Follow by e-mail

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Signs – any better than symbols ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

31 July

The sign No unauthorized parking (plus threats sometimes) is familiar enough, but is it so common that the weirdness has rubbed off ?

Those who commission the sign seem to have turned their back on the more simple assertion No parking - is this because some bright spark is aware that the land in question will have cars parked on it, and wishes to disabuse those who might otherwise follow suit that they may not park, although others clearly can, because they are not authorized to do so ?

All well and good, but, if considered, the statement is dangerously close to circular : no one may park here except the people who may ? I recall blogging a while back about the no-smoking ban that applies everywhere, but not where it does not apply, at airports…

No unauthorized parking is terseness embodied, if that is good in a sign, but would this be better ? :

Parking for permit-holders only

To be continued (if I remember…)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A good long look at Woody ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

30 July

A documentary doesn’t that takes as its subject a person’s career does not have to mention every date, every detail. However, if he or she has been pictured with the first person whom he or she married, there might be merit in mentioning, by way of commentary, the fact of being divorced at the time of talking about the next marriage / relationship, e.g. X had divorced his / her first wife / husband m years earlier. (Or it could be mentioned at the time of introducing the failed marriage, e.g. This youthful marriage only lasted m years before ending in divorce.)

Whereas a feature film might give us information and expect us to hold it, or to be provisional about whether it is true, so, of course, can a documentary, if it wants to include some references to a person (or thing) for us to ponder before it is explained who (or what) it is. Otherwise, it is just clumsiness and /or bad editing if we have not been disabused that the marriage last mentioned is no longer continuing.

In this film, the longer version of the documentary about Woody Allen that was released at the cinema last year, it does not matter that we see Louise Lasser, in clips from Bananas (1971), before knowing that Allen had been married to her, too, and that they had made the film after their divorce, but no one had bothered to tell us, in the way suggested, that Allen's first marriage had ended. (On a similar theme, Part 2 touches upon the fact that Allen and Mia Farrow had adopted children, but lived separately, although so close that they could virtually wave to each other from their homes, but without specifying that they were not, and had not been, married.)

Anyway, Part 1 of does not cover a whole lot of new ground, but has more facts about Allen's family, dwells for somewhat longer on how Rollins and Joffe made Allen a household name and on his t.v. performances, and, after telling the story of What's New, Pussycat ?, has comments from Allen, but often enough others (such as Mariel Hemingway, Tracy in Manhattan (1979)), on the films up to and including Stardust Memories (1980).

In reviewing the single-film cinema version, I pointed out that what Father Robert Lauder observed, with reference to clips (all of which therefore took up some time), as an insight had actually been stated by Allen himself about his work in the useful volume Woody Allen on Woody Allen : Fr Robert is still here (for some reason*), but not that sequence. Part 1 had taken us to 1980 in some 116 minutes (looking at more or less every film), so by no means halfway through Allen’s film career, but Part 2 did not proceed in the same way, which, when it had done so in the cinema, seemed like a desperate and doomed attempt to continue a film-by-film survey.

Instead, it made much of the peculiarities of Allen’s way of casting, and of scripts being supplied to actors by courier for them to read whilst the courier waited to take them back. Tantalizing quotations from Allen’s personal notes to a number of actors were made, with the text (whether or not typed) whisked across the screen (unless, one imagines, one paused them), and letters or notes laid over each other. Whether Allen minded this, one did not know, but doubted, as he took the view that auditions were awful and awkward, and assumed that everyone else would feel the same.

I cannot say for sure whether much more was said by Allen about the Mia Farrow separation and court-case, but he was no longer heard to say (unless I am thinking of the mention in Allen on Allen in the chapter on Bullets over Broadway (1994)) that he would have been happy for Farrow to play the part with which, instead, Dianne Wiest initially struggled (though she was to win an Oscar), and that everyone else thought him crazy to consider casting Farrow, when he says that he just saw it as a role that she could play.

Josh Brolin was allowed to stand as a dissenting voice about Allen’s direction being good, but even offset by Brolin’s co-star in You will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), Naomi Watts, saying that she had decided that Allen was the best director with whom she had worked. As to the question of coming to film in London and elsewhere in Europe, that was partly glossed over, except to say how difficult it is to film in New York and that Allen had nowhere left that he had not shot, and we were told that the appeal of Midnight in Paris (2011) was the life of the city at night, and (by Owen Wilson) that the title (which he said had been hit upon before the film was written) was the root of the film’s success.

From what I have heard and read, it had become less easy for Allen to film (or film as he wanted), but that was not the whole of it – also, as clips showed, Allen had filmed in places such as Paris and Venice in Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and, I believe, in Italy in Another Woman (1988). Culturally, his range of reference has always been very wide, and, as the film reminded us, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini were favourite directors, and that was surely no coincidence.

A surprising omission from talking about thirty-years of film-making in around 86 minutes (Part 2) was not to comment, in talking about Interiors (1978), how it marked the first film that Allen wrote and directed without appearing in it. In Allen on Allen, he said that he had never thought of casting himself in that film, but it appeared not to have occurred to director Bob Weide that, just as Allen did not fulfill his critics’ expectations with the type of film, they could not have failed to notice that he was not in it. No mention was also made of Allen’s appearances as an actor in others’ films, such as with Bette Midler in Scenes from a Mall (1991), which he had started doing in 1967 with the David Niven version of Casino Royale.

When Allen showed his lifelong typewriter and how he produces material, one could easily have missed his reference to having written all his articles in The New Yorker on it, not least if the viewer does not know the publication. In fact, Allen has published four collections of pieces, and also seven or eight of his screenplays have appeared (from Manhattan (1979) to Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and Interiors). Early plays were talked about, but really as a way of introducing Diane Keaton, when it should have been possible, in a few sentences near the end, to mention books like Without Feathers**, the number of plays and film appearances, and, indeed, how many films Allen had made (and acted in).

Attention was given to the box-office successes of Match Point (2005) and Midnight in Paris, but the film lacked an overview and a structure in Part 2. So we were shown clips from Shadows and Fog (1991), but not in the context of saying anything about the film, almost just to illustrate a character’s way of being by not being able to relate to a God. Likewise, the account (again with clips) of Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) did not even make clear that chance conversation between Allen (as Cliff Stern) and Martin Landau (playing Judah Rosenthal) was at the heart of the film. Space was given to Allen saying that he found the darker story more interesting, and wished that he had made it without the character of Stern, but the crux of their interaction in the film was omitted from comment.

