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

and

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.

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