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nostalgie de la boue

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Notes for a future post or more:

From an article by Iain Sinclair on films set in the East End in today’s Guardian:

But these films are not just memory devices to fix a period, or an excuse for nostalgic revivals. They are an important element in forging a mythology of place. One of the significant local traditions is of the established outsider travelling east with missionary zeal, like a pioneer into the wilderness. Robert Hamer, most celebrated for Kind Hearts and Coronets, was certainly a film industry toff. (Less so than Anthony Asquith, son of a Liberal prime minister. More so than David Lean, who rose from the non-commissioned status of the cutting-room.) Hamer’s East End invasion of a place that was never quite there, for It Always Rains on Sunday, was a marker for much that followed.

Hamer garnished social realist material from a novel by Arthur La Bern (whose later work, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square, became the vehicle for Hitchcock’s London return, Frenzy). The tone is relentlessly downbeat, morbid: without the incessant rain, necks would remain unwashed. Mean English streets are photographed by Douglas Slocombe with the melancholy lyricism of Marcel Carné or Renoir’s La Bête Humaine. Backlit smoke. A poetry you can smell: hot tar, bacon, cabbage, tobacco, wet dogs, armpits. Real places glorying in defiant entropy: rail yards, markets, mortuary pubs, tight backyards with Anderson shelters and rabbit hutches. Slocombe goes on, in terms of this London project, to work with Joseph Losey on The Servant: and thereby to connect with Dirk Bogarde (former bit-part delinquent) and Harold Pinter. Pinter attended the same school as Alexander Baron and Roland Camberton, those forgotten realists. Although his play The Caretaker was based on a glimpse into a Chiswick room, he returned, with director Clive Donner, to shoot the film version on his old turf: a house alongside the snow-covered Hackney Downs.

I’ve bolded the bit that I’m most interested in, and even more specifically, I’m really interested in the phrase defiant entropy.

It seems to me that there are a few options for how we play this defiant entropy, and not to give the game away (these are only notes), I’m not sure that any of them are truly convincing when thought into for more than a few minutes.

  1. The entropy is defiant because it marks a sort of decerteauvian resistance to municipal order, to instrumental rationalization, to gentrification. Street life vs. the redevelopment plan, the lived tactical vs. the cost-tested strategic. (But how do rail yards fit into this picture? And how do we know, for sure, the difference between defiance and abjection?)
  2. The entropy is defiant because it is ugly in a world that is supposed to be pretty. The world wants Costa Coffee and All Bar One, not mortuary pubs and markets. (But we certainly don’t think it’s really ugly, do we? Thus the article, thus our fascination and Sinclair’s… and the developers’…)
  3. The entropy is defiant because it is more real than other things. Blueglass flats being craned to life back behind Kings Cross are not real; urban squalor is real. (What slippery ground we are on when we play this game out, the game of the really real…)

There are other options, of course, and perhaps the three above are all one reason spread out and rephrased a bit, but let’s just leave it there for a second. In short, I worry a bit about the aesthetic fetishization of squalor. It has all the marks of a well-fed decadence, the likes of which we’ve seen before, we’ve seen recur at certain moments for a hundred years or more. I am wondering, in the end, whether we’re right about the defiance that we’ve attributed to urban entropy, squalor, and the like. Wouldn’t Sinclair’s sentence make as much sense if it read, say, Real places notable for their abject squalor. How, exactly, are they “glorying” – other than in Sinclair’s appropriative retransmission?

It’s a real question – and, of course, an old question – and I’d like to hear what you think. I love these things and places too, perhaps more than I should, and I just worry a bit about my love for them. Maybe, I think, everything should be bright glass boxes and intermodal transport links, maybe everyone should drink in a nice place and not a mortuary pub, if they want to anyway.

Sorry. Tired. Notes for Future Post, as I said….

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 24, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Posted in aesthetics, london

One Response

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  1. To so easily categorize Dirk Bogarde as a “former bit-part delinquent” is incorrect but an injustice to this fine actor. He played only one such role as a police dispatcher, seen solely from the back and for a few seconds in “Dancing with Crime” (1947).

    Thank you.

    Maggie

    Maggie

    April 25, 2009 at 3:59 pm


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