Archive for the ‘60s’ Tag

Oh Geno (Gee Knows)

screening of oh geno at curzon bloomsbury 23 october 2018

Curzon Bloomsbury 23 October 2018 – Dalton Deverell (Prod) Sophie Shad (Wr/actress) Onyinye Egenti (Dir) GENO Washington ??? (Ram Jam Band bass player)

On arrival at the Curzon Bloomsbury on Tuesday evening to see a drama-doc short ‘Oh Geno!’ I was greeted with a lovely surprise – the director Sophie Shad welcomed me and explained that the film had come about because of me. I had no idea. But was delighted. Here’s how it happened…

I was introduced to Sophie through a fellow trustee at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley, the oldest purpose-built cinema in the country (which is about to join the Curzon group – there’s a Company Members’ meeting going on as I write but I’m 8,000 feet above Finland so unfortunately can’t be there).

Sophie had just produced her first scripted short ‘Kitty’s Fortune‘ (2016), a story set in Auschwitz, and came to see me at Channel 4 about next moves with her producing partner Dalton Deverell. They were thinking of following up with another holocaust story. During the course of the chat it came to light that Sophie’s grandfather is none other than Geno Washington, the soul singer (who I first came across through Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ eponymous song).

That man took the stage, his towel was swingin’ high
(Oh Geno!)
This man was my bombers, my dexys, my high
(Oh Geno!)
How the crowd, they all hailed you, and chanted your name

I gave the opinion that at that particular juncture a holocaust story might be especially challenging to get off the ground and perhaps the Geno connection was a more joyful route for the times and a better use of weapons in their young armoury.

We discussed a short form documentary series in the wake of that meeting but it never quite came together, I left Channel 4 and our ways parted (largely because their focus was on scripted).

geno washington ram jam band my bombers lp cover design

A few weeks ago an invitation arrives for the screening and I am surprised and delighted the Geno project came off. What I hadn’t realised was that it was on leaving that initial meeting at Horseferry Road that the pair of them determined on making a film about Geno.

Sophie kindly explained my role in the genesis of the film in the Q&A after the screening to 150 delighted audience members. Besides her and Dalton on the panel was the director,Onyinye Egenti, and the great man himself, Geno. Geno bantered with me in the audience, saying I was to blame, with his crazy infectious laugh.

Oh Geno short film poster geno washington

The film is to debut at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York next month. It is a really well scripted piece focused on the meeting of Geno and his wife-to-be, Frenchy (Sophie’s grandmother) in a London club in the mid-60s. He was just out the US Air Force, getting to love Britain. She was a Jewish refugee from France, a single mum and feisty club manageress. Sophie plays her own grandmother – which has a certain resonance – with a beautiful stylishness (the camera loves her). The moment zoomed in on is just right to capture the essence of an extraordinary couple. And the ending is pulled off with aplomb – avoiding the common pitfall of the punchline-type ending of short dramas (it has the punch-line dynamic but it is subtle and judged just right).

sophie shad plays frenchy in oh geno short film

Sophie Shad plays Frenchy

At the screening I found myself sitting beside the young actor who portrayed Geno, Edward Nkom. He captures the physical charm of Geno well.

Edward_Nkom_actor HSA_associates

Edward Nkom plays Geno

It will be interesting to see if this nugget develops further and into what – scripted, drama-doc, it could go in various directions. I’d love to see it evolve into an iterative project centred on this fascinating couple.

Geno_Sheet_Muisc_1 dexys midnight runners

Advertisements

Sound & Vision: 4 of the best from Bowie’s art collection

I had a bit of an art blow-out earlier this week with three thoroughly enjoyable exhibitions in a day:

30747032112_c2a7b5be80_o

View from a beanbag

You Say You Want A Revolution? at the V&A which looks at “records and rebels” from 1966 to 1970 – I went with my friend Kathelin Gray who was present at many of the events showcased and knew many of the people referred to, including Allen Ginsberg who is the person who first brought us together when I was on sabbatical writing in 2013-14. Walking through this excellent display with her certainly added a special, personal dimension. For a while we kicked back on beanbags to watch highlights from the Woodstock movie, including Jimi Hendrix’s era-defining rendition of the Stars & Stripes, perfect for US election day.