That said, although everyone (Allen included) was shown saying the word ‘compartmentalize[d]’ about Allen and how he worked throughout the Farrow break-up, and the film had the merit of people such as Letty Aronson (or even, in footage that Allen made, his mother) telling the story without any real narration, it needed it sparingly instead of just using quotation by clip. As it was, what got told about Allen, and what did not, in a two-parter that ran to some ninety minutes longer relied on what Diane Keaton, as a key figure, maybe said, or was asked, or was prompted to say, whereas my feeling is that Weide did not always show his own mastery of the material or the subject in what we saw, and I am not sure that that failure can be accounted for merely by the difficulty of turning, no doubt, hours of footage into a documentary of manageable length.

However, some clips, particularly towards the end, were very telling, and one had a lump in one’s throat in admiring all that Allen had done and excelled at. My wish is that, for those who knew his career and work less well, they could have known about the books, the other plays, the other films : as it was, fascinating though it was to be told that Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem had originated the dialogue in Spanish, translated it into English for the subtitles, and that Allen had had no idea at the time of shooting what they were talking about, giving a bit of time to the sheer body of Allen’s achievement would have said much more than showing that he trusted his actors.


* I, for one, am far more interested in what Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe (his producers), Eric Lax (an Allen biographer), Richard Schickel (a film critic), Letty Aronson (Allen’s sister), and Dick Cavett (the well-known chat-show host and broadcaster) had to say, though I suspect that Cavett was given more opportunity in the cinema release.

** The omnibus The Complete Prose of Woody Allen, whose title was falsified by the appearance of Mere Anarchy, would scarcely have appeared without that being a significant part of what the public knows of his work.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Gabby does it Bristol fashion !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 July

From where I'd been dropped, I hurried down the stairs past the Cathedral School, across that strange bridge, and was soon in Queen Square, which I must have walked in before years ago, but never as a venue.

Gabby and Other Animals were already on stage for the Harbour Festival. Without too much trouble, as someone used at Cambridge Folk Festival in previous years to walking between even seated people without standing on them, I got myself to the mud just by the front railings, and then, when some people left, right there. You only had to look at people clapping time, tapping their feet, swaying with their bodies to realize that they were having a great time - and why not, with this exciting, energy-filled band on stage ?

Gabby always wows, and was wearing a pink halter-neck dress with large white polka dots over her usual colourful tresses, and a yellow flower off centre on her head. But this was just a visual expression of the colour and expressiveness in her voice, part of putting on a show for her audience - and this, as could well be perceived, was a fine one.

When I had previously seen the group, it had been a good but distant view, in The Big Top at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, so it was nice to be right up close, and not limited by the seating - that lack of limitation, I am sure, meant that the audience could throw itself into participation more easily, even having a go at some antiphonal singing (dividing the square in half), with which Gabby and her partner in crime Stephen Ellis seemed genuinely pleased, saying things such as Awesome !, and You're amazing, Bristol !. (Stephen, a bit of a style man, too, was wearing a black waistcoat and an old-fashioned shirt with his black trousers.)

Some numbers were familiar to me from the earlier gig ('Horatio', 'In Your Head', 'Lipsink' (spelt according to Wikipedia ?), and the closer, 'Whose House'), but that in no way mattered. For this was a compelling one-hour set, and Queen Square was lapping it up - and that, and the sheer vivacity and versatility of Gabby and her band, fed into the enjoyment, the enthusiasm, and the gig that was being put on : performers can feel that.

Add to all this the quality of the musicianship, from one-piece-suited Milly on violin to the wonderful, sonorous, jazzy trio of trumpet, trombone and tuba (sadly, I seem unable to find the name of the respective personnel), and a solid drummer, plus Gabby's marvellously swinging lead vocals, Stephen's sometimes frenetic guitar-playing, and a good, deep double-bass twang, and there is a force to be reckoned with.

They are just about (in the morning) to record their third album - as I urged Gabby and Stephen afterwards, when I made my agenthood known to them, what people want is to be able to soak up that live festival, carnival atmosphere in a DVD. And I think that there may be something of that, more and better than YouTube videos, on the way...

NB Lovely photograph of Ms Young courtesy of @brizzelness (via Twitter)

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Fuckin' Bruges further

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 July

Having now watched the extras from the In Bruges (2008) DVD, including the one that almost makes a sort of rap by stringing together every shit-hole, fuck, fucking and cunt, I add a few further comments to my review :

* We learn that Martin McDonagh has parcelled out the two sides of his reaction to Bruges when he spent a weekend there - Ken is the part impressed by the sights and sounds, Ray the one that just wants to get away from it all and have a beer*

* McDonagh had also been quite careful that Bruges, as I found, should be another character, and, with the city's co-operation after he had selected all the views that he wanted to include, had access to all but one

* The scene atop the belfry was shot in a mock-up, reimagining how it would have been before safety-mesh and the like had been installed

* There is confirmation for the idea that the city may be a sort of Purgatory for Ray, or, at any rate, that his negative feelings about himself and what he has done mean that he cannot enter into its and Ken's desire for him to appreciate it

* In one of the extended scenes, Ray likens the balance that Ken talks of between culture and fun to a retarded black girl (culture) outbalancing a dwarf (fun) on a seesaw, and then goes on to say how he was beaten up by a black girl as a child

* The deleted scenes show that there was scope for far more references to boys and toys that did not make the cut, and justly so (although I am not sure how good it is to have these materials presented to us with the finished film)

* Other scenes suggested Ray's emotional vulnerability more strongly : he also supposes that the priest must have had it coming as a paedophile, but it is disabused that he was supporting a campaign against a housing development in which Harry has an interest

* An extended sequence with Chloe, when she jumps up, wraps her legs around Ray, and, when he says that he wants a drink, says that they should have a fuck, shows tenderness (although the scene in bed is clearly interrupted by memory affecting performance)

* It is unclear where these scenes, relating to Harry's personnel (or their foe), fit in, but we are graphically presented with a police detective being decapitated


* Bill Bryson reports that reaction to Brussels in his travel book Neither Here, Nor There, and he is not far wrong.

You have connectivity issues

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

27 July

I hypothesize this chronological progression :

* Connection

* To connect

* Connected used as an adjective

* Connective applied to something that connects

* This unnecessary 'word' connectivity, meaning no more than being connected or the ability to be so

Having said that, I can quite easily believe that, if connection comes from French / Italian, there might have been an earlier form such as connective

Friday, 26 July 2013

No scope for error

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

27 July

* Contains spoilers *

Which film combines elements of all these others ? :

* Love and Death (1975)

* Match Point (2005)

* Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

* Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Films from four decades that have influenced Scoop (2006), from the ending of the first to the patter and character of Danny Rose in the last. It’s a conceit that could easily have come from Woody Allen’s short prose (or the works of Henry James ?) that a respected journalist, hearing of a juicy story when he has died, fights his way back from death to make sure that it is followed up and told : equally, though Hamlet senior has more of an interest in what he tells to Hamlet junior than Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) does in what he says to Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), there is obviously a long history of crimes being told of from beyond the grave.

