Glasgow Smile

I'm in Glasgow. It's great to be sitting in a hotel room in the only country in the world in which Coca-Cola is not the best-selling soft drink. This morning a group of Italians gathered around the coffee machine. It wasn't going to happen, so I enjoyed a can of the national beverage in lieu. Irn Bru is increasingly hard to find in England, and I'd forgotten all about that strange eggy aftertaste.

As you know, I'm tedium itself. As a result, I listened to Belle & Sebastian and The Delgados on the way. You know: To get myself in the mood. This was followed by some Mogwai, but I was getting so bored I had to stop.

Because I'm here on business, I've not had much time to have a proper look around. I wanted to go to the Kelvingrove, but with the time it would have taken to get there, I'd have been looking at a window of around six minutes in which to have my horizons expanded. So instead, I went to the GOMA.

The Gallery of Modern Art claims to host a collection of works which belong to the people of Glasgow. It being free to get in, I can sort of see what they're getting at. However, had I tried to purloin Peter Fischli's rubber sculpture of a vinyl, I'm sure that no false defence of “I live here” would have worked in my favour.

The main gallery is dominated by a unique video installation by Fiona Tan. Entitled Disorient, it features two high definition films projected on facing screens. One screen shows a series of slow pans across a sort of depot filled with various Oriental artefacts. Incense, spices, statues, picked pig foetuses – the sort of space in which anyone of a curious nature could happily spend the best part of the day.

The other screen shows a disjointed montage of library footage detailing life, work, war and misery – is this the real “Orient”?

The two films were silent, but a constant soundtrack lilted through the room of readings from Marco Polo by a guy who sounded just like Liam Neeson. Marco Polo, of course, quite likely fabricated much of his travels. This narrow-minded misinformation, coupled with the fact that it was impossible to take in both screens at once, was the whole point: Your perception of culture, history and people is skewed. There's no way to get the full picture without having lived in a place since birth, and all that you can possibly learn is prejudice by either stereotype, prejudice or a cynical desire for ratings.

Hey, readers: Does the fact that the film was projected on two screens entail that it can count as two entries in my 2012 Film Challenge? No? No. Just one then.

But I did see two films. Upstairs I found myself enthralled by Peter Fischli's The Way Things Go. The most elaborate Rube Goldberg I've ever seen, this should be required viewing for anybody who's ever moaned about 'elf and safety. Such alarming disregard for self preservation is demonstrated that at times you genuinely fear for the cameraman's life.

There are grounds for calling shenanigan. It probably doesn't count as a “proper” Rube Goldberg machine as it wasn't a continuous shot; there were a few obvious scene changes. However, I've never seen such an orchestrated ballet of cause and effect to use so many lethal chemical reactions. Events were triggered by various caustic substances and fire; lots and lots of fire, which burned in every colour it's possible for fire to burn.

As a bunch of fireworks attached to a tyre sit in a pile of combustible powder towards which a trail of sparks is making inexorable process, there's nail-biting tension of which Hitchcock could only ever have dreamed.

Traditionally, Rube Goldberg sequences have a punchline – the whole thing having been engineered to fulfil some trivial task. Not so here. The picture simply faded out. Perhaps the cameraman died? Still, I'm not complaining. No film in which a Catherine Wheel is dropped into a bucket of phosphorous can ever be described as “ultimately disappointing”, as what could possibly live up to that?

At one point, the deadly sequence even creates a temporary tin society of phuttering zeppelins and sauntering robot tight-rope walkers, and I demand a lifetime supply of whatever red powder burns with magical glowing sparks which resemble terrible sci-fi SFX.

If the criteria for “favourite film” is determined by the sort of visuals which you could happily take in on a permanent loop for the rest of your days, I think we have a new winner.

The video above, it must be noted, is not complete. It can be watched here in its entirety, but it does have a "bonus" Aphex Twin soundtrack. That's not a problem for me, but if might be for you.

I like Glasgow. Their central subway line is known affectionately as The Clockwork Orange.


  1. The film looks fun - the bit with the ice in the cup on the wobbly table must've been hard. Think the "cuts" are because the reactions might take a fair while to happen?

    Also... Why's there a picture of Jack Nicholson up there?

  2. Because the Joker's got a Glasgow Smile!

  3. Aha! Only ever heard of the Chelsea and Cheshire variants until now. You sneaky sod, reaching out for Batman fans again, ha ha!