29 November 2013

JD Salinger – Short Stories

A few posts back, I made a passing reference to Holden Caulfield, assuming that most readers would know who he was (I didn’t even put in a link to Wikipedia). Caulfield’s creator, JD Salinger, died in 2010 at the age of 91, nearly 60 years after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. In September a new ‘oral’ biography, Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno was published, to be followed by a film of the same name written and directed by Salerno which will be shown in the US in January.

On 29 November The Times (£) carried a story on page 3 by their arts correspondent, Jack Malvern, Pirate copies of work by J.D. Salinger beat author’s embargo:
Three stories by J. D. Salinger that the author instructed should not be published have apparently been printed illegally in Britain and leaked online. The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, Paula and Birthday Boy have been among Salinger’s works from the 1940s that were available to read only at two American university libraries, but photographs have emerged that purport to show the stories in an illegally produced book. 
… The book appears to have been sold by a British man based in Brentford, West London. When the images of the book appeared on Reddit, a news and entertainment website, the person who uploaded it claimed to have bought it on eBay. The link provided leads to an auction page created by “Seymourstainglass”, which has a listing for a 47-page book containing “three short stories written by J. D. Salinger never published”. The seller, who gives his address in West London, has sold several copies of the book, fetching up to £67.50.
On the same day, a similar article, JD Salinger's unpublished stories leaked online, by Maev Kennedy appeared in the Guardian. Subsequently John Sutherland on theguardian.com expressed his doubts about the affair, As JD Salinger's works leak online, one smells a rat:
… Salinger ordained that these works should not be published until 50 years after his death. It's an edict of extraordinary egotism – not to say spite. Salinger, one deduces, came to hate his contemporaries: not until every single one of them was dead should there be access to the fruits of his genius. 
That prohibition has been overturned by the sale on eBay, of all places, of a so-called book – or what bibliographers call "a ghost"; a non-book that doesn't actually exist – containing the three stories. The copyright page describes it as number six of 25, printed in London in 1999, but there's none of the formal copyright data that a printed book requires. It also contains the misinformation that all three manuscripts are in Texas, whereas the most interesting is in Princeton. The text is clearly not typeset, but word-processed. 
The sale itself is hugely suspicious. Only 14 bids, with the winner paying a derisory £67.50. Everything points to the conclusion the book was mocked up and the sale rigged to get the contents into the public domain, which the website Reddit has duly done. 
… No one will be disappointed by the three Salinger stories. But they have got into general circulation by an elaborate ruse. Who did it? One doesn't yet know. But it is a certainty that some will be applauding – most notably those who believe the internet has made mortmain [a concept in law … meaning the hand of the dead] historically obsolete.
But this isn’t the first time that Salinger’s wish to control publication of some of his work has been thwarted. Nearly 40 years ago I bought this slim paperback:

On the back is a sticker “£1.60” but the book is devoid of any date or publication details. Though not particularly well printed, the stories seem to be genuine and can be identified on the Dead Caulfields website (thank you, Professor Sutherland). Another website, salinger.org, suggests that The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger were published in two volumes in 1974 in hardback, but this last descriptor is clearly wrong.

On Abebooks a copy like mine is currently on sale for US$150/£95 (approximately). About the time I bought my book, I paid £52,000 for a terraced house near London. If the price of that house had kept up with the book, the current owner would now be asking over £3 million for it, instead of the £0.5 million they might get. Me, I just wish I’d bought Volume 1 as well!

28 November 2013

Paul Klee at Tate Modern

A post here last year about the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery mentioned three painters who had spent time in Weimar and Dessau: Paul Citroën, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Searching on Google, I can find no evidence of a recent retrospective of Citroën’s non-photographic work but Kandinsky is widely exhibited (eg currently at the Guggenheim in New York), and Klee almost as much (eg earlier this year in Rome). Nonetheless, a full retrospective is always worth seeing for any artist and The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible at Tate Modern is the first large-scale showing for Klee in London for over 10 years.

