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Delon+Deneuve=Perfection

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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.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies 20 – Justice League

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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.

 

José Arroyo and  Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Anthony Rapp’s Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Musical Rent

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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. 

 

José Arroyo

On the great ‘Slap in the Face’ exhibition, or ‘A Reproach to the Art World’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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José Arroyo

 

 

EAVESDROPPING AT THE MOVIES – MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

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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.

 

José Arroyo and  Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Murder on the Orient Express – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 18 – 14th November 2017

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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.

Jose Arroyo and José Arroyo and  Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Picasso/Lautrec at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid

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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.

José Arroyo

 

‘Slap in the Face’: An Interview with Twiggy

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A delight to sit down and talk to Christopher Twig (aka Twiggy) on the occasion of the forthcoming retrospective of his work — Twiggy Birmingham: Slap in the Face — curated by Trevor Pitt as part of the forthcoming ‘Shout’ Festival from the 9th-19th of November. To the LGBT community, Twiggy is as much of an icon of Birmingham as Selfridges or the Library: everyone who’s been to an LGBT club or to a gay pride parade in the city will have at least walked past and usually had their photo taken with him. His evolution as an artist is also the city’s evolution in respect to LGBT cultures. A maker of ‘Happenings,’ a performance artist non-pareil, a constant designer of unique and iconic looks, he’s conjured up a space for himself and his art where one didn’t exist before. The ‘Twiggy Birmingham: Slap in the Face’ exhibit on his work, curated by Trevor Pitt, is long overdue recognition of his achievements as an artist. As Pitt describes it, ‘Twiggy Birmingham is an ongoing creative project spanning over three decades that takes the body, costume, adornment and performance to the level of an art form. From androgynous punky Goth, to energy fuelled Club Kid to flamboyant event host and walkabout artist, to outrageous stage performer, Twiggy Birmingham has documented their experiences through photographs, video, costume and memorabilia. An unmissable figure in pop, club and drag culture of Birmingham and beyond’. The experience will be open to the public from 10-18th November at Vivid Projects, 16 Minerva Works, 158 Fazeley Street Birmingham.

 

José Arroyo

Jigsaw – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 16 – 31st October 2017

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Jigsaw’s back after a seven year absence, with new traps and twists and torture. One of us is very excited about this. The other has never seen a Saw film. Guess which one felt sadistically bludgeoned? What are the pleasures on offer? How do the films in the series connect? What is the basic structure. How good a Saw film is Jigsaw? A Trumpist film or merely Old Testament Religiosity?

Recorded on 30th October 2017.

 

José Arroyo and  Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela/ Hugh Welchman, 2017)

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Don’t stone me but I walked out of Loving Vincent. It is indeed gorgeous to look at. But I found the story-telling stilted, mannered, unengaging. Ultimately, I didn’t care enough to stay.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies Thor: Ragnarok – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 15 – 26th October 2017

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Will Cineworld will ever get film screenings right? This time they started off showing Geostorm instead of Thor: SINeworld is what we should call, says Mike. I’m never seeing a film in 4X-3D again, says I. We discuss Marvel’s practice of cameos, the limits of what a director like Taika Waititi can bring to a Marvel film, whether action needs to be conceptualised differently in CGI films, the developments in 3-D, and the performances of Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum. We also linger on the very particular type of humour Waititi brings to this project.

With Michael Glass of Writing About Film

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies The Party – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 14 – 25th October 2017

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Mike describes it best:

Sally Potter’s all-too-brief comedy drama polarises us, which makes a nice change to the agreements we’ve been having recently. Is it smug or knowing? Is its range of incongruous acting styles engaging or distancing? Who knows. But Sally Potter is very very very important in British cinema and feminism and queer representation, says Jose, who then has the nerve to criticise The Party for having its right-on cake and eating it.

Includes a reminiscence of seeing a man stand up in a screening of I, Daniel Blake and a magic trick where Mike convinces Jose he has an extraordinary memory.

Recorded on 22nd October 2017.

 

 

With Michael Glass of Writing About Film

The Death of Stalin – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 13 – 24th October 2017

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The one where Cineworld cares so little about the films it shows and for its customers that it doesn’t notice the film is out of focus, leaves it so for 15 minutes, and doesn’t bother to restart it. I was enraged. Even so this witty, daring political satire so relevant to our times and beautifully played by an ensemble of great comedy actors won me over. It’s brilliant.

The podcast can be downloaded here

With Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Franklin Pangborn in A Star is Born (William Wellman, 1937)

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Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 15.58.38.pngFranklin Pangborn’s been called an aesthete, prissy, flighty, a nance, a pansy, an effeminate fussbudget. Along with Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, and other beloved character actors of the classic era, he made queerness affectionately visible at a time when it couldn’t even be mentioned. This bit part in A Star is Born illustrates why: listen to the intonation on the first line ‘Flash!’, the stress he puts on the word ‘peak’, the phrasing  – does he change divine to devone? — the way he holds his hands, the passion for the inconsequential, the evocation of a slight superiority to what he’s doing, the uppity accent and the careful phrasing; the kind of guy who’d visit your home only to offer proof that your antiques are really repros: watching him speak, a whole other way of being, one then unmentionable, materialises and edges its way into representation.

