Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In the swim - pools in movies, part three

A swimming pool is the centre of confusion for Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955) but pools are so central to two intertwined French films that they are named after the bathing spots - the setting for murders in both, by different means. In La Piscine (1969), which is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and Swimming Pool (2003), the camera lingers longingly on the pneumatic bodies of respective stars Romy Schneider and Ludivine Sagnier (pictured).

In the former film, Schneider is paired with her ex-lover Alain Delon, not looking bad nearly a decade after Plein Soleil, here distracted by Lolita-esque Jane Birkin. In François Ozon's Swimming Pool, libidinous Sagnier disrupts writer Charlotte Rampling's dreams of a peaceful holiday.

In Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También (2001), bored teenager Gael García Bernal is seen wanking into a pool with his friend, played by Diego Luna. When the randy duo embark on a road trip with Maribel Verdú, they stop at a dilapidated, out-of-season motel, where the pool is cloaked in fallen leaves. Christina Ricci meets boyfriend Elijah Wood in an equally leaf-strewn scene in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997), but this time the pool is empty, and they are in their winter coats.

The passing of a way of life, and a country, is marked in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's A Screaming Man (2010) as a proud lifeguard must give way to his son, and then must try and rescue his offspring when the civil war reaches them. Youssouf 'Champion' Djaoro's cross-country journey is leant a surreal air by the swimming goggles he sports to keep the sand from his eyes.

This journey is marked nowhere better than the 1968 film adaptation of John Cheever's beautiful short story The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster, later reworked as a Levi's jeans ad (set to Dinah Washington's Mad About the Boy). In it character Ned Merrill decides to swim across an endless stream of home pools - as he does so, the season changes from summer to autumn, accompanied by his fortunes.

And then there's Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), which opens on scriptwriter William Holden's body floating in a pool, two shots in the back and one in the stomach, we're told. 'The poor dope, he always wanted a pool.'

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In the swim - pools in movies, part two

The sense of danger increases in The Page Turner (2009), which stars Déborah François as a vengeful young woman who infiltrates a happy family. The fear is multiplied for Jacques Tourneur's classic 1942 chiller Cat People as Simone Simon stalks terrified Jane Randolph in a pool (pictured).

Jonathan Glazer satirises the classic poolside beauty with Sexy Beast's (2000) opening sequence of a sweaty, overweight Ray Winstone - in Speedos - but menace lurks beneath this Costa pool (there's a swimming pool-set robbery thrown in for good measure, too). For downright horror, however, look no further than 2008's Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson's remarkable take on John Ajvide Lindqvist's script from his own novel.

Any number of stars have risen seductively from pools - from Esther Williams (Bathing Beauty, 1944), through Phoebe Cates in 1980s teen fantasy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to Gael García Bernal in Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education (2004).

Then there are Denise Richards and Neve Campbell's lesbian antics in Wild Things (1998), intended to seduce police detective Kevin Bacon. This can be placed alongside the frolics of Just Jaeckin's classic soft-porn film, Emmanuelle (1974), which throws in an underwater show.

Part three - murder, death and decay - is here

Monday, 28 November 2011

In the swim - pools in movies, part one

'Where's the swimming pool? You must have a swimming pool.'

So says Veronica Lake to Joel McCrea in Preston Sturges' Hollywood satire, Sullivan's Travels (1941), inspiration for the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? Swimming pools appear in a variety of movies: private pools denote glamour, if not decadence - witness Billy Crudup perched on a rooftop above a pool in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000). 'I am a golden god!' he shouts to his fans before they urge him to jump. 'My last words... I'm on drugs!'

It doesn't take much to reduce that ultimate status symbol, the hidden swimming pool, however - a flick of the switch pitching James Stewart and Donna Reed into the water in It's a WonderfulLife (1946), while Peter Sellers floods the festivities in foam at The Party (1968). In the 1980s, swimming pools were also life-giving - to aliens in Cocoon (1985) and to gremlins in, erm, Gremlins (1984).

To mark the release of Jacques Deray's La Piscine (pictured) today on DVD and Blu-ray, over the next three days I'm going to examine more themes familiar to swimming pool films, starting with seduction and humiliation - dive in!

