Tuesday 28 February 2017

The death of the American dream dramatically and artistically, plus a classic creature feature...

20th February - 26th February 2017

So last week, completely by chance, saw a couple of activities examining very similar themes in different mediums, plus the chance to catch the infamous Gill-Man on the big screen...

Buried Child

We've been trying to catch Buried Child at the Trafalgar Studios since it opened and it hasn't happened for various reasons, however thanks to it gaining an extension we finally managed to catch it on probably the best night of the week, a Monday, after all it's a bleak day of the week knowing there's a whole week of work stretching out in front of us...

Headlined by real life husband and wife Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, (playing out that very same relationship), this production transfers from off-Broadway to London and is Harris's West End debut.

The play itself is a Sam Shepard play which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979 and is seen as a classic of American theatre.

The story itself revolves around a family in Illinois, of which Harris's Dodge and Madigan's Halie are the parents, who live on a farm which has been barren for many years since Dodge's health has declined and his alcoholism has increased.

Halie is a devout church goer who constantly bombards her family with judgements, except for their deceased son Abel who Halie speaks about with reverence and constant praise.

Living with them is their grown up son Tilden, (Barnaby Kay), who has recently returned the family home after getting into some kind of trouble in New Mexico, although clearly suffering from some kind of mental breakdown, while another son Bradley, (Gary Shelford), still lives nearby and is partially disabled from an incident where he amputated his own leg with a chainsaw and now wears a prosthetic leg, but is also clearly exhibiting some worrying and resentful behaviour.

The sudden reappearance of Tilden's son Vince, (Jeremy Irvine), with his girlfriend Shelly, (Charlotte Hope), in tow, brings several things to a head after everyone appears to have no recollection of Vince, which is the catalyst which brings the simmering resentments in the family to a head and reveals a long hidden family secret to devastating effect.

The play is seen as an allegory of the disappointment and failure many felt in Middle America during the Great Depression, which led the death of the American Dream for many people.

The moody poster reflects the play perfectly...

The venue itself, Trafalgar Studios, is a quite small theatre with almost universally good views of the stage, although suffers slightly from quite upright uncomfortable seats.

Upon entering the auditorium Harris was already on stage, appearing to be watching TV on the couch, centre stage in the single location set, and this set the mood perfectly.

We found Harris outstanding as Dodge, and the chemistry with Madigan was clear to see. Charlotte Hope was particularly great too, in what is her West End debut also.

Although the subject matter was quite heavy, the play had quite a lot of humour in the earlier acts which helped build the dramatic tension for the later climactic events.

Seeing Harris on stage was fantastic and if you can get a ticket do so, but it does end on March the 4th so you'll have to hurry.

America After The Fall : Painting In The 1930s

So on Wednesday we headed over to the Royal Academy for the friend's preview of the latest exhibition America After The Fall : Painting In The 1930s.

Organised with the Art Institute of Chicago, this was a rare opportunity to see works by some of the most prominent artists from the modern era of American painting, and included works by some pretty big names including Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and most notably Grant Wood, whose 'American Gothic' illustrates the whole theme of the exhibition superbly in just a single image.

Also getting to see these representations of such recent American history, so soon after seeing it realised so dramatically just a couple of days before in 'Buried Child' was particularly serendipitous. 

It was also quite refreshing to see another side of a country whose culture and appearance to the rest of the world is usually that of success, glamour and a Norman Rockwell-esque sense of people pursuing and exemplifying the American Dream.

The exhibition is in the smaller upstairs galleries, (the larger galleries downstairs are currently housing the Russian Revolution show which we haven't had a chance to check out yet), however this is fitting as the works are a lot more intricate and smaller and would probably have had their impact lessened by the higher ceilings and more immense wall space around them, (unlike the recent Abstract Expressionism show here, where the Rothko and Pollock works particularly were of a size that the space allowed them to feel at home and with room to breathe in the space).

The show is split into different aspects of America and the various effects felt in those areas, such as industrialisation, agriculture and within urban and rural environments.

The early Pollock was a treat to see, and the inclusion of the O'Keeffe skull painting was nice, (however the recent retrospective at the Tate Modern had already scratched that itch many times over, so it's impact was perhaps a little lessened), however the collection of Hoppers, (minus his most famous work, 'Nighthawks', which in fairness probably wasn't a bad move as it's so famous it would have overshadowed the other works included), was also fantastic, particularly 'New York Movie'.

Also of particular interest was Philip Guston's 'Bombardment', which we'd previously seen in Philadelphia, however seeing it here and in this context gave it a new dimension and also afforded the opportunity to get up close too, (something which is a great aspect of these friend's previews as they are much quieter, especially in the smaller galleries. Try and see this show in an off-peak time slot if you can).

The jewel in the crown for this show is Wood's 'American Gothic', one of the most famous American works of art, and having now seen it in the flesh it's clear to see why. Photographs or prints do not do this work anywhere near the justice it deserves. The detail and power within this image speaks volumes about a large part of the country at the time and it's deceptively simplistic composition is actually a textbook example of taking something which at first would appear to be mundane and elevating it to great poignancy.

