strange_complex: (Dracula Scars wine)
Portrait in Alice's roomDear internet,

Does anyone recognise the painting pictured right?

It is a prop in a low-budget film, which appears on screen for only about five seconds and has no role in the plot but is purely a piece of set-dressing. So while it could be an original piece created purely for the film, the odds are that it is either a) a straight copy of a real-world original, or b) a pastiche with readily-identifiable models.

Either way, if anyone can identify the original or the model(s) used to create the pastiche, I'd be very grateful. I am trying to use it to help me figure out exactly when the film is meant to be set, and while I know enough about art to say that a painting like this would have been unlikely before about 1880 or after the First World War, that's about as far as I go.

Full disclosure - the picture is from Hammer's Scars of Dracula, which has no explicit dramatic date, but which I am trying to date from internal clues such as this one. (It's not the only clue I have to go on, but it's the one I need help with.) Sorry the picture isn't particularly brilliant - it is, of course, a cropped screen-cap.

Thank you in advance!

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strange_complex: (Me Huginn beak kiss)
And this one I saw a fortnight ago, again with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy, but this time at the Media Museum in Bradford. It's actually a documentary, charting the history of the Alternative Miss World contest - a sort of bohemian art event that the sculptor Andrew Logan has been running since the early seventies. I hadn't heard of it before, but it looks amazing - all about encouraging unbridled, experimental creativity, including challenging gender boundaries, mainstream fashion paradigms and so forth. It reminded me rather a lot of some of the masked balls I've been to, but on a far grander and crazier scale.

The structure of the documentary splices the long-term history of Andrew Logan as an artist and the contest since 1972 with a shorter-scale micro-history of his preparations for the most recent event in 2009. He comes across as a lovely guy - very passionate about his work, keen to share it with as many people as possible, and with a great sense of humour about the contest, including its trials and tribulations. There was absolutely no pretentiousness about him, but just the very Britishness of the title - tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation about the whole process, but coupled with an underlying steely dedication to putting on the best contest yet.

The visual style of the documentary really did its subject justice, too. The early contests in particular are only preserved via a few fairly grainy photos, but the design made a virtue of this by using a scrap-booking aesthetic, with lots of collage-style images made up of still photos, decorative images and some animation, all inter-spliced with the standard documentary-style footage of the preparations for the 2009 contest. We all agreed afterwards that it was very much like Terry Gilliam's contributions to the Monty Python experience, complete with the same aura of British surrealist humour.

I don't know how widely this is showing, but I imagine it will crop up on late-night Channel 4 at some stage. If you like watching people pushing the boundaries of costume, fashion and identity, it's worth checking out.

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
Yeah, so - for the fifth time this season, I spent the weekend doing things that stopped me seeing Doctor Who on Saturday night, and then most of the rest of the week writing about them. It's going to happen for the season finale, too, which is a bit sad.

I'm afraid I was quite disappointed by this episode )

The history and geography were a mish-mash, too )

Still, all that said, there was some good material here too, which I believe I will present as bullet-points:
  • I liked the gradual emergence of information about the Krafayis - at first presented just as a straightforward monster, but later something which we develop compassion for as we come to understand it better.
  • Bill Nighy as the art critic was just great - absolutely perfectly cast doing exactly what he does best.
  • The structure of a story which begins with paintings in a Parisian art gallery and later requires a visit to the era when they were painted was a HUGE shout-out to City of Death, for which much win - though poor old Foury never did get to meet Leonardo da Vinci (or not in that story, anyway).
  • It's interesting to note that the Doctor puts particular stress on telling Van Gogh when he is depressed on the bed that the one thing there always is is hope - surely a fore-reference to how the opening of the Pandorica is going to be resolved at the end of the story?
  • On a similar note, interesting also that the casual references to unscreened adventures at the beginning of the story are to visits to 'Arcadia' and the 'Trojan Gardens'. I'm reading those as places in space which happen to have Classically-resonant names rather than actual Arcadia or a garden at the historical Troy - but they still fit nicely with the season's theme of myths and legends, and with the Pandorica, which is presumably another example of the same thing.
  • Bored!Doctor waiting outside the church for the space-chicken to appear was really funny.
In fact, there were some great Doctor moments throughout this episode, and indeed plenty of good individual moments and well-crafted lines for all the characters. I did enjoy watching it, for all I've said above. But I didn't feel that it entirely lived up to its own pretensions.

