The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

National Gallery, London WC2 - Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, until 23 September

The Royal Ballet joins forces with Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger to show a series of works surrounding Titian’s paintings as a part of the Cultural Olympiad's London 2012 Festival. The exhibition includes pieces drawing inspiration from Titian’s works as well as sets and costumes from the Royal Ballets past performances.

Comedy

The Bedford, London SW12 – Ed Byrne, 8 July

Ed Byrne will perform in the Round Room at 8pm this Sunday. Having made his name with appearances on Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You, Byrne has gained a large following.

Film

Hackney Empire, London E8 – Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Ring”, 13 July

The British Film Institute brings a remastered version of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1927 film The Ring to the UK with a live playing of a new score by Soweto Kinch. The Ring tells the story of two boxers and a girl with whom they are both in love. If you can't make it to the Hackney Empire, you can stream the screening and musical performance live at http://thespace.org/.

Talk

Parasol Unit, London N1- David Claerbout in conversation with David Green, 12 July

Artist David Claerbout, whose work is currently on display at Parasol Unit, is interviewed by David Green, senior lecturer at Brighton University. Claerbout will talk about his influences, the general themes of his work and his intentions for the exhibition.

Theatre

Noel Coward Theatre, London, WC2 – Gatz, until 15 July

An epic 8-hour reading (excluding toilet and meal breaks) reading of The Great Gatsby set in an office as workers slowly morph into characters from the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald. Directed by John Collins.

A new print of Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent film The Ring comes to London (Photo: Getty Images)
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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