I have to admit it. I’m a sucker for movies about romantic, well-dressed and just plain fucking cool revolutionary groups. The Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the Situationists, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation army; wherever you stand on their politics and the morality of their actions, you have to admit there’s a Robin Hood-esque attractiveness to all of them. Some of them also wore some very cool clothes.
The Baader Meinhof Complex isn’t the first film I’ve seen recently about a terrorist group – I reviewed Steve Macqueen’s Hunger a couple of weeks ago (some I’m probably on a Government watch list somewhere) – but where Macqueen’s film is a profound, sombre picture of a men pushed to the edge, the Baader Meinhof Complex is as much about the sex and the style of the terrorists concerned as it is analysing their substance and their actions.
The film, directed by Udi Edel who also masterminded the controversial, but critically acclaimed Last Exit to Brooklyn movie and Madonna’s woeful Body of Evidence, and produced and written by Bernd Eichinger who last brought us Downfall basically tells the story of the life of the group officially called the Red Army Faction, but became more popularly known as the Baader Meinhof group, after two of the Faction’s leading personalities (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof).
The RAF (no, not them) saw themselves as a politicial group. History views them as extreme left-wingers – they used the Marx as a starting point and were influenced by, Rudi Dutschke – but really saw themselves as sitting outside the conventional ideological framework, so were inevitably described lazily as anarchists. They saw themselves as kicking against authoritarianism – they’d grown up with the Nazi legacy and were determined to do everything in their power to prevent Germany again falling foul of a similar police state nightmare. They did this through a series of revolutionary actions, mostly bomings of what they selected as ‘legitimate targets’.
The Baader Meinhof Complex only pays lip service to the rights and wrongs of the Red Army Faction’s campaign. Frankly, Eichinger and Edel don’t need to, its been dealt with previously by countless documentaries including this fairly recent one from BBC4. This film is instead about the RAF’s actions, its impulsiveness, its vanity, its glamour – what it did, rather than what it thought. In that sense, its an action movie in the truest sense of the word.
It’s the group’s fundamental vanity, that led to its eventual downfall – something defined in the film as the Baader Meinhof Complex and personnified in it by Ulrike Meinhof’s breakdown. The group became less a band of revolutionaries than a killing machine – jettisonning Meinhof’s theory for the guns and bullets and a love of live on the edge of society.
The Baader Meinhof Complex isn’t as great a piece of art as Hunger, but that’s not the point. It doesn’t offer a critique of the RAF, but an intensely entertaining film. It is slightly longer than it should be, and suffers from some horrendous musical choices (Blowin’ In The Wind over the ednd credits and My Generation earlier on – how cheesy can you get?!), but is definitely worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.
An interesting article from the Guardian on the cultural legacy of the Red Army Faction, here.
A useful Baader Meinhof resource.
I have to admit to being a bit confused as to what GSK Contemporary is all about. Is it a cynical attempt by sponsors GlaxoSmithKline to appear cool, edgy and relevant to the new intake of London-based students? Is it an effort by the Royal Academy to shed its image as the gallery of choice for the Daily Mail reader? Or is it something genuinely cutting-edge and artistically interesting. I’m not sure. I think its probably a mixture of all three, with the emphasis on the first two.
Monday probably isn’t the best time to see a gallery at its best, especially not one that claims to focus on the links between ‘art, performance and experimental theatre’, but I was in the area and wanted to try and make sense of what the RA’s latest initiative was all about. I’d seen some adverts and the flashy website, but was frankly a little bit bemused about what the show was trying to achieve. Was it a straightforward ICA-esque contemporary art show? Was is a cool bar/nightclub with a gallery attached? Was it a performance space? The promotion all seemed a little jumbled. Obviously, I had to check it out. Even after going, I’m still not sure.
Arriving at the space didn’t immediately make things any clearer. Once I’d bought my ticket, GSK Contemporary was horrendously signposted; it wasn’t until after wandering round the ground floor for a good few minutes that the real action was taking place upstairs.
As far as I can work out, GSK Contemporary (awful, awful name, who the hell in the marketing department agreed to that one?) is split into two phases. The first phase, called Molten States runs until mid December, with a second, called Collision Course, taking over afterwards. Molten States showcases the work of Olaf Nicolai, Julian Rosefeldt, Rene Pollesch and Catherine Sullivan. As well as functioning as a static daytime gallery, there’s also a shed-load of evening events happening (think Late at Tate, Late Nights at the Whitechapel) with the likes of Bob and Roberta Smith and Martin Creed doing their things.
