film

Surrey and London: HG Wells in Woking and God’s Own Junkyard @ Leadenhall Market

Short post this week on a couple of non-museum things I saw recently. First of all, whilst we still had a car last month, we decided to go out to Woking to see some of the HG Wells sites there. HG Wells moved to Woking in 1895, and only lived there for about a year and a half, but he began writing some of his most iconic stories there, including The War of the Worlds. Now, I have never actually read The War of the Worlds, nor seen any of the films, but I am of course aware of the general idea of the book just by absorbing bits of pop culture for 35 years, and I like HG Wells mainly because of my love of the 2016 stage version of Half a Sixpence (in large part because of adorable Charlie Stemp, who was Kipps in the West End version I saw. I do not like the Tommy Steele film version. Tommy Steele’s teeth creep me out), which is based on his novel Kipps, so even though aliens are not really my thing in that way that proper monsters are (aliens seem to attract weird conspiracy theorists who creep me out more than Tommy Steele’s teeth), I was still down to see The War of the Worlds mosaic and other sites.

  

There is a Wells in Woking walk map available online (link leads to pdf) that will lead you from the train station, through the town, out to the sandpit, and back to the station again for a three and a half mile walk, but it was hot, we were both tired, and we had come by car, so we opted to just park by the sandpit, walk out to see it, and then get back into the car and drive into town. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of parking in a horrible giant shopping centre in town where we literally had to ask someone for directions out because there appeared to be no exits, and the whole experience has given me a probably undeserved distaste for Woking and its shopping centre.

  

Anyway, the sandpit, where the Martians landed, is pretty cool. It is just a big sandy pit in the middle of some trees, with a water-filled depression at the bottom that is meant to be the landing spot, but sand is intrinsically fun, and I bet I would have loved playing in it as a kid. In Woking proper, there are a few different sites to see if you manage to find your way out of the shopping centre. There is the town gate, which has the outline of a Tripod on it, a big Tripod sculpture, which has gross tentacle things hanging off the bottom, a statue of HG Wells himself, and a really cool mosaic in a subway (at start of post), which was probably my favourite thing. There is also Lynton, the house where Wells lived, but Google told us it was a mile walk away, and you can’t go in it or anything, so we didn’t bother. It’s probably more fun if you actually do the trail properly and don’t park in the shopping centre car park, but at least now I’ve seen it and I don’t have to go back to Woking.

 

Slightly more fun was the God’s Own Junkyard takeover at Leadenhall Market, in the City of London, which is there until the end of July. God’s Own Junkyard is a neon sign museum in Walthamstow, which I really should go to one of these days, but Walthamstow is a pain to get to and not particularly nice once you’re there, so when I read about the pop-up in Leadenhall Market, I definitely wanted to see it. I love the weird old bits of the City, and I hadn’t been since before Covid (and I also wanted to visit Eataly, the super expensive Italian food market that has finally come to London. So pricey but so good). The installations are open all the time, but if you want to go inside the shop space, you have to visit between Wednesday and Sunday.

 

I love neon. I think it’s pleasingly retro and super fun to look at, so I was excited to see this, and they do have some great signs. The pop-up shop had the most in it, but there were also two shop windows elsewhere in the market displaying signs that the family business had made for Judge Dredd and Eyes Wide Shut – I have never seen either of those movies, but I enjoyed the signs on their own merit. I honestly expected it to be a bit underwhelming, as these things usually are, but I was pretty solidly whelmed. The guy working in the shop was very enthusiastic and told us a lot about how the signs are created (he was a little hard to hear because there was loud music blasting in there, but the loud music was Hall and Oates, so I can’t really complain) and the lido sign was particularly cool (I have a skirt with very similar looking diving ladies on it, which sadly was not the one I was wearing that day). It’s definitely worth a look if you’re in the area or need an excuse to grab some focaccia and fresh scamorza at Eataly (and have deep pockets. For Eataly, that is, not the neon pop-up, which is free).

London: Stanley Kubrick @ the Design Museum

I am not a Stanley Kubrick fan. To be honest, every time I’ve seen one of his films, I’ve felt sick afterwards. But this is not really an example of me taking one for the team/sake of the blog, because Marcus does like him, and wanted to see this. Also, “The Shinning” is one of my absolute favourite segments in The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror,” so even though I don’t particularly like the Kubrick version of The Shining, I thought it would be worth going for the memorabilia from that film alone.

Of course, The Shining was only one small part of this comprehensive exhibition. The grandly titled: Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is at the Design Museum until 15th September, and costs £14.50 (half off with Art Pass). I would recommend pre-booking at least a few days in advance, as it does seem to sell out, even on weekdays. I booked on a Friday for a Monday visit, and it was pretty crowded inside, mainly with American tourists (I suppose they could have been living here like I am, but they had the air of tourists. You can tell).

