Friday, 27 January 2017

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Although it plays on the tropes of golden age musicals, La La Land isn't really a musical in that sense. The leads are not great dancers - to have been so would simply have been cheesy. Their modest hoofing is approachable, which seems right for what is, in effect, a two hander. It is a very clever thing to have made so intimate and ordinary a story on such a cinescopic scale. The hilltop dance scene (six minutes - one shot - the one in the posters) was done on location. The artifice is the artifice of reality (that sounds a bit pseudy, I am aware, but it rather sums up the movie's appeal). The story itself is rigorously anti-sentimental, which plays brilliantly against all the expectations we bring to the genre. No, it isn't Singin' in the Rain, nor meant to be (and anyway, Singin' in the Rain is more or less the greatest of all movies in the history of the universe, including all parallel universes). As for the performances - dancing aside - Ryan Gosling's is wonderfully generous and understated, while Emma Stone's first audition is alone worth studying - for once a movie audition that isn't played cod - her character can really act. We are transfixed by Stone's brilliant acting until we become aware that behind her, blurred, a minion is knocking at the glass office door with a sandwich for the casting director, and we are ourselves torn, distracted. The film's cameras linger; there are shots that last minutes on end, so that all the action is in the performance It seems like a film put imagined beforehand and not put together in the cutting room. It also continues a theme that impels 'Whiplash' - that to be your best self, sacrifice must be made. La La Land is not simply a floaty floaty pastiche; it is a proper tale beautifully told.

Friday, 6 January 2017

St David's Day Pageant, 1953

HPW and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas broadcasting from the Royal Albert Hall,
St David's Day Pageant, March 1953
© National Library of Wales

Monday, 2 January 2017


John Berger, I understand, has died, at 90. He was one of the larger characters of my childhood, with that wonderful voice, and serious motorbike. He made several films for my father, and had a deep friendship and intense correspondence with my mother. John asked her to write the original blurb for his Booker prize-winning novel, 'G', and she did so. I reproduce it here, because I think it does the novel justice and might bring it new readers.

"G. is pre-eminently, monumentally, the sexual man: an embodiment, perhaps, of the life-force itself. In him, the claims of sexuality are total, leaving no part of his life and fate untouched. They push their unimpeded way through riot, sudden death, the onset of world war, the fabric of social forms and sexual conventions, until that last moment when under the weight of the world 'desire is indistinguishable from despair'.
G.'s ineluctable preoccupation with women and the life of sex gives unexpected foundation for an astonishing new vision of the physical world and its inner life. Although set at the turn of the century, the action of the novel is not 'condemned to living the present in the past', which in G. himself signifies the beginning of his death. From G.'s birth to the Anglo-American mistress of a wealthy Livornese merchant, every described moment is made a present one with hallucinating precision. Many of these moments relate to the affairs of the world - Garibaldi entering Naples, the first flight over the Alps, riots in Milan, the outbreak of the 1914 war; others to the timeless being of the countryside and its fruits, houses, the play of light and shade; yet others to acts of personal human kindness, rage, desire - the most central of all to the acts of sex. Those moments are so originally and truly observed that they have a rare, persistent, mind-moving effect on the reader.
The book is impressive throughout: in its slow, mesmerising rhythms and frequent startling poetic leaps of thought; in its perceptions at once precisely and sensuously physical and speaking always to the mind's eye; in the strong appearance of the author as storyteller and essayist and philosopher - the only reasonable comparison here would be with Musil; above all perhaps in the head-on collision between a modern writer and the intractable stuff of reality. 'Whatever I perceive or imagine amazes me with its particularity'.
At this collision, John Berger shows us how reality, upon the utterance of a word, disappears: to reassemble, both time and silence are necessary to it. As a result of the author's dedication, patience and highest art both these elusive elements are present in this very remarkable work. Fore this reason alone, G. cannot but help raise critical questions of the utmost importance."

Jacqueline Wheldon, September 1971


 Last day. Preposterous crowds. The trick is to skip around until you spot a picture not being looked at. The problem with this approach is that although it is a big show there aren't that many paintings, on account of their being so damn large. However, you'd have to be deeply misanthropic not to enjoy being surrounded by this stuff, even in the press of head-phoned humanity. So - a few notes: Willem de Kooning was a bit of a turn up. Although I don't much like his pastellly palate, I do like the kind of tease in his pictures: what precisely am I looking at? (There is that odd moment in art history - brought home in the recent Nash exhibition - when Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism shared a similar space; there's a Rothko gouache and w/c here from 1944 that occupies the same place). I enjoyed a Motherwell or two, especially the big 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic' (unspoiled by a son's insistence that it was an illustration of Imperial fighters from Star Wars). The Rothko room is too full of people - It is hard to get that weird otherworldly hum that Rothko's paintings give off in a room of his paintings, as though speaking to one another. He and Pollock - yin and yan, energy and meditation - so perfectly complement one another, and they are head and shoulders, in my opinion, above the rest. I think 'Blue Poles' alone was worth the price of entry. An absolutely fabulous thing. In reproduction it is almost impossible to understand the sheer scale, and the work, the ferocity of it; it has depth but it also sits on the surface. It can be looked at in so many ways. Might be worth a trip to Australia to see it again. A real privilege. Finally, a word about David Smith, whose sculptures make you smile, seasoning the austere seriousness of the painters' ambitions. I saw a show of his at the Tate Modern a few years ago, and because he is not a galactico, it was possible to actually see each piece in relative peace and quiet. They are invariably engaging - again on that nexus which includes surreal and abstract - and often beautiful. Fab show. Catalogue sold out. Here are a couple of badly photographed de Koonings and a David Smith.

Sunday, 1 January 2017


ADVENTURES IN MODERN MARRIAGE by William Nicholson (review here)
MOONGLOW by Michael Chabon (review here)
GOLDEN HILL by Francis Spufford
SWING TIME by Zadie Smith (review here)
THE DIG by John Preston
PARTY ANIMALS by David Aaornovitch
A HORSE WALKS INTO A BAR by David Grossman
A DRAMA IN MUSLIN by George Moore
THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins
THE GREAT DOG AND CAT MASSACRE by Hilda Kean (review here)
THE INNOCENTS by Francesca Segal
LOOK AT ME by Jennifer Egan
THE KEEP by Jennifer Egan
THE PROMISE by Robert Crais
SLOW HORSES by Mick Herron
A HISTORY OF SICILIY by John Julius Norwich
EMERALD CITY by Jennifer Egan
VENUS AND ADONIS by William Shakespeare
MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan
HEADLONG HALL by Thomas Love Peacock
THE AWKWARD AGE by Francesca Segal
EAST WEST STREET by Philippe Sands