Starting Over

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Rachel Whiteread:Drawings

Also at Tate Britain was a small exhibition of drawings by Rachel Whiteread. Whiteread's sculptures are some of my favourite contemporary works, subtle, even in large scale, and deeply poignant.

This exhibition was interesting as a means of revealing Whiteread's work in practice, showing initial ideas through to detailed plans for a range of work, from the late 1980s to the present. They reveal themes of domesticity, memory and loss, and of the idea of empty space. Rather than technical, detailed studies the drawings shown concentrate on revealing her creative inspirations and mapping out of these into ideas and plans.

I arrived in London too late to see Whiteread's 1993 work House and it was fascinating to see studies from 1991 and 1992 showing ideas for this work, in which she cast an entire Victorian terraced house in East London that had been marked for demolition. I was struck too by some of her postcard studies shown, in which she perforates spaces within architectural vistas with punched holes of various sizes, emphasising the open spaces.

For anyone who likes Whiteread's works this is a worthy journey to explore her work in more depth and understanding.

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Eadweard Muybridge

Tate Britain has a number of interesting exhibitions on at present... including the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. Although most of his work was done in the US and South America Muybridge was born and brought up in the UK and learnt his early craft here.

The exhibition included an overview of all of Muybridge's work, including landscapes. stereographs, panoramas (particularly of San Francisco) and the work for which he is most well known, his stop-motion photographs of animals (and humans in motion).

Muybridge's work is interesting in its own right but what struck me about this exhibition was the commercial and marketing aspects of his work. As a working photographer Muybridge made no claims to 'art', but was a highly adept promoter of his own work. The curators suggest that he had learnt much from his early work in the book trade, but after achieving fame Muybridge proved successful in gaining the attention of the international press, in obtaining the attention of patrons (though his relationship with Stanford became strained and broke down) and in sustaining public interest in his work through the press and a regular programme of illustrated tours.

Visually, the use of stop-motion photography reveals how animals (including people) actually move, and also creates aesthetically interesting images. It is perhaps no surprise to learn that Francis Bacon used a number of Muybridge images as visual reference points. The exhibition included a brief acknowledgement of the impact of Muybridge's work on other artists, in particular a sculpture by Degas, but this was minimal and could have been made much more of.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

We started the year with Matthew Bourne's dance-theatre piece Cinderella, at Sadler's Wells. Bourne as always presents a spectacularly visually exciting and enjoyable work, basing his version of Cinderella in London's Blitz (the time in which the score was written). Choreography, direction, dancing and set and design all fit together to make for a superb production.

Cinderella isn't one for those looking for experimentation or boundary pushing dance (though Sadler's Wells does plenty of this elsewhere in its programme) but is instead a perfectly formed Xmas season entertainment, which works well as dance both telling a story and producing a spectacle.

Bourne is loyal to Prokofiev's score, and while making a few small cuts and revisions, leaves the third act complete. Setting the dance in the 1940s reveals the darker heart of Prokofiev's score and the dramatic tension within the music. Bourne also pays intelligent homage to classic film about and of the period - Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, the classic Brief Encounter, and the actors Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Joan Crawford.

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Barbara Kingsolver - The Lacuna

Dominic bought this book and I read it arond Xmas and our travels then. I'd previously been goven and read her non-fiction work Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, an interesting if somewhat self-aborbed example of the 'year of' genre... in principle I think its great to promote seasonal and local food but it is very much a position that is denied to many who don't have access to their own land or to other sources of local food.

But, to The Lacuna, a much more satisfactory book, using the central character, Harrison Shepherd, to describe events in the US and Mexico, including the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the assassination of Trotsky, and the operation of the Commitee on Un-American Committee. Both a pleasurable and absorbing read Kingsolver provides rich detail of life in Mexico,Trotsky's exile from the USSR, US anti-Communism etc without falling into a lecturing tone. Instead this rich detail is revealed through the strong characters and narrative, Shepherd, being a deeply believeable character moving along with the path of history.


Welcome back

This blog has been inactive for many many months, in which time I've moved house twice, got married, had both parents die and much more besides.

So to begin - or to begin again - the intention is to note and reflect on my cultural life in London - whether books read, art exhibitions seen, films, dance, theatre... here goes

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Distant Voices, Still Lives

It was my first time seeing this movie - which I saw at the BFI Southbank as we must call it and banish thoughts of NFT from our minds - along with my partner and a friend of his - both previously won fans.

