Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Tate Modern, London SE1, Gerhard Richter: Panorama from 6 October

This major retrospective exhibition coincides with Gerhard Richter's 80th birthday and spans almost 50 years of his work. One of the first German artists to reflect on the history of Nazism, he painted both members and victims of the National Socialist party. Richter's fascination with events that made history continued throughout his career; for example "September 2005", his painting of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, which is included in the show.

Comedy

South Street Arts Centre, Reading, Paul Foot - Still Life 7 October

Following his last Edinburgh show - Ash In The Attic - the wacky and highly articulate comedian's latest set is Still Life. Foot is highly energetic onstage and has a significant following, which he calls the "Guild of Paul Foot Connoisseurs".

Music

Barbican Centre, London, EC2, Inmotion: The Cinematic Orchestra 1 October

This is the second installment of the In Motion series - a live event curated by The Cinematic Orchestra in which a selection of films will be given original scores. The collaborators in the project were invited by the band and include Dorian Concept/Tom Chant, pianist and composer Austin Peralt, underground DJ and artist Kutmah and Grey Reverend. The latter is L D Brownwhich's solo project, whose unaffected singing is accompanied by the acoustic guitar.

Talks

The French Institute, London SW7, China Miéville - My Graphic Gods 7 October

BD and Comics Passion is a new festival being held on 7-9 October by the Institut français in association with Comica Festival to celebrate the graphic novel form. Many leading British, American, French and Belgian authors will be speaking at events, one of whom is China Miéville, the multi-award winning author of Kraken, The Scar and Embassytown. Miéville will talk about his enthusiasm for comic books, discussing some neglected talents.

Theatre

National Theatre, London SE1, It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later from 7 October

Winner of the 2002 Perrier Comedy Award and countless Chortle awards, Daniel Kitson is an uncoventional and hilarious stand-up from Yorkshire. His new show was originally performed throughout the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe to sold-out audiences. The tagline describes the show as "about Everything and Nothing".

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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era