Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A French Picture Show

French art house film meets fashion shoot meets storyboard meets slide show meets silent film. A French Picture Show, by Thoman Zanon-Larcher and Jules Wright, showing at the The Wapping Project (11. Feb - 10. Apr 10), is an odd meeting of half realised artistic concepts, concepts which together test the limits of various forms of narration - fashion, photography, film, music and theatre - in a dreamlike creation. The overall effect is like a flirtation - a mysterious, intriguing flirtation that leaves only a hazy mark, much like the light lingering of scent after someone has kissed your cheek - barely discernible except to those who have been similarly kissed.

In The Wapping Project's draughty basement exhibition room, in the midst of a floor strewn with broken chalk (to evoke the landscape of Cognac, where the story is partially set), sit two rows of shabby chic, vintage, red-velvet covered cinema seats. Before them hangs a cinema screen, upon which 80 photographs are flashed up; photographs which silently tell a story - a love story of happiness, tragedy, loss, betrayal, passion, sex and disillusionment, and which, despite any absence of dialogue, manages to have a powerful narrative thread, even flashes of a back story where necessary. The scenes are a mixture of being invasively raw, in their unabashed stealing of seemingly intimate private moments, and extraordinarily stagey, as if having been literally taken from a fashion magazine (the clothes are all designer, and have been carefully styled, and have, in various collected groups, been featured elsewhere as stand alone fashion stories). The characters move from London to Paris to Cognac, from kitchen to vineyard, orchard to bedroom, school to metro carriage. With its captivating classical score that's dreamy, wistful, and tragic, it's a haunting story composed of elements which really stay with you... abandoned in a bar in a ballgown... staring out of the train window, glassy eyed as the world crumbles... the first kiss in an orchard on a crisp, cold day... how far apart two people can be from one another whilst sharing the same bed...

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Lindt gold bunnies

This clearly isn't a review of anything cultural, but i wanted to share a momentary event of yesterday which involved me knocking over a free-standing column of about 200 of these gilded beauties, Lindt rabbits, in my local supermarket. The slow-motion vision of the cascading river of gold made the experience akin to watching a short film / nightmare hybrid of which i was the central character, one left glowing with the iridescence of humiliation as hollow chocolate rabbits crashed to the ground, ricocheting off baked bean cans and pooling around my feet as shoppers looked on with ill-disguised relief that they weren't involved.

Theatre of sorts, arguably.

Friday, 12 March 2010


I can't remember when i guffawed with such uncontrolled fervour (well, during a play, film, book or at anything on the TV, certainly) as when i was watching Tom Basden's Party, a play about 5 students gathered in a potting shed to set up a political party - albeit one with no name, no policies, no beliefs or manifesto, but a great deal of personal ambition and faith in the grand objectives: change the world (never mind to what)! China - for or against it? Is 'them' offensive? There's internal politics by the bucket load, though, if nothing else.

Right on, petulant, megalomaniac, flighty - each of these founding party members is thrown into sharp relief by the presence of Duncan, the new and fifth member who has unwittingly been drawn into the party to create an uneven voting number, and whose father handily owns a printing press, but who himself mistakenly believes he's come for a celebratory party rather than a political party, and persistently asks for cake.

It's less of a biting political satire than a farcical one, but it's no less effective for that, and the moments of physical comedy - a leg flung out, water being rigorously poured, the eye rollings and hand movements of a fastidious, but bafflingly ignorant, party member (a quasi Mrs Malaprop transposed to a contemporary political environment) - are brilliantly milked for all they are worth.

Sadly the run is over, but it's being adapted for radio, which'll definitely be worth tuning into.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey

The executioner's almost mockingly nonchalant stance, the theatrically histrionic ladies-in-waiting throwing up their hands in despair, the tender arm round the shoulders of England's fleeting queen, the 17-year old Lady Jane Grey, while she, luminously lit and delicately beautiful glows with the tragedy of a martyr. I solely thank the supreme curation of this National Gallery exhibition for my being so drawn into the scene in this wholehearted, emotional way. Each exhibition room explains the composite elements of this painting and what makes it so emotionally potent: firstly why a french painter was interested in the historical past and the artistic trends that led him to such removed subjects; his fascination with England; his links with the theatre and love of the dramatic potential of scenes - through friendships with playwright friends and the growing international reputation of Shakespeare (Delaroche's painting of The Princes in the Tower is equally moving); his captivation with martyrs, suffering for a cause, unfairly lambasted, vilified and executed; his captivation with the 'sprightly coquette' Mademoiselle Anais, the woman who was his muse for Lady Jane Grey.
By the time I reached the painting itself, there's no way it could have failed to impact on this multitude of levels (no thanks to anything i brought to the party), and it felt enormously rewarding to understand why i was fell for its beauty - that's a brilliantly curated exhibition if you ask me.
I didn't expect to love this exhibition, but the fact that i did, and so intensely, was a glorious surprise. i can't recommend it highly enough - it's on at the National Gallery until 23 May - go.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I enjoyed Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, don't get me wrong, but I can't help feeling that the furore surrounding it has somewhat eclipsed the film itself. Fashion's gone Alice bonkers, Robbie Williams' new video has a white rabbit theme going on, Mad Hatter Tea Parties are being thrown left right and centre, shops from Claire's Accessories to Selfridges have wondeland pop up shops Below are some of the things that have caught my eye, possibly slightly more than the film itself, which, while it didn't bore at all, didn't really live up to expectation either. and, dare i say it, the 3-D thing - events on screen just stick out a bit. so what? surely something more could have been done with the technology?