Combining that impulse with Allen’s boyhood interest in magic – as portrayed in films such as Radio Days (1987) and Stardust Memories (1980) – through a meeting in a magic cabinet, and one is close to the world of Alice (1990). The intrigue, the tension, come from the middle two films, though, and this almost seems like a re-make of Match Point, with more aristocratic families, plotted killing, and a woman who has become a nuisance with her demands set against a pattern of murder.

Not such a great pair as Allen and Diane Keaton (some of those scenes from Sleeper and Manhattan Murder have me smiling as I think of them and the pair’s bunglingly lucky work), Johansson and he do well enough as sleuths, with Allen not trying very hard to keep himself out of it. He has written himself into the film as Splendini (alias Sidney Waterman), an illusionist, washing his clothes in a launderette whilst he stays who knows where to be in London to do his show – a hilarious come-down for a man passed off, for investigative purposes, at swanky parties as a successful businessman in property or oil.

The bamboozling that we know from Danny and Larry Lipton (or, for that matter, C. W. Briggs in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)) is to the fore, and, just as Midnight in Paris (2011) has us take as read that Gil somehow goes back in the past, so Allen casually has us entertain the possibility that Death, with his scythe, may not give all due attention to his charges and that Strombel gets away from him. (The set-up also provides us with a neat closing joke.)

Looked at in Allen's career, from a man with an obviously fake ginger beard taking over a Latin American country to Leonard Zelig, The Human Chameleon, to an actor descending from the silver screen, an element of the fantastical has long been part of his film-making. Here, it adds a jaunty edge of Death being cheated that lightens a story-line that could be that of Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant with the secret in the basement in Notorious - even if that was not a deliberate outright steal, the sense of homage is there, the eternal feel of a woman snooping whilst she hopes that a man sleeps, but what if he catches her, what of the danger that she is in ?

Here, that sense of danger passes itself to Sid when Sondra has been persuaded all too easily of Peter Lyman's (Hugh Jackman's)innocence (not how I imagined it spelt (Leimann), but what's in a name ?) - echoes of Manhattan Murder, where Diane Keaton (as Carol Lipton) will not let go of teasing away at the contradictions in Paul House (Jerry Adler) and frustrating her husband's (Allen's) desire to let things lie.

And all of this pulls pretty much in the right direction, with romance, intrigue, a murderer on the loose, and Johannson at risk. We even have a slight echo, right at the end, of the indestructible Alex Forrest, dripping water as she proves her continued existence. Waterman gives us a light ending, just as with Love and Death, and there are just a few niggles. One, choosing to drive to where Johannson is with Jackman, is explicable by a district of police and of authority, otherwise they could simply have been summoned and arrived more promptly.

Another is less clear : if one knew that a sensitive room with coded entry had already been entered, would one not have changed the combination, and, in removing one incriminating set of papers, have left another item in its place ? Finally, would one really be on solid ground in thinking that people would appear unrelated when they had posed as father and daughter as guests at several parties ?

Those minor quibbles can themselves be addressed by thinking of the character and self-belief of Lyman, who really had no reason to think that Waterman would talk his way into Lyman's home in his absence and could easily have persuaded himself that - however the woman whom he thought of as Jade had gained access - she had wholly fallen for him and that she posed no threat.

After all, he acts as he does at the end because he has believed a lie about rescuing her from drowning, whereas he thinks that he is exploiting a weakness, and he has dared to seek to blame his act of self-liberation on someone else. That is very much as Chris Wilton does in Match Point by staging a burglary, and, despite cocking up the plan, getting away with it (albeit in a sub-Raskolnikovian sort of way, haunted by ghosts) - departing from that model, Allen has him caught out, and his arrogant belief in his evil ways out of being discovered proving misconceived.

The better thought-out script, the mixture of themes, of light and darkness, makes this a better film than that earlier one, for all its box-office success. Allen in the film gives some great moments, although one can already see how the style of almost improvisatory delivery that is to the fore in To Rome with Love (2012) has become heightened to the stage where, for example, he seems to take forever, after the last murder, to claim to be a newspaperman man on the search for information : I wonder whether Allen, perhaps not just wanting to deliver one-liners, is too much conveying the sense not just of a man looking for the right words (as a contrast to Sidney with the assurance and vocabulary of schmoozing the volunteers and audience in his act), but of one with whom we might find ourselves getting frustrated, wishing that he would spit it out.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Deconstructing the tropical house

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

24 July

I must make time to look at Michael Billington’s book about Pinter, and see what light he sheds on :

* How the play came to be written (what was ‘in the air’, and in Pinter’s thoughts, a decade after Nineteen Eighty-Four)

* What Pinter thought of it at the time - in particular, what led him ‘to shelve it’

* Whether anyone (Pinter included) read the play in that time

* What brought Pinter to go back to the play and to stage it (e.g. was there any response to Thatcherism and the cynical creed of personal advancement ?)

* Whenever the t.v. version was, whether Pinter was involved and what he thought

* What he thought of the play afterwards, both after it had been staged and on t.v.

* Contains spoilers *

The play leaves relatively little to the imagination, except ‘the patients’, although we have some sort of ‘description’ of 6457 and 6459 from Roote and Gibbs’ paired question-and-answer sessions, and we also gauge the nature of the establishment from Lush’s account of what he said to 6457’s mother. However, the greatest direct insight, coming from Cutts and Roote’s final time together, is of her account of being friends with 6459, because, although Roote mouths off to Gibbs in Act One about calling the patients numbers when they have names, he is not going to rock the boat.

The greatest implication is that the type of ‘experiment’ that Gibbs, with the assistance of Cutts, carries out on Lamb, whether or not it is meant to be (and so is part of the official work of this ‘rest home’, as Lush calls it), must be one to which the patients, too, are subjected. Has Gibbs – whose affect is distinctly on ‘the cool side’ and indicative of sociopathy – set up this soundproofed room off his own bat, or was he drawn to work at this place because of what it does ?

It is chicken and egg, as so often with Pinter’s characters. For example, Lenny’s intimidatory speech to Ruth in The Homecoming about the woman whom he encounters at the canal : does he use the language of violence and make threats because of who he is, or has behaving in that way partly made him that sort of person ? And, of course, one is reminded of The Birthday Party.

