Archive for August, 2019|Monthly archive page

Quotations: Walking

I’m about to set off for an urban walk along the Thames but before I go here’s a couple of quotations about the benefits of Walking.

ingmar bergman swedish film director with family

Ingmar Bergman

On the subject of taking walks,  Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman told his daughter:

The demons hate fresh air

But my favourite is all Greek to me. A physician in ancient Greece, Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), besides creating the Hippocratic Oath, came up with this pithy beauty:

Walking is the best medicine

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My Favourite Documentaries – Take 2

see My Favourite Documentaries for the background to this list

being blacker molly dineen adam gee

Being with Blacker

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – I came across it while studying Avant Garde literature, painting & film as part of my Modern Languages degree – my iPad is engraved on the back “I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”, a quotation from Vertov
  • German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (Sidney Bernstein & Alfred Hitchcock, 1945) – perhaps the most important documentary ever made
  • Up (Michael Apted, Paul Almond 1963>) – what I learnt from Michael Apted in Rome
  • Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) – my visit to the location of the Subterranean Homesick Blues promo
  • Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) – last watched it (in part, on multiple screens) at the brilliant You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition at the V&A
  • Meeting the Man (Terence Dixon, 1970) – James Baldwin at his best, shot by my first boss Jack Hazan
  • A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973) – British vérité; still hoping to do a James Baldwin doc with Jack
  • World At War (Jeremy Isaacs, 1973 – esp. Holocaust episode) – I found out about the Holocaust from this series when I was 15 or 16; I briefly met Jeremy Isaacs at Channel 4, in whose founding he was instrumental, and we discussed multiplatform TV
  • Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) – my first employers
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – the great directorial lesson in the use of detail to prompt memory
  • Hearts of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1991) – spinning out my favourite movie made in my lifetime
  • When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) – captured the legend of Ali perfectly, above all in the shot of the dented punch-bag
  • One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) – distributed by Redbus who funded my dot com start-up
  • Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) – he sent an email to my book group at my prompting when we read his Stupid White Men
  • Clowns in the Hood (David LaChapelle, 2003) Jess Search gave me this one – still have the VHS
  • Jump London (Mike Christie, 2003) – the 2nd best thing made at Channel 4 during my 13 years there (Cost of Living, with DV8 was the best)
  • The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, 2007) – made at Film4 during my time at C4
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) – the most convincing, organic use of animation in documentary
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) – had dinner with James in Brussels in 2008 with my friend Jan Younghusband, then Arts Commissioning Editor at C4
  • Oil City Confidential (Julian Temple, 2009) – captured the legend of Wilko Johnson perfectly, above all playing Roxette
  • Requiem for Detroit? (Julian Temple, 2010) – execed by my mentor, Roger Graef
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) – saw Malik and Rodriguez (performing) at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2012
  • Night Will Fall (Andre Singer, 2014) – was with André when he went to Yad Vashem during the making of this; have been working on a spin-off project related to this on and off over the last 5 years
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson, 2015) – discussed the film with Stanley in Sheffield in 2015: I said things hadn’t improved much for African Americans since the Panthers, he thought they had
  • After The Dance (Daisy Asquith, 2015) – first encountered Daisy in 2006 working on My New Home at Channel 4
  • 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016) – a heart-rendingly powerful argument (that slavery was morphed into the penitentiary)
  • Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017) – a perfect blend of still and moving pictures
  • Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) – I saw Bing present the film at Doc Fest; I use it often when lecturing as an example of iterative development (it started life as a skating short)
  • Being Blacker (Molly Dineen, 2018) – met Blacker at the premiere [see photo above]
  • Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, 2018) – crossed paths with the Producer, Becky Read, at C4
  • RBG (Julie Cohen & Betsy West, 2018) – a fascinating protagonist
  • Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Nick Broomfield, 2019) – had a brief email correspondence with Nick about the film after the Sheffield DocFest screening in June (2019)
  • Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story (Martin Scorsese, 2019) – was high for four days after watching this, it was so good
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Being with Joan

 

The Casting Game: Reservoir Dogs

To celebrate the arrival of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (which has grown on me since watching it last week) I’ve recast where it all began for Quentin, Reservoir Dogs

jonah hill actor wolf of wall street

Jonah Hill

as

chris penn reservoir dogs actor

Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn)