Klee was born in Bern in 1879 and moved to Munich to study painting when he was 19. He began to establish himself as an artist in his early thirties and the Tate exhibition shows 128 examples of his work from 1912 until his death in 1940. Klee produced and carefully catalogued about 10,000 paintings, drawings and other works. In 1911 Klee met Jawlensky, Marc, Kandinsky and others and joined the Blaue Reiter group (Landscape with Flags 1915, left). In 1914 he travelled to Tunisia and its colour, light and landscape would influence his subsequent work. From 1916 to 1918 Klee served with the German air force. His 1920 Aerial Combat (below left) is in sardonic contrast to Nevinson’s Futurist Spiral Descent 1915, seen recently at Dulwich, while his experience of the chaos of postwar Germany reflected in Memorial to the Kaiser (also 1920, below right) shares the viewpoint of his contemporaries like Grosz. Both these works were produced by the oil-transfer method, tracing over painted paper then transferring onto a blank sheet.

Klee joined the staff of the Bauhaus in 1921 at Weimar, moving in 1926 to Dessau. In 1922 in Berlin he encountered Russian constructivism in the form of works by Malevich, Tatlin and others. Klee’s work in his Bauhaus years involved colour investigation in both constructions and imaginative surreal pieces (Pictorial Architecture Red, Yellow, Blue 1923 and Around the Fish 1926, below left and right). In 1930 his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and that year he left the Bauhaus to teach in Dusseldorf. In 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and within a few months the Bauhaus closed. Klee and his family left for Switzerland in December. In poor health after 1935, he died in 1940, the same year as his father.

Brian Sewell in the London Evening Standard liked the Tate’s catalogue but had reservations about both the exhibition and the artist, as did Andrew Lambirth in the Spectator, although of a different kind. Klee described himself as possessed by colour and since reproductions fail to do justice to the subtlety with which he used it, the opportunity to visit The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible and view source works is worth taking. The exhibition continues until 9 March 2014.

24 November 2013

Bill Condon's ‘The Fifth Estate’

Being no admirer of Julian Assange, I didn't rush to see Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate when it first came out but recently took the opportunity to do so at the Barn Cinema at Dartington. The film is a docudrama about the emergence of WikiLeaks from the time of Assange's partnering with the German IT expert Daniel Berg in 2007 up to the release of classified US information sourced from Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning in 2010 and their association ending. Assange's seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 forms a postscript.

The film must have had a substantial budget because of the large cast, the number of extras, the CGI and the rapid changes of locale. No location seemed to be used more than twice, usually once, and the numerous sets ranged from Berlin squats to Air Force One (or maybe Two or Three), the action not staying in any of them for long. Benedict Cumberbatch turned in a convincing Assange, and, although the film is a male-dominated nerd and journo fest, it provided a couple of strong supporting roles for Alicia Vikander (Queen Caroline in Nikolaj Arcel's A Royal Affair) as Berg’s long-suffering girlfriend and Laura Linney as a senior level State Department staffer having to pick up the pieces after the Manning disclosures. Peter Capaldi, who is irrevocably the foul-mouthed spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, from The Thick of It for UK TV audiences (the ones who will see this film anyway) until he becomes Dr Who, is cast as Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.

Unfortunately, in terms of allowing comparisons to be made, the real Rusbridger has been on UK TV recently defending his paper's role in handling the material removed from NSA by Edward Snowden. Snowden and the journalist Glen Greenwald have followed the model Assange pioneered with the initial release of the Manning material by cooperating with mainstream media outlets in the form of the Washington Post (vice the New York Times), the Guardian and Der Spiegel.

Snowden and Co have put material into the public domain of much higher classification than Manning was able to access. The US designation for this stuff is TS/SCI - Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information. Years ago such items might be confined to just a few documents, knowledge of whose existence, let alone accessibility, would be confined to select individuals. But now that kind of data is held on globalised IT systems and system administrators set access permissions for individual users. However, an old question arises: who administers the administrators?

