Friday, 10 September 2010

Babes in the Wood

The image of these two shy and delicate creatures is immortalised in linen – hands forever clasped in this intimidating grove of Royal Palms. Humid tropical air oozes menace. They seem to have strayed from their natural habitat of beachside cocktail bar or country club tennis court and wandered into a deep dark wood, perhaps in pursuit of wild flowers or exotic butterflies. Florida is the pre-eminent linen postcard state where the sub-tropical chromatic brilliance is saturated and embedded into the fibre of the printed surface. The bonus card brings another vision of loveliness, a bucolic celebration of citrus bounty.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Passage du Grand Cerf

As you travel south along rue Saint-Denis the raffish air of hustle and bustle declines into sober gentility and in keeping with the prevailing tone the Passage du Grand Cerf is a tranquil and little frequented space. It was extensively renovated in 1990 and in the service of uniformity the shop fronts conform to a single architectural formula repeated ad infinitum with very few concessions to individuality. The strongest impression is of affluence and exclusivity – these shops are not welcoming to the casual browser. At 11.8m in height, this is the tallest passage in Paris and its redeeming feature is the spectacular glazed roof, supported by improbably slender ironwork and through which a wondrous amount of light is admitted. The intense luminosity, doubled and redoubled by all the reflective surfaces more than compensates for the rather sterile character of the passage.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


The suspended monorail is an enduring vision of a future that never quite comes to pass. It was a favourite theme of the great Arthur Radebaugh who pictured such a system in the 1940s. And yet in the German city of Wuppertal such a creature has been in operation for over a century. It makes an amazing site as it glides over the city streets offering vertiginous views of life below. No wonder the gent in the postcard has swiveled round for a better look.

Readers of Meccano Magazine in 1930 were promised 120mph travel but that never happened either. This exciting prospect was the brainchild of Scottish engineer, Mr. George Bennie and went by the name, Railplane. The London and North Eastern Railway invested in a short test track and a propeller-driven prototype. It all came to naught and left the unfortunate Mr. Bennie penniless. The full story can be found here and the attentive reader will note that the Railplane was not a monorail because it was supported underneath. After all these decades of transport innovation this remains one aspect of the future that stubbornly refuses to be born.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Bottles (1936)

I first saw this superb 10 minute animation more than 20 years ago when watching Rolf’s Cartoon Time en famille. Displaying all the crassness for which he was so famous, Rolf droned over the opening sequence with his own banal observations and at the end the credits were amputated so that all the audience knew was the title. But what came in between was sheer delight – a small masterpiece of visual invention all contained within an enclosed penumbral space typical of early animation. A little research in Leonard Maltin’s book revealed it to be the work of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising who worked as a team for almost every animation studio, having started in the 1920s at Disney when it was located in Kansas City. Bottles was produced for MGM by their own production company that went by the name of Harman-ising. Their cartoons were branded as Happy Harmonies.

The action takes place in an old pharmacy on a dark and stormy night. When the ancient pharmacist falls victim to a poison of his own devising his body is shrunk to the dimensions of the thousands of bottles that reside shoulder to shoulder on the towering shelves. The bottles and containers come to life in a frantic parade of singing and dancing. The gallery of characters includes rubber gloves, a hot water bottle, a soda siphon and cocktail shaker plus a wide range of cosmetics and medication. The mood develops from cute and whimsical through zany to the predictable but essential, macabre. The skeleton bottle takes charge and the diminutive pharmacist is propelled at speed through a jungle of chemical apparatus to his ultimate indignity when his hapless form is squeezed through an enormous garlic press to emerge in 8 tiny replicas of his former self. The colours are rich and gorgeous and the energy is irresistible.

To obtain this gem I had to buy a Region 1 dvd of the W S Van Dyke movie, San Francisco, that includes it as an extra, presumably because both first appeared in 1936. The following year MGM would dispense with the services of Harman and Ising on the grounds that their perfectionist tendencies made them unaffordable. There is a very blurry upload on YouTube that conveys some of what makes this cartoon so special.