BFI Flare 2017

Posted on: 30 Mar 2017 by Philip Wyn Jones

Greetings from London. During the next few days I’m planning to see eight films at BFI Flare and fit in several exhibitions.

Day 1

At the British Museum I saw The American Dream, Pop to the Present. The artists displayed here specialised in producing striking prints. Naturally, Andy Warhol is there with his famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, produced by him shortly after her death. Also there are his ten colourful representations of the Electric Chair. One of them is smeared in red, to represent blood. Robert Rauschenberg has a very wide painting in four parts. We see the F11 nuclear bomber incorporating such happy scenes as a colourful beach-ball, a sparkling lightbulb, and a girl drying her long blonde hair. In other words, the American Dream is overshadowed by something dreadfully sinister. Other artists have parodies of war comics, garishly coloured cupcakes, and a couple of Presidents, Mao and Lyndon Johnson, wearing the make-up of drag artists.

Memories of a Penitent Heart (Cecilia Aldarondo, Puerto Rico, 72 min). In this documentary film, the author-director researches the history of her uncle. This artistic man dreamed of appearing on Broadway. He died of AIDS but, at the time, it was claimed that cancer had killed him.  This is a story of concealing the truth and about a family obsessed with their intolerant version of religion. They argue spitefully amongst themselves and are cruel towards their closest relations. Spending 72 minutes in their company was almost unbearable. Aldarondo has done us no favours.

Day 2

The Royal Academy has two attractive exhibitions. Today I saw Revolution, Russian Art 1917 – 1932. A year ago I saw an exhibition about children’s books in the Soviet era. As a result, the current exhibition held few surprises. Following the 1917 Revolution a spirit of adventure, excitement and experimentation prevailed, until the imposition of uniformity by Stalin. His predecessor, Lenin, saw the value of the arts as a tool of propaganda and the exhibition has a wealth of huge, lively and colourful canvasses on such themes as the construction of factories by teams of women and the mechanisation of the mining industry. A particularly impressive painting shows ordinary citizens engaged in the defence of Petrograd in 1929 after the soldiers had collapsed with total exhaustion. Perhaps surprisingly, there was openly expressed nostalgia for the pre-Soviet era. There are beautiful paintings of happy village celebrations  and of worshipers in the highly ornate Russian Orthodox churches.

Centre of My World (Jakob M, Erwa, Awstria, 115 min). Seventeen year old Phil is unhappy. His father has long since disappeared, his sister and their mother have a mysteriously  strained relationship  and he’s trying to cope with his new, and first, too-good-to-be-true boyfriend. The acting is excellent and the film looks great but there’s far too much plot. The film is based on a novel and I get the impression that the film-makers were determined not to leave anything out.

Miles (Nathan Adloff, USA, 87 min). Here’s another unhappy teenager. His father practically ignores him and Miles is desperate to leave his small town and find success in the big city. He has two main interests, sex and volley-ball but his school team is a girls-only affair. His solution to the second ‘problem’ causes widespread controversy and bad feeling in the local community. The film has plentiful humour and the cast is uniformly excellent. Nathan was a fellow juror at last year’s Iris Prize Festival  and I was very pleased to congratulate him on making such a lovely film.

Day 3

I returned to the Royal Academy today to see America After the Fall, Painting in the 1930s. The first section explains the nature and extent of the Depression and then we visit the city which was the great escape route for many, New York. We see cinemas, dance halls and, notably, The  Fleet’s In, with its raunchy sailors and nubile young ladies. The US Navy disapproved of this painting and tried to get it withdrawn. A more sinister interpretation of the period can be found in the section Visions of Dystopia.  The Ridge Road shows two cars climbing a steep and narrow road. A large lorry is about to travel down the road and an awful accident is sure to occur. This painting dates from the time when Fascism was gaining strength in Europe and war was on the horizon. Another aspect of escapism was nostalgia for the rural idylls of the past. It’s in this section that we see one of the most famous American paintings, American Gothic. A man and his daughter stand in front of their rural homestead and stare at us, from the past.

Being Seventeen (Andre Techine, 116 min, France, pictured). This is the story of two teenagers, of different backgrounds and nature. They appear to hate each other and violent conflicts ensue. Damien, a mixed race lad is academically distinguished. He lives in a remote farmhouse in the French Alps and attends a school 90 minutes away. Thomas, a less able lad but arrogantly self-confident, lives down in the nearest township. His father is a high-ranking officer in the French army. Their parents’ misfortunes  bring them together. This superb film subjects the audience to a roller-coaster of emotions  and lingers long in the memory.

To be continued...

Philip Wyn Jones

Click here to read part 2

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