There are a couple of other less well known Wood works, which afforded the opportunity to actually see beyond his reputation as the 'American Gothic guy', particularly 'Death On The Ridge Road' and 'Daughters Of Revolution' which really opened our eyes to not only Wood, but a whole generation of painters from America which are usually overshadowed by their own most iconic single works or bigger hitters from the country as a whole.

Hopefully we can look forward to a greater representation of American art history in galleries here in the UK, and not just focus on the more crowd pleasing and famous Pop Art genre associated with the USA, (not undeservedly so, but let's broaden our scope a little shall we?).

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket, or maybe sneak in with a member, just make sure to catch this one! It's on show until the 4th of June 2017.

Creature From The Black Lagoon

So for a relaxing Sunday afternoon Miss C went for some afternoon tea whilst I made my way to the Regent Street Cinema for a screening of the Universal monster classic the 'Creature From The Black Lagoon' from 1954.

This was the final film of a Universal monsters season they've been running, (unfortunately we haven't been able to get to the other screenings), following on from 'Dracula', 'The Wolf Man', 'The Mummy', 'Frankenstein', 'The Bride Of Frankenstein' and 'The Invisible Man'. Which is a bit of a shame as I'm a bit of geek when it comes to these pictures...

This was also my first visit to the Regent Street cinema, which is a part of the Regent Street campus of the University of Westminster, and is credited as being 'The Birthplace of British Cinema' as it's the first location where the Lumiere brothers first exhibited their Cinematographe machine to press in Britain, and has now been lovingly restored and reopened in 2015.

The auditorium has nice plush comfortable seats and a nice Art Deco style with the classic velvet curtains across the screen.

The plush auditorium...

So onto the film itself...

If you've never seen it, (or any of the Universal classics), then you're missing out on some of the most iconic flicks in the history of cinema, most people picture these versions of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, etc, so you'll be familiar with them anyway.

The basic story of 'CFTBL' is basically that a scientist discovers a fossilised hand of strange human/amphibian creature in the jungles of South America, so puts on an expedition to locate the entire skeleton for research, however it seems that the species isn't extinct and has taken a shine to the sole female member of the research party.

However the rich sponsor of the trip wants the Gill-Man for himself as a trophy and so a game of cat and mouse begins in the infamous Black Lagoon of the title, as they fight to survive.

The actual location used for the Black Lagoon in Universal Studios California, taken on holiday...

Let's make no bones about it, it follows the same themes and plot as a bunch of other creature features, however it pulls it off with the ruthless efficiency that Universal perfected in the genre and was copied for years to come.

It's perfect Sunday afternoon entertainment and contains a sense of pure adventure, whilst evoking the simple joys of cinema, the print was also as pristine as they come.

The season's over with now but they're all available on Blu-ray or DVD so delve in.

That's all for this edition, next week's contains a few theatrical excursions and some music too, so until then... Get inspired!

Monday 20 February 2017

Puppet based opera, science, some comedy and a gangster classic on the big screen...

13th February - 19th February 2017

Another quite varied week, which also included the first visit to a venue which we'd heard a lot about but had never been to, so...

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare The Freak

Miss C was a little under the weather on this chilly Monday night so a solo visit was the order of the night for this one.

I first became aware of this intriguing production via a Facebook post which showcased the trailer for this show, (it's available via the link above to the official site for this outfit), which teased only snippets of what might be expected, however it's faintly macabre feel and the prospect of some original delivery via puppetry was enough to draw me in.

The venue itself is billed as the oldest music hall still operating in London, transformed in Victorian times from a sailor's pub, (being sited so close to the docks), it became a successful destination for entertainment and has been restored and maintained, despite basically everything surrounding it being renovated.

On a pedestrianised walkway alongside a couple of blocks of flats and a school, it's a real sight to behold as you can see in the photo.

The shabby chic Wilton's Music Hall...

The interior continues the trend of maintaining the shabby, but authentic finishes with the auditorium itself also showcasing the bare plaster finish and the surrounding upstairs balcony comprising of carved wooden facades. There's also a bar with food available.

It also seems it has a history of being a location for filming too.

Some of the films shot here...

The downstairs stalls area is comprised of removable seats and the balcony sits around the side walls and rear of the room, not overhanging half the stalls like a traditional theatre would.

For this show I had a dead centre front row seat, and quite reasonable it was too at about £20, but I wanted to make the most of the visual aspect of the show.

Even the flyers are well designed...

The show then... Wow!

An original opera performed by a cast of four, (two puppeteers and two singers), and two musicians, a pianist and a violinist. For this performance the piano was played by the composer also, Tom Poster which was a bonus.

The story is based on the true story of a French man called Tarrare, who legend has it had an insatiable appetite and could swallow anything, as it seems he also had a dislocatable jaw to facilitate bigger items such as cats and babies...

His story takes us from his early adulthood in a freak show, through a stint as part of the Revolution and his subsequent life in a hospital, (asylum?), where he eventually succumbed to his problems.

