20 September 2016

Woody Allen’s ‘Café Society’

September in the UK often marks the general release of the Woody Allen’s most recent film, this year’s being Café Society, written, directed and narrated by Allen and also his first digital shooting. Set in the 1930s, it’s the story of a young New Yorker, Bobby Dorfman from the Bronx (Jesse Eisenberg), who sets off to Hollywood hoping for a job with his maternal uncle, Phil Stern. Phil is an agent with an impressive office and a secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), to match his success. Bobby turns out to be a dependable gofer and also starts to secure Vonnie’s affections, despite her already having a boyfriend in town. But before too long, Bobby discovers the identity of Vonnie’s on-off lover and abruptly returns to New York. Thanks to his gangster brother Ben, Bobby becomes a manager of a high society night club. He meets and marries one of the clients, another Veronica. One night, who should come into the club but Vonnie, now married to her lover. Bobby and Vonnie meet later and talk things over against the Manhattan backdrops Allen has made his own. Both being too sensible to jeopardise what they have, nothing worse befalls them than some bittersweet regrets for an unrequited love, whereas Ben gets his just deserts.

I thought Eisenberg was convincing as the ingénu in Tinsel Town, but lacked the presence needed to manage a high-class New York night spot. Stewart (last seen here as the PA in Clouds of Sils Maria) took every advantage offered by the part of Vonnie and carried the film. There were some vintage lines from Allen. The Dorfman family are probably stronger on one-liners than theology, for example when Bobby’s mother points out that “Too bad Jews don’t have an afterlife. They’d get a lot of business.” Another: “Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ But the examined one is no bargain.” The West Coast provided some splendid 1930s exterior locations, but some of the shots there and in New York were on the point of being overstocked and over-frocked with the period.

As for the ending, well there’s been a three hour time difference between the US East and West Coasts since the 1880s, even on New Year’s Eve. But then Allen’s Depression America, affluent and colourful, is not too constrained by the realities of the times, probably better depicted recently in Genius. Café Society is reportedly Allen’s 48th film. By comparison with his recent work, it’s a lot better than Magic in the Moonlight, and better than Irrational Man, but not as good as Blue Jasmine.

19 September 2016

The Henry Moore at Gernika

Large Figure in a Shelter, 1986, Gernika, Spain
On 26 April 1937 the town of Guernica in the Basque country of Spain (Gernika in Basque) was subjected to aerial bombing by the German Luftwaffe with Italian air force support. Hitler and Mussolini’s forces undertook the operation on behalf of the nationalists under General Franco in the Spanish civil war (1936-39). Guernica was being used by Franco’s republican opponents as a communications centre near the front line. The destruction of the town with much loss of life was immortalised in one of the twentieth century’s most famous paintings, Picasso’s Guernica, now in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Henry Moore, like most of the British intelligentsia, was anti-fascist and a supporter of the republican cause:
Most artists were of the same mind about Spain – I remember that when Irina and I were in Paris in the summer of 1937 Picasso invited a whole lot of us to go along to his studio and see how ‘Guernica’ was getting on. (Reference below)

In 1939 Moore began the first of his Helmet works (The Helmet, 1939-40, above left) in which an outer figure contained an inner one. One development of this theme would be Figure in a Shelter (1983, at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, above right) and Large Figure in a Shelter of 1986, according to the Henry Moore Foundation:
… the last monumental work to be produced during his lifetime, scaled up to this immense size from the smaller version of 1983. Due to Moore's increasing illness, Bernard Meadows, who had become his first assistant in 1936 and later Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, was instrumental in seeing through the completion of the work - carried out by Moore's assistants. The initial cast was sited in woodland at Perry Green, and in 1990, negotiations with the Basque and Spanish governments by Sir Alan Bowness led to the second bronze being installed in what is now the Parque de los pueblos de Europa at Guernica. This was a fitting tribute by both artists to the memory of those who perished for the Republican cause, which they had strongly supported during the Spanish Civil War.
The Foundation’s description of the Perry Green cast adds:
Moore's continuing interest in the idea of an inner form protected by, but also contained within, an outer form is explored here with two monumental bronze forms that enclose the solitary figure of a third. Large Figure in a Shelter weighs over 21,000kg and was cast at the Morris Singer Foundry in Basingstoke. A second cast of this work stands in the Peace Park at Guernica in northern Spain. 
In accordance with his wishes, The Foundation ceased all casting when Moore died in 1986. Large Figure in a Shelter, however, was at the foundry at the time of his death. Under these unique circumstances, a clear protective lacquer was applied to the sculpture. With time and weather, the lacquer has degraded, leaving the base metal vulnerable to environmental damage. An ambitious project to restore the sculpture has now been completed. The restoration was led by James Copper who trained with Moore's own assistants for more than 12 years. In the course of the restoration, a rich gold-brown patina, in keeping with the majority of Moore's monumental bronzes, has been applied to the sculpture and polished with beeswax in order to allow the patina to develop naturally over time, in accordance with Moore's own approach.
This restoration was carried out in 2011 and was documented by Film Infinity:

However degraded the Perry Green version was prior to restoration, it is unlikely to have been in anything like such a poor state as the cast at Gernika is at present. As the photographs below (taken in August 2016) show, this is not only adorned with surface graffiti but has been subjected to deeper and more damaging vandalisation.

Many visitors to the Parque will conclude that it is beyond the capability of the local authorities in the town of Gernika-Lumo and the Biskaia province to look after this major work properly in its present location. April 2017 will be the 80th anniversary of the destruction of Guernica. It may also be an appropriate time to consider whether Moore’s work would be more appropriately sited and conserved elsewhere. An obvious location would be at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, less than 40km away, an institution which did not exist at the time of Moore’s death.


Henry Moore Writings and Conversations, ed Alan Wilkinson, University of California Press, 2002, page 166.

Previous posts here about Henry Moore:

Moore Rodin at Compton Verney
Bacon and Moore at the Ashmolean
The Arts Council’s Henry Moores in Bath
Henry Moore’s ‘Memorial Figure’ at Dartington Hall