Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Chrissies... Art, Music, Cinema, Events

It's the start of a new year so tradition must be upheld to look back on what I enjoyed in the previous 12 months.  After a year of little sensory pleasures 2013 gave me much to savour and enjoy, very little to ignore.
ART
 
From the unknown artists of the Ice Age to the pop age of Roy Lichtenstein, from the 1901 paintings of Picasso to the Profumo scandal of 1963 via George Catlin's paintings of native Americans, it has been a varied and fascinating year for exhibitions.


The Hayward Gallery's LIGHT SHOW collated installations including Ivan Navarro's mirrored, neon-lit telephone box, Carlos Cruz-Diez's chromatic series of single-colour rooms, Leo Villareal's shimmering cascade of white neon on silver and Olafur Eliasson's dizzying Model For A Timeless Garden (fountains of water seemingly frozen in time by neon light);  the National Portrait Gallery's MAN RAY: PORTRAITS showed his astounding experiments in photography; the Victoria & Albert's DAVID BOWIE IS took you on a journey through the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes of the first artist to fully understand how late 20th Century pop would be a real marriage of Sound and Vision while the Royal Academy's exhibition MODERN AMERICAN LIFE opened my eyes to the work of American painter and printmaker George Bellows.

 
But the Art Chrissie goes to A CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE at the Dulwich Picture Gallery which linked the artists Paul Nash, Christopher R.W. Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and David Bomberg who all attended the Slade Art School in the years 1908 -1912.  Although not a large exhibition, there was plenty to spark a curiosity in artists I had been too quick to overlook in the past, in particular Nevinson.  It also gave me an opportunity to commune with one of my favourite paintings, Carrington's portrait of Lytton Strachey.
 

It was an inspiring exhibition that was exhilarating but also moving as for most of the featured artists the 'crisis of brilliance' that their Slade Professor Henry Tonks accused them of having was never fully resolved.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Stuart Kirk-Spriggs who has given me a new appreciation of some of the trickier areas of 20th Century art thanks to his inspired teaching. 

MUSIC
 
It's been a good year for gigs, mostly a string of awesome shows under the auspices of Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival on the South Bank.  Somehow - I'm still sure how - Owen managed to get tickets for both of the Siouxsie shows that were much sought after.  It made me remember how good Patti Smith's Meltdown festival had been in 2005.  Maybe all Meltdowns in future should be curated by female singers in their over-50s?

This year I've seen Boy George twice (thinner and bursting with confidence), Liza Minnelli (with the remnants of her voice and hips but glowing with pure star wattage), Petula Clark at 81 dominating the barn of Theatre Royal Drury Lane with class and showmanship, two alternative music queens SinĂ©ad O'Connor and Viv Albertine wowing with passion and humour and an incandescent Pet Shop Boys show that lit up the O2.  Hopefully 2014 will see them back again now we are familiar with the new material.


For her Meltdown show, Marianne Faithfull turned the Queen Elizabeth Hall into an intimate club as she strolled through her back catalogue with guitarist Bill Frisell (she will back in November to celebrate 50 years in music); The B-52s brought their unique lunatic genius to the IndigO2 while, back at Meltdown, Patti Smith brought along the kids Jackson and Jessie to accompany her in an evening of prose and music where she was wonderfully goofy, caustic and relaxed!  And in the afore-mentioned shows, Siouxsie was quite magnificent, encased in a white PVC ensemble as she showcased the entire Banshees KALEIDOSCOPE album from 1980 then plunging into songs from their back catalogue as well as from her solo career.  They were her first shows in 5 years and she owned the stage - as some hapless oaf found out when he foolishly attempted to climb up.


But my Music Chrissie, and I am a bit surprised by this, goes to Amanda Palmer at the Roundhouse.  With her new band the Grand Theft Orchestra she showcased most of her 2012 album THEATRE IS EVIL (sez she) as well as older and some unrecorded songs.  As with the four acts mentioned above, Amanda creates her own unique world when she performs and this time was just as memorable.  What makes each show different is that she is unique in being able to take whatever is happening to her at that precise moment in her life and spin the show around it, making each one moment-specific.

