Sunday, 28 October 2012

Skyfall aka Bond's 50th Anniversary

On a whim on Friday I decided to go and see Skyfall, rather than wait a bit for the fuss to die down and I was very lucky in managing to acquire one of the last three tickets for the 12.40 pm showing. It was great fun. Everything you could want from a Bond movie. In fact I'd say it was one of the best, if not the best Bond movie. 

I'll start at the beginning with the opening sequence and theme tune. The opening sequence was a great teaser telling you what lay ahead and the theme tune by Adele really fit this movie and Bond in general but I equally believe that is good enough to be a stand alone song. It had plenty of effects but it wasn't one effect after another. It had an actual storyline and Judi Dench was in it quite a lot. She was so good she that Meryl Streep effect* and the new Q was a brilliant touch. Q is now a young techy (and cute of course) geek, so fitting for a 21st century Bond film. Javier Bardem was just brilliant as the bad guy, cheesy in just the right way (and right amount) in certain moments. Bardem is definitely a leading contender in the best Bond Baddie stakes. I also loved M's new office interior at the end and Bond fans will instantly know why as soon as they see Skyfall. However for those of you haven't seen it yet I won't spoil it with a description here.** There were a few other references to past movies to please fans, but not so overt to have you groaning nor would they leave Bond newbies scratching their heads in puzzlement at the remarks. The Bond producers really nailed it this time by getting a great script, with a great cast and director who does proper films rather than just action films. Sam Mendes showed a brilliant streak in his direction here. He didn't try to turn Bond into Shakespeare or some worthy, meaningful drama he just let it be a great yarn with some fab action sequences and far more realistic gadgets than one would expect from a Bond movie. A real cinematic treat.

I don't own any Bond movies on DVD, but this is one I will be buying. The reason I've never owned any is because they're repeated so often on TV that there is no need to have them even if you do love them (which I do). Having seen them so often I am deeply familiar with the various Bonds and their respective Baddies and whilst I'll always have a soft spot for Roger Moore's twinkly-eyed Bond, Daniel Craig played Bond so well this time that if the producers continue to give him great scripts, directors and baddies to spark off he may yet go down as THE Bond in the way David Suchet is THE Poirot.

*You know the one where you end up thinking or saying that you want to be her when you grow up.
**Nor am I spoiling anything by telling you that there will be a new interior for M's office at the end.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and why I love it

The annual summer exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA), has one certain and consistent feature every year, you know their will be a varied selection and you’ve no idea what will be on offer, but there will be lots of it. It is rather like trying to guess what will be in a pick’n’mix sweet stand if you’re blindfolded. You know there will be a variety of media, styles and quality. The problem of trying to judge quality in a show of this size and nature is the same every time, it is subjective and based on individual taste as much as technical ability or ingenuity. The old cliché of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ seems never to apply more aptly than when trying to discuss this annual visual treat. And it is a treat!

I think of the RA’s Summer Exhibition as a treat. You go around from room to room with or without the guidebook and just enjoy lots of individual artworks. You don’t have to think about how an artist fits into a particular canon or what the body of work on display is attempting highlight or discuss, no academic concepts to grapple with. You could of course write essays on how the display relates to the history of exhibitions and display, but why would you want to when there is so much more to talk about and enjoy. Equally when you are in the midst of the exhibition you forget about the academic considerations, or at least I do.  For me it is just lots of works all hung up in a bunch of rooms in what is quite often a mish mash pattern for you to rush past or meander through at your leisure. You can try to look at all of them or just focus on a few in each room that catches your eye. The fact that many (or most) are available to you to buy adds another dimension and frisson of excitement. You can wander around and comment ‘wouldn’t pay tuppence for that’ or ‘if only I had the money’ and argue with friends or family about which ones you put where in your homes, or even if you’d have to have shared custody because you all like something so much.

This is what I love about the annual show. There is no academia behind it. It brings me back to why I love viewing art and reminds me of the reasons I did an art history degree. With an art history degree you can lose track of why you were drawn to the subject in the first place. Firstly whilst studying, you get lost in reading for seminars, writing essays, dissertations and taking exams. It becomes somewhat mechanical. You learn new ways to look at art and what it says or tries to say, you gain new tools and a new vocabulary and you start to analyze every painting you see and every exhibition you go to. I don’t regret my degree, it has broadened my understanding, introduced me to artists and works I might never have seen or heard of and gave me tools for understanding and new ways to appreciate the visual arts. However, what I did lose a bit with this was the sheer joy of looking at something that is beautiful or moving and enjoying that pleasure for its own sake. And it is precisely this pleasure that is brought back to me with pick’n’mix of the summer exhibition, the sheer unadulterated joy of looking at pretty pictures (for want of a better description). You are guaranteed to have a range of thoughts and feelings, you will not leave the show without having spotted something you loved or hated.

This year’s show was across 10 rooms and contained 1474 works. There are some works that I found pointless, ugly and dull and where I did have that infamous ‘a 5 year old could’ve done that’ moments. However, those were in a minority as there were so many, many more I was entranced by. I plan to talk about just a few here, as if I tried to list them all, I’d be here all and you are all probably getting a bored already, so I’ll confine myself to just a few. (I'll provide links so you can see them.)

The first one I’m going to talk about is one that I cannot say I liked, but equally dislike wouldn’t be right. It’s called Feather Child I and is by an artist called Lucy Glendinning. Its made of wax, jesmonite, timber and feathers and visually you see the figure of a child (made out of feathers, or rather covered by feathers) curled up in the feotal position lying down. To say that it is thought provoking would be an understatement. It completely creeped me out, there is no other way to describe it. Looking at this curled up, feather-child was so deeply saddening and intrusive I cannot find adequate words to describe how I felt in that moment. It was deeply moving. A work that is definitely worth seeing and an artist I’d like to learn more about.

