Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, No. 24. October 1, 1968
Reviews contributed by Wellington Teachers' College
Reviews contributed by Wellington Teachers' College
Sex: meat of lectures
The Chancellor's Lectures commenced in 1963, when Sir Herbert Read was invited to give a series of four lectures on various aspects of the visual arts. This deep and thought provoking series set an extremely high standard, bringing us into the world of the great in art. Although many of us had heard his lectures, had read his writings, heard his talks on the radio, there was no mention of his recent death in our Press, nor any tribute to him on the radio. I wonder how much impact the visit of this brilliant English writer, lecturer, and critic really had. Certainly those who heard him had many doors opened for them, and gained immeasurably in their understanding of art.
Sir Basil Spence, the well-known British architect of Coventry Cathedral, Sussex University and many other famous buildings, gave the next series of Chancellor's Lectures on the visual arts. He, too, revealed the depth of his knowledge and understanding in his four brilliant and unforgettable lectures on architecture.
Now, in 1968, we have Robert Melville, an English art critic and writer for the New Statesman. At time of writing he has given two lectures in the series. His first lecture on Surrealism dealt mainly with Chirico and Dali, pointing out some aspects in the work of these artists that many of us had not thought of before—but I, for one, would doubt their validity. I enjoyed his wit and the interesting slides showing some works that we had not seen before. A disappointing feature of the first evening was the poor slide projection, which I am sure must have been disconcerting to Mr Melville and was certainly disappointing for the audience.
Mr Melville's second, rather short, lecture on British Expressionism and Abstractionism began with a brief mention of Philip King, the contemporary English sculptor, and Bridget Riley, the well-known modern abstractionist. These artists were the two principal British representatives at the Venice Biennale, and he told us that they were the two most outstanding artists in Britain today. Certainly Bridget Riley has popular appeal, judging by the copying of her design on dress and furnishing fabrics, but the mixture of the mathematical and the intuitive in her work remains fiercely individual. The slides shown of the work of Philip King—"Genghis Khan", "The Birds Began To Sing" and "Through 1965"—all flow in a continuous form allowing involvement with the work, described as a confrontation rather than a representation. Most of the second lecture, however, was devoted to Francis Bacon, undoubtedly an extremely able painter. One may not enjoy the paintings, which consist mainly of nudes and portraits of neurotic individuals, because of the subject matter, but let's not confuse this with his artistic ability.
I found Mr Melville's lectures instructive, humorous, but rather flippant. Most of the time he seemed to be preoccupied with sexual interpretations in the work of the artists that he selected. One almost felt that perhaps he hoped to shock because we are rather distant from the scene of contemporary art. The substance of his first two lectures can hardly be compared with that of Read and Spence.
Virtuoso's virtues at keyboard
Claudio Arrau has been described as one of the foremost virtuosos of the keyboard and his Wellington recital gave most demonstrative proof of this. Throughout the whole programme his hands moved across the keyboard with the unerring accuracy and sensitivity of a master. The programme comprised some well known Beethoven, some lesser known Mozart and minor works by Debussy and Chopin.
The opening piece was the familiar "Moonlight" sonata. From the first movement Arrau demonstrated his precision of touch and his remarkable powers of interpreting Beethoven so that new depth and meaning become immediately apparent. Arrau put much power into the final movement, each note emerging distinctly. Throughout the piece there was a clever and subtle use of dynamics which amply illustrated Beethoven's own title for the piece —"Sontat quasi una fantasia"
There were two pieces by Mozart, Fantasia and Sonata in C minor, K475 and K457. These are not as generally well known as some of Mozart's other works for piano Arrau is renowned for his interpretation of Mozart and treated the work with the agility and deftness which the Fantasy demands.
The Sonata, however, proved to be the more interesting of the two works. The opening movement was played with graceful, delicate fingering which brought out its almost lyric quality. The second movement was played with finesse, and its mood of seriousness, of concentration and thought was well conveyed by the pianist's clever manipulation of the scores nuances. The third movement formed an apt conclusion to the work. It was a precise piece, seen [unclear: ng] to represent decision and finality. Arrau delivered this movement in a deliberate manner, using his deft yet firm touch to conclude the piece in a manner Mozart would surely have approved.
The three pieces by Debussy were from the Suite Estampes, written in 1903. All were impressionistic and delivered with a force and concentration that conveyed the essential spirit of Impressionism. The interpretation was sympathetic yet demanding of the music. The first piece was "Pagodes", a short piece showing the influence of gamelan music. It is really a musical trifle after the Eastern style; the playing was light but pithy. The next piece, "Soiree dans Granade", was impressive, its Habaneran rhythm played it with power, and insight. The final one, "Jardins sous la Pluie", suggested that countryside seen through rain. Again Arrau used his precision, his magical control of dynamics, to construct either great sheets of sound or just single notes spiralling delicately down.
There were two ballades and a scherzo by Chopin. The first ballade (Number 3 in A Flat) had a liting, dramatic rhythym and was meant to suggest a chivalric age. The pianist worked relentlessly and skilfully to weave the fabric of this pleasant and interesting ballade.
