Monday, 4 August 2014

Miscellaneous - films, books - anything - that made an impact

I think that textiles artists, or anyone interested in cultural production, benefits from looking wide and enjoying the gifts others put into the world. Be it theatre, literature, fine art, cinema or photography there is so much to pick up and look at, sometimes again and again, to learn and expand from.


I enjoy the cinema and try to get out to see what seems intriguing or might be inspiring. I like fantastical films, but not fantasy sci-fi; humorous films, but not slapstick or poorly conceived fast-food and drunkenness jokes; and good documentaries, and more........

It would be easy to write about a lot of films, but this year, in the last 7 months, I have seen two I really loved and that made an impact on me.

The first one was Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. A rambling, funny film, highly stylised and aestheticized, but full of cartoonish baddies, wild escapes, and people who you felt very fondly for like Ralph Fiennes' character, the Hotel concierge Gustav H, and his younger sidekick, Zero. The performances were great, and Fiennes showed a side I had never seen before, a funny, fast and intense side, that contrasted with his often intense, but darkly serious roles. 

I will not spend much time on describing the plot, that can be found on Internet Movie Database, but just to say, that I thought this was one of the best Wes Anderson films I have seen so far, having seen a number of these, and have sat through Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou many times (which I also enjoy very much). There were style elements I had seen in Fantastic Mr Fox, but mostly it was fresh and somehow quite poetic, if a comedy can be that.

The second film that affected me in some way was a documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. I had not heard of her work, although it seems an exhibition of her photographs has been shown in several capital cities in Europe, including London. This film covered the life of a hitherto unknown amateur photographer, who ceaselessly photographed everything she saw in her life walking through street of New York. She was a nanny working in the 1950s for several decades working for the more well-to-do, and throughout that time she never stopped taking photographs. And what work: amazing studies of people, streets, actions, the macabre, the odd, the poor, the rich, just everything that she came across, and sought out in the city. This work is termed street photography, apparently, but there were portraits, ethnographic studies from a trip around the world and cinefilm - this was the broad set of categories she covered.

The film sought to understand her by investigating her life, and give her recognition, posthumously, in the history of photography. There was so much in this film to think about: a life lived anonymously - so contrasting to the lives many live now, where baring your everything on the internet is common practice. And the work was just fantastic. At university I did a couple of courses on the history of photography, and the American portraitists, like Diane Arbus, did do interesting, unsettling work that still stirs people - Vivian Maier's work fits well into this history. Needless to say, I went straight home and bought a book of her work.


For a while I have not been able to concentrate on reading in a focussed way for pleasure. But I came across Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a charity shop and thought this might be good holiday reading. A what a great book: it is funny, sad and serious in turn; it has a rich humanist tone running throughout, and the warm Mississippi weather, the flowing river, all of it make for amazing tales of danger and daring do. It was a kind of 'road movie' tale of two men, one young, one older, one white, one black (and escaped slave) in a pre-civil war American South. The language was warm and reflective, and Mark Twain involves the reader through his tone, his wit and brings you with him when Huckleberry Finn ponders the moral lessons of life that has been imposed upon him by others, or discovers for himself. This book is the sort of thing I think of as gift to us, something precious, that speaks beyond its own time.   

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