In George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story (1940), the swimming pool is the setting for Katharine Hepburn's night-time swim - in the musical version of Philip Barry's play, High Society (1956), Grace Kelly is the bathing beauty. The character, Tracy Lord, remembers the yacht she shared with her ex husband as 'yar' - an execrable word in both women's mouths.

For Juliette Binoche in Philip Kaufman's Kundera adaptation, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), public baths are a place of humiliation - much as they are for the young teenage heroine in French director Céline Sciamma's 2007 feature debut, Water Lilies, an unforgettable portrayal of the tensions within a team of pubescent swimmers.

In the same way Binoche rarely seems to escape Paris's Métro, so she is often shown in swimming pools; it's a place of isolation for her widowed character in Three Colours: Blue (1993), set to Zbigniew Preisner's magnificent score. Michael Haneke, however, makes it a setting for, by turns, menace and threat in Code Unknown (pictured, 2000) and Hidden (2005)...

Part two, featuring lust and terror, follows here

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Outdoor art 2012

Theatre and music names garnered the headlines at the recent launch of the London 2012 Festival, which will loosely coincide with next year's Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Games will be rung in with a new piece from Martin Creed, Work No.1197: All the Bells in a Country Rung as Quickly and as Loudly as Possible for Three Minutes.

Participatory art makes up a large part of the programme and some outdoor events across the UK have already caught my imagination, starting with Forest Pitch. Craig Coulthard intends to create a full-size football pitch in the middle of a Scottish forest - goalposts and shelters will be made from the cleared trees. Two matches will then be played on the site (the artist slightly overeggs his project by choosing his teams from amateurs who have taken on British citizenship), before the spot is left to return to nature, rather like the scenes in my favourite Asterix book, The Mansions of the Gods.

Another artist interacting with nature and the elements is German Hans Peter Kuhn, who intends to pitch a series of Flags - red on one side, yellow the other - along the Giant's Causeway coastline in Northern Ireland. According to the pitch: 'Depending on the strength and direction of the wind the viewer will see a flickering pattern of red and yellow against the backdrop of this spectacular landscape, generating a strange form of binary code transmitting nature's message.'

More genteel is The English Flower Garden, 'a series of six installations with a total of 15,000 individually hand-thrown ceramic blooms mounted on metal rods'. I'm increasingly interested in ceramics and can't wait for Paul Cumming's beautiful-sounding event, part of which blossoms at London's South Bank early September 2012.

If you want to catch a preview of what's to come, check out Alex Hartley's show, which opened last night at Victoria Miro (where he will live in an outdoor installation, pictured, for the duration). Next summer, the artist will float his Arctic island nation around south-west England but, until 21 January at the gallery, you can visit his adapted photographs, many of which feature architectural additions reminiscent of James Bond baddies' lairs.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Mysterious killings

In the last week, Germany has been gripped by the revelation that a group of neo-Nazis responsible for killing at least 10 people, a string of bank robberies and two nail-bomb attacks was able to act with apparent impunity for 13 years. Among the most striking details to emerge is that a member of the country's own intelligence service was present when two members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) shot dead a 21-year-old Turkish man in an internet café.

The story has uncomfortable echoes of a mysterious series of fatal crimes committed in Belgium in the early 1980s. Between 1982 and 1985, 28 people were killed in at least 16 armed robberies on supermarkets, restaurants and, in one case, a jeweller's; the perpetrators rarely stole all the money available to them and only in an attack on an arms dealer seem to have focused on the outcome of their acts. No one has ever been convicted of the crimes.

Any number of theories exist to explain this bizarre outbreak of violence, including Mafia gun-running and neo-Nazi terror cells. Many argue that the gang - variously named the Nijvel or Brabant killers, after the area in which most of the offences took place - intended to destabilise the Belgian government, while others have suggested they were a 'stay behind' Gladio-style operation intended to act against the rise of communism in western Europe. Given Belgium's notorious recent history of underage-sex crime, still others link the killings to paedophile gangs.

