Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don't be a Dummy

For me Anthony Hopkins' greatest cinematic role was as schizophrenic ventriloquist Corky Withers in psychological thriller Magic (1978). Withers is an acutely shy entertainer who is bullied into committing murder by his sinister alter ego Fats - a ventriloquist's dummy.

For this highly demanding part Hopkins had to learn how to cut a card deck with one hand and roll a coin across his knuckles. He also had to master a New York accent. And, most importantly of all, he had to learn how to throw his voice.

Director Dickie Attenborough decided to record Hopkins' ventriloquised voice rather than take the easy option of artificially dubbing it onto the dummy. Hopkins was therefore coached in ventriloquism in LA. For the part of Fats he pitched his voice higher than normal and based the rhythm of his speech on brash Vegas comedian Don Rickles.

The dummy used in the film weighed 16 pounds with its facial features echoing that of the Welshman. It is said that while on location Hopkins slept with the dummy in his bed. Hopkins, who himself has suffered from shyness, was able to relate to the dual nature of Withers - the modest exterior and the monster within. He reckoned it was one of the easiest parts he's ever had to play.

Oddly enough one aspect of this shyness manifested itself during the shooting of the film. Hopkins and female co-star Ann Margret were required to enact a fairly explicit nude love scene. The tension between them was apparently so bad (due to their mutual coyness) that Hopkins stormed off set and had to be persuaded to come back and finish the job, so to speak.

Infamously this was the only time Ann Margret's boobs ever appeared on celluloid. Stills printed without her consent in High Society magazine led to a court case for invasion of privacy which she eventually lost.

Magic was modestly successful at the box office but the Academy Award for Hopkins' performance predicted by Attenborough never materialised. Instead it turned out to be the film that broke him in America. Where once he'd driven around LA at night, parking his car outside the former houses of Hollywood greats such as Humphrey Bogart (as was his habit), Hopkins himself was now well and truly on the road to cinematic glory.

Above is a still from the movie - Tony is on the right.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Barrie J Davies at Garej

Barrie J Davies is a one man personality cult. But he is no Mao Zedong, Stalin or other dictatorial monster - no, Barrie J Davies is an artist. I know this because he keeps on saying so.

Recently Barrie published a book entitled: Subesque : The Art of Barrie J Davies. This weighty tome showcases a wide range of Barrie's lo-fi oeuvre - cheapo artworks and photos featuring subverting captions, bad puns and weird juxtapositions.

Hundreds of works can be found therein which when viewed individually might seem insubstantial and trivial but as a collection form an interesting and entertaining whole. My favourites include a post-it note stuck on a Royal Mail post box bearing the inscription: "Help I'm stuck in the post box"; and a pair of washing-up gloves that have the words "love" and "hate" biroed across the knuckle area of their rubber fingers.

You can experience Barrie's unique brand of comedic conceptual art over at Garej (Pontcanna, Cardiff) from November 23rd, where he is hosting an event called Brake Pads. A Garej press release claims he has hijacked the venue: "with his fanatical anarchic army of artists, musicians and poets for his own psychedelic humorous insubordinate desires". Now, that would be just so typical of the man.

Certain critics regard Barrie J Davies as some kind of dada-ist genius, others think he is just taking the piss. Go and check him out and decide for yourselves.

Welsh Rare Beat 2

After the musical feast that was Welsh Rare Beat comes a second helping of Welsh-language esoterica courtesy of Andy Votel, Dom Thomas and Gruff Rhys. The Welsh Rare Beat 2 menu invites us to tuck into a scrumptious selection of kitsch, cosmic and psychedelic flavours by the likes of Heather Jones, Meic Stevens and Y Tebot Piws (The Purple Teapot) - to name but three.

Sleeve notes are penned by Gruff Rhys whose scribblings on the first instalment were a genuine education in Welsh-language rock and pop history.

The packaging here is fun too undermining stereotypes and tapping into some of the more colourful events of recent Welsh popular culture like the Dyfed Triangle and Welsh motorcycle gangs (ground already covered extensively on this blog, I might add). Check out the press release - it's very entertaining and a nice piece of Welsh popular culture in itself.

Welsh Rare Beat 2 is released by Finders Keepers records and is on sale now.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cardiff Zombie Walk

They are coming. With blank expressionless eyes and green rotting flesh dropping away from their very bones the zombies desperately want to get their outstretched hands on you. For on the night of November 21, 2007, the undead will rise up from their graves and walk the earth… well, Wood Street, Cardiff, anyway.

A Zombie Walk is being planned for that evening and YOUR ghoulish presence is required. Don’t worry about not having any green make-up handy you can get that done for free at Jumpin Jaks which will be the event’s HQ. And, quite frankly, what better place to be hosting such a gathering?

Apparently the largest ever assembly of zombies was at the Monroeville Shopping Mall, Pittsburgh, USA. Organisers of the Cardiff event hope to beat the world record but are there really enough Welsh zombies out there to succeed? We’ll see. It should be fun whatever happens.

