Glasgow Central
Lawrence Russell

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the dummy

Various shots of Boswell and Johnson as they explore the river Clyde... suspension foot-bridge, an elegant link to the notorious Gorbals district... setting of Trocchi's novel Thongs... police zodiac slowly circling below, body hunting... J and B in a gray WW II landing craft passing below the huge silent gantries of the abandoned shipyards... the industrial sheds, dry-docks, museums... the amber sunlight of fall... misty vapors above the dark water... H.M.S. St. Albans in its final fitting... the superstructure of another destroyer protruding from a dry dock... Boswell is filming from the landing craft as someone (obviously) is filming him.

Johnson is heard in voice-over:

V.O. Can I have a room, I say, and the old man looks at Cathy through his heavy industrial glasses, says, for you and the missus? Yes, I say. One night? he says. That'll be twenty pounds. He doesn't for one second believe we're married, Cathy looks so young, a child with lipstick and her mother's coat on, a runaway. Dope has wasted her away... or maybe it's the look, the fashion, erotic stick woman, a symbol on the doorway to death. I sign the register as A. Nails. He hands me the key, leads us to the elevator cage. Now I realize the other old geezer sitting beside the stairs is a dummy, a sort of novelty decoration for the hotel. The dummy has a cap, blazer, slacks, a familiar cadaverous face, a pope in his catacomb.... and as we ride to the third floor I realize the dummy is just like the night clerk, the old man in the cage with us....

ghost river

Landing craft surges towards a concrete slipway, exits seamlessly into a boatyard. Yachts on blocks, various launches, rusting vans, even an abandoned double-decker bus.

B: He could be here.
J: Yeah -- if this was a movie.
B: It is a movie.
J: The Glasgow Trocchi knew is gone... the heavy industry, the shipbuilding... the Clyde is a ghost river.

They discuss the "authenticity" of the Trocchi story, the one passed on by 13. Johnson believes it to be a fake, lacks the congealed metaphoric poetry typical of Trocchi.

I prefer mine pulled at Fat Boab's

We're not sure if "13" is now their hostage or not. Relations seem cordial enough. There is no mention of soccer riots, bad junk, literary forgeries or ghosts in the cemetery.

They stroll through the drizzle in Kelvingrove Park... admire the pretty students, the river... visit a bookshop where the bookseller says yes, she knew Trocchi, he used to live just around the corner on Bank Street, soft-spoken man, polite, friendly... no, haven't seen him recently, she says, isn't he dead?

They adjourn to Fat Boab's pub, where they discuss the authenticity of the "Lengel" fragment and what clues it offers:

J: How did you get The Dummy?
13: (big smile) I stole it.
J: You stole it?
13: From a poet named Edwin Morgan.
J: Morgan -- wasn't he Trocchi's adviser at Glasgow U.?
13: Not sure what their relationship was but he knew Trocchi well.
J: So that's why you think The Dummy is a genuine Trocchi.
13: Correct.
B: Maybe this Morgan guy wrote it.
13: Nah, no way. Sex isn't his thing.
J: You said there was no such person as Alex Nails.
13: He's just a fiction, fer fuck's sake.
J: Look, man, if The Dummy is legit, then Alex Nails is another one of Trocchi's pseudonyms --
13: I never thought of that.
B: Bullshit.
J: Is there a hotel with a dummy in the lobby?
13: Thousand hotels with a dummy in the lobby, I'm sure.
B: So what are we doing in this place?
J: (pointing) Read the sign, dummy....

Above the bar, in bold letters: I Prefer Mine Pulled At Fat Boab's.

Anonymous old man playing pinball nearby, his back to the bar, turns, smiles. Might be Nails... but who knows? Probably just another old loser with a pack of fags and some spare change waiting for a bus to the cemetery.

What happens when they go to the elbow of Sauchiehall Street seeking the hotel with the dummy? Do they find Trocchi, shoot him up with the "vice vaccine"? Or is the infamous counter-culture shooter confirmed dead....

the origins of Glasgow Central: the synaesthetic art of Rick Ajo McGrath

Sweeper (1999) is 15 minutes of psychosexual obsession wherein a naked woman with a cigarette in her mouth sweeps the balcony of her apartment.... or Confession of a Female Yuppy (2000) in which a woman wired on speed or booze or her own voodoo paces back and forth in a dimly lit room ranting about her material success and spiritual failure. Both films are voyeurism, the watcher concealed or spying on the event. Sweeper is a positive experience, its crude eroticism and adolescent humor appealing to the forbidden pleasure of invading someone's privacy. Yuppy on the other hand has the dark, distasteful feel of a surveillance video in an asylum for pre-menopausal women. By all rights it should be destroyed, as one critic has observed. The torment of the raving woman is a masterpiece of self-deception, grand posturing, pathetic lies and hostile bravado, a portrait of a mind on the edge of catastrophe. Her audience is a couple of jeering female friends, who remain off-camera as if they consider themselves part of a different experiment or therapy.

These minimalist efforts are in the tradition of Andy Warhol and the home movie sex films of Rob Lowe. Acting is not a requisite, montage beside the point. The camera remains fixed, static, like an invisible priest, a confession box of desire and theatrical automatism.

The obvious precursor of Glasgow Central, however, would be Ajo's first digital film, I'd Rather Be John Lennon (1998), a twenty minute conversation between the artist and his collaborator LR as they drive through the back roads of a forest in British Columbia. Tres Hombres (1999), his first feature, is pure verite, although the montage includes digital impressionism. He can solarize, he can posterize, he can do the boogaloo, yet some of the most abstract sequences -- such as the Cuernavaca swimming pool, itself the basis of the out-take Night Moves -- involve little or no filtering, the imagery naturally polymorphous and ambiguous. "Synaesthetic cinema is," as Gene Youngblood said so many years ago, "the only aesthetic language suited to the post-industrial, post-literate, man-made environment with its multi-dimensional simulsensory network of information sources."

For those interested in learning more about the old outlaw Alexander Trocchi, read the excellent Allan Campbell/Tim Niel compendium of interviews, Trocchi fragments, transcripts etc published by Rebel Inc.

In North America, Cain's Book drifts in and out-of-print and like Young Adam, can be difficult to find. You can find copies using the ABE database, and also occasional copies of Trocchi's early erotica.

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© Lawrence Russell

Culture Court 2000