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Archives for February 2011

Oscars 2011: UK Film Council's final hurrah?

Will Gompertz | 08:18 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011


John Woodward is probably not a name you are familiar with. And given events at last night's Oscars, it's likely to be one he'd take a moment or two to recognise. Wherever he was last night, the chances are the ex-boss of the UK Film Council was toasting the success of his soon-to-be-abolished old employer.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter in the King's Speech


Woodward established the UK Film Council a little over a decade ago. By his own admission it was always a bit of a fudge, and at the time the government decided to abolish it, Woodward was actively looking at ways he could merge his institution with the BFI. But it wasn't to be and the axe fell.

Jeremy Hunt told me recently he thought he made the decision too quickly but in hindsight he was pleased he had done so. I wonder if he will be saying the same thing next year. That is not to pre-judge how well the BFI might now pick up the gauntlet and support the British film industry, just that the culture secretary is a shrewd businessman and he knows as well as anyone just how difficult it is to build a successful company.

And there can be little argument that Woodward had built the UK Film Council into a successful outfit. After a slow start their nose for a good bet had become rather refined. Not only did they make a crucial investment into the King's Speech to allow it to go into production, but they helped facilitate the tax breaks that brought Hollywood production money to the UK. That led to another Oscar success last night. Double Negative, the Soho-based visual effects company, rightly won the best special effects award for the stunning computer graphics on Inception.

Those hard-won tax breaks have meant last year saw record foreign investment into the UK film production business, with over £1bn spent making, or partially making, movies here. The UK cinema had a bumper year too, with innovations such as the digital screens not only bringing movie lovers to the big screen, but opera, theatre and ballet buffs too. The digital screens were another UK Film Council-backed project.

Anna Wintour on Alexander McQueen's legacy

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Will Gompertz | 08:52 UK time, Thursday, 24 February 2011


The Grand Old Lady of New York's Central Park - the Metropolitan Museum of Art - was in town on Tuesday for British Fashion Week, and she had quite an entourage: Anna Wintour, Stella McCartney and Samantha Cameron.

But that's the pull of the museum. Thomas Campbell, its British boss, was here to launch the Met's forthcoming exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which opens there on 4 May.

The show is also the star of its famous Costume Institute Gala on 2 May. Not only is it one of the world's most glamorous affairs, but it also pays for a whole section of the museum's annual activity. Anna Wintour is the fundraiser's co-chair and talks here about the impact of the late Alexander McQueen.

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The greatest frontmen ever?

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Will Gompertz | 13:39 UK time, Wednesday, 23 February 2011


This week's NME has a supplement called The Greatest Frontmen Ever! It's a round-up of the usual suspects with a forward by Slash summing up the art of frontpersoning:

Mick Jagger
"Essentially, it's somebody who is compelling. It's that simple. Mick Jagger. Ray Davies. These were the guys I was weaned on as a kid."

And that's the last mention of either of those two particular lead singers. That's to say, they don't make the Top 25 list. Matt Bellamy does (24th), and Karen O (20th) but no Sir Mick or RD. If the supplement was called Greatest Frontmen Now! - their omission would make sense, but it's not, it's Ever!, which I think makes it questionable...

The Berlin Philharmonic comes to town

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Will Gompertz | 10:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Cue, five-star reviews and rapturous applause: the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is in town. Led by their bouffant Principal Conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, one of the world's great musical ensembles is at the mid-way point in a series of concerts it is giving at the Barbican and Southbank centres in London.

Rattle had a shaky start when he joined in 2002. His ability was questioned in the press and there were reports of tensions within the camp. But when I went to watch the rehearsal yesterday they were in perfect harmony. Afterwards I caught up with baton-wielding, Liverpudlian maestro to hear his views on the great Berlin Philharmonic:

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MistaJam: British urban music success at the Brits

Will Gompertz | 16:56 UK time, Wednesday, 16 February 2011


I made a piece for last night's News at Ten about British urban music. I had interviewed BBC 1xtra's MistaJam for the item but time constraints meant I couldn't include this considered and knowledgeable contribution:

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The remarkable story behind Frankenstein

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Will Gompertz | 09:05 UK time, Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Writing a best seller is not easy, harder still if you're an 18-year-old in a foreign country and stuck indoors due to an ash cloud. None of which deterred Mary Shelley who - with a little help from her husband Percy - wrote the Gothic thriller Frankenstein, a stage adaptation of which is currently previewing at the National Theatre.

I went to the Bodleian Library in Oxford to meet Stephan Hebron, curator of their exhibition Shelley's Ghost to hear the remarkable story about a remarkable story.

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A home win for The King's Speech

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Will Gompertz | 09:52 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011


So The King's Speech has had a confident home win with seven Baftas, now for the away fixture.

Colin Firth in The King's Speech


In two weeks' time the film awards season will be over and we'll know if The King's Speech and Colin Firth have their respective Oscars. It's going to be a tough away fixture.

True Grit and The Social Network will run The King's Speech very close as best picture, and it is quite possible that Jeff Bridges gazumps Colin Firth as best actor for the second year running.

As for Helena Bonham Carter, Melissa Leo's performance in The Fighter could provide a knock-out blow. And then there's 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld who put in a terrific turn in True Grit.

But the man under most pressure to repeat his Bafta success across the Atlantic must be Geoffrey Rush. He was excellent as Lionel Logue, King George VI's speech therapist, but Christian Bale's crack-head big brother in The Fighter was quite brilliant.

My hunch is: The Social Network for Best Picture, Colin Firth for best actor, Melissa Leo for supporting actress and Christian Bale for supporting actor. But then it could be True Grit, Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Mark Ruffalo. Or...

One other thought, what about Jennifer Lawrence for best actress?

Art and cricket

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Will Gompertz | 10:59 UK time, Wednesday, 9 February 2011


I like cricket, but perhaps not quite as much as the late Harold Pinter who apparently once said:

"I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth - certainly greater than sex, although sex isn't too bad either."

He don't like cricket, oh no, he loved it. And he's not alone among Thespians. For a game that for some lacks drama, cricket has been bowling theatrical types over for generations. Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French 19th Centry actress, was heard to remark, "I do like cricket, it's so very English."

Not any more mon cheri; it's moved on a bit. Emma Levine, the writer and photo-journalist, took these evocative pictures last year in Mumbai. The cricket-loving photographer started documenting locals playing the game across the subcontinent in the early 1990s and was "relieved" to find "the spirit of cricket remains" in the city that will be partially hosting the cricket World Cup in a few weeks' time.

Boys play cricket with palm tree 'stumps'

Palm tree 'stumps' with Rajabai Tower and Bombay Stock Exchange in background

Boys playing street cricket

Sunday street cricket at Masjid Bundar

Selling ice cream

No-frills ice cream vendor at Shevaji Park

Man repairing cricket bat

'Uncle' Zora repairs bats for local cricketers, Azad Maidan

Men waiting to bat in cricket game

Waiting to bat for a Sunday game at Shevaji Park

Men playing cricket

Night 'box' cricket match behind Crawford Market

Cricket players eat lunch

Dolphin team enjoy puri sabji for lunch at Shevaji Park

Boys playing cricket in the street

Makeshift stumps in a street cricket game at Masjid Bundar

Drinks cart at cricket game

Drinks cart refreshes thirsty cricketers at Azad Maidan

Man painting the crease in cricket match

Painting the crease for a practice match at Cross Maidan

You can see them and more at the Nehru Centre, South Audley St, London from 22 February in her show, Mumbai - A Cricketing Temple.

Philanthropy (yet again, but from a different perspective)

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Will Gompertz | 09:34 UK time, Tuesday, 8 February 2011


It's been said that a side effect of the "hunt for philanthropy" campaign is that it casts the arts as a victim in need of rescuing by a (wannabe) knight in shining suit.

Miranda Hart


The plea goes something along the lines of, "if only such-and-such rich banker/industrialist/trust fund would dip their manicured hand into their silk pocket and pull out a decent package and give it to the arts."

