MONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2014
Art: After years of mooching around art exhibitions, I've finally decided that the ones I like best are the ones with a narrative thread: particularly when you get a closely-linked group of artists, and show how their personal interactions affected their work. It's something that Dulwich Picture Gallery does rather well, and last year their show A Crisis Of Brilliance - based around the cluster of young British artists that came out of Slade School in the runup to the Great War - was the best thing I saw in a gallery that year. Their current exhibit, Art And Life 1920-1931, takes a similar tack with a less stellar collection of artists than Spencer, Carrington et al. At the centre of the story are husband and wife duo Ben and Winifred Nicholson. They both paint - frequently attempting the same subject but from different angles - and if we're honest, they're both dabblers rather than fine artists, with Winifred's use of colour giving her the edge over her hubby. The funny thing about Art And Life is that although the Nicholsons get top billing, the artists they made friends with on their travels are the real focus of attention. Christopher Wood, who's a much more ambitious painter in terms of subject matter and composition: Alfred Wallis, whose naive seascapes have a curiously modern feel to them: and William Staite Murray, whose pottery has an increasing wit to it as the years go on. The weaving of their stories in and out of the Nicholsons' lives is what gives this exhibition a pleasing structure, particularly when you discover that a couple of those stories were tragically terminated in their prime. See it at Dulwich until September 21st.
Movies: Six years ago, I wrote about a just-started web series called James Gunn's PG Porn, in which a little-known movie director, his family, a few of his showbiz mates and a collection of actual porn stars got together to spoof the cliches of porn movies without depicting coitus at any point. The series has moved around the internet a bit over the years, but most of the episodes can now be watched on Gunn's own site, although you'll have to go elsewhere for the other two. Despite the title, they're still not entirely safe for work, with innuendo, violence and swearing aplenty. Which makes it all the more amusing that James Gunn has now gone on to make the big family blockbuster of the upcoming weekend. When the trailers for Guardians Of The Galaxy first started appearing, I wasn't sure about it at all - it looked like a great big mess of tones, not sure if it was a proper sci-fi epic or a pisstake of one. But at feature length, it finally makes sense. There's been a grim darkness infecting superhero cinema of late, leading to the inexplicable fanboy frothing over upcoming Man Of Steel sequel Batman V Superman, which is like scientists announcing they've just created AIDS 2 and expecting us to love them for it. Guardians is having none of that nonsense. It realises its story is ludicrous, and plays it at the level of a romp throughout, without turning its brain off completely. It isn't perfect: there are two huge aerial battle sequences that are basically beyond Gunn's capabilities, and just turn into massive camera swoops with indistinguishable lumps of metal hurtling around within. But that's not what Marvel hired him for: they got him to co-write a story about five ludicrously disparate characters (from Chris Pratt to a sentient tree), and turn those characters into people/aliens/flora/fauna we like to hang out with. At that level, it's a delightful bit of family entertainment, even though at one point Pratt gets to say a line that's filthier than anything in PG Porn. I'm glad I don't have kids, I'd hate to be forced into giving them the Jackson Pollock talk.
Telly: Let's stand back for a second and look at the evolution of Doctor Hannibal Lecter as a brand. All the goodwill that audiences have towards the character comes from two novels in which he merely had a supporting role - Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs - and the two movies made from them. The second one of those was released in 1991, and quite frankly it's all turned to crap for Hannibal since then. A terrible third book, apparently written by Thomas Harris to punish the fans for liking Lecter so much: an equally terrible third film adapted from it: a remake of Red Dragon that drained all that was good out of Manhunter just to make room for more Anthony Hopkins: and a book/film prequel that nobody even remembers any more. When they announced they were going to give Lecter a TV show as well, it was hard to see why anyone would care. But Hannibal - whose second season has just finished on Sky Living - has been a breathtaking bit of telly. Showrunner Bryan Fuller, better known for whimsical little shows about mental illness and death, has decided to show us what his worldview looks like when he drops the whimsy. Set in the period leading up to Red Dragon, Hannibal comes in at the start of the relationship between FBI investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), and takes its own sweet time in revealing what we already know about the good doctor. The results are eye-poppingly violent for US TV (though apparently the absence of swearing and tits makes it perfectly suitable for a TV 14 rating over there), backed up with a staggering degree of psychological cruelty that's even more horrifying. Beautifully underplayed and ravishingly shot, the second season climaxes in a cavalcade of narrative rug-pulling that leaves you wondering how the hell you could get a third season from that. I'm incredibly keen to find out myself.