Still, the film... Brilliantly epitomising the curious innocent, Mia Wasikowska plays the now 19 year old Alice, who returns to 'Underland' in an altogether darker tale that's Return to Oz meets The Neverending Story by way of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: a shadowy evil has settled over this once-wonderous land, and Alice, the chosen saviour in the vein of a St George/Joan of Arc hybrid, must save it from eternal doom and restore goodness by battling the bastard child of Alien and Predator: The Jabberwocky...
Given that the Underland framework sees Alice being proposed to in the buttoned-up Victorian era, it's not a giant leap to see the situation in Underland as metaphorical underground battle -ie a battle under her petticoat. The Red Queen, of hearts, a sexualised being with a big red head who controls the reptilian jabberwocky Vs The White Queen, who doesn't like pain, and is white and pure and would much rather study potions than take part in any heated physical activity. There's even a ferocious feline Bandersnatch who chases Alice, scratches her and makes her bleed but which she then tames (by returning his eye to him). Down in Underland Alice has an awakening, and she emerges only to run away from men. Enough said. (A lesbian fable! that would have been so much more fun. perhaps she and Anne Hathaway as The White Queen should have got it on.) But that might be sexing it up a bit much. or not. i sort of had to though, because there's not quite enough going on otherwise to get your teeth into (though it is undeniable lavishly gorgeous to watch, and The Red Queen's court could keep you entertained for hours admiring the intricacies of the heart motif). Still, the strangest hint of sex really happens between the mad hatter and Alice, between whom there's some definite flirting. it's weird. specially weird is the hatter's jubilant dance - the flutterwhack (or something), which sounds distinctly like another kind of physical activity that begins with an F the first time you hear it and which, when you see it enacted, involved flailing limbs to rubbish music (like many a deflowering i imagine).
Curious. refocus on the merch, i say...

Eat Me Biscuit Necklace, £35, Anna Lou of London

T-shirt, £24.99 by Junk Food at Jukupop

Tea towel, £10, To Dry For

Porcelain Keys, £7.25 from Nonesuch Things.

Mouse's tail bag, £8.99, ICA

Queen of Hearts Dress, £69 Vivien of Holloway

Alice pocketwatch, £32, Etsy

Cushion by London Kills Me, £19, Rockett St George

Drink Me Necklace, £30 Tom Binns for Disney Couture

Apron, £15, Not On the High Street

Stripey Long Socks , £6.50,

Pocket Watch necklace, £24 Urban Outfitters

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Sweet Nothings

Sweet nothings: not far off what i took away from this play at the young vic, really. Adultery, naive love, hopeless yearning, promiscuity, teasing, decadence, flirting, betrayal, claustrophobic social expectation and decorum - such things are sweet whisperings, sure, but for me they amounted to nothing and i came away hollow, disappointed, unengaged.

It's turn of the century Vienna (though costumes are fin de siecle via topshop, and the first act's set has more than a dash of 1980s brashness in its 'slick' rather than stylish red and black decor), and four beautiful, decadent youths gather for a party. The privileged boys are in the dragoons, the less affluent girls copy musical scores and sew for money or look after their siblings. One boy, Fritz, is engaging in an adulterous affair, which he fears may be about to end/be exposed or challenged by the elder woman's husband. as the revelry becomes more drunken, sexually charged and raucous (unconvincingly if you ask me - cringingly there's nothing so excruciating to watch as a party scene that falls flat), the married woman's husband turn up and challenges Fritz to a duel.