When Goldberg and McCann catch up with their prey Stanley at the boarding-house, the two-headed interrogation game that they play with him has a strong resemblance to Lamb’s at the hands of Cutts and Gibbs, so small wonder that the plays come from the same time. As far as I recollect, apart from some possible hints of a background in a gang to Stanley’s involvement with them and in trying to make an exit (there is a clear sense of obligation, of having broken the rules), we are neatly told relatively little, but we have a sense of an organization, of people having – or taking – power over others.

A similar world to that of Roote and Gibbs, but with the authority of the Ministry : however, towards the end of Act Two, there is the curious objection, by Lush, to Roote’s calling himself ‘a delegate’, and the furious and violent insistence by Roote that he is one). Did Pinter perhaps think this play too political, with the idea of State-sanctioned torture, and sublimate it into the shadowy world that descends on Stanley, with the suggestion that he is not an innocent, whether or not ‘the patients’ are, or are meant to be ?

And there is the big rub. We have Gibbs’ self-motivated account of what he says that Roote did to incense the inmates to murder the staff (himself excepted), but Pinter is, nonetheless, suggesting that these ‘patients’ would, given the opportunity, do so. What message is he conveying about those who have been incarcerated, their dangerousness, whether we think them political prisoners or some category of those with mental-health conditions ?

Whoever they may be, by making them a deus ex machina for wiping out the regime that stands in Gibbs’ way (including the clinging Cutts, who is clearly irritating to him and his outlook), he denigrates them as a force of destruction – yes, we have the keening, the sighs, the laughs that recur, but this onslaught of murder is not exactly justice, does not have a retributive effect as, say, might The Furies in Greek tragedy, because they are contained and confined again, and Gibbs will be head of this place, which scarcely promises to be a more humane rulership.

In terms of the rest of the structure of the play, we know that Roote once stood in relation to his predecessor, whom he hesitates to say ‘retired’, as Gibbs does now to him. We know also that Lamb had a predecessor (about whom he has found nothing), but Cutts and Gibbs claim that they know no more about him that that he is no longer there (although he helped them as Lamb is about to, they say).

Two questionable terminations of employment, plus a chief, in Roote, who throws whisky over Lush as well as kicking him repeatedly. Cutts is urging Gibbs to kill Roote, Gibbs has a knife and so does Lush, who, when they both produce them, resemble thugs. Roote, with his intervening bayonet, is a sort of Max, breaking up a fight at home between his sons.

Did Pinter sublimate that sense of the staff turning on their own (looking for someone to blame for 6459’s pregnancy, a victim) into the two men who track down Stanley, and prefer a drama with that mode of expression, of a few characters representing something shadowy that is bigger ? It is arguable that it is a better vehicle, because otherwise we end up with Gibbs’ rise to power, giving a story to Lobb that no one is alive to contradict.

We can look for the drama in the horrific tableau of a catatonic Lamb, still in the experimental chair, but I do not feel that it is there with the impact of wrapping up what the play might be about. Nothing makes us realize that there is a whole unseen world beyond Lamb being tortured (the sacrificial lamb is surely no coincidence) – of who else has been, and of what this place is for. My response is that, rather, it brings us too much to focus on the greasy pole and on the individual ruthlessness of Gibbs, as a type of Steerpike, hungry for power at any cost.

The dimension of shock at the ghastliness of State-sponsored inhumanity is too latent, too built into the infrastructure of the place as a given – and whose continuation, with ‘reinforcements’ (with all that word’s connotations) supplied to Gibbs by Lobb, is assured.

This follows on from a review of the play in production

Monday, 22 July 2013

Too hot to handle ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 July

* Contains spoilers *

The Hothouse is unmistakeable Pinter, and brings to mind what little I know of his political writings or late plays such as One for the Road, but I am unsure whether it needed a revival – or at least one that did not take greater risks with what dates back to the late 1950s, and was not staged by Pinter until more than twenty years later. (Perhaps the fact that, well before the end of the run, the expensive seats were available at a large discount is indicative of an answer, and the possibility that that trend may continue.)

What it did not need, at any rate, was Simon Russell Beale (Roote) turning the alacrity of a former colonel into too often huffing and gabbling the text, so that one word ran into the next – at the interval, I chose to try to establish whether the performance was representative by asking an usher at Trafalgar Studios, but he had not heard the first half, although he thought that people generally thought the delivery clear.

(I believe this to have been a misjudgement on Russell Beale’s part between a brisk characterization and audibility, because he performed Roote’s Christmas address fully in character and as if extemporized, but without compromising the careful detail of Pinter’s script.)

With this general exception, all of the cast was clear, and what stuck out for me was the beauty of execution and poise of the soliloquy given to Lush (John Heffernan), when he reports to Gibbs (John Simm) the visit of 6457’s mother. Taken out of context, and ignoring its exact content, the construction is pure Pinter, and Heffernan had the speech exactly right, as, I felt, he did Lush’s character (what’s in a name !*).

People such as 6457 we almost think that we must have seen, because Pinter gives an almost exact repetition between Gibbs and Roote of the guessing game where the latter tries to place what 6457 (and, later, 6459) looked like. Through Pinter’s stage-directions, we sense the unnamed inmates of this institution, but we are hardly allowed to feel them, because we are focused only on the staff (the lesser, ancillary staff are called the understaff).

This is where I come to what place The Hothouse (revised by Pinter when he staged it in 1980) has, and would set it against what we gather, without being anywhere near it, of the establishment in The Caretaker where Davies seems to have been given electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) : it all comes from Davies’ mouth, and it is truly and rivetingly distressing (the pun words ‘shocking’ and ‘electric’ first came to mind). We have Davies and we have his narration of this experience, and they seem to marry in a way that, perhaps, setting interactions between staff against that background does not.

In essence, The Hothouse is what we no longer expect from Pinter, a plot with a clear trajectory (even if there are puzzles along the way), which is not even a model that fits that well with The Birthday Party, a contemporary play. I think it is probably that he is doing too much (e.g. Roote’s diatribe against the patients being called by numbers, which turns out to be hot air, because he has no intention of trying to press for its being overturned), and ends up doing too little : with too little edge, as was maybe the case here, it can resemble a just slightly sinister version of Yes, Prime Minister.

Not to say that there is not power in scenes, such as the writing of the interrogation of Lamb (although not staged as Pinter appears to have envisaged) or the tightrope that Lush walks with Roote by challenging him about 6457 and 6459, but Lamb’s utterances to Miss Cutts point at that sort of inept bureaucracy, and even Roote is embroiled with rusty Ministry typewriters and the imperfections of the heating.

