This is going to sound crummy, but one of my favourite books of all time is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. And before you go, “Oh, no! Another Rush Limbaugh clone. White middle-class conservative. Ugh.”, let me explain why. Yes, it’s true that Ayn Rand is these days known for her trenchantly conservative, old-liberalism-in-a-suit-of-pseudophilosophy communism-is-bad defence-of-the-rich-man bullshit, there was a brief time when she wrote really quite beautiful stories. The Fountainhead is one such example. It’s about an architect, Howard Roark, who builds houses the like of which the world has never seen before. Nobody, save a few eccentrics, wants to buy them. Eventually his modern, brash style gains the acceptance he needs and the story ends on a happy note. It’s a story all about the individual’s triumph over the collective blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah.
That’s not really why it’s so iconic for me – although whenever I get down and feel unappreciated, I like to dip into it. As a self-styled individualist-type-person, it provides a sort of comfort, a kind of shared fist shake at the huge mass of blockheads out there. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. It’s not really why I brought it up – I brought it up because I wanted to talk about architecture, and you’ve taken me off-topic.
Anyway, The Fountainhead, with its evocative descriptions of the buildings Howard Roark creates, really impressed on me the importance of architectural design. Before The Fountainhead I guess I just thought that buildings appeared. I live near a couple of New Towns – towns that were built after the second world war to rebalance the housing problem and provide infrastructural support to the cities. People live in New Towns and commute to the cities. The cities are full of beautiful, ancient buildings in all manners of styles. The New Towns look like blocky concrete shit. It’s no wonder I never thought about the design of buildings. I thought they were crapped into existence.
But buildings are designed and architecture is as much a sense of self-expression as any other medium. An architect (assuming the council doesn’t get involved and fuck everything up like they ALWAYS DO…maybe I am a Rush Limbaugh clone) starts with an idea. He has a dream. He sees planes and curves and subtle geometry. He’s an artist.
And because I love movies and watch them in their thousands, today I’ll be looking at some kick-ass buildings in film. It’s a bit like that post I wrote a few weeks back, Interior Design Is Cool but I promise you it has a totally, totally different name.
Peach Trees, Dredd (2012)
People have already forgotten there was a Judge Dredd film last year, which is a shame, because Dredd was the standout sci-fi action film of 2012. If you haven’t, it might be worth getting it out, but if you’ve seen The Raid: Redemption you’ve pretty much already seen it.
No, hang on, that’s not fair. It was a clever, beautiful and exciting film in its own right and dammit, people need to see it. Karl Urban has the greatest scowl ever seen and Olivia Thirlby is great in a flak jacket. There’s something about a sweaty, blonde, delicate woman in full body armour that’s quite appealing.
90% of the movie is set in Peach Trees, a mega-block of apartments ruled over by a crime syndicate. Each block is like a world apart, almost operating as a separate city from the Mega-city outside. It has shops and amusements and a central computer system. What’s unique in this building and makes it different from the tenement blocks in the real world is the sense of space : Peach Trees is massive and it’s basically hollow. A huge shaft (rimshot) occupies the middle, with a view to the sky, and this feature alone makes a faceless, manufactured building seem like a unique and personal space. I don’t really know why we don’t build like this in the real world. Maybe we should. Maybe I don’t know enough about load-bearing walls.
The Cullen House, Twilight (2007)
You know what, actually, I’m not going to have a dig at Twilight. Two reasons. One: Ashley Greene. Two: I understand Twilight. I do. It’s taken me years but I get it now. The answer lay in Desmond Morris’ excellent anthropological study, The Naked Ape. In it, Morris makes an interesting suggestion: he argues that horses, and by extension horse-riding, is so symbolic for teenage girls because horses can be regarded as non-threatening, non-penetrative sex objects. He theorised that horse-riding provides sexual stimulation but, because horses carry connotations of placidity and femininity, teenage girls who are still coming to grips with the difference between men and women can regard the horse as a stepping-stone between the familiarity of femininity and the reality of male sweating, bucking, risk-taking sex-having whatever. Freud was the first to propound the theory that sexual awareness and development are progressive and cumulative. If that is so, then horses represent a transitional stage in female development: a sort of archetype of excitement, yearning and emotional awakening. How else do you think the unicorn got his horn?
And before somebody jumps down my throat and says no way, there’s nothing sexy about horses and they’ve ridden for years without taking pleasure from it etc etc, it’s a theory. But I’m just saying that every woman I’ve ever met who was into horses in a big way had man issues and a look of sexual discontent.
To get back to what I was saying – Twilight is horse-riding. Girls can fantasize about Edward Cullen because he’s a non-threating sex object. A man who doesn’t snore and sweat and fart and ejaculate and all that junk. His skin is soft and smooth, his lips pout. He is a girl-man. A neuter. A eunuch. A tender, morose male devoid of overt masculinity. A doll. A sex toy. That’s why Twilight makes sense to me. It’s an adolescent masturbatory fantasy that doesn’t have to make sense, like teenage boys debasing themselves to pictures of that woman from Mass Effect or star wars aliens or whatever.
