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!
A place imposes its character on the people who live there as much as they impose theirs on it. You probably notice this most when going from one “extreme” to another – for instance, from here in the UK to just about any “exotic” holiday destination. You also notice it when you move from the city to the suburbs. The tone, the mood, the subtle but clear sense of who people are and what you might encounter; everything in you has to re-tune itself. Responses, reactions, expectations. Habits. That’s why families move to the suburbs after all. It’s nice. It’s lovely. And yet…on a two-hour walk today in the sunshine, my inner blogger struggled to find those angles that make me want to reach into my bag, grab my camera, and think about what I might write.
Where I was living for the past 6 months was dominated by a huge shopping arcade. It was full of chainstores and bright lights and drunk teenagers and tourist attractions. A homeless guy set up camp on our front steps for three days without anyone really even noticing. The surrounding area was pretty much a building site. I could open the window and hear arguments, music, trains, trams. But hey, it was never long before I spotted something I could blog about – and nobody would usually even care that I was taking a picture. So, yeah, it’s a bit of a culture shift, more so than I expected. Maybe it’s just easier to blog in the city: to find novelty or something jarring which triggers inspiration. Doubtless, it’s all about state-of-mind. Isn’t it nicer just to let the pleasant, fresh air surround you? To watch the spring trees gently sway and sigh as you wander along? (Yeah yeah, I’m waxing lyrical). After all, how many nature photographs can you try to take? People will get suspicious if you photograph their cute little shop fronts or their terraced houses too openly. 😉
I don’t want to fall into using easy adjectives: it’s not just that the centre of the city is more urgent, more vibrant, more messy, more dirty, more brutal, more asynchronous, more commercial, more full of “life”. Or that in contrast, everything outside its radius is cosy, safe, warm and the picture of perfection. Of course not. And hey, Chorlton is only 20 minutes away by bus! But let’s not split hairs because my feelings today have made me think momentarily about Raymond Williams and about the dual narratives we get caught up in…that get woven…about the city and the country (and now the suburbs) and what they represent. It’s not just symbolic, it’s not just about poetry and politics. People can bring about the very shifts that they’ve seen reflected through ages – that they aspire to – when they set an area up, or move into it. With all of its independent bars, shops, pubs, charity shops, second-hand shops, festivals and organic produce, Chorlton manages to represent something quite special.
So, I’m thinking of my change of immediate scene as a challenge. Here, there are new types of attitude and unfamiliar environments to find little gems in. I guess it’s all about staying alert and curious!