Friday, November 09, 2012

It Always Rains on Sunday

I went to see It Always Rains on Sunday a couple of days ago at the BFI. It is a British film made by Robert Hamer in 1947 and is part of the BFIs Dark Ealing series. I have now become slightly obsessed with it because it is so good - it is going to be released around the country and on DVD so if you get the chance check it out.

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

The film is set in Bethnal Green, stars Googie Withers (who is brilliant) and centres on the claustrophobic interior of a small terraced house. The plot has a bit of everything - melodrama, thriller, action, romance but what I liked the most were the everyday details. The record shop on Petticoat Lane, the bits of Yiddish dialogue and talk of Jewish families moving to Stamford Hill,  the Anderson Shelter in the backyard, the bread and marg etc etc. These details are a seamless part of the whole. The film is sometimes called a British film noir and also cited as the first kitchen sink film. It does have both of those genres represented in it but like another British film that is really worth seeing,  Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), it is not easily categorised.

Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why 'is Kristen Stewart's Bella a Good Role Model?' is an irrelevant question.

Kristen Stewart as Bella in Twilight

Kristen Stewart was interviewed in The Guardian yesterday, mostly about her new film Snow White and the Huntsman but also about the thorny subject of Twilight and its suitability as an important text/film for young girls. For those who don't know Kristen Stewart was one of the stars of the Twilight series of films. The first film was a low budget affair directed by Catherine Hardwicke which escalated into a huge money spinner for all concerned. The following films are slicker and less interesting but have nonetheless been massive blockbusters the world over. Interviewer Kira Cochrane says about the character Stewart plays in Twilight:

'Bella Swan might be devoid of any obvious interests beyond her lust for vampire Edward Cullen and werewolf Jacob Black, but her very blankness has allowed a generation of young women who are in love or would like to be to live out their longings for dangerous, unattainable men.'

and goes on to say:

'She (Stewart) plays a character who is a terrible role model in Twilight, but in person is a blessed relief.'

I think that this misses the point that she was interestingly edging towards in the first quote. Bella is a teenage girl who has led a pretty ordinary, unhappy life; she is socially awkward and does not fit in anywhere. She is intelligent and good at her school work but her real love (before meeting Edward) is the escapist world of fiction and she is a voracious reader. She is blank in the way that any teenager is blank, the experiences that form their character are still to come. In Twilight she meets a man (who yes does happen to be a vampire which has all sorts of metaphorical meanings) who she falls passionately in love with. This happens in life (although admittedly it tends not to involve a vampire) and critics who disapprove just need to try and remember back to how it was. Bella does not act stupidly - she is very sensible mostly, and like anyone would be, is excited by the new opportunities that this first love opens up. So why is she a bad role model? And why does Cochrane think that Stewart, the woman and actress, should be anything like the made-up character she plays in a film?

Interestingly in the print version of the newspaper there is an ad for a recently released French film whose English title is Goodbye First Love. Presumably this placement is not accidental. The film covers very similar ground to Twilight with the exception that fifteen year old Camille is sleeping with her older boyfriend and he is not into her as much as Edward is into Bella. Camille's feelings are intense and she relishes the misery of being in love. The director, Mia Hanson-Love, has said that the story is autobiographical - so these things do actual happen. 

Lola Créton as Camille in Goodbye First Love

Twilight has been such a huge success because it taps into feelings that are really felt and elevates them to a situation of heightened romanticism (maybe like Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre etc etc). Rationally the conclusion can only be that Bella is a much better teenage role model that the mooning, un-criticised by the press Camille because she is much, much stronger willed. But ultimately why does she have to be seen as a role model at all. She is, as Cochrane pointed out, a blank canvas and as such we can project our desires onto her. Every James Bond style action hero is not pushed as some kind of role model for young men. So please leave Bella alone and let Kristen Stewart get on with her career.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This Week's Film Top Ten

I have watched ten films in the last week and some of them have been really very bad. So I thought I would give my top ten count down... Oh and Avengers Assemble and Damsels in Distress deserve their place below a very annoying Barbra Streisand film at the very bottom of the list.

1: Buffalo 66
2: An American in Paris
3: Sideways
4: Goodbye First Love
5: Jane Eyre
6: The Young Girls of Rochefort
7: Bridesmaids
8: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
9: Damsels in Distress
10: Marvel Avengers Assemble

Buffalo 66 takes the number one spot. I haven't seen it for years and I hadn't remembered how much bits of it look like a David Lynch film. Yes it is pretentious but Christina Ricci is just stunning - she looks like a sulky little piglet in her baby blue dress and eyeshadow and super glossy lips. If you haven't seen it you should.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

In Defence of Madonna's W.E. (kind of)

I can't help feeling that Madonna's main problem is that she doesn't know how to rein it in (see her performance at the 2012 Superbowl final). W.E. is her second film as a director and has everything in it and by this I mean ever idea and whim that she has ever had. It is autobiographical and historic, stylistically all over the place, a thriller and a revisionist drama. But despite what the critics say it is definitely not one of the worst films ever made (as was suggested by Mark Kermonde on Radio 5 on 20.01.12), it is quite revealing and actually pretty entertaining. AN Wilson on Radio 4's Front Row had it about right - W.E. is about fairy tales and how they don't happen.

Abbie Cornish as Wally Winthrop in W.E.