The final four works I want to tell you about are far more joyful. There is a work by Ben Crow, Thomas Hopkins and Sara Shafiel called Book: Solar Topography, The Farnese Gardens, Rome (brass and paper). What you see is a large (fat) sketchbook open about the middle with a relief of the Farnese Gardens cut out in the paper. The effect is breathtaking and the precision and detail in this exhibit are truly impressive and left me wishing I had artistic talent. As it is my artistic talents go as far as appreciating works rather than in creating them! Honestly, I’m not bitter, well not much anyway.

The next two works I loved, probably say more about me than the artist. The first is a ceramic tape measure by Katharine Morling (called Tape Measure) and is made of porcelain and black stain. It isn’t a big piece and it is an edition of 100, which are no doubt sold out by now, but I am determined to go back and see if there are some still left (it has a very affordable price tag of £100). I love it and would love to own it. So it may not surprise you to know that I’m a very amateur seamstress, a novice, who aspires to one day be a very good amateur seamstress.

The penultimate work is called Ferias Diversorio and is a wonderful piece made by Hawkins/Brown and it was fun, cute, adorable and breathtakingly smilicious* It is better than any jewellery box ballerina and I truly wish I had one. This was not for sale, but I doubt I would have been able to afford it. As it is the tape measure is stretching my budget seriously at the moment. Still, for a girl who likes sewing, it isn’t all that surprising I fell in love with this artwork.

The final piece I loved was a group of photographs of handwritten words. The photograph clearly shows that the paper and handwriting are very old fashioned and so it wasn’t a surprise to learn the words date back to the 19th century. In fact this piece by Royal Academician Cornelia Parker is actually deletions from the original manuscript from Jane Eyre. My only disappointment for this work was finding out that the words are not deletions from a favourite work of mine, but Jane Eyre. Still it could have been worse, they could have come from a book I hated.

Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibition and the only thing I would strongly recommend, other than going to see it while you still can, is that you really do need to purchase the guide book for it. Luckily it isn’t terribly expensive at £3.50. In fact go and see it more than once as the second you time you go you’ll notice many things you didn’t see the first time. In fact, I might just now go off for a third viewing…

*I’m aware that isn’t a real word, but it should be.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Jumping the Bandwagon, My Review of Fifty Shades of Grey

I finally gave in and decided to see what all the fuss is about, mostly because it was £3 in a supermarket rather the full £7.99 listed on the back cover, and so I have bought Fifty Shades of Grey (henceforth FSG). I haven’t watched any of the Twilight series, nor have I read them. At first I was equally sure I didn’t want to either read or watch, but curiosity may win out and if I’m going to hate something the least I could do is be fully informed on my object of loathing. The plot summary of FSG is well described in The Guardian’s digested read and can be found here.
As an erotic novel, whether you like it or not will depend on what you turns you on. The vanilla sex that deflowered Ana is standard run of the mill fare that is a like a more graphic version of Mills & Boon or something out Jackie Collins. So far so bland. However, it might be a useful indicator of what a woman might like to an inexperienced lover, a way for a woman to show her man that an erect penis does not constitute foreplay.
The kinky sex, was not shocking or surprising and I didn’t find it daring or outrageous, but rather dull at times. It feels like a pedestrian’s imagination of kink. However, I could be wrong as this particular flavour of sex is one I’ve never been particularly attracted to, nor do I know much about it. Therefore I’m probably not the best person to comment on it and since there is so much more that appalled me in this book that I would rather focus on that.
So now on to the non-explicit parts of FSG. I found the urge to punch Ana and E L James was frequently overwhelming. I have no issues with a Dom having complete control over their Sub in the bedroom (or wherever else the activities may take place); but when the Dom is basically your lord and master outside the bedroom, then I have a problem. If this book were only sold on shelves labeled erotica or erotic fantasy, I would have little issue with the book, but the fact is that in all the stores I’ve seen it in, it is on the same fiction shelf as non-explicit literature. This fact is something that bothers me greatly. It bothers me because teenage girls are likely to pick this up due to the Twilight connection and will find themselves being told that a man can dominate and dictate your life, that it is perfectly ok for to do just that. It isn’t ok! Women have fought for so long to be free of this kind of domination (sadly many women are still having to fight for freedom from domination,  even oppression by men) that this book to me feels like a slap in the face to the many women of previous generations who fought so hard for me to be able to make my own decisions, to be free of be owned (either literally or metaphorically) by a man. I hate the perpetuation of the myth that loving a man means you should be ok with being treated badly and disrespectfully most of the time because he makes up for it by saying or doing nice things for you now and then. Is this really what we want young women to learn about relationships? I sincerely hope not. Equally I hope that mothers (and fathers) will want to teach their sons to treat women with more respect than Christian (or E L James) shows Ana. The book may have been intended to be a harmless sexual fantasy story but because of where FSG is located in bookshops we cannot afford to dismiss it as such.

A little bit about me

There are not enough hours in the day to read, write and see all I'd like to, but I'm giving it my best shot.

My interests are varied, from the fun and frivolous to the cultural and even serious. My background is as varied as my interests and I come to this blog via multi-disciplinary humanities degree followed by a career in retail, via illness (ME/CFS), to completing an art history degree as a mature student. 

So what does this mean? Well, it means you'll find me posting on a variety of subjects from style to culture and current affairs by way of book, film and exhibition reviews. I guess you could call me a Jackie of All Trades and Master of ... well, I'll leave just how many I'm master of up to you! 

I hope you enjoy reading this blog and if there is anything you'd like to read about feel free to email me at