The entire opera is performed in English by two male singers, who sing in a higher register for the couple of female characters, whilst the puppeteers flawlessly perform the body movements and lip sync the puppets to the words.

The puppets themselves have a haunting sunken cheeked, eyeless, (except Tarrare), look to them, created from what looks like linen type material and are just torsos with arms and heads, operated by one or two puppeteers at a time to carry out various tasks, which look incredibly natural and fluid.

One way to describe it is like if Tim Burton filmed a Muppet opera.

From the performance, to the story, to the music and singing, to the design of the set and characters this was a pure work of art. I'm most interested in seeing some of the puppet team, Wattle & Daub's other shows.

It's finished it's run at Wilton's Music Hal but is touring a few places and is an absolute must see in my book!

We Need To Talk About Physics

So onto Wednesday's event, some Physics this time courtesy of self confessed 'bubble scientist' Helen Czerski.

Tied in with the publication of her latest book 'The Storm In A Teacup : The Physics Of Everyday Life' this lecture was based around how everyday items or occurrences are actually complex scientific processes when we actually take the time to look at what something is doing and what causes it, specifically it's basis in the world of Physics and it's theories.

It was an engaging talk which took things we consider to be mundane daily things, such as a cup of coffee sloshing around when you walk with it, and explained in an accessible way the Physics based reason for why it does it and how it's behaviour is not as unpredictable and random as it may first appear.

Czerski herself is used to presenting, having produced several programmes for the BBC on several scientific subjects and this was evident in her straightforward but entertaining delivery.

Another worthwhile event, just one of many which the Royal Institution hosts, and was an evening well spent, I also learnt some stuff too.

Adam Buxton Videos His Old Bits

On Thursday night we took our first of two trips to the BFI this week to see BUG host Adam Buxton presenting a non-music video based show, centring around his audio visual skits, presented as a cross between a stand up show and a trawl through Buxton's laptop.

Those not familiar with Buxton's brand of comedy may find it all a little nuts, which it is, however it's also ridiculously funny.

He produces spoofs of films, music videos and adverts, makes up bonkers songs with surreal lyrics, (one of which is entirely made up of pictures of bald male celebrities as he sings the names Moby, Michael Stipe, Bruce Willis, Michael Chiklis and John Malkovich), and re-edited footage of his kids to crate hilarious vignettes.

One of the best sections involved a Keynote presentation which he used to tell the story of when he had an earache and eventually went to his local A & E department as it got so painful, only for his local BBC news station to report a few days later about how the hospital's A & E department was overstretched due to people attending with silly reasons including 'shampoo in the eyes and earache...'

The videos came from a variety of other shows such as the BUG shows at the BFI, his appearance on '8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown' and other stand up appearances, and was being filmed for a digital release at some point.

His skills with video editing are good enough that his creations are really well done and this chance to see so many along with Buxton's off the wall presenting was a joy.

GoodFellas and Lorraine Bracco Q & A

We were back at the BFI on Saturday night for an event in their current Scorsese season, a screening of the classic GoodFellas, (in a nice 4K presentation), followed by an extended interview with Lorraine Bracco.

Surely most people who are interested in this film will have seen it, a prime example of Scorsese showing off not only his directing prowess, but also his ability to extract amazing performances from the cast, co-screenwriting duties and his skills when it comes to putting together a soundtrack.

The print looked fantastic, nice a film like, and seeing it on the big screen for the first time really meant that the achievements in camerawork and cinematography really stood out, for the instance the famous Copacabana scene is a masterwork of steadicam and would have been cut together with CGI nowadays.

De Niro, Liotta and Pesci are outstanding, and Bracco as basically the sole female lead is phenomenal.

The film spans three decades and the soundtrack is a pure joy too, framing every scene perfectly.

If you haven't seen it before, do so, as not only are the cast at the top of their games, it's a another classic of Scorsese's repertoire too.

The BFI film notes are always a welcome addition...

Following the film itself we had the pleasure of Lorraine Bracco in conversation about her experiences working on 'GoodFellas' and working with Scorsese.

She didn't disappoint, she was entertaining, witty and larger than life, and surprisingly candid about the shoot itself and her views on how the violence in the film, (and her subsequent work in 'The Sopranos), is portrayed by the audience.

Bracco in full flow...

She also recounted on how Scorsese works with actors and his willingness to listen to ideas from his actors, how the film was shot almost entirely in the order it plays out on screen, (no mean feat in itself), and how it was entirely filmed on location, no sets used at all.

The floor was then opened to the audience to ask some questions, and thankfully this was one of the better ones we've been to, (some people ask the most ridiculous, irrelevant or plain embarrassing questions), and actually managed to glean a bit more info, particularly getting a bit more detail on a scene which Bracco contributed an idea to which made the final cut, (for those familiar with the movie, it's during the scene in which she ask Henry for some spending money and how she goes about getting a bit more...).

It's always interesting to hear people speaking at the BFI, and especially so when they're as entertaining and engaging as Bracco, a great event.

That's all folks until next week, which has a little theatre with a Hollywood great and some new exhibitions at the Royal Academy. Until then, it's a big city with plenty to offer, so get inspired...

