Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Farewell, Ornamental Spaghetti: Bob Hoskins, 'Monalisa', Malet Street, Bloomsbury, Highgate, King's Cross, Soho

Bob Hoskins, one of London's finest character actors, passed away today.

Paul Coleman reflects.

'Monalisa' poster on King's Boulevard, King's Cross,
London N1C  © London Intelligence, 2012

Farewell, 'Ornamental Spaghetti'

I still kick myself to this day. 
Especially today (Wednesday, 30 April).

One afternoon, donkeys' years ago, actor Bob Hoskins emerged from the side door of Dillons bookshop on Malet Street in the Bloomsbury area of London. 
Bob sported a beard.
Wore a fawn raincoat.

He looked right at me. 
And trundled off in the direction of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Ever since, I've wished I'd turned, trotted after him, and gushed something like: 'Thank you so much for George in that great London film, Monalisa.'

'Race' and sex
Hoskins received an Oscar Best Actor nomination for playing small-time crook George, employed by Mortwell (Michael Caine) as a chauffeur to Simone, an enigmatic, high-class call girl, (played by Kathy Tyson).
  Neil Jordan and David Leland wrote a beautiful yet 'noir-infused' love story for white working class George and Simone, a discerning streetwise black woman from Liverpool. Their initial mutual distaste, born out of George's race prejudice and Simone's class snobbery, transforms into genuine affection despite a seedy 1980s backdrop - kerb-crawling King's Cross, peep show Soho, and high-class call-girl Highgate clientele. 

George's contempt for Simone rapidly gives way to respect and real affection - but this leaves George vulnerable to vultures hailing from a connected London establishment and underworld. Their vicious attentions compel George to fall back on his solid friendship with Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) - but only after George unravels Simone's secret.

By gently putting 'race' and sex near the heart of this love story, Monalisa (Director: Neil Jordan, 1986) stands as a brave London film - as Hoskins sensitively imbues George with all his London working class frailties and strengths.
And, as a piece of 1980s London nostalgia, Monalisa remains unrivalled.

Ornamental spaghetti
Again, donkeys' years ago, this author won a DVD copy of Monalisa by correctly answering a question posed on the Robert Elms BBC London radio show: 'What song accompanied George as he searched for Simone's friend Cathy (Kate Hardie) in Soho's sex parlours?'
'In Too Deep' by Genesis.
'We have a winner,' says Robert.
Of course, it's Nat King Cole's sublimely pleading 'Monalisa' croon that plays the film in and out as Monalisa's credits roll. 

As much as those two songs, though, I remember Bob Hoskins delivering many of George's great lines, including:

"See I'm cheap, I can't help it. God made me that way."

Later; George says to a Savoy Hotel waiter: "I'd like a pot of tea please."
Waiter: "Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong?
George: "No, tea."
Waiter: "Very good sir."

And a bit further on,after briefly discussing the merits of Thomas' bid to sell plastic 'ornamental spaghetti', Thomas and George share their thoughts about Simone.

George: "Well, she's a woman of substance. She's a lady.
Thomas: "I thought you said she was a tart...a tall, thin, black tart."
George: "Well, maybe. But she's still a fucking lady."

After Monalisa, Hollywood film audiences benefit from Hoskins' London-honed craft.
But he retires from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Sadly, on this day - 30 April, 2014 - we hear Bob Hoskins, suffering from pneumonia, has passed away.
At just 71. 
Born in Suffolk but a Finsbury Park schoolboy in north London, twice-married Bob Hoskins is survived by his wife and four children.

Farewell, ornamental spaghetti.
Rest in peace.

Bob Hoskins 1942-2014

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, April 2014.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Displacement, Regeneration: What Survives the Storm, isik . knutsdotter, South London Gallery

South London-based artists conceive new ways to show how London changes...and displaces Londoners, writes Paul Coleman.

A London Tempest

What Survives the Storm, isik . knutsdotter (© London Intelligence)

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way; well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t.” 
So said BBC weatherman Michael Fish in October 1987.
But, a few hours later, a violent storm duly raged against London and southern England on the night of 15-16 October, 1987.

Fierce 100mph winds ravaged trees.
Damaged cars and homes. Cut power.
And killed over 20 people.
Decades later, storms continue to batter London. Heavy rainfalls submerged riverside homes in suburbs, villages and towns to the west of London in early 2014.

Londoners now no longer talk about stormy weather idly...but warily.

What Survives the Storm, a participatory arts show, staged by artistic group isik . knutsdotter thoughtfully reflects upon other types of storms battering Londoners each day.
For instance, on Saturday (12 April), 20 guests to a show at the South London Gallery in Camberwell spoke frankly about tempests of a financially violent nature.
Violent, because these storms attack Londoners financially. 
Cramping their lives.
Limiting what our children might become in the future.
Falling real wages.
Rising prices.
Astronomical house values and rents, rippling from central to outer London.
And, a hail of developer-council partnership ‘regeneration’ schemes – Heygate, Earl's Court, Seven Sisters, Woodberry Down, and the Olympic Park – to name just a few, that blow Londoners out of their homes and price them out of their traditional neighbourhoods.
Compelling many to look outside of central London for a home.
Tearing many out of London completely.
In such an economic climate, the outlook for Londoners on average and lower incomes remains stormy.

What Survives the Storm serves up a cacophony of resonant images, sounds, smells and objects - including a weather vane, full-feathered pheasant and hessian cloaks, and pungent Peckham soil. 
isik . knutsdotter, conceived by Louise Sayarer and Eva Vikstrom, utilise this cacophony conceptually.
Their concepts undermine the ‘opportunity’ propaganda that developers and councils deploy to justify this creeping displacement of working Londoners from London itself.
A displacement tempest brewed originally by distant global atmospherics.
But impacting locally on people across London.
isik . knutsdotter also conjure other metaphors to describe the way developer-led regeneration changes London and displaces Londoners.
They've coined ‘Boxterity’ –  a rapacious ongoing process where developers across London demolish streets full of public and private homes - and redevelop these spaces with row after row of build ‘em quick bog standard boxes, stuffed with expensive flats.
Take a bus ride through Camberwell, Walworth and the Elephant and Castle.
Witness 'Boxterity'.

'Boxterity': Elephant and Castle, south London, April 2014 (© London Intelligence)

Ripped out
Sayarer and Vikstrom settle their sharp metaphorical gaze too on mature trees that grew for decades into the Heygate Estate’s ‘urban tree canopy’.
Developer Lend Lease, facilitated by Southwark Council's elected politicians, are demolishing the Heygate.
Some of these long-standing mature trees have been felled.

Removed from the south London skyline and streetscape.
Their roots ripped out of the south London soil they nourished - and that nurtured them.

Ripped out of London altogether.

© London Intelligence, 2014

For more info: isik . knutsdotter

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, April 2014