Impressions from A Weekend Abroad

Impressions from A Weekend Abroad

This weekend, the CCA played host a remarkable event, Monorail: A Weekend Abroad. Put together by the so-much-more-than-a record shop, it’s unlikely anyone could’ve walked away from the venue on Saturday night feeling anything other than elated.

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Reel Gone/3: 'Girl with a Suitcase'

Reel Gone/3: 'Girl with a Suitcase'

Valerio Zurlini is one of the most criminally underrated directors of all time. Born in Bologna in 1926, he studied law, and later art and painting, before working on a number of short films and making his feature debut with The Girls of San Frediano (Le Ragazze di San Frediano, 1954).

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Reel Gone/2: 'Toby Dammit'

Reel Gone/2: 'Toby Dammit'

Referring to any Federico Fellini film as a lost gem might seem rather absurd - after all, this is a name that is instantly recognisable to many, a name that has almost become a byword for Italian and European auteur cinema. One just needs to think about his Academy Award winning 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, a work that has helped create a certain popular idea of Italian lifestyle (and has even provided us with the eponym 'paparazzo').

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Reel Gone/1: 'Darling'

Reel Gone/1: 'Darling'

Reel Gone looks at films that we think should receive more exposure and critical attention. It's essentially an excuse to write about things we like, even if they haven't been recently released on DVD or shown in cinemas. 

Even if it sits at number  83 in the BFI Top 100 British Films list (and brought Julie Christie an Academy Award win for best actress), John Schlesinger's Darling (1965) is still a bit of a lost classic. Not as loved or even well known as the exuberant and highly inventive Billy Liar (1963), it was dismissed by its own director with some pretty damning words - "It's far too pleased with itself. I wince when I see it now". 

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Interview: Sam Knee, author of 'A Scene in Between'


Following the exclusive photo of Shop Assistants we posted on Wednesday, we're delighted to present an interview with Sam Knee, author of 'A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music'. Sam kindly took the time to provide some insight into the genesis of the book and the scene it so lovingly documents to Erika Sella.


I originally come from a town that can easily be defined as a ‘provincial coffin’ and I came of age during the Britpop years: not a very lucky girl. Discovering ‘older’ music and 1950s/60s icons (mainly through Pulp and Belle and Sebastian) helped me form my identity and gave a feeling of ‘belonging’ and a sense of direction.  What did the 80s independent scene mean to you? How did you connect with other music fans?

When I look back at the 80's it seems almost in slow motion. The path to anything of worth was an arduous task of putting the puzzle pieces together, often failing and starting over again. The indie music scenes and fashions were something I lived and breathed quite organically after years of feeling detached from reality. When I was fifteen I ran into an old friend from junior school at a local gig in Southend by some awful turgid mod revival band, we were both wearing the same Cramps t-shirts and instantly became inseparable after a five year absence. It was cool to find someone to talk to other than myself.

The Pastels (with Strawberry Switchblade) , Glasgow, 1982. Photo by Peter McArthur.

The Pastels (with Strawberry Switchblade) , Glasgow, 1982. Photo by Peter McArthur.

Where did you shop at the time? What was your most treasured item of clothing? Any particular fashion icon?

I lived in charity shops, jumble sales rummaging for 60s treasures and scoured old man type shops for unworn 60's stock which back then was highly feasible as it was less than twenty years before. I developed a vast wardrobe of clothes for pennies, not all of it fitted perfectly soi'd attempt to alter things by hand sewing method often ending in disaster. I cultivated a long haired tramp like mod image. My most treasured item was a pair of brown suede Chelsea boots made by Denson shoes from the mid 60's I excavated from the local Army and Navy surplus store, carried all manner of bizarre old stock, mostly horrendous, but occasionally sublime. Style icon wise, I remember thinking Tony and Kim from the Scientists looked really cool around the Blood Red River phase, all long bowl haircuts, paisley shirts, skinny black jeans and pointy Chelsea boots. Their gigs were mind numbingly brilliant outings into repetitive fuzz dirge. I sorta think they were a big influence on some of the embryonic UK bands i.e. Spacemen 3 and MBV.

Music and fashion have always gone hand in hand, right from the very beginning. Why did you pick the 1980-1988 independent scene? Just personal reasons?