As with the NSU in Germany, the fact that nobody has been tried for the offences has lead many to speculate on high-ranking government, military or police connivance. The Nijvel gang's final act was also their most violent: on 9 November 1985 they killed eight people and injured several others in a raid on a supermarket. They were never heard of again.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Haruki Murakami and 1Q84, part three - 'detective spelunking'

Haruki Murakami's new book features a character, Tengo, who wants to be a writer and reviewers have naturally picked up on this aspect of 1Q84. Some of the novel's thoughts on writing, editing and publishing replicate the author's views on translation, expressed in a piece by Murakami called 'To Translate and to be Translated' (2006) collected in a book to commemorate a symposium held by the Japan Foundation five years ago.

The three-part celebration - in Tokyo, Kobe and Hokkaido - was primarily aimed at international translators of Murakami's work and called A Wild Haruki Chase: How the World is Reading and Translating Murakami. Kobe, of course, is where the Japanese author grew up, while Hokkaido is one of the settings in the first of his books to appear in Britain, A Wild Sheep Chase (1990).

'If a translation can be read smoothly and effortlessly, and thus enjoyably,' Murakami writes, 'then it does its job as a translation perfectly well - that is my basic stance as the original author. For that is what the stories that I conjure and lay out are really about.'

Elsewhere, one of the leading lights behind the symposium, Professor Inuhiko Yomota, claims: 'The international "Haruki boom" gained momentum in the 1990s, around the same time as anime (Japanese animation) and Japanese-made computer games pushed into global markets. Unlike the works of his Japanese predecessors, such as Jun'ichiro Tanizaki and Yasunari Kawabata, Murakami's works are not being translated and consumed overseas as those of an author who represents Japanese culture.'

Though Murakami may not represent Japanese culture I disagree with Yomota's idea that international readers do not think of the author and his work as Japanese. The chief protagonist of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Toru Okada, may cook spaghetti and listen to Rossini, for instance, but his outlook and experiences are distinctly 'other'. While readers' 'political disillusionment, romantic impulses, loneliness and emptiness' may be assuaged by Murakami's texts, as Yomota has it, it is the books' alien setting that allows many non-Japanese readers to accept their unusual goings-on. To contradict Yomota's thesis, we 'fully realise that the author was born in Japan and that the books are actually translations.'

More compelling is the writer Richard Powers on how Murakami's work anticipated developments in neuroscience in the 1990s, specifically Italian researcher Giacomo Rizzolatti's discovery of mirror neurons. Working with monkeys in the lab, his team unexpectedly found that a macaque signalled from a part of its prefrontal cortex not only when moving its own arm but in reaction to the experimenters' movements. 'Now, in the looping, shared circuitry of mirror neurons, science has hit upon an even richer description of our communal, subterranean truths,' says Powers, 'the truths that Murakami's mirrorscape of symbols brings into existence with him.'

Kafka on the Shore (2005) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991, pictured top) are just two examples of novels containing such parallel narrative worlds. According to Powers: 'Murakami's characters, set loose between these intersecting worlds, are forced to embark on detective spelunking. They venture downwards into walled enclaves, climb into deep wells, or drop below the surface of seismically shaken cities, searching for the rules that connect the banal and the fantastic, the material and the mental.'

The formula is repeated in 1Q84 where an unrequited couple - Tengo and old schoolmate Aomame - find themselves in a parallel 1984. Much of the narrative is naturalistic: perhaps back in 1984 the same two characters are moving between the same points in their lives (rewriting a book, hiding out in an apartment, visiting a dying parent) without being aware of the supernatural elements that link these events in the world of 1Q84, with its two moons. Politically disillusioned, lonely, romantic and empty we may be but somewhere, Murakami insists, something magical and mysterious is happening if only in our minds.

The book's 1984/1Q84 nonetheless feels close to our own time; despite lacking mobile phones and the internet, Murakami is not interested in piling on the period detail so loved by others. And what does his hero, Tengo, eat this time out? Grilled dried mackerel with daikon radish, a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to have with tofu, cucumber slices and wakame seaweed doused with vinegar, plus rice and nappa pickles; elsewhere he makes stir-fried shrimp and vegetables with boiled edamame in a procedure Murakami itemises like a recipe - you could follow this and make it at home.

'Tengo chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsley, too, he chopped up finely... Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil... When the vegetables were just beginning to cook, he tossed the drained shrimp into the pan... After adding another dose of salt and pepper to the whole thing, he poured in a small glass of sake. Then a dash of soy sauce and finally a scattering of Chinese parsley.'

