Category Archives: Culture

Vancouver: sex workers, policemen and memories of a comedy show with a boa

Anna Smith with two cops in Vancouver

Anna Smith sandwiched by two cops in Vancouver

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from Anna Smith in Vancouver. She is this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. It said:

“For some reason I have been surrounded by police for the last few weeks.”

She attached a photograph of herself flanked by two policemen.

“It was a couple of weeks ago,” she told me. “They reprimanded me for wearing socks with sandals and being seen in public with terrible hair. Other than that I get along fine with the local cops. It’s the Swedish ones that annoy me. It’s strange. Lately it seems that I’ve been more interested in the police than they have ever  been with me.”

She added:

“I’ve been battling Swedish policemen and The University Women’s Club.”

Sure enough, there was a link to an article in the Georgia Straight, the local equivalent of our Time Out what’s on magazine.

The article carried a picture of Anna with a lady called Poison Pompadour and reported:

“They wanted to hear a visiting Swedish cop who has busted more than a thousand guys for going out on dates with prostitutes.

“Detective Simon Haggstrom was in Vancouver to deliver a lecture, and so Anna Smith and Poison Pompadour were eager to attend.

Anna (right) with placard - Straight article

Anna (right) with placard

“Smith is a director with the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association of British Columbia, a group that seeks to legalize prostitution, while Pompadour is a French sex worker.

“As Smith recalled, the two of them came with placards, one of which was critical of the so-called Nordic model of prostitution, which criminalizes the purchase of sexual services.”

Two years ago, a law was passed which made the buying of sexual services illegal in Canada. Apparently because of their placard which read MAKE COOKIES NOT ARRESTS, Anna and Poison Pompadour were barred from entering the Orpheum Annex. That was where the niftily named ‘International Approaches to Prostitution: Sweden, Germany and Canada’ was being held.

Anna also sent me a copy of a letter she wrote to her mother in 1999.

“It includes,” she told me, “two interesting photos of my last comedy performance, seventeen years ago. I seem to do a comedy show about once decade, unless you count the sex education lectures I do twice a year.

“These are hour-long autobiographical streams of consciousness that are pure comedy. The students pay hundreds of dollars for a weekend workshop with me and a variable dozen other sex specialists. At the end of the hour the students are allowed to ask questions, but only for a few minutes. I get sad at the ending because there are always a few students left disappointed with their hands held up. At the end, the students all clap warmly, their faces beaming. The lady in charge then whisks me and the other speaker out of the room as if we are stars… then the whole room sighs sadly… knowing they will be lucky if they ever see us again.”

And the photos from 1999?

“It was a benefit show at the University of Victoria, to send a Russian prostitute and her cat home to St Petersburg. She was trapped in northern British Columbia.

“I was supposed to be doing the show as half of a double bill, with a punk band. But, at the last minute, the punk band cancelled because their mothers wouldn’t let them do a show with/for sex workers. So I had to do the show alone, and I was thinking, Those little chickenshits… Some punk band you are…

Her letter to her mother reads:

Anna Smith’s 1999 letter to her mother

Anna Smith wearing onion bag belted on a veil

“Here I am making a triumphant return to comedy after an eleven year interlude! I’m doing the character of the 10,000 year old hooker who has crawled out of a dumpster in Vancouver. I used the name Simone de Boudoir.

“The top picture shows the start of my show. I was very full of stage fright before I went on and then the students put my music in backwards, so it’s lucky I’m an experienced performer and got through the rough start.

“I’m wearing an onion bag belted on a veil (white blob) under my hat and a green suede fringed skirt under my dress and a boa made of fishing line and fruits.

“(In the bottom picture) Here I am waving goodbye to 200 cheering people at the end of my show. The lady beside me is called Danya – she organised the event. With the money raised, they sent home a woman from Russia called Irina, who was brought here on false hopes by a man she thought was her ‘pen-pal’. (She thought it was a romance but afterwards she found out she’d been advertised in the Buy & Sell.)

“Anyway, the GAATW (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women) raised the money for her to go home.”

So that rounds things off nicely.

Though I would like to know more about Anna’s line: “Lately it seems that I’ve been more interested in the police.”

annasmith1999comedycut

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, Comedy, Culture, Humor, Humour, Sex

What I discovered in a Fitzrovia pub after I won the EuroLottery…

I won the EuroLottery two days ago.

The prize was £2.90.

Winning the Lottery is relevant to something that happened last night.