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strange_complex: (Girlsex Russian postcard)
I read the book of this about six or seven years ago, and thought it was great. Since I'm in the middle of a period of Doctor Who which isn't generally available on DVD (mainly for the very good reason that the moving pictures don't survive), I've been putting things like this on my Lovefilm list instead, so that I'm not wasting my subscription - and this one arrived last week.

It's a very faithful adaptation, with a lot of the same dialogue and narrative description as the book (as far as I remember, anyway). A few things were slimmed down a little, such as Sue's experiences in the lunatic asylum. But I felt that a very good job was done of covering the complexities of the plot while also giving enough time for the emergence of the attraction between Sue and Maud to be convincing and moving.

Obviously this time round, I knew what the twists would turn out to be. But I enjoyed that. It meant I could look out for things like subtle facial expressions during the earlier part of the adaptation, based on what I knew were the real motivations of the characters. And they were there. In fact, the acting throughout was superb - especially the two central characters, but I thought the whole cast was very well-chosen, and very convincing in their roles.

The sets and costumes were great, too, and I especially like the camera-work. A lot of the scenes were framed in a very painterly manner, capturing the feel of pictures of bonneted servants, country landscape and Victorian dressing-rooms which I've obviously absorbed in various art galleries over the years. (I can't remember or track down the specific images I'm thinking of, but the overall feel is definitely there). And I was sure I spotted Sarah Waters herself at one point in a brief, silent cameo - which IMDb confirms was not a hallucination.

Great if you've read the novel, and I'm pretty sure great if you haven't too. Bring on the adaptation of The Night Watch!

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strange_complex: (Leptis Magna theatre)
And so, welcome to the 'all about my holiday' entry. I'm going to keep it pretty minimal, actually, as I have a lot of work I need to get on with now. But, in simple list form:

This is what we did )

And these are the pictures )

I have, incidentally, submitted both of the purple Sshhh bag pictures shown above to the library's bag travel map, along with the signpost one from Belfast, since that one seems to have been the eventual victor in my poll.

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strange_complex: (Pompeii sundial)
It's taken me a fair old while to finish this book: in fact, I interrupted it for The Merlin Conspiracy for a while, as it seemed a bit much back in late February, and I was in need of something lighter. Bulwer-Lytton's prose style is so famously overblown that there is an annual bad fiction contest named in his honour; and as for the florid Victorian poetry which he inserted at every available opportunity - well, reader, I skipped it.

This is not to say he's actually a bad writer. Once you attune to his rhythms and get into the highly mannered spirit of his prose, it can be marvellous fun. Check out this fantastic description of the Witch of Vesuvius, for example:
"With stony eyes turned upon them — with a look that met and fascinated theirs — they beheld in that fearful countenance the very image of a corpse! — the same, the glazed and lustreless regard, the blue and shrunken lips, the drawn and hollow jaw — the dead, lank hair, of a pale grey — the livid, green, ghastly skin, which seemed all surely tinged and tainted by the grave!" (Book 3 chapter 9)
Now that's a proper witch, all right. But an endless succession of passages like that can get a bit tedious, especially when the subject turns to long-winded musing or moralising.

Nonetheless, it was worth persevering - not least, of course, because I have now finished it just in time to see whether or not it's conveyed a legacy to the forth-coming Who episode, The Fires of Pompeii. Judging from the trailers so far available, it looks like the influence isn't going to be that direct. But then again, this novel is really the ur-text as far as fictional representations of Pompeii go, and I can certainly see traces of it in the Who audio adventure, The Fires of Vulcan now I've finished it. More on that, later...

