Caught up on The Accountant, which I missed at the cinema and found great fun though not quite good. There’s something slightly sordid and underhanded about tying the support of people with autism to wanton destruction. Ben Affleck is very good as the accountant/killer who can’t express any emotion; one only gets to know how he feels about people by seeing whether he helps them pay less tax or shooting them some bullets, usually two, one in the head to make sure they’re properly offed. Jon Berthal is Afflec’s opposite: expressive, graceful in movement, sexy. Just as deadly, a lot more expressive with it. I wonder if his performance here led to The Punisher? Anna Kendrick, J.K Simmons and John Lithgow are also in it, the latter excellent as a vainglorious philanthropist billionaire who gets the finale he deserves.
Lots on Minnelli’s being ‘effeminate’ and on his wearing of eyeshadow in public places but still interestingly inconclusive on his sexual orientation. I find it so interesting how in current discourse anything other than ‘queer’ is kind of looked down upon, and yet there is this desperate insistence on claiming anything slightly effeminate as homosexual, which to me is almost the opposite of the fluidity ‘queer’ is supposed to espouse. I find it intriguing and amusing in equal measure.An enjoyable book that’s illuminating on his life and career; there are better — though not yet enough — books on his films.
Paddington 2 wins us over in the end. We found it accomplished, lovely to look at, and with Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant giving career-best performances. The film sent us home on a high with a final, gloriously campy musical number that has Grant tapping down a staircase à la Stairway to Paradise to delight his captive audience in borstal (think pink!).
The beginning of the filkm irritated both of us: Its cosy, idealised version of England as a large, racially inclusive community of upper middle-class toffs with clipped accents and impeccable manners; its view of London neighbourhoods as small villages where everyone knows each other; the way all of it seems encased in the same cloud of amber-tinted nostalgia so familiar from Ms Marple films — perhaps it’s depicting the way we would all like it to be and perhaps it’s asking us to measure the distance between what we see and what we know. But it veered dangerously close to sap-land and brought out the ornery in me. This feeling disappeared once the film tossed in some acidity to brighten up proceedings.
We discuss the film’s glorious visuals, with various styles of animation seamlessly incorporated into the film’s clear but complex storytelling; the similarity to Wes Anderson; we diss Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent. It’s not as perfect as everyone seems to say — offering us plenty of scope to criticise — but we both left the cinema in admiration and in a cloud of good feeling. A feel-good, Brexit Paddington (and negotiations would be going much better with him at the helm). Mike mentions the word masterpiece.
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project incites ruminations on the representation of underclasses in cinema; the emergence of a new American neorealism; clichés of slice-of-life and childhood films; what audiences owe to films that are truly reaching, even beyond their grasp; and why a man who can cry at Toy Story can’t open himself up to stories of genuine human pain. One of us finds the colour lilac revolting.
Delon, cigarette dangling, stops to play the piano. Deneuve steps out to look. He’s the object of her gaze but it’s her the camera lingers over. She catches his eye. He smiles knowing that she’s been looking. A third person enters and he’s called away. He blows her kisses. She does the same. But she’s already betrayed him. All this smokey perfection wafts through on a gentle jazz piano, sound and image masterfully conceptualised by Melville. It’s hard to think of who and what’s more perfect: he, she or the direction that’s orchestrating all of it.
The costumes are atrocious, the look busy and garish, few of the jokes land, Wonder Woman is reduced to mothering the boys: there’s little to love in Justice League. We, however, have a hoot pointing out its many, many faults. Join in the laughter.
I didn’t know Anthony Rapp had written a memoir until a friend recommended it to me the other day, for which I’m grateful. I was interested in reading it because I wanted to know what kind of man it was that broke the Kevin Spacey story. It turns out he’s the kind of actor for whom it was important to be out quite early on (from when he was a teenager to his mother; and from the early nineties, when he was in his early twenties, to the world at large) and who somewhat made his career out of being so: until, possibly, the new Star Trek: Discovery, Rent remains what he’s best known for.
Much of the book is concerned with family acceptance, with community service in New York, with trying to do the right thing whilst his Mom is dying of cancer and he’s enjoying his biggest triumph on Broadway in Rent. The AIDS crisis which is the subject of Rent is layered onto the cancer his mother is dying from; art illuminating and helping make life and its loss bearable. The bohemians of the musical, and the busy and glamorous life he’s leading in New York always put in tension with what’s happening back home in Illinois. His attempts to find love and not be alone is also played against the very large and relatively oppressive extended family which nonetheless is present to varying degrees in order to help and to ritualise important moments.
Reading the book, one can see why there might be a soupçon of ressentiment from an actor who takes all the risks of being out during the height of the AIDS crisis (Rapp goes right from an AIDS memorial service to his audition for Rent) to one who arguably, by not being so, went on to greater and greater fame. Rapp recounts an anecdote of going out with an actor and breaking up with him because he wouldn’t accompany him on the red carpet thus marking himself as a ‘gay partner’ due to his career.
An interesting and illuminating theatrical memoir from a sincere, sensitive and well-intentioned person that, as is expected of anyone whose star gets a chance to shine in the Great White Way, is somewhat self-absorbed and self-indulgent and relatively unfocussed on any subject that isn’t himself. I’m very glad to have read it.
