Someday All The Adults Will Die! – Punk Graphics 1971-84 – Hayward Gallery London
Even after the thirty five years that have elapsed since that summer of malcontent, and punk’s subsequent elevation to one of the UK’s more written-about cultural phenomena, I still find it a little incongruous that an art house would host an exhibition about this singularly delinquent cult. Yet, the pristine white walls of the Hayward Gallery, set in the brutalist concrete South Bank complex seems the most appropriate place in London to hold this comprehensive collection of punk ephemera.
Stretching back in time further than the year-zero of myth (when the two sevens clash!) to the first use of ‘punk’ as a cultural term in the late 60’s/early 70’s, and taking in far more than just a few favoured fanzines and 7”singles, we are presented with a fascinating, international, superbly documented history of the punk years from its gestation to its late and still-snotty middle age. Original clothing, ranging from the ubiquitous Ramones T-Shirt to the rent-boy camp of Let it Rock, has its own display frame, as befit these works of art, some now priced like rare paintings.
The pivotal importance of the Xerox copying machine to many young fanzine producers is given its rightful tribute, with an impressive collection of small circulation publications and posters that were such an important part of this scene. Some deliberately crude in their execution, with hand written content, some neat and tidy with typed text throughout, all bear witness to the infectious enthusiasm of a young and combative life style that was alternately being ignored or demonised in the conventional media. The size of the fanzine collection is matched by the 7” singles on display, almost every one bearing a picture sleeve, the artwork sometimes highly professional, sometimes deliberately sloppy, but all laying down a manifesto. From bands like The Jam and The Sex Pistols, who would be playing Town Halls up and down the country and would become household names, to those who never made it beyond their fetid bedrooms, these singles are punk’s dark talismans. Someone elected to spend their pennies on them, when the same amount of cash could for example, have bought the latest by some over-hyped guitar god or temporarily famous balladeer. Instead, they chose punk’s angry thunder.
From touchstones to perhaps punk’s true legacy, the Do It Yourself ethic, is illustrated in almost every exhibit here, from the fanzines surreptitiously printed on the works copier, the self-financed singles, and the home copied cassettes of unsigned bands’ music, all gloriously free from the interference of commercial pressures. You cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer tenacity of the bands, putting their music directly into the hands of their potential audience in the pre-digital age of the personal, word of mouth contact.
The music that can be heard emerging from its glory hole has been chosen with care to take in familiar bands as well as some of the hidden gems of the era, all in lo-fi, although I would have preferred to hear them on a typical portable player of the late 70’s, for maximum authenticity.
That punk was an enclosed, incestuous world is not an argument I’d want to waste my time trying to refute. Major record companies found punk, in its early days, difficult to stomach, and their attempts to tame it would result in the ridiculous, never used poster hanging on the wall of this gallery, the Sex Pistols’ name sprayed in candy colour on a squeaky clean tiled wall. It could be the cover image for a disco single, or a particularly louche advertisement for furniture polish.
For all the bluster about anarchy within punk, the political side of the movement was often confused and misdirected, if not downright dubious. One band with a very clear political agenda are covered well here, the overtly anarchist group, Crass. Their age-old dogged determination to promote an anti-system of living is documented with innumerable fanzines and posters, some their own creation, others by those who followed in their wake.
With contributors like Jamie Reid, Liner Sterling and Penny Rimbaud, among others, I would have expected nothing less than a comprehensive history of punk, and in this, the exhibition succeeds completely.
‘Someday All the Adults Will Die!’ runs to 4th November and is FREE!
God Save The Queen: Kunst, Kraak, Punk (Art, Squat, Punk) 1977-1984: Central Museum of the Netherlands,
Utrecht, Netherlands 3 March to 10 June 2012
Picking my way around the medieval city of Utrecht, eventually coming upon the Centraal Museum in an otherwise anonymous street, I found myself transported back to a distant and dangerous time in the Netherlands’ history.
‘God Save The Queen’ sang John Lydon, before he became an ambassador for British butter, but this roar of discontent from the UK’s youth of the 1970’s thundered just as strongly in another constitutional monarchy, just across the Channel. Over several floors and rooms of this sizeable museum, the Dutch punk experience is meticulously presented, taking in not only the incendiary music of the period, but also its close cousins in graffiti art, fanzine journalism, style, guerrilla media, squatting, rioting and the general mischief that characterised the angst of this period.
Entering through a bleak corridor, one wall of glass painted out white, the other covered in graffiti, we start at the most logical place: the present. In an age when punk is completely familiar to the man on the Sloterdijk tram, it seems hard to believe it began as an incestuous little scene which spread like a particularly virulent disease across the globe. The leather jackets on display here, splashed with paint, bristling with studs and festooned with badges differ from their 1970’s counterparts only in the names of the bands they celebrate. There is no attempt to re-create a slogan-covered wall from 1977; rather, the graffiti is provided by visitors to the exhibition, encouraged even, by providing pens for you to add your own salty comments to this public notice board.
Original film of some very young looking Dutch punks, in a declamatory mood on TV, is alternated with footage of rioting in Amsterdam from 1980. By ‘rioting’, I do not mean shouting slogans at disinterested police. I mean prising up cobblestones for missiles, burning property, hand-to-hand fighting, and tanks in the streets, sort of rioting. Chilling, compelling and thought provoking, all in the space of a short film clip. Sparked off by the parlous state of the Dutch economy, poor employment prospects and the lack of affordable accommodation (sounding familiar?) that Dutch youth felt sufficiently abandoned by their government to take such action, and with such force, is a sad indictment of the country’s rulers. Those of you who have visited Amsterdam will have probably run across the brightly painted, squatted buildings in Spuistraat that bear testament to these heady and iconic times.