Arjen_Rudd_joss ackland actor lethal weapon

Joss Ackland

as

Lawrence_Tierney_joe cabot actor reservoir dogs

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney)

dominic west actor

Dominic West

as

kirk-baltz-marvin reservoir dogs police officer

Marvin (Kirk Baltz)

chris isaak singer

Chris Isaak

as

Michael-Madsen-Reservoir-Dogs actor

Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen)

malcolm allison manager football soccer

Malcolm Allison

as

mr white harvey keitel actor reservoir dogs

Mr White (Harvey Keitel)

paul weller singer the jam

Paul Weller

as

tim roth actor reservoir dogs

Mr Orange (Tim Roth)

My Favourite Documentaries

faces places agnes-varda-et-jr-en-tournage documentary

Faces Places – JR & Agnès

My first meeting tomorrow is with Brendan Byrne, director of ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days‘ among many other excellent documentary films. His latest is about poverty and alienation in New York City – ‘One Million American Dreams‘. On the way to our breakfast I will be carrying on reading ‘Say What Happened‘. Its author, Nick Fraser, kindly gave me a copy a few days ago before I went on a short holiday and I am just on the home straight with it now, a very entertaining and thought-provoking read. As a result of reading it I have watched numerous docs these last few days, including the first three episodes of ‘7 Up‘ by Michael Apted. (I met Michael in Rome last year, at the MIA film festival/market, as recorded in this post.)

Reading Nick’s book has prompted me to post a list of my favourite documentaries here on Simple Pleasures. I’d love to hear your suggestions for your favourite docs.

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – I came across it while studying Avant Garde literature, painting & film as part of my Modern Languages degree – my iPad is engraved on the back “I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”, a quotation from Vertov
  • Up (Michael Apted, Paul Almond 1963>) – what I learnt from Michael Apted in Rome
  • Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) – my visit to the location of the Subterranean Homesick Blues promo
  • Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) – last watched it (in part, on multiple screens) at the brilliant You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition at the V&A
  • A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973) – British vérité; still hoping to do a James Baldwin doc with Jack
  • World At War (Jeremy Isaacs, 1973 – esp. Holocaust episode) – I found out about the Holocaust from this series when I was 15 or 16; I briefly met Jeremy Isaacs at Channel 4, in whose founding he was instrumental, and we discussed multiplatform TV
  • Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) – my first employers
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – the great directorial lesson in the use of detail to prompt memory
  • Hearts of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1991) – spinning out my favourite movie made in my lifetime
  • When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) – captured the legend of Ali perfectly, above all in the shot of the dented punch-bag
  • One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) – distributed by Redbus who funded my dot com start-up
  • Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) – he sent an email to my book group at my prompting when we read his Stupid White Men
  • The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, 2007) – made at Film4 during my time at C4
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) – the most convincing, organic use of animation in documentary
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) – had dinner with James in Brussels in 2008 with my friend Jan Younghusband, then Arts Commissioning Editor at C4
  • Oil City Confidential (Julian Temple, 2009) – captured the legend of Wilko Johnson perfectly, above all playing Roxette
  • Requiem for Detroit? (Julian Temple, 2010) – execed by my mentor, Roger Graef
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) – saw Malik and Rodriguez (performing) at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2012
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson, 2015) – discussed the film with Stanley in Sheffield in 2015: I said things hadn’t improved much for African Americans since the Panthers, he thought they had
  • Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017) – a perfect blend of still and moving pictures
  • Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) – I saw Bing present the film at Doc Fest; I use it often when lecturing as an example of iterative development (it started life as a skating short)

I’ve left out loads which I’ll add over time as they occur to me.

joe strummer mick jones the clash rude boy documentary

Rude Boy – Joe & Mick

The Girl in the Blue Dress

I’m just back from a week in the village of Glencolmcille, Donegal (Ireland) doing a painting class at the Irish college (Oideas Gael). One day there I sat next to a Catweazle-looking fella, an American academic, called Jim Duna in An Chistin (The Kitchen restaurant) and he told me about an artist who had been active locally, a fellow American. At first he couldn’t recall the painter’s name and from the clues he gave I guessed Edward Hopper. It turned out it was one Rockwell Kent. I’m not bad on my art history and that name had never crossed my path.