For doing so they'd be heartily thanked: a personal letter from the culture secretary or even a gong from Her Majesty. And those needy people in the arts would be humble and grateful and admiring.

Except those needy artsy people might not be around to receive their generous benefactor. Not because they don't care, but because they care too much. You see, I think some of Britain's most prolific and generous philanthropists are members of the arts community. It is well known that Damien Hirst gives away plenty as does Elton John. But they are not exceptions, more the rule.

Last night I sat in a provincial theatre in Oxford and watched Jimmy Carr, Miranda Hart, James Cordon, Beardyman and many others give up their evening for no fee to help raise money for a children's hospice called Helen and Douglas House. There was absolutely nothing in it for them; they don't need any more exposure or practise, just a night off. And what thanks will they get? Well if the after-show party was anything to go by, a glass of warm, weak beer and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. There were no tax breaks, thank-you dinners or medals on offer to induce their philanthropic act.

For them the "give" wasn't just money (a gig or corporate after-dinner spot by any of them would have yielded a handsome sum); it was that even more valuable commodity, time. So, what was their motivation? A letter from the government, a trip to Buck House or their name emblazoned on the walls of a children's ward? I don't think so.

They came because they could and wanted to do their bit; grateful that life has worked out for them and happy to share their good fortune. Which, for any would-be donor to the arts, is worth keeping in mind. Because the chances are they will not be giving their money, as they might have been led to believe, to some supine individual, but to a fellow philanthropist.

Margate: Doing a Bilbao

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Will Gompertz | 11:22 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011


The sun was brilliant, the light fantastic, and there I stood in amongst it. At the end of last week while others toiled under leaden skies, I'd taken off for brighter climes.

You have to travel to find such locations, where sun and sea unite to reveal colours that are normally hidden. And I had travelled. To the place that Turner loved more than most, for the light it gives (and for his host): a place where the French would visit and mingle with other metropolitans who too were "en vacance". Not that I expected to see them on my trip, but I hoped the sun might shine.

And it did: in buckets and spades. But then, that's Margate for you.

Admittedly it's a town that has been struggling with its image of late. Once a popular seaside resort, many holidaymakers now consider it a last resort. They say cheap flights and package holidays did her in, but Brighton, Hastings and North Berwick are all doing okay. The truth is Margate went out of fashion and stayed there. And without the free-spending tourists to put a smile on her face, she became depressed, which was bad because nobody wants to holiday with a misery.

So in an attempt to cheer the old port up, the council have "done a Bilbao". That is built a funky modern art gallery in the hope that fortune will favour a brave contemporary design. It's a bold move, but is it a wise one?


Turner Contemporary
, as the David Chipperfield-designed building is known, is a success inside and out. But then what would you expect from one of the world's most gifted living architects, who on Wednesday evening will pick up the highly-prized RIBA Gold Medal at a ceremony held in his honour. You only have to look at his portfolio of cultural projects on his website to know the man and his practice would create something special. Which they duly have while delivering the Holy Grail for any art-gallery-as-urban-regeneration-project: and that is a building you'd travel to see regardless of what it contains.

Turner Contemporary

Like Frank Gehry's muscular Guggenheim in Bilbao, or Herzog de Meuron's Tate Modern renovation, Chipperfield's Turner Contemporary is a "must visit" on architectural grounds. The views out to the North Sea are wonderful and cleverly framed. You stand on the same spot as Turner stood over 150 years ago and see what he saw and feel what he felt. Which is awe at nature's magnificence. Yes the view is great; but the northern light is sublime. Turner described the light as "loveliest in all Europe".

Turner Contemporary art gallery, Margate

David Chipperfield - rather like a composer writing an aria in an opera to highlight the voice of gifted singer - has made a song-and-dance out of Margate's greatest asset: her effervescent northern light. And once you've clocked that, everything else falls into place.