Posters, fanzines, film and what not from this volatile period are well represented here, all refreshingly pre-digital of course, with hand-written text seemingly the norm, peppered with highly polemical cartoons that speak of the urgency their makers felt. The ‘Do It Yourself’ ethic of punk was particularly strong here, with demonstrations, gigs and club nights all springing from a culture that had more time and enthusiasm than money to achieve it.
Recalling the Anti-Fascist movement in the UK, and comparing/contrasting it with the Dutch equivalent here chronicled, I felt just a little queasy at the thought that, whilst UK far-righters had only a slim chance of electoral success, the risk in a country like the Netherlands, with proportional representation, was considerably higher. I was also struck by the fact that Dutch punk considered organised religion to be an equally malign force in the world, with the ‘Rock against Religion’ movement’s fiery campaign against a still-powerful institution.
Artwork included selections from the magnificently named Gallerie Anus, Jean-Michel Basquiat and some of Keith Haring’s synapse-frying ‘men and movement’ pieces, equally familiar to many of the hip hop generation as well as that of the punks. Most intriguing were the snippets of videotaped moments from Rabotnik TV, a gloriously messy pirate TV station in Amsterdam in the early 80’s, which together with its predecessor, Radio Rabotnik, carried punk’s ‘Do It Yourself’ ethic to its limits.
Although the walls covered in 7’’ singles and LP’s yielded few surprises, they did provoke nostalgia for an age when music was made by inspired individuals and enthusiastic bands, rather than focus groups and committees employed by vast slick soul-less corporations.
An inspired setting for live footage of the Sex Pistols, on a screen high on the wall, surrounded by crash barriers, and an impressive collection of posters, fanzines, badges and so on, evoke an era far better than any number of talking heads, filled to the gills with complimentary prosecco on a late night TV show, ever will.
Perhaps the last word on this exhibition should belong to someone who was a million miles away from punk, and whose quote mysteriously appears on the graffiti wall;
‘Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don’t kid yourself’. Frank Zappa R.I.P.
Lloyd Johnson: The Modern Outfitter Chelsea Space 24/1/12
Scenester is rarely driven to do anything by a sense of pure nostalgia, but this evening, he thought he’d make an exception. With Mme. Scenester at his side, your pal and man about town, took a short tube trip from his vile chambers to Pimlico, to catch a sneak preview of this timely exhibition of the classic work of Lloyd Johnson, The Modern Outfitter.
Curated by Paul Gorman, whose style tome ‘The Look’ is reviewed elsewhere on Scenester’s website, this exhibition celebrates Lloyd’s long career in fashion, from the sixties right through to the nineties. Utilising printed material, a replica shop front, video, but first and foremost, the clothes themselves, your narrator was transported back to several fashion eras he remembers with affection, and several he barely remembers at all, in the space of a few footfalls.
The entrance lobby houses some of the earliest work available, with highly patterned tank tops and wildly printed shirts, all a long way from the often sterotyped fashions that feature in most look- backs to the fertile decades of the sixties and seventies. The ‘Soup Cans’ print shirt is so emblematic of the sixties; it ought to have a preservation order on it. The stunning ‘Sea Cruise’ jacket, from the ‘Johnson & Johnson’ era, with its multiple palm tree motifs, is a design classic of its own kind. The ’Top Hat’ print suit, covered in images of Fred & Ginger, is pictured worn by none other than Fred Astaire, in a shot from 1973. Such outsize motifs would later become much common in mainstream fashion, and usually on shirts, rather than suits. The shirts of this era threw all caution to the wind, with spaniel-ear collars, and shades and hues that guaranteed they would not be worn by the average fellow, even if he knew where to get them.
In this age of digital business cards and online shopping, it’s easy to forget that business was once a much more word-of-mouth, hands-on affair. The curling business cards for ‘Cockell & Johnson’, ‘Johnson & Johnson’ and’ Johnson’s‘, and the browning press clippings from long-folded newspapers were welcome survivors from an age of letter compositors and offset litho printers.
Elsewhere in the rooms, editions of ‘The Face’, ‘Ms London’, and others, show off Johnson’s increasingly broad range of clothes for the modern gent, and more rarely, lady. The statuesque figure of Siouxsie Sioux models the Japanese-influenced designs of the early 80’s whilst the youthful members of Madness walk low in box jackets and, what else, but baggy trousers.
Johnson’s enthusiasm to revisit classic designs is nowhere better demonstrated than with three stunning examples of Rock ‘n’ Roll revival clothing, set up as if for sale, in the turned wood and red plate glass reproduction shop front that adorns the main room. A T-yoke jacket in leather and hide, as worn by Jerry Lee Lewis, is set aside a riotous gold fringed leather jacket that both Lux Interior and Liza Minelli have sported, with an easy on the eye powder-blue 50’s suit making up the more restrained part of this trio. These striking outfits were displayed on vintage mannequins, with quiffs to match, as were some of the leathers Johnson’s made for the ladies, the figures complete with beehive hairdos.
High on the walls, we see a wide selection of Johnson’s imaginative take on the leather jacket, with layered leather shapes, often in contrasting colours, applied to the jacket’s body, and painted images from war comics and rock ‘n’ roll iconography all contributing to a near-unique garment for the biker with more than a touch of individuality. Many of the jackets had an aged look applied to them, to give the impression that they had been made in an earlier era, and so it was a double delight to see how well they are now ageing, this time for real.
The earthy, fetishistic imagery of Rock ‘n’ Roll pervaded much of the exhibition, with vintage record labels and totemic motorcycle manufacturers logos printed onto the backs of jackets, panels of animal print fun-fur inserted into leathers, bristling with studs and clanking with chain mail, and t-shirts heavy with all-over prints of skulls, guns, knives and grimly fiendish patterns, all paying tribute to the era that inspired them, but with added camp twists that were only for the brave. Some readers may remember that 80’s pop royalty dressed from the store, from the Stray Cats in their peg trousers and short sleeved shirts, to Paul Young in his shiny blue suit to George Michael in that biker jacket. Perhaps you did too?
Lloyd Johnson:The Modern Outfitter runs at the Chelsea Space, 16 John Islip Street London SW1P 4JU until 3rd March 2012.
The Avengers 50th Anniversary Evening: Barbican Cinema 1 Wed 30/11/11
It’s fair comment that if someone organised a screening of any of ‘The Avengers’ TV episodes in a limestone cave in Cheshire, or up the side of a mountain in the far north of Scotland, I’d probably attend. Fortunately, London’s Barbican is much easier to get to, and so I and my two delightful companions hitched a lift on a milk float to Farringdon to be there. On offer were two shows from the glorious monochrome era, ‘Mandrake’ and ‘The Hour That Never Was’.
‘Mandrake’ is surely one of the best of the ‘Cathy Gale’ stories, the plot concerning a firm of corrupt doctors who arrange for the convenient death of their clients’ rich relatives in return for a hefty slice of their estates. In a typically theatrical flourish, all victims are buried in the same Cornish churchyard, where the tin-mined ground’s naturally high arsenic content disguises the presence of poison in their bodies.
John Le Mesurier makes a fine choice as an impeccably-mannered but venal doctor, spurred on by a greedy partner intent on continuing as long as possible in their dangerous path to riches. Grapple fans would raise a cheer at the appearance of 60’s wrestling star Jackie Pallo as a cockney gravedigger, transplanted miles from his City home to this Cornish idyll, still hankering after saveloys in place of the local food he despises. Our favourite pair of sleuths arrives to disturb the corrupt medics’ cosy arrangement.
‘The Hour That Never Was’ is a classic of the ‘Emma Peel’ years, centring on Steed’s invitation to an RAF reunion party at the end of an era for a shortly-to-be decommissioned air base. Perhaps sensing danger ahead, or maybe simply wanting to be seen in sultry female company, Steed invites Mrs Peel to join him, only to find that what should have been a jolly, nostalgic evening turns into another strange job for our duo. The air base has all the trappings of a party about to start, but is without guests. The punch has been poured, the party food laid out, but no RAF pals are here.
For a typically surreal Avengers plot, we get some insight into the generational tension that lurked below the surface of their odd relationship. Steed’s wartime reminisces, all ‘chocks away’ and boozing before and after, clearly bore Mrs Peel, who tartly remarks ‘It’s a wonder you had time to win the war’.
What starts as a mystery, even possibly a ‘rag’ organised by his old pals to amuse Steed, is quickly realised to be a malicious plot to kidnap and brainwash the country’s top RAF staff, for use as ‘sleeper’ agents in various places around the world at some significant moment.
Most of us would have been happy with this celebratory screening, but we also had a Q&A with director Gerry O’Hara and designer David Marshall too.
David Marshall shared his memories of working as a set designer on the show, recalling the fight scene in ‘Mandrake’, where Jackie Pallo fell into the grave, thumping his head on the way down, knocking him out cold. Fearing he may never be asked to work there again, David was relieved at Jackie’s complete recovery. David felt that the set was a personal triumph, constructed in a very small space, raised so as to give depth to the grave, and lit with enormous care so as to exclude any suggestion of studio apparatus shadows in the ‘churchyard’. His memory of the divide between actors and purely technical staff was telling, there being no mixing whatsoever.
Gerry’s time as an Avengers director was restricted to just two episodes, one being ‘The Hour That Never Was’. He recalled his relationship with ITC was somewhat strained when it was discovered that he had had an affair with a lady who later married an executive of the company. Although occurring years before she married, it nevertheless set in motion his estrangement from ITC, he felt. He nevertheless had fond memories of working on ‘The Avengers’
A question from the floor was whether The Avengers created the 60’s, or the 60’s created The Avengers? Neither felt that either statement was true, but they did feel that the show reflected the 60’s, especially the fashions of the era, without being part of the youth culture it was loved by. Another was whether they felt, at the time, that they would still be talking about the show fifty years hence. Neither did, but simply felt that they had helped to create a quality piece of work in what was then a highly competitive field.
An unsurprisingly well-attended show, with some well-known faces from the Mod scene, added up to one of the best evenings I have spent in the Barbican. More, please.
Warhol Is Here’ – Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion – Saturday 24/9/11
You might be thinking, as I was, that almost everything that could be said about Andy Warhol, has been said, many times over, leaving us with little need to repeat still further. The fifteen minutes of fame he predicted would be everyone’s lot seems to have been multiplied many times for the saying’s originator.
From his beginnings as a graphic artist, window dresser and advertiser, to his creation of an alt-celebrity club for fellow artists, to his acceptance by the smart set and his tragically early demise, all have been noted, annotated and endlessly repeated, like so many of his silk screen paintings, that we are left wondering what else could possibly be left to discuss. A selective overview of Warhol’s popular works is one answer, and ‘Warhol Is Here’ on display free at Bexhill’s stunning architectural show space, the De La Warr Pavilion, is well worth the visit.
Taking place on three levels of the crotchet-shaped building, the main hall guides us through works by genre, starting with the earliest, where Warhol incorporated rubber-stamp images to create pictures, often getting friends to finish what he had begun. The floral and angelic themes made these composite pictures resemble Victorian ‘scraps’. His shoe and hand fetishes were apparent even then, with the familiar heel-to-toe silhouette of a ladies’ shoe and the caressing hand touching a kitten turning up like advertising images, something that would later earn him a living as an illustrator.
