Thursday, January 7, 2016

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict #FilmReview



I certainly wasn't looking for twentieth century art when visiting Venice in June 1980. But wandering the backstreets I stumbled across a house that seemed to double as an art gallery. The name Guggenheim rang bells but Peggy had not been on my philistine radar. We went in not knowing what to expect. The place was deserted much like the rest of Venice in early June in the good old days. It was a delight beyond imagining. Picasso, Pollock, Miro and Marcel Duchamp were just a few amongst a feast of modern artists in her Collection.

It was still very much a home as well as a personal museum. Peggy had died only six months earlier. My strongest recollection over the years has been of the courtyard garden where the ashes of many of her dogs were buried. She has since joined them in the wall. It was a secluded spot then.

On a return visit in October 2015, being the first there was not enough to avoid the crushing crowds that packed the place by mid-morning. A gate now leads from the garden to the temporary exhibition rooms and a restaurant. The house has been extended by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Foundation to display more recent artists' work.

Lisa Immordino Vreeland's documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict helps to give some idea about whether Peggy would have approved of the changes. The film covers her very full life of 81 years in considerable depth. 95 minutes is not enough to mention all her lovers, not even the famous artists but Peggy wrote detailed accounts for those interested (now in a single edition): Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict. Must get a copy, if only for the Gore Vidal foreward.


Peggy is not spared the criticisms of some of her contemporaries. Some of the more biting comments on her personality and her artistic endeavours probably tell us more about art connoisseurs and critics. Two of her regular guests in Venice confirm that the catering at her palazzo left much to be desired.

The discovery of interviews taped by her authorised biographer, Jacqueline Bogard Weld, gives the documentary a personal, winning touch. Peggy claimed that she was never "afraid". Her art collecting campaign in Paris at the outbreak of the second world war attest to her courage, drive and determination.

Her rich and famous family had an exceptional number of tragic deaths but she reveals very little in the interviews. Director Vreeland commented in an interview about her film, "she wasn't someone who was especially expressive; she didn't have a lot of emotion". Nevertheless, her sharp sense of humour is evident throughout.

What is revealed about Peggy explains how she left such a spectacular legacy: "It was really ballsy of her to have been so open about her sexuality; this was not something people did back then. So many people are bound by conventional rules but Peggy said no. She grabbed hold of life and she lived it on her own terms." This was especially true about the art and the artists she collected and promoted. "Peggy's life did not seem that dreamy until she attached herself to these artists. It was her ability to redefine herself in the end that truly summed her up".


A life definitely worth sharing.


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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Dressmaker: revenge served hot



It is easy to see why The Dressmaker has such immediate appeal down under. Its director Jocelyn Moorhouse and co-writer/producer P.J. Hogan have given us such treats as Proof, Muriel's Wedding and Mental.

This film has lots of parts: part mystery, psychological drama, love story, farce, tale of revenge, and soap. Plus some zany numbers knocked up on the iconic Singer sewing machine. And above all comedy.

In 1951 Myrtle 'Tilly' Dunnage (Kate Winslet), returns to the small Victorian country town, which she was forced to leave as a child. She is a beguiling mixture of vamp and seamstress. Her quest is to uncover the truth behind her exile and to throw off the curse that haunts her. On her arrival the town is united against Tilly, even her mother Molly (Judy Davis). The exceptions are Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) and his brother Barney (Gyton Grantley). No spoilers - even though the plot is essentially irrelevant like any self-respecting melodrama.

The cast includes a host of old Aussie troopers such as Hugo Weaving, Barry Otto, Julia Blake, Rebecca Gibney, Shane Bourne and Shane Jacobson. There is more than one allusion to their filmographies but only Barry's hunchback falls a bit flat.

Came away feeling that the spirit of Yahoo Serious (and Young Einstein) lives on in Australian cinema. Thank heavens!



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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Marshland: Old-fashioned crime



Director and co-writer Alberto Rodríguez has come up with a classy crime mystery in Marshland (La isla mínima, 'Minimal Island'). The Spanish language film swept the Goya awards for 2014. It is set in the south west of Spain in 1980 as two detectives track down the brutal murderer of two sisters.

In the process they uncover the dark side of this rural community. They are an odd couple. Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) is trying to get back to work and family in Madrid and Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) has a cloud over him from his days as one of Franco's 'Gestapo'. They are just the tip of a very professional cast.

It is just five years since the Generalissimo's death. Their relationship is strained by Juan's use of vigorous interrogation methods honed during the dictatorship.

The film has a very convincing late 70s atmosphere. Rodríguez seems to have borrowed both from Chinatown and Blowup for his inspiration. Photography is a key element linking both the crimes and the investigation. In addition the cinematography captures the bleakness of the environment and the despair of the local people whose lives are dominated by poverty and unemployment. This is especially true of the young women who are desperate to escape the traditional family and social bonds.

This a an old-fashioned movie with a very modern edge. It's film noir without the wit or the femme fatale.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wild Tales: Mad as Hell



Writer/director Damián Szifron's so-called black comedy Wild Tales" (Relatos Salvajes) is a real hoot. This collection of six short stories has lashings of the classic elements of melodrama mixed into its contemporary contexts.

"Pasternak" mixes vengeance with everyone's airliner nightmare.
"Las Ratas" ("The Rats") also plays on revenge, as a nasty loan-shark meets his match in a diner.
"El más fuerte" ("The Strongest") takes road rage to new heights and depths.
"Bombita" ("Little Bomb") lives out all drivers's fantasy when trapped by the parking police. Our hero is as mad as hell and isn't going to take this anymore.
"La Propuesta" ("The Proposal") is another auto-related drama based on a hit-and-run.
"Hasta que la muerte nos separe" ("Until Death Do Us Part") has the archetypal wedding party where betrayal is a double-edged sword for the bride and groom.

These modern day morality plays have an excellent Argentine cast, too numerous to single out.

There is plenty of biting social satire complete with the obligatory stereotyping. The rich, big government, police corruption, family relationships, lawyers: all cop a pasting.


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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ida: Poland's Haunting History


Ida is a small but powerful gem from Poland. It has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2015 Academy Awards. Set in 1962 and directed by co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski, it is a mere 82 minutes in length.

Ida is memorable just for the two main performances. Agata Trzebuchowska gives a haunting portrayal as Anna/Ida, while Agata Kulesza excels as the haunted Wanka.

Anna is a novice nun who learns about her Jewish origins from her aunt Wanka, a former Stalinist prosecutor. The holocaust legacy, communist rule and the dominance of the Catholic church are all part of the complex backdrop to this quest. Ida's personal search for identity is further complicated by coming face to face with an alien, but enticing secular culture.

The black and white production reflects the bleaker elements of the story and the times. Similarly, the jazz soundtrack underlines the growing alternative spirit amongst youth at the time.

Anyway, in the old cliché, this film is about questions not answers. It's about the personal choices we all must make and their consequences.




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