With this feature now so publicly exposed, what betting Margate becomes an artist's colony as the forest of Fontainebleau did for the Barbizon school of French landscape painters in 19th Century? Artists are like moths when it comes to light, and few places emit the transcendent wattage of Margate. Nor offer such cheap accommodation and studio space. You can get a three-bedroom flat with a limitless sea view in a respectable Victorian mansion block for a fraction of the price of a pokey bedsit in Hoxton.

Of course Margate has its downsides. The local economy took a knock recently with the closure of a major pharmaceutical business that will lift unemployment figures but not spirits. And it's not always sunny. A member of staff at Turner Contemporary told me that the sea can cut up so rough that waves smash against their lofty first-floor office windows. Clear days bring their own problems: it has been known for a navy frigate on exercises to lower her guns and lock-on to the building, which I imagine is a bit spooky. And she said that some locals are a bit Andy Gray when it comes to progressive views on the status of women.

But there is a romance to the place: part faded glory, part suggested future. The miles of sandy beaches the tourism office promotes are pleasant enough, but the North Sea is not the Med. But then they are the same sandy beaches that TS Eliot walked on early last century and wrote sections of his poetic masterpiece The Waste Land (in The Nayland Rock shelter on the beach).

On Margate Sands. I can connect Nothing with nothing. The broken fingernails of dirty hands. My people humble people who expect Nothing.
La la.
To Carthage then I came.

There's more to Margate, which you only discover when it meets yours eye. Turner Contemporary opens in April.

Philanthropy again

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Will Gompertz | 09:42 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011


Can philanthropy save the arts? No it can't, at least according to the Tricycle Theatre's Nicholas Kent, the Serpentine's Julia Peyton-Jones, banker and philanthropist John Studzinski, and Colin Tweedy from Arts & Business.

Woman watching art exhibition

It was during one of those panel discussions, in which I was taking part, where the panellists respond to the question before chatting it through with an audience. I thought it was an odd question to pose. First of all it presupposes the arts need saving, which nobody in the room thought they did.

It also casts the arts as victim and the philanthropist as saviour, which is not how most arts organisations see themselves. And it seems to overlook the fact that there are vast tracts of the arts that survive without any philanthropy and very little state funding such as book publishing, architecture, pop-jazz-world music, films and design.

Which is not to say that philanthropy shouldn't be encouraged, it should. But maybe it should start closer to home? I'm talking about the big nationals and a couple of high profile, London-based elite organisations that between them hover up the vast majority of philanthropic giving (around 80%) but represent a tiny minority (4%) of the country's arts institutions. They'll be fine come the implementation of the cuts.

But what about all those smaller regional arts centres around the country whose work is valuable to their communities but are facing the double hit of national cuts via Arts Council England and local government cuts. The stats suggest that they'll be no sharp-suited philanthropist to bail them out.

So, why don't the big arts institutions help them out? They could do so by "twinning". I know it's a bit naff when it comes to a windswept seaside town coupling up with one in southern Spain, but in the arts it could work: a major institution getting together with a much smaller arts outfit in the regions.

The big national company could help fundraise for their smaller "twin", share their administrative load and provide a bit of staff mentoring. And crucially the major arts organisation could use their marketing muscle and relationship and huge audience reach to promote the programme of the smaller organisation.

A struggling arts company would gain confidence and more knowing a major national institution was fighting their corner while also sharing their good fortune, not to mention a philanthropist or two.

The National Theatre has been doing this sort of thing for a while and I am told it's working well.

Ballet Russes archive footage

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Will Gompertz | 08:45 UK time, Wednesday, 2 February 2011


This film is a great find. Ballet Russes were one of the most remarkable arts companies of any type ever to have been created: Serge Diaghilev perhaps the most influential impresario of the 20th Century.

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But when you watch the film is there not one overwhelming thought crossing your mind? They look a bit err...amateurish. Lovely of course, but not quite what one would have expected.

Which just goes to show that the Russian Impresario - a gifted marketer and packager of his product - was correct when prohibiting any filming of his legendary company for fear they wouldn't look very good.

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