Thursday, 28 April 2016


Image result for witches

Everything is hard, harsh, bright and violent here. I don’t understand vengeance. I was torn out of my quiet existence, just getting through the next moment and then the one after that. I was warm, happy and at peace. But now I am in hell.

That incantation is from Buffy, not The Witch; its Buffy’s famous speech after her ‘friends’ resurrect her.

I love a good witch story. One of these days I’ll do a witch blog covering all my favourite witch tales. In fact if I am completely honest, I like witch stories so much that I am prepared to give them a lot more latitude than I might with say a police procedural or a science fiction story. As is the case here. The Witch has pretty good reviews and critics seem to like it, comparing it favourably with The Babadook, for example which I thought was okay. Saved by an incredible lead performance by Essie Davis. The Witch doesn’t have any incredible performances . . . there isn’t the same space really . . . but the production design, showing New England in the mid 17thC is very well done. Flawless in fact and makes the whole film believable, and the tone is right on the money which is essential if you are to invest yourself in its supernatural artifice.

What’s it about? Almost irrelevant I would say in fact I literally read no reviews before I went so I knew nothing about it but for the sake of the blog it is about an isolated pioneer family forced to move on because of their religious beliefs who find that their new farm is cursed. One by one, they meet their doom let us say. It’s a hard watch actually, quite scary in parts and God is it relentless. You have to admire the Director for his application, he never lets up. 

This is a very highly nuanced film which dwells upon the shaky foundations of a childless marriage. I cannot image that it holds much appeal for a young audience. It is acted by Charlotte Rampling, who is aged 68 and Tom Courtney, age eighty. A geriatric.
It is based apparently on a [very short] short story that the writer/director has picked up and enlarged to make something more meaningful for the cinema or in fact for television, because it is produced and financed by Filmfour. Again, I can’t think that he would have got very far without such starry actors. He shows, not tells which is good. He takes his time, which is good. Don’t have a problem with people endlessly walking dogs in long shot, in the spring. They have no kids but they have no friends either. Although the narrative rotates around the big up-coming event of their 45th wedding anniversary at the weekend, with scores of guests in their finery, food, wine, Kate the Charlotte Rampling character seems to spend almost all her time alone. People with friends meet for lunch; make plans; are hardly off their phones; are endlessly shuffling their diaries. Not Kate. Of course it wouldn’t suit the very short story if she was shown to be an attractive woman that people wanted to spend time with so the author tries to distract us from this by throwing a big party. Does it matter? This is the film he wants to make, the story he wants to tell. Okay but surely she would be on her phone, gossiping, getting advice on how to handle things instead of which all we see is an accumulation of resentment and . . . and worry that she has made a bad marriage and wasted her life on the wrong man.

I’ve known a few people in my life who didn’t have children; our next-door neighbours for one. Ursula and John for two. Brian and Susan. Does it turn them into tinder-dry couples filled with regret? Hard to say. It’s like everything else, I suppose, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or adopt, or if that doesn’t work, get divorced like my bookkeeper, Andrea and start again with someone else. 45 is one version of events; one version of how it might go. It’s not an experience I have had or particularly witnessed in others but if you want to see a well-acted, nicely scripted film about real lives in 21stC England today, give it a try. It earns your time if for no other reason than the fact that it is not awash with sex and violence, like everything else being pushed  these days.

What a film. Best thing I have seen in ages; made me realise what a pleasure the darkened cinema can be, better than television, better than theatre, better than the best book when the film is as good as this. It’s a quietly powerful, charming drama about three sisters sharing a house in contemporary Japan who, at a whim take in their half-sister to lodge with them. There is a gentle humour and warm, human performances and it shows, shows, shows their normal, complex lives and how they naturally adjust to this stranger’s arrival. Just draw-dropping stuff. Its two and a half hours long and the time flew.
If you have ever been to Japan and been mesmerised by the contradictions of that society, then it is a must-see. Flawless.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


Image result for tanum

There seems to be a lot of Sweden in our lives these days. Not just Dragon Tattoo people our television is full of Swedish and Scandinavian drama; it’s as though they have found the zeitgeist all of a sudden.

I went to Sweden many years ago, when I was nineteen in fact. My brother and I took my little red corvette there and we tried to drive to Lapland. We made it too; drove through the woods and forests amongst the Sami reindeer herders. Smashed the suspension on the ‘roads’. We were aiming for Tanum to see the incredible rock carvings; even back then I was interested in prehistoric man and his means for leaving his story behind.  I haven’t been back but later in life we imported a lot of stuff from Sweden, well engineered, beautifully designed. Not cheap, but why should it have been.

The population is around ten million and it is the seventh richest country in the world. Moreover, using the geni coefficient the wealth is remarkably evenly distributed among the population. Unlike some places we could mention. Interestingly, there are few public corporations; there are no BP Petroleums or HSBCs. Most businesses are in private hands, like Ikea and Volvo Truck and Bus. They are taking more than their fair share of immigrants and asylum seekers  at the moment although there are fewer than twenty-thousand Jews in Sweden in a population of ten million. So perhaps they are not quite as laissez-fair and welcoming as they would like us to think.