This comforting world of leisure and pleasure quickly gives way to more in/famous images as we see the news-reportage image of the Birmingham, Alabama race riots, a police alsatian biting the trouser of a fleeing man as police officers, billy-clubs at the ready, wait to pounce.
Aside, a stack of white boxes advertising pan-shining pads await unpacking, and ahead, the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ diptych, on loan from the Tate, hangs defiantly staring out at us. These repeated, slightly offset images (colour on the left, black & white on the right) have become even better known than the original photographic image they were based on, and still have the power to fascinate as they seem to suggest a side to the star her studio would never have promoted.
Separate, differently coloured images of Chairman Mao-Tse Tung have his genial grin as the focus, at odds with his administration’s brutal treatment of any degree of dissent from its people. Warhol’s indiscriminate fascination with celebrity, however garnered, is well represented by just these two, even though many more adorn the walls.
Warhol’s love of Americana is unavoidable and central to his work, both its positive, all-inclusive side (brand-name canned soup, a single can, rather than one repeated on an industrial scale) and its dark side (electric chair, the variously coloured images chilling in their intensity).
His more human side is apparent in the nudes, among them a beautiful Venus rising from her shell, slim bodied and demure, and the highly charged homoeroticism of the male nudes. Warhol’s self portraits in conventional clothes and a series of blond wigs raise questions which he usually answered, if at all, in dull monosyllables.
Warhol’s tendency to ‘direct ‘ paintings, at least as often as painting them himself, throws up the question of authenticity, probably none more so than the films his name was applied to. There is no doubt about the publicity this name generated for them though, and some beautifully preserved examples of the posters are here, largely in German language format. They are possibly the most telling of exhibits, as the films tend to follow popular themes of the 60’s & 70’s, Chelsea Girls (basically a portmanteau film) Blue Movie (anything but) and Blood for Dracula (horror, in 3-D, another gimmick) but with the art house twists that major studios were shy of. The posters advertising shows at the Fillmore Ballroom and the Scene offer a rare glimpse into the world of the much talked about but rarely seen Velvet Underground, Warhol protégés and Factory house band who would slowly acquire a cult following and later still, worldwide fame.
The smaller, first floor room is made suitably claustrophobic with ‘Cow’ wallpaper, paranoid maps of Cold War-era USSR and its reputed missile stations, huge dollar signs and double-take faces, a nightmare in silk screen, reflecting the darkest recesses of Warhol’s psyche.
Perhaps in tribute to the multi media shows the Velvet Underground played, the second floor has a round table of cassette tapes, loaded with interviews with various people who knew Warhol, among them Brigid Polk/Brigid Berlin, one of the Factory’s long-term habitués. Apart from winning this writer’s personal seal of approval for classic technology (you know, the sort that has four buttons which do what they say on them), they open a window on as many opinions as there are speakers, sometimes more than one.
This exhibition is free and those of you who are new to either Warhol or Bexhill’s magnificent De La Warr Pavilion have until 26th February 2012 to see it.
Andy Warhol, Mao (1972), from a portfolio of ten screenprints, private collection
Admit it, you haven’t laughed at much on television for years. It’s not just you; it’s millions of us. What passes for comedy now is little more than narrowcasts designed for niche audiences, or the endlessly repeated prejudices of unimaginative idiots. It wasn’t always so.
Many of you may already be familiar with Neil Innes, probably through his work with those legendary eccentrics, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Some of you may even recall the Innes Book Of Records, a criminally underrated TV comedy of the 1970’s. Tonight’s offering from the Flipside crew was a celebration of the work of this survivor, attended by the man himself.
Personal favourites like the surreal ‘Equestrian Statue’ and the inventive ‘Head Ballet’ were included showing the Bonzo’s extraordinary imagination and ability to conjure hilarity out of virtually nothing, and to never, ever, leave well alone.
The evening’s first clip, ‘The Exploding Sausage’ was recalled with fondness by Neil, as having been made on the usual shoestring budget, utilising the children of the camera crew as cast members, an available stately home, and producing a sort of Lewis Carroll meets the Marx Brothers revue, their unique music providing the soundtrack. It showed the Bonzo’s had a firmer grasp on psychedelia than many of the more fashionable, and perhaps better placed contemporaries.
The clip that had me in fits was the spot-on take of the Old Grey Whistle Test, part of the Rutland Weekend Television comedy show, hosted by Eric Idle and with contributions by Neil Innes. Idle’s impression of a bearded, docile, all-accepting presenter provided the perfect host to such luminaries of the progressive rock world as Toad the Wet Sprocket, Outrageous Admiral Sphincter and others who could easily have walked off the set of the real ‘OGWT’ and straight onto this parody of it. The sound of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s tuneless, wittering hippy meanderings, enlivened by fuzzy, over-treated guitar, and the bleached-out lighting effects mercilessly lampooned Bob Harris’ fondly remembered show, and Neil reported, was a big hit with the real Bob Harris, who found it hilarious.
I recall seeing the ‘OGWT’ sketch for the first time back in the 70’s,m and fell out of my ‘egg’ chair laughing at it. I have no memory at all, however, of seeing the ‘Top of the Pops’ clip from 1977, where Neil sings a pro-Queen’s Jubilee song. Perhaps I was listening to the Sex Pistols decidedly anti-Jubilee ‘God Save The Queen’.