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Some mellow Canadian music, theatrical literature, a bit of theatre plus some good old fashioned Baroque and Roll...

6th February - 12th February 2017

Another busy and varied week taking in some live music, literature, history, a scavenger hunt, art and theatre, a bit of something for everyone...

Andy Shauf

So Wednesday evening saw us heading over to Hackney, (bit of a pain to get to as the transport links aren't fantastic, luckily we were driving), to see Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf at Oslo.

Singer-songwriter is one of those terms which kinda makes everything sound a bit generic and 'beige' so doesn't really do Shauf justice, or anyone really for that matter...

First up the venue. Oslo is a restaurant/bar and venue, adjacent to Hackney Central train station, the restaurant downstairs and a large room with a bar upstairs is the setting for the gigs there. It's not that old so is still pleasant and not suffering from sticky-floor syndrome and manky toilets which many of these venues unfortunately sport. The sound's also pretty good so a win-win, we saw the Allah-Las here in July last year so knew what to expect going in.

We made our way in at about eight, to avoid hanging about too much in an empty room but also early enough to get a decent spot as it was sold out, and to catch the support band, Shauf's fellow Canadians Tasseomancy. We didn't know anything about them except from a quick Google search which turned up that they were classed as a bit 'dream pop' and 'experimental', in for a penny we thought...

So overall they were quite good, fronted by two sisters, one of whom sang the majority of the lead whilst the other played guitar and also sang, with the addition of a third member in charge of beats and other accoutrements.

The vocals were reminiscent of Kate Bush, very haunting and impressive, however being such a chilled, quiet style meant that audience chatter kind of spoilt the ambience and they seemed a little lost, maybe a bit of nerves too, overall though a good start to the evening.

After a short break Andy Shauf took the stage, staking his spot on stage left which was slightly quirky much like his music, this isn't a bad thing though...

The band was made up of Shauf on guitar along with a bass player, drummer and two clarinetists, an intriguing line up.

Shauf's most recent album 'The Party' was the main focus of the set, and the catchy little melodies delivered live with dual clarinets were fantastic, thankfully the crowd were respectfully quiet during his performance as you could have heard a pin drop.

A great example of what you can expect from Shauf is his song 'The Magician', click the link for the fantastic video too. 'Early To The Party' and 'Twist Your Ankle' are also firm favourites, he also showcased some older tunes from his previous album 'The Bearer Of Bad News', and for the encore performed the brooding but beautiful 'Wendell Walker'.

Some of the production on the album sounds quite Jon Brion-ish and throughout the evening his humble and polite attitude shone through, joking with the crowd a little. 

Definitely worth checking out if you like you music quirky and melodic.

Simon Callow Reads Inferno

Friday night saw us down the Southbank at the Tate Modern for an event tied in to the current Robert Rauschenberg exhibition, (a marvellous exhibition, our view of it can be read here), and featured respected thespian Simon Callow reading a selection of cantos from Dante's 'Inferno', the first part of the epic masterwork 'The Divine Comedy'.

The link to the show being that Rauschenberg was asked to provide illustrations which incorporated photographic transfer techniques to provide contemporary context for Dante's poem.

In all there are thirty four works, each of which pairs with one of the thirty four cantos that make up the poem, which recounts the tale of Dante's journey through Hell lead by the poet Virgil, detailing the nine circles of suffering and his interactions along the way, and was written as an allegory for redemption during a troubled political upheaval in Dante's life and fuelled by his exile from Florence on political and religious grounds.

Mr Culture's tried reading 'The Divine Comedy' in the past and it's pretty heavy going, although this could have been due in part to the particular translation, however the version related this evening was much more accessible and has reignited an interest in tracking it down and reading it in it's entirety.

Obviously due to the length of the entire work the evening was structured around Callow reading eight cantos, and briefly relating events between those told to give context, throughout which the related illustration by Rauschenberg was displayed on a screen behind him, (this was performed in the quite recently refurbished Starr Cinema, thankfully no longer the striking red colour it used to be).

Callow's recital was both stirring and theatrical, which also made the material much more user friendly, Callow's skill as both an actor and narrator really shone, and made us want to hear the whole thing being read by him!

It's really worth checking out the exhibition, not just for the 'Inferno' illustrations, and as ever Callow proved himself a captivating, entertaining presence. An enjoyable, slightly different event.

Handel & Hendrix in London/Breadcrumbs Hunt

We set off into town early-ish so we could get to Brook Street in Mayfair for the 11 AM opening of Handel & Hendrix in London as we'd decided to marry our visit with trying out a Breadcrumbs hunt tailored to this location. After parking up we had a nice walk in the smattering of snow that was falling which made for a nice wintry experience.

Breadcrumbs is a company which makes text message based scavenger hunts focused around popular locations/attractions in London. So far, apart from this one they offer ones for the V & A and Kew Gardens, and also are in the process of making hunts for the Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum and the Huntarian Museum. They cost £3.99 each and can be pre-purchased as they only start when you choose to begin them, make sure you start them when you intend to actually begin as it gives you your completion time at the end!

