London isn’t a place to wander without a plan. Not until you reach the River Thames. I hardly consulted the map upon reaching it. Came out of Liverpool Street Station this time. King’s Cross Station was what I was familiar with, so it took a minute to reorient myself. Walking in the wrong direction multiple times only to return to square one, that sort of routine.
The Tower of London was first on the itinerary. On my way over I discovered an unexpected attraction: The Monument. It was a 200-foot tall off-white concrete column. At the top was a caged balcony overlooking London that you could access for 4 pounds. I climbed the winding narrow staircase; Helluva cardio workout. There was a metal cage over the balcony, which wasn’t conducive to ideal picture-taking. I could see the Tower Bridge due West from here though. Only a 10-minute stroll.
The Tower of London was charging 25 pounds for admission to walk around it’s interior. I skipped the tour and observed it’s old stone walls from the outside. Droves of tourists were piling in through the entrance, which made it less tempting to fork over the cash. I walked the iconic Tower Bridge, which many tourists associate as the London Bridge; That bridge is far less exciting. Followed the River Thames towards a battleship called the HMS Belfast but, once again, I didn’t feel the need to pay 30 quit to walk aboard.
There was a free stadium-seated outdoor theater nearby where businessmen and women in suits gathered around an 80-inch screen television to eat lunch. A tennis match was on the screen. I crossed the London Bridge to the other side, returning me to The Monument. I wanted to walk across all the major bridges for whatever reason. Continued until finally reaching the Millennium Bridge toward the Tate Modern contemporary art museum. Listened to a street performer on guitar just out front before giving him some change. I probably gave away more money to street performers than spent it. He had a small audience sitting by his feet, bobbing their heads to the music.
Tate Modern is a six-story contemporary art museum with everything from abstract sculptures to portraiture photography to landscape paintings and so on. Some pieces I enjoyed more than others. At some point there was an ordinary mirror on the wall with a plaque explaining the intent of it’s artist. It was either the funniest art-joke I’d ever seen or the most pretentious piece in the building. I’d hoped it was a two-way mirror, at least then it’d have some purpose!
There were many pieces that spoke to me but only a few that gave me newfound insight. While it wasn’t particularly masterful in it’s lighting and composition, there was a series of portraits depicting the progression of a new Army recruit from the day he signed up to the day he returned home from service. The boy’s eyes in the first two revealed a boy filled with fear and uncertainty. Contrast that with the last two, and he was devoid of both of those emotions. His eyes and posture displayed someone who’d had those emotions driven out of him. He was strong and confident. It was surreal to switch your gaze between the two contrasting images.
In this same photography room were three full-body nude portraits of ordinary middle-aged mothers holding their newborns. These weren’t slender, photoshopped models. Instead, they were these aged, curvy women baring all that they were right in front of you. Between these images and the Army recruit, I found myself in the presence of photogaphy work that was trying to push the medium to better understand humanity. To better understand who we are as inidividuals. It was a reminder of what photography meant, and how easy it is to forget it’s power in the face of photoshop and advertising. Composition and lighting are important, yes, but it’s the photo's intent that ultimately leaves a mark on the viewer. The why of the thing that speaks uniquely to the person viewing it.
We’ve all witnessed countless examples of “pretty” or “fun” photography and while there’s enjoyment to be gained from those pieces of work, the photographs here provoked a string of thoughts and emotions I couldn’t control. They absorbed me. These made me better understand what I was trying to find whenever I photographed something. It made me want to be better at my craft. The same way photographers I follow and admire on Instagram inspire me to make better images, to do better work. Extra voices in my head. It's comforting to constantly be reminded that there are photographers who are trying to figure life out right alongside you. Their work both comforts, elevates and astounds me. I couldn’t tell you if my work was good or not, only that it comes from as honest a place as I can offer.
I continued along the River Thames afterwards until I found myself at the British Film Institute. They were playing fully-restored Orson Welles pictures such as “Citizen Kane”, “Touch of Evil”, “The Third Man” and a documentary about Orson himself. I’d never seen Carol Reed’s revered “The Third Man” so it seemed like a missed opportunity not to see it for the first time restored in 4K resolution with an audience. Bought a ticket for the 18:20 showing, which gave me 2 hours to roam. I scanned through an outoor book market. Tables upon tables of used books from classics to shitty romance novels. I love searching for books as much as I adore reading them. Why can’t surfing Netflix be like that?
I crossed Waterloo Bridge. Walked through the gardens and parks leading up to Big Ben and Parliament. Once I arrived at the Westminster Bridge and experienced the chaos of people and cars, my first thought was: how in the hell did director Danny Boyle and his crew manage to pull of the feat they did in “28 Days Later”. For those that haven’t seen the film, it begins with Cillian Murphy’s character waking up in a hospital bed to find all of London completely barren. Not a soul in sight… I couldn’t imagine the level of preparation involved to make that sequence happen after standing there. Even with 8 Canon XL1 mini-DV cameras at various vantage points, I still couldn’t piece together how they pulled that off… New found respect for Boyle and his crew; It’s one hell of a sequence and a terrific movie to boot if you’ve never seen it.
There was a bag pipe player sweating his ass off in a thick quilt in the center of Westminster. Playing his heart out. I couldn’t not fork over 3 or 4 pounds for that kind of hard work. He even managed to curtsey with a wink and a smile at me after I’d tipped him. Walked passed the London Eye, which is a 443-foot white ferris wheel with egg-shaped pods attached for the riders. They reminded me of the self-driving vehicles in Spielberg’s “Minority Report” that were attached to the freeway. Admission price was 50 quit, which definitely wasn't happening. Sat down for fish & chips nearby instead. There was definitely an element of obligation involved with this decision, being in England and all...
I made my way back to BFI for “The Third Man”. The theater wasn’t gigantic but spacious enough with comfortable seating. It was a packed house too. Completely sold out. Some young but mostly elderly folk. The lights dimmed and the red curtains repositioned themselves for the film’s 1.37 aspect ratio. What proceeded to play on the screen for the next 104-minutes was nothing short of a revelation. A resurgence of motivation flowed through me.
“The Third Man” was proper storytelling in the film medium. I wondered how our industry had become so diluted? That’s not to say that terrific movies don’t get made but, for the most part, they certainly don’t get the backing from major studios like they once did. To witness Robert Krasker’s black and white photography fully-restored was nothing short of breathtaking. His images will forever be burned into my subconscious. Slick, solid and simple writing. Truthful, subtle and compelling performances from all involved. This was pure cinema wrapped in this textured, dark noir alternate reality.
I wanted to write the first scene of a story that’d been on my mind for ages. I practically sprinted to the station after the film and the moment I sat down on the train, I started writing. Wrote the first scene of a new screenplay. If you haven’t seen Carol Reed’s classic noir-mystery, witness it in cinemas while it’s available. It was a reminder of what great cinema can achieve and, for me personally, a massive kick in the rectum.
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