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Haruki Murakami and 1Q84, part two - cuts

I'm rather jealous of the stylish US edition of Haruki Murakami's new work, 1Q84, not least because all three Japanese books are published in one, 900-page volume. In order to speed the novel's release in English, Murakami's regular translators Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel split the work between them. Rubin took on the first two books while Gabriel tackled the last, although some particularly pernickety reviewers have complained about variances of tone between the sections.

Timing is important to Murakami: in his critical biography, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words (2002), Rubin explains how Murakami asked him to begin translating book one of what is probably the Japanese author's chef d'oeuvre, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, while it was being serialised. 'Of course, as a scholar, it would have made sense for me to have waited to see how the book turned out...' Rubin concedes.

Like 1Q84, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was originally published in Japan in three parts: the first two books were released simultaneously in April 1994 with book three following almost a year later in August 1995, a time lag roughly replicated by the third part of Murakami's latest. Where the books differ is that a decision was made to edit Wind-Up Bird - that task was given to the book's translator, Rubin.

'The cuts occur primarily at the end of book two and the beginning of book three,' Rubin writes. But his work went beyond that: 'I did a lot of rearranging at the beginning of book three because I found several chronological inconsistencies which were not deliberately placed there by the author... To further complicate the textual picture, Murakami contributed many minor cuts that have since been incorporated into the Japanese paperback edition of the novel (mostly in book one).'

According to Rubin: 'There are many versions of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: the serialised version of book one; the published hardback editions of books one, two and three; my unpublished complete translation of that edition (with likely inconsistencies since I may have missed something in revising the version based on the serialised chapters); the American version; the British version from Harvill; and finally the paperback (bunkoben) version in Japanese, which incorporates some - but not all - of the cuts recommended for the American translation and possibly others decided upon afterwards.'

The decision to abridge the work in the first place was justified by Murakami's US editor, Gary Fisketjon, on publisher Knopf's website in 1997: 'My reaction was that it couldn't be published successfully at such length, which indeed would do harm to Haruki's cause in this country.' In nearly 15 years, things have moved on enough for 1Q84 to be published unexpurgated but it seems unlikely we will see a special edition of Rubin's complete version.

In his introduction to collection A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World (2008) - more of which in my next post - the translator writes: 'I have occasionally suggested to Knopf that the time might be ripe for an uncut edition, but they have shown no interest in the idea.' I wonder, too, if we'll see Portrait in Jazz, which Murakami's Russian translator Ivan Sergeevich Logatchov describes as a 'masterpiece' and sounds like it might be a counterpiece to Geoff Dyer's brilliant jazz book But Beautiful (1991).

Monday, 14 November 2011


London's V&A celebrates craftsmanship in an exhibition that runs until 2 January 2012. Power of Making is great fun and includes a cake in the shape of a baby, a shark sculpture made from recycled tyres and a 'crochetdermy' bear.

Produced with the Crafts Council, the show highlights the skills of gunsmiths or the beauty of ceramics, often creating contrasts by updating traditional vocations. For example, when the market for ecclesiastical wear began to dry up, Poland's Koniakow Cooperative turned its talents instead to making lingerie, including the handmade lace G-string on display (pictured).

There's a strand where these developments achieve the absurd: take Dave Bradbury's Bill Bailey book, which is carved from stone. Australian artist Patricia Piccinini imagines safety wear for genetically engineered creatures - her double-headed 'hornet' crash helmet could be a wholly impractical device for an adult and child to cram into together, for instance.

Jeremy Hutchison took this approach to everyday objects to its extreme in the recent Saatchi New Sensations exhibition. The artist contacted factories around the world and asked them to provide him with an example of their work that was altered in such a way as to make it unusable. (It's important to state he was not after a product rejected because it was faulty.)

As part of the project, he presents the pieces with the correspondence built up over the process (pictured), which shows many factories were understandably puzzled by his intentions - endearingly, some were unwilling to compromise their hard-won reputations by making something that didn't work. (An example of this approach in the news around the same time as the show is the story of the man who ordered two differently sized slippers but, when they arrived, one was a size 1,450 rather than 14.5, though this may have been a PR stunt.) Other responses reference the joy people experienced at giving their creative input while being relieved of routine constraints.