This hunt tells you up front that there's fifteen clues in total, and if you get stuck you can text for hints or to solve the puzzle to progress, the intention being that you should pay more attention to the location and maybe experience more of the place as well as doing something fun and challenging.

Firstly a bit more about the place itself. The three floors here are split as they were into two flats, a two floor apartment and a single floor flat, which show how they were when inhabited by two huge musical figures, albeit from opposite ends of the spectrum genre-wise.

Some of the bumpf available...

Floors one and two were where Handel lived here from 1723 until he died, the apartment is furnished with instruments, paintings and furniture which recreate the look of the time and how it would have been during Handel's tenancy.

There are also knowledgeable guides on hand to help, and printed guidebooks which help explain the rooms and their contents.

The top floor of the building is where Jimi Hendrix lived for the majority of his time in the UK, and is presented mostly in a more exhibition-like manner with video, photos and other props illustrating a quite comprehensive timeline of his time here and his various musical endeavours.

One of Jimi's guitars...

Some of the displays illustrating Hendrix timelines...

There is also a room dedicated entirely to Hendrix's record collection which highlights his influences and tastes for every title, whilst his bedroom has been faithfully recreated down to the finest detail via archive footage and photos from the time as he carried out a lot of interviews here so there is plenty of evidence to draw from.

While it may be small overall, the whole building is packed with history and the blue plaques outside mark what is a remarkable and curious link between some musical greats.

The hunt itself starts in the first room on the first floor in Handel's apartment and gradually progresses up to the Hendrix flat and covers both of the artist's abodes. The clues themselves were a mixture of historical info and brainteasers and were pitched just about right in the mental stakes, we finished in a respectable 1 hour and 3 minutes.

At £10 each it's a bargain and is a great way to kill and couple of hours, especially in conjunction with the Breadcrumbs hunt, we're definitely looking forward to trying out all the others too.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster - Sticks With Dicks And Slits

Before our matinee trip to the theatre we went for a spot of lunch and just so happened to be passing BlainSouthern's gallery at Hanover Square which currently houses the latest works by former husband and wife artistic team Tim Noble and Sue Webster.

Known for their previous works which included signs and lettering made from lights and assemblages made from household rubbish, they have become well known as part of the post-Young British Artist crowd.

The last works of theirs that Mr Culture saw here were their 'Nihilistic/Optimistic' sculptures, collections of what at first appeared to be metal and wood junk which when lit from the right perspective created detailed shadow portraits of the artists themselves, really quite magnificent to behold which I revisited a few times, they can be seen here.

For the latest works, again the artists have decided to try working in a new medium, Bronze, and have created nude self portraits in a 'stick man' style, but fully realised in 3D as opposed to basic 2D line drawings.

Miss Culture being pointed at...

An artsy shot through one of the sculptures...

There are 6 sculptures in total in the large room, three of each of the artists, two of which are more three dimensional in a sitting pose, as seen in the second photo.

Noble and Webster's work has always had a playful, cheeky aspect to it, whether it's they blatant use of basically trash, the cast of certain orifices which are available to buy in different materials or even the customised chess set exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery a few years back where all the pieces were made of casts of dead wildlife which they found around there house in the countryside, (flat frogs and decaying birds for instance), and incorporated into tree stumps to serve as the board, another quite amazing piece of work.

If you're in the area check it out, entry's free.

The Boys In The Band

So we rounded off our day by taking in the matinee performance of a limited West End run of 'The Boys In The Band' starring Mark Gatiss.

Our interest was piqued after seeing Gatiss speak about the play during his appearance at Mark Kermode In 3D at the BFI last month, (reviewed here), and booked up that night as there are only fifteen performances scheduled and Gatiss is always good value.

Currently on at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand, a quite nice small theatre, which means that you're never too far away from the stage to feel distant from the show, and quite reasonably priced at about £35 for stalls tickets, you could do far worse.

The storyline follows a group of nine men who come together to celebrate one of their number's birthday in 1968, however the arrival of a friend from the host's past causes conflict and secrets to be revealed, how will the night play out?

We'll state up front, this is often referred to as a 'gay play', yes the characters are gay, but it's a story, played out with interesting characters, relevant themes and fantastic performances, and the writing is brilliant. The dialogue is pithy and sharp and once Gatiss arrives the insults reach new heights.

However this isn't just Gatiss' show, the entire cast are on stage for most of the running time and their chemistry is fantastic, the ensemble includes Daniel Boys, Jack Derges, Ian Hallard, James Holmes, John Hopkins, Ben Mansfield, Greg Lockett and Nathan Nolan, many of who are recognisable from stage and screen.

Without giving too much away, we'll just say we enjoyed every minute of it, yes it's dark in places and the language has a couple of instances of ripeness, but it fits the piece perfectly and the time flies by.

If you're after a night of laughs and drama you can't go wrong with this show!

So that's it for this week, next week sees a bit of puppet based opera in a Victorian music hall, some sciencey chat plus Adam Buxton and a gangster movie classic at the BFI. Til then, get inspired...

Wednesday 8 February 2017

A double week, some film chat, some innovative art, and some Spielbergian musical magic...

23rd January - 5th February 2017

Anselm Kiefer - Walhalla - White Cube, Bermondsey
The Radical Eye : Modernist Photography From The Sir Elton John Collection - Tate Modern
Spielberg At 70 : Philharmonia Orchestra - Royal Festival Hall

Due to feverish wedding preparations taking over this is a bumper blog covering the last two weeks of activities, so without further ado...

Mark Kermode Live In 3D At The BFI

After successfully pretty much selling out every instalment of this monthly film based night of discussion, dissection and guest interviews last year, Kermode's been renewed for 2017 to carry on with what seems to be a popular and winning formula.

Those familiar with the 5 Live film review show Kermode presents with Simon Mayo will be at home with the show's style of film discussion so will already know they'll enjoy it, however for those non-avid listeners it's a monthly night of lively debate which is well worth checking out.

Hosted in NFT1, the largest screen at the BFI Southbank, the show breaks down roughly into sections such as film news, questions from the audience, (some live and some pre-Tweeted), a top ten list, (January's list was a tongue-in-cheek '10 Reasons Why Meryl Streep Is Overrated...'), and at least one film related guest who also presents their 'guilty pleasure' movie and defends their reasons for enjoying it. All replete with clips, snippets and visual aids.

Previous guests have included movie industry legends such as composer David Arnold, (who also played and sang a live rendition of 'Surrender' a song originally proposed as the theme for 'Tomorrow Never Dies' but ultimately ended up over the end credits sung by KD Lang), director Ben Wheatley and director Alan Parker.

This month's guest was Mark Gatiss of 'Sherlock' and 'The League Of Gentlemen' fame, who proposed the atrocious Roger Moore and Michael Caine vehicle 'Bullseye' as his guilty pleasure and also spoke of his upcoming roles both on stage and film.

Gatiss in full flow...

We're unable to make the February show which is on the 27th and there is no March show due to the Flare Film Festival dominating the BFI's screens, but long may it continue as it's a departure from the norm and an entertaining and informative evening out.

Adrift : The Secret World Of Space Junk

The future Mrs Culture doesn't partake in attendance of lectures at The Royal Institution as it's something I do with a colleague with a nerdy leaning towards sciencey stuff.

Sometimes things can go a bit above our head, depending on the subject as they cover a broad range of scientific subjects, but we tend to just read the brief summaries and select based on those lectures which hopefully will keep us entertained and possible teach us something.

This particular lecture was interesting in that it was an art project/installation which was derived from hard scientific research and involved both the artists Cath Le Couteur and Nick Ryan and scientist Hugh Lewis, (An Aerospace Engineer and go to guy for things hitting the Earth type worries), all delivering their own aspects of the project, which made for an entertaining and fascinating talk.

I won't get too technical with the science side, but basically it involved analysing the dearth of 'space junk' which has been created since the world started travelling into the upper atmosphere, either through abandoned technology or rubbish left behind by man.

From this information, (all of which is available online, with various databases plotting the whereabouts and orbits of these items, with anything over about ten centimetres being tracked), a pair of visual and audio artists created Project Adrift. The project consists of a large metal Phonograph cylinder which is coordinated with a machine which tracks space junk in real time and synchronises sounds with the items to play whilst showing a picture on a companion monitor to visually and audibly represent these items as they pass overhead.

Obviously although it's known there are these pieces of debris up there, it's not always entirely clear as to what they are, so the artists asked members of the public to send in random items to represent the junk and created sounds from them which they then mapped to actual recorded items.

They then took this further by picking three well known documented pieces of space junk, and made short films in which they provided the items, (with the aid of musicians, writers and actors), with a story, personality and presence, whilst also setting up associated Twitter accounts for the items which can be followed and send out appropriate Tweets conveying these personalities.

It all sounds a little bonkers, but in practise was fascinating.

The project can be checked out online and the back stories of the people involved and the junk itself is well worth a look. http://www.projectadrift.co.uk/

What Computers Can't Do

As fate would have it the next event was another lecture at The Royal Institution, although this time it was a Friday evening discourse, which are generally only available to members as they take the form of a more formally structured evening with the traditional hour time limit followed by questions.

The subject of this one going in was a bit daunting so we weren't sure quite what to expect as it revolved around the age old 'P Vs NP' problem... Huh? I hear you say, yeah me too...

Anyway I suppose you never know until you try it...

I won't go into the ins and outs of it as I couldn't sufficiently convey it if I tried, however the speaker Kevin Buzzard, (a professor of Pure Mathematics), was charismatic, entertaining and sported some of the most colourful trousers we've seen here.

He managed to make the subject manageable and never boring which is always a bonus as sometimes the discourses can be a little dry in their delivery.

With a variety of different events, for something a bit different The Royal Institution is worth checking out, especially if you have even the most remote interest in science.

The Lego Batman Movie

So Sunday morning saw the dynamic duo back in full force, (see what we did there?!), and after a much anticipated, but thankfully unrealised battle through the road closures for London's Great Winter Run we made our way to the BFI Southbank for a lunchtime preview of 'The Lego Batman Movie'.