There is menace and tension if you know where to find it, but the work can be top heavy, driven by the situation, rather than, as in The Homecoming, the house being the backdrop to seeing the characters and watching them test each other. Simm I did not find right with his approach to Gibbs (Charlie, as Lush tries to call him), because, if Roote is a blusterer (as he surely is in the text), there has to be a little more to Gibbs than pedantry. After all, pedants do not necessarily of themselves make torturers, the thing that the ridiculously sex-driven Daisy Cutts (convincingly played by Indira Varma), always seeking to subvert or seduce into a lay, finds most exciting about Gibbs.

The Hothouse is casually set on Christmas Day – when that date in the calendar comes, I wonder how much this production will be remembered…

There is more here about the play, for those interested.


* It may pass the observer by, but all of the names are monosyllables : Roote, Gibbs, Cutts, Lush, Lamb, Tubb, Lobb, Hogg. (The full list of the slain, given to Lobb by Gibbs, also has Beck, Budd, Tuck, Dodds, Tate and Pett.)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

It ain't worth a thing...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 July

Afterwards, I heard someone describe this film as immoral. What I do not think that she meant was that it should have been a documentary, but, if she thought that it glorified shameful behaviour ‘inspired by true events’ (as the credits coyly put it), maybe she would have been happier with one. It might have been less exultant in the burglary / trespass scenes, and, except in a film like The Imposter (2012), could have emphasized the victims and the sentences delivered…

I do not think that it succeeded as a feature, because there were far too many flaws. For example, people (repeatedly) enter Paris Hilton’s house without her knowledge and, when not scanning through her possessions, smoke cigarettes – whether or not she smokes, is its lingering scent not going to be a strong indication to said Hilton that all is not as it should be, even if (somehow unlikely, as this question was not addressed) care is taken to dispose of the ash and the butt ?

In another scene, when Nicki (Nicolette ? played by our own Emma Watson) is in Marc’s (Israel Broussard's) bedroom, hiding a cigarette behind her back when the door is opened by his father is not – unless he has no sense of smell – going to conceal anything. She must hide the cigarette because she is not meant to be a smoker or to smoke there, but it makes no credible sense : if someone opens a door into a room where someone else is smoking, it is obvious.

It’s as if behaviour is represented as if it has been observed, but scripted by someone who has no notion of what a cigarette actually is or of its taint. The same is true of how Hilton’s house is depicted. Say Aladdin’s Cave, and you would not be far wrong, even down to the guessed means of entry being a substitution for the overheard password – once one’s in, one can have and do what one wants, as the forty thieves are the ones looking around…

Hilton, apparently, arranges everything neatly in pairs on racks by colour, no more pairs than there are spaces, and everything else on a hanger and in its place, with a room for this, a room for that. (But no one lives in to maintain this order for these stars, who are without exception methodical and ordered just in this way – apart from having no security, when they look concerned to have everything just so.)

Every other female icon’s house entered is where we are meant to believe that she lives alone (no live-in staff to prepare that hot meal or snack when she comes in, no alarms, and safes left open), and Hilton even goes off on a trip and leaves her tiny dog behind. Credible, or just an ill-thought-out appearance of how these people would live to justify showing these youngsters nosing around and taking a few representative items ?

It’s either insulting to the audience’s intelligence to think that this – although it may be straight from the glossy pages of celebrity magazines with which ‘the adventurers’ busy themselves – is how these people live their lives, or the film is aimed only at an age of audience who would buy into the idea of these youngsters in their invasion of stars’ homes, and be none the wiser ?

If so, then Sofia Coppola is too in love with her own vision, and has traded many forms of credibility for the reality of the invaders having nothing much better to say all the time than that wretched O my God !. From this point of view, a film like Spring Breakers (2012?) is more honest – here are scantily clad young women doing scandalous things, and there is no moral, but maybe it’s convincing.

Here, keys to cars get casually taken, but what happens to the cars themselves (or even the keys) is, as with cigarette smoke and ash, casually ignored. So, early on in Rebecca’s (Katie Chang's)  acquaintance with Marc* (whom she has certainly chosen to exploit, not for his charms), she asks if he has any friends whose parents are away. On impulse, when they leave that friend’s house, she drives them off in the family car (Car B), with no reference to what happened to the car that she earlier turned up in outside the school to take them there (Car A), both plastered with her fingerprints.

This makes no sense at all on even slight examination : Car B (and where they dispose of it) is a pretty big clue to the home location of the thieves, and to the possibility that the house where it had been parked was burgled first (or, as they say in the States, burglarized !), since it will have been clear that car-keys were used to drive it away.

Unless Rebecca is entitled (by absentee parents) to drive Car A (Marc also magically has a car, though never shown driving before, when he drops her at the airport), the location where it came from also links those who take Car B to it (where Car A is still parked : even if Rebecca had been allowed to drive it, she has abandoned it there, rather than getting Marc to drive it back).

Cozily, it all goes along with Marc the only one who seems to be a bit edgy about what they are doing, although he has his fair share of OMGs, until some injudicious boasting about who has been where (which widens the circle of those in the know), and the initially relatively cautious limit of taking only what might not be noticed missing is abandoned, with paintings lifted from the wall and carried through the gates.

Some star, at last, has invested not in shoe-rack no. 38, but some CCTV, although it seems operated by security staff who think that turning up and apprehending those who have made an entry to their employer’s property is beyond their remit. (The other stars, with as many racks as shoes, must have been in the I-cannot-spot-an-empty-space category, because the outrageous red heels that Marc enjoys sporting (except when his mother is at the door) would scarcely just get overlooked.)

And so it all unravels, and the intermixed Vanity Fair interviews (the media seem to have given the gang its title) leave us uncertain as to what has already happened in the rest of the story. Is the epilogue with Nicky a surprise ? Not really, as the possibility had already presented itself when Marc and Rebecca spoke at the airport, and, by then, the core group of five’s actions were widely known (or even witnessed).

I know little more than anyone brought up on American crime-drama about how plea-bargaining really works and interacts with clear evidence that someone participated more than he or she claims, although any such evidence is going to come from others whom he or she has implicated and who, necessarily, are on the other side of the divide. (Puzzlingly, Rebecca, for all that she seems savvy, waits until the police find stolen items on her before she offers to locate where everything is.)

How who was found guilty of what I do not know, but, cannily, we were spared a court-scene by the expedient of the doors closing and reopening for sentencing. (Presumably a full trial, which would have had to identify these awkward issues.) What does seem apparent was that there was no remand prior to trial, and no prohibition on the gang-members (no doubt for a fee, which would help with restitution) speaking to the press. (For what it is worth, I cannot see the latter being allowed in a case such as this in the UK.)

As to the dialogue, it was not astoundingly bad, but it has to be said that, of all the leaden lines, leadenly delivered, by far the highest percentage came from the mouth of Ms Watson (who also sounded, sometimes, as though she came from The Bronx rather than anywhere near The Bay). She was not, though, helped by the editing, which several times left the ostrich eggs of her utterance exposed in mid-air – to plummet and crash.