It was refreshing to see an exhibition in such a large space devoted to contemporary art – and new works by artists that I hadn’t previously encountered. The first work, by Rene Pollesch, is an installation based on a German-language performance that took place on Halloween at GSK Contemporary and seems to be deliberately obtuse and confrontational. Lots of shouting in German. Olaf Nicolai’s mechanical pole-dancer was disappointing – was I missing something or was the piece supposed to be presented in darkness – the main light was on?! Catherine Sullivan’s work – which appeared to have something to do with colonialism (there were grand houses and period costumes that reminded me of Yinka Shonibare’s Turner Prize nominated work) – was also disappointingly complex.
Julian Rosefeldt’s three multi-screen video works were a revelation and the undoubted highlight of the show. I haven’t encountered his work before. The Soundmaker, Stunned Man and The Perfectionist are all meditations on the absurdity of everyday life. They are simple, yet compelling and worth a visit.
My gut feel is that GSK Contemoporary is designed more as a club/gallery – a late night ‘happening’ space (open until midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays) aimed at flogging booze to the monied London art school crowd, rather than a daytime gallery. As such, I’ll be heading back to see how different it all looks after dark – and to check out the Rosefeldts again, of course. It’s got me interested, but I can’t work out if I like it. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Check out this piece from Art Review.com.
Sunday afternoon seemed the perfect time to check out Tate Modern’s new Mark Rothko show. Heading off to an exhibition of his large scale, meditative paintings is basically the art world equivalent of going to church. You can’t help being inspired and not a little intimidated by the hugeness of his canvasses and his bold repetitions, much in the same way you are when you enter a large gothic cathedral (or massive football stadium, come to think of it). The problem is that everyone else seemed to have the same idea.
It is universally acknowledged that Rothko is a great painter. People that don’t generally visit galleries, or profess any admiration at all for contemprary art – people that would probably run screaming when confronted with a Bruce Nauman or a Paul McCarthy - would most probably be able to identify the large blocks of colour that Rothko worked with.
As such, the Tate clearly has high hopes they are onto a winner with their current high-profile show. It’s certainly has people flocking through the doors so far. It’s not a retrospective, focussing instead on his late works and his ‘works in series’. Whilst there is a respectful amount of space given to a couple of this series – his Black-Form paintings and his Brown and Gray work, for example – the show is built around the so called Seagram Paintings.
In 1958 Mark Rothko was comissioned to paint murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York’s Seagram building. The pictures never ended up in the restaurant, but in the Tate’s collection. These are displayed in the present show, together with pictures painted at the same time loaned from collections in the US and Japan.
This Seagram room is stunning. It is dimly lit, to encourage respectful contemplation, and the pictures are hung high on the wall (as Rothko himself demanded when the murals were displayed at a previous retrospective), making them even more imposing. The combination of the vast space, easily the biggest space in the Tate Modern at the moment apart from the turnbine hall itself, and the intensity of his works combine to produce an emotionally dramatic effect.
Given the drama of the Seagram room, its a little surprising that I came away from this visit feeling a little disappointed rather than emotionally uplifted. The hangover probably didn’t help, but the space was just so unbelievably crowded, it destroyed any effect that the Rothkos should have created. Now, I normally put up with a bit of gallery overcrowding (its inveitable when you’ve got a place as fantastic as Tate Modern), but the single most important thing about Rothko is how his work makes you feel. It isn’t about uncovering hidden midden, he isn’t a political artist, his work is visceral and concerned with the sensation created when you are standing in front of the picture. It’s all about the interraction you have with the work in the gallery. If something disturbs that, then the power of the work is lost. That’s what has happened here.
How can they sort it out? Limiting the number of people that can be in the gallery at one time would be a start, if an unpopular move. Tate Modern has been staggeringly successful, but when it starts letting success compromise the visitor experience its going to have problems. Definitely go and see the show, but go first thing in the morning if you want to be truly touched. Otherwise, well, you’ll just be looking at pictures…
Rothko, The Late Series runs at Tate Modern until February 1st 2009.
Hunger is a terrifying film. It’s the debut feature film from Steve McQueen, best known for beating Tracey Emin to the Turner Prize in 1999. It tells the story of Irish republican inmates holed up in the Maze prison, Belfast protesting against not being treated as political prisoners – specifically the highest profile protestor, Bobby Sands. McQueen is an accomplished video artist, and he’s made the move from galleries to cinemas with arguably the most difficult subject matter he could have selected; the Northern Ireland political situation has been covered impressively in the past, and the instinctively physically repulsive nature of the prisoners’ protests isn’t one that lends itself naturally to your local multiplex. You won’t want to bringing popcorn to this one.
