Simple Pleasures from Regent’s Park

29107454095_057b7308b6_oThe sound of running water (fountain). Sunshine. Comic books. Flowers. Jesus Christ Superstar (I can hear it from where I am lying, coming from the Open Air Theatre). Grass. Summer. Children. Drums. Dancing. Languages. Chance encounters with friends. Walking with an Enfant Terrible. Full moon – the details on the lunar surface. Parks. In-laws. Allotments. Blackberries. Sharing fruit. McDonalds chocolate milkshake. Gardening. My water-rock. Innuendo.

Dream of Life

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Patti Smith: Dream of Life

I met Patti Smith one time – it was in St Luke’s Church near Old Street roundabout after an intimate gig of hers. We talked briefly about Rimbaud and the time he spent in Camden Town with Verlaine. Rimbaud of course features in a scene of the ten-years-in-the-making poetic hotchpotch of a film that is Steve Sebring’s documentary ‘Patti Smith: Dream of Life’ which I saw on the big screen this afternoon at the Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End thanks to Doc n’ Roll.

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On Rimbaud’s toilet

I went with my old friend, film-maker and teacher Roddy Gibson. We went to see Patti in 2007 at The Roundhouse where she did a wonderful gig centred on her album ‘Twelve’. I’ve probably seen her play live around ten times, always in London, from the Union Chapel to St Giles-in-the-fields by Denmark Street – and even in one or two places that weren’t churches.

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Patti Smith & photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

The best moment of the film for me was when she, without warning, pours out from an exotic urn Robert Mapplethorpe’s ashes into her hand, explaining the texture, that it’s not like normal ashes or dust. Their connection is a fascinating one, not least as it overlapped with her intense marriage to Fred Sonic Smith.

Her smile which punctuates the film is another thing that stays with you.

I liked the moment when she meets Jesse Jackson at an anti-war demo, as it struck me that he bears the names of both her children – Jesse is the daughter (on piano), Jackson the son (on guitar).

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Patti Smith & Allen Ginsberg

The presence of Allen Ginsberg in the film really resonated for me. I have been writing about him in recent times – here’s an extract. His poetry, in my experience, has the marvellous effect of inspiring the reader to write poetry. Patti is clearly a descendent of his, and that they were friends is inevitable. Blake, Corso, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Burroughs are all present in the film as a constellation at the centre of a particular cultural universe – one that really sings to me.

The line that punched out for me was where Patti asserts that we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it. As I watch my 19 year old wrestle with the shape of his identity and life mission it’s a salutary reminder to tread softly as someone lays their dreams at your feet, to be careful not to crush nascent ambitions or visions, to enable them to use their singular voice and realise their dreams of life.

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With 1930s guitar given her by playwright Sam Shepherd in the 70s

My mission is to communicate, to wake people up – it’s to give them my energy and accept theirs. We’re all in it together, and I respond emotionally as a worker, a mother, an artist, a human being …with a voice. We all have a voice. We have the responsibility to exercise it, to use it.

 

Simple Pleasures from Cyprus (Limassol – Lemesos International Documentary Festival)

IMG_6705Reggae. The sound of the sea. Iced coffee. Going shirtless. Fresh white fish. Balconies. Rooms shuttered from the sun. Reading on the beach. Curves. Pregnancy bump. Sandals. Cool showers. Water with ice & lemon. The shade of trees. Watermelon. Handstands in the surf. Floating in the sun.

Whole in a Hole – Picture of the Month: Pelvis 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe (1944)

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Pelvis 1 – Georgia O’Keeffe (1944)

Reviewing Georgia O’Keeffe’s life’s work at the extensive exhibition currently showing at Tate Modern, it is clearly a journey of abstracting Nature to capture and communicate its essence.

The journey as portrayed in this retrospective has the following landmarks along the way: early experiments with pure abstraction, exploring synaesthesia and detached from figurative representation; taking the figurative edge off of cityscapes of New York; immersion in Nature in New York State; flower paintings; discovering New Mexico; bone paintings and New Mexican landscapes; last works including aerial landscapes. I pick out Pelvis 1 as the culmination of the journey.

