All posts by jonsmalldon

National Gallery: Ed Ruscha – Course of Empire

Ed Ruscha, Blue Collar Trade School

Painting like Ed Ruscha is the same as writing like Raymond Carver: it looks simple so everyone thinks they can do it. How many sixth form poets have written blank verse about a man eating an apple, how many A-level students have done a mostly-empty painting of a gas station and thought they were making a statement? But here, late in the day, in a small, single-room show at the National Gallery is the master to show how its done.

Revisiting places he observed twenty odd years ago , Ruscha’s now quintessential Americana, with their echoes of Hopper and other early twentieth-century observers of US  modernity, is contrasted with the same style, same vantage point of views now changed. The telephone booth is now gone entirely, the Tech-Chem building now bears “Fat Boy” as a slogan and one place has been transformed into a Korean outpost. Seemingly passive observation allowing multiple interpretations.

This is an intelligently put together and well presented one-room exhibition. And despite the best efforts of the vocal National Gallery welcomers asking for a donation it is free. Well worth a visit.

At the match: 3rd Women’s ODI, England v South Africa

Late in the game … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018

In the end, it was surprisingly easy. By which I mean not only did England negotiate their run chase without any of the barriers that loomed on the horizon properly blocking their progress but I also made it to and from Canterbury via the park & ride without either getting lost or feeling the urge to shout obscenities at anyone. Triumphs all round.

The promised sun didn’t materialise until the match had started by which time South Africa had wobbled slightly with the loss of Lizelle Lee to an lbw which looked plumb but replays show would have missed the stumps. But that paved the way for a captain’s innings from Dane van Niekirk who added 103 for the fourth wicket with Laura Wolvaardt. Then, having done the hard work and built painfully steadily, the visitors were pushed into a collapse sparked by a brilliant stumping by Sarah Taylor which sent van Niekirk back to the pavilion on 95 and South Africa down from 212/4 to 223 all out.

England didn’t start well in reply. Tammy Beaumont more than rode her luck, Amy Jones made it into the 20s again before getting out and Sarah Taylor started boldly before being out for 5. But then, as van Niekirk had done, Heather Knight strode out and did what captains are meant to do. Beaumont visibly calmed and both began to play some delightful shots whilst hard running put constant pressure on the field. Beaumont made it to 105 before falling lbw and the winning runs came from four wides with 36 balls to spare. The scorecard says it was easy and in the end maybe it was, but England had fought hard for that.

There was a decent turnout. A few school groups had mixed levels of interest but most of the ground was very well populated with people who’d paid for their tickets. If the demographic was at the older end then that’s what you get for starting at 2pm on a weekday. The shop was doing a decent trade in England merch, which looked all the better when placed next to the clip art disasters that Kent seem to specialise in.

So, all in all, a decent day and a series win for England. And a personal victory as I managed to pilot a small car in the right direction both there and back. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

Stade Saturdays: Compagnie DYPTIK

D-CONSTRUCTION by Compagnie DYPTIK; Photo Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018, All rights reserved

Their website says they are playing in ‘Hasting’; the Stade Saturdays website welcomes ‘Compagnie Dyptic’. At least a scaffold-based, techo dance programme with allusions to West Side Story and the migrant crisis doesn’t have a language barrier to overcome. Compagnie DYPTIK were excellent.

DYPTIK cleverly engaged with the crowd – dancers emerged from the viewers, as they scaled the scaffold to swap sides the audience was beckoned closer on one side whilst on the other they became part of the stage before being pushed back, and at the end a chosen handful were there for the applause. And the performance itself was a decent mix of the technical and intricate alongside bombast and gesture. There was also a healthy amount of enigmatic and aggressive staring.

They got a decent round of applause at the end. A few more in the audience would have been nice but the weather had turned in the afternoon and there seems to have been less promotion of Stade Saturdays this year. I’ll blame God and austerity for those issues. Hopefully a few more were at the later performance as DYPTIK were very good indeed and I would want them to think that ‘Hasting’ didn’t appreciate that.

A handful of photos here.

On Netflix: Million Yen Women

One of the most interesting things about streaming recommendations is the rabbit holes the algorithms can send you down. I watched something in Japanese once so here are a dozen other Japanese language programmes. Flick, flick, oh this looks interesting … and so we have Million Yen Women.

Put on Netflix globally towards the end of 2017 following a run on mainstream Japanese television, Million Yen Women is adapted from a 2016 manga written by Shunjo Aono. The set-up is that five women have received invitations to live with unsuccessful novelist Shin Michima. He did not send the invitations but is quite happy to follow the rules: he waits on them, they all eat together, he can’t ask them any questions and he can’t go in their room. The million yen each woman must pay him (it’s about £7,000) no doubt eases the blow, as does the fact that none of the women are in any way unattractive.

Shin has a certain charisma. He’s being played by RADWIMPS lead singer Yojiro Noda so that’s bound to happen. But mostly he’s a bumbling type whose perpetual cloud is explained by the fact that his dad is a recent multiple murderer now on Death Row. The women, who range in age from 17-30 and who do (contrary to my initial Bechdel Test related fears) have very distinct personalities, motivations and story arcs, tease out his personality whilst also growing in their own way – all whilst a growing intrigue about who sent the invitations, why are things getting quite fatal, and why is that other novelist such a bell-end, play out.

It’s hard to categorise what Million Yen Women is. There are twelve 25 minute episodes so a binge won’t last long. It has melodrama, pathos, genuine shocks, gore, kinkiness, innocence and comedy rubbing shoulders, often in the same scene. And it is very compelling once you get into it. The false note for me was less about the context for the story than for how quickly books get published and promoted – but that shouldn’t be a deal killer for anyone. It also seems to have been well-translated in that the words and phrases we see gel nicely with the tone and action before us – not always the case with these streaming translations.

