It’s a pop hit

ART
LICHTENSTEIN: A RETROSPECTIVE
By Alex Dymoke | Tate Modern
****

IS HE the worst artist in the US?” asked Life magazine about Roy Lichtenstein in 1964. The primary colours and thick, innocent lines are too much – or too little – for many. However, his paintings are some of the most familiar images of the twentieth century, and matters of taste aside, no one doubts Lichtenstein’s importance. He rejected the energy and freedom of abstract expressionism, instead opting to mimic the processes – and paint the objects – of industry.

The new retrospective at the Tate places him immediately in that context. The excellent first room shows paintings of paint marks, fat and sluggish, oozing across the canvas. He spent years as a failing abstract expressionist painter trying, without success, to capture the vitality of the likes of Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning. Here he takes a sly dig at them, questioning the expressiveness of their expressionism, imprisoning their paint-splatter in ironic quotation marks.

Apart from the send-up of abstract expressionism in the first room, the most satirical works are in the room entitled War and Romance. Painted in the early to mid 60s (during the Vietnam war), this series contains his best known works. Melodramatic close-ups of women on phones mock clichéd gender roles, while the mess and violence of war is rendered in clean straight lines and primary colours. I was curious to see the likes of Whaam! and Oh, Jeff...I Love You Too...But... up close. Could such familiar images retain their impact? Had their power been sapped by endless duplication? I was pleased to find that it hadn’t. It’s partly down to the size. The War and Romance paintings tower over the other works in the exhibition, their oversized comic book scenes overwhelming the room with toy violence and love.

There is comprehensive treatment of his lesser known work. Especially interesting are his pastiches of iconic historical works. Picasso’s Women of Algiers, Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware and Monet’s Rouen Cathedral are all repainted in the Lichtenstein style. Is there a hint of parody in the replication? The answer, apparently, is no: “all the things I have apparently parodied I actually admire”.

Everyone knows a Lichtenstein when they see one. But despite having one of the most distinctive styles of any artist, he tends to be remembered for a few famous paintings. From his black and white paintings of industrial objects to his forays into sculpture to his Chinese-style landscapes, this exhibition shows that there was more to Lichtenstein than smoke plumes and onomatopoeia.

ART
ANDY WARHOL PHOTOGRAPHY
By Alex Dymoke | Privatus, Mayfair
****

The Tate’s Lichtenstein retrospective shows the pop art in its popular, garish glory. This small exhibition of Andy Warhol polaroids shows the 60s up-close and personal. Gain a unique view into Warhol’s inner circle, with travel photography, still-lifes and intimate photo-booth shots. Many of the photographs have not been seen by the public since leaving Warhol’s studio. They provide a unique view of the artist’s life and inner circle. Fashion stars such as Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein and Carolina Herrera all appear before Warhol’s camera with their guard down.

But its not just fashionistas and socialites on show: you can also see a softer side to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and OJ Simpson as they fool around a pull faces in the camera. The pictures offer an insight into to people behind carefully managed (or not so carefully managed in the case of Simpson) public personas.

THEATRE
A CHORUS LINE
By Alex Dymoke | London Palladium
***

WHEN A Chorus Line opened for the first time off-Broadway in 1975, it went on to run for a record-breaking fifteen years before closing in 1990.

Despite its success, A Chorus Line is not one of the classics. Its songs have not wheedled their way into the collective consciousness in a way comparable to say, Guys and Dolls or West Side Story. To those not au fait with this kind of thing, none of the tunes will be familiar. What makes A Chorus Line special is its format. Not a linear narrative as such, but a series of individual auditions with each character taking centre stage to tell their life story and perform an accompanying song.

Despite some faltering American accents, the cast is universally impressive, with strong voices all round. In the end though, American Leigh Zimmerman – of Home Alone 2 fame, no less – upstages everyone with her rendering of a thirty-something dancer nearing her best before date. Sassy and wisecracking, Zimmerman gets all the best lines and the production misses her whenever she was off stage.

Having got to know the characters one by one, its a pleasure to see them all performing in unison at the end. It's a shame the song that they're performing isn't more memorable.

FILM
TO THE WONDER
Cert 12a | By Alex Dymoke
****

TERENCE MALICK’S latest follows his last outing, Tree of Life, in both style and ambition. Like that film, there is much to enjoy if you can suspend your cynicism and luxuriate in the romance and unfashionably unironic lyricism.

If you think that Malick and Ben Affleck are a strange combination you would be right. Affleck’s all-American, college-kid good looks jar with all the sunset beaches and frolicking in wheat fields.

The rest of the performances are strong though. Javier Bardem is especially impressive as a brooding priest in spiritual crisis.

Swirling camerawork, beautiful landscapes and a stunning central turn from Olga Kurylenko make for a sensuous experience.

FILM
CLOUD ATLAS
Cert 15 | By Annabel Palmer
**

CLOUD ATLAS is an ambitious piece of filmmaking, and one that fails with tremendous flair. It is based on David Mitchell’s widely-acclaimed novel, which follows multiple plot lines across six different eras that span 500 years. But, at 172 minutes long, it really feels like half a millennia: it makes Peter Jackson look like a master of brevity.

It incorporates action, romance, drama, sci-fi and comedy. The trouble is, some segments and character arcs are far less engaging than others.

You can’t fault co-directors Lana and Andy Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer’s boldness, and in less able hands, it could have been an unmitigated disaster. In bringing the film to the big screen, they made two controversial decisions (three, if you include actually filming the movie). The first was to restructure the book’s orderly approach, so the film frantically darts from one world to another, revisiting each narrative for what they hoped would be long enough to get the viewer hooked. This works for the most part, helping keep the tempo high.

Their second big decision, to have the cast play different characters in most threads (Hanks, for example, has roles of varying importance in all six segments) was less effective (although it does provide some light enjoyment: some of the most fun is to be had trying to guess which actor is beneath the extensive range of prosthetics, bald caps, wigs, side burns, make up, tattoos, body paint and fake teeth.

Where the real problem lies, though, is that Cloud Atlas is neither half as important, nor half as touching, as it would like to be. This is less the fault of the editors or cinematographers – who do a superb job – and far more to do with the nauseating script and wooden acting. You may want to sit back and enjoy the spectacle (it’s a classic case of style over substance) but the constant onslaught of pseudo-sage remarks, delivered in highly-suspect accents, make this virtually impossible.

The decision to stay faithful to the book and have the final segment in pidgin English means you can’t understand most of what Hanks and Berry were actually saying – and when you can, it’s hard not to snigger at a wide-eyed Hanks asking to be told the “true-true”. Indeed, the greatest acting on show is the ability of the cast to consistently keep a straight face.