 

The exhibition opened with a small section on Kubrick’s life before he became a director (seriously small. Like two cases worth. All I got out of it was that he liked chess). Apparently people often don’t realise he was American, because he spent almost the whole of his adult life in Britain (wonder if that’ll happen to me after I get famous, though I suspect the accent will give it away). It then talked about his method of directing (obsession basically), illustrated by his personal copies of some of his scripts. And I mean literally illustrated, because he drew little pictures in the scripts of how he wanted certain scenes to look. His drawing was about as good as mine (which is to say terrible), so these were pretty funny.

 

From there, the exhibition segued into a series of small galleries for each one of his films, including props, film clips, and some making of/behind the scenes facts. The trouble with not being a Kubrick fan is that I’ve only ever seen three of his movies: The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and A Clockwork Orange, so those were really the only parts that held my attention (and I seriously hate A Clockwork Orange so much, so it wasn’t necessarily holding my attention in a good way. I genuinely felt ill just looking at some of the props).

 

Like the one above left, for example. Not on account of it being a penis, but because I know what Alex does with that giant penis, and it is not pleasant. Because of this film, Malcolm McDowell totally gives me the creeps, but the photo shoot of him trying different hats to find one that suited his character was still pretty amusing. I think the bowler hat probably was the right way to go.

 

Speaking of creeps, how about Jack Nicholson? I think that’s why I hate the film version of The Shining so much, because Jack Nicholson taints everything he touches with his creepy creepy smile (I had to go see the first Batman movie in the cinema when I was about 4 (don’t think my parents realised how scary it was, since the TV show was super tame and campy), and his portrayal of the Joker has put me off Jack Nicholson for life). I have read The Shining, and of course it’s still scary, but the whole point is that while Jack Torrance clearly had his demons, he was trying his best to be a normal family man at the beginning of the book, which is what makes his descent into insanity so terrifying. Jack Nicholson was clearly just waiting for an opportunity to murder his family from the start, so all you’re left wondering is why they would be stupid enough to agree to be holed up with him for the winter in the first place.

 

But true to expectations, The Shining section was my favourite one by far, with all the props you’d want to see: the typewriter (“no TV and no beer make Homer something something”), the twins’ dresses, the axe, the photograph at the end of the film showing the Outlook Hotel at the July 4th Ball of 1921, and a miniature version of the maze from the movie made by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. There was even a patch of the Outlook Hotel carpet at the entrance to the exhibition (“that’s odd, usually the blood gets off at the second floor.” I really could quote classic Simpsons all day long (and often do))!

 

But I must reluctantly move on from “The Shinning” and get to the rest of the exhibition. I’ve never seen Barry Lyndon, apparently about a Georgian rogue, but the making-of in this case was quite interesting. Apparently no electric lighting was used during filming, so they had a lens with a super wide aperture to film in candlelight. The resulting film was also meant to look quite flat, like 18th century paintings, and certain scenes were even supposed to match up to various famous paintings, like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy (Hyacinth Bucket’s favourite). Because Kubrick didn’t want to have to leave England to film it, it was shot at about twenty different stately homes around the South of England, so Kubrick didn’t have to travel too far from London.

 

I’ve also never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that one is at least ingrained enough in popular culture that I knew all about HAL and was willing to pose for a photo with him. There was also a gorilla suit that apparently features at the start of the film, a creepy (god, I’ve used that word a lot in this post) baby in a floating sphere, and a set of rather groovy furniture that was meant to be the interior of a Hilton Space Station.

 

Because I’m not familiar with Kubrick’s entire oeuvre, I think my views will be quite different than those of a fan. I enjoyed seeing the props I recognised, and some of the stuff about censorship and the film-making process was quite interesting, but personally, I would have liked to know more about Kubrick’s life, other than a brief blurb about his childhood and the fact that he married an actress from one of his films (in fact, she was the only female actress in the entirety of Paths of Glory, his WWI film, which looks like it actually might be worth watching). For one thing, I’d like to know what inspired him to make such violent films, or why he seemed to really like Jack Nicholson, who he had also marked down to play Napoleon, had that project not fallen through.

 

But I’ve little doubt that Kubrick fans would have been delighted with this, and even with me skipping over the sections I had no interest in (Eyes Wide Shut, for one), we still spent around an hour in there, so I think it was worth the price of my half-price ticket. In fact, I am intrigued enough to possibly check out Lolita and Paths of Glory, though whether I’ll actually like them is a different story altogether. The shop is also rich in Kubrick merchandise, though sadly nothing that could double as a “Shinning” reference, so we only got a postcard. For me, this was a solid 3/5, but fans will probably score it significantly higher.

Thal, Austria: The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum!

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In what may be a refreshing change for some of you, I’ve finally visited a museum with no historical pretensions whatsoever.  The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, aka, “Arnie’s Life,” was an unadulterated guilty pleasure, the sort you have to allow yourself on holiday (like eating at least two ice creams a day, and allowing myself to buy a Marie Claire to read on the airplane, despite the fact that it is probably the worst magazine ever, except for maybe Cosmo).