It is the brilliant realisation that you can create a ready-made abstract of Nature through the simple device of a dried bone from the arid landscape of New Mexico. O’Keeffe used the hole in a pelvis bone to frame the brilliant blue of the Southern sky. In so doing we have both the figurative representation of a piece of sun-bleached bone and patches of sun-drenched sky; and a two-colour abstract centred on a big blue ball. There’s just enough shadow on the bone and shading in the sky to retain the literal representation of the scene and yet the execution is simple enough to read as a Modernist work of Abstract Expressionism.

The tightly cropped presentation owes something to the art of photography – O’Keeffe was married for over two decades to the photographer and modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz.

The degree of abstraction is amplified when we consider the date: 1944. There was some heavy shit going on for the USA in ’44 and even more so for humanity and the world and yet we have here purity and tranquility. Having said that, over half of the picture area is made up of Dead Stuff (bone). Pelvis can be read as a momento mori, a meditation on the finite life of Man and Nature’s creatures in contrast to the infinity of the heavens.

O’Keeffe was consciously in search of what she termed “The Great American Thing”, a form of art as native and characteristic as, say, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was in terms of the novel. That other Great American and lover of Nature, Henry David Thoreau, swore by Simplicity:

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

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Mask with Golden Apple – Georgia O’Keeffe (1923)

And our own apple-lover Isaac Newton captured it well:

Nature is pleased with simplicity.

So is Art.

Another great American Modernist, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, (much influenced by Thoreau) summed it up as well as anyone:

Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.

By those measures Pelvis 1 is a masterpiece. I love it for having boiled down the essence of the Human Condition (mortality in the face of eternity) like the desert strips the rotting body down to pure white bone. O’Keeffe collected bones from 1929, initially due to Nature holding back its bounty: “That first summer I spent in New Mexico I was a little surprised that there were so few flowers. There was no rain so the flowers didn’t come. Bones were easy to find so I began collecting bones.” She began painting them from around 1931, initially mainly skulls. She painted them as still lifes; superimposed on landscapes in the Surrealist manner; integrated into the landscape sitting in the foreground. That this painting features the pelvis rather than the skull I also love because this is not about brains and thinking, this is about cohones and feeling, about instinct and the deepest-down understanding.

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Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

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A previous Latino Picture of the Month:  Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo (1942)

Broadcast Digital Awards 2016

The studs, femmes and muffins of The Black Lesbian Handbook go into battle…

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All Fall Down

This review originally appeared on A Penguin a Week.

 

Penguin no. 1742: All Fall Down
by James Leo Herlihy

Cover design uses still from the MGM movie ‘All Fall Down’.

“Tomorrow I’m going on a health binge, get some filter cigarettes and start doing push-ups every night. Maybe I’ll do some right now, to make myself sleepy. Because I’ve got about forty-seven big knots in my chest, and they hurt.”
 
When I pick up an old Penguin I’m hoping for a surprise – something off-beat, long neglected, out of left field, a lost gem. ‘All Fall Down’ delivered. 

It’s the first novel from the Detroit writer who went on to write ‘Midnight Cowboy’ five years later in 1965, James Leo Herlihy. It’s a coming of age story in the heritage of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a decade in its wake. It follows the growth of Clint Williams from an isolated, uncommunicative 14 year old to an emerging adult with the capacity to care and love. 

A fair proportion of the story is told through Clint’s diary – it’s like an external hard drive he relies on to compulsively capture memories and documentation from his chaotic family life. He steals his mother’s private letters (outgoing and incoming) to copy into this notebook which he keeps tucked in his trousers, right against his flesh. It’s the one place he controls and to which he can bring some degree of order.