The surreal, and rather disturbing ‘3-2-1’ clip defied all attempts at classification, or even comprehension. This inexplicably popular game show from the early 80‘s, hosted by Ted Rogers, set crazy riddles and cryptic clues as questions for the hapless members of the public to answer. The contestants were vying to win such high tech goodies as the then-new Video Cassette Recorders, Television sets (‘Colour!’ said Ted Rogers, as I some miracle had occurred) and Micro-Stereos (still the size of a hospital). Complete confusion reigned, Ted did his mysterious ‘3-2-1’ hand signal and Neil performed his best-known song, ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’.
For many, the real treat of the evening were the very welcome clips of ‘The Innes Book of Records’, a magazine style comedy show, which used a man with a travelling gramophone as a linking device.
The Q&A, which followed, was made especially enjoyable by Neil’s enthusiasm, even when recalling the Bonzo’s gruelling work schedule, which would eventually break up the band. Their early days, scouring London’s flea markets for old 78 rpm records whose songs they would often incorporate into their stage act, was fondly recalled. ‘We stopped arguing’ was Neil’s account of the reason for the split. The questions from the floor were as diverse as the clips, and Neil would have been happy to talk all night to us, but time pressed. Your pal Scenester begged for more on Rutland Weekend Television, and Neil did not disappoint, agreeing that the show would probably not be made nowadays, given that almost all local TV stations, which RTV was poking gentle fun at, have been swallowed by the big corporations, and who have little interest in maverick fare like RTV.
I last saw this bizarre artefact from the 1970’s on TV in the early 80’s, late at night, having wanted to see it since its release. Sadly, I couldn’t pass for 18 in 1973, and I despaired of ever seeing it. My memory of it from that long distant TV screening is perhaps understandably shaky, but my overall impression is the same as today, that of an undisciplined, sprawling chaotic ‘end of days’ picture which may be going nowhere, but has one hell of a time getting lost.
Based on the Michael Moorcock book, the action opens in a country like ours, a dystopian future familiar to cinemagoers of that long, and – some would say – deservedly forgotten decade, the 1970’s. Humanity has been largely wiped out, leaving only a few scientists and a cast of decadents to pick up the pieces. Our ‘hero’ (if we can use that term in such an unconventional story) Jerry Cornelius, played by Jon Finch, is a louche aristocrat, resplendent in a velvet suit and frilly shirt, driving his Rolls-Royce around aimlessly, under the influence of generous measures of whisky, scoffing chocolate biscuits and looking for all the world like a particularly dissolute Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen. Cornelius’ Byronic tastes carry further to his enthusiastic consumption of all manner of exotic pharmaceuticals, and his general love of luxury and home comforts that would make today’s Better Homes subscribers look like lightweights by comparison.
Cornelius drifts through a cast of off-the-wall characters, all keen to sell him whatever the current ‘in thing’ is. Whether they be the corrupt army officer, played with gusto by Sterling Hayden, acquiring armaments by illegal means, or Ronald Lacey’s creepy, pinball-addicted gangster, offering top-up supplies of strange drugs. We see a much-changed Trafalgar Square, with crashed cars taking up the fourth plinth, something Westminster Council might want to consider for a temporary exhibit. The café/night club scene is one of the film’s best, the place resembling a gigantic pinball machine, populated by dancing girls, clowns, gloriously depraved customers, all wasting what little time they have left in this palace of cheap thrills. Figures wrestle in white, chalky mud for the entertainment of the patrons, recalling the ‘Hungry Angry Show’ in the TV play of The Year of the Sex Olympics It is in this scene that the film gives away its 1970’s origins most easily, with an obvious resemblance to other films of the time; Tommy and A Clockwork Orange.
The Art Deco inspired sets and pop art references make this film a delight for the eyes, even if it’s tempered with a pain in the Gulliver … sorry, head, from the constantly shifting storyline. Armed battles are fought with ‘needle guns’, delivering a charge of psychedelics rather than deadly bullets, and three Magritte-like suited men appear, shadowing Cornelius to heaven knows what purpose.
The character of Miss Brunner is introduced, being played with considerable panache by Jenny Runacre, whom some of you may remember as the Queen in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. Covered from head to foot in the pelts of innumerable dead cats, Fran freezes the air of any room she walks into, and it is at this point that I begin to feel that some filmmakers may have had more than a peek into this country’s future than they wanted. Fran’s resemblance to a certain former Prime Minister make uncomfortable viewing, and it is a sobering thought that her character’s model was, at that time, already gearing up for a stab at high office, from her role as Education Secretary. Fran’s appetites are no less voracious than Jerry’s, and somewhat more inventive, preferring the sexual favours of a stunning redheaded girl, to the dubious delights of designer drugs.
We learn that the characteristically inward-looking scientists have come up with a plan to replace and even improve upon the large section of the human race who are no longer with us, by utilising the knowledge in the preserved brains of former scientists in conjunction with their own, and designing a computer that will help in the creation of an androgynous being. Self fertilising, self reproducing, with no need for pairing up the sexes, as both are combined within one individual. The lucky couple to combine forces to create this homunculus will be Jerry Cornelius and Miss Brunner, assisted by some light and sound wizardry under the control of the inevitable misguided computer. If this is all beginning to sound like The Avengers on acid and aphrodisiacs, then your observation will prove well-founded as our intrepid lovers prepare for the ultimate sexual experience that is The Final Programme, and it suddenly morphs into some technological version of I Am Curious Yellow. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you the results of their labours.