30759318912_af92e5f944_o

Endless Highway off the beaten track

The Path Beaten at The Halcyon which for the second time in as many years brings together in London a collection of Bob Dylan’s paintings and sculpture. The images which most appealed were ones like ‘Endless Highway’ which seem of a piece with his songs and how they capture the essence of America. Also perfect for an election day when that could easily get lost.

30883230735_aa53c8a7be_o

Sandwiched between was a visit to Bowie / Collector at Sotheby’s, a last viewing of Bowie’s personal collection (minus the stuff of sentimental value) before it went under the auctioneer’s hammer on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th November (yesterday and the day before). I went with my friend Doug to whom I picked out a single painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat as The One. As it turned out that canvas went for £7.1M, the top price at an auction which raised double the expected revenue, in this case more than doubling its top estimate of £3.5M. So I reckon I’ve got a good eye. And what that good eye spied on the day were these…

ONE Lot 22: Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)

003l16142_6nrnq

Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)

For all the bullshitWar(se)hol(e)hype around Basquiat, the young man was a really dynamic artist with a beautiful sense of colour. Bowie played Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s biographical movie. The canvas displays Basquiat’s usual mix of lively paint (acrylic) and fat chalky lines (oilstick) looking like the bastard offspring of a blueprint and a Brooklyn wall. The white ladder shape on the chest and body of the main figure reminds me at once of one of those bone breast decorations Red Indians wear and a railway line reaching westwards. In other words JMB seems to really capture that essence of America.

96cd65c66970a58a057036a3aa8bf3e4

 

TWO Lot 4: Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)

011l16142_6nrss

Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)

Hot on the heals of the excellent Lanyon exhibition, Soaring Flight, at The Courtauld last Christmas, Bowie/Collector afforded an encounter with another group of Lanyon’s fresh, original landscapes, of which this stood out the most. Trevalgan is a landmark work in Lanyon’s journey of reinvention of landscape painting, tilting it up to become a fusion of map, aerial photo and abstract expressionist take on the Cornwall countryside, the horizon curved around the picture surface on which sea, fields, cliffs and sky are transformed into a gigantic emerald of England.

Peter Lanyon – Picture of the Month

THREE lot 43: Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)

018l16142_6nrpv

Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Caulfield as one inclined to a very graphic style in my own drawing and painting. This large acrylic captures much about modern life in a bland space of the hotel lobby variety (which is not much variety) – to get to anything of interest or colour you have to penetrate to the bar, a small bejewelled space of coloured glass and decorated alcoves, tucked away small in the background distance of the image.

FOUR Lot 101: David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)

065l16148_6nrsc

David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)

I suspect Bowie bought this one because the artist shares his real name, plus of course Jones was a highly accomplished religious artist in the vein of Eric Gill. This sparse, stripped down pencil and watercolour drawing captures the agony of the Crucifixion, remembering even to bloody the knees, not just the stigmata. He achieves something truly ancient and in touch with the roots of Christianity.

I felt two things as I left the exhibition. (i) There was so much of it. Too much for any one person to own. It made me feel a bit sick being amongst so much. It must have been a relief for Bowie and his family to offload All This Stuff. David Jones #1’s Christ departs with just a delicate blue loin cloth and a crown of thorns. (ii) Having gone to so much trouble assembling some very fine sub-collections among his overall Collection (mainly of the 20th Century British Art I really love) I wonder why he broke it all up again? Why didn’t he donate little groups to museums to keep them together? I suspect his family don’t really need all £33M of the proceeds.

