Posts from 13th August 2003

Aug 03

Guido Crepax and the false cinematic analogy

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 184 views

Guido Crepax has died. It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about the material this Italian comic creator chose. There’s often a fine line between sexual freedom and liberation for female characters, and old-fashioned exploitative porn, and I don’t think Crepax stayed on the right side with any consistency – and my guess is that he wouldn’t have cared about this. But that’s a debate for another day. I’m more interested in his extraordinary qualities as a comic artist.

I confess that I’m partly reacting against a line in The Guardian‘s very narrow obit, where Philip Willan claims that Crepax’s unique interpolation of little close-up panels amongst the narrative shots was “the cartoon equivalent of the zoom lens”. It’s not true in this case – these are often deliberately interpolated within panels, overlapping and even hiding things (see the cover shown here) at the same time as revealing and emphasising and repeating other details, rather than simply switching to a magnified image temporarily. But the more general point concerns me. Comics criticism is still grossly underdeveloped, and this infant form is stumbling around grabbing tropes and memes and ideas from more matured bodies of thinking. That’s understandable and probably necessary, but it needs doing with lots of care. The cinematic borrowings are particularly prominent, and sometimes useful – the comparison between a movie director and the task of laying out and composing panels is often rewarding – but they are risky because the forms are very different in several obvious and more subtle ways. Here the writer has failed to spot that the fact that you can see more than one frame at a time, that comics can be and are absorbed more than a frame at a time, makes all the difference. (I know there have been experiments with sub-frames in movies, but in comics the ability to see several images at once is inherent, not some special add-on gimmick.)

It’s a basic failure to understand the medium under discussion. This seems particularly sad when discussing a cartoonist who while heavily influenced by books (he adapted a number of erotic classics such as The Story of O and Justine) and movies (his most famous character was modelled on Louise Brooks) made real contributions to the development of the toolkit and palette available within comics, by being a uniquely untramelled and imaginative user of its basic unit, the panel.

What is the message behind the Legally Blonde films?

Do You See1 comment • 1,941 views

What is the message behind the Legally Blonde films? These are Hollywood redemptive comedies after all, there must be a message. Is it that:
a) Blondes aren’t dumb after all (countered by all her blonde friends being dumb)
b) Is it that we all can overcome prejudice to succeed (countered by the reverse “dull person prejudice” the films set up)
c) Is it that if we work hard enough our dreams will come true (upset by the fact that being a lawyer wasn’t exactly Elle’s dream)
d) That big, tough scary sounding jobs are actually a piece of piss especially if you go at them in a quirky manner (probably).
The message behind the films is as nebulous as the supposed joke in the title. Legally Blonde sounds like it should be a pun, or a play on words but is actually nothing.

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde tries to re-run the plot of the first film and comes a-cropper at the first scene. The journey in the original was from seemingly dumb bimbo to top flight lawyer. Here the altogether more plausible plot is top flight lawyer is transformed into a politician. Not exactly a leap of credulity. Instead the film has to remind us how ridiculous Elle is (which the first film told us made her special). In the end the only reason the film works at all is because Reese Witherspoon wills it. The satire is toothless and the message that politicians are corrupt is trite to say the least. In the end though the idea that pure gumption and dirty tricks can win the day (stalking people in their hairdressers) suggests that idealistic Elle is not exactly holier than thou. When it comes to me – she is not even blonder than thou.

Mu – “Let’s Get Sick”

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 1,243 views

Mu – “Let’s Get Sick”

Mustumi Kanamori and Maurice Fulton detonate five explosives during this improper house track. One can only presume that they are directed at symbols of the deep-house community. Possible targets: Shelter (bomb Shelter!), the Loft, a copy of Blaze’s “Do You Remember House?” and stacks of Naked Music and Spiritual Life releases. A warning signal comes just after ten seconds in, and then the bombs are dropped willy-nilly, almost always amidst flurries of rattling ramshackle percussion. None of the characteristics that typify many deep-house tracks — a steady 4/4 beat, a slick horn punch or two, a sickly sweet melody, a sensible amount of hand percussion, a sense of redemption or joy — are present. The front and back thirds, both of which are drunk with piles of drum tracks tripping over each other, are broken up by a relatively relaxed robo-pop breakdown. It’s safe to say that no funky/soulful house-purist DJ will ever chart this thing.

