ARTYFACTS: September 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007


One pout too many from Kiera. Brit films reviewed by Brit reviewers are bad news. Forget the 5 star reviews, Oscar contender status and general puff. This is a scrappy, ill-executed film with a laughable, self-indulgent plot.

Basically Cinderella complete with ugly sister, it's full of unlikely and sometime stupid plot turns. These include; misreading the fountain encounter, wrong letter in envelope, the false accusation, sexually assaulted woman marries her attacker, and the final 'it was all a dream' trick. It's as clunky as a square-wheeled bycycle. And were child rapists really free to join the army?

Some of the scenes are simply ad hoc - the dead schoolgirls in orchard to name but one. Others just don't work - nurse with dying frenchman, beach scenes, choir on bandstand, lovers meet in restaurant etc. Much of the acting verges on the amateurish.

This has all the ingredients of a middle-England film - British, stately home, set in wartime, poor boy falls in love with rich girl, crass literary allusons, and, of course, one of the Redgraves thrown in as a last resort.

I reserve my real rage for the sheer arrogance of the idea that a novel gives life to the dead couple. Using the memories of people who died in a real war, within living memory, as an instrument for some novelist's fantasy about them and their writing is appalling.

If this is nominated for any sort of Oscar I'll give up going to British films altogether.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Absinthe Monologues

Excruciatingly bad. Even the free glass of absinth couldn’t dent the tedium.

Random day at the fringe - big mistake...

David Long
Sculpture, paintings and photographs by Long going back 40 years to his student days. By using landscapes as his canvas he creates presences that suggest human intervention. They are usually made to be part of the landscape, rather than added to. For example, a line of cut daisies leaving plain grass, rock circles and, best of all, a rock cross made from slate outside of the gallery. Then there’s the mud paintings which I found, well muddy and dull.

Had lunch at one of Edinburgh’s best scoff houses. One of our party related a tale of a rent boy he had hired for 2000 pesetas in Madrid - ceratainly turned the heads of the 'ladies who lunch'.

The Table
Four (polish?) guys make music with a table. If this had been a normal table fine, but it had strings, microphones and musical instruments built-in. What was the point? As for the music, the only highlight was a heavy metal Metallica piece, otherwise dull. They’ll be back on the plumbing at the end of the Fringe I fear.

Into the hood
Why does hip-hop and break-dancing have to be castrated when it transfers from street to theatre? Predictable goody-goody tale with some talented dancers but didn’t deserve the standing ovation – smacked of white folks feeling guilty.

Steven Amos
Great start as a sort of James Brown evangelist but descended into predictable ‘when I was young’ stand-up. He does some very good stuff with the crowd and hecklers but relies too much on rather stale material.


Down to Leith (used to live here) for one of this year’s most talked about show. You’re in a black tent when a guy on a Factory size conveyor belt is brought n and walk, runs, crashes through walls as the floor changes speed. But it’s the nymphs flying horizontally across the silver coloured sea that lifts the show. Then the huge swimming poll descends to just above our heads and women swim, slide and jump in the shallow water. We can reach up and touch them. Disappointed that they were not nude – would have been much better.

The whole show dispenses with any kind of traditional stage. Things happen on the walls, on conveyor belts or above your head or on a spinning obliquely angles platform. You lose yourself in these other dimensions.

Then there’s the misty, rave pieces where the crowd dances away – well this being Edinburgh is split into dancers and observers. Had a great Pizza and beer afterwards with our Edinburgh chums.

Auto, Auto

This show was recommended to me a New Yorker and she was on the button. The curtain draws back to reveal a gleaming red sports car (Citroen). For the next hour two Germans proceed to disembowel and destroy it with hands, feet, clubs, metal spikes, sledgehammers, axes, circular saws – all to some very fine music, songs, poetry and percussion. Often they use the car as their instrument.

There’s more to this show than a musical car wreck. The car is a sacred object in the west. We feel hurt at the slightest scratch or bump. We clean, polish and tart them up. Car crashes horrify us. So when you see two guys attack one with undiluted venom, it’s shocking. It makes you feel violated. That first slice of the axe into the door makes you wince. The huge chisel driven through the bonnet is like a real impailment. The lights being smashed by a baton feels like being beaten up. You laugh, but nervously. A couple of nights later I found myself taking a shortcut round the back of the Pleasance to find the carcasses of their wrecked cars in the dark – it was a little spooky.

