At the Lucy Bell Gallery: Kevin Cummins “Disclosure”

On the way to St Leonards to see this exhibition I was listening, as is my want, to Radio 3.  They were playing a piece by Charles Ives that seemed to be a mass of confusion but out of which came a pure sound around a single vision. And then I thought: I bet I could shoehorn my thinking about that into my thinking about Kevin Cummins.

Cummins is the first photographer whose name I deliberately looked up in the pre-internet days when such things were far from straightforward.  I was a tedious introvert teenager in the early 90s reading the NME and it seemed that whenever I came across a photograph that actually did more than just show a pic of a band next to some words written about them it would be by Kevin Cummins.  His work always managed to bring together the charisma of the performers but also their vulnerability and interest – and to do so in poses and/or settings that seemed so straightforward but which it was obvious from the rest of the magazine few others were able to do.  And he did so, at that time, in a signature style of beautiful, crisp, black and white.  Out of the confusion and mayhem that is (was) teenage music he drew out the important bits and put them in front of us.

Joy Division, and then New Order, were where he made his name and this two-room exhibition has a nice overview of those.  Time has not wearied them nor has the fact that every two-bit landfill-indie group to emerge from England’s public schools in the intervening decades has tried to copy them.  We also get the Manics in their rough glamour early days and turning from that you get to see Michael Stipe staring back at you. It’s as if someone has gone, “Jon, which of your heroes would you like to see on a wall in your hometown?”

The Stipe shot (there are two but this is the one where he is holding a bottle) is interesting because as an REM devotee of many years standing I have seen and over-studied a lot of photos of Michael Stipe.  In all of them before today I would have said that even as subject Stipe was in control – his arts school grounding and passion for the visual making sure that even if he didn’t know when the shutter would be fired he knew how the frame would look.  This one?  Not so much.  This is a Kevin Cummins shot and Stipe is most definitely the viewed not the controller.  But, maybe I’m overthinking again.  It can also just be a cracking shot of an intriguing and thoughtful man taken by one of our great photographers.

Despite this exhibition being somewhat frozen in time Cummins has continued to work and if you’re on Twitter he’s worth following for two reasons: firstly, he has a habit of showing off images from his back catalogue in numbers dependent on how many goals Manchester City score and, secondly, he is quite wonderfully grumpy a lot of the time.  I like my artists grumpy.

So, in summary, if you like this sort of thing, find a way of going.  Your reward will be two rooms of mostly monochrome splendour.  The confusion and magnificence of music has rarely been so well visually distilled into a pure sound around a single vision.

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The films of February

So, the New Years Resolution (TM) was to make 2015 the year I started watching films again.  Or, at least, films I’d not seen before.  The rules, such as they were, were to watch as varied a bunch as possible within the limits of my Amazon Prime account and to then write a comment about each one that falls within the 140 character limit of a standard tweet.

This month I’ve slackened the pace a little but then I’ve also had to let three films go before the end.  Apologies if you were hoping for inciteful two-sentence comments on Mood Indigo, Red Riding Hood or The Machinist but, for now, we’ll have to go with, “It’s not them, it’s me …” But here’s what I did manage to reach the closing credits of …

Hard not to warm to a clever film that cost less than a coffee from Starbucks. White shirt, black tie, time travel for the smart guys.

The Quatermass Xperiment (The Creeping Unknown (US title))

X is no longer for terror and this now feels dated and forced despite some good acting. Shame the BBC lost the original series.

Chinese Puzzle
Enjoyable but not brilliant. French people, and Kelly Reilly, exchange wisdom and bodily fluids in NYC whilst failing to understand life.

Strong central performances, some good lines and effective cinematography raise breadline mother-son bonding film to decent level.

The Two Faces of January
Mortensen, Dunst and Isaac show their chops and Hossein Amini has fun writing and directing this top drawer Highsmith adaptation.

Some Velvet Morning
Brutal dialogue and good performances in a two-hander that treads familiar LaBute territory of sex, power and anger. Nice twist.

Maps to the Stars
A Cronenberg misfire. Looks good, sounds good but scenes drift and there’s no cohesive whole. Nothing shocks. It’s a bit dull.

Pitch Perfect
Teen movie about glees? Good lines, songs & partial mean spirit raise it. Pulls some punches but the ‘commentaries’ mean all forgiven.

A concise film in which nothing on screen is wasted. Everything is revealed but very little is shown. A masterpiece.

In Bruges
Some day all films will be like this. Smart, distasteful, funny, violent, unforgiving, beautiful. This is how good cinema can be.

The bar has been set so high for smart animated films and Megamind just falls short. It’s still great fun but I will never say ‘school’ right again.

Friday Night Lights
A brilliant, serious sports film that makes you give a damn about the 1988 Texas high school season and the boys taking the hits for a town.

I’ll be back in March.

