (Lowe was a constant presence in Anderson’s films until his death shortly after the filming of Britannia Hospital) intones lines from the Bible (Proverbs 4:7) as he enters the city library, saying ‘wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with thy getting, get understanding’. It’s a quote which is also used as an opening chapter title in If…, and is cast in a rather jaundiced and ironic light in both films. Wisdom is the last thing that anyone is likely to get in If’s school, whilst the Mayor in The White Bus immediately follows his high minded sentiments with the outraged aside to the librarian ‘you’ve got some disgusting books in here’. Wisdom and understanding must clearly be got within strictly defined limits. The dignitaries and worthies on the tour enter the city museum, where they are seen scowling and peering at the stuffed birds and mammals, to which they are compared in intercut juxtaposition or framed proximity. A bowler hatted gent stops beside the skeleton of an ape ancestor, and a genteel elderly lady hisses aggressively at a small monkey on a branch. The human animal still lurks beneath the ostentatious surface display of civility. This exposure of underlying violence and primitive impulses revealing themselves through the cracks of civilisation can also be seen in the final bloodless bloodbath at the end of If… Here, a similarly floral-hatted old lady picks up a submachine gun and fires round after round at the crusaders up on the roof, spitting out ‘bastards, bastards’ as she does so. The museum exhibits also find their analogues in the stuffed crocodile the boys carry to the bonfire, and in the specimen jars they find locked in a cupboard in the basement – the secrets of nature hidden from them.

A bad day at the office
The outright absurdist fantasy of The White Bus also looks forward to the more bizarre, distancing (and very funny) aspects of If…At the beginning of The White Bus, the young woman hangs herself above the office desk at which she has been typing, only for the cleaners to carry on regardless around her. We then cut back to her at her desk, alive and well but clearly in need of imminent escape. It’s reminiscent of the scene in If… in which the headmaster brings the boys into his office to give them a stern talking to (‘now I take this very seriously indeed’) after they’ve bayoneted the Chaplain to death on wargame manoeuvres. He then pulls out a large drawer from which the selfsame Chaplain rises, allowing them to formally apologise to his recumbent form with a conciliatory handshake. The incongruity of formally attired men and women walking around busy industrial factories, traipsing up steeply inclined gantries and riding on slow moving cranes looks forward to the knights in armour and robed and mitred bishops in If’s final founder’s day massacre. This piece of disrupted pageantry also finds its routes in the chaos of the civil defense display, which becomes a little too close for comfort, and which brings the tour to an explosive end. Armed conflict is staged as spectacle, the tourists sitting in a small stand to watch these training routines which bring war to the waste grounds of Salford. As the carnage reaches its climax, all but the Delaney character are turned into faceless dummies – a transformation which pays homage to the finale of Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite, in which the guests at the school’s prize giving day, which is wrecked by the student anarchists, are also mocking guys.

Goya in the English landscape
The White Bus is shot through with a very English Romanticism, a reflection of Anderson’s traditional heart, beating beneath his anarchic, non-conformist exterior. When we get to the pastoral surroundings of the park, he stages several tableaux recasting classic works of European art in an English setting: Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe, Goya’s The Straw Man and Fragonard’s Girl On A Swing with oak and beech trees, long green grass and cloud piled skies. There is a similar sense of pastoral reverie in If… when the boys escape to the countryside on a stolen motorbike. They take a dreamlike ride through the fields, carrying the waitress they’ve picked up between them, standing erect with arms flung wide open as if she’s flying. Both films also use music and non-naturalistic sound in such a way that it takes over the soundtrack completely at times, opening up dream spaces within the course of the action. In If…, this takes the form of Travis repeatedly playing an extract of the Missa Luba, a Congolese mass recorded in 1958 under the auspices of a Belgian priest. This gives it an odd resonance as it plays whilst the camera gazes at a picture of an African revolutionary, which Travis has pinned to the board on which he collages the inside of his head. The Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960, its prime minister Patrice Lumumba murdered a year later with the assistance of colonial forces intent on protecting their mining interests. Whenever this music is played (and it miraculously turns up on a jukebox in the roadside café Travis and his friend Johnny stop at) it relegates the objective world, and probably reality itself, to the background. It’s the soundtrack to Travis’ dreamworld, in which his nascent desires and rebellious fantasies are played out. Similarly, the eclipse of the world’s noise by music and sound in The White Bus signifies the young woman’s subjective viewpoint. This is also indicated by her occasional donning of spectacles, which would seem to act as a symbolic visor protecting her from the comforting propaganda issued by the Mayor and his cohorts, propagating his rose-tinted worldview. As the bus drives past new blocks of residential high-rises, the tour guide comes out with the standard post-war brave new world rhetoric about clearing slums and creating new communities. She admits to the unpopularity of such housing, but notes that ‘we are gradually breaking down this resistance’. This is undoubtedly Delaney speaking, articulating her views about the unresponsive intransigence of local planners, whose determined and patrician social engineering, paid little or no attention to the views of those whose lives they sought to shape. She makes it quite clear in the Monitor film that she finds these new developments sinister and inhuman, a controlling imposition upon people’s hometown and life.

Pastoral joy ride
Perhaps The White Bus is more Anderson’s film than Delaney’s, the work in which he developed his caustic satirical surrealism. But its distinctive visual style, with its surreal and absurdist eye, is built up from her literary source material, and from the substance and structure of her script. Its sense of the absurd, its distanced, observational perspective, its rebellious spirit and refusal to defer to the demands of authority, its celebration of the spirit of ordinary people and its conviction that life is to be lived in each and every moment comes from Delaney as much as it comes from Anderson. These two artists, coming from opposite ends of the social spectrum, she from a secondary modern, he from the prestigious public school of Cheltenham (where If… was shot) found in each other a common spirit. Their collaboration left its mark on Anderson, and perhaps If…’s scriptwriter David Sherwin was also influenced by A Taste of Honey. The film certainly lacks some of the more macho aspects of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Room At the Top and Look Back In Anger, other potential influences from the kitchen sink movement. There is assuredly something of Delaney’s spirit inhabiting the corridors of If…’s school, bringing humour and tenderness to what might otherwise be an intolerably male environment. She managed to bridge the very different worlds of A Taste of Honey’s kitchen sink humanism and the public school revolution of Travis and his crusaders in If… From Salford to Cheltenham and all stops in between. Sanctus.