The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead

Theatre

Nosferatu, Barbican Centre, London EC2, 31 October - 3 November

Halloween may be over, but if you haven’t got your fill of scary thrills, head over to the Barbican for their current theatre production, Nosferatu. Performed by the multi-award winning Polish company TR Warszawa, who are rapidly gaining an international reputation for experimental theatre, this show takes a new interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula. In a production full of horror tropes - dry ice, billowing curtains and flashes of lightening, the production promises to seduce the audience “into a dream-like state”. Director Grzegorz Jarzyna is collaborating for the first time with avant-garde musician John Zorn in an attempt to explore “what lies between an idea and reality, between light and shade.”

Art

Seduced by Art: Photography Past & Present, National Gallery, London WC2, 31 October – 20 Jan 2013

Perhaps surprisingly the first major photography exhibition to come from the National Gallery, Seduced by Art, looks specifically at the influence of Fine Art traditions on photography. Spanning the early beginnings of photographic technology to its current digital phase, the show will juxtapose current photographers such as Sam Taylor-Wood and Gustave Le Grey alongside iconic paintings from the national gallery collection including Ingres and Degas. Divided into the themes of portraiture, still life, nudes and landscapes, the show demonstrates the continuation of an historic tradition which has been re-worked, re-interpreted, but still remains very much relevant to aesthetic judgements today.

Film

The Master,  Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson With: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

This hugely anticipated film by renowned director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood) could have scarcely been more hyped-up by its previews. Initial reviews have uniformly reduced critics to stutters as they attempt to articulate its power.   Joaquin Phoenix stars in what has been dubbed a "laceratingly powerful" performance alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in a story loosely inspired by the life of L Ron Hubbard. Essentially a  story of two sociopaths and the elusive American dream, the film has been hailed as “a supremely confident work from a unique film-maker”, which leaves viewers “utterly lost in its demagogic thrall”.

Music

London International Festival of Exploratory Music, Kings Place, London N1, 31 October – 3 November

For those who don’t like their music mainstream, LIFEM is a four day festival at Kings Place which self-professes to “push back boundaries, challenging audiences with bold musical initiatives and a rejection of expectations”. This year’s theme is "Sounds from the Arctic Cool". Featuring a line-up of Scandinavia's most cutting-edge musicians, including Biosphere, EF, Deaf Centre and Wimme Saari, this promises to be four days of dark, surreal sounds.

Festival

Day of the Dead, Old Vic Tunnels, London SE1, 31 October - 3 November

Appropriating the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, the Old Vic Tunnels are being transformed into a four-day festival featuring music, art and theatre all to celebrate the eventual prospect of shuffling off this mortal coil. Featuring world music from Rodrigo y Gabriela alongside a host of stalls and bars selling Mexican street food and a liberal dose of tequila. New art commission enliven the tunnels with works from photographer Graciela Iturbide and the Le Gun collective, whilst families are also accounted for by Saturday’s children’s workshops.

Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. (Photo credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser