Archive for December, 2021

Blackpaint 695 – Exploding Toilets, Fred and Ginger, Simon and Garfunkel

December 24, 2021

I got a lovely comment the other day from reader Laurie, which has prompted me to do a bit more on films: couldn’t call what I do critique really, more like cursory idle chatter. As long-suffering readers will know, my thing is to take two (or more) films, paintings, artists, books, whatever and find comparisons and similarities between them, regardless of cultural differences, period, tone, language – or anything else. Tonight, I thought I’d start with toilets. Why? Because I want to seem “edgy” and unsentimental, before wallowing in the perfection of Astaire and Rogers.

Trainspotting (1996, Danny Boyle)

I’d never seen it before in its entirety when it showed up on TV recently; the “worst toilet in Scotland” scene was familiar from clips, however. If there is anyone reading who hasn’t seen it, the character Renton, addicted like all his mates except the psychopathic Begbie, has the runs and is forced to use this utterly filthy, shit-encrusted, semi-flooded public toilet. And yes, he drops his pills – drugs, that is – into the bowl. And goes down after them, diving into the filth and miraculously emerging into a sort of cistern of clean water in which he locates his pills and swims back up into and through the filth, to emerge from the bowl, spitting out brown water.

Parasite (2020, Bong Joon Ho)

A week or so later, this South Korean film also turned up on TV. It was more familiar in that I’d seen it at the cinema a while back on its release. There ‘s a scene in it where the criminal family who have fraudulently installed themselves in a variety of jobs (housekeeper, tutor, chauffeur) in a rich couple’s ultra modern building, are force to return to their own slummy semi-basement in the midst of a colossal storm. The basement is flooded, the daughter climbs on to the raised toilet bowl (see below), lights a cigarette somehow – and a moment later, the toilet appears to explode, spraying lumps of ordure all over her and everything else.

Well, so this is disgusting but up to now the film has been, like Trainspotting, basically a comedy. Soon, however, it descends into horror (or maybe ascends -value judgement), when a series of bloody killings takes place at a garden party. And then I thought back to Trainspotting and realised there is a similar shock change of tone at one point. Nothing to do with Begbie’s outbursts, which are signalled very clearly: no, this is the death of the baby, which we have seen crawling about on the floor unheeded, in the midst of the cast of addicts who are shooting up all around it, The death is introduced by the screaming of the mother, which starts as an unidentified noise in the brain of the unconscious Renton, and slowly becomes recognisable as screaming.

So there we are, a cross-cultural and cross- temporal? historical? link – or links, actually, between Scotland and South Korea, between two centuries. Nothing if not inclusive here.

Fred and Ginger

OK, from the disgusting to the sublime. Reeling from the above, and my usual late night fare of serial killers on Quest Red etc., I went back to basics on YouTube, to feast on Fred and Ginger, having seen The Gay Divorcee and the Parkinson interview with Fred on Talking Pictures (also on YouTube). First, Parkinson: he showed a clip of Fred doing “Putting on the Ritz” from “Blue Skies” – stunning. The stick rapping, the timing,,, unbelievable. Actually, change that to brilliant, simply because it’s pretty much all unbelievable in the nearness to perfection of the routines and the execution. Count the number of times reporters, interviewees, everybody say “incredibly” in an average evening on TV, you’ll see what I mean.

This is what she’s taught me

This one is “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time” (1936). The pair breeze through it as if for the first time. Note the way they stride towards us palms outward as if to say “here we are!”, then stop and break into tap. And the effortless way Fred swings her over the rail and passes over it himself; smooth and dangerous looking.

Fantastic Tap

This is Fred dancing with Eleanor Powell, to “Begin the Beguine”. Not as elegant as his set pieces with Ginger, perhaps, but this must be close to the best tap there is, from both of them.

That Beautiful Back

Back to “Swing time”, for the last dance with Ginger, introduced by Fred singing “Never Gonna Dance”, wistfully, because she’s going off to marry someone else. They start by simply pacing around together dolefully, then break into dance, she’s leaning that beautiful back into him, shoulders raised… and she breaks away. He moves towards her, grabs her arm, spins her around, she looks at him shocked. He mimes pleading with her and suddenly they are dancing again. The orchestra (superb, as in all their films) reprises the big numbers, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “Waltz in Swing Time” – they dance up the black staircase, he spins her again at speed – and she exits, leaving him to follow seconds later, slowly, looking crushed.

I could write all night about their routines, and Ginger’s warm, sceptical smile, eyes slightly veiled, at Fred’s breezy importuning -but I’ll be returning for sure. Just mention one other routine, which is obviously “Let’s Face the Music” from “Follow the Fleet”. Its the exit – their exits are always perfect. The orchestra has piled on the drama and just done that bit where they run up and down the scale, and the dancers, as they pass out of our sight, suddenly throw their heads back and high step in unison – a perfect Art Deco image.

Simon and Garfunkel, the concert in Central Park (1981)

Whilst on YouTube, check this out – its one of the best live concerts I’ve seen, up there with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band in 1975 on the Old Grey Whistle Test (the one with Albert Lee on guitar). For me, the standout songs – we’re back to Simon and Garfunkel, by the way – are “America” (counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike); “Late in the Evening” (just watch the drummer, the brass section and most of all, the audience); and “American Tune” (based on that beautiful hymn from the Matthew Passion). Also Slip Sliding Away, The Boxer and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover; I’ve watched the whole thing four times and the standouts maybe ten.

My latest paintings to finish with – Scottish toilet or Fred and Ginger? You decide…

Mr. Whippy


Frogleg on the wall, with a friend


Christmas Eve 2021

Blackpaint 694 – Life Between Islands.. Don’t You Remember?

