Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Cold Eye on the Revenant

I went to see The Revenant at the IFI yesterday and found it disappointing. It is an intense and visceral experience in places and there's no denying the spectacular beauty of the landscape - mostly Alberta, and Montana with the south of Argentina thrown in for its snow. But the story that drives the action is too thin and basic for my tastes. The bulk of the film involves Leonardo Di Caprio, with appalling injuries, dragging himself through a snowy landscape. Apart from not believing a word of it, the whole thing goes on too long. In addition to his initial bloody encounter with a bear (amazing sequence that), his journey is punctuated with regular eviscerations. Amimal lovers will be discomfited. We get some horse butchering, some buffalo butchering and lots of people butchering. I'm really way too sensitive to be exposed to the steaming innards of large beasts not once but twice. I also had real trouble following the dialogue. As Di Caprio mostly grunts because of his terrible injuries I shouldn't blame him too much, but Tom Hardy sporting some peculiar (vaguely Canadian?) accent had no such excuses. Speak up lad. Mind you it's hardly a movie where the dialogue matters too much. Domhnall Gleeson seems too boyish to be in charge of an outpost of hunters and desperadoes in those benighted territories at that time but at least I knew what he was saying. Visually it was stunning not just because of the scenery but for various other set pieces such as a surreal deserted church, a giant pyre of buffalo skulls and the whole accumulation of period detail in the costumes and buildings. But by the end I was bored. Also, I was never a big fan of mystical visions so they didn't help. Di Caprio will probably get an Oscar for taking on such a physically demanding role and for the finest piece of sustained grunting since Marlon Brando did the Godfather.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Nick Miller and the Studio of Edward McGuire

An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 24 January 2016.

Edward McGuire is probably best-known for his portrait of the youthful Seamus Heaney in the National Gallery. McGuire's widow Sally donated the contents of his studio to IMMA and the current show provides us with glimpses of his working environment. We see his colour dictionary, his jazz records (Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson), his books (Walt Whitman), his numerous stuffed birds and many of the props he used in his portraiture. A wizard's outfit catches the eye. Nick Miller has responded to a number McGuire's portraits by doing contemporary versions of the same sitters including Anthony Cronin, Paul Durcan, and Wanda Ryan. We see the youthful and rather foppish Garech de BrĂșn posed beside a harp and next to it is Miller's version (above) that captures cruelly the whips and scorns of time. The contrast is heightened by the fact that McGuire's formalised and highly artificial portraits have the immutability of still-lives while Miller's are decomposing before our eyes - pictures of Dorian Gray. An exception is McGuire's relaxed portrait of Patrick Collins who is no longer around to undergo Miller's scrutiny.

John P. O'Sullivan


Friday, January 15, 2016

Apres le Deluge - Moi


It feels like I've been living in a submarine for the past month. Looking out the port-hole at the monotonous and incessant rain. Today dawned bright, cold and crisp with a frosting on the grass. I had a cup of my favourite Cuban coffee, a bowl of muesli and headed for Killiney Beach with the dogs. The tide was fully out so we were able to walk from the car park all the way to White Rock - and we returned beyond the car park as far as the DART station - about 45 minutes . The beach was quiet - a half dozen walkers, each with a dog or two. I dropped the dogs off and headed into town to check out a few shows in IMMA - stopping at Fixit in the Blackrock Shopping to get the ailing battery in my iPad replaced.

At IMMA the first sight I see on the way in is Barry Flanagan's giant bronze marching hare - a work expressly designed to put you in a good humour. It was originally intended for Aras an Uachtaran until President MacAleese discovered that Flanagan was a Brit. A happy conclusion as far more people now get to see it.

First stop was in the basement of the garden gallery for the Les Levine show. Levine was born in Dublin but moved to Canada and the USA in his early twenties so we can lay little claim to him. I'm not sure we want to anyway on the evidence of this show. The first exhibit was a video of an interview with the artist where he showed himself to be both long-winded and self-important. His CV suggests that lecturing was a big part of his career and I suspect that guff may be his forte. He's considered to be one of the founding fathers of media art (art that uses technology) but there's no evidence of that in the show. The exhibits consisted of photographs of a number of unremarkable bill-board campaigns and a series of 80 photographs from the Troubles in the North. These consisted of the usual gormless Unionists waving Union Jacks or hard-bitten Republican biddies looking sour. I then moved upstairs to where Nick Miller was responding to the studio of Edward McGuire. This was more like it. There was an interesting RTE interview of McGuire by Ciaran McGonigal where he outlined his colour theories. There were also artefacts from McGuire's studio including stuffed birds, his jazz records (Oscar Peterson etc.) and a mummified hare. There were also a series of paintings by Miller where he did a contemporary rendering of some portraits done by McGuire. Thus we saw a fresh-faced young Garech de Bruin by McGuire alongside the current aged version of the same man (see above). Chastening that for the sitter I felt. Anthony Cronin (above) and Paul Durcan were also given the same Dorian Gray treatment.

Back in the main square of IMMA I dropped in to Shot at Dawn, Chloe Dewe Mathews' photographs of locations where 1st World War deserters had been executed. This didn't work I felt. There was only banality where poignancy should have prevailed.

I headed back into town for a late lunch. I parked near the Four Courts and went for a stroll along the Liffey dropping into the Winding Stair for a browse. I happened on a curious self-lacerating poem by a relation of mine in the autumn edition of Moth - Blame was the title. There's an eclectic collection of books on view. Despite my going off him in recent years (the perverse pro-Bush posturing) I bought And Yet - Christopher Hitchens final collection of unpublished essays.

And so to lunch with a friend at Terra Madre. This is a discreetly located Italian restaurant - concealed in a basement on Bachelor's Walk. It features rustic, no-bullshit, Italian food with an extensive wine list. I had the bresaola followed by a truffle ravioli with lots of bread and a tasty bottle of Barberesco. A short, sharp, shock of espresso and I was on the road again.