Historical realism )

Ancient religion )

Romantic idealism )

Bulwer-Lytton and the visual arts )

Finally, because I can, and because I want to know what's come from where when reading or watching further fictional representations of Pompeii, I finish with a table summarising key story elements in the three main examples I've encountered so far:

A very big table )

Just a few more hours now till I can see how The Fires of Pompeii fits in with all that!

strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
Yesterday, I enjoyed a splendid day out in Manchester. I caught the train west across the Pennines in brilliant sunshine, reading Robert Harris' Pompeii as I went (and noting down the page numbers of all the things in it that annoyed me), and met up with [ profile] angeoverhere and [ profile] johnnydefective at the station. We proceeded for lunch at a delicious dim-sum place, where ladies with trolleys and trays kept bringing round more and more delicacies, and we just said 'yes' to whatever we wanted. Conversation encompassing jobs, houses, incoming babies, geeky T-shirts and the crazy antics of mutual friends flowed across the pork dumplings and on through town to the Art Gallery, where we enjoyed a post-prandial hot beverage while M's chair vibrated inexplicably.

At 2pm, there was a changeover of personnel: [ profile] angeoverhere and [ profile] johnnydefective departed to buy curtains, while I rendezvoused with [ profile] miss_dark, [ profile] vonheath and [ profile] foxy76 for an afternoon of Art and Cake. We had a marvellous time wandering through the galleries discussing severed legs, decomposing eyes, family secrets and ugly crockery, interspersed in a most civilised fashion with further refreshments in the cafe. My favourite gallery was, predictably enough, the Victorian pre-Raphaelite section, which had lots of delicious Classicising scenes from the brushes of Alma-Tadema, Albert Moore and the like. I came away with postcards of this gloomily erotic Sappho by Charles-August Mengin, this Delphic Sibyl (who reminded me of [ profile] thebiomechanoid) by Burne-Jones, and this Chariot Race by Alexander von Wagner, which was inspired by Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur.

I also bought one more postcard of a work which had stopped me in my tracks as we were going round the gallery with its sheer preposterousness )

It wasn't until I got home and actually looked at the back of the postcard that I realised it was in fact by my favourite Bad Artist ever, William Holman Hunt, who also produced this brilliant piece of creative anachronism )

That one, I'm happy to say, hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, so that I have had the pleasure of seeing it, too, in all its canvassy glory. I now feel flushed with the desire to go on an ironic Holman Hunt pilgrimage, seeking out, viewing and *koff* 'appreciating' all his works in galleries across the globe.

Anyway, after having our artly fill, [ profile] miss_dark, [ profile] foxy76 and I went on a very profitable shopping trip to Primark, and then wended our way eastwards again, discussing weddings and offering advice to my sister about carrot cake icing as we went. I had at one point intended to go out to Wendyhouse in the evening, but I realised that being in a fit state to do some work today wouldn't be a bad idea, given that our students arrive tomorrow, so I forewent the pleasure. And so I have spent today finishing off my curtains, doing washing and writing documentation for my new courses in a very pleasant and relaxed fashion.

strange_complex: (Default)
My favourite painting is 'A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary / Priest [1] from the Persecution of the Druids', by William Holman Hunt (1850).

I can't put it in this post because I don't have suitable web-space to host it, but you can see dodgy internet-quality images of it:
  • here (yellow and blurry),
  • here (very gloomy) or
  • here (better, but you'll need to scroll down the page to find the right painting and then click on the small image to see a larger one).
I love it, because it is a fine example of romanticism and contemporary issues being far more important than historical accuracy in a work of art (as, indeed, they should be). Anyone with half a clue will know that Druidism was completely wiped out in Britain long before any Christians got there, and indeed that the British had pretty much grown out of wearing furs by the time they did. Really, it is about 18th / 19th century imperialism and the contact / conflict it caused between monotheistic Brits and the polytheistic 'savages' they were trying to rule. In order to create the right scenario for exploring this in the past, Holman Hunt had to turn the imperialistic Romans into Christians some 3 centuries before their time... There's also lots of symbolism relating to the story of Christ in there for anyone who wants to read it.

It is a very special painting.

[Edit - by the way, everyone please feel free to pick this up and post your favourite painting in your journal, explaining why you like it and inviting others to follow suit.]

[1] He changed the title after a few years (by which time the painting was already in its present home, the Ashmolean Museum), because he had had some unimpressive experiences with missionaries in Jerusalem.


strange_complex: (Default)

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