Monday 23 January 2017

Bits and pieces round-up, including a Christmas cinema classic, a party to remember and an American pop art precursor...

18th December 2016 - 15th January 2017

Due to the Christmas holidays, wedding planning fever and various bouts of sniffles, the barren wasteland between Christmas and mid-January was sparsely populated with cultural events, so here's a little round-up of what was ultimately enjoyed nonetheless!

Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)

First up was a last minute choice to see the classic 1951 adaptation of Charles Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol', known more commonly as 'Scrooge' and starring possible the greatest representation of the character seen on screen by Alastair Sim.

The film itself was preceded by a surprise addition of a now little seen propaganda/Ministry of Information film from 1941 called 'Christmas Under Fire', which aims to show how Britain, (London in particular), was coping with a Christmas spent under the threat of World War II and nightly bombings, blackouts and life in the bunkers. Created primarily for American audiences it's a quaint, stereotypical look at the British stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on attitude which is so often referred to in film and TV depicting the time.

It was a really nice clean print to, and an interesting slice of history so an unexpected treat to say the least.

Then onto the main feature, and the annual viewing of this classic adaptation, (although the first on the big screen).

This was a digital presentation so was a nicely cleaned up version, probably looking as good as it's ever going to, replete with slight print damage and audio defects which i feel only adds to the experience when watching older films.

Everyone knows the story so I won't go into that, suffice to say if you've not seen it this is one of the definitive versions, (along with 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' of course), and as previously mentioned is a must see for Alastair Sims's portrayal alone, the sheer giddiness and wild eyed joy he exhibits upon Scrooge's redemption of sorts is a masterclass of performance.

Abigail's Party

It was back to the BFI Southbank for part of the current Alison Steadman on TV season showing there.

One of us hadn't seen this before, but had been assured it was well worth catching, for the iconic Steadman performance alone, and the rare opportunity of seeing it projected, plus paired with a separate but related event of Alison Steadman in Conversation made for an interesting prospect.

Steadman as Beverly...

The plot for those unfamiliar revolves around a drinks party hosted by middle-class wife, (although she's an aspiring upper-middle-classer), consisting of her and her husband Laurence, their new neighbours Angela and Tony and her divorced neighbour Sue, (mother of the titular but unseen Abigail, invited as a respite from her daughter's own house party).

Originally a play, and directed and filmed as such by Mike Leigh so it plays almost like a single take, it was originally part of the BBC's 'Play For Today' series and aired in 1977, and the TV version features the original stage cast except for Sue.

Steadman's portrayal of Beverly and her sarcastic, snooty and often condescending way of talking to people is what has gained the play and this version such notoriety as a blackly comic tour de force that still holds up today and remains as quotable as ever.

It was also a treat to find we were actually in the company of Steadman, (sat in the row behind us), Leigh, Tim Stern who plays Laurence and Janine Duvitski who plays Angela to watch it too.

It's well worth seeking out, and we won't spoil the ending!

Alison Steadman in Conversation

After a short respite for a quick coffee, we were back in the screen in our usual seats for an entertaining career spanning conversation and Q and A with Steadman herself.

Steadman herself comes across as very down to earth and immensely likeable, although more well spoken than one of her most beloved characters Pamela from 'Gavin & Stacey'.

Much of her early work on many BBC dramas such as 'Nuts In May' and 'Abigail's Party' were discussed in detail, including her groundbreaking involvement in the 1974 BBC drama 'Girl' which featured the first lesbian kiss on TV in Britain.

Steadman in full flow...

She also spoke of her later roles such as 'Gavin & Stacey', (of which she stated she'd be willing to do maybe a special, but didn't think it likely to happen due to James Corden's and Ruth Jones's subsequent career successes), and other well known appearances including 'Pride & Prejudice', 'Fanny Hill' and one of her favourite roles in 'News Hounds' a drama which seemed to predict the current trend for sensationalist reporting.

She also demonstrated her knack for comedy and character development, and her skill for different accents and voices.

She ended with a short Q and A with the audience which thankfully wasn't as inane as many we've been to.

Coupled with the earlier screening of 'Abigail's Party' this capped of a fantastic entertaining evening.

Robert Rauschenberg

After a bit of wedmin in the morning, (a legitimate word I'm told), we took the opportunity to make good use of our Tate membership, (a real bargain as memberships go), and took in the new Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at the Tate Modern.

Most commonly known for his works which preempted the 'Pop Art' genre, it was treat to finally get to be able to see artworks oft-seen in books and on postcards, but usually scattered worldwide and seldom seen together as a cohesive whole.

Some iconic imagery at the exhibition entrance...

The exhibition contains works spanning his six decade career, ranging from painting to sculpture, screen printing and found objects.

Of particular interest were the iconic found object sculpture 'Monogram' which most famously features a stuffed goat wearing a tyre and the 60s era screen prints which famously feature JFK as a central figure made around the time of his assassination and are still a potent glimpse at various aspects of world events during that time. His screen printing process is also more detailed and layered than that of the arguably more famous Andy Warhol, incorporating more colours and more detail to great effect.

Another strangely hypnotic piece takes the form a glass tank filed with 1000 gallons of liquid mud called 'Mud Muse' which is connected to a vintage computer, reminiscent of the huge reel to reel variety often seen in vintage footage from the 60's, which controls random bubbling of the mud, a very satisfying thing to behold and something we could have watched for hours.

Sections of the exhibition focus on his different practices and involvement is different applications of his art, such his involvement is sending an artwork into space and his work on set design and choreography for dance inspired works, both created by himself and in collaboration with others.

He's also known for his collaborations with other notable contemporaries such as Cy Twombly and some of this is touched upon too.

His final works were created not long before his death in 2008, yet he still managed to maintain a focus for his visions and a variety within his mediums which meant the exhibition always had something up it's sleeve of interest, no matter what your personal preference of art genre may be, he was quite chameleonic in that respect, much like Picasso, he seemed to be able to assimilate various styles and mediums and manipulate to his own ends. Hopefully this large scale show can bring a bit more much deserved recognition to the more casual art lover.

As usual there's no photography within the actual exhibition, which can only be a good thing as it stops the selfie brigade from lingering in front of the works and spoiling the experience for everyone else!

It's on until the 2nd of April 2017 so don't take too long to see it, well worth a visit.

The next blog won't take so long as we're now back in the swing of things and out and about!

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