In the film regarded by many as his masterpiece, Tom Hanks plays a 12 year old boy who makes a wish to be Big. The film, named after the size which Hanks’ character indeed then becomes, was at face value a harmless fantasy destined to fill ITV’s Sunday schedules for most of my childhood. However, even a cursory dig into the themes of the film reveals a depth which almost (almost) rivals Groundhog Day.
The inner child is an archetype as universal as the wise old man. Big takes us on a tour of an adult who is this inner child come to life, let loose upon the adult world of work, responsibilities and romance. As the film develops, it provides insight into questions of mental illness, childhood sexuality and the manner in which the death of the inner child is in a profound sense the end of life.
My wife and I came in on Big halfway through while flicking past the channels the other night. My first impression of Hanks’ character was that – like so many superheroes – were he to exist in the real world, he would soon be diagnosed with a form of mental illness. The majority of the world must mature, take on responsibility and accept that life is one crushing defeat after another. Some refuse this and struggle to maintain childhood indefinitely. Josh (Hanks) falls into a third category: the adult who genuinely is a child. We think immediately of Peter Pan locked in perpetual boyhood, and then inevitably of Michael Jackson, the man-child who surely ranks among the five most famous men of the 20th century. What is it that draws us towards these characters? Is it jealousy? Nostalgia? Wish-fulfilment pacified by fantasy?
The inclusion of a romantic sub-plot in the film was a bold step, make no mistake. Attracted by his innocence and purity, the woman (Susan) falls for Hanks and soon finds herself sharing his bunk bed. Sex is not directly referenced. However, we do see Hanks swagger into work the next morning, and it is around this point of the film that his character becomes more serious about work as he leaves the playful world of the child only to get bogged down in the tedium of adulthood. I think we can judge that Hanks gets laid. This then raises the question: at the the end of the film, where his girlfriend discovers the truth and sees the boy Josh standing in a vastly oversized suit, is she repulsed by her actions? Does she confront the fact that she is, in a very real sense, a paedophile? It would appear not. She happily watches him return to his mother, leaving the complexity of stranded emotions for an as-yet unmade sequel.
It seems significant that Josh wishes to be big as he is preparing to encounter the great metamorphosis that is human adolescence. While a child watches the film jealous of Hanks’ ability to be an adult, and the adult viewer envies an adult allowed to act like a child, we must ask ourselves how a teenager feels, lost between the two states. Jealous again, I would assume. Hanks bypasses those ugly years of self-consciousness and jumps straight forward to the fun stuff. Then, having grown tired of having a trampoline inside an open plan flat, he wishes his way back to living at home to live the life of a child again.
Like Groundhog Day, I am constantly surprised by how well the film holds up. The modern fairy tale is a maligned genre, and one with which we could do more of.
“when you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.” - _why
While I agree with _why’s sentiment, here’s a bunch of stuff that I like. Hopefully my tastes won’t exclude people – who knows, you may find something you like.
Saul Steinberg is illustrator from another time. His drawings are beautifully simple but carry the weight of ideas. Originally from Romania, he did a year of philosophy, then trained as an architect. In 1942 he emigrated to the US where he did a lot of work for the New Yorker.
It’s really easy doing a drawing. Thinking of a drawing which sums up an idea is tricky. Steinberg did it again and again.
Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World
If you’re even remotely “into comics” (or “camixth” as I like to say it – you have to say it through your nose and sort of snigger at the same time), you already know about Ghost World. Or you may have seen the film. It’s a coming of age tale of two teenage girls in Nowhere, USA. Clowes draws a bunch of normal stuff, then adds a massive growth on the side of someone’s face. The drawings are shaded with pale green. It all adds up to create a haunting nether-world slightly different from our own.
But the reason Ghost World stands out is that it has a soul. The characters seem real. The way they talk seems real.
I’ve read a few others by Daniel Clowes (Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, David Boring, Wilson) and while they’re always enjoyable, this is his best.
R Crumb is a dirty old man, but even when he was a dirty young man he excelled at what he did. And that is: drawing obsessively the dark recesses of his mind. With a talent for cross-hatching which could make you weep.
I first encountered Crumb at an art gallery in Amsterdam. I was travelling round Europe with a friend and we wandered into the Stedeljik Museum, which was holding a Crumb retrospective. I could not believe what I was seeing. This guy’s work was full of such shameful honesty it was almost embarrassing. Except he didn’t seem all that ashamed. He said once, “My life is an open book”. I heard he said this to the legendary Simpsons writer George Meyer, who was suffering depression at the time. That quote, and the fact that Crumb could back it up (he carried round a sketchbook) was part of what helped Meyer come out of his depression.
Shameful honesty on its own wouldn’t be interesting if Crumb wasn’t so gloriously weird. The documentary Crumb is well worth a watch to see this weirdness and the context in which it grew.
Well that’s that. I want to finish with a few blog recommendations. They aren’t obscure, but they keep me going.
Boing Boing – interesting things
Kottke – interesting things
Brain Pickings – interesting things
Dangerous Minds – rock and roll
Potlatch – politics with an academic sensibility
50watts – illustration and book art
This book should have a warning on the front telling you it will ruin your life. What I mean is, it will make you aware of typography, and since typography is everywhere, you will be unable to avoid noticing typography, which is everywhere. This will ruin your life, because you will stop noticing other things for a while (like what the words you are reading actually say), and you will bore and confuse people by telling them how Helvetica is everywhere and that you can now tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial.