This post was triggered by a dreadful television programme I think it was called Art of Scandinavia which looked at culture and art in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The guy in front of the camera was Andrew Graham Dixon who seems to be the BBC’s go-to guy for anything to do with art these days. I have been to all three countries and honestly, I could have done so much better. It was like he had been sent off to do a programme on a subject he knew nothing whatsoever about and had to rely completely on research. There was no intuitive feel for the place or real empathy for the culture that someone eg a Swede might have had. Beyond awful. Completely misunderstood the place of Strindberg in Scandinavian theatre . . . I mean it’s still coming down to us in these television dramas like Thicker Than Water. Thought Ikea was a major company well it is . . . but Sweden is one of the worlds largest arms exporters. They would all be dependent on food banks if exports of wood products were the basis of the economy. And way too much emphasis upon Skandi crime; I mean, who cares?

Meself, I think it’s the War. Sweden went neutral in the War, Norway and Denmark suffered terribly at the hands of the Germans and if you haven’t come through the fire to the other side then you end up like Sweden. Not complacent exactly in all my dealings with Swedes I have found them very pleasant, more I don’t know . . . self-possessed and not in a good way. Spiritually empty? Definitely distant. And closed-off. What is surprising really is that there is any art at all; they don’t seem to go in for self-expression much.  

Sunday, 24 April 2016


Daedalus was an ancient Greek craftsman in mythology and is celebrated in the person of Stephen Daedalus in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a novel I read a very long time ago. I think it was the first thing I ever read which uses indirect speech and it made a serious impression upon me. As a young man, I had ambitions to be an Artist, although it is hardly a teaching manual.

We went on an all-day City art tour yesterday. I quite like art tours, we have been on a few around the region which is particularly rich in sculpture in the landscape. Not just the Angel but there is a lovely Goldsworthy sculpture hidden away behind overgrown shrubs by the river and of course we have Rolling Moon probably the single best piece of outdoor art anywhere.

So back to the artist as a young man. Yesterday the tour was led by sculptor Joseph Hillier who has a number of installations in buildings and university courtyards. In particular, Faith a metal artwork which hangs on a wall in the new QE Hospital atrium. It is excellent and he spoke about how he wanted to do something uplifting for sick people navigating the impersonal hospital wards. He had begun with a grid of a male body not particularly intending to make a grid-metal sculpture but when he looked at what he had on the screen, he saw straight away that that was the way to go. It works, it really works and you could see he was proud of it. He made it himself. Another sculpture, of a risen Christ [at Soutar Lighthouse] was awfully well executed with resin from again, a computerised image and made a strong impression. Dreadfully displayed by South Tyneside Council in a shipping container; not sure what was going on there, I think Joseph was a little bit ashamed of it.
Then we all trooped off to his beautifully lit studio to see his new commissions, still at sketching stage and he showed us his device for creating gridshell images home-made from an x-Box attached to a camera. Is it cheating? Sculpture from a gridshell screen . . . all the dimensions scaled up: all you have to do is measure up and bingo you have a bronze free-form sculpture. But you still have to be an artist to produce art from that. It’s a tool. Like the laptops, the anvil, the oxy-acetylene gear, the paint booth and 3-D printer.

I was disappointed thinking about it all when I got home with the way the works were displayed. I am forever singing the praises of our local councils, Gateshead and Kielder in particular for championing art in these times of austerity but the University courtyard seemed cluttered with inappropriate street furniture surrounding the sculptures and as I mentioned, the installation at South Shields was dire; as though they found it an embarrassment. Maybe it’s about vandalism; they are scared in case local hooligans damage it or scrawl graffiti on it. I suspect that is why the Goldsworthy is so hard to find.

I don’t have an answer, it completely unreasonable to expect the police to protect outdoor artwork.

Anyway, good day.

Thursday, 21 April 2016


Image result for prince purple rain

I was never a huge fan but I always loved Little Red Corvette in fact that was the song and the video that caught my attention way back when.
We once did a kind of poll in the office and everyone had to list their all-time top ten albums and I was astonished to be honest to find that three people [out of 14] had chosen Purple Rain as their number1.
Sorry he has gone. He ceratainly made an impact.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


Image result for george w bush

Curtis Sittenfeld wrote one of my all-time favourite books, American Wife. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. There is a woman called Hadley Freeman who works on the Guardian who thinks it the best novel of the 21st C. Not sure I would go that far but would be pushed to suggest something better, to be honest.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found time to read any of her subsequent books. Partly due to time but if I am being honest, her themes aren’t greatly interesting to me even if they are brilliantly written. She has a new book out this week called Eligible, an updating of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice to mobile phones. It has good-ish reviews on Amazon but quite a few one-star comments from people who love the original and don’t want it tampered with. It’s a bit of a lose-lose situation for Curtis Sittenfeld, I think. I see she is being roasted alive by Stephanie Merritt in the Observer today. Stephanie Merritt is a lady I have a lot of time for, but her judgement on this seems harsh.

I guess it’s like everything else in life; you are only as good as your last big order, your last hit film, your last stage performance, your last whatevuh.

I’ll buy it, I think. And report back.