Tag Archives: murder

Allen Jones, Stanley Kubrick and the women used as tables

16 Nov
Left to right: Allen Jones's Chair, Hatstand and Table

Left to right: Allen Jones’s Chair, Hatstand and Table

I visited the Allen Jones exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday, the day after it opened. The paintings are interesting, with bright pastel colours and strong movement, often literally bursting out of the frame; the sculptures of dancers are fun, like Matisse’s La Danse come to life. But it’s the fibreglass sculptures of women as furniture – Table, Chair, and Hatstand – that inevitably take centre-stage.

Jones, in interviews, is still mystified at what all the fuss is about. His art doesn’t objectify women, he says: “Women are not the object, they are the subject. Sculpture is the object.” He wanted to make a comment about sculpture, not about women’s place in society; he simply saw an illustration of a woman used as a table in an adult comic and thought it would work well in 3D.

I was prepared to give Jones the benefit of the doubt; to believe that the sculptures were an ironic commentary on the subjugation of women. But that Jones seemingly still has no conception how they could even be viewed as objectifying women, despite describing himself as a feminist, is a tad odd.

The Milk Bar in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange: inspired by Allen Jones

The Milk Bar in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange: inspired by Allen Jones

There is a film connection to all of this: Stanley Kubrick, for one, admired Jones’s sculptures when they were first exhibited, and asked Jones to work on the Milk Bar scene of his film of A Clockwork Orange. Jones did some sketches, then raised the subject of money. “I’m a very famous film director,” said Kubrick. “This will be seen all over the world and your name will be known.”

In other words, the internet model of paying writers and other artists in “exposure” rather than money is, sadly, nothing new. Jones declined, as it would have taken him several months’ work, but allowed Kubrick to copy his style. The controversy over the resulting film put Jones’s sculptures in the shade.

Kubrick himself withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in the UK after it was linked to the murder of a vagrant by a 16-year-old boy. While I was at Time Out it was shown occasionally at the Scala by Steve Woolley, now a noted director and producer himself, with its title disguised in the listings under pseudonyms such as “A Fruity Mechanical Treat”, but otherwise it remained unseen here until after Kubrick’s death.

The film, in my view, suffers from a similar problem to Jones’s sculptures: it can lurch across the line from being a commentary on sexual violence into a glamorisation of it. The scene where Alex and his “droogs” break into a home and assault a woman while dancing and crooning “Singing in the rape”, to the tune of Singing In The Rain, is justly horrific. But the rape scene in the theatre is filmed in a titillating and voyeuristic way, using a pendulous-breasted and feebly protesting dolly-bird actress.

Apologists will say these were just the times – the fetish scene had gone overground in films such as Barbarella and TV programmes such as The Avengers. And, yes, the extraordinary testimony this weekend about child abuse and murder by ex-MPs and their highly placed cover-ups were of their time, too. It doesn’t make it seem much better. And it doesn’t explain why, even now, Allen Jones can’t see why his sculptures are breathtakingly offensive. Substitute black men for women in the sculptures, and it’s doubtful they would even be shown.

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Texting in the cinema: a capital offence?

14 Jan
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Ssssh! A ‘noise ninja’ from the Prince Charles cinema

Today, retired cop Curtis Reeves was charged with second-degree murder for shooting a man in the chest at point-blank range. The man’s offence? Texting in a Florida cinema. My unworthy first thought was that if the jury were composed of film critics, he could walk free for justifiable homicide.

The battle over peace in cinemas has raged for decades. When I edited Time Out, the popcorn debate provoked more reader letters than Julie Burchill. The Ritzy in Brixton refused to serve it, though their excellent carrot cake nearly made up for it. Nowadays, of course, that particular battle is forever lost: the economics of the modern film business dictate that cinemas are not actually in the business of showing films; they are in the business of selling popcorn and drinks, with films but the bait to attract consumers.

But I’m not sure anyway that movie theatres should be silent churches in which to worship cinema. A film by Kiarostami, perhaps. But the fatal altercation occurred at a showing of war flick Lone Survivor; and during the previews at that. One of the most entertaining screenings I have ever been to was of School of Rock at Peckham, where the local kids ended up dancing in the aisles.

If audiences were always quiet as mice, the Rocky Horror Picture Show would never have become a cult hit, with key lines shouted out and Charles Grey’s neck heckled, or rather lack of it. When in 2012 the Prince Charles cinema engaged a team of ‘noise ninjas’ in skin-tight ‘Morphsuits’ to pounce on distracting viewers, that owed more to a canny PR manager than any genuine desire to create silence: they are famed for their singalonga Rocky Horrors and Sounds of Music, after all.

Film in the cinema, as opposed to on your own ginormous plasma TV with surroundsound, is a communal experience. We want to laugh, cry and sigh together. That’s why critics are often more dismissive of comedies and blockbusters: seeing them in small Soho preview cinemas in the middle of the afternoon with a handful of fellow critics, all stifling their natural emotional responses, it’s much harder to enjoy these films. I’m famous among friends for yelping in scary moments: I’m so wrapped up in the film I can’t help it. I hope it just adds to the atmosphere.

But that is why texting – or, worse, talking on your phone – is the least forgivable of distracting crimes. It takes the perpetrator away from that communal experience, and out of the cinema altogether to wherever the person on the other end of the phone is.

I don’t ask my fellow viewers not to crunch popcorn. I don’t ask them not to turn to their partner and ask how the detective finally worked out whodunit. But I do ask them to be there, with me, thrilling to the same explosions, laughing at the same jokes, jumping at the same scares, and even heckling the same rubbish (as with the Ritzy screening of Tom Cruise’s Oblivion). It’s why I go to the cinema. Otherwise, we might as well all just sit at home alone.