The evaluation reportedly made of her performance by Baz Bambagoyne beggars belief, if only on these counts alone. There was nothing that home-grown talent could not have brought to the role of manipulating a home-schooling mother, full of wise saws and inculcating the right image, but incapable of seeing that her adopted daughter, Nicky and their sister were out all hours, snorting coke.

Altogether, never high on the credibility states on many counts, but, as I have already said, those seeking a vicarious thrill of rifling through Hilton’s things – rather than those who have little idea who she might be – could probably and happily have swallowed all the imperfections of what someone doing so inspired.


* NB there is not even a whiff of sex between him and any of the four main girls in ‘the ring’, despite copious amounts of dope and of snorting cocaine. Maybe that was something to do with the BBFC certificate that was sought…

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Shadows and surrealism in Caulfield’s career

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

21 July

Shadows and surrealism in Caulfield’s career

For copyright reasons, I have not embedded images, but, when possible, included links to where they can be found and, if the reader wishes, opened in a separate window from the comments that I make here.


The five-room survey of Patrick Caufield’s work at Tate Britain is a comfortable one to take in, with 35 canvases that begin with the 1960s, the latest one being from the year of his death, 2005. (Caulfield is twinned, in terms of ticket, with an interesting three-room show for Gary Hume.)

Some of Caulfield’s paintings were known to me over the years from the Tate’s collection, but it was good to put them in a wider historical and thematic context, which begins with pieces that make a virtue of a kind of studied refusal to make the subject-matter stand out from the picture-plane (partly by not using shadow).

The first half of the exhibition

A quality of, and using, ‘flatness’

This ‘flatness’ (or absence of relief, of things in perspective) is typified by The Well (1966), where the bits of rock and masonry (with shadow) that one would seek to interpret as surrounding the well-head look, deliberately, strangely proud, as if they are somehow above it, because, although small, they have mass (where the huge dressed stones arranged to form the well do not). Significantly, too, for what I shall go on to explore, we are shown the least of the well, not even over the lip, let alone whatever water lies ‘below’.

The effect also haunts Concrete Villa, Brunn (1963), where the outline of the named building appears to be imposed on a grid of squares (none of which we can actually see complete) and made from the meeting, at right-angles, of tight pairs of parallel lines (a coded reference to parallel lines projecting to meet at infinity ?). The flattened depiction of the building itself makes it appear to be a polygon, rather in the same way that a perspectival cube drawn with just its edges can look like two triangles joined by a central square.

Mixing styles of representation

In Still life with Dagger (1963), Caulfield is more explicit than in The Well as to the different ways of showing the elements of his composition, and has chosen to mix them. He has a jug as an outline (plus Cubist adjuncts), whereas the weapon of the title is painted full colour in semi-relief, but the beads of the necklace next to it, which loop around the handle of the jug, although they are made to project, light reflecting on the real object would, have the grey hue of the double-delineated flat surface. If we just look at this work without analysing it, it should still give a sense of disjunction, even of disquiet, because the conventions have been muddled.

Another work in this room makes us curious, wanting to know what Bend in the Road (1967) conceals, as the lie of the land and the curve suddenly hide the road ahead (if not at, then very near, the vanishing-point). Although, at one level, we may be conscious that it is Caulfield constructing, or marshalling, this terrain, we may be more caught up in our curiosity – that questioning spirit is part of our reaction to later works, wanting to know what lies beyond that door, window, staircase…

If we forget, however momentarily, that Caulfield determines what to show us (and how), as he does with the limited palette (two main colours here, plus dark outlines), we will have a frisson of being denied in and by this work, and that is its raison d’être, to challenge us and our expectations of painting. Just as the luscious mould on fruit and cheeses in a Dutch still-life might direct us to re-contemplate such everyday objects, Caulfield gives us a blind bend in the road to stop in front of and just wonder : if we will not give ourselves up to that, we will not get it, not get the point.

A response to René Magritte ?

That makes these works sound didactic, but they are not, for they are playful at the same time in the way, say, that Magritte is, even if the curator does not cite him as one of Caulfield’s influences. Portrait of Joan Gris (1963) in this room, quite a well-known one, reminds us of Magritte, with its uniform blue background, relieved only by almost floating irregular geometrical gestures either side of the solid Gris, figuratively rendered (although he could equally seem like a cut-out – please see below). No one could say that Gris or Magritte made jokes in art as such, but they utilized compositional ideas to underlie what they were doing – Caulfield likewise.

The figure of Gris, the easily missed man on the balcony in Villa, and a monochrome waiter in After Lunch (1975), leaning in from a recess, are the only figures whom we see, who do not really occupy these spaces, but are in them : only Gris is fully depicted as if living, because the waiter is bored and absorbed, in terms of colour, into his space, and the man on the balcony is just a tiny reminder that this villa is ‘a machine for living’.

Expectancy in these works

When I say that they do not ‘occupy’ the works in which they appear, there is not the same expectancy, as in other canvases such as Foyer (1973), as to where people are, what is happening, but the waiter has done with his activity at lunchtime and is just quiet, the man on the balcony is dwarfed by the building and its construction even as, reading his paper, he pretends not to feel that he is – and, even if the men have further to say, they do not say it. (Even Office Party (1977) gives us the trappings of the office, e.g. the typewriter, and of the party, bottles and glasses, but no one partying, just the saints on the front of the building opposite.)

It is characteristic, then, of Caulfield that he chooses these largely unpopulated spaces, these moments perhaps between (or under*) the moments, a bit in the way of glimpsing a fully lit room as one passes a house, where one can see what is there and where other lit rooms extend, but no sign of the human life that usually gives rise to all this (and for whom all this would then exist). Each of the pieces in this exhibition has, if not always a very strong one, a personality, an identity separate from those whom we hypothesize could shortly enter it.

That, too, is a cognate feeling in Magritte’s canon, even if it does not mean with Caulfield that a train will rush out of the fireplace, or someone on horseback from the wings : each interior (they are largely interiors, or semi-interiors) appears to have a self-awareness – almost a self-consciousness – that, despite the absence of a human observer, it exists. Put another way, the rooms have a presence that it is not dependent on the motive force of human beings, and this Caulfield paints.

Even if it probably oversimplifies, Cubism is nowadays often purported to be a response to, and demonstration of, Einstein’s theories about relativity, whereas the word ‘surreal’ is blithely, in common parlance, applied to anything a bit strange, without reference to the stated aims of The Surrealist Manifesto (or the practice of those in the movement). At this stage in his career, Caulfield is not moved by his interest in Braque to distort dimensionality quite in the way of a Cubist still-life, and Dagger does not closely resemble the work of that school. However, he does give a dream-like sensibility to these rooms, not unlike the feel of the exteriors of, say, Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Delvaux.