Director Terence Davies 1988 film, Distant Voices, Still Lives, has recently been re-released. In two parts it tells the story of a working-class family living in a terraced house in the Liverpool of the 1940s. In the midst of poverty and deprivation the father is a violent brute subject to outbreaks of depression and rage, while his wife does the best she can to keep the home and family together; both miserable and resigned.

Beryl Bainbridge describes this film as "like turning the pages of a photograph album". It's structured as a series of scenes and small plot-lines overlaid with both popular and classical music, including Benjamin Britten's "Hymn to the Virgin", Sammy Fain's "Love is a Many Splendoured Thing", and Vaughan Williams's "Pastoral Symphony".

The film begins with the soundtrack of the BBC shipping forecast, followed by intermingling scenes of a wedding and a funeral. The father's funeral and daughter's wedding seem to weave seamlessly together, as the family adopt both formal and informal poses and small scenes of action (often violent in nature, whether the father beating his wife, or the children narrowly escaping an air raid). The house is small, dominated by the kitchen table and the fear of the next upsurge of anger. Yet, with hate is also a strong feeling of familial love.
In Distant Voices, the second half of the film, daughter Maisie has just had a baby and the family celebrate the birth in the local pub. As the film continues it is clear that nothing has really changed. While Pete Postlethwaite's Dad is longer in the film or on this earth, he has been replaced by the husbands of his daughters, also brought up in households of violence and demandind obedience.

Distant Voices, Still Lives is both a chilling and beautifully crafted and shot and imaginative film. Its scenes, even of tragedy and violence, are full of lingering beauty and interrupted only by witty and loving banter. Its a classic and worthy of the affection in which it is held.

American Genius

Lynne Tillman's American Genius is a change of pace compared to much of my reading. The novel covers a mere number of days and follows the stream of consciousness, of thoughts and a small number of deeds of its female narrator, residing in a non-specified residence that seems to combine elements of writer's residence and of a clinic for those needing a break from their lives - but is neither. The narrator, Helen, digresses into obsession and compulsion with thoughts on collecting, cats, on chairs, on food, on family and friends, and always on skin and its minor disorders and conditions. Strongly observant of her fellow residents, she both carefully dissects them as well as creating elaborate stories on which their thin characters hang. She herself remains aloof while neurotically introspective.
In this carefully managed and restricted world, Tillman draws a picture of America that relies on her deep introspection and observation, that resists narrative. American Genius is both frustrating (I was desperately waiting for something to happen) and deeply satisfying. Her riffs on the Manson family (specifically Leslie van Houten), textile design, Zulu language, Puritanism and psoriasis form a kind of musical digression as her thoughts veer towards bold statements and then retreat into doubt and dissemblement. American Genius is structured on the barest of narratives, populated with a fascinating array of characters but centred on an isolated, withdrawn and yet engaged central being. Its a work of genius and therefore not always comfortable and a great American novel.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Wild Creatures - Collected Stories of Sam D'Allesandro

Rave, rave, rave, rave, rave!
Loved this collection of stories by the tragically late Sam D'Allesandro - taut, powerful writing in a laconic, reflective style I wish I could emulate. Did I say I loved this book? It even looks good from cover hrough to end pages and full of beautiful words! Sigh!

The Pansy Project

One of the enjoyable parts of the recent London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was seeing the pansies that had been planted around the Southbank and the striking images used in the festival programmes and publicity.
These were part of the Pansy Project - which at the Southbank comprised of an installation of 3000 pansies lining the Southbank, a special event hosted at Southbank Centre and 1000 pansies handed out to passers by as part of the installation dedicated to David Morley. The Pansy Project is the work of artist Paul Harfleet who revisits locations planting pansies as close as possible to where homophobic abuse has been experienced. These self-seeding pansies act as a living memorial to this abuse and operate as an antidote to it; some pansies wither whilst others thrive in car park borders and windswept road verges. Each pansy's location is named after the abuse received.
For me the plantings at the Southbank extended the reach of the festivals celebration of gay and lesbian cultures and lives into the surrounding geography - taking over and placing their own mark on the architecture and public spaces surrounding the NFT.

Rag Tag

Rag Tag (the last film I saw at the LLGFF) was surprisingly good. I say that only because I had read some critical reviews. Centred on a relationship between two young black men (one Nigerian and one Caribbean) some elements didn't ring quite true (for example a very forgiving, especially considering the way she was treated, ex-girlfriend) but this was a romantic and moving and very enjoyable movie.
A first feature - with a limited budget and some non-professional actors - some of the weaknesses in the above reviews were there, although I thought overall these were minor and as a whole this film was well made and had some great comic moments, some great acting and a real sense of style.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Jean Cocteau's "Orphee" is just a stunning visual and symbolic journey of the imagination. The film, set in 1940's Paris tells the tale of a poet, Orphee, famous but stuck for ideas, captured under the attention of the Princess/Death, leading to both him and his wife entering and escaping the Underworld. Beautifully shot and acted it was a delight for all the senses and the imagery sticks and returns post-viewing.
"Orphee" is a true classic and I'm so pleased to have seen it.