So, whether you enjoy dressing up like a reanimated corpse; want to try and break a world record; or just like putting the wind up passing Christmas shoppers make sure you get your bones down to Jumpin Jaks (Millennium Plaza), Wood Street, on November 21. For full details of times etc click here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Grove

Was over at Jacob's Antiques Market today where - up on the top floor - I found an exhibition of Welsh-language record sleeves by Peter Finnemore entitled The Grove.

It's great. The assemblage functions as an historical record (forgive the pun) of Welsh pop music. It's also a veritable feast of Welsh kitsch (a strangely critically neglected aspect of our popular culture). And in the arrangement and designs of the sleeves themselves has its own innate aesthetic appeal.

The top floor at Jacob's is also where they film Welsh-language music prog Bandit so while you're up there you can have a wander around the set and generally have a good snoop about.

One of the record sleeves on display is Caneuon Serch Y Pelydrau by Y Pelydrau (The Rays). Funnily enough I bought this very record myself a couple of years back from a charity shop in Roath. To be honest the music is pretty banal but the cover is great. It shows the group in matching folky outfits juxtaposed against the sinister backdrop of the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station.

Given that the record was released in 1967 you'd have thought that it was an ironic comment on the imposition of a nuclear power plant on Welsh soil. Or an anti-nuclear protest. However there is no critical dimension to the work whatsoever (that I can detect). In fact, one of the girls in the band was employed at Trawsfynydd and the record appears to be an homage to the nuclear power plant itself. Weird.

You can check out the peculiar wonders of The Grove over the next couple of days (November 9-11) as part of the Swn Festival.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pete Fowler at Work

Popped into Chapter Arts, Cardiff, today to observe artist Pete Fowler painting a large-scale psychedelic monster mural.

His technique interested me. Headphones clamped on, Fowler moved about the work with energy and intent. A dab of paint here, a brushstroke there, a contemplative step back, an adjustment of his spectacles, then off again with renewed vigour. Like Rolf Harris on mushrooms.

I studied him closely. Locked into his own private monster world, he appeared completely oblivious to the bourgeois housewives, would-be intellectuals, and all the other usual suspects who wash up in Chapter on a daily basis.

As I sipped my over-priced blackcurrant Ribena I couldn't help feeling that this was a pretty cool way to spend an hour. There's something incredibly satisfying about watching other people slaving away - especially when they are as talented as Fowler.

Finally, fully arted-up, I took a few snaps for posterity (see pic), sidestepped a couple of resting actors, then headed out into a bright autumnal Canton day, leaving Fowler to get on with his artistic vision.

Pete Fowler is painting his mural live - like a monkey in a zoo - all this week (November 5 - 8) as part of the Swn Festival. Go and stare at him.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Man From U.N.C.L.E in Newport

As any Newport citizen worth their salt will tell you classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E book The Stone-Cold Dead in the Market Affair (1966) starts off with a murder in Market Street, Newport, takes in the Black Swan and the Cross Keys before eventually heading out into the badlands of north Wales.

Welsh author John Oram Thomas penned the book to disprove a friend's assertion that no one could write a decent thriller set in Wales. Thomas had previously written another U.N.C.L.E book The Copenhagen Affair (1965) based upon his wartime experiences fighting for the Danish resistance.

Something of an eccentric, Thomas owned a Greek canary called Spiro and in later life a giant model of Zebedee from cult children's TV show The Magic Roundabout. He had numerous jobs before becoming a staff writer for the Empire News and then a novelist.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Coming Sŵn

Small and interesting is the way forward for festivals of all kinds. Anyone who has been to Glastonbury (music) or Hay-on-Wye (literature) in recent years will know that the concept of the festival has been thoroughly co-opted by the corporate machine. In fact, there is a term to describe someone who gets excited by the prospect of attending one of these extortionate uber-gatherings - it's: gullible dickhead.

How refreshing then that Huw Stephens (off the radio) has taken it upon himself to curate a small but perfectly formed festival in the heart of Cardiff entitled Sŵn. Out of season, cheap, urban, and brimful of bands, art, and cinema you can indulge your festival-going instincts without having to endure any of the rubbish bits. That means you will require no wellington boots; you will encounter no jugglers; and you will sleep in a comfy bed at the end of the evening. Bliss.

There are more bands on show than you can shake a shitty stick at. I'm particularly looking forward to Edwyn Collins; Black Lips; Threatmantics; The Cribs; and Cate le Bon. As far as artistic highlights are concerned you can watch Pete Fowler creating one of his famous monster designs live at Chapter Arts Centre. Whilst over at Jacob's Market Peter Finnemore is displaying a load of Welsh-language record covers in an intriguing exhibition of Welsh kitsch (one of my favourite of all artistic genres). And I'm barely scratching the surface of what's on offer here.

Lets hope the inaugural Sŵn festival proves to be a big success and that it becomes a regular part of the Welsh cultural calender. The Sŵn festival will take place between November 9 and 11. For the full schedule of events and ticketing details check out the Sŵn website. Today!