The ”Slap in the Face’ exhibition at Vivid Projects is excellent. Twiggy is a performance artist who has been making ‘happenings’ for the last 30 years primarily in Birmingham but also in almost every major city in Britain, and quite a few abroad (from Barcelona to Moscow). He’s also a conceptual artist and a designer of costumes and looks ‘none-pareil’, each look different, each one uniquely his. The exhibition shows how the looks change over the years, how they interact, interrogate, critique, and play with the dominant culture of the day.
It’s work that takes place underground, in or in front of gay or alternative clubs, on the margins where the permissible and forbidden are constructed; and its taken place on those margins even as those margins shift from year to year as those boundaries of the acceptable and the shocking and surprising get re-drawn through social change. Here’s an artist steeped in drag but who does something quite different; the looks he conjures are neither male nor female: they’re sometimes ironic, always playful, excessive, immensely expressive and always his.
Gender always gets displayed, performed but always fluidly, no end of the binary is ever arrived at. I’ve been to see so many performance artists in galleries who don’t express anywhere near what Twiggy had done every weekend for thirty years and on his own dime. Moreover, unlike most performance artists, Twiggy knows not only how to question, ironise and play — formally and conceptually–, he also knows how to delight.
He’s a living history of Birmingham gay culture as well. Almost everyone who’s gone out in the gay or alternative clubs of the city for the last thirty year has encountered, bantered, posed with Twiggy. And the exhibit also gives this element of Twiggy’s career its due: there he is with girls on a night out, goths, ageing mothers, young boys newly venturing on the gay scene, old geezers, other drag performers who can’t quite compete because they know only Twiggy rules the roost in Birmingham. There too is the Lord Mayor and every gay parade since there’s been one.
Twiggy has brought joy to thousands, maximum inventiveness and expressiveness within his own art, he’s been part of a community and helped build it and was engaged in changing it even as he embodied and expressed those changes weekly in performance. And until now he’s done this all alone with no institutional help of any kind from anyone in the art world. I’m really grateful that Trevor Pitt had the foresight to curate this great show with Twiggy and Dave Remes and also to Yameen Baig-Clifford for giving it a home at Vivid Projects and to Adam Carver of Shout Festival of Queer Arts and Culture for helping to commission it.
Maybe if he’d been doing this in London, he would be better known, and probably have been given his due as a major interstitial artist long ago with the V&A bidding madly on rights to his costumes and archive. Certainly the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery should. They’re beautiful objects on display even if like most clothing or theatrical costuming it’s not fully alive until it’s inhabited in performance. There are also documents that point to a long, vivid and textured history of an artist intricately engaged with a language and a form constantly expressing and interacting with changing communities for the last thirty years.
The neglect of his work by the art-world to now is evidence of how hermetic it is, how reified its structures and how commodified its product. An oligarchic neoliberal system pulling strings in a transnational context to exclude all but a few and fix their price has no space for someone like Twiggy, who in fact does all that art should do (amongst other things: express, conceptualise, critique, give form to, delight). Here’s is someone local, someone great, committed to plowing his very particular furrow for a long time and constantly creating on his own dime with not formal institutional recognition until now. He’s been doing all things we prize in artists but on the street and in the clubs. I’m glad he’s finally gotten his due in a gallery, though not yet to the extent he deserves. I hope that this great show is only a long overdue beginning of the acknowledgment and appreciation Twiggy’s art deserves in an art-world context.
Mike hadn’t seen Sidney Lumet’s classic version of Murder on the Orient Express so we saw it together and basically compare the two but keep the focus on the original. We discuss which performances we prefer in each version, what we make of the differences in style and tone between the film, which film was better directed and who was the better Poirot? We also ask whether the action sequences in the new film were quite necessary. We don’t agree but Mike mounts a good defence.
Mike and I discuss the form of these Agatha Christie film adaptations, how Agatha Christies’s types in the novels here intersect with star personaes; we disagree about Kenneth Branagh as a film star though agree on him as an actor and director; we praise Michele Pfeiffer above all but also Johnny Depp, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Derek Jacobi). Has Branagh beefed up his part at the expense of the other stars? We disagree. Is the film a successful whodunnit? Are the action scenes necessary? Is the film suspenseful? Is it too CGI? Does the end bring out moral ambiguity? We did not discuss how collective revenge in the absence of justice connects to modern times though we should have. We did agree that it’s a film we’d happily watch again if shown on ITV on a Sunday afternoon.
My favourite of the recent art exhibitions I’ve seen, the one where I feel I learned the most. One forgets that Picasso was already a figure in Belle Epoque Paris. He painted the same people as Lautrec (La Goulou, Jane Avril), was obsessed by the same themes and milieus (Bohemianism, the Underworld, Brothrels, The Circus). Picasso also undertook advertising in this period. Seeing the work side by side on the same themes, with Picasso painting in a style that seems a combination of the recent Post-Impressionism mixed in with the emerging style seen recently in the Portrait in Vienna style at the National Gallery (Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka), was a revelation. Brilliant exhibition, which will surely travel and which I urge you to see if you get the opportunity.