The second half shifts to the flat of Christine, a party girl from act one and a girl hopelessly, genuinely in love with the dashing, socially superior Fritz (Tom Hughes, gorgeous and compelling scene stealing in Ricky Gervais' otherwise forgettable film Cemetery Junction, out April, but somewhat less charismatic here, sadly, oscillating confusingly between nervy adulterer and confident tease). In contrast to the lasciviously scarlet flat of the flirtatious and promiscuous Fritz, Christine's simple abode is pure and white, and rather than decadently living alone, watched over by no one, waited on by servants, she lives with her ineffectual violinist father, and every move is scrutinised by nosy, gossiping, puritanical neighbours (epitomised by Katherina, played by the fabulous Hayley Carmichael from Told by an Idiot). Fritz represents the glamour, daring, exoticism that is outside Christine's world, and more importantly, escape from it. sadly her affections are misdirected, and probably not deserved as Fritz is really just a bit of a cad. One who will disappoint her in the worst way, taking routine tardiness for their engagements to a darkly bleak limit.

Luc Bondy directs this 'sex tragedy', a translation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1895 Liebelei, and though it ends badly for all, i wasn't terribly moved, failing to be captivated or convinced by the initial hedonism, left cold by the strains of supposed genuine emotion and unthreatened by the looming shadow of death which hangs over the play, a punishment, presumably, for such sexual and loving excesses.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Elixir of Love

You know that feeling when you meet someone and they are sweet and pretty and friendly but you take an immediate, inexplicable dislike to them? they just sort of irritate? especially when they smile at you? and you want to force a cigarette into their mouth or something - something to make then a bit less, well, sweet? that's just about how i felt watching Jonathan Miller's ENO production of The Elixir of Love. i wanted to like it - it being an English translation of the Italian opera by Donizetti, transported to a 1950s diner in the American Midwest (superficially very up my street) - but i couldn't help thinking that it just wasn't very, errr, if i said 'cool enough a production' would that be shallow and bad? maybe. it sort of just didn't hit the right notes for me. it was a bit too neat. too 1950s - you could almost feel the production's clever clever smugness at how well the love story was transposed to its new era/setting.

The story sees lovable loser Nemorino in love with diner owner Adina. she's a hot little Marylin-esque minx who's supposedly committed to being independent (ha ha - her MO is flirting). then cheese-tastic cigar-smoking, gum-chewing US army captain Belcore arrives on the scene to woo her, but she's unimpressed by him too. then a full-of-shit travelling salesman arrives, Dr Dulcamara (a scene stealing con man) supposedly selling magic elixir. Nemorino buys some believing it the secret to making Adina love him (as per a Tristan and Isolde story, with which she was regaling the diner's guests at the opera's start). arrogant with the promised potential of the potion, Nemorino gives Adina the cold shoulder, and she, unsurprisingly, gets jealous and promises to marry the soldier - to rile Nemorino. But she eventually ends up jilting the captain and running off with Nemorino when she realises she does, in fact, love him - and then he inherits a fortune, so they are not poor any more either. jolly.

as with any irrational dislike of a person, it seemed that it was the stupidest things in the production that really got my goat. the girls' shoes really annoyed me. hideous orthopaedic creations that they were. the over zealous supporting characters with ridiculously expressive faces. the fact that the telegraph pole that was part of the set was stuck in the ground in a really shit way. the clothes were not particularly well fitting. then my father pointed out that the motorcycle prop was a British make, not American, and that the car number plate was wrong for the car/era etc. these things obviously didn't ruin the production - but it was a bit like seeing that the aforementioned irrational hatred person had spinach in their teeth. it just added to the skin crawling annoyance.

the second half saw a surprising volte face by moi. maybe it was because i ate something (smoked salmon on toast, yum) in the interval. who knows, but i warmed to the minxy Adina. i completely fell for the con-man doctor, who switched between English and Italian to hilarious effect (see below). the costumes got remarkably better as evening dress was adopted. in a strange about turn i forgot about the elbow/armchair war i was having with my OAP neighbour and began to enjoy myself. a few things still grated (stupid on stage jokes - grrr), but generally i was happy. Sarah Tynan as Adina really can belt out a tune. i think also the thing was there was a great sense of unity and in cahoots-ness in the auditorium. this was because both John Tessier, who plays Nemorino, and his understudy, were ill. they had to draft in an Italian who sang the Nemorino part in Italian (while everyone else sang in English around him). it made the duets a bit weird, but in a good way.

if this production was indeed a person, I'm not sure they'd be my best friend, but I'm not sure I'd hate them quite as much as i did initially. I'm not sure if this metaphor really works, but it makes sense to me.

The Killer Inside Me

It's rare that i'm so deeply affected by something that i'm virtually incapable of actually reacting to it for a while. stunned, in other words, is not something i'm familiar with. still, i was reminded of how this feels in a supremely visceral way yesterday afternoon when i watched The Killer Inside Me, a Michael Winterbottom film that's an adaptation of a Jim Thompson crime novel. It really took me until today to begin to understand how upset i was by it.