Lots of reviews of W.E. are very scathing about the complex structure of the film which combines a modern day tale of a young woman with the unfortunate name Wally (named by a family who were for some unexplained reason Wallis lovers) with the historic story of the Duchess of Windsor. Maybe Madonna should have kept it simple a la The Kings Speech but personally I found the modern tale quite captivating and the history a little dull. Abbie Cornish who I loved in Jane Campion's Bright Star plays Wally. She has the most extraordinary big face which I find visually fascinating - it's gauche and sophisticated all at once. She is trapped in an unhappy relationship and this is where a flurry of what I suspect are autobiographical references come in. It appears that her British husband is unfaithful, she wants children, he doesn't and he leaves her alone much of the time. When she spends money at an auction buying some of Wallis Simpson's gloves he goes crazy. She gave up her career as an auction house assistant - which he thought was a silly job - to live her fantasy life of the much loved wife, now he controls her - he has the money and the power. There are some really pertinent points here which male critics fail to grasp - it doesn't matter how rich or poor you are this kind of scenario is being played out in the lives of women the world over. To escape from her life Wally daydreams and even talks to Wallis Simpson. This is pure Kilimnik - a woman escaping an abusive relationship by thinking herself into another life. Of course fairy tales do not come true and just as Wallis Simpson's dream life became a kind of gilded prison so does Wally's marriage. Mark Kermode has a problem with rich people moaning about their lives - but surely you can suffer emotionally whether you are rich or poor. 

Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson in W.E.

Aside from the emotional heart of the film there are some great stylistic touches and as shallow as it may be I have to admit that the clothes are beautiful. On the downside too much of the film looks like fashion shoots or pop videos, a little more truth and a little less style would have helped the audience engage a little more. A scene of Wallis and Edward on the beach is self consciously lifted from Hoyningen-Huene's famous 1930 fashion image, another scene with numerous umbrellas is taken from Madonna's video for Rain directed by Mark Romanek. Oh and making the Queen Mum a major baddie was never going to go down well in the UK, however badly history has misrepresented poor Wallis. 


In a feature about this year's Oscar nominations in The Observer Bidisha noted that women have generally been overlooked with a general lack of award nominations for the likes of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Wuthering Heights and Bridesmaids and she goes on to say 'guess what, Madonna's W.E. is a thousand times better than royal borefest The King's Snooze, in which a man spends two hours overcoming a speech impediment while Helena Bonham Carter looks on. W.E. actually has proper roles for women in it – and, sorry haters, Madonna can direct.'

Mrs Simpson and Edward as depicted in W.E.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Arty is 30

Arty was first published in 2001 with an A5 photocopied and stapled issue featuring rioters wearing Mark Jacobs shoes on the cover. Friday 13 January 2012 saw the launch of Arty 30 alongside Hayley Lock's show (Now that would be) Telling: Caddington Hall at Transition Gallery. The zine is a little bigger than issue 1 and has been litho printed but it is still black and white. The theme of the new issue is The Cult of KK - KK being the American artist Karen Kilimnik. Kilminik's work is all about escapism  - Versailles with a touch of heroin chic, the hammer and sickle flying above the Tzarina - you get the picture. So really not far removed from the glamourous rioters of issue 1.

I have been thinking a lot about now and then. When I watch an old film I am struck just as much by its relevance as by its obsolescence. Things change less and more than we think - all at the same time. I think we get hung up on the look of things - outmoded materials, technologies, techniques, language, styles - the surface that makes films, photos, objects, books etc seem different and old. But the essence, the story, the way that people act is usually completely relevant and consistent. The look of things however does change alarmingly fast, making an image or object from 5 years ago look strange and of its time.

Back to the 10 year old Arty 30 - everything has changed and yet it has stayed pretty much the same. This is all quite fitting in an issue about Kilimnik. Her playful mixing up of everything that appeals to her could be equally applied to Arty. The issue features a number of texts about her work by long time admirers and new devotees as well as fiction, images and even a letter from the lady herself. Kilimnik does of corse repel as well as attract and there are many people who can not stand her whimsy. I am sorry if you are one of these people because you are missing out - there is no other artist quite like KK.

Independent publishing is not a money making exercise and if you admire, respect or enjoy Arty can I please encourage you to buy or subscribe. Its available online or in lots of shops and only costs £3. Without this support Arty will become a museum piece. If you want to know a bit more about Arty there is an interview with me by Teal Triggs in a feature called Smells Like Zine Spirit in the new B Magazine (Issue 5).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Phew Christmas is over and now it is time to go naked.

Christmas has dragged on but this week it is all systems go as the art world gives itself a shake and drags itself off the sofa. Tonight there is a mighty coming together of 100 painters at The Perfect Nude show at Wimbledon College of Art. Curated (not organised?) by Phillip Allen and Dan Coombs it is meant to be an un-ironic gathering of contemporary figure painting. This is a hard ask for an artist today - irony is one of our major tools. From the images I have seen there is thankfully still quite a lot of irony in evidence.

The whole issue of painting a nude is fraught with anxiety - painting a female is pandering to the male centric ways of art history, while painting a male nude is just pretty unappealing. I compromised by painting a bit of a nude Anne Heche from Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho (Anne Heche is showering, soon she will be murdered). It seemed kinder to hide her nudity a bit and the idea of remaking a remake of an iconic nude scene was I thought quite fitting. For some strange reason I am quite drawn to shower scenes at the moment. I have just painted David Hockney in the shower as seen in his 70s film A Bigger Splash. The painting is to go with a text I have written for the new 'Paint' issue of Garageland which is currently in production. I will tell more in a future post.