Sunday, 30 December 2007

Casino Royale

Casino Royale
Casino Royale was the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, though the film rights to it had always eluded Cubby Broccoli, who produced films based on all of Fleming's subsequent Bond books. A film of Casino Royale was made in 1967, though it was a spoof version featuring a huge, chaotic ensemble of directors, writers, and stars. When the rights finally passed to Broccoli's company, a canonical version could finally be made, directed by Martin Campbell.

Campbell had previously directed Pierce Brosnan as an ultra-suave Bond in GoldenEye. Brosnan's replacement, Daniel Craig, is more reminiscent of Die Hard's John McClain than the traditional James Bond character. (Does he want his Martini shaken or stirred? "Do I look like I give a damn?" is his iconoclastic answer.)

Monday, 24 December 2007

Seduced

Seduced
Seduced: Art & Sex From Antiquity To Now, an exhibition at the Barbican in London (from 12th October 2007 until 27th January 2008), presents an historical survey of sex as represented in various artistic media from Classical sculpture to contemporary photography.

Every significant field is included: Japanese illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries, Victorian and early 20th century erotic photography from the Alfred Kinsey collection, outrageous drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Surrealist images by Man Ray, illustrations for Justine and The Philosophy Of The Boudoir, and the Kama Sutra. There are even late drawings by Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso, and an early (self-satisfied) Picasso self-portrait. Sex in contemporary art is represented by Andy Warhol's film Blowjob, and collections of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (his most sado-masochistic, homoerotic images), Nobuyoshi Araki (close-up, eroticised images of isolated organs and snails), Jeff Koons (quasi-pornographic self-portraits with Ilona Staller), Thomas Ruff (out-of-focus images appropriated from porn websites), and Nan Goldin.

Goldin's work, a slide-show of naturalistic images, is the only exhibit to carry an individual 'explicit content' warning, although the Kinsey slideshow is far more graphic; the Goldin warning may be a precautionary reaction to the fuss over her recent Baltic exhibition. There are very few notable omissions, though Warhol would have been better represented by Blue Movie, and Carolee Schneemann's film Fuses should have been included, as should Andres Serrano's History Of Sex photographs.

Adland

Adland
Adland: A Global History Of Advertising, by Mark Tungate, is the first truly historical and international book about the advertising industry. Its emphasis is on the industry rather than the advertisements themselves, and its index is incomplete, though it explores the business of advertising with unprecedented scope.

Potty Fartwell & Knob

Potty Fartwell & Knob
Potty Fartwell & Knob: Extraordinary But True Names Of British People, by Russell Ash, is a pre-Christmas, stocking-filler book. Ash has compiled thematic lists of unusual names, all taken from census records, registers of marriages, and other public documents.

Thus, for example, we learn that there was a man named Jesus Christ who was born in 1940 and died in 2004. My favourite word is given its very own chapter, and the book lists twenty first names and surnames which incorporate it. (Anyone familiar with the English town Scunthorpe will get the general idea; as a personal nomenclature, it appears in even less disguised forms.)

In his introduction, Ash stresses that "wherever possible original documents have been checked" to avoid mistakes, though he also writes that his research involved "access to online material". Exactly how many census records he checked online, and how many he examined in their original versions, is unclear. I'm not convinced that all of the names listed are genuine, as it's too easy for mistakes or spoofs to creep in when records are typed into databases.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

New Works

New Works, an exhibition of videos and sculptures by Santiago Sierra, opened at the Lisson Gallery, London, on 30th November, and will close on 19th January 2008. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, Seven Works.

New Works features twenty-one blocks (Anthropometric Modules) of dried human excrement, collected and moulded by 'dalit' ('untouchable') scavengers in India. Sierra's art raises awareness of the exploitation of low-paid workers, though he has also been accused of exploiting the disadvantaged volunteers who work for him (by paying them nominal sums to perform degrading acts). Indeed, the Indian scavengers received no compensation for their work on his recent sculptures.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Stanley Kubrick Archive

Stanley Kubrick Archive
Stanley Kubrick Archive
I went to the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts in London yesterday. The Archive was donated by Kubrick's widow earlier this year, and is currently being catalogued.

I had a great surprise: I found that I am actually part of the archive! In one of the boxes is my list of Kubrick's Look photographs, printed out from my website.

Live Earth

Live Earth
This year's Live Earth concert has been released on DVD and CD as Live Earth: The Concerts For A Climate In Crisis. The CD features Madonna performing Hey You, and the DVD features her performance of La Isla Bonita.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

30,000 Years Of Art

30,000 Years Of Art
30,000 Years Of Art: The Story Of Human Creativity Across Time & Space, published by Phaidon, features 1,000 artworks from cave paintings to conceptual art. Each work is illustrated by a full-page, colour photograph, and accompanied by a few paragraphs of explanatory text, following the same format as Phaidon's The Art Book and The 20th Century Art Book.