I first became interested in fonts when I was a kid and our family got a 486 PC. I don’t know why but I liked the fonts. I wrote out the name of every font in its own font, printed this list out and then put it in a protective plastic sleeve. I figured my family could refer to the font list when using the computer themselves. I don’t think they actually used it, but this categorisation exercise got something out of my system. It also illustrates what a fun-loving kid I was, in between playing games of chess against myself and firing heat-seeking missiles at Gulf cities in F-15 Strike Eagle.
As the book points out, the unstoppable growth of computers and the internet has made interest in fonts something of a common hobby. Maybe not a hobby, but more people have opinions about them. Hatred of Comic Sans doesn’t make you different any more – it makes you normal. Having said that, most people are able to get by without quietly naming all the fonts they see, and then consequently feeling satisfaction or frustration depending on whether they are able to do so or not. It’s getting absurd. I’m one stop short of muttering to myself à la Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. Yesterday I found myself looking forward to my next visit to an airport just so I could see Frutiger in its natural environment.
The book goes well in conjunction with Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica, an in-depth look behind the world’s most popular typeface. It contains some brilliant interviews with type designers like Erik Spiekermann, a man whose passion for type earns a self-diagnosis of “typomania”. Here he is in an extended clip from the DVD extras:
Truly the world needs more Erik Spiekermanns.
This week, Taro Sushi and Noodle Bar (Brewer Street, Soho)
I spent a long time wary of raw fish, but thankfully those days are gone. After a few false starts sampling sushi in the substandard Japanese restaurants of Seville, Taro was the place that finally converted me. My wife and I came here the night we got engaged, and so it was we returned last night on the evening of our second anniversary. She and my step-daughter opted for noodle-based dishes, but I only had one thing on my mind.
My sushi arrived on a chopping board that resembled a miniature wooden table, a rustic and brutish touch to such a sophisticated food. The subtle, discreet flavours of the sushi itself would perhaps not be quite the same without the radical extreme heat added by the wasabi. With many of the items on my board, I added too much wasabi and suffered the dual consequences of tears and minor embarrassment. I was glad to have relief at hand in the form of a cool glass of green tea.
My clumsy use of chopsticks, together with an ill-thought out attempt to consume one piece of sushi in two bites (the rice and fish inevitably separated and fell on the table), made me feel less refined than I had wished upon entering the restaurant. But the metropolitan sense of glamour is surely one of the attractions of a cuisine unavailable in the English countryside. For a short while, I daydreamed of checking into rehab with a sushi addiction. The tabloid headlines. The slow road to recovery.
For desert, we shared a bowl of ginger ice cream and another of green tea ice cream. The pure tastes of these underlined the clean, energising feeling you get from Japanese cooking. It contrasts so starkly to the bloated feeling that follows English food, or the dirty feeling you get from Chinese food. It’s no wonder the Japanese have been so economically successful.
Taro’s website is http://www.tarorestaurants.co.uk
A new featurette on the Triangle Sky: restaurant reviews. This week, I go to Uncle Sams in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex.
The budget hamburger has gained a bad reputation over the years – and rightly so if we use the rubbish churned out by McDonalds and Burger King to form our standard. That’s not to mention the countless kebab shops which see the humble burger as little more than an irritating sideline not deserving of the care and artistry dedicated to kebabs. As a result, we have seen gastropubs and chains such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen thriving in recent years as they accommodate the higher end of a disillusioned market.
This is all to fundamentally misunderstand the hamburger, which is meant to be cheap and served in a brown paper bag with fries and a carbonated drink.
Uncle Sams is a South Coast burger chain serving low-cost burgers in brown paper bags, as referenced by their alliterative slogan “Bag a Better Burger”). The franchise extends from Portsmouth, through Brighton and as far east as Eastbourne. My wife and I went to the Shoreham branch, notable for its seats and tables, and placed our orders for a Double Cheeseburger meal and a Double Chilli Cheeseburger meal. Brand name drinks are not available at Sams, so we ordered a generic cola and a generic orangeade, eschewing the option of a 40p upgrade to milkshakes.
The order came through quickly. After sampling a few fries and adding salt from the accompanying sachet, I tore open the paper around my Double Chilli Cheeseburger and sank my teeth into the main course. Sams burgers very rarely disappoint, and this was no exception. The sweetness of the bun is a cheeky surprise in such a savoury meal, but this sugary taste was soon wiped out by the combination of chilli sauce, lettuce, red onion, melted cheese and two burgers. I usually opt for a Bacon Cheeseburger, but the Double Chilli Cheeseburger was bringing an equal though different quality of pleasure as I made my way through it.
Exhaustion, satisfaction and pride: the feelings after finishing a Sams meal are unmistakeable. I sat back in my chair for a few moments of digestion before heading out to the car and driving home, sharing the last of my orangeade with my wife.
I would recommend Sams to just about anyone seeking the elusive low-cost high-taste hamburger. The only conceivable improvement would be to abolish the 10p charge for ketchup – a charge which does little except provide inconvenience for the customer who realises when their order comes that they forgot to ask for ketchup and that they have now lost their place in the queue.
Uncle Sams can be found at these locations.