Clint’s hero, his older brother Berry-berry, is absent for much of the story, on his low-life travels around the USA, much of the time just one step ahead of the law. Yet his being has immense gravitational pull on the family. The disparity between what mother, father and little brother hope for from Berry-berry and the real man (in as much as he is grown up) is the source of the all-round disillusionment which engulfs the family.

When the Williams move to a new house across the city in Cleveland, Ohio, the cracks open up. Berry-berry takes off before he’s even spent a night in his new room. The father, a former left-wing activist, spends his time in the basement doing puzzles. The mother immerses herself in domesticity on the ground floor, while Clint eavesdrops from the laundry chute upstairs and records the exchanges in the diary which he “made use of … with an unconscious ease similar to that of walking or feeding oneself”.

Clint, in an attempt to come to the aid of the older brother he idolises, goes on a road trip across the country to the Florida Keys. He loses his innocence along the way when he is sheltered by Shirley, a young tart with a heart, whose inner beauty and profound loss influence Clint for life.

The person who catalyses the final destruction of both the dysfunctional family and their illusions is the unmarried daughter of one of the mother, Annabel’s, friends. Echo O’Brien is a dynamic young woman, very attached to her perfectly preserved 1929 Dodge touring car. Tall and slender, she could, in a parallel universe, have been in the pages of  ‘The Great Gatsby’. Think ‘Gatsby’ and Tennessee Williams for the kind of tension Echo brings into the Williams household as she becomes the object of both Clint’s innocent, tender love and Berry-berry’s careless lust, the latter returned to his home city and the proximity of his family, but living on the edge of town with a dark secret.

Watching Berry-berry live a lie and talk up his hollow, self-centred life, gradually grinds away at Clint’s hopes and illusions. Like Holden Caulfield’s obsession with ‘phoneyness’, Clinton Williams can’t take the lies: “I just stayed there at the table and thought about what big liars we all are”. Berry-berry tells his biggest, most unforgivable lie at the climax of the novel and it is this which finally severs his bond with his once adoring brother. Berry-berry ultimately cares only for himself and loves no-one, not even himself. Clint though has a great capacity and desire to care and cherish. His growth into adulthood is complete with the realisation that “[in] the difference in the love offerings people make to one another, lay the reason for all the pain in the world.”

First published in the U.S.A. 1960. Published in Great Britain by Faber & Faber 1961. Published in Penguin Books 1962.

The roots of the Brexit

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Picking up from my post in the run-up to the Brexit vote about Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy I see the roots of yesterday’s dark shock as being in the same realm –  the fundamental weakness of British democracy due to lack of proportional representation.

David Cameron offered the in/out referendum in January 2013 to appease members of his own party and keep the Conservatives yoked together in the run-up to the May 2015 general election. If the First-past-the-post voting system was not so inimicable to the third party and below, we could be looking at a much fairer and more democratic landscape in the UK.

The tension in the Tory party is down to the fact that it is not really a single party. There could be a centrist conservative party and a more right-wing one.

Likewise on the Left, the Labour Party is forever jumping through hoops to get round the fact it is not really a single party. It too could exist as a Socialist party and another Social Democrat one.

And that would still leave room for a Liberal party in the centre ground, as well as narrower/more focused parties from the Greens to UKIP making up a healthier, more diverse offering.

Instead we are looking at a riven Conservative Party, a leaderless Labour Party, a destroyed Liberal Party and what was a disenfranchised UKIP, whose followers have now taken revenge.

The way many Tories in particular (largely the ones that went on to back the Leave campaign) stifled and undermined the last UK referendum (May 2011) on voting reform was disgusting and ultimately very damaging as yesterday proved.

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I’m still absorbing yesterday’s dark news. Keeping these to capture the feeling…

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Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy

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Yesterday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox. There was no studio audience and the panel was made up of commentators rather than politicians. What cheered my heart to some degree, in the midst of a moronic and deceitful referendum and a tragic assassination, was that two disparate journalists, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, emphasised the desperate need for voting reform and some meaningful form of proportional representation.