 

José Arroyo

A moment of lesbian visibility in What Price Hollywood?

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A rare moment of lesbian visibility in 1930s Hollywood cinema, perhaps made possible by director George Cukor’s own sexual orientation, nonetheless shrouded in homophobia and made the butt of a joke, but worth registering here for its rarity and for the potential it offers to think that it might nonetheless have brightened a lesbian viewer’s day when it first came out in 1932. We once thanked heaven for small and not always benevolent mercies.

 

José Arroyo

The Snowman – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 12 – 19th October 2017

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Mike and I discuss scandinoir, why Tomas Alfredson — who is not Thomas Anderson — is such a great director, how some shots in this film made me swoon, why Chloë Sevigny’s performance is so great and Michael Fassbender’s, gloriously handsome as he is in this movie, is not. Was Val Kilmer dubbed? Why does a film that has so many extraordinary elements not quite add up to the sum of its parts? Is Snowman a Europudding? Spoilers abound

 

With Michael Glass of Writing About Film

José Arroyo interviews Lawrence Napper on ‘Silent Cinema: Before the Pictures Got Small’

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The first of a series of interviews of books on cinema. The intention is to expand and disseminate our understanding of cinema and its diverse histories and various cultures by bringing attention to recently published books in the field in order to enhance understanding of and access to the knowledge the books provide. This first one is an interview with Lawrence Napper — author of ‘British Cinema and Middlebrow Culture in the Interwar Years’ (2009) and ‘The Great War in British PopularCinema of the 1920s: Before Journey’s End’ (2015) — on his contribution to Wallflower Press’ Short Cut series, an excellent introduction to silent cinema, ‘Silent Cinema: Before The Pictures Got Small,’ (2017).

You can listen to it here:

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José Arroyo

Lou Reed: The Last Interview (and Other Conversations)

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DSC04056 2.jpgThe latest instalment in one of my very favourite series of books. The title partly indicates what’s offered, the last formal interview granted by its subject. But the sub-heading indicates other conversations: the promise of more. The books are published posthumously about the recently deceased. And until now, they’ve all be writers: David Foster Wallace, Jacques Derrida, Kurt Vonnegut, Roberto Bolaño. As the series has expanded it has grown to include the not-so-recently deceased (Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin) and grown to be more inclusive in its definition of writing (not only novels and short stories but also philosophy and now music). I was as surprised to see Lour Reed in this series as I was to see Bob Dylan win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But both grew to make sense to me. And certainly here Lour Reed refers to what he does mainly as writing, the only exception being  to when he’s performing. Also, his influences and his aspirations all reference writing, the novels of Dostoyevsky, the work of Hubert Selby, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Delmore Schwartz and other American post-war writers and poets of subcultural urban alienation.

I’ve loved all the books in the series because they seem to offer a distillation if not a summation of their subjects’ concerns at or near the end of their lives, like they’re passing on to us that little bit of knowledge they’ve acquired after a life-time of experience. ‘Learning to live should bean learning to die’ says Jacques Derrida in his last interview book, ‘learning to take into account, so as to accept, absolute morality (that is, without salvation, resurrection, or redemption — neither for oneself nor for the others)’. For Kurt Vonnegut life was about helping each other get through this thing, this life, whatever that is: ‘There are all kinds of ways we can help each other get through today. There are some things that help. Musicians Really do it for me.’

Lou Reed’s music has certainly been important to generations of people. But his last interview doesn’t offer the kind of neat summation that is found in other books in the series. Part of the pleasure of the book is in seeing celebrated writers trying to convey why he meant so much to them, whilst also trying to take some lesson in life or even merely an insight into the music that they can take away, and ending up leaving with nothing. Here’s the legendary Lester Bangs, florid and self-aggrandising, telling us much more about himself than about Reed. Here’s Neil Gaiman, fan-boy purity in adulthood, chasing Reed around to express appreciation and to gain insight and getting so little from Reed he’s reduced to conveying his own journey. Here’s Paul Auster much more interested in himself than in Reed. It’s amazing how Reed skirts, dodges, bypasses and then accuses and  demands; all whilst giving his interviewers so little. ‘If you want to ask a question, you should know what you’re asking about, don’t you think?’ he challenges Farida Khelfa from Rolling Stone ,…’Someone will say, ‘Have you head that so-and-so sounds like you?’ Why? Because they sing out of key?’ For him it’s all in the music. For some of us, the music is why we especially love reading interviews like these. His ornery modes of evasion tell their own story.

 

José Arroyo