With a talented cast, some stunning sets, and costumes by such luminaries of the fashion world as John Bates, Ossie Clark and Tommy Nutter, it’s hard to see how The Final Programme could have garnered so little media attention and been forgotten so completely by the fickle public. Was it the distinctly non-science fiction references, like Bonfire of the Vanities, or the confusing mass of storylines all going on at once? Was it the refusal to take the subject of the global apocalypse seriously, or the sheer silliness of the plan to produce an androgyne to repopulate the earth? Perhaps it was the changing nature of science fiction itself, soon to be given an almighty seeing-to by George Lucas and his ‘Star Wars’ phenomenon. Whatever it was that propelled The Final Programme into cinema oblivion, I can report that it didn’t deserve its place. Perhaps now, in an age when we are becoming more conscious of the effects our consumer society is having on our fragile planet, and with a world-wide recession still not beaten, the film’s chaotic message deserves a listen.
What made this Flipside screening so special, was the appearance of the author of the original story, the wildly successful Michael Moorcock, to comment upon the film. Confessing that the reservations he had on first seeing the press screening all those years ago have proved justified and have grown more numerous since then, Michael proved a likeable and good-humoured guest for Will and Vic Flipside to quiz. His low opinion of director Robert Fuest, (‘A bum director who wanted to be an auteur’ and ‘Couldn’t direct a number 14 bus’ were among his comments), then fresh from his success at directing the Dr. Phibes films, endure. Not meant maliciously, I am sure, Michael simply voiced his concerns about Robert, in particular, that he was not used to directing crowd scenes, tending to stick to two-character exchanges, and thus delivering an ending that omitted Michael’s powerful scene of humanity being led into the sea by a new Messiah. He went on to explain that his own script for The Final Programme was not used, just bowdlerised, and even star Jon Finch, a friend of Moorcock’s, told Michael at the time that he felt the script was directionless.
Further juicy snippets included the revelation that Mick Jagger was considered for the role of Jerry Cornelius, but he turned it down because it was ‘too freaky’. The book, written in 1965 but not published until 1967, was initially shelved for a similar reason. The ‘rock n roll’ connection to The Final Programme doesn’t end there, for, as some of you may know, Michael Moorcock was a great fan of the sci-fi obsessed 70’s underground rock band, Hawkwind, and for the eagle-eyed among you, they, and Moorcock, can be glimpsed briefly in the pinball arcade section of the film. We can only guess at what the film would have turned out like, if it had stuck close to Michael’s original book, as the pinball arcade/nightclub rejoices in the name of ‘The Friendly Bum’ and the character of Jerry Cornelius is even more sexually ambiguous than Jon Finch’s light-touch evocation. On initial cinema release, The Final Programme was paired with Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan actually a kung-fu picture, as support, but their positions were reversed half way through the run. Faced with a highly pertinent question from the floor about the inspiration behind Jerry Cornelius, which the audience member felt might have been David Bowie in ‘Ziggy Stardust’ guise, Michael was intrigued, but answered that he was in his Notting Hill neighbourhood one day, when he saw a man coming toward him, down Portobello Road. A rare instance of someone fitting the bill perfectly, perhaps?
I was hugely impressed with the Flipside for tracking down a print (however faded and scratchy) of this true 70’s oddity, but what made the evening irresistible was the appearance of Michael Moorcock, surely one of the most engaging and amusing guests to visit the NFT in recent years.
From a red bridge emerging from mist in rural Japan to a tiered stream stepping down a hillside, Toshio Shibata’s photographs – gathered for a new exhibition in New York – take a positive view of our impact on the landscape
Warwickshire gallery explores how artistic, social and political forces have shaped Britain’s relationship with rural landscape
Images of a green and pleasant land with a sinister undertone – where lambs gambol but a corpse might lie under a nearby hedge – feature in an exhibition examining Britain’s relationship with the countryside.
The show at Compton Verney gallery in Warwickshire sets the scene with a small 1645 sketch by Claude Lorrain of a beautiful vista, charming ruin, mannerly animals and a picturesque peasant boy. It shows how centuries later the vision still seeps into everyday life, from pictures on beer bottle labels to air fresheners.
National Gallery, London This huge show exploring the ‘creative partnership’ between the Renaissance master and his follower does neither artist much justice
It would be hard to imagine a more lopsided show than Michelangelo & Sebastiano at the National Gallery. The title is quaint, implying some impossible parity between the colossus and his sometime acolyte. Billed as the first attempt to examine “the creative partnership” between the infinitely famous Michelangelo and the perennially neglected Sebastiano del Piombo, the show feels apologetic from the start, as if Sebastiano wouldn’t be here without the leg-up.
Sebastiano (1485-1547) came to art quite late, possibly after studying the lute. Born in Venice, he learned in the studios of Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione; a haunting Salome in this show – cornered, yet defiantly hoarding the head of John the Baptist – has something of Giorgione’s mystique. In 1511, Sebastiano moved to Rome and was taken up by Michelangelo, who befriended the younger artist as a useful ally in his rivalry with the prodigiously popular Raphael. And perhaps because he saw the strengths of Sebastiano, not the least of which was his skill with the relatively new medium (in Rome at least) of oil paint.
From Paul Nash’s barbed wire truths to Tony Blair’s blazing selfie, the Imperial War Museum is exploring anti-war art and demos. What difference did they make?
“Don’t you hear the H-bomb’s thunder / Echo like the crack of doom?” This song is painful as well as rousing when heard now on film footage of the first Aldermaston marches of 1958 and 1959; they look like a vision of lost innocence. This is partly on account of the wholesome quality of their participants: girls in duffel coats, babies in Victorian-looking prams, fresh-faced boys playing their guitars. Even the police seem unusually helpful, ushering demonstrators into position in Trafalgar Square, where a young woman energetically conducts her choir. But if watching these scenes induces a feeling of sad nostalgia then it’s primarily because of the optimism on display.