The next day Oideas Gael put on a screening of an RTÉ documentary from last year about Kent and the subject of his most famous painting, Annie McGinley. After our morning painting session in the village’s National School we traipsed down to the college to watch the film, ‘Searching for  Annie’/’Ar Lorg Annie’ by Kevin Magee. Kevin is BBC Northern Ireland’s Investigations Correspondent and it turns out the Gaelic film is actually funded by BBC Gaeilge and Northern Ireland Screen (which I work with often), through their Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

One of the locations used in the film is a room above the better of the two pubs in Glencolmcille, Roarty’s. The next morning, on the way through the village to the hostel (where I was finishing a watercolour of Glen Head [see below] from the vantage point of their cliff-top lounge) I snuck in through an open door and up the stairs of the pub in search of the room as I knew it contained copies of Kent’s paintings. As I walked into the room there sat Jim at his breakfast – turned out he was lodging there. I had a look at the various pictures, poor copies, but nevertheless with some of the power of the originals.

None of Kent’s paintings reside in Ireland. He painted 36 in the Glencolmcille vicinity in in 1926. The most famous and resonant is this one, entitled ‘Annie McGinley’.

annie mcginley rockwell kent painting glencolmcille donegal ireland

‘Annie McGinley’ by Rockwell Kent (1926)

The painting now resides stashed away in a private collection in New York. It should be an icon of Irish painting. This reproduction doesn’t really do it justice. The location remains unchanged to this day. The day after the documentary screening some of the people on the Hill Walking course recreated the pose in the exact spot. The cliff-top is a couple of valleys over from the tranquil, resonant glen of Glencolmcille.

The subject of the painting is the eponymous Annie McGinley, a local girl, about 20, daughter of one of Kent’s local friends. Her father kept Kent’s drying oil paintings in his house as the barn where Kent and his new American wife lived was not dry enough. This is Annie’s father carrying his poitín still away at night to evade the authorities, punningly titled ‘Moonshine’.

Moonshine rockwell kent painting

‘Moonshine’

The documentary was funny in the way it skirted round the core of the painting. People kept using words like “sensual” and “curvy” when it is clear that the painting revolves around Annie’s bottom. It’s a very sexy image – Kent’s wife would have been right to be concerned. Annie in later life denied even posing for the picture. But as another curvy young woman later said: she would, wouldn’t she.

In my opinion it is the ‘Olympia’ of Ireland.

Edouard-Manet-Olympia 1863 painting

‘Olympia’ – Edouard Manet (1863)

Someone should make it their mission to get the painting back to Ireland and into the National Gallery in Dublin for all to enjoy. It is as much a part of the national heritage as Paul Henry’s ‘Launching the Currach’ (which sat above the fireplace in my mother-in-law’s good room) and Jack Yeats’ ‘The Liffey Swim’ (subject of my recent Picture of the Month).

Paul Henry 'Launching the Currach' painting (c.1910)

‘Launching the Currach’ – Paul Henry (c.1910)

Kent painted a number of pictures during his year in Ireland which could be considered masterpieces. Another one is ‘Dan Ward’s Stack’, men at work during harvest in Glen Lough, an inaccessible valley two north from Glencolmcille, lead by Kent’s friend, Dan Ward (on top, left), neighbours helping like in ‘Witness’ (Peter Weir, 1985, with Harrison Ford).

rockwell kent dan wards stack painting haystack

‘Dan Ward’s Stack’ (1926)

This one ended up not in the USA, to which New Yorker Kent returned after his Donegal sojourn, but in The Hermitage in Moscow. Kent, something of a lefty, was invited to Moscow to be the first contemporary American artist to have a solo show in the Soviet Union. He left 80 canvases to the Russian state after the exhibition, including this one. The Rusky’s loved it for its depiction of collaborative work. Kent’s socialist leanings got him into trouble with the US authorities, got him hauled up in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee under McCarthy (whose mother was from Co. Tipperary), and generally stifled his career. Hence my not having heard of him.

Now my guess of Hopper was not that far wide of the mark. Rockwell Kent was born in June 1882 in New York (of English descent). Edward Hopper was born the next month, July 1982, also in New York. The other painter who came to mind on first seeing Kent’s work was Nicholas Roerich who was born 8 years earlier in St Petersburg, in October 1874. Roerich I first came across in a little museum dedicated to him way up Manhattan island, on W 107th St. The style of Roerich’s landscapes and skies are very reminiscent of Kent – or vice versa. Similar palettes and graphical technique.

path to shambhala nicholas roerich painting 1933

‘Path to Shambhala’ – Nicholas Roerich (1933)

Nicholas_Roerich_-_Monhegan._Maine_(1922) painting

‘Monhegan, Maine’ – Nicholas Roerich (1922)

So Roerich was doing very similar landscapes at much the same time.