This era was my youth and I witnessed most of these bands live and experienced all of the youth fashion nuances as they morphed into one another first hand. It seemed like a subject I could approach with some genuine nous and compassion, also for some reason it had remained uncharted written territory. Which for a vastly fascinating chapter in UK youth fashion music history is an absolute crime of omission.The kids will have their say (SSD).

My Bloody Valentine. Photo by Ken Copsey.

My Bloody Valentine. Photo by Ken Copsey.

 I started following your blog, Leaders of Men, a while ago. How did the idea of the book come about? 

The blog was where i started gradually laying the books 60's/80's foundations down. I'd been planning A Scene In Between in my head for a couple of years before that at least. You could say I'm quite slow at getting my shit together.

I like what you say in your introduction – ‘It was fairly standard practice to sell for example, a Primal Scream or Pastels single, along with a Love or 13th Floor Elevator reissue LP and a Ramones or X Ray-Spex album all in the same transaction’. Do you think it was this diversity that made the music ‘scene’ so interesting, something worth revisiting?

For sure, Ii feel in many ways it was the last wave of the New Wave before the whole E thing came barging in lobotomising the youth into a sterile conformity. Caroline Coon mentions that somewhere in her book (1988) that punk rock tremors will be felt as far away as '88, her premonition was bang on. For a brief period between '84 - '87 all this rich sonic tapestry to feed from became the same thing. 60's folk rock and garage + 70's DIY punk and new wave = 80's indie fuzz jangle!

The photographs in the book really interesting because girls feature so heavily in them. Laddish attitudes tend to spoil any music scene for me (one of the reasons why Britpop never really convinced me).  Do you think the higher proportion of female musicians influenced the fashion and/or attitudes at the time?

Gina Davidson (Marine Girls), 1981. Photo by Paul Rosen.

Gina Davidson (Marine Girls), 1981. Photo by Paul Rosen.

The indie scenes then were a safe poetic haven away from the laddish majority. Girls were as involved in the scenes as much as boys and there was no macho bravado. All that crap started seeping back in with grunge and the return to rockism just like punk had never happened and it was 1972 all over again. Yuk.

And finally…..a perhaps obvious question. What happened to music sub-cultures and micro-scenes?  Has independent music lost some of its power or have things simply become more fragmented?

Sorry Erika I'm so out of the loop these days I can't really answer this one. I'm a genuine relic.

The Shop Assistants, 1985. Photo by Mark Flunder.

The Shop Assistants, 1985. Photo by Mark Flunder.

All photos courtesy of Sam Knee. His book, A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music, will be published in October by Cicada Books. A launch event will take place in Rough Trade East (London) on Thursday 03 October, featuring a DJ set by Stephen Pastel and a Q&A session with Sam, Stephen, Gina Davidson (Marine Girls) and Phil King (Felt). Mono (Glasgow) will host the Scottish launch on 07 October. 

Features: Roman Polanski's 'The Tenant'


Unpopular on release in 1976, Roman Polanski's The Tenant is the final film in his 'Apartment Trilogy', explorations of madness fostered in enclosed spaces. As Erika Sella finds out, claustrophobia isn't just caused by bricks and mortar - outside forces have their part to play too...


Polanski is not an easy figure to deal with nowadays. It is sometimes hard to separate art from the artist, and the awareness of certain events in the director's life can make some viewers very uneasy with his work. I am of course horrified at what the Polish/French director allegedly did, and I think abuse is inexcusable in all circumstances. However, I am also aware that I love music and cinema made by people who often acted in questionable ways (hello Phil Spector, Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen).

So, when I discovered Edinburgh’s Filmhouse were going to host a Polanski retrospective, I was simply overcome with cinephile's excitement. Whilst I enjoyed the 'usual suspects' (Chinatown, Knife In The Water, Rosemary’s Baby) I was particularly happy I could finally unearth relatively undiscovered gems such as Fearless Vampire Killers (AKA Dance of the Vampires) and The Tenant.