When I last wrote about Snowden, on the basis of the information which had been released at that time (July), I affected what now seems too blasé a view. Earlier this month the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) took evidence from Sir Iain Lobban, Director, Government Communication Headquarters, Mr Andrew Parker, Director General, Security Service and Sir John Sawers, Chief, Secret Intelligence Service. (Interestingly the second and third of these men had studied science at university level, but not the first, whose responsibilities, one imagines, are the most technological). A transcript of their uncorrected evidence is available, and the impact of the Snowden release is discussed on pages 16 to 18. Sawers mentions Snowden specifically:
… What I can tell you is that the leaks from Snowden have been very damaging. They have put our operations at risk. It is clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up ... and our own security has suffered as a consequence.
Further material appearing in Der Spiegel later in the month underlines his point.

In October, one of Lobban’s predecessors, Sir David Omand, had told The Times that the Snowden leaks “eclipse[s] the Cambridge spy ring as the most catastrophic loss suffered by British intelligence”.
“You have to distinguish between the original whistleblowing intent to get a debate going, which is a responsible thing to do, and the stealing of 58,000 top-secret British security documents and who knows how many American documents which is seriously, seriously damaging,” Sir David said. “The assumption the experts are working on is that all that information or almost all of it will now be in the hands of Moscow and Beijing. It’s the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever, much worse than Burgess and MacLean in the 1950s.”
Omand chose two names from what are often referred to as the Cambridge Five and didn’t mention Kim Philby, although it was these three who finished up as Russian house guests. Whether there was a Fifth Man, and who he was, has been the subject of speculation, the most-fingered suspect being John Cairncross. If so, he was in some ways the most Snowden-like having worked at Bletchley Park during World War 2. But in those days, although primitive computers were in use they certainly weren’t networked, and the only media he could remove was paperwork taken from only one “compartment”, in the form of one of the famous Bletchley Huts.

And who was the Fourth Man? Sir Anthony Blunt made his confession in 1964 in exchange for immunity from prosecution, though the truth (or some of it) would emerge in public in 1979. The Security Service interrogated Blunt because in 1963 an American, Michael Whitney Straight, had told the FBI that he had been a recruiter for Soviet intelligence at Cambridge in the 1930s. Straight was the son of Willard Straight and Dorothy Payne Whitney. Willard died in the Spanish flu epidemic after World War 1. Dorothy remarried and with her second husband, Leonard Elmhirst, came to SW England and in 1925 purchased Dartington Hall in Devon (SW England) where Michael Straight would finish his schooling. Which means this post ends geographically back where it started.


“The film must have had a substantial budget because of the large cast, the number of extras, the CGI and the rapid changes of locale.” 

But nonetheless it seems to have been the biggest cinematic turkey of 2013, according to Forbes’ Dorothy Pomerantz. The Fifth Estate has earned only $6 million at the box office globally on its $28 million budget, on top of which there will have been marketing costs of as much as $25 million. On average studios receive about 50% of the box office takings, so Dreamworks would be about $25 million down.

20 November 2013

Two exhibitions in Bath

Last year the Holburne Museum in Bath showed Presence: The Art of Portrait Sculpture which explored whether sculptors pursue realism or idealisation when they create solid portraits. Their lateset exhibition, Characters: Portraits and People from the Arts Council Collection, looks at the parallel traditions of observation and invention in the painting of people, particularly appropriate since the Holburne’s permanent collection includes some fine British eighteenth-century examples of the genre.

The Director of the Holburne, Alexander Sturgis, and his staff have again demonstrated their curatorial expertise when faced with the challenge of selecting a small number of choice works (Sturgis talks about some of their choices here). The range of artists, all British post-War, is indicated in the poster alongside Richard Hamilton’s Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland 1964. Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud (portrait of Lord Rothschild above right) and Euan Uglow (German Girl, 1960s, above left) feature among the painters from life and the works of imagination include studies from Peter Blake and Francis Bacon. I particularly liked Maggi Hambling’s Frances Rose (3) 1973 and thought Jeffery Camp’s Laetitia Picking Blackcurrants 1967 (below, left and right) full of period charm, but everyone will have their own favourites. 

Characters: Portraits and People from the Arts Council Collection continues until 7 January 2014.

