ARTYFACTS: March 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stoker: stylish Hitchcockian psychological psychopath movie

Someone said to me before I saw the movie “You know it’s a thriller?” It’s not, then again it’s hard to say what Stoker is. It’s not a thriller because the plot give no thrills. Charlie is obviously a killer. This is not a criticism as, despite the obvious characterisation and plot, this is a fine movie. Perhaps the best description would be a psychological psychopath movie. You are drawn into the cold, calculating mind(s) of the psychopath through great film making. Every scene is finely judged and shot with precision. The life drawing class, is beautifully shot, where you see how India’s obsessive but penetrating mind works. The shower scene is brave and disturbing.So stylish it is but not without reason. Charlie is clearly based on Norman bates, same hairstyle, same demeanour and the film plays on southern, Gothic beauty with plenty of homages to Hitchcock. In a curious twist of fate Tony Scott, the co-producer, and younger brother of Ridley Scott, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in Los Angeles.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Trance – Danny Boyle loses the plot – literally – tedious & tiresome film

Oh shit. It's an empty frame! That about sums this film up.
Before the film even started there was a short video introduction by Danny Boyle. Where did that come from? “Hi I’m Danny Boyle….Olympics…thanks for coming…” I’m eher to watch a movie not a tribute.
The lead then narrates the opening scenes. This is always a bad sign showing that the writer has to ‘tell’ and not ‘show’ you things. Then there’s a massive continuity error, showing lazy filming (rifle is in his hands then it disappears). What follows is barely worth following. If it was a meditation on memory or the unconscious, it fails. If it was a thriller, it fails. As a film on any level, it fails. Someone really should have told him that this script should have been binned as trash. The plot is ridiculous, overwrought and forced resulting in a confusing mess.
That’s not all, as every single performance is flat, especially Rosario Dawson but also Vincent Cassel. James McAvoy is a half decent actor but even he struggles to get any inner, psychological states across. To be fair they have no real script or dialogue to work with, Nevertheless, what they do deliver has no impact. You feel nothing for any of the characters. In the fire and brimstone at the end you just wish they would burn faster so that the film would end.
Finally, if there were awards for worst sex scene in a film, Trance would win the top three spots. The excuse for showing Rosario Dawson’s bits, in detail, is a half-baked piece of fine art theory, I kid you not.
Is this what happens when you become a so-celled National Treasure? If so, let’s bury him deep so that he doesn’t waste any more valuable film money.

In the House: What a smart movie - all about narratives....

What a smart movie - all about narratives. The stories we tell about ourselves, others and the ones some write and others read. As a viewer you are bounced around a triangle of written story, film and life, and manipulated by the perspectival story-telling but underneath the surface narratives, lies the truth - or yet more narratives. Everything is interpretation?.
Family narratives
Family narratives lie at the heart of the matter, Claude dealing with his disabled father, the supposedly happy (but decidedly miserable, nuclear family) and the professional, childless couple. They create their own little narratives as well as stories about others but they’re all playing narrative games. Genuinely funny moments arise when the middle-class obsession with crap or misunderstood art surfaces or when they can’t help but want to know the gossip behind the story. They’re shallow, bored and keep themselves interested by making up little narratives or poking into the business of others.
Authored narratives
Claude makes up little stories to keep his own story going, then uses the reactions of the reader to create the next episode of the narrative. All along we don’t know how much of the story is the result of the author’s imagination or observed episodes. Everyone is trading fictions.
Educational narratives
The ‘student – teacher’ narrative is reversed and school is full of false narratives, such as the crass uniformity of uniforms and lessons that are simply regurgitated tropes. Schools teach fixed fictions. This is damn clever as it provides the story arc for the whole film – the narrator is the outsider but also the creator. Teacher-learner is reversed as is reader-writer, cricic-writer, character-person, fiction-non-fiction. You lose yourself in the reversals.
Art narratives
The teacher’s wife has opened up a truly awful gallery in town brimming with bad art, appalling brochures with those over-blown narratives that only the ‘art’ industry can produce, full of abstractions and overblown claims.
Narrative endings
We end on a park bench with a tramp looking in at an array of apartment windows. This solitary figure has no social narratives, he’s simply alone on the bench. He’s more objective than all of the urban fantasists. Smart. I was amused to read several reviews that decry the films lack of an ending. This is the problem with film critics, they have their own narratives and one is that of the ‘resolved ending’. The whole point, Bradshaw and Quinn, is that this is the downside of forced narratives or narrative enslavement. It is deliberately open ended. Life goes on and on and on.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Litchenstein doesn’t subvert, he inverts

Now this was fun. Not chuckle fun but wry smile fun. Before this show I saw Litchenstein as Mr Pop Art, proud of simplicity, surface and comic print palettes. What I found was a bit of a joker – someone who was constantly subverting the history of art. Mondrian, Picasso, Monet, Judd they all and many more get it in the neck. A huge Lacoon, that looks nothing like a Litchenstein is all wild brush strokes and movement. The Tate guide explains that the snakes were sent by Apollo but he’s wrong. Ken and I both agree that Lacoon was a Trojan and that Apollo was on their side. Indeed, the Greeks despoiled the temple of Apollo in the war. It was Poseidon. In any case, it’s a fantastic snub to the classical tradition. All Dionysian swirls. Here’s another surprise – the Chinese landscapes. Again, he subverts the print form with deliberately vandalism – rough brush strokes. His provocative images of women are designed to elicit superficial feminist critiques but are the very opposite. It’s not often that an art show subverts your expectations but this is one that inverts expectations. Thanks God for American art.