Interestingly Roerich is described as a “painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, philosopher and public figure” – Kent as a “painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, sailor, adventurer and voyager” – both seem to have been multidimensional characters. Much like Richard Burton, the subject of my last post.

railroad-sunset edward hopper 1929 painting

‘Railroad Sunset’ – Edward Hopper (1929)

I’ll have a poke around to see if Kent, Hopper and/or Roerich crossed paths as they were all clearly active throughout the 20s.

It’s not too often I come across a painter as good as Kent out of the blue these days so I feel blessed that Glencolmcille chose to reveal him to me.

Here’s one of the poor copies from the hallway beside the room above Roarty’s

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

And here’s one from the bar below

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

Also in the bar below was this photo linking me back to home

shane macgowan road building at brent cross

On the right is Shane MacGowan, later genius songwriter of The Pogues. He spent his early childhood in Co. Tipperary. On the left is a local from Glencolmcille. Brent Cross is in my manor in London.

Here’s a woman on cliff-top sketch I did my first day in Glencolmcille, before coming across Rockwell Kent

water colour sketch by adam gee malin beg donegal

Malin Beg, Donegal

It’s above Tra Ban (Silver Strand) in the next village from GCC. The crouching woman is a fellow painter, Pamela from Eindhoven, Holland, taking a photo with her phone to use back in the studio.

This is my watercolour painting of Glen Head from the hostel vantage point

Glen Head Glencolmcille watercolour painting by adam gee

Glen Head, Glencolmcille

This oil, by Kent, is probably just over that headland

"Irish Coast, Donegal," Rockwell Kent, oil on canvas, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia.

‘Irish Coast, Donegal’ – Rockwell Kent (1926) [The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia]

Kent became very enamoured of Donegal and the Glencolmcille area (as well, I suspect, of Annie McGinley). It weaved his magic on him – he was living in Glen Lough to which no roads lead (til this day), no electricity runs, some kind of Eden. Farmer Dan Ward lived down there with his wife. They survived in the wild landscape and trekked into church on Sundays. Kent tried to buy their farm when they became too old to run it. He couldn’t get over to Ireland to make the purchase because the US government withdrew his passport because of his left-leaning sympathies. He took them to court and eventually won. Regained his passport. And secured a victory which has held – the US authorities are not allowed to withhold a passport in the way they did with Kent right until today.

The magic worked on him and it did on me. I found the whole experience meditative. I have never had the opportunity to stay put in one place and paint it over and over from a multitude of angles. The afternoon after completing Glen Head above I went for a walk with two new friends, Micki a muralist and graphic designer from Ohio and Colm a retired economist from Dublin, around the religious sites of Glencolmcille associated with St Colm Cille/Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland. As we were walking through the landscape below Glen Head, near the ruins of St Colm’s chapel, I realised I recognised particular rocks and patches of land from having painted them earlier. It was a deep, focused relationship with a place the like of which I haven’t experienced before.

watercolour painting of glencolmcille by adam gee

A God’s eye view of Glencolmcille – a watercolour painted with reference to Google Maps on my phone, my last picture of this trip

Jewel of Irony

Gary Oldman (actor) is 13 days younger than Gary Numan (singer)

gary oldman actor sid and nancy vicious

Oldman is young (in Sid & Nancy)

Replicas gary numan album singer tubeway army

Numan is old

Mountains of the Moon – Richard Burton, explorer

mountains of the moon 1990 movie

Mountains of the Moon (1990)

Early in my career I got to read two movie scripts which came in to our office for my boss, Roger Deakins. One was ‘Pow Wow Highway’, the other ‘Mountains of the Moon’. They were both realised and I recall that both scripts were superior to the final films. Roger didn’t end up shooting ‘Pow Wow Highway’ (1989), directed by Jonathan Wacks who mainly directed TV and didn’t do that much directing after this movie. But Roger was DoP on ‘Mountains of the Moon’ (1990), directed by Bob Rafelson of ‘Five Easy Pieces’ fame. The film was about Burton & Speke’s expedition into the heart of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.

richard francis burton museum st ives

Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt

Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt

Yesterday I was brought back to these memories by a small poster in a narrow street in St Ives, Cornwall. It was an image of a comic book type character – looking like a cross between Corto Maltese and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – and information about the Capt. Sir Richard Francis Burton Museum being accessible by appointment only. I rang up and booked a visit the next day (today) at 10am.

At the appointed hour I pitched up with expectations set by a previous experience a bit like this – rooting out a Native American museum in deepest Sussex, in an old forge building in a small village. A real unexpected little gem in the most unlikely spot.