Construction and artifice

In Lunch, as if it is an external view (although it seems to be a painting partly behind a fish-tank, complete with blobby goldfish of a Matissean hue, but not delicacy), there is a wholly naturalistic scene, of a typical Bavarian (or Austrian) castle on a lake, which extends, in photographic detail, into the distance.

Apart from the fish, and a lozenge highlight bottom right (which seems to represent light entering with steps down from the restaurant), this is the most diverse range of colour in a largely blue canvas : two near-parallel slanting lines, as if of shadow in the lower and upper reaches (a slightly different, cooler shade above from below), divide the area left to right, and give way to a lighter colour where the waiter’s head emerges.

Topographically (as will be found with other paintings such as Springtime : face à la Mer 1974), the space is difficult to construe : the fish-tank is supported by a long box on a trestle between whose legs, at the right height, one would be able to look through, just as – if it were not too high – the panelling above and behind the painting gives way to a decorative top-board, beyond which we see the roof-space, columns, probably suspension-wires for overhead lamps. This is where the waiter is standing, leaning over the uppermost of the ranch-style boards that partition off that region.

As already implied, he almost appears to be part of the furniture, inert, though seemingly contemplating whatever is ahead, which is unseen. Is what we see, with a table, chairs, a cooking-pot, the kitchen part, and he would normally be serving dishes that are reached over the partition, and then take them into the restaurant proper (unless it is the dining-room of a wealthy private house) ?

An Escherean perspective ?

Countless viewings, the most recent a thorough one, have not exhausted this painting, with its juxtapositions of shadowed portions, stylized fish, and the confusing verisimilitude of the painting that could be the world outside. Here, and remembering Concrete Villa, one almost wonders whether one is looking at solid enough lines of construction that lead to an absurdity, as in M. C. Escher’s impossible spaces, most notably Waterfall, whose waters turns out to be feeding themselves. That is certainly the feeling with Springtime, trying to be sure where steps lead, and how the world inside the building (though we have a feeling of interiority, I believe it to be false on the evidence) can fit together with this view.

Escher’s etchings have a sense of holding reality at bay that fits with these works seeming to hold enquiry at an expectant arm’s length, more so than with the relative stasis of Braque’s or Léger’s compositions, although they do embody what one might call structural tension (or difficulty). So, with Dining Recess (1972) there is familiarly a circular table with six egg-cup-shaped chairs loosely arranged around it (one can see, but only by considering the circles of the bases of table and chairs, that there is human imperfection, not rigidity, in this set-up).

All but the pale, lemony glow of a lamp that has shape but no depth and an indeterminate blue through a high-up window or skylight** (which could be either a certain type of dullish daytime, or a luminescent night sky without stars) is rendered moderately flatly in a sort of slate grey with a chocolate tinge to it, so that one’s eye is drawn to the ‘hotspots’ of the globe of light and to the sky above. Is the electric light really quite dim that it does not seem to illumine and create shadow, or is the uniform greyness (of a kind that Beckettt maybe described in his rotunda pieces, and in All Strange Away and Company) in this non-directional way somehow its product ?

The light being there draws us and draws out questions, as to whether, say, the space is lit before supper, after the table has been cleared, or just as part of the downstairs lighting of an evening, and the latter sensations are implicit in the painting’s form : we can make the view have meaning, and have a feel for where this recess is from the clues (even if the architecture confuses**), but it resists us, it is non-committal, and will not confirm our notions. Again, a sort of challenge to us about what we believe, what we imagine, but without shouting at us that we make those assumptions all the time.

The second half of the exhibition

Still life reinvested ?

In later work (displayed in Rooms 4 and 5), Caulfield has not so much revisited as reinvested the still life. In Still Life : Mother’s Day (1975) and in Braque Curtain (2005), shadows are silhouettes with a life and lively colours of their own, and one struggles to divine a source and direction of light that would act in this way. Again, that disturbing effect as of Dagger, but this time more strongly, where the puzzle is more explicit, and where the bright blue shadows of Mother’s Day, rather than being cast by light shining on those objects, almost seems to project the objects (there is the same appearance in Curtain).


All of this made more intense by the faux-collage of what appears to be a cut-out rose applied to the fish-bowl, but in fact is painted – a juxtaposition a little like Magritte’s huge flower in a room, or an apple in front of the head of a suited man. Which is why I relate to using a style that makes a flower resemble a cutting from a magazine as a surrealist impulse, because there is that dislocation again.

In fact, it is a double one, the first being the sharply contrasting technique, the second that some of the simplicities of style, used as a matter of choice, may have blunted one to the scope of the artist’s technical mastery. In other words, since he gives us a bowl by its stylized outline (rather than a bowl that, with effects of shade and reflection, looks like a real one), do we tend not to credit that the painter can paint, and thus assume that he must have used collage, whether it is flowers around a doorway that we cannot see into (Entrance (1975)), or detail in a grand portico ?

Flowers are a key theme of painting-as-collage in this exhibition, whether the striking display in Entrance, or the chopped-off study of tulips. Otherwise, it is paintings (such as in Lunch or Interior with a Picture (1985 – 1986)), or fabrics (a Morris & Co. one in Green Drink (1984)). They are part of what makes interiors feel like a still life, pregnant with what might have happened beforehand, or be about to happen.


Another part – which gives rise to the title of this account – is lamps, and Caulfield has made series of the same simple scene at different times of day. Here, I do not know whether there are companion pieces, but Window at Night (1969) uses the device of a pendant light, hanging where it is crossed by the first intersection of a three-wide by five-deep paned window, a red cone with a yellow highlight at the lower aperture.

The room itself, with the outline of a corner top right, is wholly orange : as has been commented before, however, the lamp casts its light uniformly, and maybe we are distracted from this by the window furniture, the open transom, and the silhouettes of items on the window-ledge. Window is not, if we do not allow it to lull us by not thinking with and through what Caulfield has done, a representation except in stylized, Caulfieldian terms.

Heightened expectancy

Again, with the possibility that (the outline of) a person might enter, a degree of tension, then, as with that bend in the road, Gris faced by what seem like mobiles, or these expectant interior views such as Dining / Kitchen / Living (1980). In that latter work, we see, left to right, the three named living-areas. On the table in the centre, a mixed rendition of styles that render the scrapbook-style oval, brown casserole with lid, again making us think that it is cut out, and the food (which looks unreal, in some way, as food in some other canvases does, if not hyper-real and cut out, in other cases, as with some chicken bread-crumbed breasts).

