The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Festivals

Institut Français, London: SW7: BD & Comics Passion Festival, 24 – 27 May

"Bandes dessinée" literally translates from the French as “drawn strip”. It is from this phrase that we took the notion of the “comic strip”, and it lends its name this week to one of the UK’s premier comics festivals. Hosted jointly by the Institut Français and Comica Festvial, the Bandes Dessinées (BD) and Comics Passion Festival features a four day event schedule of renowned comics creators, including Guy Delisle, Luke Pearson, Tom Gauld, Grzegorz Rosinksi and Jonathan Ross. Also expect music, performances, workshops and bookstall from some of the best independent comic vendors.

Various London Venues, London: Chelsea Fringe Festival, until 10 June

Embracing Chelsea’s floral heritage whilst stepping out of the ticketed cloisters of the annual flower show, the brand new Chelsea Fringe Festival calls itself “a wonderful mix of public spectacles, horticultural happenings, and community celebration”. The three week festival will be staging a huge range of free events and quirky installations across the capital including “edible bus stop” gardens in South London, a “Floating Forrest” designed by Alexander Reford and built from 600 wooden disks suspended in the Grand Union Canal and a mobile beer garden powered by bicycle.

Literature

Olympia Exhibition Centre, London W14: London Antiquarian Book Fair, 24 – 26 May

Book lovers  – listen up! This weekend sees antique texts take centre stage at London’s long-running Antiquarian Book Fair, presented by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) in collaboration with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). The Olympia Exhibition Hall will be filled with books, maps, prints, ephemera and manuscripts, with an atmosphere that encourages browsing and the indulging of curiosity. The fair will also feature tours and a popular lecture series. Tickets are free but must be reserved online in advance.

Exhibition

The Turner Contemporary, Margate: She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea - Tracy Emin at the Turner Contemporary, until 23 September

Tracy Emin’s first major solo exhibition at the Turner Contemporary, She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, was specially conceived for this exceptional space in Margate, the town where the artist grew up. She credits Margate as the inspiration for a number of her most famous works. Here, she brings together pieces exploring themes of romance, sensuality, eroticism and love. Expect drawings, monoprints, sculptures and neons, both pre-existing and newly created, spanning the range of Emin’s ouvre.

Art

Brick Lane Yard, London, E1: Art Car Boot Fair, 27 May

The organisers of this one-day festival, now in its ninth year, were probably quite pleased when the Wall Street Journal called it “the funkiest car boot fair around”. Art Car Boot is an art fair that aims to put the emphasis on art as accessible, affordable, and interactive. Boasting its “best line-up yet”, this year will see over 70 artists offering up their work, including Sir Peter Blake, Polly Morgan, Billy Childish, Emin International and many more. Staged in a car park off Brick Lane, the fair also ramps up the entertainment with vintage cars, a “handbag disco” and food stalls hosted by St John’s Bread and Wine, Rod and Line, and Nude Espresso.

"Cycle London" by comic artist Luke Pearson, on display at the London Transport Museum. Pearson will appear this weekend at "BD & Comics Passion Festival" in London. (Image: Nobrow Publishing)
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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