Monday, July 27, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One minute film reviews

The Auckland Film Festival has swung around again. I usually ignore blockbusters throughout the year, saving up money to attend at least six items at the film festival. My favoured choices are the documentaries because they rarely return, even on DVD. Anyway, this year, money was tight, so I saw only three films at the festival (and hopefully one more this weekend). They were:

The September Issue
Why Anna Wintour would open the doors of Vogue's inner sanctum to documentary filmmaker RJ Cutler after she was brutally satired in The Devil Wears Prada - the gods of couture only know. But then as you watch this film, you sense that Wintour did it as a clever marketing ploy: she is perpetually smiling for the camera. It's a film that she can be proud of, too, because it is not just about the cult of Wintour/Vogue, but also a film about professionalism, passion and work ethic.

Grace Coddington, Vogue's creative director, serves as the perfect foil to Wintour's wintry persona. Coddington seems more down-to-earth, forgiving, looser, warmer; it is a revelation to see the both of them bristle against each other. As Coddington puts it, "I know when to stop pushing her. But she doesn't know when to stop pushing me."

These people know they're not taken seriously by a large percentage of the planet, yet they care, so so much, about what they do. As all my fellow artists know, that takes self-validation, belief, and supreme self-confidence.

Had to see this on the big screen. Hayao Miyazaki just keeps getting better and better. He never dumbs it down for the kids - or the adults, for that matter! His films are also educational. Imagine watching this movie as a child and learning about lighthouses, morse code, how a steamboat works, using a generator to power your house in the event of a blackout, how the people of a village pull together in the event of a tsunami, how to treat Nature with respect...

The only thing I found uncomfortable was a scene involving a mother driving recklessly. So un-PC, yet Miyazaki gets away with it! :-D

Big River Man
This is the story of Martin Strel, an endurance swimmer, as told by his son. The film documents Strel's swim along the entire length of the Amazon river, an expedition that leads to strange events... I don't want to give it away. Suffice it to say that this is a very engaging film about its gregarious, crazy, obsessive subject - a man who sets tremendous physical goals for himself while sticking to a diet of whisky, beer and horse burgers. Strel could easily have been a subject for a Werner Herzog film. 'Nuff said!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Vikram Seth writes the sequel to A Suitable Boy

I spent the most part of my fourteenth year reading A Suitable Boy. I think this was the book that made me wish I was Indian. At the time, I tried learning Hindi via friends and made all my friends in the hostel call me 'Chattopadhyay', after a character in the novel (they settled for 'Chatto' for short).
A Suitable Girl will see Lata, the 19-year-old heroine of A Suitable Boy, who suffered the efforts of her mother attempting to find her a suitable husband during the first book, now a grandmother, searching for the right match for her grandson. To be published in the autumn of 2013, publisher Penguin promised that Seth would "bring the action of the narrative up to the present day, encompassing some of the enormous social and economic changes India has undergone in the last 60 years".

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The art doctor

After catching mild 'social disease' last month, I am keeping a low profile on the art opening front because of the flu. I know it sounds paranoid but I've already suffered the seasonal flu and it wadn't purty.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about art conservator Christian Scheidemann who is charged with preserving contemporary works of art. Dirt, latex, doughnuts: you name the material, he's worked with it. Sounds like a thankless job, but he goes about it with admirable enthusiasm. Where he can, he will preserve the material properties of an artwork, but if decay or imperfection is inevitable, he sees it as being part of the work's narrative.

What strikes me most about him is that he does not shake his head at artists who make work using materials that are not durable, and these artworks often sell for a lot of money. An outsider could easily dismiss this as irresponsibility, and maybe it is, but Scheidemann's main concern is the integrity of the art work. For example, on Damien Hirst's pickled shark which has recently been replaced due to rapid deterioration, Scheidemann says,
"What he did with the shark was not very smart, but the artist is always right... I think we would have tried to plastinate the shark - to exchange the bodily fluids with resin. But maybe that's too subtle for him. It would be a totally different work. I think he's more interested in keeping it difficult for a while."
Such insight and discernment! Even some owners of artworks don't show as much sympathy.

I think artists have a responsibility to make sure collectors know what they are buying into. This includes letting them know (if possible - and within reason) if you expect watercolour paper to yellow sooner than expected because you stretched it with heavily chlorinated water, or painted on it with non-archival substances. Or if you use latex, let them know that its stretchiness will not last forever. Etc etc.

When Scheidemann was studying art history and conservation, he had to study the back of paintings, "and could actually discover graffiti from 1448, and see the fingerprints of the artists, and see the first tests on the back side, and how it was done, and what the challenges were for the artist, and what they had in mind". This made me think, what if some gallery like the Met decided to hang all their paintings back to front? How fun! What stories would we find behind those canvases?

Christian Scheidemann runs Contemporary Conservation.