Being fans of the previous 'The Lego Movie' which arguably catered more to the adults than the kids, we were looking forward to this one, especially after seeing the trailers.

The plot broadly speaking involves Batman coming to terms with working with others whilst taking on the world's greatest villains, lead by the maniacal Joker.

The voice cast boasts Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson and Mariah Carey to name but a few.

With too many visual gags and clever nods to all aspects of Batman's portrayals on screen to list it was a constant stream of cleverly scripted, laugh out loud action which is well worth catching. Again it felt like it catered more to the older members of the audience, however the kids were more than entertained too which can only be a good thing, as I would imagine some cinema trips to kids movies can be interminable for parents.

We laughed pretty much throughout, take from that what you will... :-)

Afterwards Miss Culture was off to a birthday celebration for the afternoon so, I decided to take a walk along the Southbank to Bermondsey and the current show at the White Cube gallery.

Anselm Kiefer - Walhalla

If you've ever visited the either of the White Cube galleries at Bermondsey or its baby brother in Masons Yard behind Fortnum & Mason you'll be familiar with the impressive gallery spaces which are the very definition of 'does what it says on the tin'. Modern, clean and almost Science Fiction like in their design with plain white walls and polished concrete floors which allow the art within to really be the focus.

Anselm Kiefer's latest exhibition here at Bermondsey, (I think his first since his large scale show at the Royal Academy a couple of years back), takes everything the White Cube is known for, both by name and construction and turns it on its head.

If you're familiar with Kiefer's previous output, you'll have seen his large scale paintings which incorporate organic and discarded materials into broad impasto-like techniques, and his sizeable sculptures and vitrines which when taken as a whole complement each other in style and colour, usually muted greys and earthy tones which only enhances the appearance of the minimal use of colour when it is employed. Whether on canvas, found materials such as discarded boards or the manufactured items for the vitrines all of the work has a 3D element to it which draws the viewers eye and assaults the senses with textures to enhance the visual aspects.

For this show Walhalla, which takes its name from the Norse realm of legend and the Walhalla monument built to honour heroic German figures by Ludwig I King of Bavaria in 1842, the names of Norse gods are referred to throughout the exhibition along with references to architecture to convey ideas of life and death.

Kiefer works here primarily with lead, a material which Kiefer believes is the only material capable of supporting the weight of human history, documenting history and politics is a major aspect of Kiefer's work. The RA show incorporated several uses of this material also which Kiefer had obtained from the discarded roofing materials of a Cologne cathedral, (the method of getting hold of the lead was not revealed), although whether this is from that same source is unclear.

Upon entering the exhibition through a doorway below the handwritten title, visitors are handed a warning sheet explaining that the works are almost exclusively made of this material and the walls are clad with it too, so not to touch the artworks due to its poisonous nature. This is probably the most life threatening gallery show currently on in London, and piqued the interest immediately.

About half the length of the corridor is shown here...

A close up of the lead 'sheets' and 'blankets'...

One of the rusted weapons...

The sheet lead cladding to the walls...

The time and work that must have gone into installing this show is phenomenal the high walls are entirely clad with sheet lead, and the main central corridor of the gallery is used to showcase the heart of the exhibition, a series of metal framed bunks with sheets, blankets and pillows formed from the metal, some with rusted guns placed on them, leading to a large photograph at the end of the back of what looks like a soldier walking away from the scene. The detail and properties of the lead, being both solid but very pliable and quite harmful makes the scene all the more unsettling, along with the darkness created by the clad walls creating an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, despite knowing that in reality the corridor and building itself is so large. Lit only by several hanging bulbs.

The several rooms which lead off of the corridor contain smaller 'scenes' of more beds, a cluttered storeroom filled floor to ceiling with archived paperwork or sorts and piles of what at first look like paper but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be more Lead.

Angelic wings and boulder type shapes are seen in some of Kiefer's other works...

A close up of the bed...

The 9 x 9 x 9 gallery room contains a metal spiral staircase which leads from floor to ceiling which various items of clothing which have been treated and hardened hanging from the handrail all the way up and has photographs of stark architecture flowing out of the base like tentacles reaching out the audience.

Along with the 9 x 9 x 9 gallery there are two further rooms which are not lead clad, but revert to the white walls usually seen here and house large scale paintings of architecture and abandoned streets, some look almost war torn, and many vitrines which contain organic materials such as earth and dead and withered plants, and discarded objects with all exhibit a patina which speak volumes about their existence both before and as they are now, including more clothing, a wheelchair, bicycles and other discarded metals.

Despite the much smaller scale of this exhibition compared to the many larger galleries afforded Kiefer at the RA show, this one feels much more immense in scope and the craftsmanship and attention to detail is nothing short of breathtaking. For the White Cube to allow such a subversion of their spaces speaks volumes about Kiefer's influence and increased recognition as a major name in the art world I feel.

The metal staircase spanning the entire height of the 9 x 9 x 9 gallery...