And at such a dangerous time. “Four minutes warning – just time to boil your last egg,” reads one placard. The fear was real. What seems different from now is their belief that the pictures of mushroom clouds are so self-evidently horrible that merely displaying them would have some effect. As one protester, Hugh Jenkins, recently recalled: “Things in those days were simple and straightforward … we simply said ‘Ban the bomb!’ We thought if we got public support we’d make it clear to the government that the world did not want weapons of such mass destruction.”
Baltic, Gateshead The Canadian artist goes the long way round to create wry and deeply complex videos, films and photographs that keep the viewer guessing
All comfy in his striped pyjamas, Rodney Graham sleeps across the back seat of a car, driven through the night. Dimly visible, and dreaming sweet dreams on a double dose of a narcotic sleeping draught, he is like an exhausted child being taken home after a too long day. Are we nearly there yet?
Graham always goes the long way round in his videos, films and large light-box photographs, now filling two floors of Baltic. There are movies of a whirling chandelier and an indolent pipe smoker (in the next room, the sink is overflowing with suds), there are books, the smell of cinnamon, a road trip to Kurt Cobain’s hometown and recordings from Graham’s accomplished but still undervalued music career.
They may have infuriated the censor, but these beautiful films and photographs of cavorting creatures caused a sensation in the 30s. As Ikon’s new exhibition shows, they have been overlooked for too long
In the course of his lifetime, the aquatic French film-maker Jean Painlevé hung out with Man Ray and Alexander Calder, showed his work in galleries alongside the surrealists, and inspired George Balanchine to choreograph a lobster ballet. His most successful film, 1934’s L’Hippocampe ou Cheval Marin, didn’t just incur the wrath of censors with its intimate footage of copulating seahorses. It also provoked such a mania for the arresting little creatures that the Frenchman, somewhat improbably, launched a range of fashion accessories.
Overlooked for decades, Painlevé’s curious – and curiously beautiful – underwater movies have been championed by France’s current crop of global art stars, among them Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno. In recent years, his aquatic films have been seen in group exhibitions, becoming a point of reference for the art world’s mounting obsession with the animal kingdom. Now Ikon in Birmingham is presenting his first British solo show.
The nose of a shrimp, the spines of a seahorse, the claws of a crab: Jean Painlevé’s camera captured them all – and turned them into massive, monstrous, mysterious works that caused a sensation in the 1930s. Now the aquatic explorer, famed for his films of copulating seahorses and dancing snails, is receiving his first solo UK show, at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery
The latest Exhibition on Screen film is a pleasing study of the US impressionists Mary Cassatt, Theodore Robinson and Willard Metcalf
The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree with this latest film from Exhibition on Screen, the long-running series of gallery films: it follows releases from the company that draw on horticulture and impressionism such as Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse and I, Claude Monet. This time the focus is on US artists such as Mary Cassatt, Theodore Robinson and Willard Metcalf.
This is relatively unploughed territory, and director Phil Grabsky documents it with his customary meticulous care (as well as roping in Gillian Anderson to provide a studious voiceover). There is a gallery element to the film – the Florence Griswold Museum, located at the former boarding house in Connecticut where the artists congregated – which makes for a interesting context. But these painters are perhaps not the artworld giants that previous films in the series have focused on; hence this is a pleasant, but not essential, watch.
From rotating reading machines to a film noir-style abduction, the Canadian artist makes ultra-real works that verge on slapstick. As two shows open in the UK, step into his many worlds
‘Someone recently likened one of my large-scale photographic works to a mildly humorous father’s day card,” says Rodney Graham, chuckling. “I thought that was the funniest thing.” Many of Graham’s more deadpan photographic works could indeed pass for old-fashioned father’s day cards. Cactus Fan, from 2013, features him as a white-coated scientist staring intently at a gift-wrapped cactus with four brightly coloured balloons attached. It is as if he is trying to figure out scientifically what it means, what the relationship might be between the cactus spikes and the helium-filled balloons.
American photographer Thomas R Schiff uses a panoramic camera to capture epic pictures of libraries across the US. The Library Book, published by Aperture, features buildings across the country from the earliest institutions to modernist architecture, tracing the evolution of the library as central to American culture. It is accompanied by an exhibition at the Aperture Foundation in New York City until 20 April
How can you tell if a sheep likes theatre? Or a pig is into dance? Fevered Sleep are staging a show for farmyard creatures – while humans decide if they’re bleating for more
Almost 10 years ago, David Harradine made a show in a basement for the Brighton festival. It was called An Infinite Line and featured a horse that stood entirely unconcerned throughout the performance, barely blinking at what went on around him. He was an impressively large presence, a symbolic representation of the natural world, and clearly didn’t give a fig for the theatrical avant-garde.
A stuntwoman and artist, this 20th-century trailblazer was slandered and robbed by her rivals. As a new exhibition assesses the history of British tattoos, we reappraise the life of a radical
Family legend has it that Jessie Knight stood no taller than 1.2m (4ft), wore delicate size two shoes and had her hair wrapped in her trademark bun held together by two chopsticks when she shot her abusive husband. He didn’t die – Knight, Britain’s first female tattoo artist, was also a former circus sharp shooter – because she hadn’t aimed for murder but revenge, for kicking her beloved dog down the stairs.
“And that,” says her nephew Neil Hopkins-Thomas, “was the end of that marriage.”
National Gallery, London Placing Michelangelo’s work alongside that of his plodding friend highlights the artist’s astounding and visionary creativity
Halfway through the National Gallery’s exhibition about artistic friendship you can read a letter from Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547) to Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) in which he describes a conversation with Pope Leo X. The pope was nice about Michelangelo’s incomparable talent, he says, but less so about his forbidding personality. “But he is terribile, as you see,” complained Leo: “one cannot deal with him.”
