Happy 1st Anniversary of the 'Inspiration of the Month' series!
It was August 2017 that I wrote my first post about what was inspiring me for the month ahead. Although I didn't manage to write a post for each of the past 12 months, it was something to get me writing on a regular basis. I had a lot of fun writing these posts, and I hope you had fun reading them!
Summer brings lots of excellent sources of inspiration. I’m drawn in so many different directions, but none of this inspiration has been resolved into a finished product yet. I felt like the heat and drought in London was a huge in breath, and we were waiting for the exhale for weeks.
One of the best techniques for clearing a creative block is to work on multiple projects at once and switch between them. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently, although I constantly feel guilty for not working on my children’s book. For some reason, a children’s book felt different from other projects, like it was exempt from this multiple projects scenario and demanded exclusivity. It’s been freeing to recognise that I can work on other projects, even if they’re just in the planning stages now. So my inspiration for August is all looking ahead to new projects.
One of my favourite podcasts is You Must Remember This, a well-researched account of 20th century Hollywood, hosted by Karina Longworth. A new series of the podcast has just started, themed around fact-checking Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. There’s such an interesting intersection between myth, self-mythologising, and the facts of Hollywood. Most of the time, there’s a kind of Icarus-like quality to the myths and the real stories. A lot of the time, it’s about women and men (but mostly women) who were chewed up and spit out by the system. I suppose what I find so interesting about the early 20th century is that it’s full of these extremes. As the British band the Indelicates sing, ’you can’t have the 60’s, without the war.’
The 20’s definitely had a resurgence a few years ago with the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I’m a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but of course, the novel and the film are pointing out the vapidity of the Roaring 20’s lifestyle. It feels wrong to swoon over the costumes and sets when the whole moral of the story shows the hollowness of materialism.
One of my new favourite shows of the past couple years is Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Having grown up watching lots of British murder mysteries like Miss Marple, it’s refreshingly different to watch a show about a fantastic, independent woman in the 1920’s (who wears lots of swoon-worthy 20’s fashion).
There were many great examples of female role models across the centuries who defied society’s constructs of the time, and they should be highlighted. However, I often find it jarring when every female character in a period drama is living like a 21st century woman, because to me, the message then becomes, if they just had the strength of character, they would have all gained their independence centuries ago. I like how along with the independent Miss Fisher, there is also a more typical early 20th century storyline for her companion, Dorothy 'Dot' Williams. Dot is a working-class Catholic woman who falls in love with a Protestant police constable. They have a slow, drawn-out courtship, and Dot struggles to negotiate not only being a Catholic dating a Protestant, but an increasingly independent woman who wants to continue with her career after marriage. I feel like this would have been the more typical struggles of my grandmother and great-grandmother’s generations. Not all women were shattering social norms left and right (and wealth and status certainly helps Miss Fisher), some had to work within their limited means to make a better life for themselves.
I recently watched Babylon Berlin, which is a German crime drama set in 1929, created by director Tom Tykwer. It was famously the most expensive non-English-language TV series ever produced. Besides the amazing costumes, there’s also extended scenes of dancing to period music, as well as music from Roxy Music. I'm not sure how historically accurate it all is (well, definitely not Roxy Music), but it makes for fun watching.
I wrote before about travelling to New Orleans in September 2016, and seeing loads of great jazz. One of the revelations of our trip was seeing people swing dance, specifically Lindy Hop.
The style was started as a mixture of African and European dance moves by African Americans in Harlem in the late 1920’s and continued to grow in popularity from the 1930’s through the 40’s. The name comes from Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight to Paris. The newspapers read ‘Lindy Hops the Atlantic’. Read more on 'What is Lindy Hop' by Peter Renzland.
When Alexej and I were on a weekend trip in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2016, we discovered some great finds in the local Oxfam charity shop, including a seemingly untouched record set called The Swing Era, 1941-1942. It came with a book containing some great illustrations for different Lindy Hop and swing dance moves.
Time Life (1970) The Swing Era, 1941-1942. Illustrations showing different Lindy Hop moves,
including 'Kickin' the Mule', 'Suzy-Q' and 'Truckin''.
I also discovered the work of Spanish illustrator José Luis Ágreda, who created some beautiful illustrations for the Sevilla Swing Festival. Risograph has been very popular in the illustration world recently, although it’s a trend that really passed me by. I love the illustrations that result from combining two or three risograph or screen-printed colours. They’re so simple but really impactful.
One of the reasons I moved to London is that I fell in love with the city depicted in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Her essay on dancing and writing opened up a whole new world of dance to me that I never knew about, or had forgotten. I used to love the 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain when I was a kid. As Smith points out, Gene Kelly is incredibly sexy when he dances. I was transfixed by him and Cyd Charisse as the flapper/gangster’s moll. Then, there’s the dream sequence where she appears as a sort of Grecian goddess with a train that flows straight in the air before wrapping around Kelly.
I find it interesting to see a 50’s Hollywood version of 1920’s Hollywood. Hollywood loves self-mythologising, and films like Singin’ in the Rain helped to cement the town’s enduring draw for generations of artists. There are millions of stories happening every day in every big city, but cities like London, Paris, New York, and L.A. all have their own specific archetypes.