I do apologise for the impromptu blogging break that happened this past week. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather and then things have been so busy. Or they’ve felt busy to me. July is Open Studios month in the area, when almost two hundred local artists group together for exhibitions or open their workplaces to the public. We’ve been to an exhibition and two studios these past couple of weekends, although we’ve emerged without buying any art (sometimes due to Mister Litlove’s judicious steering of me towards exits at crucial moments). It’s funny; here I am preaching all the time that people should be as open to their reading as possible, and to try things without being too judgmental, but put me in a room with a painting I really don’t like and my skin starts to crawl. So much for broadening my mind as far as visual art is concerned; I like it or I don’t and that seems to be that.
We went to an exhibition at the Museum of Technology, which is the old pumping station down by the river. Mister Litlove thinks it’s the best museum ever, and I think it’s the worst – just a bunch of ugly old machinery in a cavernous spidery building to me, poetry in engineering motion to him. I caught him at one point with his nose two inches away from some truly insipid watercolours, trying to read the history of the computer exhibit that lay beyond the screens on which the paintings were hung. Downstairs a very jolly lady had her very graphic nudes hung about an ancient steam engine. She was telling us that one had been hanging in her bedroom for ages, because it had been a commission but the couple broke up and the boyfriend didn’t want a life-sized reminder of his ex. Mister Litlove teased me about having my picture done, I teased him about having his, and then we thought about the ways we could freak out our son with a matching pair, which struck us as very funny. And then we walked decisively away.
Last night we went out to the theatre for the first time in a while. We saw Eden End by J.B. Priestley, which was a mixed success. It was okay, just not great. Essentially it was J. B. Priestley’s fault, for writing a play in which no climax was reached and no character developed. To be fair I think he was much more concerned with evoking shattered dreams, both personal and historical; the time of the action is 1912 (the play was written in 1934) and concerns an ordinary family whose eldest daughter has shockingly left them all nine years ago to seek her fortune on the stage. And now, of course, the prodigal Stella returns, trying to keep to herself the failure she feels she has made of her life, and upsetting her younger sister who resents her bitterly for the fuss she caused, the chances she took, and for being the best loved. Not much happens except that the angry sister (who delivered all her lines grimly in a barking voice) manages to pressurise Stella into leaving again. Curtain falls on faithful family retainer weeping into hanky.
We rushed home to read the reviews and found them all to be glowing, which confused us no end. Had we been watching a different play? All the reviewers adored the actress who played Stella although she hadn’t struck us particularly at all. She reminded me of the kind of girl that teachers all cooed over at school; ethereally pretty, wondrously self-confident, speaking with a breathy, husky intensity and able to cry at will while staring into the middle-distance. According to the reviewers this was J.B. Priestly with delicate shades of Chekov. I’ve never seen a Chekov play; I don’t think I’ll rush to catch one.
It probably didn’t help that earlier the same day we’d watched Bullets Over Broadway, also about theatre folk and one of my favourite movies ever. I signed us up for a month’s free trial of Lovefilm, which is the UK version of Netflix. On the whole I find contemporary cinema way too aggressive towards the viewer for my comfort; all that crazy mad cutting, camera shots that swing you violently towards the action, and nothing in any way plausible or relevant for the life I lead or the lives of people I know. But Bullets Over Broadway is Woody Allen at his best, and the exuberances of Woody Allen are ones I can really enjoy. Plus this is a beautifully plotted film about the compromises, the trials and the triumphs of creativity.
It’s set in 1920s New York where playwright, David Schuler (the brilliant John Cusack, taking the Woody part brilliantly) is finally going to make it to Broadway, but the funding is coming from a mobster who demands a part in the play for his chorus-line girlfriend, Olive. Rehearsals for the play begin and you can feel Woody Allen having just the best fun ever with the possibilities of actors. There’s the famous Helen Sinclair, pretension incarnate to her fingertips, manipulating the star struck Schuler into altering her part, Warner Purcell the male lead who can’t keep away from the buffet table, and of course Olive, a perfectly dreadful actress who also has to bring a bodyguard, the taciturn gangster Cheech, along with her. Then one day, fed up with the awfulness of the play he’s obliged to watch, Cheech makes a fantastic suggestion for altering the plot, and it turns out to be only the start. David Schuler is horrified but unable to resist using Cheech’s alterations (‘Where I come from,’ Cheech says, ‘nobody squeals.’) and gradually the question of who owns the play becomes paramount, particularly when Cheech turns out to be as uncompromising about art as he is about everything else. Oh I just love this film, and like Rear Window, could watch it over and over, and would, if I could only find a copy of the DVD to buy at a reasonable price.
Over the week I’ll try to catch up a bit on book reviews. Suffice it to say I thoroughly enjoyed Salman Rushdie, which was a surprise, and am loving Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and have now got into In Cold Blood, which I hesitated over to begin with as an almost palpable air of evil hangs over that book. But I’m past the murders now and rolling with it. I’m catching up on my blog reading too (at two this morning, since I couldn’t sleep after the theatre!), and if I haven’t been by, I’ll visit very soon.