Culture - Issue 82 - Magazine | Monocle

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Things that go bump

If the creeping horror of the latest scary film gets a bit too much there are better distractions than just hiding behind your hands.
Robert Bound

This month I went to see It Follows, a new horror movie about a sexually transmitted curse, like a feature-length game of tag dreamt up by a horny teenager. This sort of thing is horror-movie heaven, including as it does all the key elements of the scary-movie holy trinity: a curse, being followed by the tireless undead and lashings of sex.

But how should you watch a horror film? I’m susceptible to horror, or more specifically to that branch of the genre that deals with ghosts, possessions and hauntings. Faces peering in through windows, nasty things flashing into mirrors, women in black... that sort of thing. So what sort of survival techniques can be employed by the nervous moviegoer who wants to get safely to sleep that night? Here are some ideas.

Watching through your fingers: the classic technique practised by many a horror-watcher is the least effective. Yes, your fingers are in front of your eyes but you will still see the moment when the axe-man crashes out of the cupboard. 5/10

The slouch position: hunkered down in your seat, almost pretending to be bored, is a way of deflecting attention from the fact that you’re employing the watching-through-your-fingers method. You look cool and detached. Whatever. 7/10

Refusing to suspend your disbelief: that much-tried method in which you force yourself to think of the whole thing as a figment of a young girl’s/guy’s/leather-faced serial killer’s imagination and that, while it makes for diverting entertainment, it is all pure fiction or a dream. Unreliable if the film is any good. 3/10

Supporting your companion: you might well be on a date. This, after all, is what horror was made for: having someone jump into your arms and then laughing it off. The knowledge (even false) that the person at your side is more scared than you provides useful succour. 6/10

Imagining the mechanics of the film: a technique that follows on from refusing to suspend your disbelief but takes a more technical turn. As the terrifying hooded figure scythes through the cobwebbed castle you can distract yourself with thoughts such as: “Ah, I wonder how they did the make-up on that?” or “This would look like a breakfast-cereal advert if it weren’t for the music,” all the while imagining the director just out of shot in jeans and baseball cap (himself probably wondering what’s for lunch). Conceiving things as a “making of” slightly defeats the point of a horror film but allows a good night’s sleep afterwards. 8/10

Of course, the best way to survive unscathed is to just watch Bambi. Oh no, don’t tell me…

Culture cuts

Top picks from the art world

London publisher Faber & Faber is on a rock’n’roll with its new music division that continues to trot out gems such as this brace of music biographies. Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band is a gaze back over her much-admired, normally guitar-strapped shoulder at her career with Sonic Youth: living it up in New York, making it, breaking it and never faking it. In fact, this latter is the point: Gordon’s memoir is the real deal and, somehow, it’s written in her drawl.

A musical world away, I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn tells the tumultuous story of Sandy Denny, the English folk singer best known for “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” with the voice of a fairytale princess and the habits of a heavy-metal guitarist. Both are brilliant; so are the books.

To curate or not to curate, that is the “larger discussion framework that we would like to invite our end users to interact with across boundaries and on a number of key levels”, as a curator might say. Two books that deal with the subject are in the spotlight this month; that thing that used to be done in museums by experts and now seems to have jumped the (pickled) shark as a way of doing everything from loading your Instagram account to buying trainers.

This is the gripe of art writer and critic David Balzer, whose Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else is a polemical and art-insider-ish account of what curators do (Hans-Ulrich Obrist tries to defeat sleep) and why not everyone is one. Adrian George squeezes wit and wisdom between the Yves Klein-blue covers of The Curator’s Handbook despite it being a hands-on guide to mounting shows, including tips on copyright clearance, wall colours and lighting. Both books are revealing about the practice that swamps our popular lexicon but George’s is a showcase for his underhand humour. “Do not assume you can lift a work by yourself”; quite right.


Mark Reeder



The new documentary B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West-Berlin 1979-1989 portrays the sounds and scenes of an isolated yet madly experimental 1980s West Berlin using rare footage, raucous music and celebrity cameos. Connecting it is the then life of narrator Mark Reeder, long-time British expat and music scenester.

What was the idea behind the film?
It’s a portrayal of 1980s West Berlin using original footage, no talking heads telling how great it was back then. It’s all told in the present, as seen through the eyes of a Brit involved in the scene.

And what about the other footage you’ve used?
Most came from friends who filmed at that time: 75 people who’d made films or gave us snippets took four years of research. Up to the last minute I was still finding stuff, much to the frustration of [directors] Heiko Lange and Klaus Maeck.

What’s happened to Berlin since the 1980s?
It’s gone from being a scruffy punky youth into someone in a business suit. Musically the city has also become much more diverse. But the radical mindset is still there, even if the appearance has changed. Rather than being a nostalgic homage to a forgotten island I hope our little film serves as inspiration.

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