Soweto Gospel Choir

I came straight from Southern Africa to the Edinburgh festival and it was good to see those faces, songs and dances that are uniquely African. I spoke to a South African in Namibia who described even carjackers as essentially nice, friendly smiling guys, typically African. No disappointment here, with lots of Soweto stomping, great harmonies and joyous vocals. I preferred the purely African songs but had no problem with the gospel and blues songs – they invented the whole damn lot.


Had some fun waiting for a drink at the Pleasance before seeing the show. A guy in the queue was so exasperated at the hapless bar staff, who were moving at glacial speeds that he started to berate them. ‘I’ve seen milk turn quicker’ he shouted. On reaching the bar he asked for two white wines. The barman said, ‘small or large’. ‘Pints’ he replied. I saw him moments later entering the show with his two pints of wine.

Unadulterated fun. You get warmed up in the queue, allocated a country badge, there’s a warm-up girl as the audience files in and a Terry Wogan introduction ‘it may be rubbish but it’s my pension’. Then it’s off, a piss-take of the Eurovision Song Contest, with opening ceremony, ten countries, cheesy male and female comperes and songs that are so bad they could easy qualify for the real thing.

The UK entry had two ‘chavs’ perform ‘I love to love you’ outdoing Scootch. Iceland, a bitter Bjorg-like singer wailing and haranguing the audience. Italy, an operatic opening that descended into a trite pop chorus. Hungary a little bird song compete with folkloric handkerchief dances. Greece had Persephone, scantily dressed women who aroused the male compeer. Germany had a minimalist post-modern, technopop tune with a push button bell, pulling the leg from a cat and popping a balloon. Ireland won with a fantastic ballad called ‘Larrdi, larrdi, larrdi-la’. I had tears flowing down my cheeks at the old gag of dry ice completely enveloping the performer. The audience cheered, clapped and laughed for every second of the show.

Heart sinks at Mighty Heart

Went to the British film premier of Mighty Heart, starring the world’s most famous lips – Angelina Jolie. As the whole film is shot in big close-ups, largely hand-held, you see a lot of her face and when you see her face you see lips. They sort of stick out, curl up and down as of she were always ready to spit out a three foot steady stream of water. Simply a matter of miscasting. Then again her husband’s company, PlanB, was one of the funders. Perl’s wife, the subject of the film, is a long standing friend of Jolie’s. The bottom line is that Jolie of more of a face and body than star.

To be honest, I couldn’t see why this particular episode, in the whole sorry tale of the US and the Middle East, was worthy of retelling on film. It had no perspectives beyond the immediacy of the kidnapping and stupidly descended into a piece of propaganda towards the end, with its scenes from a Jewish wedding and Perl’s Israeli testimony. It’s hopelessly one sided and all the complexity that is built up round the ISI, different intelligence services, servants, aides, diplomats and contacts collapses into simplistic schmaltz.

Many fine films will be made on the current problems in the Middle East, this is not one of them.

Naked portraiture

First up – a large exhibition of nakedness can’t really fail. You don’t see this number naked people that often and there’s the sexual/taboo/naughtiness stuff to give it all edge.

So what’s does it achieve? Something unexpected. The contrast between the British and American attitude towards nudity became apparent. Spencer, Freud, Bacon, Gilbert and George, Hockney even Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas, seem disgusted by nudity. The British nudes are uncomfortable, contorted and unnatural. In The Piss by Gilbert & George is a good example – an ugly, self-indulgent image. Human Toilet II by Sarah Lucas show the UK’s self-disgust at its best. Jemima Stehli tries to play some old stereotypical feminist gestures. I suppose Howson’s portrait of Madonna had to be included as a token Scot gesture. It’s hideous. The exceptions are the photographers David Bailey who, as a photographer wanted to celebrate celebrity e.g. Jane Birkin. The US nudes of Mapplethorpe, are confident and at ease with their sexuality. Similarly, My Mother and I by Elinor Carucci or Rudolf Nureyev by Richard Avedon. The curators clearly shied away from the fisting and more explicit images – my point really. Polly Borland’s portrait of Germaine Greer is my favourite image – having see her age on TV, this is the real Greer. The Bonnard paintings are similarly relaxed.

