Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Are You Looking At? - Will Gompertz

The catch phrase on the book cover promises us it will cover "150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye" which is self-explanatory enough. You might argue that four hundred pages is a bit longer than a blink of an eye, but let's not be fussy.

In a clear-cut, concise and entertaining style, Gompertz does indeed examine a large number of -isms, starting with pre-impressionism and going via cubism, fauvism, futurism, dadaism and so on, all the up to today's young British artists.

Gompertz is a BBC Arts editor and as insightful as straightforward concerning art itself but also frequent reactions aroused ("My six-year-old could do this!") and the world of contemporary art, including the staggering prices and artists often as well-versed in marketing strategy as in art.

Several sound and enlightening ideas are expressed, too. Perhaps what most appealed to me was a quote from Tracey Ermin stating that what people tend to consider too simplistic to be a work of art - Ermin's own installations, Malevich's Black Square or Rothko's monochromes, for instance - is simply a case of having though of the idea first. 
I. e. originality in art is absolutely crucial. Much more so than technical difficulty. 
(I. e. your six-year-old could indeed have done it, only she didn't come up with the idea first, nor presented it as art.)

That said, I personally am having quite a hard time enjoying Hirst's shark, Ermin's bed, or almost any contemporary or conceptual art. Partly, I think, because of the indecent sums of money involved and partly because I feel outsidership, not being part of the establishment or businessworld, is almost as crucial as originality in allowing you the necessary distance to comment on the world through art or otherwise. I much prefer street art. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Zodiac - D. Fincher 2007

Where you might, unsuspecting of Fincher's genius, reasonably have expected a thriller in the vein of 'Seven', you are confronted with something wholly different.
Although 'Zodiac' deals with Hollywood's umpteenth serial killer ("based on a true story" to boot) its focus lies not on any gruesome killings or heroic police detectives, but on the ups and downs of police investigation. 

It has a realistic ring to it, insofar that years pass, people come and go, suspects and theories are considered then discarded, then sometimes reconsidered - and in the end (spoiler alert) the killer goes free, thus embodying the ultimate failure of the legal system.

This ought of course to make for a tedious film, especially for someone like yours truly who has all but given up on detectives and serial killers on screen. 
It is, accordingly, a measure of Fincher's talent (So I may be over-insistent about it. Sue me.) that I not only sat it through to the end, but couldn't even focus on my magazine-browsing which I normally have no trouble carrying out while watching TV.  

So all of the above AND Jake Gyllenhaal, too! How lucky can a girl get?!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

François Ier, Pouvoir et Image, at the BNF, Paris 13ème arrdt

After Henry VIII, voilà his French counterpart and rival in a much more modest exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Clouet's iconic portrait is displayed, as are a volume of others, less famous, likenesses on canvases, in multicolored, ornamented books and on coins. 
Obviously, this was nothing as compelling as the Luxembourg exhibition - partly because the BNF is a library and partly because François Ier lived a life less extravagant than the old Tudor did.

Still, a fair enough experience, especially if you live next door to the BNF..!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dear White People - J. Simian 2015

A militantly black crowd toughing it out on a predominantly white campus, with major identity issues on the director's mind : This film was in great danger of falling into the Spike Lee in the 90s-trap (i.e. the film-maker being a liiiittle too close to his subject, therefore lacking both distance and the distinction that goes with it).

Fortunately, Simian is able to deal with his subject matter in a particularly elegant and insightful manner. Although he doesn't quite manage to eschew the stereotypes, he does add depth and complexity to most of the characters.

Saw an interview with Simian a couple of days ago, which knocked me out and prompted me to go see the film. As it's only his first, I now expect great things in the future. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

La Petite Bijou - Patrick Modiano

Well, yes, I'll own up : The Nobel Prize did get me curious, as I knew virtually nothing of this Modiano gentleman before last October. It took me a while to get around to him, but now I have.

And yes, I'll admit that, too : These Nobel people, they know what they are doing. 
This is Real Literature as Top-Notch Real as it gets. It's a brief little jewel (bijou!) of a book, where every sentence feels polished like a diamond, shaped into perfection.

The plot evolves around a lonely young girl, in 1960s Paris, spotting a person who might be her long-gone mother one night in the métro. At the core of the first-person narrative is solitude, absence and unexplained disappearances.

As is sometimes the case with Real Literature, however, it left me feeling slightly unfulfilled, as if I had grasped only about 60% of the book. I reckon for me to get the missing 40% 
I would need to sit down and do some serious literary research work. I won't, though, as it also left me somewhat cold and unmoved. At a loss to determine exactly why; perhaps it was just too well polished?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Les Tudors, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris 6ème arrdt

Be warned - I may not have been my most objective self when visiting the Tudor exhibition today! 
All these portraits, may of which I have lengthily pored over and examined with or without students, blew my mind when I was confronted with them IRL. They are undeniably as impressive as the Tudor history is fascinating and so that may well have been all it took for me to think the world of the exhibits.

You need to see it, if you can. As a bonus, the museum was inexplicably under-crowded (No waiting in lines! No clustering once inside! We could view all the portraits from any angle we wanted!) so you need to go. Soon.

Me, as Elizabeth in the Ditchley portrait
Merry, isn't it, this modern technology!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Tower of London

This year's school trip I undertook with students two years younger than the ones I usually chaperon (and, for what it's worth, from a lot less quiet surroundings). 
To my delighted surprise, they still drew a lot of pleasure from the Museum of London, poring over the Great Fire, the Plague and Victorian London.

In the Tower, however, I believe they saw mostly a heap of old stones. 
Admittedly, we were a little short of time and the sunshine had a very unfavorable influence on their abilities to focus. The rare things they mustered some interest in - apart from the ravens and the ever-friendly beefeaters - were the Crown Jewels, strangely. (I have always felt so un-concerned with those myself, I didn't even bother to see them until I think my third visit to the Tower.) Can this unexpected attraction be traced back to the financial situations of these students, I wonder?

At any rate, the Tower is still there, FYI. Former royal palace, fortress, prison, zoo, you name it, it is a treat to visit unless you are totally uninterested in history or has the attention span of the fourteen-year-olds I brought yesterday.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Turn, Washington's Spies, season 1

The American war of independence feels like an inexplicably under-exploited setting for American drama, seeing how short US history actually is and how very attached they are to their 'battles for freedom'. Or have I just missed out?

It might of course just be the take on the whole thing that felt new, here. 
The plot revolves around a young farmer - excellent Billy Elliot Jamie Bell - and his boyhood friends, more or less incidentally turning spies for George Washington in the years following the 1776 declaration. It is supposed to be based on true events, although I have not read the book it draws on. 

The amateur historian I share my couch with found no major flaws in the historical facts; the preteen we share the very same couch with appreciated the absence of the embarrassing, show-all sex-scenes that have become conspicuously present in most American quality TV-shows these days (so did I!), and I personally enjoyed the eye-pleasing images as much as I was thankful for the two above-mentioned couch-sharers, since the plot was both arduous and largely based on half-utterances, thereby stimulating couch-communication.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Accursed - Joyce Carol Oates

Not many highbrow writers of Oates's ilk, in my opinion, would put their credibility at stake with a storyline as wildly fanciful and Gothic as this. An evil curse wreaks havoc among early 20th century Princeton's high society - of which two bona fide US presidents and two famous authors - entailing sex, violence, murder and scandals galore.

To put it simply, it's Anne Rice-like events (Remember 'The Vampire Chronicles'? Add sex.) told in a William Faulkner-like voice (seriously, how has she not yet received a Nobel prize?) using Wilkie Collins-like methods (a legion of narrative voices, the main chronicler constantly pointing to his own meta-fictional quality).

It may be a bit convoluted and a bit long, yet it's also 700 pages of sheer genius!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Super-Ex Girlfriend - I. Reitman 2006

Reitman is well-versed in comedy, to say the very least, and so I found his take on superheroes a whole lot more entertaining than the usual men in tights-thing.

Luke Wilson uncovers a few drawbacks of dating a superheroine. 
While sex in the air indeed "gives new meaning to the term 'mile high club'", the break-up then takes on a decidedly terrifying aspect when G-Girl turns out not to possess quite the same mental stability as, say, Superman.

No Oscar-material, but cheerful enough. Masterly Anna Faris is sadly under-used, which is a pity.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chagall - Werner Haftman

The biography of Marc Chagall was interesting enough at least to me who wasn't all that familiar with his criss-crossing across Europe and passionate lovelife. (True, he only ever had two wives, but he was indeed passionate enough about them!)

Then, Haftman moves on to analyzing artworks, which is generally the most interesting part of this type of books, and ought to have been extra fascinating since Chagall's paintings are a myriad of symbols and references to his wives, his Jewish identity, his childhood village Vitebsk and his final hometown Paris. 
Would have been more compelling, I think, if Haftmann had taken on the most famous works instead of these rather obscure canvases, most of which I had never seen before.

This and 'The Violinist' were the only ones I knew beforehand.

Marc Chagall, 'The Promenade' 1918


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Amadeus - M. Forman 1984

I am aware this is breaking in open doors, but there are no two ways around it, really : This IS a masterpiece.

Interestingly, it doesn't look dated at all, contrary to almost any other costume drama, always more or less tinged with contemporary fashion.

The Salieri character owes nothing to Forman's genius, but to Peter Schaeffer's play. It it still deliciously ambiguous.

And mainly : Whatever happened to Milos Forman?? Why do the releases of his recent films go by so shamefully inconspicuously?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Château de Fontainebleau

From the Middle Ages onward, a whole bunch of French monarchs have occupied the Palace in Fontainebleau, around 50 km south of Paris, including Francis I, Henries II and IV, Louises XIII to XVI and, not the least, the first and third Napoleons.

The current decoration goes from flamboyant rococo to the somewhat subtler early 19th century taste, yet it all remains rather too gaudy to my delicate predisposition. 
It's still worthwhile as a historical monument, of course.

These old châteaus are not my favourite type of museum, however. They all seem pretty indistinguishable to me. Plus, I always wonder why no-one ever has the kitchens and servant's quarters set up for visitors? In these Downton Abbey-times we live in, surely, that would attract vacationers?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Le Cyclop - Jean Tinguely

Deep in the backwoods, in the middle of nowhere (or, to be precise, in the forêt de Milly, 50 km south of Paris) Swiss artist Tinguely placed this 22-meter high 'Monster' or 'Head' sculpture. 
It was manufactured in collaboration with a series of lesser known artists (his second wife Niki de St Phalle was, at any rate, the only one I knew of) and takes the form of an out-of-door museum to amble round, each artist having supplied one or several installations of very various kinds. 
Ambling on your own is not allowed; you have to take a guided tour which both impeded on and nourished my assessment of the artworks.

Quirky and out of the ordinary, even the preteens enjoyed it!