So, if you’re looking for a hole to fill, Million Yen Women is a pretty decent bet. And then you can look forward to the algorithm noticing you’ve watched something foreign so maybe you’ll like all these other things that are nothing like it … Oh well, a small price to pay.

Film Review: The Bar (El Bar)

How do you like your eggs in the morning? If you like yours with a sideshow of gunfire and biological terror then the bar in The Bar is a good place to start your day. Although the customers trapped inside may disagree as things don’t necessarily turn out so well for them. Variety called it the worst movie to show at that year’s Berlin film festival. Dullards.

Written, directed and produced by Álex de la Iglesia, whose first film is the now-quarter-century-old Accion MutanteEl Bar impressively combines observational humour at contemporary mores, flashes of grim horror, and neat character interplay. The story also rattles along nicely even if, at no point, is it remotely believable.

Variety had particular scorn for the fact that, yes, the attractive lead does wind up in her underwear. That’s Blanca Suarez as Elena, the outsider who was only in the bar because her phone charge was gone. She, and the rest of the cast, have to go through far more than just an underwear display. Carrying corpses, plunging into and out of sewers, grimly being doused in oil to fit through tiny manholes and so on. The action is grim and disturbing, the cinematography and look mostly could come straight out of a daytime soap. It’s a deliberate and amusing juxtaposition.

Residing only on Netflix, El Bar is clearly never going to find a massive audience in the UK now. Shame. It’s dark, disturbing, fun and funny. Not Citizen Kane but an enjoyable ride.

At the Ashmolean: America’s Cool Modernists

That’s cool as in icy and detached. Not just fashionable and filled with style. This is work, precisionist is the term used, that imposes an order and removes the people from the swirling chaos of early to mid twentieth century American cities. Through photography, painting and film, these artist focused on the shapes, structures and patterns of buildings and technology but, in the work on display here at least, had no need to show the people whose lives these new constructions controlled. Only Hopper, revealed at the end of this show, sees fit to include people: lone figures without motivation or connection ill at ease in a world not made for their comfort.

The earliest street photograph is filled with detail but lacking people. The long exposure means the buildings are incredibly detailed but nobody, save for one shoe polisher, is in the same place long enough to be captured. That clarity can be seen as a direct forerunner of this period. Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham are here as representatives of the f/64 group. Cunningham’s 1934 photograph Faegol Ventilators shows the move from studies of nature to putting that same, unmoderated, deep eye on industry. The chimneys stand proud in rows. Their simplicity echoed later by Ralston Crawford’s Buffalo Grain Elevators from 1937. The flattening vision of the painter has the same love of shape as that shown by the photographer.

The subtitle of the show is O’Keeffe to Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe even in three works is impressive in the diversity on display: Black Abstraction, Ranchos Church and East River from the Shelton Hotel. The former is notable for its precise use of form, shape and shadow; the latter is a remarkable compressed panorama in which New York’s industry is remodelled as squares and other geometric shapes from which puffs of smoke emerge. At first, I didn’t think Ranchos Church quite belonged in this exhibition but just because its different to most everything else doesn’t make it misplaced. What we have is a New Mexico desert church reduced to crooked blocks that rise up from, and are one with, the sand and the dust.

There are several other striking images. Gordon Coster’s dark grey photograph of a train curving into Pittsburgh, its steam mixing with the haze caused by the industry as stark pylons and chimneys mark its route is noteworthy. As are the paintings of George Ault, a new name to me. Utterly unpeopled they use light and shape to create a sense of an alien, unknown world: New York Night with its empty street and lights lost in the fog being the prime example. The work of Charles Sheeler covering drawing, painting and photography, perhaps draws the themes of the exhibition together more clearly than any other artist.

These things are never cheap. A gift aid ticket for America’s Cool Modernism will set you back £13.50 and the catalogue, which is very good, is £25. Plus whatever it costs to get you to Oxford. Let me just say that if you are able to cover all that then you definitely should. This is an exhibition that links thoughts, ideas, works and artists together in informed and informative ways and which does so through quality selections. It is, palpably, cool.

Film review: Ingrid Goes West

An alienated and mentally unstable young woman moves to Los Angeles on the back of an inheritance in order to become part of the life of an instagram star. Thus we have Ingrid Goes West. A film so knowing that it even has the characters reference Single White Female so you don’t have to. But also a film about as on the button with regards to the prevailing trends in social media and its impact on real life as it’s possible to be.

There are problems. Anyone wanting a fair assessment of mental health should look away now. This is a female environment – the main friendships are between women and the Instagram world is that sold and bought by women – but the writers, director and producers are men. If you end up with issues about the end product that may be where you wind up looking.

But, for me, those issues are outweighed by what is a compact, direct and brutal film. Aubrey Plaza is everything as Ingrid. Riding the rollercoaster from tender friend to stalker to lonely victim via so many points in between she is, ultimately, why Ingrid Goes West works. Elizabeth Olsen is Taylor Sloane, the object of the obsession. An instagram diva whose shallow enthusiasm for her seemingly perfect world is what captivates Ingrid. Needless to say the world is not perfect and it is not only Ingrid who is effectively held captive by it.  There are a few easy targets – the struggling artist who isn’t actually much good, for example – but there is also a strong mix of decent observations, wry laughs and moments of gasp. The script by director Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith is razor sharp.

At just over ninety minutes, Ingrid Goes West gets it all done pretty quickly without feeling rushed. More depth in parts and it would have been a different film, not necessarily a better one.