Pope Leo X’s word for Michelangelo has echoed down the centuries not just as a characterisation of the man but his art. Terribile means “terrible” in the sense of awe-inspiring, sublime, daunting. The triumph of this exhibition is to make you feel, with mounting astonishment and wonder, the true terribilità of Michelangelo’s art – its transcendental mystery and sublime power.
This is the closest any art gallery can get to recreating the thrill of standing in the Sistine Chapel
National Portrait Gallery, London The singular French artist Claude Cahun made a lifelong series of self-portraits in various guises. See her riveting work alongside that of admirer Gillian Wearing
There is a photograph of the French artist Claude Cahun, pale and shorn, appearing double-headed like Siamese twins. The two Cahuns are fused at the shoulders. One strikes a conventional pose, attentive and outward, if starkly white-faced. The other is almost pathologically inward, the hooded eye alien as a bird. They could be examples of Sane and Insane from some Victorian textbook, except that the shaven head speaks of isolation in both cases. Cahun was androgynous, lesbian and the lover of her own stepsister. She had a profound sense of what it was to live beyond the pale.
Cahun (1894-1954) was born Lucy Schwob to a journalist family in Nantes. She was for a time associated with the Paris surrealists, but this riveting exhibition presents an artist entirely apart. She is bald, she is masked, she dresses as a sailor, a pasha or an Aubrey Beardsley lookalike; she poses in profile as Mr Schwob (like father: like son), and all of it before she ever encountered André Breton.
Her one true disguise – in perm and floral frock – was how Cahun managed to escape the attention of the Nazis
That dark beehive of hair and the heavy, feline eye makeup are now a recognisable visual shorthand for Amy Winehouse. In the few years since her death, Winehouse has become both a stylish motif and a symbol of doomed talent – up there with James Dean or Kurt Cobain – aside from the musical legacy of her songs.
Yet for Henry Hate, the London tattoo artist who got to know Winehouse well, it has been painful to watch. “Fans sometimes come into my shop to ask me to tattoo her image. I don’t do it. For some people she is a caricature, an image. The girl I knew is the one that came into my shop all those times with not enough money on her phone,” he said.
Paintings by GF Watts have influenced figures as diverse as EM Forster and Barack Obama. Two hundred years after his birth, he stands out as one of the most distinctive – and elusive – painters of his times
The great Victorians who made our modern world are in the process of turning 200. Dickens, Darwin and Charlotte Brontë all recently celebrated their landmark birthdays while younger peers – George Eliot, Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria herself – are getting ready for their big day. Last month it was the turn of the artist GF Watts to blow out the candles and contemplate two centuries of being feted and ignored in equal measure.
Watts, though, is a bit different from his fellow bicentenarians. While his name disappeared from public consciousness during a long stretch of the 20th century, his best known work has continued to resonate at high frequency. Take Hope, a large oil painting he made in 1886 and presented to the nation 11 years later. The image of a weary, blindfolded figure resolutely plucking at the remaining string of her battered lyre while perched on a ruined globe might not to be to everyone’s taste, but its easily readable symbolism made it fit for repurpose. Martin Luther King based a sermon on the painting in 1959, as did Jeremiah Wright a generation later. Among Wright’s Chicago congregation in 1990 was a young Barack Obama who took the image and ran with it, making The Audacity of Hope the title of both his rousing address to the Democratic Convention in 2004 and the bestselling manifesto he published two years later.
Women employed in industry and manufacturing are grossly outnumbered by men in the US, but a new exhibition sponsored by Jobs to Move America and the NYC department of transportation pays tribute to the women who build America’s infrastructure. Women Can Build features portraits by Deanne Fitzmaurice, and the free exhibition can be seen until 15 May at two sites in Lower Manhattan, DoT Art’s art display cases on Water Street, at Gouverneur Lane and Pearl Street
National Portrait Gallery, London Artist, resistance fighter, gender warrior … Claude Cahun was a woman before her time. Gillian Wearing’s latest masquerade holds up a mirror to the French pioneer
Claude Cahun, with kiss-curls, Clara Bow lips, love hearts on her cheeks and stockings, is posing with dumbbells. The words “I AM IN TRAINING DON’T KISS ME” are written on her white leotard. Pasted-on black nipples complete the ensemble. It is 1927 and the French artist stares back at us with a steady, insolent gaze. If that gaze asks for anything at all, it’s complicity.
RIBA, London Mies van der Rohe was set to bring a minimalist skyscraper to the UK – but tortuous planning wrangles saw the project swing towards James Stirling’s bonkers barge. A new exhibition charts this case study in architectural fads
Architecture, as much as architects deny it, has always been hopelessly in thrall to fashion. The battle of styles, the capricious cycle of heritage preservation, the sluggish pace of building that makes it impossible for architecture to keep up with its own trends – all are vividly shown in a new exhibition at the RIBA, about the 30-year war waged over one of the most contested sites in London.
At the busy Bank junction in the City, where the pink-striped confection of James Stirling’s No 1 Poultry stands like some mad Battenberg galleon, there was once a very different vision planned. Cloaked in a minimalist costume of bronze-tinted glass, the 19-storey tower of Mansion House Square would have been the only building by Mies van der Rohe in the UK, and his last ever built work anywhere in the world.
Boo Eyeplug acts as webmaster/designer for the Eyeplug site. Not the most social of creatures and with several personality issues, and rather exotic, eccentric tastes for obscure ‘cultish’ stuff which makes his ramblings seem even more sweetly abstract and often annoying.