The film is an unquestionably disturbing noirish thriller centering on the character Lou Ford, a chirpy, unassuming small town deputy sheriff: a man seemingly preoccupied with being polite, gentlemanly and doling out inane platitudes and aphorisms, but whose run-in with a local prostitute (Jessica Alba) unearths repressed child molestation memories, subsequently unleashing sado-masochistic sexual desires and ultimately serial killer brutality. brutality which is mainly inflicted on women. ones he loves. this is where the problems lie for me.

Now, it has to be said, the performances are exceptional, even when what they are doing is virtually unwatchable. Casey Affleck's portrait of the deputy sheriff is the film's centrepiece: apparently so sweet and harmless he is in reality deeply, cruelly vile - Affleck pulls off nothing short of a coup, avoiding all serial killer cliches. Stanley Tucci in the abysmal The Lovely Bones should have ditched his comb over and NHS glasses and taken a lesson from his book. Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson as the virtual doppelganger good/bad girl lovers utterly convince with their blinded-by-love devotion, despite knowing the extent of the evil which is the object of their affection. the supporting cast of semi-curious small town oddballs manage to be both quirky individuals yet they never really make you shift your focus from the lead - which is pitch perfect as really it's all about him. his brazen, uncompromising, chillingly breezy brand of heinous, brutal savagery.

It's a fascinating portrait of a emergent serial killer, and it wasn’t the violence per se I had a problem with (though i found it unwatchable and spent a good deal of time hiding behind my fingers), but the sexualised nature of the violence. It seemed that there was a sexual nature to the brutality of the killing of the women (that you didn’t get with the men who were killed), in that there was a certain enjoyment in the killings, in sexual terms, which went beyond the actions/thoughts of the murderous character and transferred to the audience as a kind of sexual voyeurism. That I had a problem with. I rarely get up fired up about feminist things but I really found this aspect of the film so disturbing because it felt like a function of the direction, not simply the plot.

Had i read these articles before i went in, i might have been somewhat better prepared... though no less upset.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Mat Collishaw: Retrospectre

And so, it seems as if my prejudice against video installation is being attacked from all sides: i went to the PV of Mat Collishaw's Retrospectre at the BFI and it turned out to be a video installation. and, again rather shockingly, I loved it - or at least i thought it was pretty affecting and i didn't want to kill myself while i stood to watch it, despite the fact that i'd just walked through a hurricane to get there, wearing high heels and flimsy mac, which speaks volumes, trust me. Drawing upon themes taken up by the late Georgian/Armenian film director and artist Sergei Paradjanov (1929 – 1990), who i have to confess i know precisely zero about but there's a BFI season in honour of, it's an incredibly theatrical installation - it's emotionally claustrophobic and almost has the feeling of a ritualistic sacrifice unfolding in front of you, through the impactful, sharp and aggressive cacophony/melange of life, death, pain, sacrifice, nature's fiery temperament, fear, agony and beauty, depicted via a montage of images of animals being killed, birds of both prey and pride, volcanic outbursts etc. the above picture poorly indicates the sculptural composition of the piece, but it gives an idea of the architectural puzzle of ornate mirrors, gilt bird cages, Gothic window frames and grand altar pieces, the panes of which (be they mirrors, glass or opaque) make up the screens for the video projections - from the outset there's an idea of images being framed, the artifice of the project, and the poignantly visceral exhibitionism of it. am i becoming a convert to video? who can say. i'm rather unsettled by such a the prospect at any rate, but maybe i should just go with it. Hmmm.
Mat Collishaw in Conversation
Tue 13 April 18:10 (tbc), NFT3 £5

Paradjanov Symposium
Saturday 6 March 11:00 – 17:00,
NFT3 £15.15, concs. £11.15 (Members pay £1.40 less)

Everybody's Fine

While enveloped in a certain melancholia, there's a sweet upturn to the film Everybody's Fine that's quietly comforting. Its understated charm is something of a surprise given its stellar cast (Robert di Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell), but perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that it's an adaptation of the Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene - and retains (to some extent anyway) a European sensitivity.

Eight months after the death of his wife, Frank Goode (Robert de Niro) feels emotionally distanced from his grown-up children. So, despite a dicky heart, he sets off on a trip around America to make surprise visits to see them. But, busy with their apparently super successful lives, they shuffle him on. It’s heartbreaking to see Frank desperately trying to take on his late wife’s role of family communicator, unifier and supporter, but to no avail. Little does he know his children are distant because they are trying to protect him from life’s tough truths - their tough truths. The upshot is that they inadvertently cut him out and everyone's left isolated and alone, putting on a brave face: Fine. Everybody's Fine. This is a thoughtful, sensitive film – although touched with humour it meditates with poignancy and insightfulness on the tragedy of a loving but pushy father who’s grown apart from his children as they’ve grow up, and the agonising irony of pretending you're OK when inside you're anything but. a bit weepy, basically.