Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kings and Queens (and Trannies)

Went to the Holbein exhibition at Ye Oldey Tatey on Saturday. A Saturday sounds like a ridiculous time to go to a blockbuster museum show but suprisingly it wasn't too hot and/or crowded. The paintings were, of course, completely breathtaking. Amazing faces, so real they look as though they might twitch or flinch. I enjoyed his odd nuances too, like a raised eyebrow, or a sideways glance. They're society portraits basically but they don't feel flat and lifeless, although for me all those glistening folds of fabric start to look a bit slickly showoffy after a while. A bit 'Look what I can do'.

I actually preferred Holbein's drawings to his painting, I waas surprised how sensitive they were, like Ingres. I found it difficult to understand why there were so many people crowding around paintings of Henry VIII and countless courtiers when the drawings were ten times more powerful. My favourite drawing was of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a beautiful summing up of old age.

I also enjoyed seeing the 'Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling', which I spent so many tea-breaks looking at when I worked at the National Gallery Shop yonks ago. I always thought her hands looked overly large, as thought they belonged to a different model. I like the blank spacial background, with the foliage. I thought that was unusual for Holbein but there's actually several with that backdrop in the show. They must have looked very daring at the time. Just colour with a sprig of something.

While I was there I thought I'd better have a look at the Turner Prize. I liked Mark Titchener's big wall piece, I like work that looks like sloganeering. I loved Tomma Abts paintings. All the same size, 48 x 38 cms, pleasing abstract forms in very cleverly measured colour, like pared down Vorticism. They're very stylish, highly finished, and I like the fact that they are such an easy size. It was good to see work that isn't eight foot high for once, and they are all the more powerful for it. They look great hanging in the big white room at the Tate with acres of space around them. I didn't especially respond to Rebecca Warren's lumps of clay. They are reworkings of sculptural masters that "explode out of and merge back into the amorphous properties of the material". I just thought they were rather dull and scruffy, and although I don't mind it as an adjunct I don't especially wish to have to wade through an essay of hyperbole prior to being able to get an idea of something (call me old fashioned). I normally love Phil Collins' work but didn't enjoy his piece this time either. I guess it's difficult to like anything much when your head's swimming with exquisite drawing.

On Sunday we went to Dawn Right Nasty's launch party for her new drag-induced fanzine 'Trannyhag'. It's a great read, comprising guides on successful stalking of one's idols, 'How to Look Like Pete Burns', film reviews, pin-ups, and interviews with Buck Angel (transgendered female to male porn star) and Peaches Christ (member of the 'Trannyshack' contingent in San Francisco).  All in full colour. Being concerned for a chum's personal finances I pleaded with her to do it in black and white but as she said impatiently 'You can't DO drag in black and white darling'. Anyway, it looks fab and if that's your bent you can get it off or I think at the ICA shop courtesy of Russell.

Dawn was also showing three very funny, b-movie shorts featuring Peaches and her mad circle Martiny, Heklina, and Squeaky Blonde. The first was 'Season of the Troll' being the story of an evil knife wielding creature that refused to die, and 'Nightmare on Castro Street', the story of Peaches' employment of a quaint English nurse "just like Mary Poppins" to take care of sick friend Martiny, but who turns out to be killing Martiny by force-feeding her/him processed cheese or something. All very bonkers, and brilliantly hilarious. Lots of wigs and fake blood and set in San Francisco (where else). The third film was 'Whatever Happened to Peaches Christ' but unfortunately we had to miss that as we were destined to see Kenneth Anger, in person no less, introduce four of his films at the NFT.

Kenneth Anger has sat on the sidelines of my imagination for years and I've got tapes of his films but I'd never seen them before on a big screen, which is obviously what it's all about. These are new 'preserved', cleaned up versions. The first, and arguably the best, was 'Fireworks', a gay fantasy of sailors made by Anger whilst still a teenager in 1947 (while his parents were out). Followed by 'Rabbit's Moon', "a japanese myth of romantic yearning" set in a beaufiful luminous blue/sliver landscape. Also showing were 'Scorpio Rising' and 'Kustom Kar Kommandos' which were fetish central, the first one non-stop biker boys and the second focusing on a tight pink-trousered crotch lovingly caressing a gleaming sports car with a giant powder puff. There was also a new one 'Mouse Heaven', finanaced by Anger's friend, the late J.P. Getty, and an obsessive study of Mikey Mouse.

He did a q&a afterwards. I wanted to ask about the film of the Crowley murals he made in the 50's but we were so far back I doubt he could have heard me. It's one of my life ambitions to make a book of the Crowley murals at the Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu while they still exist (but Crazy G refuses to scramble up steep sicillian hillsides in search of a lonely ruined farmhouse full of squatting drug addicts and unsavories... can't say I blame him!). He spoke briefly, and very funnily, about Bobby Beausoleil, then a handsome 19-year old Californian who later got caught up in the Manson sect and still serving time. You could tell however that it was a testy topic.

I gather Mr Anger lives in LA, with almost no dosh, and hates modern Hollywood with a vengence. He is full of anecdotes and Hollywood gossip, and would be a hit at parties, but doesn't strike me as the sort of man who'd wish to parade himself around any sort of social circuit.

He was in a remarkably good mood, which I know isn't always the case. I remember once reading an interview with him, set in an LA restaurant, where he was cheerfully recounting the sorry tale of a well-known "straight" Hollywood heart-throb who began his career as a rent-boy and ended up contracting gonorrhoea which he passed on to half the industry. Of course the article couldn't name him (though Anger gladly did). The story was so outrageous that at a nearby table was a poor innocent diner began laughing uncontrollably and Anger whirled over in an instant fury and practically attacked her for her intrusion. Then it was, 'now... where was I...' as though nothing had happened. He is one of life's Sacred Monsters, for sure, and it was thrilling to see him. I had the unmistakable thrill you get when you see someone you've admired or read about for years in the flesh for the first time.