Evidence that someone has been here, as in Goldilocks. Once more, except that we are inside rather than out, the sensation that someone might come in at any moment and surprise us. Except that this is a canvas, and what makes us enter into it ? What draws us into it, as in Window, what keeps us aloof from Foyer, hesitating at whether we are interested, and what shuts us out, if we just look quickly, at it or at Well, and ask what the point is ?

Shadow and the light that cast it

Some later paintings provoke us as to what they might mean in a different way, with lamp-shades that interact by superposition and against the laws of physics with the cone of light that they project. It has already been commented that Braque Curtain’s shadows (which is shadow, though, and which the light ?), unless there really are two table-lamps in the split-level aperture, challenge our understanding if we look at the detail.

Nearly top left, the jaunty outline of the shade of a standard-lamp, but no shadow, no light projected above or below, and in its own little patch of complementary colour. Far left, a large, bold pattern, as if a large oddment of material is hanging, a gesture, in dividing the space, that reminds me again of Magritte’s use of pattern and texture, and a complete foil to the sombre black and light orange of the lamps. If this is the title’s curtain, then it separates off from the world where we do not know what is casting what, or what relates them.

Several works, including Bishops (2004), take this playfulness in a different direction, with what is the lamp, and what is the light that it casts (I could have said earlier that light and darkness co-existing was a Magrittean preoccupation in a series of paintings called The Empire of Lights), and they all seem to formulate a series of ruminations on this question, although it was not, on this visit, one that for me was pressing to follow – or even to try to engage much with.

Shadows, light, and construing spaces

In other works again, such as Hemingway Never Ate Here (1999), fathoming the space is not straightforward : bottom right, there is a black right-angled triangle, indicating that (unless it is trompe-l’œil, as our examination may require is to think) there appears to be a corner, in which case the lower part of the wall below the dado-line (or that part of it) must slope backwards. If it does slope, where the dado turns a corner and stops is where a built-in table (looking for all the world like a hovering tray) is home for a partly drunk beer with lime (which I wrongly took for a fading candle at first, as I had not entered the idiom), an apparently empty cup and saucer and a larger piece of lime (?) on the saucer. (Above the dado, a decorated cow’s head, complete with horns, which inevitably makes of think of the titular Hemingway.)

What lies on the other side of the canvas (the dado takes us roughly halfway across) is initially straightforward, a bracket, though not clearly for what, in relief that resembles a treble-clef. The main feature, though, is a large and bright-yellow emission of light that colours the bits of wall under the bracket and of the short section of wall where the dado ends. One might infer that it emanates from the white full-moon shape seen at the top of this seeming doorway with a curved top, or may be from the white object on the level with the tray, but I am unsure : it could be more likely, given how the shadows look, that the source of the light is invisible, in the space, but hidden behind the arch...

Perhaps, also, since we can make out treads (the first with the leach of the light onto it) on the left of the canvas, stairs go up in the direction of where the bracket is (which would then be – if it were not utterly flat, and in relief – a place to hang a basket). The quadrilateral actually seems to be the actually base of a built-in surface, with a window to the left of it (we catch a hook or bracket’s shadow, which looks wooden, and above it could be a thin curtain-rail), and we see to the right of it the top left-hand corner of what looks like a big piece of furniture (not in style with anything else). This could be the entrance to the building, in fact, as the shadows indicate a floor-level recess.

That exhausts my fathoming this work just now – it is deliberately puzzling, deliberately different from the (apparent) simplicity of others such as Window or Foyer, and, unless one can catch it just right, with a willing and accommodating eye, it will frankly make no sense. None, anyway that is easy enough for a casual stroll around a gallery, although it is really no more complex than Villa, but Caulfield has rendered shape in colour, in perplexing light and shadow.

Touches of Dalí in an interior with Magrittean curtains as radiating light ?

Another puzzling work, with which I shall seek to make a finish, is Reserved Table (2000). Much of the upper left and right part of the surface has been rendered with a crenellated comb, as if it were decorative render for ceiling or walls. (Here, the ceiling is not rendered, or distinguished from the walls, and is of a pashy midnight blue.) To the left of the canvas, arcs of light again, the upper one white and in the shape of a cone with one-quarter of a circle inverted on the top, the lower one slightly creamy, and starting conically, but ending with a claw.

We will have taken in the lobster before then, which this shape echoes. In one sense, it is not out of place somewhere that the title suggest is a restaurant, in another it used more decoratively, oddly just placed there, which implies that it is dead (and reminds me of Dalí’s Telephone (1936)). It is, at any rate, on a narrow ledge in front of what appears to be an almost egg-shaped mirror, showing perhaps the other side of it (although we see more of a reflection than the height and position of the putative mirror suggests :

Maybe it is not a mirror, but a black canvas with a depiction of part of a lobster at the bottom. It could even be a serving hatch, because the lobster on the ledge may not match this one, and the egg-shaped space is set into a rectangle that it delineated as proud by a shadow down the side of it, and it is not impossible that the light seen to the other side represents what comes from the kitchen.

As to the table, apart from a curled, metallic bracket, it appears to float, or, rather, it has a seemingly floating tablecloth, in whose starchy material is impressed the form of a circular top. The curves and billows of the cloth are a distinct contrast to the sheen of the rendered, arched alcove above : it is a contrast, because the cloth, as with the shape that balances it on the left-hand side, is very bright so as to seem hyper-real again, and the shadow under the table / cloth seems vague and indistinct, which is a beautiful touch.

As before, a table that has been reserved, but which is not set – were the diners very careful, or is it infra dig in such an establishment to have the table laid on arrival ? The cloth radiates cleanness, as does the whole space, and it is these highlights and juxtapositions of colour and shade that create yet another sense of something that, presumably, is about to happen…

Brief conclusion

In summary, I believe that the painterly qualities that I have discussed are indicative of influences beyond the recognized ones of Braque, Léger and Gris. In particular, I suggest that Caulfield has used some of the techniques of those who, at some time or other, were admitted by André Breton to the role of the Surrealists, notably shadow for disturbing effect, along with the creation of places that, by their patient emptiness, draw our attention to the immanence of their occupation.

What the papers thought...

The Guardian was favourable (about this and the twinned exhibition), The Independent and The Telegraph were less keen.

Caulfield's friend, David Hare, has some things to say about his work that I find perceptive.


* An important collection of Russell Hoban’s stories, essays and other pieces is called The Moment under the Moment.

** If we stop to consider what we see of the inside of the roof, it is not certain that we can construe it : I am unsure whether it is like an Escher, where the lines deceive, or whether it was not intended as it looks, with a sloping roof that disappears into a space where our eye cannot follow.