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When planning our trip to Ljubljana, I happened to notice that Graz, Austria, was only about a two hour drive away.  Now I’ve been wanting to visit Graz for a while on account of the Armoury there (which I’ll cover in a future post), but more importantly, Graz is also very near to Arnold’s Museum.  The village of Thal is in a picturesque corner of Austria, full of dandelion-dimpled meadows that one could easily imagine Julie Andrews (or as I like to think, maybe even a young Arnie) twirling around in whilst bursting into song.  Though Thal is only a few miles outside of Graz, there are virtually no signs to it until you’re well out of the city, and as we belatedly realised our GPS didn’t have a map of Austria on it, we had a heck of a time finding it.  We only got there in the end because my boyfriend had the foresight to download directions onto his phone before we left, but we still took a number of wrong turns on the way.  Basically what I’m saying is if you want to come here, have a functioning GPS, or else a passenger who is less hopeless with directions than I am.

Arnie's childhood bed. According to him, this is the most important object in the museum.

Arnie’s childhood bed. According to him, this is the most important object in the museum.

I should mention that I don’t really have any particular fondness for Arnold as either a person, or an actor.  I’m not really into action films, with the exception of Indiana Jones (because c’mon, Indy is hot) so I’ve only seen a handful of his movies.  However, my father and brother are both into body building, and my mom has a major crush on Arnold, so we always had some of his books hanging around the house, and I consequently grew up knowing more about him than I probably should.  Aside from that, whatever you think of him, Arnold is undeniably quite a personality, and there was no way I could resist visiting his house for the cheesiness factor alone.

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Apparently I make a disgusting face when flexing my huge muscles.

So, all that being said, when we finally located the museum, I enthusiastically bounded out of the car and raced up to the statue of Arnold outside, only too happy to pose for a picture with my hand on his heavily muscled thigh.  Admission was 6 euros, and the woman working there was of course fluent in English, so there’s no need to worry about that sort of thing.  Since the museum is in his actual childhood home, it is rather small; only about five rooms.  They recommend that you start out in the room devoted to his childhood, and then progress through the upstairs rooms, ending in the “Governor” room on the ground floor.

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As you might expect, the museum was largely graphic in nature (in the sense that there were a lot of posters and photographs, NOT that it was sexually explicit), with accompanying facts about Arnold’s life in both English and German.  Actually, the museum was home to some real gems of posters, as seen below.

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We wanted to buy a copy of them to take home, but unfortunately the only posters on offer were movie-related ones.  There were also lots of great photos of Arnie as a child and young man (he was actually a fine looking lad), including many of him posing in various states of undress, though he always at least kept on a skimpy mankini (which may disappoint a certain segment of his fanbase).

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I was actually quite interested to learn that his father disapproved of his weight lifting, so he was only permitted to go to the gym three times a week, but kept up his workouts at home whilst listening to his neighbour practice the trumpet.  Because of this, the upstairs rooms had some of his original weights and other apparatuses on display.  The way you were meant to progress through the museum would take you through “Arnie’s Life” chronologically, so you got to view his childhood kitchen and (excitingly) toilet before learning about the body building years, and then his acting career.

Wooden toilet actually used by Arnold.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to plant your buttocks where his powerful glutes once perched.

Wooden toilet actually used by Arnold. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to plant your buttocks where his powerful glutes once perched.

The movie bit was more or less what you’d expect.  Some memorabilia, a few videos, various correspondence between Arnold and the museum, and thank you notes to people who had given him gifts, including an excellent Austrian style motorcycle jacket which he later donated to the museum.  There was also an Xbox set up with what I believe was a Terminator game in it (it was hard to tell as I spent the entire time just running into a wall.  I am amazing at SNES, but with any system after that, especially ones with those stupid joysticks and all the buttons, I am a huge pile of suck), presumably to keep the children entertained whilst their fathers gawped at all the Arnold accessories.

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My favourite part of the museum was all the wax figures (of varying quality) of Arnie, and I got my picture taken with every last one of them.  The one with the worst toupee was probably the one in the “Governor” room at the end, which was also rife with Arnold propaganda, and some pretty neat objects, including his “Governator” cowboy boots and jacket

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I mean, essentially the whole museum was just an exercise in self-promotion, though I’m not really sure what political aspirations, if any, Arnold has left at this point.  In fact, as far as merchandising goes, I think the museum is missing a trick, since the gift shop was limited to a small selection of posters and books, and only one t-shirt design.  I know my whole family would have been thrilled to receive t-shirts, but as they only had one size available, I guess it goes to whomever it fits.  I’m not saying they should turn the entire thing into a huge shop, but maybe at least have a t-shirt for women as well, and a better poster selection.

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Or will I…?

I think I have to take this museum at face value.  You won’t be particularly intellectually challenged, or learn any amazing revelations about Arnold’s life, but you will enjoy yourself.  We certainly didn’t regret visiting at all, even with the hassle of finding the place.  Therefore, I’m going to give it a 4/5.  Arnie’s Life gives the people what they want, assuming what they want is a whole hell of a lot of Schwarzeneggery goodness.

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