What Bowie did give – from my little perspective – was an introduction to my ideal drawer and one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. I heard him talking about this artist (who I, like most people at the time, had never heard of) on Radio 1 around the time of his Lodger record, the last of the Berlin trilogy. From there a life-long love sprouted. If Bowie had any Schiele’s he kept them back from the sale. The nearest is a single Oskar Kokoschka litho and an Eric Heckel woodcut figure with long boney hands. He certainly had a heroic eye for art. (Though he could have gotten arrested by the design police for his taste in furniture.)

 

 

Chairman of the Board – Picture of the Month: Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley (1963)

The other day I got to touch this chair…

2006al2237_keeler_chair_290x290

The Keeler chair

The year I was born this chair got to touch the bare bottom of Christine Keeler.

2006al2240_christine_keeler_arno_290x435

photograph by Lewis Morley

It was as the scandal of the Profumo Affair was exploding in Britain, marking the end of the age of austerity and heralding the new age of permissiveness.

I’ve been writing a script over the summer in which Keeler appears as a minor character so have been immersed in the era of which this photograph is an icon.

The photo session was in Lewis Morley’s studio above The Establishment Club in Soho (18 Greek Street) which was the spiritual home of the emerging anti-establishment of the early 60s. It was founded in 1961 and presented among others, on the small stage on the floor below Morley’s studio, Lenny Bruce, Barry Humphries and Dudley Moore. The club was part-owned by Moore’s partner in crime Peter Cook, another defining character of the era.

6aa81c232b8f6928337b34c0cde2c13d

Lewis Morley (1925-2013)

Morley was born in Hong Kong to English and Chinese parents, coming to England straight after the war in 1945. He eventually emigrated to Barry Humphries’/Dame Edna Everage’s native Australia in 1971.

2006al2348

Dame Edna by Lewis Morley (1996)

The Keeler session was set up to produce images for a film that never happened (The Keeler Affair). Present were Morley, his assistant and the producers.

I recently came across another such movie that was never made featuring Keeler’s partner in crime Mandy Rice Davies. Her picture, by contrast in costume, was shot by Terence Donovan (1936 – 1996),  another of the key photographers of the Blow Up generation. His first major retrospective – Speed of Light at the Photographers Gallery, London this summer – brought to light this magazine cover:

img_6878

Morley decided to use one of a number of chairs he’d recently bought at (probably) Heals as a prop. They are cheap knock-offs of a classic Arne Jacobsen design, the 3107. The chair is more crudely made than its original and has a hand-hole introduced to get round copyright infringement.

2006al2237_keeler_chair_290x290

The actual Keeler chair

2006al2230_keeler_chair_jacobsen_chair_290x290

The 3107 v The Keeler knock-off

At the beginning of the session Keeler was dressed in a leather jerkin, covered (just) but still plenty sexy. Morley shot three rolls of film on the day – on the first two he shot her dressed in this way both on and beside the chair.

1696-large_custom_290x224_05000387

0118-01

Keeler had been a model in her early years in London before getting sucked in to The Scandal. She had also been a showgirl and good-time girl, all these activities and aspirations adjacent in England in the late 50s/early 60s.

The producers then demanded that she pose nude. They insisted that was in her contract. Morley was reluctant and protected Keeler, both with the back of that chair and by clearing everyone but himself out of the studio and averting his eyes while she stripped off and mounted the chair. In this way he protected her dignity whilst fulfilling the terms of the contract.

He then shot the third roll. He tried various angles which you can see on the contact sheet which now lives at the V&A. Morley recounted the end of the session thus:

“I felt that I had shot enough and took a couple of paces back. Looking up I saw what appeared to be a perfect positioning. I released the shutter one more time, in fact, it was the last exposure on the roll of film. Looking at the contact sheet, one can see that this image is smaller than the rest because I had stepped back. It was this pose that became the first published and most used image. The nude session had taken less than five minutes to complete.”

2006al2349_keeler_contact_sheet_610x915

NPG x38964; Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley

Last shot of the last roll – suitably mythic.