One of my favourite pieces is a pair of sunglasses with multiple bridges, making it unwearable; elsewhere pencils lack lead or a hat is sealed so it cannot be worn. The results are suitably surrealistic - there is a solid pipe, after Magritte, which cannot be smoked. The master of the found object is referenced, too: Duchamp's snow shovel became art by being displayed in a gallery but could still function in the manner for which it was designed; Hutchison, or his craftsmen, render it unusable by inverting the shovel on the handle.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Hidden London: The Poppy Factory

Amid the continuing hooha over wearing poppies you might be surprised to learn that the British Legion's annual symbol of remembrance is made in London. The Poppy Factory (pictured below) on the Thames in Richmond makes up to 45 million poppies every year and 100,000 wreaths, as well as organising the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.

Poppies were first sold to raise money to help support ex-servicemen and women in the early 1920s and the Richmond site was established in 1925. The factory employs more than 40 disabled staff with links to the services, as well as supporting others who work from home or in other companies.

They run daily tours where you can see the work and memorabilia associated with the factory, including a 1922 letter from Major George Howson in which he describes his feelings about the project. 'I have been given a cheque for £2,000 to make poppies with. It is a large responsibility and will be very difficult... I consider the attempt ought to be made if only to give the disabled their chance.'

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The first Oyster card

Renovation work at Richmond station has revealed a handful of posters dating from the mid-1980s (see date top right, above), including one explaining how to use train-door buttons (bottom).

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

One-track mind

'I dreamt I married Micke Larsson. He plays guitar and sings in Black Devils. It was so nice.'

The highlight of Swedish director Roy Andersson's 2007 film You, the Living must be a dream sequence, in which lonely fan Anna dreams of marrying Micke. The musician - played by Eric Bäckmann, who was found through a famous Stockholm music store - serenades her as their marital home moves off through the countryside, before pulling into a station (pictured). In the film's only cut, the camera joins a crowd wishing the couple well. According to Andersson it is a happy scene, full of the generosity missing from modern life.

'This was an old idea I'd had for many, many years,' he reminisces in the DVD extras. 'Originally the idea was to have a house move on a motorway, rolling from Skåne to Stockholm, on logs. My inspiration was from childhood when they built Skarvik, the refinery, in Gothenburg.

'They wanted the best harbour, and this was found in Skarvik, but there were a hundred houses there. It was so important they had this place they moved the houses, on logs. I saw this as a child and found it fascinating that they were so well-built they could move a couple of miles. I like doing scenes like this, that are complicated but turn out so well... It's a great feeling seeing this train move out.'

It reminds me of one of my favourite sequences in all cinema, when 'young buck' Moraldo finally decides to leave his spoilt, spineless friends in I Vitelloni (1953, pictured). Fellini narrated his partly autobiographical film, saying: 'I've always talked of leaving but only one of us, one morning, without saying a word to anyone, really did leave.'

At an empty station, reminiscent of that in Cinema Paradiso, Moraldo is asked by a boy, Guido, where is he going and what will he do? 'I have to leave, get away,' he replies. The response - 'Don't you like it here?' - goes unanswered. As the train pulls away, the camera passes through the bedrooms - the sleeping lives - of the group he's left behind.

I've written elsewhere about great train films, and recently Nile Rodgers posted about train songs on his wonderful blog. There are any number, of course, but I would like to add a couple of tracks (sorry!) by The Divine Comedy to his list. On the band's most recent album, Bang Goes the Knighthood, Neil Hannon returned to a theme he explored on album Liberation (1993), in Europe by Train (echoing Rodgers' fascination with Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express). The form of building, looped samples is the same on new song Beside the Railway Tracks, the effect 17 years on even more poignant.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Sofie Gråbøl and the fear of being found out

I had some great feedback for my post in which The Killing star Sofie Gråbøl speaks about her admiration for the series' writer, Søren Sveistrup, so here are her thoughts about acting. She fell into acting while working in a Copenhagen hotel aged 17 and feels, for a time, it was something she pursued despite never having made a conscious decision to become an actor. She obviously did well but it was only when she freed herself from other people's expectations that she could call herself an actor...