I have voted in every election in my adult life – for 34 years – until the recent London mayoral election which I did not turn out for because I didn’t care for either of the main candidates. In those 42 years I have never elected a single person. Because I’m a liberal by nature, though even when I’ve voted otherwise/tactically, as in May 2015, I’ve still made no difference.

In Anita Anand’s Any Answers phone-in after the programme an MP’s chief of staff rang in and threw away that great cliche that in our democracy we “can always vote them out”. But we can’t. I haven’t been able to.

We have a highly overrated ‘democracy’ in which elections have boiled down to become focused on a tiny minority of swing voters in marginal seats.

We have an increasingly disempowering ‘democracy’ in which a party like UKIP gets millions of votes but one seat only, gets three times as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th of the representation in Parliament. How should those millions of UKIP voters feel in the wake of that most depressing election? I’ve no particular sympathy for the UKIP perspective but I don’t believe their supporters’ votes should be without value or real meaning.

As I was walking along the river in Winchester yesterday evening I spotted a Leave campaign poster at the back of an affluent house, with a URL  including the words “take control”. I would contend that even if we took back sovereignty from the EU we would continue to have no real control. At least ‘we the people’ would not. We the politicians, many of whom are elected on well under 50% of the vote, indeed many on under 30%, may gain even more unearned control and fundamentally undemocratic power.

UK democracy has been severely wounded and bleeding out long before the horrendous murder of Jo Cox, by all accounts a representative of great integrity, selfless conviction and beautiful character. Her death is tragic. Her killer’s state of mind is sadly poisonous. The referendum debate is toxic with hate and mendacity. I’ll go vote on Thursday – but with a deep sense of disempowerment and little feeling of hope…

So long and thanks for all the fish…

An extract from an article in Broadcast today. {courtesy of Broadcast}

 

 

Senior digital commissioners depart in C4 shake-up

 

Channel 4 commissioners Adam Gee and Jody Smith are to leave the broadcaster after more than a decade as part of a restructure at digital video service All 4.

The broadcaster is shaking up All 4’s editorial team, scrapping genre commissioning in favour of recruiting an overarching executive who will be responsible for curating, acquiring and commissioning programming.

As a result, Gee and Smith’s respective factual and entertainment multiplatform commissioning roles will close. It also follows the departure of shorts commissioner Isaac Densu, who left to join youth music brand SBTV in February after a year.

Around half of All 4’s 15-strong editorial team of online producers are also understood to be at risk of redundancy as a result of the changes.

C4 offered a clue to its plans in late April when it advertised for a Collections commissioning editor to help with the “transformation” of All 4.

Digital departures

Gee and Smith, who are expected to leave over the summer, have worked at C4 for 13 and 10 years respectively.

Factual multiplatform commissioner Gee was responsible for Embarrassing Bodies’ multiplatform output, Hugh’s Fish Fight and music amnesty campaign Don’t Stop The Music. He has collected an array of Bafta, RTS, Broadcast Digital and Emmy Awards.

He has commissioned over 25 short-form series since All 4 was established including My Pop Up Restaurant and Naked and Invisible, which has notched up over 6m YouTube views. He has also overseen digital shorts including Tattoo Twists, which led to E4 format Tattoo Fixers, and Drones In Forbidden Zones, the inspiration for C4’s Hidden Britain By Drone.

“I have loved every minute at Channel 4 and couldn’t respect its values more,” said Gee. “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to help establish Channel 4 as the world leader in TV-centred multiplatform; to set up and run the innovative and impactful IdeasFactory creative talent scheme when I first arrived; and most recently to get the channel’s short-form originals offer up and running with a distinctly C4 voice.”

 

Davidson-Houston thanked the pair for their “huge contributions to Channel 4’s reputation for innovation” in a note to staff. “They have boldly gone where no one has gone before,” he added.

The broadcaster will be looking to build on strong foundations. After launching All 4 around 12 months ago, digital revenues have rocketed to £82m, up 30% from 2014’s figure of £63m.

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