William Scott: Simplicity and Subject at the Victoria Art Gallery has now closed. Scott (1913 – 1989), although born in Scotland and spending his youth in Northern Ireland, spent much of his artistic life in the Bath area and was for a time Senior Painting Master at Bath Academy of Art. In his twenties he spent time in France and in Cornwall where he met Laura Knight and her husband. Later influences on his work included Picasso and the New York abstract expressionists – Mark Rothko spent time at his Somerset home. Although Scott was an RA and had contributed to the British exhibit in the XXIX Venice Biennale, his work seems to have become less well-known in recent years, so his centennial seems to have been an appropriate time to rekindle interest. Below are his Still Life with Candle 1950 and the more abstract Slagheap Landscape 1953 (from the Arts Council Collection). During a spell working in Berlin he encountered a blue pigment which led to his All Blue 1964. Another striking abstract was Monotone Still Life 1955 in black white and grey. I expect that the owner of that little gem of a painting, Still Life with Pears c1956, is glad to have his or her picture back!

There is a major retrospective of Scott's work now at the final stage of its tour at the Ulster Museum.

19 November 2013

François Ozon’s ‘Jeune & Jolie’

François Ozon seems to work on an annual cycle like Woody Allen, so this is the third post here about one of his films. Jeune & Jolie (Young and Beautiful) is une autre paire de manches from Potiche and In the House and has more in common with the darker Under the Sand (Sous le sable) and Swimming Pool of a decade ago.

The film follows a year in the life of a 17-year old Parisienne, Isabelle (Marine Vacth), spread over four seasons, each introduced with a song by Françoise Hardy (at 69 perhaps not that well-known to French teenagers). It starts in summer when Isabelle loses her virginity during the family holiday in the south of France, and then moves to Paris. In the autumn she embarks on a career as an amateur call girl working the smart hotels. In the winter, it all goes horribly wrong but there is some sense of eventual redemption in the closing shot of the Pont des Arts in the spring, festooned as it is with lovers’ padlocks.

Perhaps it was the numerous scenes of Isabelle having sex with much older men, likely to appeal to middle-aged male film critics, that led to such acclaim as Jeune & Jolie has received so far. I couldn’t help feeling that the plot was improbable for various reasons. Firstly, Isabelle attends a leading Paris lycée, Henri-IV, singled out by Peter Gumbel as one of the top five in France preparing students for admission to the grandes écoles. The workload must be horrendous and, one might think, leave little time for freelance escort work. Secondly, Isabelle and her family, who don’t have much regard for each other’s privacy, live in a small apartment but somehow she manages to equip herself for her secret life. Setting herself up as a pute using her laptop and the internet is as unlikely as the Paris police having a global lead in facial recognition technology of about 10 years.

Having said all that, Ozon attended Henri-IV and filmed there on location, so perhaps Isabelle is based on a real case which was the talk of the 5th and 6th arrondissements a few years back. Somehow I doubt it, but certainly Henri-IV pupils appear with Vacth reciting Roman by Rimbaud, seemingly (but what do I know) the Holden Caulfield of French poetry. The poem, which begins On n’est pas sérieux quand on a dix sept ans, can be found in translation here with the original. I felt that if Ozon’s film had spent less time on sex scenes and more exploring Rimbaud’s proposition that When you are seventeen you aren't really serious, it would have been far better. The psychology of a girl whose libido is not matched by her self-respect and the ambiguities of her relationship with her step-father and (step-?) brother are not really explored. The session she has with a shrink (and pays for from her earnings – who says the French aren’t pragmatic) is one of the better parts of the film, as is the cameo appearance of Charlotte Rampling, memorable in Under the Sand and Swimming Pool. Vacth’s performance in what must have been at times a very demanding role should guarantee her presence in films to come, but no sign of them yet on IMDb.


I didn't realise, but it's not just the Pont des Arts that's festooned with padlocks, another 10 as well - see this article in the Guardian by Agnès Poirier.

17 November 2013

Presenting Poll Data

Back in August, Matthew Holehouse posted on his Telegraph blog a chart produced by Electoral Calculus. The following month John Rentoul was very taken with it, calling it the “Chart of the Year” (version below) in his Eagle Eye blog for the Independent on Sunday.