The famous Austin Osman Spare in 1904

I had never heard of Austin Osman Spare until last night. He is one of those boy geniuses who had a wonderful future behind him.

Is it better to be famous when you are young, then drift into obscurity? Or to be unknown, get acknowledged late in life and then die famous?

Born in 1886, Austin Osman Spare was, by 1904, being called a “boy genius”, allegedly the youngest ever artist exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. He was, says his new biographer Phil Baker, “hit by fame and then hit by obscurity”.

In 1908, the Art Journal wrote: “Can there be anyone in London interested in Art who has not heard of Austin Osman Spare?”

“This,” said Phil Baker last night,”becomes ironic as the century continues, when you’d really be very hard-pressed to find anyone who had heard of him.”

Phil Baker’s 2011 biography of Spare

Phil said this last night during a Sohemian Society meeting in the upstairs room of the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia – a pub where Austin Osman Spare regularly drank, 1950-1955, forgotten by the art world.

He died in obscurity in 1956, though he merited an obituary in The Times which said that “for most of his life he did not mix in what are called ‘artistic circles’. Not Chelsea, Fitzroy Street, Bloomsbury or Hampstead claimed him, but for years a little flat ‘in the south suburbs by the Elephant’ far removed from the coteries, deep-set in the ordinary life of the people.”

He was a draughtsman, painter, surrealist and occultist.

Spare’s drawing “Ascension of the Ego from Ecstasy to Ecstasy” (1913)

In the 1930s, impoverished, Spare was selling ‘Surrealist Horse Racing Forecast Cards’ for five shillings via a small ad in the Exchange and Mart paper.

“The reason he hit on this in 1936,” explained Phil Baker last night, “was because Britain had just had a big Surrealist exhibition. When he first started doing these cards, they were called Obeah cards – Obeah being a kind of African magic.

They were kind of like Voodoo cards. They are an artwork based on gambling, which is quite a rare combination and the only similar thing I can think of is Marcel Duchamp’s Monte Carlo Bond in 1924.

“Marcel Duchamp came up with a roulette system and said that, in future, he was going to draw or sketch on chance. So his roulette system was going to be his artwork. And it’s oddly fitting for Spare, I think, because of Duchamp’s remarks on the Lottery of Posterity.

“Duchamp said that all artists are actually gamblers – Artists throughout history are like the gamblers of Monte Carlo and this blind lottery allows some to succeed and ruins others. Posterity is a real bitch. It cheats some, re-instates others and reserves the right to change her mind every fifty years.

Spare’s “Portrait of the Artist” (1907) – now owned by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page

“Spare’s career had another peculiar turn around this time, when Adolf Hitler tried to commission a portrait from him. Spare refused and briefly became a hero in the local papers. I think maybe there was an approach made to him by someone at the German Embassy who had seen a picture of Spare looking a bit like Hitler because, for a time, he had a ‘Charlie Chaplin’ moustache a bit like Hitler’s. Spare later did create a picture merging his own features with Hitler’s which, in art historical terms, was unusual at the time.

“He also supposedly photographed himself as Christ on the Cross. If he really did do that, then the photos don’t survive. But this is a very odd art practice for someone in that period.”

There is also an artwork in which Spare seems to have drawn himself as a woman; the picture was later owned by author E.M.Forster.

“Art historically,” said Phil Baker last night, “this is completely unlike anything anyone else was doing at the time. This idea of an artist doing himself as other people waits for… I think Cindy Sherman is the person who’s really made it famous more recently.

“And there’s a Japanese artist called Yasumasa Morimura who’s done himself as a Pre-Raphaelite woman and as Hitler and as Chairman Mao.

“This alone, you would think, might give Austin Osman Spare a bigger place in Art history. Instead, he’s completely vanished. He’s chiefly remembered as an occultist, which begins by him being seduced by an elderly witch in Kennington when he was a child.”

But that’s another story about an interesting man.

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Culture, Fate, Occult, Surreal

Nazis from the dark side of the Moon and ultra film violence from Indonesia

Prince Charles Cinema: home of lateral thinking marketing

London would be a duller place if the Prince Charles Cinema did not exist.

A few weeks ago, the management were asking what their market position was. I said I thought the cinema filled a gap between the mainstream and art house cinemas. In among some cult commercial films, the Prince Charles screens movies the National Film Theatre seldom if ever shows.