Reels of photos reaching our from the base...

Some of the discarded metal objects in the vitrines...

A rare splash of , (muted), colour...

More of the vitrines...

The pieces all have an almost museum-like atmosphere to them, like moments preserved in time and displayed almost as a snapshot of a bygone era.

It's only on until the 18th of February but is a must see!

The lonely departing figure...

The Radical Eye : Modernist Photography From The Sir Elton John Collection

On my way back West along the Southbank I stopped in to check out the latest headline show at the Tate Modern's new Switch House approaches it's thematic thread through a slightly different route, by focusing on a particular style of photography, in this case Modernist, but basing it around a particular private collection, that of Sir Elton John which he has lent to the gallery to be enjoyed and appreciated by a wider audience.

It's a fascinating approach, which allows the viewer to both see works of art which would ordinarily never be on view to the general public, and also a glimpse into the tastes of a well known artist, albeit working in a different medium.

No photography, in the photography exhibition...

A short introductory video shows some footage of where the photos hang in Elton's Atlanta 18,000 square foot apartment, covering all the wall space, but ultimately hung in the same frames exactly as they are in this exhibition.

Featuring such a wide range of artists and approaches means that the show takes the approach of arranging the photos by subject to maintain a cohesive narrative flow, starting with some examples of the Modernist movement and various types of subjects, moving on through portraits, (both facial and of bodies), experimental photographic methods and collage, documentary photos and finishing up with photos focusing on objects, perspectives and abstraction.

The handy little free guide that comes with every Tate exhibition provides ample general information on each section and the additional notes alongside certain works fleshes it all out a bit more, but the real magic is in the images themselves.

The bigger names represented here, such as Man Ray and Irving Penn have plentiful offerings contained here, but nestling amongst them are many works by others, names which I'll admit to not being too familiar with such as Dorothea Lange, Johan Hagemeyer, Herbert Bayer and Ilse Bing.  

Having only been to a smattering of photography shows before, (most memorably the William Klein + Daido Moriyama show at the Tate Modern a few years back and the brilliant Out Of Focus : Photography exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery), mainly due to their relative scarcity in relation to traditional shows featuring painters/sculptors it made for a nice eye opening change.

The Man Ray pictures were the most familiar images, with their soft focus, high contrast compositions, (hopefully I'm using these terms correctly!), reminiscent of silent films from the 20s, and also his experimental works with Rayographs and inversion.

However most interesting to me at least were the portraits, particularly those by Irving Penn known as the corner portraits, where the subjects were placed in a tight corner of an old set which restricted their movement and focused the lens completely on their bodies language as much as their faces. Subjects includes Salvador Dali, Joe Louis and Duke Ellington. There are also many portraits figures who would have been the photographer themselves artistic contemporaries featuring Picasso, more Dali and Georgia O'Keeffe.

The detail and composition of many of these shots is truly stunning, and the Modernist style appears to have paved the way for the style used by many photographers and fashion shoots so commonplace today.

Hopefully the major galleries will begin to explore photography more often as this made was refreshing afternoon spent at the gallery.

Ultimately these need to be seen first hand to really appreciate them and there's ample opportunity as the show is open until May the 21st.

The journey back along the Southbank continued with the Thames looking as great as ever by night.

The Thames by night...

Spielberg At 70 : Philharmonia Orchestra

The final stop of the day was the Royal Festival Hall for a night of some of the most iconic film music performed live by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Weedon with introductions by film critic and biographer Iain Johnstone.

The iconic ET flying bicycle...

Although obviously the music itself wasn't composed by Spielberg, it's associations with the visuals he created are indelible, and just hearing the music conjures up memories of watching the films themselves.

I'd managed to snag some a cheap seat in the side stalls for £15 which was an absolute bargain and afforded a great view and even better sound.

The great view from the bargain-tastic side stalls...

The pieces selected were not just of films Spielberg directed but also those he produced and even one that he 'produced', ('Poltergeist' I'm looking at you!).

The full list of movies covered was:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Bridge of Spies
Memoirs of a Geisha
War Horse
Jurassic Park
Back to the Future
Catch Me If You Can
Deep Impact
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Medal of Honor (the videogame)
Schindler's List
E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial
Raiders of the Lost Ark

Particular highlights were the opening double of 'Jaws' and 'CEOT3K', the second half openers of 'Back to the Future' and 'Catch Me If You Can', (an unusual but captivating sight seeing an entire orchestra performing the jazz inflected finger clicks), and the theme from 'Schindler's List' featuring a stunning solo violin.

Between tracks Johnstone regaled stories of the making of the films and the times he has met Spielberg, along with information on the composers, particularly long term collaborator John Williams.

The closer of the theme from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' brought the night to a close superbly and sent chills down the spine.

The two hour show just flew by and barely touched on one of the greatest filmographies of any director, living or dead.

If you get a chance to catch any of the performances of movie music by the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall go for it, hearing the scores live is a truly exhilarating thing.

Next week sees us enjoying some live music, a stage great performing in an 'artistic' environment and some cult theatre. Till then, get inspired...