Friday Arts Diary | 8 November 2013

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Exhibition

World Press Photo 2013

Friday 8th November – Tuesday 26th November

Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall

This year’s World Press Photo winners capture a world in jarring transition, at scales ranging from the intimate to the industrial. The winner of the Spot News category may well become an enduring image of the Israeli-Palestine conflict; ‘Gaza Burial’, taken by Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen, depicts the chilling scene of two dead toddlers, killed by an Israeli airstrike, being carried by their weeping uncles to a mosque, down a hazy, narrow alleyway.

 

Radio

I'm Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

Monday 11th November, BBC Radio 4, 6:30pm

Series 60, Episode 1

The preeminent and completely silly Radio 4 panel show – or, as it calls itself, the ‘antidote to panel shows’ – started in April 1972, and it shows no sign of slowing as it begins its diamond jubilee run. Prepare for the usual surreal, witty musical diversions from Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, joined by guest panelist John Finnemore. Jack Dee morosely chairs the affair, and Colin Sell ties the whole thing together at the piano. As the wonderful Humphrey Lyttleton once ended a round: ‘All good things must come to an end, so let's carry on.’
Recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in Weston-super-Mare.

 

Music Festival

London Jazz Festival

Friday 15th November- Sunday 24th November

Various venues around London

This year marks the 21st birthday of London’s biggest city-wide music festival. All grown-up, the festival is now spread across ten days, and takes in an extraordinary range of live music played in venues of all varieties, from Snarky Puppy’s slot at Shoreditch’s red-bricked Village Underground to the soulful voice of Natalie Williams playing the once-smoky, still-venerated stage of Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.

 

Film

Gravity

Released: Friday 8th November, 2013

Critics and audiences are falling for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort, which has just broken the all-time box-office record for an October release, grossing over £250m, and has so far earned a meta-rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as greenhorn medical engineer and grizzled astronaut forced to work together after a straightforward shuttle mission goes drastically wrong.

Or, if sci-fi isn’t your thing, and you’re in London on Monday 11 November, you can head down to Leicester Square to try and catch a glimpse of Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere of the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.

 

Comedy

Stewart Lee: Much a-Stew About Nothing

Leicester Square Theatre

4th – 30th November, 7:15pm (Mon to Sat), 4pm (Sat)

Tickets £17.50 (Mon to Thu), £20.50 (Fri & Sat)

The dry, sardonic and obnoxiously meta comedian - once proudly ranked the 41st  best stand-up of all time, and made infamous after penning ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’ - will be in residence at the Leicester Square Theatre this month, presenting ‘a mixed bag of unrelated ideas, read off of some crumpled bits of paper’ in preparation for his new TV series in 2014.  If jokes about William Blake and 20-minute Beckettian digressions about a man made of carpet remnants sound like your kind of show, grab a ticket now, as it’s likely to sell out fast.

Paul Hansen accepts his World Press Photo award (Getty Images/Robin Utrecht)
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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