Puerile art

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 129 views

Puerile art that someone from B3TA sneaked into their local paper. Or so it would appear. If you don’t recognise what it’s actually a picture of, all the better for you. I promise the next thing I blog here will be proper culture, and no mistake.

Five failures: attempts to start a review

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 345 views

(With apologies.)

1) It probably didn’t hurt that the room is air conditioned in this absurdly hot summer but I’ve loved being in and around Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet more than anything else in the last few weeks. I don’t want to stay away. The facts are these: Salisbury Cathedral Choir are recorded singing a Thomas Tallis motet, “Spem In Alium”. Each member is miked up and recorded separately, and the resulting 40 recordings are played back through 40 speakers set out in a rough oval in the Whitechapel. You can sit in the centre and just listen, or wander around and listen closely to individual singers. In the minute or so before the recital begins you can hear the singers in casual discussion with each other. It lasts about fifteen minutes, I suppose. A carefully-curated musical readymade.

2) Talking of transcendence, Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet (at the Whitechapel Gallery until later this month) feels very much like a little piece of heaven. That it’s in a bright, air-conditioned room probably doesn’t hurt in this absurd London heatwave. And heaven’s supposed to look like this, isn’t it, all minimal and shining white? The piece is forty speakers arranged in a rough oval, each playing a different part of Thomas Tallis’s insanely complex and gloriously simple “Spem In Alium”, which is (I’m guessing you’ve guessed) a forty part motet. And this is how heaven is meant to sound, too, right? Choirs and Latin exultation, and that?

3) Two terrific ‘tets, pieces of what I suppose you might call installation art on in London right now which couldn’t be more different: Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet (Whitechapel Gallery) and Christian Marclay’s Video Quartet (White Cube). The Cardiff piece is all space and stillness, it allows you to wander around inside the creation of blank and complex art. The Marclay is right-up-in-your-face and claustrophobic, holding you down and slapping you about with images.

4) There’s a picture on the Whitechapel Gallery site of Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet in situ. The situ it’s in isn’t the Whitechapel though, it’s some fan-vaulted venue somewhere else. The work must change completely in this changed setting. What’s blankness and brightness in the blank bright space at the Whitechapel must be angels in the architecture and mysterious shade in the mystery setting.

5) My show of the summer so far – the piece to which I’ve returned several times and loved more each time – is Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet at the Whitechapel. It’s a forty part motet, yes it is, played through forty speakers, one voice per speaker. It’s just about perfect.

Tony Hart’s Gallery still open to submissions

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 2,118 views

Tony Hart’s Gallery still open to submissions from the public if you never managed to get a submission shown on telly. Tony was recently asked “Do you think you could take Rolf Harris in a fight?” in a recent B3TA interview.

Over nearly 20 years I’ve stopped off countless times

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 284 views

Over nearly 20 years I’ve stopped off countless times on the way out of town back to Hackney at Wing Lee Loi in the Essex Road. It used to do Polynesian as well as Chinese, and when I was very first there it had a plaque on the wall about the cook, and how he’d won awards at various swanky restaurants before he arrived in the Essex Road. It’s owned by different people now, and they no longer do Polynesian. I actually always had Chicken Zingara: it seems they don’t do that now either. And I only just discovered this morning that it isn’t Polynesian at all!! The food’s pretty good, no longer terrific – but actually it was never as good after the cook in question moved on, years ago now. I hope his Chinese-Polynesian version of an Italian dish hasn’t been lost to the world, but I don’t know how to find out.

David Sentis

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 339 views

David Sentis is one of the best techincal painters to come along in recent memory. His skill as a draughtsman combines a concern with object and a worry about humanism, his colour sense sneaks quietly into the viewer and he refuses to allow form to trump content.

This mannerist sensibility is matched with explicit homoerotica, it is like what would happen if what is ignored in art history was placed front and center. The raw sensuousness of Michaelangelo’s dying slave is done as honcho style porn, Caravaggio’s boys finally come out of the closet as raw trade, and in the process drop all the religous trappings.

The purity of sexuality becomes transcendence unto itself.