The Prince Charles screens cult, schlock, under-the-radar and often extraordinarily quirky movies. Amid special events like Sing-a-long-a-Grease, the Bugsy Malone Sing-Along, Swear-Along-With-South-Park and a screening of ‘The Die Hard Trilogy’ (they are not including Die Hard 4.0 because they say it is not a ‘real’ Die Hard film…. they will soon be screening the little-heard-of Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie and God Bless America (with free hot dogs) as well as an all-night marathon of Friday the 13th Parts I-VIII.

They also yesterday screened two films extraordinary even by their standards – Iron Sky and The Raid both of which, I suspect, have been held back by titles less vivid than they should be. Iron Sky should, I think, really have been called Nazis From The Dark Side of The Moon… or Space Nazis… because the plot runs thus:

Iron Sky: Nazis are not a waste of space

In 1945, some Nazis escaped to the Moon, where they built a giant secret base in the shape of a swastika. Since then, they have been watching us and waiting for the right time to mount an invasion of Earth in their meteor-towing zeppelin-shaped spacecraft and take their revenge. The date is now 2018 and the time is right…

Admittedly I got in for free, but THAT is a movie I would pay good money to see and the strange thing about it is that the visuals and the special effects are excellent, as are the sound, the direction and the acting. And the acting is difficult to pull off, because all the lines are (quite rightly) delivered totally straight-faced, so the acting style has to be in that difficult region between realistic and slightly stylised cartoon – If you have a central Negro character whom the Nazis turn white and a sequence in which the vacuum of space pulls off a female Nazi’s clothes yet she is still somehow able to breathe, there is a credibility risk unless you have everything spot-on.

They get away with lines like (I paraphrase):

“I was black but now I’m white. I went to the dark side of the Moon but now I’m back. And the space Nazis are coming!”

(To a taxi driver) “Take us upState – We need to get back to the Moon”

and

“The Nazis are the only guys the US managed to beat in a fair fight”

Alright, the last line is not actually so odd; it is the truth (if you exclude the British in 1776).

Iron Sky has its faults – it would be a much better film with less ponderous, less Wagnerian music – oddly from Slovenian avant-garde group Laibach – but it is 93 minutes long and never less than interesting.

It is good clean Nazi fun and has a fair stab at satire with a cynical political PR lady who sees the benefits of having a Nazi invasion of Earth and a not-too-far-removed-from-reality Sarah Palin type female US President in 2018 who says: “All Presidents who start a war in their first term get re-elected”.

With an unsurprisingly complicated production history, it is basically a Finnish film with English and German dialogue (sub-titled) which was shot for an estimated 7.5 million Euros in Australia, Finland, Germany and New York and partly financed by ‘crowd funding’ from fan investors.

Iron Sky is well worth seeing on the big screen – something that is highly unlikely in the UK now, as distributors Revolver are putting it straight to DVD.

The Raid: wall-to-wall high-rise violence

The Raid is another film championed by the Prince Charles Cinema though, unlike Iron Sky, it did get a decent UK release.

It is a visceral, staggeringly-violent Indonesian action film directed by Welsh film-maker Gareth Evans (allegedly only 27-years-old) with jaw-dropping martial arts sequences.

I am no martial arts aficionado, but the action is amazing – it showcases the unknown-to-me Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat.

The movie won the Midnight Madness Award at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and that sounds a pretty well-titled award.

The plot is token – more a MacGuffin than a plot.

A less-than-elite SWAT team mount an attack on the strangely run-down Jakarta tower block base of a crime lord who has rented rooms in the block out to the city’s most dangerous murderers, killers and gangsters… and, inexplicably, to one ordinary good guy and his pregnant wife.

Running 101 minutes, it could usefully have about 10 minutes trimmed off it, but it is astonishingly gripping throughout, especially given that it is simply wall-to-wall violence. Very well edited and with vivid Dolby Stereo, it is like being in a firefight. You have no idea what is going to happen next.

And the violence is relentless.

There are a couple of half-hearted attempts to give the movie depth and a late attempt to create personal sympathy with one of the characters, but this is pointless.

Watching it reminded me of the original reviews of Reservoir Dogs, which said that film was mindlessly violent, staggeringly bloody and was simply violence for the sake of violence.

Reservoir Dogs was not.

The Raid is.

And I loved it.

Director Gareth Evans could be the new Quentin Tarantino.

Uniquely different. That is what you get at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Nazis from the Dark Side of the Moon for 93 minutes and mindless martial art violence from Indonesia for 101 minutes.

Now that is what I call entertainment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cult, Culture, Humor, Humour, Kitsch, London, Movies, Violence

The effect of the London Olympics and a cup of tea on the Edinburgh Fringe

The Fringe Roadshow at London’s Shaw Theatre yesterday

The famous repeated mantra in William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade is that, however experienced, nobody knows for certain what will work or what will happen… Nobody KNOWS anything.

Ever since I blogged that I only very rarely remember anything I dream, I have been occasionally remembering a tiny snippet of a dream here-and-there. This is partly because I have bits-and-bobs of a cold hanging round my nose and throat and brain and I keep waking up during the night coughing.

Last night, in my dreams, I was at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and bought a cup of tea, but the assistant behind the tea bar topped it up with orange juice instead of milk.

“Oh! Sorry, sorry,” she said. “I’ll replace it. I’ll do it again.”

“No, don’t bother,” I replied. “It might work. It might taste interesting.”

Nobody KNOWS anything.

You can never tell what may work at the Edinburgh Fringe – or what may happen.

I dreamed about the Edinburgh Fringe last night because, yesterday afternoon, I went to an Edinburgh Fringe Roadshow in London.

This year, the London Olympics overlap the first nine days of the Fringe in theory – or the first twelve days in practice, given that many shows start on the Wednesday preceding the official start of the Fringe.

I asked Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Fringe, if this was a good or bad thing for attracting audiences to Edinburgh in August.

“Well,” she said, “we’ve been talking a lot about whether that will impact or not. We’ve been doing a lot of additional marketing and moving a lot of marketing earlier. We’ll be doing a lot more in London to counter that. Whether it will have an effect or not, who knows?”

You can never tell what may happen at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Nobody KNOWS anything.

Even Doug Segal – who performs an excellent mind-reading act – does not know what may happen in Edinburgh.

Last year was his first appearance at Fringe and he got full houses. His show was in a relatively small venue at the Free Festival, where performers are charged nothing by the venues and the audience is charged no admission but can pay what they think it was worth at the end. It is like indoor busking. And with the same uncertainty.

Doug said he made about £150 each night for his hour-long show and, over the course of the Fringe, broke even. This is a rare thing at the Fringe; most people lose money because of the cost of accommodation, travel and staging/publicising their shows.

You can never tell what may happen at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Not even a top-notch mind-reader.

Nobody KNOWS anything.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Sport

Punks were Hippies with short hair – the link from beatniks to The Beatles

When I was in my teens, I used to read the hippie newspaper it (International Times – the title was reduced to the iconic it after The Times threatened to sue, on the somewhat unlikely grounds that people would confuse the hippie International Times with The Times, serious recorder of world events). Later, I wrote a column about movies for a briefly-revived it.

In the earlier issues I read, though, there was a far more prominent column by a guy called only Miles.

He was and is an interesting man. He had created the International Times with that other seminal Swinging London figure John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins.

Miles managed the legendary Better Books shop in London’s New Compton Street and later, with Marianne Faithfull’s husband John Dunbar, he ran the Indica gallery/bookshop where Dunbar introduced John Lennon to Yoko Ono. Still later, Miles ran the Beatles’ Zapple record label and lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York.

Last night, he was chatting to the Sohemian Society, who shrewdly billed his talk with the line:

If You Can Remember The 60s, You Are Probably Miles

And – though this might be affected by a comparison with my own terrible memory – he does have an extraordinary, fluent memory for names, dates and descriptions of locations… they all tumbled out, recreating the height of the Swinging Sixties, which he reckons really ran from about 1964 to about 1976.

“I always thought punk was really the end of that same period,” he says, “I used to know The Clash quite well, because I used to write for NME, and they told me Well, of course, we grew up in the years of Oz and Kerouac and Burroughsbut we couldn’t tell anybody, because Malcolm McLaren had told everyone to say ‘Who gives a shit?’ It was all ridiculous.

“You see early pictures of Mick Jones and The Clash with hair out to here, it looks like something out of Mott The Hoople who were, of course, his favourite band.

“I always thought that the punks were just hippies with short hair.

Joe Strummer cast the I Ching to decide whether to join The Clash or not – you can’t get more hippie than that.

“Somebody like John Lydon was probably a bit more authentic and generally more angry and cut off from that underground culture, but most of them were still arts students. I used to know Rat Scabies’ mum. She used to come to the UFO club.

“It was part of the same scene as far as I was concerned. Joe Strummer was only eight years younger than me.”

Miles’ start in trendy London, though, was much earlier, after seeing a TV documentary on the American ‘Beat Poets’ – Allen GinsbergGregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

He became the 21-year-old manager of Better Books, which had links with the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco (run by Ferlinghetti) and the Peace Eye Bookstore in New York’s Lower East Side (run by Ed Sanders of The Fugs).

This ultimately resulted in an astonishing poetry reading – the International Poetry Incarnation – at the Albert Hall in London on 11th June 1965.

At the beginning of 1965, Allen Ginsberg went from the US to Cuba to “check it out” and managed to get himself deported. They could not send him back to the US because there had been no official transport connection between the two countries since the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis problems.

So they deported Ginsberg to Czechoslovakia where eventually, according to Miles, he “fell foul of the secret police. He got so involved with the students there that he was elected the King of May and 100,000 people paraded through the streets and he was wearing a crown and the authorities started to take a very dim view of this, so the secret police managed to get hold of his secret notebook which, unfortunately, had a long description of some insertions of a broom handle. So they put him on the next plane out of town and that was going to London.”

Ed Sanders had given Ginsberg a list of interesting contacts which included Miles at Better Books.

For a time, Ginsberg stayed at Miles’ flat in Fitzrovia which, then, was a ‘beat’ area.

Ginsberg, according to Miles, was “hanging out at all the local beatnik bars around there. In the winter, everybody used to wear long greatcoats with long white scarves – I think that was the symbol of being a proper English beatnik.”

Ginsberg, though widely-travelled, had never encountered the concept of gas meters, where you put a coin in the meter to obtain a power supply.

“One day,” says Miles, “a man from the Gas Board came to empty the money from the meter and had to stand on a chair to get the half-crowns out. I just left him there as usual and went off to do something in the back room. Then, suddenly, I heard him say: I’m finished now, sir. Can I go now, sir? which was odd.

“Normally, he would just go and let himself out. I went back into the room and the man from the Gas Board was on the chair with Allen standing stark naked next to him asking him all these questions about the money going in the meter and how it worked. The man refused to come down from his chair until Allen moved away from him.”

Ginsberg later turned up at an event naked and, according to Miles, John Lennon’s reaction was: “You don’t do that in front of the birds.” Ironically, says Miles: “John himself did it two-and-a-half years later on the album sleeve of Two Virgins, so everybody could see.”

When Ginsberg had first walked into Better Books, Miles had asked him: “Would you like to do a reading?”

“Of course,” came the immediate reply.

At that time, Ginsberg had a policy of not charging for readings – because poetry had to remain “pure”… Look, it was the 1960s.

The reading was unadvertised but the shop was filled for it, with people halfway out into the street.

Donovan was pressed against the window,” Miles remembers, “and there was Gypsy Dave and Andy Warhol was in the front row – he would never have been outside.”

This Better Books reading was so successful, they decided to have another more ambitious one because they found they could get Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso together in London at the same time.

Ginsberg was almost entirely gay but had an on-off girlfriend, underground film-maker Barbara Rubin

“She was very, very aggressive,” according to Miles, “just like his own mother and poor Allen was quite scared of her.”

Both Barbara and Ginsberg’s mother had mental problems: his mother died in a mental hospital.

“When the idea of having this big Beat Poet reading came up, Barbara asked: What’s the biggest hall in town? and my wife said, Well, the Albert Hall, I suppose. So Barbara phoned the Albert Hall and booked it. Pure American chutzpah. My weekly wage at the time was, I think, £8.16s.8p. The Albert Hall cost £400; an unbelievable amount of money. Plus another £100 for every hour we ran on.

“The booking was in ten days time, but we got quite a lot of publicity in the Sunday Times, the Observer and so on. At that time, Hoppy (John Hopkins, co-founder of it) was a press photographer and handed photos out all around Fleet Street.

“We got so many people turning up, we had to turn people away. I think the Albert Hall holds about 7,000. It was just an unbelievable evening.

“The one flaw in it was that we ended up with 17 people on the bill and an awful lot of them had never read in anything bigger than the upstairs room in a pub. And they were just frozen sometimes with all the lights and 7,000 people looking at them.”

Very 1960s.

The film-maker Peter Whitehead made a short documentary Wholly Communionon the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation, which is on YouTube in four parts.

Miles’ books include London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1960s, Culture, History, Music, Newspapers, Rock music, Society