Another realisation is the fact that many of the artists in this exhibition were gay and a wonderful gay sensibility is everywhere in both the nude photography and painting. I suppose the predicament of many of these gay artists meant that art was a way of expressing what they could not easily express in public.

Oh, I almost forgot, they just shot back into my mind, so they must have had impact - I liked the two large images of pole dancers in baroque altar-piece poses. Photography promises do much in our digital age.

Warhol, tinned and packaged

Crass exterior
After last year’s disastrous Gauguin exhibition, I wasn’t expecting much. The National Gallery in Edinburgh is as far removed from Warhol’s natural habitat as one could imagine. Curated Warhol always seems like tinned soup – insipid, never quite what the label promises. First impressions are not good – they’ve wrapped the Doric columns of the gallery in Cambell tomato soup tins. This is crass. (Ian Rankin wittily suggested Baxters)

Good start
Inside, however, we get some early drawings showing his use of coco-cola bottles, repetition, blotting techniques and cut materials. His portraits of contemporary celebrities has Liza Minelli, Liz Taylor, Maryln Monroe, Mick Jagger, Dennis Hopper through to Grace Jones. The still-shocking images of death (gangster’s funeral, car crash, suicide etc) are real but distant. They seem like innocent prints but when you interrogate them, they’re brutal, bare and nihilistic.

Arthur danto was right to see the brillo pds as the end of the western narrative in art. That narrative, a narrative of progress, came to and end and npothing has been the same since. From then on anything could be art and Warhol's point was that we, as people, could also be anything we want to be. The boundary between high and low art had become obliterated.

The packaging as art theme has several cardboard boxes and the famous pyramid of brillo boxes. This still packs a punch. This was the work that changed art forever. Sure art works had been used in the commercial world to sell. Artists had also delved into the world of commerce and publicity. However, Warhol was the first to reverse the pipe and suck in commercial images straight into the art world. Nothing has been the same since.

The four minute screen tests are well worth watching but no one has bothered to tell you who the faces are. This is fine for 50 year olds like me who recognise Lou Reed, Dennis Hopper and Nico, but what about all the youngsters I saw – why be so oblique? The fact that he hoarded every last piece of print and paraphernalia is interesting, but tumbling a box out onto a shelf was of little interest. Of course, this is easy, non-contentious stuff. They could, and should have been bolder, perhaps showing Blow Job (film of a young man’s face with action down below, off-screen).

The big rooms have Warhol wallpaper covering every wall of the huge gallery rooms and the double images of revolvers, hamburgers and missile sites but it’s all very clean, like someone’s minimalist living room. It’s not so much Warhol as the gallery or curator showing his/her supposed smarts. The only bit of fun to be had in the Silver Cloud room where you can push huge silver bags way up to join others in the high space. It’s great to watch those who see galleries as temples get annoyed when kids and oddballs treat the room like a bouncy castle.

All in all it’s Warhol tinned and packaged to the hilt. Curators should have more fun with Warhol. Maybe some Velvet Underground or Lou Reed playing in the background, or a night club atmosphere. This may be 50 million pounds worth of Warhol’s works but it ain’t Warhol. The curators are the sort of people who have never taken drugs and never been to a nightclub. All of this reverence and packaging is the antithesis of what his art says and does.

Edinburgh Festival

Festival and Fringe
Seems big on quantity, low on quality this year. The comedy is lacklustre with no buzz around new talent and most of the same names as last year. It’s lost its edge. Everything is polished, packaged, rounded off and the surprises and hits seem absent. Ask people for their hot tips and you get a longer pause than usual. It doesn’t help when Gervais turns up at nearly £40 a ticket during the fringe!

The street theatre has all of the same faces and is stuck in a repetitive series of jugglers, fire-eaters and mono-cyclists. What’s wrong with this art form? There must be a secret school somewhere churning these guys out. Of course there are exceptions. There’s a Japanese guy who rolls balls, cups, metal rings and even square boxes on an umbrella. He then balances a tea pot on a stick - I know, it sounds easy, actually ‘it’s aaaaaaaa-mazing’ (his catchphrase).