Passport to Pimlico

Last week marked my Dad’s 73rd year on the planet. The Old Man had a hankering to get to see an exhibition (as he often does) of one his favourite artists, John Constable at Tate Britain. Being particularly preoccupied with rural landscapes, the interplay of light and shadow and composition, Dad has a lot in common with the Suffolk born artist. This exhibition is notable particularly because it is perhaps the first time that Constable’s impressive six-foot canvasses have been presented alongside the “sketches” and trial versions allowing you to see the choices the artist faced and the subsequent decisions he made when working on the competed piece. A contemporary of one of my favourite artists, JMW Turner, Constable had been criticised for his composition and his scaling in his early career. His solution was to form a working sketch and use it to experiment with arrangements and the lighting conditions and when he was satisfied he would work on giving each scene a sense of animation and vitality. Constable was obsessed with the land surrounding Flatford Mills on the River Stour in Suffolk and most of his works draw upon the elements he found nearby. He also lived in London and Sussex and created a particularly handsome painting of the Chain Pier in Brighton in 1827 just after it had been constructed. What was interesting for me was seeing how having locked-off the composition he then worked to achieve his snapshot of a busy waterway. Several times it struck me how cinematic the effect is. He was really crying out for a movie camera! Also I found it interesting how Constable worked at getting his most precious ideas and conceits out of his system in the rough version and almost adopting the mantra of “kill your darlings” to exorcise the ideas that were most likely to hinder the best realisation of the finished piece; like a writer hurrying through a first draft so that they can then discard the chaff for the revised version. So the composition and the lighting varies very little from the sketch to the final piece but the many figures and animals and vehicles are reconfigured (even to the point where there are noticeable over-paints when the artist changed his mind). The x-ray exhibit was particularly informative.

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Whilst Contable’s creations are immensely satisfying I still get a bit frustrated (as I do with my Dad) with how narrow the range of subjects are. The exhibtion suggests that the artist failed to make it out of the south east of the UK. Suffolk is beautifully realised and the brief trips to Essex, Sussex and London are similarly exciting but I couldn’t help wondering what interpretations Constable might have made of other locations in Europe in the way his contemporaries did. Not only does the artist seem unwilling to stray beyond the UK, but he does seem to confine himself to setting each scene at or around midday (I think this was supposed to reinforce the timeless aspect of the composition) and he has the skies (wonderful as they are) peppered with clouds that may or may not threaten rain, but that are captured at a point where they fail to deliver any weather at all. But then the man was fascinated with his own set of themes and concerns like any great artist. He was also a very devoted father which must have taken up a lot of his time too. Did I mention he had a lot in common with Dad?

And Why Not…?

So, Dave has issued an interesting challenge this afternoon and it’s a corker;

1. Pick up the nearest book (and do be honest).
2. Flick to page 123.
3. Move to the fifth sentence.
4. Reproduce the next three sentences in a post on your blog then tag three other people.

Dave has specified that you do not “…dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.” And I think that’s fair enough. But bearing that in mind I’m not sure that anyone will believe that the first book I could find with 123 pages (the first being “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers” by Beatrix Potter which has a mere 82) is this one with fifth, sixth and seventh sentences on page 123 that read;

“So they got their tails fast in their mouths. So they couldn’t get them out again. That’s all.”

That was taken from “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll which is both cool and arguably intellectual. I’m tagging Rob, Greg and Maz but feel free to start to begin your own inquiries.

The State We’re In

I’ve taken this title from a track Beth Orton did with The Chemical Brothers on their album “Come With Us“. A fine song which had the lovely Beth lending her wondrous vocals to an electronic creation that fizzed and spluttered into the next track “Denmark” which built to become a pounding, helplessly energetic and thoroughly storming tune (whose Latino infused trumpets had little to do with Denmark but what the heck, it was great fun when they kicked in). I thought about the track the other day whilst trying, for what must be the eighth or ninth time, to get into Beth’s latest album “The Comfort of Strangers” and once again not finding what I’m looking for. When Beth first appeared on the scene back in 1996 her sound was founded by the fusing of a lot of arguably disparate genres and it sounded fantastic and everyone discovered what they had been missing all their lives. The folk music blended with electronica and other studio wizardry was unexpected and profoundly exciting. At the time I was also enjoying other bands who were emerging such as Portishead and loving the metamorphosis that Everything But The Girl were going through when they abandoned their reliance on the acoustic guitar and got on with experimenting with their sound. Ten years later things are very much back to a narrower palette of sounds. Beth Orton switches labels and puts out a folk album that’s just a folk album – the songs are still well written and her voice is as lovely but the album as a whole feels flat. I doubt I’d have bought this if it were a debut and there’s certainly no room on the singles for a lively or interesting remix or collaboration; it’s almost as if she has been put on a short lead in response to the current market. Lou Rhodes formerly of Lamb records a solo album that’s stripped down and devoid of any of Andy Barlow’s electrical influences and a far cry from her work with 808 State. This year’s Mercury Music list is utterly devoid of any artists who embrace any sort of cross over sound (no Helicopter Girls; no Martina Topley-Birds) and go in favour of a no frills guitar-based feel. These days that KT Tunstall sound is where it’s at (even Dido dabbled with some interesting production on her first album!). Can anyone explain what’s brought about this distinctly regressive step??

Labour of Love

Since last posting and thanks to a little help from my friends I’ve been pointed in the direction of a solution to my problem about getting the contents of a few of my DVD’s onto my computer. So, this week I have been mostly putting music videos onto iTunes. Whilst this is immensely satisfying and straightforward it is also ridiculously time consuming and fiddly as hell. Anyway I’ve managed about 10 discs’ worth of stuff so far and now have about 80 music vids and shorts stored away as compressed mp4’s. Anyone who knows me knows that I love music vids. A lot of my collection has been sitting here in storage whilst I’ve been living away from home and it’s been great re-watching a lot of my favourites including Chris Cunningham’s Aphex Twin promos, Michel Gondry’s Bjork vids and Spike Jonze’s bizarre creations including the Fatboy Slim “Weapon Of Choice” promo with a superbly choreographed Christopher Walken (anyone who’s ever seen Walken dancing in the video for Madonna’s “Bad Girl” will know what an achievement his strutting in the Fatboy Slim video must have been).

There’s still a lot more that I want to put onto the computer and the next project will be to transfer a few old family movies from various different VHS cassettes onto the computer and then re-edit it all. At this time I’ll also have a good look at some of my old group projects from uni. This should help me learn a whole lot more about the actual editing process for myself as although I was very active and involved in everything we filmed on my course, I somehow never really got a look in on the actual editing which was very frustrating at the time (especially as you tend to work with the edit in your head as you film). I can’t wait to get on with it!

More Bang for your Bucks

Don’t know why I didn’t mention it before but if you haven’t seen it already then do pop over to the BBC Film Network homepage right now and check out my mate Alex’s really rather good short “Bang! Bang!” It’s top stuff and very funny. I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Alex and the director, Alex (yes, another one) the best of luck when they screen the film at The Director’s Cut Film Festival in New York next month.