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Hail the Hastings sunshine

Last week, we walked along the Hastings seafront and remarked that it was the first time we had ever been past the Pelham Beach playground and there hadn’t been a single other person there.  The sky was grey, the wind fierce and cold, and it was about to rain heavily.

Today? Well, in time for the Hastings Mardi Gras ‘Fat Tuesday’ the sun came out, the winds dropped, and the people came.  This photo is taken from by the pier – OPENING THIS SUMMER! – looking back over the twin hills that surround the Old Town.  From this distance you can’t see the ‘No Jerwood’ signs.

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At the Jerwood: Chantal Joffe, By the Seaside

This is more like it.  Hastings (and, occasionally St Leonards as if that were a different place) has been getting mentioned a fair bit in the travel sections recently and the Jerwood normally finds its name in them as a reason to visit.  And now with this exhibition, small as it is, the gallery has a show that justifies its appearance in such articles.

American-born but England-trained, Joffe specialises in large-scale portraits of deceptive simplicity.  They are almost all deeply unsettling for reasons that are hard to explain.  Eyes are prominent but they look like they’re trying not to meet your gaze, as if there is something going on that can’t be spoken.  The brush strokes are broad and the colours solid but, somehow, subtlety and expression emerge.  The fully clothed are treated in the same way as the totally naked.  Aspects of the background assume importance but details remain elusive.  And despite the uniformity of style there is variety of tone and purpose.  Even in such a small show there is much to explore and to dwell on.

With the usual caveats that the gallery isn’t free (unlike the nearby De la Warr or Towner) this is well worth visiting and Joffe is an artist well worth finding out more about.  Credit to the Jerwood for producing such a top quality and enlightening exhibition.

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At the match: Hastings United v Three Bridges

(C) Jon Smalldon 2015 - All rights reserved

There are three relegation spots at the foot of the Ryman South.  Hastings are, after today’s draw, four points above them and definitely in the mix for the drop.  They are firmly staring down the barrel and, as we all know, when you’re at the bottom nothing goes your way.  Pretty much everyone in the crowd of 287 (bettered in this division only by top of the table Burgess Hill Town) knew that when the referee announced five minutes of added time at the end of a match in which Hastings had scrapped to a 2-1 advantage that it was only going to end one way.  Sure enough, three minutes later, along came the scrabbled, avoidable heartbreaker.

This was not a good game although, thankfully, a dire first half that ended goalless gave way to a second in which both teams clicked a little better and there were chances and incidents enough to fight off the February chill.  The home side took the lead early in the second half, against the run of play but after a neat attacking move, and they held out until Three Bridges scored the kind of goal that would have sent the Soccer Saturday studio into raptures.  Five minutes from time they went ahead again but then, as mandated by fate, could not hold out.  No doubt the bar talk afterwards talked of hope, of possibilities – it says a lot that Hastings’ goal difference is a mere -6 despite 16 defeats from 33 games.  This is not a team that is getting thumped week in week out, but it is a team that can’t win.

I brought along a son – who declared that he will now support Hastings despite calling them ‘Eastbourne’ for most of the match – and managed to take a few photies of the game as well.  The gloominess and my ineptitude  means they’re aren’t many but they are here.

The season rolls on now for Hastings (as I’m sure it does for Three Bridges but they’re not my local so I haven’t looked into the matter) but to avoid that plunge into Sussex League football they really are going to have find ways of closing games like this out – even when the tannoy says there’s five minutes more to go and the gods are feeling like a giggle.

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At the match: Eastbourne Town LFC v Derby County LFC

(C) Jon Smalldon 2015The short piece I wanted to write about this game was meant to be the by-now-standard post of “whimsical paragraph followed by link to some photos” but two things conspired to prevent that.  Firstly, I forgot to take any memory cards so the camera remained in the bag like some kind of expensive paperweight – I took a couple of ‘scene’ photos with the mobile instead.  Secondly, I made the mistake of reading in the programme just how much the eventual winners of this tournament – the FA Women’s Cup, no less – get for winning it.

We’ll come back to that in the minute.  This is the whimsical ‘sport is awesome’ paragraph.  Because this really was a kick-ass of a game.  One in which everything that explains why soccer above all actually better sports is the world game played out.  We had a technically superior team (that’d be Women’s Premier League members Derby County) that had something like 90% of the possession and even more of the territory being unable to assert themselves because their opponents had come with a plan to hassle, to harry and to keep on going until there was nothing left to give.  Derby took the lead but then unbelievably lost it and fell behind.  By half-time it was 2-2.  It was that way at full time as well.  In between we had an injury to a distraught Eastbourne winger (though according to the twitter account it was hopefully not as serious as it appeared) and an increasing amount of blood and thunder tackles.  Two goals in the first period of extra time settled it for Derby but both teams were deserving of the applause at the end – so much energy had been expended.  All this in front of a fairly decent crowd (by which I mean it looked about the same, if not higher, than the men’s league match I saw here a few months ago).

And for this Derby County will receive £400 from the Football Association.  Eastbourne will get to pocket the £250 they made from beating QPR in the last round.

