Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label James Dean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Dean. Show all posts

Monday, October 16, 2017


Statues are peculiar things aren’t they?  All this perfectly reasonable (though not always strictly rational) debate about Confederate monuments and statues of Christopher Columbus in America has got us all thinking.  At the very least it reinforces the fairly obvious notion that statues are usually erected (and then sometimes demolished) in the name of some ideology or other.  There’s no such thing as a value-free statue.  Anybody who’s praised by one set of people is likely to be condemned by another set. 

One of my favorite and most blameless statues is the fellow above, The Walking Man, by George Fuller, a statue in my home town of Sheffield, England.  It dates from 1957, though I only became aware of it in the 1980s.

I’m not sure which city in the world has the most statues, but I’d think London has a pretty good claim, and the fact is most Londoners walk around without really noticing most of them.   Sure, we know that’s Nelson up on the top of his column and we know that Peter Pan has a statue in Kensington Gardens, and there are various kings and queens are all over the place, but we don’t really pay much attention.

Remarkably few Londoners I’ve talked to were aware of the bust of JFK on Marylebone Road, which was paid for by Sunday Telegraph readers apparently.  It was recenty vandalized, and I wonder what its future is, and equally I don’t know if the vandalism was the result of anti-Americanism or just a night on the piss

There’s a fine statue of Bela Bartok near South Kensington tube.  Bartok lived a blameless life as far as I know, though I suspect not many people wandering the streets of South Ken know his music or would like it much if they did.  
          I found this, from The Observer, May 13th 1923 by Percy A. Scholes, a review of a Bartok concert,  "I suffered more than upon any occasion in my life apart from an incident or two connected with 'painless dentistry.' To begin with, there was Mr. Bartok's piano touch. But 'touch,' with its implication of light-fingered ease, is a misnomer, unless it be qualified in some such way as that of Ethel Smyth in discussing her dear old teacher Herzogenberg - 'He had a touch like a paving-stone.' I do not believe Mr. Bartok would resent this simile...”  You really think that?
       Bartok first stayed in the area in 1882: the statue was originally erected in a different location in 2004, some 60 years after Bartok’s death.
So yes, by definition statues tend to be backward looking and conservative with a small c.  You want their significance to last a while.  Here is Los Angeles we try to jazz things up a bit, and arguably the sense of history is short.  There’s a statue of Bruce Lee in Chinatown.

James Dean, up by the Griffith Park Observatory,

Rocky and Bullwinkle on Sunset Strip:

And, for a time there was this statue of Elvis Presley outside a store on Hollywood Boulevard. 

But this is a mass-produced statue, one you can buy.  Here’s a doppelgänger in situ in Great Yarmouth, in East Anglia.

And so t’other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills and I came across this memorial to General Don Jose de San Martin, who I admit is not exactly an open book to me:

And of course that’s another aspect of statuary: the ignorant can get a sort of education from statues.  As you see, he was the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, though Peru does look like a bit of an afterthought, at least on the part of the memorial-maker.

And best of all, around the back of the memorial there’s this somehow very wonderful map of South America.  You aren’t here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


I just bought a copy of Wim Wenders’ book Once. It’s essentially a book of photographs, though some of them have quite lengthy captions, and sometimes the photographs look like illustrations of the text, and there are one or are pieces of text that have no photograph at all.  The words are laid out so they look like poetry.   I don’t know why he laid them out so they looked like poetry; but hey Wim, you’re the boss.

One of the pieces describes driving to Barstow with Dennis Hopper to visit Nicholas Ray, who was there acting in Hair: the movie was released in 1979. Wenders’ text runs:

Dennis knew Nick from a long time ago,
when Nick had given him a small part
in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Dennis became friends with James Dean…
During that night in Barstow
The conversation inevitably turned to James Dean
And Nick declared to us:
“I taught him how to walk.”

I find that history hasn’t been kind to Rebel Without a Cause. I have trouble suspending my disbelief.  Dean is supposed to be some crazy mixed up kid but he looks, and indeed walks, like a guy in his twenties, which of course he was when he made the film.

Be that as it may, Dean obviously looked great when he walked and he knew it.   There’s the iconic picture of him walking in Times Square in 1955 (below), by Dennis Stock:

And there’s this one too, by Roy Schatt, taken on 68th Street, in 1954. 

Rain or shine, the cigarette remains a cool walking accessory.