Richard_Francis_Burton_by_Rischgitz,_1864

Photo by Rischgitz (1864)

This morning’s arrival was different. The front door of a quiet back terrace house was ajar and in I walked to someone’s home. I was welcomed and shown into a small, square backroom, done up with hints of Arabian style. Faint echoes of Leighton House in London where I used to give art historical tours for charity – Burton brought back Middle Eastern tiles for painter Sir Frederic Leighton’s house and studio in Holland Park. On the walls of this small room were 28 exhibits. My host, Shanty, a professional storyteller, set playing a very well put-together tape which lasted about an hour. Half way through he came back in with a silver pot of mint tea.

Stand-out exhibits included:

Burton’s actual Founder’s Medal from the Royal Geographic Society

The RGS funded Burton & Speke’s expedition and hosted the subsequent contentious debate between Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke about the true source of the Nile – a debate which never happened as Speke died on its eve of gunshot wounds very likely to have been self-inflicted. He was about to be taken apart in public by a highly charismatic man of action cum scholar.

A page of manuscript in Burton’s hand

Written in his dense scrawl, the small page completely covered in script at various angles in ink and pencil. Evidently worked on on at least four occasions with different writing implements. He had 11 desks in his massive study in Trieste in his latter years, each with a different literary or scholarly project upon it. The manuscript all the more valuable as his wife, Isabel, (played by Fiona Shaw in the film, who I found myself standing next to on stage recently at the Festival Hall in the winners’ group photo at the TV BAFTAs) burnt many of his manuscripts in the wake of his death, in particular his just finished translation of the erotic classic from Arabia ‘The Perfumed Garden’. Erotic and Victorian didn’t make easy bedfellows.

Original illustrations of Burton from Look & Learn magazine

Shanty, whose labour of love the Sir Richard Burton Museum is, has been obsessed with Burton’s extraordinary life and story since he was 14 and got this magazine excitedly among his parents’ incoming newspapers. We were born the same year and I too remember the thrill of receiving this educational magazine for young people, as well as TV 21 (an even bigger thrill, centred on the creations of Gerry Anderson). The illustrations are magnificent, in the same way as those of Ladybird Books and Airfix model boxes were. I imagine these artists are now far more recognised, whereas back then they were largely taken-for-granted commercial illustrators. The main one exhibited here is of Burton going undercover to Mecca as an Arab to become the first white man to reach the heart of the Hajj. He spoke some 25 languages fluently (humbling for an Oxbridge linguist like myself), including Arabic, which he taught himself at Oxford (before being kicked out in his fifth term) and which enabled him to spend six months in disguise as an Arab, infiltrating Mecca at pain of death for any slip.

VHS copy of ‘Mountains of the Moon’

I only saw this movie once, when it came out in 1990. Iain Glen I’ve always really liked, especially after seeing him play a squaddie at the Royal Court in Jim Cartwright’s brilliantly staged ‘Road‘. He played Speke. Burton was played by Dubliner Patrick Bergin. Being non-English was good for the role as Burton only lived in England for 5 years of his entire 69-year life and was never really comfortable with the place. His parents had a streak on Anglo-Irish in them via the British army. He was born in Devon (Torquay) and christened in Elstree, near where I went to school. He is buried in South-West London at Mortlake in a striking mausoleum. (I plan to visit it this autumn, as well as the Elstree church, and will report back.) But otherwise he grew up in Italy and mainland Europe, spent much of his old age in Trieste, and between travelled widely across the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

Proposed 200th anniversary Portrait

One cork-board item contains a proposed portrait of Burton – linking him to James Joyce (who entered Trieste just as Burton left, a similar exile) and the Italian painter De Chirico. It turns out Shanty, like me, is a massive ‘Ulysses’ fan and has noted the various references to Burton in that novel. He has a theory that the date of Bloomsday is related not to Joyce’s lover Nora Barnacle (a popular theory Joyce never confirmed) but to Burton and the date he departed for the interior of Africa.

sir-richard-francis-burton

in disguise

richard francis burton as arab

Dressed as a pilgrim en route to Mecca in 1853

The small but perfectly formed collection is certainly worth a visit, a well told digest of the life of an extraordinary polymath or Renaissance man – one with a unique balance between man of action and scholar, a linguist cum swordsman, a diplomat cum satirist, mesmeric, astonishingly handsome, a true Romantic hero of the highest order.

 

 

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