That’s not per player.  That’s for the club.

The argument against equal ‘pay’ in sport is one with which I have a lot of sympathy.  It isn’t because he was the better footballer that David Beckham earned so much more than his team-mates in endorsements.  And if it’s all about hours put in and effort required the winners of rugby league’s Super League shield should be getting substantially more than the money Bradford City got for beating Chelsea in a single game, rather than ‘roughly the same’ as it now is.  By which I broadly mean: I know it’s not a level playing field, I know so much more goes into it than a simple argument that ‘the men get this so the women should get this’.

The winners of the FA Women’s Cup gets £5,000.  The match isn’t played at Wembley.

One of the great battles in sport has been getting equal prize money at the tennis grand slams.  And it’s been achieved although every two-set final ends up looking quite lame when Nadal, Federer, Murray and Djokovic follow it the next day with five hours of running like mad things.  But tennis stands apart for having the resources and the tournament set-up to achieve this.  It’s also unique in having both genders (and mixed doubles) at its significant events virtually from the off.  But equal prize money doesn’t extend to the ‘poor’ saps who win the doubles.  The two men (and two women) take home significantly less than their singles, erm, brethren.  So, again, I get that it’s not just “same work, same pay”.

But, really, five grand for winning the premier knock out event in the richest sport in the country?  Five grand?

Last season another team in Eastbourne drew me and my young son as they embarked on an impressive cup run.  Eastbourne United AFC made it to the semi final of the FA Vase and were there for a few of their games including the semi final which they lost.  For losing short of the final – did you know it’s played at Wembley unlike another game I could mention? – they earned across the tournament significantly more than the winners of the FA Women’s Cup will get.  In fact, if Derby win in the next round (the Fourth Round proper) they will receive less than the winners of the first qualifying round of the FA Vase receive.  Both events are unsponsored.  It’s the FA who decide how to allocate the competition prize money from its vast reserves.

I am not advocating that games played in front of a few hundred people should be paid as if they were selling out Old Trafford but, frankly, this all stinks.  If you love sport you want to see people who play sport for your entertainment rewarded and respected.  Standards are rising (the game I saw yesterday was infinitely faster and more skilful than the first women’s game I saw back in the day) and there are crowds emerging from a very, very low base, but even with the development of the FA WSL and the raised profile of the national team, the way the FA treats the women’s game in general comes across as nothing short of shabby.  The least they can do is sort out a decent prize fund and play the final at the national stadium.

Eastbourne Town LFC’s next game is on 15 February against London Corinthians.  They, like every other team giving everything for jack all financial reward, deserve your support.

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The films of January

I made a vague resolution to make 2015 the year I actually watched some films again.  So, with an over-emphasis on what’s free on Amazon this is what I’ve been doing.  Not a pig-out, I’m averaging one every other day at the moment – and with a determination to stick to films that look vaguely interesting and that I haven’t seen before and will watch to the end.  So, with one-line twitter-length comments about each, this is what I’ve watched in January.

Nebraska - Lovely monochrome, clever framing and restrained acting enhances wry father-son road movie. Meaning of life is a truck.

Moon – Everything about this film is good (premise, acting, plot, set design) although I found the robot’s name annoying

The Double - I can understand why people might hate this deliberately arthouse film. I loved it.

Vampire Academy  – Pacing and key-role acting (and too much exposition!) let down otherwise fun Buffy-esque film. Everyone is pretty.

Winter’s Bone – Jennifer Lawrence is the best thing about this naturalistic Ozark blood-feud drama. But everything else is incredible too.

Shadow of a Doubt  – Surprisingly little happens but you keep watching anyway. Cotten annoyingly good.

Brighton Rock - Attenborough and a whole cast of Brighton thugs take you on a tour of a pre-war grubbiness. Marvellous mix of nostalgia and grime.

Prometheus – Very engaging until the overkill epilogue. Ignore holes in plot but enjoy the enigmas. Ridley Scott creates sci-fi worlds like few others.

The Theory of Everything – Quality acting, lovely direction and overall more darkness than usual for such films. Almost a classic.

A Night at the Opera – 85 mins for a 20 min Flywheel radio sketch. Tiring in some ways, tedious in others but so much energy at times. Contains laughs.

Almost Famous – “I am not sweet” is a companion piece to “Baby ducks are cute” from Bull Durham. As that film is to baseball so this is to rock n roll.

Double Indemnity – Goes without saying this is a film noir classic but I was completely unprepared for how tender the final lighting of a cigarette could be.

Locke – Mis-sold to the public as a thriller but it’s altogether something tastier than that. If this were French people would write about it at uni.

The Illusionist – Whimsical animation with a minor key vibe. Either perfect tribute to Tati or the ultimate insult – depending on who you ask

Kick-Ass – I  don’t think I’ve enjoyed tasteless slaughter as much since Braindead. Comic book violence and fun with smart lines and pain.

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