Monday, August 17, 2015

So So So Very British - Sir John Soane Museum, The Duchess, A Room with a View



I’ve been in London for almost a year and although I adore this city and all the fabulous people I have met here I’m getting a bit of London-cabin-fever. Maybe it’s the fact the summer consists of a handful of sunny days that almost break 80 degrees, maybe it’s the mass exodus that is August, which is always double-timed in the art world. Maybe it’s just my general malaise of life and my job consisting of going to the library and writing day after day after day after day. All those and above is making me antsy and literally bored to tears. Boo-hoo for me but hey when you can’t have lemons makes something else or whatever as they say?

But seriously, somehow in the midst of me being like “get me the hell out of London” I have been doing oh so very British things. This includes visiting the Sir John Soane Museum, Watching the movies The Duchess and A Room with a View and starting to read Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady. So Anglofiled up that it is actually sort of cringe but hey, if your stuck someplace you might as well head dive and immerse yourself into the clichéness of it all.


Sir John Soan Museum

A friend of mine first told me of the Sir John Soane Museum and he is as charming as he is eccentric so I knew it was a must see. I finally went last week because I’m ticking off my London boxes before returning to NYC. It is not a museum per se in that it is Soane’s house, which has been converted thus. He was born in 1753 and was a neo-classical architect that had a penchant for all things, well, neo-classical. His house is preserved and has an assortment of sculptures, paintings, replicas and curios that scream revival. It is similar in nature to the Frick in New York but Soane is at a different level and focus. While the Frick is all about connoisseurship Soane is all about fascination. Also Soane’s house is a stagger of architecture where it seems a bit of an obsessives delight versus rational function and beauty. Rooms are built on top of rooms, there are galleys, tightly filled corners, sky lights, tombs, many Soane busts and recreations of antiquities in a variety of scales and medium. It’s all a bit cramped, dark and claustrophobic but there is an undeniable curiosity and delight. You can also imagine what a person Soane was, this incredible type of eccentric that only the upper crust of British society can pull off with such grace. Sadly, not all the floors are open and the staff and guards are as protective and hawkish as if it were their own home but if you like architecture, absurdity and the air of justified cultural appropriation then this is a place you should visit. Final word. Glad I went, not sure I need a round two.

The Duchess

Oh BBC iTVPlayer you are my friend. I usually watch food shows like Master Chef and The Great British Bake Off but a friend sent me a link for a movie that was on there when I was having an exceptionally whoa is me day. It’s a film from 2008 and stars Keira Knightley and Ralph Finnes. It’s sooo one of those types of period movies and to be frank I find Knightley incredibly insipid to watch but meh, watch it I did. To sum up Knightly gets married to Finnes who is the Duke of Devonshire and thus she becomes the Dutchess. It’s a loveless and cold marriage only done for the production of a male heir so three girls later he finally gets a male but in between he is an overlord, cold jerk and she swiveling about in society. There’s a mistress, a slight lesbian twists, bastard children, an affair with the man who will become Prime Minister and lots and lots of outfit changes and Knightley persistently looking like a small bird with a broken wing. The movie is bad but the story is from truth, or the shadow of it is and it is crazy to think that yes, when this story took place women were so shackled by male rule of inheritance, rights, and all else even in the splendor of aristocratic grandeur. It of course is still happening even today in many places but the truth remains that it’s such a horror to contemplate then and now. Final word. Bad movie but it makes me want to wear a big wig.

A Room with a View

Last night I watched A Room with a View, a 1985 film adaptation by Ismail Merchant of a 1908 book by E.M. Forster. It is about a young girl Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) who goes to Florence with her spinster aunt Charlotte (Maggie Smith) to Florence and they meet an assortment of characters, all English while at their hotel. There is a father and son duo, the Emersons (Denholm Elliot, Julian Sands) and Lucy and George (the son) have a series of encounters that spark love. They go home, Lucy gets engaged to Cecil (Daniel Day Lewis) and in a series of coincidences the Emersons end up living in the same town. Obviously in the end Lucy and George end up together. The movie is not really about its ending but honestly I think this is possibly the most British thing I have ever watched. There is a wryness, a muffled hysterics, a baffling surrealism that makes it partly annoying, partly hard to follow and supremely fascinating. The tone, pace, and humor of it is like a different inflection of the same language and although I can see what’s going on, because I’m not British it’s very strange to watch. You get this same strangeness in watching things like Monty Python, Black Adder and even in contemporary British shows like Peep Show. There is something incredibly bizarre yet knowing about the humor. Not all of it sticks but it’s very consistently British. Final word. Watch it for Sands and Lewis and for the stunning youth that is Bonham Carter.