Life & Culture

A First, Haunting Glimpse Inside the Online World of Nicolas Winding Refn

In an exclusive preview, journalist and biographer Jimmy McDonough showcases a selection of discarded photographs from the collection of Charlie Beesley…

Taken from the S/S18 issue of Another Man:

Nicolas Winding Refn makes strange, disturbing films. Films that make you dream and believe in romance again, no matter how desperate and doomed (Drive); films that conjure up surreal worlds filled with depraved, seductive violence (The Neon Demon, Only God Forgives); films that pull you inside the mind of a raving madman (Bronson).

Refn also collects films: old forgotten, rotting pieces of celluloid that once played in the fleabitten Times Square theatres and dusty redneck drive-ins of yesteryear; beyond B-movies, these are grindhouse roughies, made by hard and fast hucksters, on the outside of the film industry and often the law. Refn has hundreds of them, sat in rusty cans in storage units dotted around the world, and – against all common sense and at great personal expense – he is painstakingly restoring them, one by sordid one, before they’re lost forever. Nicolas Winding Refn is a modern-day Medici of exploitation cinema.

This spring he launches byNWR, a digital platform that will begin streaming these films for free. In addition, every quarter, a guest editor will create a volume of curated content around the films – Refn calls it a “cultural expressway”. Accompanying the first batch of cinematic curiosities (60s swamp dramas The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds, Shanty Tramp and Hot Thrills and Warm Chills), journalist and biographer Jimmy McDonough promises to deliver a suckerpunch of surprises: from files on a Florida family massacre and a 3D film of Frankie Miller (the greatest country singer you’ve never heard of) to the definitive lowdown on “the filthy world of $1.98 42nd Street pornographer Phil Prince”. Here, in an exclusive preview, McDonough showcases a handpicked selection of discarded photographs from the obsessive magpie collection of Charlie Beesley…

“Charlie Beesley has been collecting found photos for years. Nowadays this sort of thing goes by the dreary name of vernacular photography, and it’s attracted a lot of highfalutin’ interest. I’ll tell you what: none of the fancy vernacular photobook collections I’ve seen thus far can hold a candle to Charlie’s powerful aesthetic.

To call Beesley’s passion a mere obsession renders it almost quaint. Photos are the driving force of his life. Perversely, his is a collection you can never complete. There is always one more picture. The room where he for the most part lives is stuffed with vintage suitcases containing thousands of images – somewhere around 55,000. I would venture to say Charlie has the best collection of such photography in the world, and he has never shared his archive with the public until now. It is a great thrill to present it here.” – Jimmy McDonough