December 10, 2021

Life Between Islands, Caribbean British Art, 1950s – Now

Tate Britain until 3rd April 2022

Against my expectations (I’d anticipated a selection based on political correctness , emphasising the evilness of British imperialism and racism in Britain, in line with the current trend in metropolitan art galleries), this is a really enjoyable exhibition. No doubt I, as an old white middle-class man, should have experienced guilt and embarrassment, and hung my head in shame, as the various commentaries accompanying the neighbouring Hogarth show seek to induce – but I didn’t. There’s plenty of politics, anti – racism and hostility towards the police in the photos and in some of the film and paintings too – but it’s good photography and good art, and there’s plenty of sardonic humour too.

I particularly remember the stilt walker, dressed as some Caribbean or African deity, stalking round the magnificent grounds of a stately home in Yorkshire, built I think by Henry Lascelles. a slave owner. I don’t know why, but I found it funny. I hope I was supposed to.

Also. there was the police dog, attacking the costumed carnival goer in the painting below. But we’ll come to that in good time.

For starters, there is a room of abstract paintings by Aubrey Williams. The first of these is from the Tate’s perma-collection, which caused me to groan (inwardly), fearing the frequent tactic of borrowing a couple of paintings and then bulking up to exhibition size with selections from the basement or even from the current display; luckily though, mostly new stuff to me anyway.

Williams’ paintings remind me a little of Alan Davie and (the one below, for instance) of Wifredo Lam.

After Williams, more abstraction: several paintings by Frank Bowling. An example of one of his “poured” paintings below. They are called that because he put them at a downhill angle and poured pigment on so that it would run down. Sorry, that’s obvious, isn’t it….

This next painter is John Lyons, born in Trinidad in 1933, works in UK. I find him really intriguing because his work to me resembles that of German Expressionism, in particular, the second, blue one looks rather like Kokoschka to me.

OK, time for the dog attack. Detail first.

The painter’s called Tam Joseph, born 1947 in Dominica, but now UK. It’s from 1982, and is called the Spirit of the Carnival (the carnival being Notting Hill). Dog reminds me of Gnasher, who was famously the “pet” of Dennis the Menace.

This is the whole picture. You can see the masquerader in the midst of the throng of cartoon coppers behind their fence of riot shields.

These red and blue ones are by Lisa Brice; I find that colour combination really effective – but I’ve seen the one on the left before, in a sort of mini exhibition here not so long ago – just before COVID I think (but my grasp on dates not so sure lately; the pandemic years have sort of telescoped together, because I was shielding the whole time.

Also by Lisa Brice I believe is a film of the most staggering display of street dancing at a Barbadian festival; some vigorous and improbable body contortions performed at high speed.

This figure is by Zak Ove, I’m guessing the son of Horace Ove but I’ve no evidence for that.

It’s a female figure – she has breasts which you can’t see in my photograph – the legs are of dry, bleached wood and she is festooned with the sort of ropes and netting you might find – no doubt, was found – on the white sand of a Caribbean or African beach.

These beautiful and elaborately encrusted busts are the work of Hew Locke.

These last two paintings are by Hurvin Anderson, who works and displays in the UK. One of them, I’m no sure which, is titled Hawksbill Bay, a Jamaican area; I thought his painting, that is the application of paint and colouring, is reminiscent of that of Michael Arnmitage.

So, definitely an exhibition to take in. In addition to the paintings mentioned and shown here, I’ll put in my diary entry listing some of the other stuff on display:

“Also, numerous films and photos of Brixton and Handsworth demos and riots, sound systems, fashions, black celebs (Baldwin. Darcus Howe, Michael X et al), some full-blown Afros.,,,,A great film (Julien?) of glittering blue waters, a young black man in a dinner jacket wading out into it, lying face down on the surface and staring at the sea bed. A silver painted football bobs out to sea…

And there’s a living room – or as it’s rather smart, maybe a front room as we used to call it, I’d put it as early 60’s. I was in there at the same time as a New Zealand couple of my vintage, give or take, and we were going “We had that!” (the dial telephone) and “We had that too!” (the ornate white circular mirror) “And that!” (the radiogram – although a different make). So not all agitprop, by any means.

Positive (Sky Docs)

I watched all three episodes of this documentary series on the trot – and then a few days later, watched them all again. Once or twice, I must admit I grew a little misty-eyed… The first thing my sister asked me when I mentioned it to her was “Does it explain where it comes from?” And I said, well, no – but it pretty much covers everything else. The interviewees were an engaging lot. Jonathan Blake (“L1”, the first diagnosed HIV positive “case” in the UK – although he was infected – “met my virus”, as he put it – in the bath house scene in San Francisco) courageously offered himself as a poster boy in one of the publicity drives. Richard Coles described how he realises with dismay that he started courting friendships with heterosexual couples – because they were less likely to die. The woman also called Coles or Cole, who was infected when a condom broke during sex with her boyfriend. She also offered herself as an interviewee in a documentary – and has been shunned by her mother ever since.

The stories and images are affecting , and the commentaries compelling; the story of the failure of the Concord AZT trial reminded me of the particular anguish that the dashed hopes of unsuccessful drug trials can bring. And there’s that brilliant hookline of Blake’s used in the ad for the series: “We lived through HIV…. Don’t you remember?” It ought to win a BAFTA or three.

I should say that I have an interest, in that the sharp-eyed will notice that on the poster above, a producer credit goes to one Nicky Lessware, who might possibly be a close relative of mine…. But it’s still brilliant.

As always, a few of my own paintings to finish:

Mr. Whippy (left) and Bilgames on the wall

(Sofa by IKEA)


Blackpaint December 9th 2021