Manet for Money?

Standing in a long queue, outside in a chilling wind, you’re assailed by a posh girl with a clip-board telling you that, “You can skip the queue and get in straight away of you sign up to become a member”. This will cost a cool £140 per year! Inside you’re asked to gift another couple of quid on top of your £15. (I think, maybe I should have ordered online – but that’s another £1.50.) You’re then assailed by an Italian girl at the door to hire an audio guide. By this time Maney has morphed to Money and I’m in a more critical mood.
This show is more than a disappointment it’s financial fraud. By fraud, I mean that pictures that should be here are not and pictures that shouldn’t be here are. Eva Gonzalez and many others are quite simply, second division. The fact that some have never been shown in galleries is no accident – they didn’t deserve to be shown.
The Luncheon is a high spot with its shadowy father and arrogant youth. Music in the Tuileries Gardens breaks all the rules but where’s the Bar at the Folies Berger? At the Courtauld in London. Olympia? Dejeuner sur I’herbe? Without any of these it’s a crown without jewels. In the end, it’s a fairly mundane meander  through league division two and three paintings. Manet for money. Rather than one of those perspex bozes for donations, I think the RA should offer refunds.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

European Debate - not really - paying audience had to provide the debate!

Sussex University held a debate on Europe last night that had unexpected consequences. First the panel of four people, all supported the EU, were keen on European Citizenship and pretty much toed the orthodox line. This was a shame, as this is a political issue that deserves more actual ‘debate’ and more ‘innovative’ thinking. Across all four there was not a single innovative idea the whole evening, only statements of what IS the case, in terms of laws, economic constraints and so on. We expect more from people who are supposed to be on the leading edge of European research and thought.
In the absence of dissent from the panel, what happened on the night was fascinating - an ‘audience’ versus the ‘panel’ debate. Curiously, this seems to reflect what’s happening on the ground. We have a political and academic class that has a ‘groupthink’ approach to Europe and a populace who are deeply suspicious about this class and its pronouncements.
All of the important issues came from the audience:
1.       Suspicion about the idea of European Citizenship
2.       Suspicion about the army of politicians, academics and officials who are driving policy through self-interest and not the interests of the people
3.       Opacity of bailouts – where does the money come from?
4.       Why not allow orderly devaluation?
There were some excellent questions from the floor that cut to the quick and led to more interesting debate. This was way more interesting than the rather banal introductions by the speakers. On the very night when Cyprus is going through fiscal convulsions, these people seemed surprisingly aloof and distant from the real world and real issues.
Institutions start with good intentions but often end up serving themselves and fighting for survival. I didn’t go into the room in a particularly anti-EU (or Eurozone) state of mind but witnessing the output from the Sussex European Institute, I walked out a sceptic, not only about the EU but also about the worth and independence of so-called research institutes where people get paid to praise their funders. You can’t get people to pay for a ‘debate’ then simply present one side of the argument and expect the people who paid to provide the other!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beyond the Hills: First ever depiction of Christ as a lesbian?

Asceticism, as Nietzsche claimed, is life turned in upon itself. It is the denial of life and that denial requires the exercise of immense power. A young girl, full of life and love, is slowly crushed, chained and crucified by a community that mistakes love for control. It is religion gone wrong - isolated, dogmatic and self-serving.
What is remarkable is that this latter-day Christ is a woman and lesbian. Is this the first ever depiction of Christ as a lesbian? Her all-consuming love for one of the nuns brings conflicts and behaviour that the Priest and nuns find hard to deal with. In the end her love is seen by the church and society as an illness.
Now it's not often you see a film that tries to deal with a big theological issue.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shell: beautiful & brave film - less is more

Like an Edward Hopper painting come to life, Shell is a beautiful and brave film. It takes guts to make a film that slows time down so that it becomes almost unbearable. The characters barely speak and their actions are painful to watch. The claustrophobia is intensified by the big country landscapes but it's as spare as twig. At no point does the Director stray from his vision. Abandonment, love, fear, confusion, pain, sacrifice, hope – it has it all.
Scotland has an inglorious history in cinema from Brigaodoon to Brave, it's a catastrophic trail of romaticised nonsense, so I.m delighted to see that the much maligned Creative Scotland are coming up with the goods, Rather than listening to the so-called creative catcalls of Liz Lochhead and Ian Rankin, I applaud those that want to take Scotland beyond its past. Scotland should be a place about which films are made not simply a location for making films and that Scotland, needs to be more than a cartoon Scotland. Let's have more of this.