Blackpaint 695 – Exploding Toilets, Fred and Ginger, Simon and Garfunkel

I got a lovely comment the other day from reader Laurie, which has prompted me to do a bit more on films: couldn’t call what I do critique really, more like cursory idle chatter. As long-suffering readers will know, my thing is to take two (or more) films, paintings, artists, books, whatever and find comparisons and similarities between them, regardless of cultural differences, period, tone, language – or anything else. Tonight, I thought I’d start with toilets. Why? Because I want to seem “edgy” and unsentimental, before wallowing in the perfection of Astaire and Rogers.

Trainspotting (1996, Danny Boyle)

I’d never seen it before in its entirety when it showed up on TV recently; the “worst toilet in Scotland” scene was familiar from clips, however. If there is anyone reading who hasn’t seen it, the character Renton, addicted like all his mates except the psychopathic Begbie, has the runs and is forced to use this utterly filthy, shit-encrusted, semi-flooded public toilet. And yes, he drops his pills – drugs, that is – into the bowl. And goes down after them, diving into the filth and miraculously emerging into a sort of cistern of clean water in which he locates his pills and swims back up into and through the filth, to emerge from the bowl, spitting out brown water.

Parasite (2020, Bong Joon Ho)

A week or so later, this South Korean film also turned up on TV. It was more familiar in that I’d seen it at the cinema a while back on its release. There ‘s a scene in it where the criminal family who have fraudulently installed themselves in a variety of jobs (housekeeper, tutor, chauffeur) in a rich couple’s ultra modern building, are force to return to their own slummy semi-basement in the midst of a colossal storm. The basement is flooded, the daughter climbs on to the raised toilet bowl (see below), lights a cigarette somehow – and a moment later, the toilet appears to explode, spraying lumps of ordure all over her and everything else.

Well, so this is disgusting but up to now the film has been, like Trainspotting, basically a comedy. Soon, however, it descends into horror (or maybe ascends -value judgement), when a series of bloody killings takes place at a garden party. And then I thought back to Trainspotting and realised there is a similar shock change of tone at one point. Nothing to do with Begbie’s outbursts, which are signalled very clearly: no, this is the death of the baby, which we have seen crawling about on the floor unheeded, in the midst of the cast of addicts who are shooting up all around it, The death is introduced by the screaming of the mother, which starts as an unidentified noise in the brain of the unconscious Renton, and slowly becomes recognisable as screaming.

So there we are, a cross-cultural and cross- temporal? historical? link – or links, actually, between Scotland and South Korea, between two centuries. Nothing if not inclusive here.

Fred and Ginger

OK, from the disgusting to the sublime. Reeling from the above, and my usual late night fare of serial killers on Quest Red etc., I went back to basics on YouTube, to feast on Fred and Ginger, having seen The Gay Divorcee and the Parkinson interview with Fred on Talking Pictures (also on YouTube). First, Parkinson: he showed a clip of Fred doing “Putting on the Ritz” from “Blue Skies” – stunning. The stick rapping, the timing,,, unbelievable. Actually, change that to brilliant, simply because it’s pretty much all unbelievable in the nearness to perfection of the routines and the execution. Count the number of times reporters, interviewees, everybody say “incredibly” in an average evening on TV, you’ll see what I mean.

This is what she’s taught me

This one is “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time” (1936). The pair breeze through it as if for the first time. Note the way they stride towards us palms outward as if to say “here we are!”, then stop and break into tap. And the effortless way Fred swings her over the rail and passes over it himself; smooth and dangerous looking.

Fantastic Tap

This is Fred dancing with Eleanor Powell, to “Begin the Beguine”. Not as elegant as his set pieces with Ginger, perhaps, but this must be close to the best tap there is, from both of them.

That Beautiful Back

Back to “Swing time”, for the last dance with Ginger, introduced by Fred singing “Never Gonna Dance”, wistfully, because she’s going off to marry someone else. They start by simply pacing around together dolefully, then break into dance, she’s leaning that beautiful back into him, shoulders raised… and she breaks away. He moves towards her, grabs her arm, spins her around, she looks at him shocked. He mimes pleading with her and suddenly they are dancing again. The orchestra (superb, as in all their films) reprises the big numbers, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “Waltz in Swing Time” – they dance up the black staircase, he spins her again at speed – and she exits, leaving him to follow seconds later, slowly, looking crushed.

I could write all night about their routines, and Ginger’s warm, sceptical smile, eyes slightly veiled, at Fred’s breezy importuning -but I’ll be returning for sure. Just mention one other routine, which is obviously “Let’s Face the Music” from “Follow the Fleet”. Its the exit – their exits are always perfect. The orchestra has piled on the drama and just done that bit where they run up and down the scale, and the dancers, as they pass out of our sight, suddenly throw their heads back and high step in unison – a perfect Art Deco image.

Simon and Garfunkel, the concert in Central Park (1981)

Whilst on YouTube, check this out – its one of the best live concerts I’ve seen, up there with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band in 1975 on the Old Grey Whistle Test (the one with Albert Lee on guitar). For me, the standout songs – we’re back to Simon and Garfunkel, by the way – are “America” (counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike); “Late in the Evening” (just watch the drummer, the brass section and most of all, the audience); and “American Tune” (based on that beautiful hymn from the Matthew Passion). Also Slip Sliding Away, The Boxer and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover; I’ve watched the whole thing four times and the standouts maybe ten.

My latest paintings to finish with – Scottish toilet or Fred and Ginger? You decide…

Mr. Whippy


Frogleg on the wall, with a friend


Christmas Eve 2021

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