After A Girl Walked Home Alone At Night, I had a few hours of my day off to fill, before the evening’s film. Walking out of the Vue, I heard someone declaim:
“It happened to me, so I have to tell my story”,
which is, I’m afraid, a telling signifier of the coarsening of our public discourse.
One of the exhibitions on my list was “Our Friend Larionov” at Pushkin House. Displaying unusual geographical ambition, inspired by the usual tedious quest for efficiency, I wanted to see the famous suspended building in Covent Garden on the way. Even midweek there’s no shortage of mobile gawpers in Covent Garden and there was a whole phalanx exploring Chinneck’s work and looking for the best photo.
“That’s a hell of a lever”,
commented one Dad, while the man guarding the piece patiently explained all about it to a couple of pensioners, who I think had just encountered it accidentally. Soon after, he had to chide a boy who was standing on one of the fractured columns – “Young man. Young man.”
I’ve already been to the Calvert 22 and GRAD galleries, but not Pushkin House, which is conveniently close to the British Museum and the LRB shop, and claims to be the “home of Russian culture”. On entering, it became clear that it really was a town house, and I wasn’t sure which way to proceed. I asked one of the staff, who said that the show was across three levels, and she advised starting on the floor above, working down. This sort of primitivist art is usually very dynamic and expressive, which I like, and I also like artists with manifestos, who want to form new groups, and the commitment that indicates. One slightly odd aspect was that I couldn’t find the painting included on the press release. I asked the person who’d directed my visit, and after checking, she couldn’t find it either. I think I agreed with the two cultural ladies who left just before me, one of whom told her friend that she was going to the basement to:
“look at the pears one more time. There’s so much feeling in it.”
For some reason I associate Billy Childish with John Peel, so one should presume in his favour. It was as a result of this visit that I found out about an event at Pushkin House that I will describe in another instalment.
Around the corner to the British Museum, where there was time to see a couple of the small, free displays. Just by the main entrance there is an enormous print by Albrecht Dürer, of a triumphal arch, until 17th November. What a treat to see him on such a large scale, complete with griffons (my favourite of the mythicals) and injunctions of which Balfour would have been proud:
“Keep to moderation.”
On the side of the room are some related works, including one of a triumphal procession which, hilariously, includes some sorrowful Indians amongst the prisoners, even though no such people had been captured, because that seemed appropriate for a triumph. Upstairs and at the other side, there’s a small room containing lots of German medals made during the First World War. They’re so different than the British ones, expressionist and abstract. To me, much more interesting. It’s open until 23rd November.
For Leviathan, people were taking photos of each other, standing on the red carpet. Perhaps they’ll be able to add beckoning paparazzi later. Unusually, the introduction was by the film’s producer, who said he was very proud to have worked with Zvyagintsev. I remember seeing his excellent The Return at Cornerhouse in 2004, and Elena two years ago. The film is inspired by a real-life case from Colorado of a man running amok with a tractor, combined with the story of Job. It’s a truly great film, elemental in the imagery, the performances and the resonances of the plot. There are two surreptitiously powerful scenes consisting entirely of a court official reading out verdicts, at what seems like incredible speed – the implacability and remorselessness of the State. The ending is incredibly powerful, with the fate of the hero rendered brutally, and the chilling self-satisfaction of the attendees at a sermon, the Church seen as riven with venality and corruption. The upturned, gleaming faces of the congregation resembling nothing more than the youthful believers in Cabaret. Philip Glass’ music contributes to the true catharsis achieved by the film, which like several others in the festival is set on the coast, with the mesmeric power of the waves, and of the water-resembling vodka. It also chimed in its handling of the hangers-on and their machinations with The President’s Last Love by Andrei Kurkov, that I read last year.
The film I saw the next day, a normal working day, was nearly as good.