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!

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