The two great moments were when she sang BIGGER ON THE INSIDE a painfully honest examination of her recent spell of depression and DEAR DAILY MAIL in which she lambasted that ridiculous paper for highlighting her recent Glastonbury gig when her breast popped out of her bra.  She was, quite simply, her.

CINEMA

In rediscovered cinema I am grateful for the National Film Theatre (nope, still can't call it BFI Southbank) in giving me the chance to see three favourite actresses - Jean Seberg, Vivien Leigh, Vanessa Redgrave - on the big screen with screenings of BONJOUR TRISTESSE (in a sparkling new print), THE DEEP BLUE SEA (I've finally seen it!!) and an advance screening of the BBC film THE THIRTEENTH TALE in which Vanessa was excellently paired with Olivia Colman in Christopher Hampton's atmospheric version of Diane Setterfield's novel.  The same cinema also provided the cinematic highspot during Yoko's Meltdown festival when it showed Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN with the score by the Pet Shop Boys (with Neil on hand to introduce it) - yes comrades, the revolution WILL have a Disco Beat!


I've seen more recent films this year but nothing that totally knocked me out - the most enjoyable being the two Broadway documentaries I saw at the London Film Festival, Dori Berinstein's MARVIN HAMLISCH and Chiemi Karasawa's ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME - equally enjoyable in different variations in the documentary form.

 
EVENTS
 
In the course of any year there are those shows that you can't quite fit into other categories and I had a few of them in 2013.
 
I saw the remarkable Rita Moreno give an insightful talk at the covert racism she faced in the Hollywood of the 50s & 60s while also rubbishing the film she was there to introduce - now that takes guts.  David McAlmont was in the audience to ask her about THE RITZ and I also saw him giving a talk at the National Portrait Gallery.  Tracey Thorn, Derek Jacobi and Ray Davies gave us idiosyncratic glimpses into the process of writing their autobiographies and Simon Russell Beale gave us his memories on working at the National Theatre.
 

In particular I enjoyed a reading of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with Griff Rhys Jones as Dickens and an excellently cast Bill Paterson as Scrooge.  The supporing cast included Tim Pigott-Smith as Marley and Janine Duvitski as Mrs. Dibber and as I watched them I wished they could be playing it for real at the National next door.  At the same venue earlier in the year Rupert Everett gave a hugely entertaining and insightful talk about his autobiography VANISHED YEARS while at the Leicester Square Theatre, Patti LuPone gave an odd combination of concert & talk (with Seth Rudetsky) which covered all areas of her acting career.  It gave her ample opportunity to bury a few axes in appropriate backs but the high points were when she simply sang songs from EVITA, THE BAKER'S WIFE, LES MISERABLES, GYPSY and most surprisingly "With One Look" from SUNSET BOULEVARD, the first time she had performed it since being so ingraciously fired from the London production.  The biggest surprise came when at the climax of her final song - "The Ladies Who Lunch" from COMPANY - she punctuated the final "RISE!" with hurling her drink into the first few rows. Guess who got splooshed?  A dryer but wonderful 45 minutes were spent in the company of Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter as they reminisced about their experiences working at the National Theatre which of course included memories of my beloved 1982 production of GUYS AND DOLLS, which was were they first met.


But the Chrissie for Best Event goes to the similar National Histories talk with actress Julie Walters and director Richard Eyre.  A delightful 45 minutes sped by as these two favourite people showed a delightful chemistry as they reminisced about their NT memories.  Of course I would love it as Richard Eyre talked at length about his 1982 production of GUYS AND DOLLS but it was also an emotional moment too when they both talked about Ian Charleson with Eyre obviously moved when talking about how he came to cast Ian as HAMLET in 1989 when they both knew he was dying. 

The lovely thing is by clicking here you can watch the Walters & Eyre talk and here you will find Carter & Staunton's talk.

As an intermission act I will leave you in the capable hands of Amanda Palmer and her riotous song DEAR DAILY MAIL from the Roundhouse gig.  After the interval?  The Theatre Chrissies...

 

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