30,000 Years Of Art spans the entire history of artistic achievement, and features works from around the world. In addition to painting, sculpture, installation, and video, it also includes decorative art: ceramics, textiles, and metalwork. (In contrast, The Art Book is restricted to Western art since the Renaissance, and decorative art is excluded.) Unlike The Art Book, there are no cross-references but there is an index.

Each artist is restricted to a single entry. Some artists are represented by their most famous works, such as Velasquez (Las Meninas), Richard Hamilton (Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?), and Picasso (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon), though others are not: Leonardo's first portrait (Ginevra de' Benci) is included instead of the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo is represented by his Dying Slave sculpture rather than David or the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

30,000 Years Of Art, weighing almost 6kg with more than 1,000 pages, is an excellent introduction to international art history. The Story Of Art (by EH Gombrich; also published by Phaidon), A World History Of Art (by John Fleming and Hugh Honour), and Art Through The Ages (by Helen Gardner) are the best single-volume art histories.

Monday, 10 December 2007

The Bridge

The Brige
The Bridge is a documentary directed by Eric Steel. Throughout 2004, Steel used remote cameras to film people walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, looking for anyone who was preparing to jump off the bridge. His cameras captured nineteen people as they jumped to their deaths. The film includes footage of these suicides, and interviews with friends and relatives of those who died.

Documentary film-making has always raised questions about directorial intervention, though in this case the issue is absolutely fundamental. Steel maintains that, any time he saw someone behaving unusually, he called the coastguard, and that he was thus able to prevent six suicide attempts. One of the film's interviewees, a photographer, explains the detachment he feels when looking through a camera viewfinder, and this has also been explored in horror films such as Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project. In The Bridge, the photographer overcame his artistic instinct and intervened to save the life of the suicidal woman he was photographing, and Steel himself is adamant that he did all he could for each of the people whose deaths he filmed.

Friday, 7 December 2007

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Steven Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die has been tweaked again, in a new 2007 edition. As in 2006 and 2005, the changes are few and are limited to the most recent films. The Departed has been added, for example, but Nine Queens and Y Tu Mama Tambien have been unfairly excised. Cache, added in 2006, has now been cut.

PDF

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Adam & Ewald

Adam & Ewald
Adam & Ewald
Adam & Ewald
Adam & Ewald
Photographs by Iranian artist Sooreh Hera have been withdrawn from a planned exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in the Netherlands. The images, part of a series titled Adam & Ewald, show gay men wearing Mohammed masks, and are also included in a video made by the artist (Allah Ho Gaybar). Other prohibited Mohammed artworks, such as the Lars Vilks drawings and the opera Idomeneo, have subsequently been exhibited, so hopefully another gallery will show Hera's work soon.

video

Monday, 3 December 2007

Destination Moon

Destination Moon
Destination Moon was directed by Irving Pichel and produced by George Pal. Pal's intention was to inject scientific credibility and documentary realism into science-fiction, though the result is a rather boring, uneventful film. A group of engineers build a rocket, fly to the moon, and then fly back again. They don't encounter any aliens, they don't crash, and there isn't even any dramatic conflict. (Some elements, such as the coloured space suits, the procedural details, and an astronaut adrift in space, could have influenced Kubrick's 2001.)

While Pichel and Pal were perfecting their scrupulous accuracy, they were overtaken by a low-budget exploitation film, Rocketship XM, which was rushed into production and actually released before Destination Moon. Rocketship XM has no production values, but it's far more exciting than Pichel's film. Pal later produced the alien invasion film The War Of The Worlds, one of the most dramatic sci-fi films of the period, but it was the success of Destination Moon that revived the genre at the start of the 1950s.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Fellowship Of The Ring
(director's cut)

The Fellowship Of The Ring
The Fellowship Of The Ring is the first film in Peter Jackson's trilogy The Lord Of The Rings, based on the novels of JRR Tolkien. I did not see these films when they were originally released, though I am a huge fan of Jackson's earlier splatter films Bad Taste and Braindead. I saw his remake of King Kong last year, and it sapped away any enthusiasm I had to see The Lord Of The Rings.

Well, The Fellowship Of The Ring is so much better than King Kong. The entire cast is suberb, especially Ian McKellen as Gandalf. It's surprising that Orlando Bloom's character has so little dialogue, though presumably his role is expanded in the second and third installments. Though there is extensive CGI, the film also relies heavily on traditional effects such as matte paintings and miniatures. Logistically, the trilogy is surely one of the most complex film projects ever undertaken, as the three films were produced simultaneously, with multiple units.

The result is stunning. I only wish I could feel the same enthusiasm for Jackson's King Kong.