McQueen, however, has suceeded in bringing the story of Sands and the protestors to life in an unflinching, yet visually compelling way. In short, the film never pulls away from showing the brutality of the prison officers and their treatment of the prisoners, or the full horrors of the dirty protests and hunger strikes. Since his death in 1981, Sands has been something of a romantic figure in popular folklore, he’s slightly romanticised here (its certainly a synpathetic portrayal), but its also a warts and all picture of a man pushed to the edge of reason.
It’s refreshing to see a film that takes a new approach to cinematography. Visually, its obvious that McQueen has broached the subject matter as a visual artist, every scene is perfectly composed. Impressively, he never lapses into self-indulgence as one might expect from a video artist – the film comes in at an impressively concise 96 minutes, despite one of the longest one-take scenes in cinema history (this is worth the price of the cinema ticket alone – acted by Michael Fassbender as Sands and Liam Cunningham as his priest).
Hunger is terrifying because of its relentless honesty – there’s no airbrushing (although the naked prisoners did look a little too well toned at times!), no distracting sub plots, no smart-arsed conceits. It’s a naked, uncomfortable but gripping film. Anyone with even a passing interest in British or Irish politics needs to go see it.
Florian Zeller is scarily young for a novelist. He’s younger than me, so is only ever going to be younger than me, and eternally scary. That’s a sobering thought for a Wednesday night.
More recently, he’s become more renowned for his emerging presence on the French theatre scene (as playwright and director), but Neiges Artificielles, his debut novel was published in 2002.
Zeller is often bracketed together with one of my favourite novellists, Michel Houellebecq, so it made sense that I check him out. Whilst there are a number of similarities between the two – both show an inherent cynicism and could easily be bracketed together as Nietzschean, neither shys away from the overtly erotic, both are urban and ultimately contemporary, there are a number of telling differences betweeen the two. Benchmarking Zeller against the his older contemporary is probably unfair because he doesn’t (yet?) bring the same real world baggage to his work and hasn’t (at the time of writing this) hasn’t evolved fully as a writer.
Neiges Artificielles (Artificial Snow) is a coming of age novel for both the first person narrator of the tale and Zeller himself. In fact, the story does seem to be largely drawn on Zeller’s romantic experiences as a young adult. (Hmmm the fact the narrator is called Florian Deller is probably a bit of a giveaway). Location-wise, its set in the types of places in Paris a young, relatively well-to-do Frenchman would be likely to hang out. Bascially, he’s living a good, vibrant life, filled with booze and sex, but like any intelligent, over-educated young man, he’s psychotically unhappy.
As a result, he’s finding it terribly difficult to get over a failed relationship with his beloved Lou. The novel is a testament to him struggling with this, as well as his own place in the social structure – days spent wandering the streets and Metro of the French capital do little to make him feel any better, despite the box cutter permanently in his grasp. To this extent Zeller is obviously more Romantic than Houellebecq. The obvious recurring motifs, the missed underground train, the images of birth, the mud and of course the snow of the title bear witness to that.
Neiges Artificielles is clearly a juvenile work, but one that is well restrained, focused and emotionally powerful. The personality insights we get at towards the end of the book are particularly evocative. I’ll definitely be checking out more of his work. And not just for the rude bits.
The all-singing, all-dancing Warhol jamboree rides into town, tossing witty barbs, terrifying the cops and the upholders of common decency as it gallops. Kind of.
The Andy show has hit the Hayward gallery fresh from a stint in Amsterdam, home of drugs, sleaze and tulips. It’s a firm crowd-pleasing move from the Southbank Centre who have clearly invested heavily in bringing the travelling collection to Waterloo, but one that seems to overlook quality in favour of footfall.
It’s split into four main sections – Warhol trivia (his time-capsules, his polaroids, his doodles), video and audio of the sights and sounds of the Factory, a collection of the shows he produced for MTV and his better known larger scale video/film work. The collection makes good use of the Hayward space, some might argue too good use as the works do seem to be a little crammed into the lower floor of the gallery (there’s a different exhibition on upstairs at the moment).
I’m generally a big fan of the Hayward, some of their recent exhibitions, Undercover Surrealism and Laughing in a Foreign Language in particular, but as a someone who is hugely interested in the work of Warhol (I’m a shameless Velvet Underground afficionado, and really appreciate the importance of his large scale screen prints), I think they’ve got it wrong with this collection.
