Thursday, December 20, 2012

It,s a medieval flying reindeer!

From the British Library's brilliant Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog.  It sounds dry but it absolutely isn't.  The front page currently includes the earliest complete bible, now available online, and the prequel to the Morte d'Arthur.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Revealed/Love and Death

Managed to get myself to Birmingham last week to see the Love and Death exhibition but found myself more diverted by Revealed: The Government Art Collection in the Gas Hall.

Lots of Birmingham's Pre-Raphaelites have been loaned to Tate Britain for their blockbuster autumn show.  In return, Tate Britain has loaned BMAG some of its Victorian masterpieces rarely seen outside London.  Prime amongst them is J W Waterhouse's The Lady of Shallott (1888).

 This really is a showstopper, worth the trip in itself.  The incredible detail of the tapestry she sits on, the shock of reeds bottom left, the mysterious distant gleam running along the hilltop top right. Spectacular.

The other paintings however are more the late Victorian excuse for pornography.  Alma-Tadema, for example, whose paintings look exactly the same as the ubiquitous prints, even down to size, Lord Leighton, and Herbert Draper's Lament for Icarus (1898).

Check out the prurient tea towel draped across Icarus's tackle whereas the pubescent nymph up front would get you a knock from the Savile police nowadays.

One unexpected bonus of the loan to London was that Ford Madox Brown's An English Autumn Afternoon has been temporarily replaced with one of George Shaw's Stations of the Cross enamels.  This wasn't included in his homecoming exhibition at the Herbert earlier this year and I really appreciated the chance to see it.

Revealed, which by rights ought to be featured on a TV arts programme (but Brum isn't exotic enough for Yentob, Bragg or Graham-Dixon), is the first ever touring exhibition drawn from the 114 year-old Government Art Collection.  In other words, the art we all own.  Some of the exhibits have been chosen by politicians - or, in Cameron's case, Mrs C - some by diplomats (a lot of this stuff decorates embassies round the world) and some by people who work in Downing Street.  There was so much to enjoy - some 250 works, everything from Elizabethan state portraits to Tracey Emin pencil sketches - but two that especially appealed to me were Cecil Stephenson's Design for the Festival of Britain (1950), chosen by Lord Mandelson, and five man-size canvases of iconic English streets commissioned from John Piper in 1949 to decorate the British Embassy in Rio de Janiero.  The one below is of Montpelier Walk in Cheltenham.

Also very unusual and well worth seeing were Government commissions of the 1953 coronation from Edward Bawden and L S Lowry.

Less successful, I have to say, was the central room where 78 works were crammed in by artist and curator Cornelia Parker in colour groups - hence the silly title, "Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain".  I hated it.  It was annoying that the works weren't labelled, so you had to look them up in the (very good) free catalogue, the Victorian salon style of covering every inch of wallspace didn't work for me, and banging a contemporary portrait of James I alongside a Chapman Brothers screenprint of a double skull and crossbones purely because both were predominantly red meant that both lost meaning - again, for me.

Love and Death continues at BMAG until January 13 and Revealed is there until February 24.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Act of Faith, Jimmy's End

Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins' linked shorts Act of Faith and Jimmy's End are both available on You Tube.  Moore, of course, is the Northampton-based genius of the graphic novel (Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) who notoriously disassociates himself from the big screen versions of his work which always, inevitably, fall short of his original vision.  Now he has joined with cameraman/director Jenkins to make Show Pieces, a series of parallel short films of which these are the first two instalments.

I watched Jimmy first, then Faith, but they stand alone and can be watched either way.  They are truly beautiful in a gothic sense, and despite their brevity beautifully layered.  Faith is essentially a one-woman tour de force from Siobhan Hewett.  A rainy night in Northampton and Faith is playing games...  The final twist is genius.

Faith is also in Jimmy, a full cast piece twice the length.  It is the same rainy night and lost soul Jimmy finds shelter in a grotty pub/club.  The ambience is 1973 gone manky.  There is a pentagram on the plasterboard of the wall leading to the toilets, a fifties fag machine and an old-style reel-to-reel tape player onstage.  Is the freakish string ensemble playing or not?  Are the Bare Brides tattooed angels or predatory harpies?  Among Jimmy's fellow refugees is the world's most miserable clown who has the mighty lines - "I don't tell jokes any more.  These days I just masturbate.  And cry."

We're awaiting the star turn, Frank Metterton.  He appears in gold glam rock boots and a golden face.  It will spoil the fun to reveal who he is - but, hell, who else could he be?

This is how the Internet should be working for creatives.  Don't miss out.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Fear

I thought The Fear, on C4, bordered on genius.  I loved the concept - echoes of Brighton Rock brought into the multicultural age of gangsterdom; the gang boss losing his grip as he rapidly loses his mind.  Full credit to Richard Cottan for the writing, although he did rather give the endgame away at the end of episode 3 - and full credit to C4 for scheduling the series over four nights, thus keeping us firmly hooked.  Even the Tricky Dicky direction worked - shaky hand-held cameras are appropriate when we're in Richie's increasingly wobbly world.

But what made this series a cut above was the acting.  Peter Mullan, rarely seen on TV, could not have been better in the lead, the ultimate hard man whose eyes, in brutal close-up, every now and then glinted panic. Richard E Grant as the sleazy doctor demonstrated yet again what a treasure he is - hard to think of anyone else who could have gone eyeball to eyeball with Mullan and not blinked.  And Anastasia Hille, was their equal as Richie's wife.  What we had here was an extended gangster movie with depth and, very unusually, compassion.