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April 13, 2014

The Lure of Soho

Indulge in the Heyday of London's Salacious Square Mile with Photographer John Deakin and Artist Neal Fox

Newsstands and drag artists sit alongside Soho’s inner circle in this nostalgic black-and-white series. Known for his links to the artists and writers who frequented the area throughout the 60s and 70s, John Deakin photographed its notorious watering holes, from the now-closed Colony Room to the French House. The latter supported such artist regulars Francis Bacon and playwright J P Donleavy by showcasing their works. Here illustrator Neal Fox, co-founder of the punkish Le Gun art collective, whose works depicting the French House’s debauched past made it into French House landlady Leslie Lewis’ cutthroat selection, takes a trip into the heart of Soho past and present.

When I was growing up I used to hear stories about my granddad drinking in Soho. There was a photo of him and my gran on the wall, him in a black hat and trench coat drinking a whiskey in the French pub. It became a kind of mythical place in the back of my mind and gradually I started drawing pictures about my granddad. He was a writer and publisher and ex bomber pilot called John Watson. When I was at the Royal College of Arts I did a show where I had his old desk covered in my drawings and a recording of his voice.
In a way it’s like a village but in the middle of London, a dysfunctional village of maniacs. You can drop in there and you will bump into people you know, a lot of whom are a bit outside of the norm, imaginative hedonists, the drinking class.
The French is one of the few really unique places left to drink in London now that everything is becoming a homogenised Starbucks shit parade. When I went in there that first day I met Carla Borel who was working behind the bar and she asked me to do a show in the pub with all these drawings I was doing about my granddad. So I did that and then the gallerist Daniel Blau came in by chance and asked me if I wanted to do a show at his gallery in Munich. I felt like my granddad was helping me out, looking over my shoulder.

I like Trisha's on Greek street: it’s a basement place full of pictures of the rat pack. Tony Soprano used to drink there and there's a nice man in there who talks to an imaginary dog. The Groucho is fun too for bumping into people and seeing Harry Styles sitting on Damien Hirst's knee. Some people call it the Celebrity Death Camp.

The best place in Soho was the Colony Room, which is no longer with us. Going up there was a bit like being transported into a debauched Verona green Narnia of booze. I've still got the carpet from there in my mum’s shed. I was given it for my final show at college and the security guards made me leave it outside for three days for health and safety reasons. It's covered in a hundred thousand fag burns and John Hurt's jism and almost seems alive and full of energy like some kind of Soho demon.

Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho is published by Art/Books and available now. The accompanying exhibition runs at the The Photographer’s Gallery April 11 through July 13 2014.

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Thomas Vinterberg: Dogme Day Afternoon

The Pioneering Director On Danes, Darkness and Rom-Coms

Cult director Thomas Vinterberg reflects on a childhood spent among “happy hippies,” and explains how Danes are “just like Hobbits,” in this short from NOWNESS regular Alison Chernick. Filmed at Aamanns-Copenhagen, the downtown NYC café frequented by Scandinavians hungry for a taste of home, Vinterberg had stopped off in the Big Apple for the premiere of his latest film The Hunt, in which a kindergarten teacher (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is falsely accused of sexually assaulting a child. “For me, interviewing Thomas brought to light how crucial context is; if you understand Danish culture, his films will resonate that much louder,” says Chernick, for whom Vinterberg’s Festen left a lasting impression. Also known as The Celebration, this excruciatingly dark family drama won the Jury Prize at the 1998 Festival de Cannes, and brought Vinterberg international acclaim. It was also the first production released under the avant-garde Dogme 95 movement, pioneered by Vinterberg and notorious cinematic provocateur, Lars von Trier. Eschewing Hollywood mega-budgets, Dogme emphasized simple production values and ‘truthful’ storytelling over “superficial action” and special effects: a very Danish approach.  

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Shorts on Sundays: The Repton

Ray Winstone Revisits His Old Boxing Club with Director Alasdair McLellan to Launch Season Two

Ray Winstone reminisces under a wall of heroes and former sparring partners in the first installment of Shorts on Sundays, Season Two. Directed by leading fashion photographer Alasdair McLellan, today’s evocative film stars the rogue veteran of Scum, Nil by Mouth and Sexy Beast, who tells stories about old haunt the Repton Boxing Club to the establishment’s current star, Ryan Pickard, who also wrote the screenplay. “My dad boxed, my grandpa boxed and everyone where I lived in the East End was involved in boxing in some way,” says Winstone, who was awarded the club’s coveted John H. Stracey award after winning all 13 fights in his first senior year at 17, retiring soon after as his acting career kicked off. “You would meet kids from all walks of life,” says the actor of his influential early days. “Repton boys have gone on to become government officials in Africa, and photographers and writers. It gave you the confidence to mix and learn how to behave socially—it was my education.”

Do you ever daydream about a parallel universe where you have achieved accolades in boxing instead of acting?
Ray Winstone:
“No, I did everything I wanted to do in boxing. I was a lucky boy, as I had another choice and found something I could do. I was never good enough or dedicated enough to be a professional. We had three world champions while I was around but the most important thing for me is the boys who come through that club and take something away with them, in the form of a discipline and social behavior.

Do you think that is the legacy of the Repton?
Yes. I wasn’t deprived but there were plenty of kids who were. There were a lot of people who through boxing aren’t in prison today. They found something else to do and stayed off the streets.

Are you quite surprised it’s survived this long?
I think it’ll last forever; it would be a travesty if something like the Repton collapses. People would have nowhere to go. I can’t imagine the area without it. The boss Mark Newman is sorting out the club’s own clothes line that will put some money in and hopefully keep it going.

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