A Bigger Splash

Fos some reason this year at the LLGFF I've got a mixture of mainly UK films and classics - another here from the 1970's - Jack Hazan's "A Bigger Splash" follows David Hockney and his circles of friends over a two year period, and produces a visually interesting and a key movie of its time.
In 1974 one can see how this very revealing, fly on the wall, stylish film broke new barriers. And theres some wonderful imagery, its a very beautiful film and not just when Peter Schlesinger is on screen! There are some great scenes which examine Hockey's methods and a funny scene where he is criticised by his dealer, Paul Kasmin, for working too slowly and not producing enough to meet the demand for his work.
The film focuses on a period of Hockney's life while/after he and Peter Schlesinger break up, and Hockney's inability to finish the large-scale painting he was making of him, but this is dealt with obliquely and after 106 minutes a stronger sense of narrative would have been appreciated. Mo McDermott's (Hockney's assistant and ex-model) commentary again hints at a bitterness but its not clear in what way he feels betrayed.
It was an interesting movie despite its (for me) flaws and already I know others feel more strongly in its favour.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Oh Happy Day

Monday night at the LLGFF was dedicated to the premiere of Oh Happy Day a charming, very funny, feel good, romantic comedy.
The first feature length movie by British director Ian Poitier, Oh Happy Day was sexy, fun, and well made with great one liners, strong characterisation and great performances. It depicts ambitious advertising agency worker Jonathan who meets a smooth talking American, David, at an awards party and ends up spending the night with him. The chemistry between them is obvious but hampered when its revealed that David is the new representative of a pharmaceutical client (selling a happiness drug!) of the agencies and sleeping with clients is strictly forbidden. The romantic tension really works, and is ably helped along by strong family and work relationships both helping and hindering the potential romance.
What I really liked too is that the inter-racial relationship is acknowledged (and with a classic comic turn) but doesn't dominate or overwhelm the film - its just a part, and only one part, of Jonathan's character. It seems real. It's all lovely and middle-class but thats the genre isn't it, and I'm eagerly awaiting more from Ian - bring it on!

The film was preceded by the short film Private Life, an atmospheric, quirky and light-hearted look at 1950s lesbian and gay life 'up North'. This was a hard act to follow - following the relationship between two women separated by class and social attitudes in a funny and romantic way.

In short - two happy films about happy homosexuals - hurrah!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pink Narcissus

The BFI's re-issue of James Bidgood's Pink Narcissus is a richly saturated self-indulgent journey of sexual fantasy.

A seminal film of its time (originally released in 1971) parts may seem slightly dated and crude in terms of production values - but for a film largely shot in a single room in the late 1960s it seems surprisingly modern. Its not surprising that Pierre et Giles cite Pink Narcissus as an influence on their work - with its vivid imagery and beautiful boys.

Pink Narcissus stars Bobby Kendall as a beautiful young man in a series of self-obsessed scenes depicting some very memorable gay fantasies including motorbikes, matadors, harems, urinals and leathermen and some stunning street scenes depicting New York as a playround of the fascinating and fantastic. Its an exciting film well worth its re-issue and a pleasure to see, even on a Sunday evening feeling somewhat tired from a hectic night before.

Crazy Boys

Started off the London Lesbian & Gay Film festival with a programme of shorts - entitled Crazy Boys and described as rude, funny, and rude and funny.

I liked Wayne Yung's Miss Popularity a short and funky 6 minutes montage of 1950s American information film stock/archival footage overlaid with ironic and funny subtitles. Also winning my vote was Mister Nude Punk America with naked boys (some in rabbit or clown costumes) pracing energetically about and getting turned on among clouds of feathers, cheap looking bedrooms and much else. With a great 70s feel Donatien Veismann produces an absurd and joyful experience (and McDonald's will never look quite the same again).
My personal highlight though was Australian director John Richards' Outland - a first date movie hampered by trying to keep the new man away from your sci-fi nerdiness (and the fanatic friends who just happen to pop over). Outland really succeeds not just with a great script but actors with a flair for comic timing and delivery - its a blast, very funny and a joy.