'It wasn’t something I had felt or wished for and then tried to achieve, I just hopped on a train that passed me. Everyone said to me you should go to theatre school, you should be an actor shouldn’t you, and then suddenly I started feeling this pressure somehow. I lost myself in that and I got this great fear of applying for theatre school because what if I didn’t get in, then it was all bluff.

'I think a lot of artists have this feeling of bluffing - [that] somebody is going to come and reveal us and say, you’re not allowed to be here, you’re not good enough. Finally I applied for the school and I didn’t get in, and it was somehow a big relief. It was like people's expectations -what I had dreaded the most - happened, and I felt so relieved I was able to feel my own needs and wishes, and I really wanted to be an actor. I just worked, I started doing theatre as well.'

After a considerable wait, The Killing II begins on BBC4 Saturday 19 November.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Haruki Murakami and 1Q84, part one - entering a parallel world

Haruki Murakami's new novel, 1Q84, has its problems but it's such a pleasure to enter his fictional universe and distract yourself, especially when commuting. A couple of things seem pertinent from when I interviewed the hugely popular Japanese author several years ago, prior to the publication of another of his big books, Kafka on the Shore (2005).

'I'm interested in ordinary people,' Murakami told me of his main protagonist, Kafka Tamura. 'I guess the people he's going to meet aren't ordinary in most cases, they're kind of weird, unrealistic characters. He himself is kind of ordinary and that is very important to me because I sympathise with those kind of people, I like to see the world through the eyes of ordinary people.

'The protagonists in my stories are basically alone but kind of positive. He's not pessimistic or negative, he's positive to life or to the world, and he's looking for the clue to solve the problem and for somebody he can communicate with. His attitude is important to me and I suppose readers will feel the same way - positiveness.'

After the massive success of Norwegian Wood ('It was war'), which has since been turned into a film, Murakami wanted to settle for more modest expectations, though the global furore over 1Q84 may have unsettled his ambition. 'I publish a novel every three years or so and my readers are waiting. That is good. They are very loyal to me, or addicted, so they are waiting for the publication of my next one. It's a very idealistic cycle: I write a book and they are waiting.' Here's to the next one!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Deserted villages

On one of the hottest days Turkey had experienced in 60 years, I visited one of the country's literally deserted places. Kaya Köyü is reached via the Mediterranean resort town of Fethiye and is described in my Rough Guide book as 'the largest late-medieval ghost town in Asia Minor'.

In 1923, following three years of war, Kaya Köyü's Greek Christian residents were exiled and the village has been uninhabited ever since. The Muslims who were supposed to replace them apparently found the land far inferior to what they were used to and refused to move in.

The roofs of the village's 400 homes have long caved in, exposing the interiors to the elements. Kaya Köyü's three churches are in a similar state: the Panayia Pyrgiotissa basilica dates from 1888 and is notable for its mosaic floor, as well as a charnel house full of human bones (the departing Greeks are said to have taken the skulls with them).

While other villages have been turned into holiday homes and short-let accommodation - this is a particularly beautiful part of the coast, boasting one of the world's most stunning beaches nearby - Kaya Köyü has been left untouched. There was hardly anyone else in sight and, with the sun beating down, it made a particularly desolate scene.

In France, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane has been left as a monument ever since 10 June 1944 when the SS killed more than 640 residents and refugees either as a form of reprisal or warning. The men were separated into five groups and killed with machine-gun fire, while women and children were corralled in the church, which was set ablaze.

In 1994, Geoff Dyer visited the site for an article in Esquire, collected in Anglo-English Attitudes (1999). 'The sign at the gate admonishes SOUVIENS-TOI: REMEMBER. Beyond the gate you see the ruined walls of a few houses,' he writes. 'Propped against one of these, a large sign admonishes SILENCE... One kind of time stopped here on an afternoon in 1944 but a different, slower kind - that sculpts hills and silts rivers - has taken over.'

You can create deserted villages, too, as Anselm Kiefer did in Barjac, southern France, where, for more than 15 years, he established a studio and outdoor exhibition space for his work, a sort of city of art. Director Sophie Fiennes captured the climax of his project, before the German artist struck camp and moved to Paris. The title of her 2010 film came from the Book of Isaiah, echoing Dyer: Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.