On Saturday I went by train to a little town called Mossley which, being on the Easterly side of Greater Manchester and on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, is almost in Yorkshire. Nestled into the Tame valley at the base of the Pennines, it’s a scenic little place that feels a world away from Manchester city’s urbanity. Well, almost. The sense of English industrial history is vivid, with a handful of “dark Satanic mills” prominent in the immediate landscape and suggesting a somehow ever-encroaching modernity; as well as Mossley’s centrality to the region’s development. Externally, many of the factories (once used for wool and cotton production) appear to be in decent condition. With the passage of time, and with the inevitable evolution of social contexts, meanings, and values, they have even taken on a certain soulfulness. For me, the juxtapositions and the looming brick chimneys make a canal side walk more evocative; for the Romantics and Radicals of the Industrial Revolution, they signified something immediately alarming.
One mill – Woodend – has been redeveloped, serving as an increasingly popular combined space for community groups and artists, who can rent studios there. Nonetheless, it’s easy to imagine ghosts. The locals of a hundred and fifty years ago hurry out through a misty dawn, ready (or not) to play essential parts in the transition to a new English (British, global) economy; with all of its social discontent and its “astronomical prospects“. A few Weavers’ Cottages remain in Mossley, many high up on the town’s steep hills. Higher still sit the remains of a 12th century Norman castle, recently excavated by students from Manchester University.
As with anywhere, there is no doubt a rough edge to Mossley if you hang around long enough – but on a daytrip, it feels like it’s earned its place as a green and pleasant space for commuters, retirees, and the holidaymakers who pass through by boat, stopping next to the locks to enjoy some good food, some lovely beer gardens, and a friendly atmosphere. Many thanks to my friend Anne, Mossley born and bred, who happily acted as my local tour (and pub) guide! 🙂
En route to see the new Batman movie, myself and a friend took a slightly circuitous route as part of an effort to remind ourselves that yes, there is an amazing city out there beyond our cosy home in Chorlton – even if it’s not quite so darkly evocative as Gotham. 😉 We stopped to admire some of the old mills, factories and locks between and around Oxford Road and Deansgate, which have mostly now been (or are being) repurposed to become galleries, studios, commercial spaces and flats as part of a continuing redevelopment plan. Visually retaining a sense of social history amidst patchwork modernity, many of the exteriors are as yet unchanged – spiky green weeds protrude from chipped and broken windowpanes amidst beautiful red brickwork covered in flyposters and colourful grafittied chipboard. The names of defunct-factories imprint themselves in giant letters on the area’s memory while underneath, delicate gold might signify the entrance to private apartments and graphic design firms; secure entry only. Even the most compelling of visions can’t escape the contrasts and contexts of transition.
As for The Dark Knight Rises. Well, aesthetically speaking, Christopher Nolan and his crew have created a predictably excellent atmosphere of electrifying gloom. Performances alternate between strong and muted, keeping us generally interested in a twisting and turning narrative full of politics and references to previous film The Dark Knight. J.G. Levitt as new character John Blake is particularly memorable although I’m not sure Marion Cotillard’s Miranda really works (or shocks) as intended. Now and then, everything threatens to become laborious, almost collapsing (appropriately enough) under a crushingly heavy but unevenly balanced symbolic critique that plays out over nearly 3 hours.
The Batman movies always (and increasingly with Nolan) combine socio-political metanarratives and allegories with moments of kitschly sexy cartoonishness. Here, I think that combination goes wrong, forced towards a conclusion that might be heroic or might be ambivalent and contradictory. Being asked to consider economic injustice; 9/11 and the War on Terror; the trade-off between nuclear weapons and environmental responsibility; the culpability of the stock exchange in financial disaster, AND the effects of torture, false prophecy and violent revolution is a lot for any mainstream movie. Doing so at the same time as we follow the gymnastics, jewel-thieving and repartee of Anne Hathaway’s well-played but confused Catwoman is just a little bit too much. Certainly nothing comes close to the perfectly pitched genius of Heath Ledger’s Joker. All that aside, it’s definitely worth seeing!