The other ballade (Number 4 in F Minor) was, however, of a very different mood. Whereas the first was light and lilting, this one was centred on a haunting melody. There were some very interesting developments and modulation throughout as the piece proceeded. After a series of dramatic interruptions, minor climaxes in fact, the piece ended on a strong coda. Arrau played superbly, his hands flashing the length of the keyboard with consummate ease.
The final piece was Scherzo Number 1 in B Minor. Arrau's full genious displayed itself in marvellous technique, his masterly interpretation and intense concentration upon his task. This scherzo was a lively, jesting piece which did not conform to the usual general pattern of the scherzo proper.
The recital was one of the best in Wellington this year. It is hoped that this "commanding master of the keyboard" will return some day.
Crocodile tears for Joy
Why go to films? To be entertained, educated, shocked; made to feel smug, sympathetic, or intelligent; or just to be where you think everyone else? Two recent films, Poor Cow (Anglo Amalgamated) and The Honey Pot (United Artists) exemplify two ends of the scale. For those who appreciate realism, life in the raw, Poor Cow is a must. The Honey Pot is for those who prefer a polished performance, slick dialogue, with a murder mystery; you can always say afterward that you know it was all very shallow and mindless.
Poor Cow is in the tradition of those grim portrayals of industrial England. It opens with the birth of a son to joy (Carol White). Tom (John Bindon), her husband, however, is not particularly interested in either Joy or the child and is more concerned about planning a sordid little robbery with his friend Dave (Terence Stamp).
Suddenly we're in the middle of a getaway. The police arrest Tom and he is put "inside". Joy and her son move in with Dave. But Dave is soon imprisoned for 12 years for his part in the beating up and robbing of an old lady. Joy becomes a barmaid, has casual affairs punctuated by visits to Dave in jail during which she bravely tells him that she'll wait the 12 years.
For Joy things don't matter: when she loses her son one afternoon she thinks it only matters if the child has a stable upbringing. The film ends on this note of hope (if you're idealistic) or self-delusion (if you're cynical).
The author, Nell Dunn, says that Her story is not about the "working class" or "middle class", but is specific to Joy. But it does seem to have this generalised quality. It never moves outside the framework of the experience and thoughts of these inarticulate people. We are shown the terms in which Joy understands her problem: But is to settle for "a man., a baby, and two nice rooms" so breath-takingly original? Could it not have possible to exploit the theme on Joy's terms, without restricting the audience, by making the film more visually imaginative?
There appeared to be a flatness about the film. There was little structural tension; the central horror for Joy—the slow inexorable passing of time—never came across. The amount of time that had passed was never apparent. Apart from the scenes when she first went back to the flat after the trial, her desolation and loneliness were never at the central. Nevertheless she is the most solid of all the characters. She has moments when she sees herself "standing by him in trouble", and then realises her own needs, that she cannot be expected to do without a man for 12 years. Can it be another side to Joy's nature when she has just denounced the people to whom material possessions are all? But perhaps the most "real' Dave and Joy ever are is during the evocative scenes of their holiday in Wales.
• • •
The plot of The Honey Pot is intricately related to Jonson's Volpone. It starts light-heartedly enough as a rich man's whim to see how three of his former mistresses react to his imminent death. There is a lot of "play-acting" by Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) and his factotum McFly (Cliff Robertson), but things begin to get really serious when murder is committed. Nurse Watkins (Maggie Smith) follows up the Volpone parallels; Fox lightly points out that McFly/Mosca got his job by a narrow margin from someone called Tsetse. With the murder mystery we move furtherest from Volpone. The voice of the observing Fox comments off-screen, and wished that just for once the film ended as the bloody scriptwriter intended it.
Rex Harrison is marvellously athletic—his ambition was to be a dancer—as he bounds about his enormous room and trampolines on his bed to the "Dance of the Hours". Maggie Smith is everything a conscientious registered nurse traditionally is held to be—completely antiseptic. Capucine is too, but then perhaps the same high standards apply to princesses. Edie Adams and Susan Hayward are adequate stereotypes of filthy-rich women.
Definitely not a substitute for reading Volpone for harrassed students, but an enjoyable break from doing so.
Experimental child drama successful
There are a few people, pardon, a great deal, who insist on categorising everything, We are all listed somewhere under some sub heading?but life needn't be so cold.
Few people see things with such clarity and colour as do children. "Innocent children", I know, is a cliche, remembering your dear brothers and sisters you will probably not agree with me. As we get older, we gel more cunning (the preferred word is wiser). Perhaps its just that we learn the tricks, social graces, and how to run in the general mad race—called "socialisation", by the text-book
The world of children is a world apart from ours; time can pass slowly and Christmas can be years off, then it sneakes past when it shouldn't. It is in this unique world that Child Drama finds a place. The word "drama" suggests something like a stage play once performed, then forgotten. Child Drama or creativity is something vastly different. This "thing" drama, creativty, or whatever, is an exploration in the child's self, using his five senses to reach the depths of his personality.