Anyway, Twilight is largely rubbish but it has some nice set pieces. Principle among these is the Cullen’s house. I haven’t read the book but I do like the counterplay between the traditional vampire image (Crypt, coffin, wolves) and a modern, airy Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff. I didn’t learn much from Twilight except that eternal life gives you a really neat perspective on architecture and interior decorating. I just wish they’d stop moping all the damn time.
Also Edward’s room OMG he’s so dreamy siiiggggghhh ♥
The Galactic Senate, Star Wars : The Phantom Menace (1998)
If The Phantom Menace had been renamed “The West Wing With Lightsabres” nobody would have noticed. Do you remember what the first film of the new trilogy was about? An embargo. Like the one we have against Syria (or Iran, I forget). Fully a third of the movie is a political thriller. Think about that for too long and your head starts to hurt.
So a significant part of the action (and, to my mind, the most enjoyable part because it doesn’t involve Jake Lloyd gurning all over the screen or Liam Neeson reprising his role from Rob Roy) takes place here: the galactic senate. The corridors of power for a whole galaxy. And it is every bit as unnecessarily complicated as realpolitik is. There’s some kind of debate about trade routes or something, I dunno. When people want to say something they stand in these big booths that float out to the centre for no apparent reason.
And guess who’s sitting in one of these floating booth platform things?
It’s ET. I shit you not.
The Complex, THX-1138 (1971)
People think that before Star Wars George Lucas was mainly known for American Graffiti. While that’s somewhat true, along the way from film school he stopped off to make his best film: THX-1138, a disturbing and powerful dystopian sci-fi about people grown in vats and controlled for every minute of the day.
THX-1138, played by Robert Redford, lives in a vast underground city. The set used was Marin County Civic Centre – part mall, part administrative building. It’s fitting that the society of THX, which emphasizes meaningless production and consumption, should be filmed in this sterile environment. The only solace the inhabitants have is OMM, a digital presence based on Hans Memling’s depiction of jesus, who says placid terrifying things like, “Let us be thankful that we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.”
Battersea Power Station
Here is an incomplete list of films Battersea Power Station has been in: Sabotage, High Treason, Doctor Who, Help!, The Projected Man, The Meaning of Life, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Richard III, Children of Men, The Dark Knight, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Happy-Go-Lucky, Nanny McPhee, The King’s Speech. All in all, this building has more film credits than Christopher Walken, and he never turns down a script. If there were any justice the Station would be regarded with the same awe as Stonehenge. Ah, to live in a perfect world.
There’s very little I can write about the various buildings it’s been that hasn’t already been picked over. It’s the largest brick building in Europe. It’s the last Art Deco power station in existence. It’s a holy site for film buffs. I remember it best from Children of Men, where it was used as the Ark of Art – a private collection protected from the general urban decay. It seems fitting that a collection of iconic pieces should be situated inside one large one. Children on Men is a great film.
Also, you know what? Clive Owen should have been the new James Bond. I don’t care what anybody says. Have you seen The International (2009)? That’s what we should have had. A gritty, washed-out Bond with loads of problems and a steely British resolve. Clive Owen for Prime Minister, actually.
Minas Morgul, Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King (2003)
Oh my god, is Return Of The King really a decade old? Does that mean it qualifies for a remake? If I was your usual Lord of the Rings fanboy schmuck (with the little gold ring on a chain around their neck and the tattoo in Elvish…actually you know what, this has already been done better by Kevin Smith, so here’s a scene from Clerks II:
“Even the fucking trees walked in that movie.”)
I would have picked that big-ass white city, Minas Tirith, or maybe Rivendell, but that’s bullshit because in any given film about good vs evil I a) always root for the bad guys and b) find everything about the good guys so achingly crass and simple-minded that I can’t get on board with the idea that they have anything going for them. Maybe I’m one of nature’s contrarians, but good guys are always a bunch of uncool, sanctimonious buttholes that I can’t empathise with them. Think about all the cool stuff in this series. Orcs – bad guys. Nazgul – bad guys. Sauron – bad guy. The One Ring – bad guy bling. Mordor – bad guy crib. Giant spider – bad guy. Flying lizard snake thing – bad guy. Sorry good guys, the bad guys have all the cool stuff. You can keep your glowing swords and eagles. So if I’m going to pick Minas Morgul because Barad Dur is too obvious. If you’re a Tolkein fan or an ex-Tolkeiner (“I used to Tolk but I had to give it up, it was making me paranoid”) you’ll know that Minas Morgul was like, this big city a bit like the one the good guys live in, except then the bad guys came and took it over and it started glowing green like those mice they inject with jellyfish genes. And a guy in the coolest and least practical helmet ever lives in it. That’s all I can remember.
Shit, I’m sure I had more to say about this. It’s a giant evil city that glows in the dark. Er, case closed.