Waltzing with the Vikings

A week before the last day, I went to see the Vikings at the British Museum, expecting to be a little whelmed. There were queues all along the street, which was dispiriting, until I overheard the advice to go around and come in via the North entrance, where there was no queue at all. I realised that like a dolt I’d forgotten my new membership card, meaning that I had to obtain a flimsy paper temporary replacement.

The show itself was fantastically crowded. If I’d taken a conventional shuffling snake approach, it would have taken ages to complete, so I peered at the objects from a few people back, taking advantage of the repeated blurbs on some of the display cases, higher up, the better to be seen. The various coins and artefacts were interesting, though rather dowdy and literal (even when dealing with Norse Gods) in comparison with the recent Aztec show at the same venue.

The part everyone has heard about is the longship in the second half, but this felt like a bit of a swizz, because the vast majority of the hull was metal recreation, with wood mainly at the bottom. There was a man seeking to impress his female companion with his Viking knowledge and tales of his bus journey to the circular fort in Denmark at Terreborg. It’s good that the British Museum now has more space to make its collection available. However, they really should consider letting people in more slowly.

Thence to the Wellington Arch for an exhibition Carscapes: How The Motor Car Reshaped England. As usual they had good items in the display cases, including a parking game based on a magnetic car driven by a large dipstick that seemed very similar to one I had as a child.

Carscapes: How The Motor Car Reshaped England

You could see a resemblance in tone between the Shell promotional poster (“Have a nice time in the countryside thanks to our petrol”) reminiscent of Tube promotional posters from the same period (1920s-1930s). The pride that existed in motoring paraphernalia architecture – car parks, garages, filling stations – contrasted strongly with the dreary utilitarianism we see today. A tablet was showing a live feed of Abbey Road, with tourists waiting for a long enough gap in the traffic to recreate the Beatles album cover.

Flickr album for Carscapes

Just a few Piccadilly Line stops to the Victoria & Albert Museum, dangerously near my workplace, for Empire Builders 1750-1950, which was (mostly) a single, long, thin room off the main architecture gallery. What was surprising (to me) here was the number of imposing Gothic revival buildings – train stations, court houses, post offices, along with the attempted mixtures of the Neo-Gothic with local styles, notably in India.

Empire Builders: 1750 - 1950


Flickr album for Empire Builders

On the way from there to the Southbank, I saw several people clutching programmes for Romeo and juliet and I wondered where they’d seen it. At the Albert Hall? I was there for James Lavelle’s Meltdown and there was a small exhibition “Urban Archaeology” in the Royal Festival Hall foyer about his label Mo’Wax. Do such people employ personal archivists? In this sort of show they all seem to have their tickets from 20 years ago and obscure letters. A man took a photo of a single record sleeve, so I came back with my camera to do the same for an U.N.K.L.E. release I used to have, which has two wonderful Plaid remixes.

Waltz with Bashir with live soundtrack by Max Richter from the Philharmonic Orchestra was the main thing I’d come to see. A man on the row in front of me was fingering the cling film cover of his Underground journals for a long time, before finally unwrapping them, with some reverence. I found the film very unusual and rather extraordinary, the animation adding to the poignant effect. Notable was the very fractured timeline of the various stories, as the protagonist nears his own memories. The presence of the orchestra made the effect even stronger, particularly with the solo piano at the end.

Afterwards there was a brief Q&A with Max Richter the composer and the director Ari Folman. The latter said he found it overwhelming, not having seen it for four years, that he’d made a massive mistake not inviting his 91-year-old mother. Apparently it took him 4 days to write the script, while Max Richter composed the score in 2 weeks. Folman’s intention was (unusually) to have the score ready in advance so that the animators could listen to it while they worked, instead of adding it at the end. When asked why he’d chosen Richter, he cited a quote from Pete Doherty that just when you don’t think you can go any lower, you listen to him and then you succeed. The moderator asked about the brief section of documentary footage from the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps at the end and Folman said that this was a matter of ideology for him, pursued against strong resistance from the rest of the production team. There was some contemporary music, as listened to by civilians back in Tel Aviv, and the younger people on the crew chose that because they said Folman’s tastes had stopped evolving in 1976, while the extracts of Schubert were chosen by Richter, who said he “had a madness for him”.

Walking to Waterloo afterwards I heard someone say

“It’s quite an onslaught”

while someone else was


and another thought it was

“Too much”

One wrong-headed dullard said that

“Having the orchestra there didn’t add anything”



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