The shot in question can currently be seen in the first room of the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 exhibition at the V&A. As can the chair.

What’s powerful about the shot is the X-shaped composition made up of her upper arms and thighs, bright in the high contrast, combined with the echo of the top half of that white X (those upper arms joined into a curvaceous triangle by her shoulders) which matches the sensual curved triangle of the chair back. The hands and wrists also make up a mini X, reinforcing the power of the central shape. The dark V of the chair back is a massive amplification of that hidden famous vagina. But topping off the shot is an alluring yet refined face. And a strong one, as challenging as any of the enigmatic eye-to-eye starers of Manet. [see E for Enigma – Manet Picture of the Month]

Morley used the pose again two years later with Joe Orton, the playwright who best captured the essence of the 60s in Britain. I first came across Orton in the Lower 6th (the freest and best year of school) when I was looking for the subject of a project and came across Orton by chance. I’ve loved him since. But I don’t find that the Morley portrait captures him well as it gives no sense of his cheekiness or humour.

NPG x24966; Joe Orton by Lewis Morley

Joe Orton 1965

Morley also used the pose with TV personality David Frost (in the same year as Keeler), but in a less still way, capturing something of the energy which was to land Frost a chair opposite President Nixon in the next decade (in the famous 1977 interviews which did for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth). Frost, The Establishment, Cook, Private Eye were all part of the same Swinging Sixties circles.

NPG x38945; Sir David Paradine Frost by Lewis Morley

David Frost 1963

Circles which overlapped with the establishment with a small e and their interface with Soho, pretty girls, gambling dens, sharp-suited gangsters, swinger parties, all the ingredients in the explosive brew that was Profumo.

profumo-affair

Christine (21) & Mandy (18) at the height of the Profumo Affair

129345635189876101_3f06a8fc-d1f6-4855-8aa2-809e7cab5fad_238849

b620f273d880fa5bd6abb0c79bc7978a

images

For a very particular moment – arguably one key frame – Morley managed to transform a 21 year old (who grew up in a converted railway carriage, abandoned by her father), a 21 year old swirling helplessly in a maelstrom of post-war British politics, the Cold War and the breaking down of the class system into a strong and dignified woman, the epitome of Sixties British beauty.

2006al2234_keeler_chair_signatures_custom_290x258_06200553

Under The Chair

127-2004s

Previous Picture of The Month – Georgia O’Keeffe

1971 – The Year The Music Was Alive

The Day The Music Died

The Day The Music Died

Yesterday Christies in New York sold the manuscript and notes for Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit ‘American Pie’ for $1.2M. It’s a view back from the perspective of 1971 over the 60s and 50s to an age of innocence represented by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The lyrics have a reputation for being impenetrable and rich in sub-text, though it is easy to spot Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Janis Joplin et al as he takes us through from his 12 year old self mourning the loss of Buddy Holly and co. in a tragic plane crash in 1959 through to a jaded, nostalgic 24 year old surveying the wreckage of the Hippy era. When asked what it means McLean’s favourite answer is: “It means I never have to work again.”

I went back this evening to check whether the song is as irritating as I remember. It is. The description of “bubblegum Dylan” is not far off (I think the phrase is Alexis Petridis’s). But the song’s sale and the fact it is trying to capture the meaning of a particular point in music history makes it a good springboard for a project that’s been brewing up in me for quite some time.

Over a couple of years I kept noticing that a number of classic records were recorded in 1971. After a while it seemed more than just coincidence. And as the 1971 records gathered I noticed that in many ways they seemed to represent the essence of the 60s/Hippy era even though they were a couple of years late numerically. How come the 60s seemed to climax in 1971? What was special about that year?

I went back to look and picked out 10 records that seem crucial to that year, and then one track on each that gets to the heart of the record. I’m planning to do a post about each of them in the wake of this intro. So first up will be ‘Natural Woman’ by Carole King from ‘Tapestry’…

February 1971

The Year The Music Was Alive (February 1971)

%d bloggers like this: