Stuart George

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

“The doubtful comforts of human love”: The Red Shoes

In Cinema on December 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

Last week I watched the restored version of Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes at BFI Southbank.

As I have written elsewhere on this blog, I am a huge fan of The Archers’ films. I first saw The Red Shoes about 15 years ago and I must have watched it dozens of times since then but never on a cinema screen, though I have seen Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp as they were meant to be seen.

The new print is dazzling for its lush Technicolor photography, as bright as a Matisse painting. Indeed, so sharp is the image that the actors’ makeup is all too apparent sometimes. Anton Walbrook’s magnificent performance as Boris Lermontov is reinforced by the close-up shots of his face as his obsession with Vicky turns to paranoia.

The famed 17-minute ballet sequence is an extraordinary achievement and is surely the apotheosis of Powell’s ambition of “total cinema”, merging film, music, art and dance into one medium. It is an ecstatic piece of film and dance, one of the outstanding achievements in British, indeed world, cinema.

The film looks wonderful but the soundtrack is still rather mucky, with a lot of hiss undermining the marvellous score by Brian Easdale. I have a bootleg CD from Spain of the soundtrack and that is no better. But Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes album, inspired by the film of course, is rather better produced!

Dr Herbert Kalmus, who invented Technicolor, and his wife Natalie did not agree on much but they always maintained that The Red Shoes was the finest of all Technicolor films. I agree.

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Is it art? Anish Kapoor at The Royal Academy of Arts

In Art and artists on December 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

On Sunday evening (6 December), I visited the Anish Kapoor exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly.

As I wandered round the vaguely phallic or yonic big “works” by Kapoor, which often impress for their size alone, I kept thinking to myself “Is it art?”

The Non-Objects series of meticulously polished stainless steel, for example, were treated by most people as a chance to look at their distorted reflection, the Royal Academy’s gallery turned into a hall of mirrors.

Shooting into the Corner has a cannon firing shells of red wax every twenty minutes, the operation performed by a young RA (Royal Academy not Royal Artillery!) intern or volunteer (as I suppose he was). The result is a great big mess of red wax splattered over the usually immaculate walls and ceilings of the RA. The sheer bloody mess he has made in the building is rather amusing and daring. It is the finest use of cannons since the 1812 Overture!

Svayambh fills five galleries. A huge block of red wax (again) moves very slowly along a track through the five rooms, gradually leaving behind a great big mess of red wax (again).

Of course, the wax pieces can never be reproduced identically when exhibited in different places. It would not be entirely disingenuous of Kapoor to give each one a new name – they are all “unique” pieces.

Kapoor’s work is not “art” (or at least “fine art”) in the conventional sense of the word. It is not – to me anyway – “beautiful.” His work is more often representative of engineering rather than draughtsmanship. But it does stimulate the senses: The cannon of Shooting into the Corner made everybody jump and the ubiquitous red wax looks like blood and guts. It stimulates something primal within us and provokes strong responses – like this blog post! That surely is a defining characteristic of great art.

Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Anthology

In Tastings on December 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm

The Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm has just published an anthology of his quirky writing.

Please have a look here for a full review.