The light at the end of the tunnel

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Willows weeping for Dartford

By the banks of the river Darenth that skirts through a far corner of Dartford municipal park, Jonah sat on a bench and gazed at the weeping willows. There was sadness in his heart. Things had gone pear-shaped with Anna-Belle and she was no longer talking to him, said she never wanted to see him again in her life. Never, jamais, ever, she’d shouted. And he’d had such high hopes for a future with her ever since the day he’d chanced upon her, after an absence of thirty years or more, sitting in the King’s Head in Bexley Village reading War and Peace. But no. Nothing had gone according to plan. Would it ever?

It was a beautiful early autumn afternoon, and the park was virtually empty except for clusters here and there of school children who had bunked off for the day. Young boys and girls chatting and smoking and struggling to act cool under the fierce impact of their impetuous adolescent hormones.

And in Jonah’s head, that tune that had been haunting him ever since he’d woken earlier that morning. You can’t always get what you want, no you can’t always get what you want, you can’t always get what you want, but you just might get what you need. The voice of Mick Jagger, the voice of Jonah’s adolescence. He’d grown up with the Stones’ music, every party he’d ever gone to, back in the days, the same old songs blasting out of the stereo, you can’t always get what you want. No satisfaction!

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Let’s play Blow-Up. Can you spot the heron? Click on photo to enlarge.

Raising his head, Jonah looked across the river and spotted through a narrow clearing in the forest, perched on a tall palisade, a large heron. At first he thought it was a statue, the bird was so still. But then it moved its beak. What, he wondered, was going through the heron’s mind? Pointless speculation. The heron knew nothing of Anna-Belle, knew nothing of his troubles, lived in a parallel universe in which instinct ruled the day, not love. Herons always got what they wanted, he mused.

On his way into the park, Jonah had stopped off at the Library to enquire about the location of the no-expenses-spared monument to Mick Jagger. He’d often heard of the existence of this tribute to a local hero, but had never managed to locate it. He spoke to Chris, a volunteer librarian and was told that the Brancusi-inspired art work dedicated to Jagger was at the far end of the park, where it tapered off into woodland, close to the Brooklands lake. Why had it been sited in such a remote spot, Jonah asked. That would be because the council wanted to discourage Japanese tourists from trampling all over the flower beds, Chris explained. Some things are logical and some things are not, Jonah thought to himself.

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Monument to Mick Jagger

Nevertheless, the sun was out and the air in his lungs was fresh and wholesome, so he picked himself up and sticking close to the mighty river, he trudged off in the direction he had been told to follow. And sure enough, after a good thirty minutes trek, with sweat breaking out across his brow, there it was, Mick Jagger in all his glory, beautifully captured, microphone in hand, in an exhilarating dance pose, craftily wrought in wrought iron. The thick crust of rust on the iron merely conspired to enhance the natural quality of the sculpture which would not have been out of place on the sea front in Cannes, where the Stones had spent some of their time in tax exile in years gone by and best forgotten now. There it was finally! And next to it a monument to Vox amplifiers, a product manufactured in Dartford in the fifties and which had helped fuel the rock and roll revolution, delivering decibels to the millions. Thoughtfully, a narrow bench had been provided for those whose knees felt a little weak at the sight of this magnificent, astonishingly lifelike representation of their idol. Jonah stood in contemplative silence. He thought of Anna-Belle for a moment and muttered a silent prayer. You can’t always get what you want.

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Darenth flora

Despondently, he resumed his long march by the riverside until he came to a long long tunnel. He paused at the mouth of this cavernous construction. Suddenly there was music, sweet music, the celestial sound of Handel’s Water Music, emanating from this vast, brick-lined vault. He could not believe his ears; music, the food of love! And in the background the gushing sound of rushing water merrily tipping over the weir. And as he advanced into the dark tunnel, right there before his eyes, at the very end, as though an epiphany, a message from the gods, at the far end, a brilliant patch of light appeared: at last there was hope and there was light. Something inside Jonah trembled and for a moment his vision blurred and his head began to spin. Was he about to swoon? Was this his footpath to Damascus? It was as though his whole life had been building up to this moment of revelation. All the bitterness, all the hurt he had suffered at the heartless hands of Anna-Belle, just slipped away, dropped from his shoulders like a hairshirt he was no longer obliged to wear. His soul was naked and pure and bright. Here before him, life was renewed. He was free, free at last. Free of Anna-Belle, free from the past, free from the endless pillow-pounding sleepless nights, free from the grey drudgery of loveless days. Nothing would ever be the same. He had found it. Eldorado. Nirvana. The grail. Now nothing but the untrammelled future lay before him. Fresh pastures green. New love. He had found it. Just what he needed. Sweet, soft music to his ears. The light. The light at the end of the tunnel.

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Dartford’s musical tunnel of light

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Blow-Up

blow_upBlow-Up (1966), was directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, and featured David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and Peter Bowles. There are also appearances by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and by Janet Street Porter, and others.

The film is very loosely based on a short story by the Argentinian writer, Julio Cortázar (who makes an uncredited appearance as a homeless person) . His original story, Las babas del diablo [The devil’s drool], describes an incident witnessed on a bridge: a young boy appears to be running towards his mother who has her arms outstretched to greet him. When the observer in the story steps back, however, he notices a man waiting by a car with an open door, and it becomes obvious to him that the scene is one of attempted kidnapping of the boy.

Perception. What we see and what we want to see, in film and in art and in life. Illusion and self-delusion. And from our point of observation, from where we are standing, what information do we have, and is it the correct information, and is it sufficient to make a judgment of the situation we are observing, or the emotions we are experiencing? In film, in art, and in life: how do we arrive at our judgments, how do we assess the honesty of other people’s feelings, their words, their actions when so much is façade and pretence and evasion and deception? Is it all pointless carnival, as the frolicking students (who appear at the beginning and end of the film) would suggest in their seemingly inane mimes? A going through the motions?

The basic narrative goes like this: David Hemmings is taking photos in a park in Charlton when he spots a couple kissing. He takes photos of them. When the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) notices him, she runs after him and demands he hand over the camera. Hemmings refuses but says she can have the photos when he has developed them. Once he does develop them, however, he notices that a fourth person was present at the moment he snapped the couple kissing. By blowing up the exposures, he discovers that there was a man in the bushes with a gun pointed at the presumably illicit lovers. He returns to the scene and discovers the dead body of Redgrave’s lover. Inadvertently Hemmings has captured a murder on camera.

Camera obscura … Michelangelo Antonioni during the filming of L'Avventura (1960).
Michelangelo Antonioni

Perception. What we see and what we want to see, both objectively out in the world, and internally in our emotional lives. Although set in the swinging sixties, a time which on the surface purported to be full of novelty and fun and new-found freedoms, nobody in the film is happy and there are no deep human connections: there is wealth and poverty and demonstrations on the streets of London. The people with money and access to drugs and an incessant party life seem no happier than the men emerging from the doss house at the start of the film. Everything is veneer, false appearances, of little value.

Values. The film presents a critical meditation on the bankrupt spiritual and emotional values of contemporary society and the individual. What is at stake is honesty, that fundamental virtue which according to the 18th century French writer, Voltaire, is the cornerstone of human society. Dishonesty destroys relationships on a personal level and can destroy the very fabric of society.

Insofar as any film can be important, Blow-Up is important, a cinematographic masterpiece. But you have to look beneath the veneer to appreciate it!