Monthly Archives: February 2013

Death and Lloyd George

It’s salutary to be reminded of the forbearance of our betters.  Sometimes we don’t deserve the shiny crumbs they fling at us.  Two Sundays ago I went to the Saatchi Gallery with a friend, expecting to see some photos of Russian gangsters. Instead there was a sign saying “Scoop” or some similar monosyllable and a man with an overcoat, barring entry to all those not chosen by Charles’ agents. Ever the opportunist my friend was all for saying we were indeed there for Scoop.  He was too late – I’d already indicated otherwise, with my foolish honesty.

Last Sunday I planned to try again. Mindful of the shame of the foiled expedition, I bothered to check the Saatchi site and there was a very small notice indicating that it was closed.  Hmmph. This second rejection did at least mean I had more time to see Death: A Self-portrait at the Wellcome Collection. Sunday afternoon is probably the worst possible time if you want to avoid the crowds and I did have to play the flitting around game, taking advantage of any gaps, even if it meant ignoring the Approved Sequence. The noteworthy aspect of this show is that it’s a selection from the results of one man’s obsession with mortality, instead of the more normal curatorial choice from a range of artists. I particularly liked some of the engravings, and not just those by people I knew about already like Dürer. Alfred Rethel‘s were particularly good. A couple said while leaving that they thought the anonymous photos of people cheerily posing with skulls and skeletons were their favourites and I liked those too, especially those groups that somehow tried to make the golem in their midst inconspicuous. The category “conflicts waged by the US in name of democracy” in the McCandless infographic at the end was a little cheeky. I also admired the dedication of the girl wearing tights with bones on them.

Notwithstanding the Mayor of London’s attempts to frustrate all weekend travel, I made it to Barbican, for a showing of The Life Story of David Lloyd George. Naturally there was a comic transport element, when I completely failed to navigate from Moorgate along the elevated passageway.  At least I had time to recover and the concrete edifices were visible enough to be hard to miss completely. Fond though I am of the People’s Budget, a large part of the attraction was the live accompaniment from Neil Brand. His contributions to the Film Programme are always the best bits, especially when he deconstructs a composer or a style of film music. The film was impressive as a spectacle, with lots of large crowd scenes, if a little hagiographic, perhaps an inevitable consequence of being produced while its protagonist was still in office. Why it was banned for so long is quite hard to understand. Lloyd George’s comments towards the end of the First World War were rather sad –

Bad peace is no peace at all


Next time we must have more guns…There must be no next time

The earnestness of the intertitles was hilarious. Brand was wonderful;  his marathon performance added so much more than just a recorded soundtrack.  Now I’m doubly cross that I didn’t get to see Asquith’s Underground with his new score.

Take that, Saatchi.

I Wish

This weekend I was asked whether I thought that the venue in which I watch a film is important.  At home, the argument ran, there is a pause button and non-gouging snacks are available.  At the cinema there are various potentially confounding aspects, such as projection quality, seat comfort and the behaviour of the audience.  I decided that I preferred the extra commitment of leaving the house and taking a risk, even if, judged by some arcane objective standard, the experience might be less pure.

During the dark year of 1994, I was able for many months to choose early afternoon screenings at Cornerhouse and one of those was The Big Parade, a key Chinese fifth generation film.  No one else turned up.  It was just me and (for some of the time) the usher.  Would they have proceeded if even I hadn’t bothered?  Hard to say.  I remain convinced that I enjoyed it more than I would have done had I merely watched it on BBC 2, back when such things were shown on terrestrial TV, perhaps more so, given the odd circumstances.

On Saturday I went to an early afternoon showing of Hirokazu Kore-Eda‘s I Wish.  Apparently it was made in 2011 and it’s taken until now for UK distribution to emerge.  Tsk.  I’ve seen three of his previous outings – Afterlife, Nobody Knows and Still Walking.  The latest popped up when I checked what was on at Curzon and I was delighted.  If there could be a modern reincarnation of Ozu, Kore-Edu comes the closest to that archetype, quietly and unfussily revealing Japanese society.

The focus here is on two brothers, living apart with their separated parents.  We witness how they protest against this rupture and try to engineer a reconciliation, arriving ultimately at a manner of acceptance.  The childish logic is mad, fervent and relentless, yet makes perfect sense because Kore-Eda takes the children seriously, as always.  The behaviour of the adults is also somewhat cracked, such as the grandfather’s quixotic dream of a cake business.  He does, though, accept and assist in their quest to harness the magical powers created by the Shinkansen.

The Renoir was pretty full and there was lots of laughter throughout, some of it the nervous type ejected when a tragic element intrudes.  “That was lovely”, I heard someone say at the end, and it really was.  It’s quite a long film and, very unusually, you feel frustrated at the end, wanting to spend more time with these characters.

I think seeing it at home would be to miss out on a valuable part of the experience.  As a collective the bond with the protagonists is stronger.


Party in the Blitz

It was over twenty years ago that I read Auto da Fé, Elias Canetti‘s masterpiece.  A while after that I read one of the volumes of his autobiography, in which I discovered that he’d lived in West Didsbury for part of his early childhood. It seemed odd that a Nobel Laureate should have such a (to me) parochial aspect and he rumbled away in my mind, the presence continuing even after I’d moved away.

During one of several recent Foyle’s splurges (a counter-balance to commuting e-books habits of new) I saw Party in the Blitz, not having realised that he’d been an emigre in England for quite a time. Thus he adds to the layers of literary sheen attaching themselves to my view of London.

He died before finishing the book, which in part explains its chaos and waywardness. Clive James seems to have strongly disliked it for the negative impression it leaves of Canetti’s personality. While he is pitilessly critical and merciless, notably about Iris Murdoch and T S Eliot, he always seeks to explain his positions and embraces the fact that he’s adopting them, allowing that this has consequences. The book provides a startling depiction of literary and intellectual life in the 1940s. He seems either to have known or met most of the significant figures of the time. He is quite scornful of the English, while being grateful for some that breed’s most characteristic members.

Canetti clearly wanted to depict the English character and society, and the decline of both, using his own history as the substrate. It’s frequently splenetic and self-indulgent, wayward and contradictory.  It’s also an invigorating ride through a restless mind, unafraid of its own faults and obsessions.