I came away from Other Voices, Other Rooms with a deeper understanding of Warhol the curator, the archivist, rather than him as an artist. Now, I know that part of Warhol’s talent lay in the way he was able to capture and transform the banal into art, but there’s too much of the untransformed banality in this exhibition to make it really worth a visit (hey, times are tough, you can’t afford to go to every new exhibition!)
The video clips of life in and around the Factory, for example, are just plain dull. Sure, they are interesting for a couple of seconds (but once you get beyond the haircuts, the clothes, the fashion shows, the glimpses inside Studio 54 there’s very little of any real value left). Now, you could argue that this is in itself Warhol’s artistic judgement, but I’d just say that you were being a smart arse, and I think you’d be wrong.
Warhol’s MTV films, are again interesting from the perspective that they document the excess of the late 1970s and 1980s, but they shine only as…well….MTV programmes…and there’s just so much of this mediocrity, spread very thinly at that.
The one opportunity the show has to redeem itself is the final gallery, showing some of Warhol’s longer fully-fledges film works on a succession of dramatically large screens, flanked by some impressively comfortable foam sofas. It all just feels a little cramped – surely these works would have been better digested at the BFI‘s season of Warhol films last year The layout of the gallery means it feels like you are being channeled through, so its not really condusive to stopping and watching. So a a little bit of scandal (banana sucking ahoy), and you are spat out into the shop. Ahh the shop, looking better stocked than I’ve ever seen it before. Maybe that’s what this exhibition was about all along….
Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms shows at the Hayward Gallery, London until January 18th, 2009
Image:© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc
There’s a danger that bands playing psychedelic, introspective music that focuses so heavily on externalising inner space lose track of their audience. It’s something the Brian Jonestown Massacre are always in danger of, something that Sonic Boom/Spectrum can be guilty of, and something My Bloody Valentine stay (just) the right side of.
For me, listening to music at home, or through headphones on the way home from work is a very different experience than seeing a gig live. Rocking out on my own, or in my own space can be a solitary, meditative thing – akin to experiencing a novel. Heading out to a gig (again apart from the social aspect of seeing friends and people-watching) is less about contemplation, about decyphering the secrets of the cosmos than it is about being transported to another place, dancing around like a loon and having a bloody good time.
The Asteroid #4 and The Quarter After at The Dream Machine gig at Herne Hill’s Half Moon was the archetype of everything a cracking night out should be about; it had a great, friendly crowd, a landlord that wasn’t hung-up about curfews, and, most importantly, two bands that were focussed on producing a crowd-pleasing show.
The two bands have been touring together around the UK and Europe for a couple of weeks and this was their first London show since Psychodahlia at The Fly. First up were the QA who brought their Byrds/Springfield/Sabbath-influenced jangle pop to South London for the first time. Led by the Jonestown’s Rob Campanella, the band were noticeably enjoying themselves (even Campanella who normally looks a slightly concerned/panicked figure onstage with Newcombe’s gang looked happy to be kicking back). Hell, Christoph, the bands third guitarist/keyboard player looked like he’d stepped right out of the Rolling Thunder Revue with his sideburns and lace-up jeans. Yes, you read that right – lace-up jeans. Closing their set with the majestic Too Much To Think About, the Quarter After brought smiles aplenty to this part of London.
Tonight was all about the Asteroid #4, however.Touring to promote their blinding new album ‘These Flowers of Ours’, it took them a couple of songs to hit their stride, but once they got going, they moved the evening from a gig…to a happening, man. For me, they a shining example of everything a neo-psychedelic band should be – they’ve cherry picked some of the best sounds from the 60s and the Paisley Underground and fused them with a post Spacemen/Spiritualized drone. Crucually, they never lose sight of the fact its all about putting on a show; they’ve got the rockstar attitude (swigging from bottles of wine on stage), the mind melting lightshow but they clearly give a fuck about the crowd having a cracking time (like various audience members being dragged up on stage to play percussion. You know who you are).
Highlights all seemed to blur into one for me, but standout tracks were Ask Me About Pittsburgh and a Rain Parade cover (I Look Around – I got a little bit overexcited by that one!) Hell, even the Quarter After were into it (even after a few weeks of touring together). Special mention must go to QA singer Dominic Campanella’s inspired dancefloor moves. Oh yes.
In short, tonight was a celebration – not only of the Dulwich Dream Machine record shop and all who sail in her, not just for Masonic Boom and her artwork (it was the opening of her show tonight), but of just how much fun the nu-gaze, post-Jonestown, neo-psych..whatever..’scene’ can actually be. <a href="http://urbanlandfill.typepad.com/.shared/image.html?