The chart presents what Holehouse called “the polling trajectories of the last seven general elections”. Perhaps not exactly a trajectory because each of the lines has only three points: the beginnings of the lines mark the polling forecast two years before the election, the dot in the middle marks one year before election day, and the dot at the end is the final outcome. The colour of the line is that of the party in power since the last election, and the colour of the end dot indicates the outcome.

Now, I realise that some people’s start to glaze over with this sort of stuff, so perhaps best for them not to read on. But here are some points which occurred to me:
The 1992 outcome (Con 41.9 %, Lab 34.4 %) seems to be wrongly plotted.
I’ve added the current (mid-November) UK Polling Report Average (Con 31 %, Lab 39 %).
I’ve turned the 2010 result into a purple dot to represent the Coalition.
The points labelled ‘a’ and ‘b’, I will come to later.
I don’t understand the “LIB DEM” area in the bottom left corner.

The last of these made me wonder whether a ternary plot (Wikipedia) might be of help in presenting polling results. This makes use of an equilateral triangle to locate data when three items have to add up in total to the same number (the scales run up the three vertices of the triangle). So Conservative %, Labour % and Other % have to add up to 100 % and the last eight election results can be plotted as in this chart:

All the results lie in the hexagon shown in grey and this can be used to plot the results and add in more detail: It shows the election results since 1970 in sequence, the majority boundaries which were provided by Electoral Calculus in their chart and the UKPR average as above. I’ve also added the 1945 election result for historical interest.

Does this form of presentation add any value? Possibly, (for those who can understand it and are not put off by the cluttered appearance) in terms of illuminating the consequences for the two main parties of votes being cast elsewhere.

For example, current Conservative support is back at the levels of the 1997 to 2005 elections. If Labour’s current support recedes to the level it was at in 2005, then, for the Tories to achieve a majority, the Other vote would have to drop to less than 25%. It hasn’t been so low in an election since 1979.

However, the Lib Dem level of support is currently at 10%, lower than at any election since 1970 and they are at present only one-third of the ‘Other’ vote. If they remain as unpopular but returned to being two-thirds of the ‘Other’ vote (as in elections from 1979 to 2005), the latter would drop to about 15%. The rest of current ‘Other’, (ie about 20%) could return to the two main parties rather than not vote at all. In the unlikely event of all these voters turning to the Tories in 2015, they would probably get a majority (‘a’, horizontally to the right from the November 2013 point). If as many as 5% transfer to Labour, even if 15% vote Tory, Labour has a majority (‘b’).

The poll data is in the Table below. To be honest, while the ternary plot is mathematically correct, I don’t think it adds much to Electoral Calculus’s more conventional form of plotting, which is probably quite enough for a lot of people.

11 November 2013

Viennese Portraits at the National Gallery

When the title of an exhibition includes a date, as does Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900, currently at The National Gallery in London, it shouldn’t always be taken at face value. Certainly, earlier this year, the Courtauld’s Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 was exact as to artist, place and time, whereas in 2000 the Royal Academy’s 1900: Art at the Crossroads covered the decade up to 1900. In 2002 the RA’s Paris: Capital of the Arts 1900-1968 was specific, and, if that example had been followed, the title of the NG show would probably be something like Portraiture in the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1867-1918. How much less immediately appealing this would have been to those whose primary interests are Klimt and Schiele is hard to say.

As it is, if the well-known Viennese modernists are what you are seeking out, you may feel that you have had to make your way past a lot of their rather less interesting Austro-Hungarian predecessors. But it’s worth it. After all there is only one painting by Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) in a public gallery in the UK, the NG’s own Portrait of Hermine Gallia 1904 (above right), currently in this exhibition as might be expected. There is now the chance to see, among others, his Lady in Black, c.1894 (above left), Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl 1917-18 (poster above), and Posthumous Portrait of Ria Monk III 1917-18 (above centre).

There are no works by Egon Schiele (1890-1918) in UK public collections, so we should take the opportunity to view The Family (Self-Portrait) 1918 and Erich Lederer 1912 while we can (above left and right). Portraits by Oscar Kokoschka (Count Verona 1910) and Richard Gerstl’s Nude Self-Portrait with Palette 1908 (just before his suicide) are also worth seeing.

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 continues until 12 January 2014.