Children can be anything and anyone from a piece of chewing-gum to a pink (or blue) angel. They create for themselves, they discover the world and the people in it by actual experience (the text-books say "role-playing"). This exploration may be through poetry, art, miming, or any other desirous form.
Perhaps Robert Druce, in his book The Eye Of Innocence, explains the content of Child Drama best:
"What do children have to offer towards a definition? Their wit, their exurberance, and their excitement; certainly images that linger in the mind. Their poetry is about anything or everything. It results from the impact upon them of an image or an emotion or an idea. Their thoughts are about being alive and not being dead, about, wonder and joy, hate and despair and loneliness."
If we are to still insist on categorising everything surely Masterton's recent production of Earth And Sky incorporates many aspects of Child Drama.
S. G. reviews:
An exceptional piece of theatre, Earth And Sky, proved to be one of the most exciting things to happen in Wairarapa theatre for a long time.
The choice of the theme of the union of Maui and Hine-Mana-Hiri from Maori mythology proved as fruitful as the union of music, dance and art. Setting the tempo and tension of the work the first act. 'The Challenge", caught and maintained the audience's attention throughout. This challenge was quickly followed by "The Chant of Tane"—a most effective sequence using two groups of over a hundred children who entered slowly from the auditorium. The deportment of the children's chorus was remarkably professional no looking to catch Mum's eye as they proceeded through the body of the hall. The production utilised the children's natural energy and they all seemed engrossed in their roles.
There was an amazing use of different types of drums and much intricate percussion scoring skilfully performed by the children. At times it was impossible to tell whether it was the children's voices, the electronic voice or the orchestra that delivered the intended effect. The various facets lacked focus, confusing the listener. The use of amplification had overtones of sports meetings and railway stations and may not have evoked the desired atmosphere. Could the amplified voice have been presented more effectively without it?
Unfortunately the movement was very limited and formal, lacking vitality and imagination. It failed to take the clear musical cues, a fault of production and not of the work.
Children provided relief from the sombre atmosphere of the Cod world, with their delightful and amusing animal, insect and reptile costumes. The audience was involved in trying to catch each incident in which the children were exploited, such as in the humour of Tane planting the trees upside down. Tane's affection for the wee pink chick communicated itself to the audience. Though to some extent the effective amalgamation of ballet and opera was inhibited by stifling the movement, one Felt that this example of theatre will become a standard work of New Zealand art. One ol its impressive qualities—it was commissioned for performance by children—is its respect for their potential Then is never a hint of the condescension so often detected in most music composed for the young.
The Wairarapa Schools' Festival Hoard should be complimented both on their enterprise in commissioning the work and in the presentation of such a fine first performance.
Of pride and prejudice
(As writers to the Dominion would say), I write to tell you that the title of your book review, Chuff exposed, is indeed appropriate—if you keep your political prejudices in your chuff.
Suffering as I do from the appelation "Right Wing commentator", it might seem odd for me to be defending a British Labour MPS writings against your criticisms. However, though never admitting this fact on the Vic campus, I realise that even a Labour politician may have occasional moments of sanity with regard to foreign policy. Moreover, (and as you, with some amazement, admit) the man is actually honest.
The Labour movement has for long characterised itself as the only true repositry of eternal honesty, without examining this myth over-closely. I admit the discomfort it must cause you, Nevil, to find a Labour MP who did not just talk honestly, but really practised it, even to the detriment of his political career
You mention John A. Lee in your review. And you were right to do this. For was he not the conscience of the party who was sacked for this? And was he not the only man who dared to point out the imperfections in the lately deified, but long mummified, Walter Nash?
I cannot, of course, nor would I want to, defend the socialist ideals of Desmond Donnelly. But it was a relief to find that you consigned his book to perdition along with his "appalling books on communism, The March Wind and Struggle for the World," for then one has the key to your dislike.
Perhaps if you looked around the world a little, you would realise that socialism is not inconsistent with awareness of a threat from communism. The Swedish Social Democrats, for instance, have combined a highly advanced social welfare state with an equally high level of well applied defence spending.
Unlike so many well-meaning but unrealistic socialists, Donnelly points out that communists will not be deterred from attacking a state merely because it has a sort of half-cooked abortion of an economy brought about by the fumblings of Wilson's pair of former university professors. Nor, as we have recently seen, is one communist state reluctant to attack another communist state, for communist foreign policy inevitably implies complete subjugation in the end.
And finally, Nevil, with a cynical comment you disparage Desmond Donnelly's hope of remaining attractive to the voters, vis a vis the failure of Harold Wilson's P.R.O.'s.
The answer, I think, lies in the behaviour of Donnelly's own constituency party, after the organisers from London went down to Pembrokeshire to try and disestablish him. His support has strengthened in the constituency since the failure of the party machine to discipline him, proving perhaps, that while doerinaire socialism when put into practice looses adherents, honestly, however unfashionable, will gain them.
I remain, etc.,
James H. Mitchell.