 Image Copyright: Paramount Home Entertainment

 Image Copyright: Paramount Home Entertainment

The latter wasn't well received at the time of its release. One critic, Leslie Halliwell (of Film Guide fame) went as far as describing it as ‘the total dissipation of whatever talent [Polanski] once had’. I was intrigued by such responses, and also by a plot that reminded me of both Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. All three films are about a character who is unable to relate to other and slowly loses the plot. It's no coincidence that they're known as the Apartment Trilogy – they’re all largely filmed in the threatening, and sometimes claustrophobic surroundings of the protagonist's home.

The Tenant stars Roman Polanski himself - he plays a meek and somewhat inscrutable Polish immigrant, Trelkovsky , who rents a flat in Paris after learning that the previous occupier, a girl named Simone Choule, has tried to kill herself by jumping out of a window. Trelkovsky is clearly an outsider right from the start, when we see him meet the inexplicably nasty concierge for the first time. He doesn’t have an overly strong personality (his first self –assessment is "I don’t like being a nuisance"), and he is also a foreigner. This is picked up on time and time again, both by his landlord and by the police superintendent; his identity card (Trelkovsky has French citizenship) is handled by the latter with disdain ("It’s in very poor state").

Even the title of the film itself implies a transient, insecure and fragile state, subject to the will of others: as Trelkovsky is reminded by his landlord "You’ll do as you please when you have your own house". The apartment is very important to the whole film: as with Repulsion, it becomes a reflection of the protagonist’s state of mind. It is a space that is for the most part constricting and uninviting – black, maroon and dark green hues are predominant; it is also a space where everyday objects and surroundings (a lamp, some chipped paint) can take on a dark, grim meaning. In both films, nothing is overtly horrible (at least initially): the cracks in the wall, the dingy little bedrooms and the possessions left by the previous tenant are commonplace if a little unpleasant to witness. Gradually they become more menacing, and just as they seem to, Trelkovsky abandons his attempts to please and fit in and starts to express his inner turmoil. Repulsion did something very similar, and perhaps to an even greater effect: just as Carole slips into madness, the everyday objects that surround her go quite literally nasty (potatoes sprout, a skinned rabbit rots away in the kitchen). The hands protruding from the wall are a violent threat as Carole is the unwilling object of the desire; the hands outside the window in The Tenant are equally aggressive, trying to invade the protagonist’s personal space, attempting to injure or even kill him.

Image Copyright: Paramount Home Entertainment

Image Copyright: Paramount Home Entertainment

Trelkovsky decides to have a flat-warming party with a few of his colleagues. When the gathering gets just a little too loud, the protagonist gets a scolding from his upstairs neighbour. It’s the start of something that borders on psychological torture - the other residents constantly complain to him over incredibly trivial things, making his life a misery. Polanski's pessimistic view of what society can be is in full show here: the meek shan't inherit the earth. 

This belief become blatantly obvious when Trelkovsky refuses to sign a petition against another dweller because he is not bothered by her presence in the building (he has never met her). His response is met at first with disbelief and then with threatening words: "You will regret your decision". Trelkovsky is powerless against his surroundings, even if it's clear he means well. He is weak, isolated, he can't fit in, and it's impossible for him to go against the grain.

The protagonist feels suffocated, helpless, and starts thinking that the whole building his conspiring against him. As viewers, we are inclined to sympathise with his persona, but are not relying solely on his narration: we are therefore unsure of where 'reality ' finishes and where his descent into madness (his hallucinations) start. One can't help thinking of Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby - are her neighbours and husband really plotting something against her and her child, or is she imagining everything? Trelkovsky’s identity, already somewhat delicate, starts to disintegrate and merge into something else: without giving too much away, we'll just say that the protagonist literally steps into someone else's shoes, and takes on someone else's role. This will lead to predictably dramatic consequences. Polanski doesn't miss a trick and films Trelkovsky.'s demise in a spectacular manner which adds one last, extremely gloomy chapter to the protagonist’s life. His persona (or ‘real self’ if such thing exists) totally shattered, he plays out one last performance. He is now a puppet, whose terrifying final dance is 

Image Copyright: Paramount Home Entertainment

Image Copyright: Paramount Home Entertainment

The Tenant is not an easy watch: its density means that repeated viewings will probably spur fresh interpretations. It’s a largely allegorical film, and we are left with the feeling that what we're watching is not about the fairly straightforward story that is being told on screen.

Moreover, it seems to remind us of something a certain French philosopher once said: "L’enfer, c’est les autres".