Cultural Events Summary 20 May 2018

I hope you have all been enjoying the nice weather this week. I’ve been mostly stuck inside, as we’ve been busy at work with two conferences, a workshop, becoming GDPR compliant and budget forecasts. However, sunshine is always good for the soul, and especially at the weekend. And I’ve managed to sneak in a couple of cultural events too…

On Thursday I watched the film 120 BPM (beats per minute), runner-up at the Cannes Festival last year. Filmed as a sort of faux-documentary of life as an activist member of ACTUP Paris in the early 1990s, it captures that frenetic spirit of being young (but not only), fighting for your life as well as for justice, fighting Big Pharma, public ignorance and apathy, government failure to debate, inform or provide any coherent policies. It is also a love story and, inevitably, as with any story about AIDS, there is grieving. But this is no¬†Philadelphia¬†or¬†Longtime Companion,¬†unashamed tear-jerkers, with (usually not gay) actors fading away eloquently and elegantly. This is about anger and survival, doing anything you can to feel alive, about strategy and protest and disagreements within the group, but also about coming together, solidarity and changing the world. ‘Paris were frankly a bunch of complete maniacs’, a former ACTUP London member said, and I had to laugh as I tried to imagine those protest or virulent discussions transposed in a British environment. The two male leads are extremely charismatic: Arnaud Valois from Lyon and¬†Nahuel P√©rez Biscayart from Argentina (who, as far as I can tell, are both gay, which makes it all the more realistic) make that very serious struggle look like fun.

The real ACTUP Paris in 1995.

The film transported me back to 1989-1992 when I too was young and politically engaged, although in our case it was regime change and democracy that we were fighting for. In spite of the disillusionment or flaws or failures (and the pain of watching friends die), it was an exhilarating movement to be part of (both mine and ACTUP) – and this is perfectly captured in this film. It’s all too easy to say that the world has moved on since then regarding attitudes towards AIDS and the LGBTQ+ community, but sadly, it hasn’t really progressed that much. The film is forbidden in several countries (where homosexuality is illegal) and in my own home country, alas, there was a church-organised protest when it was first screened.

A very different atmosphere on Friday when I attended an early morning viewing of the Rodin Exhibition at the British Museum. This beautifully curated, reasonably small show demonstrates that you don’t need to overwhelm museum-goers with information or exhibits if you stick to a narrow topic and present it well. Rodin was obsessed with ancient sculptures, and collected many of them himself, so it was refreshing to see to what extent they inspired his own work.¬†¬†There were plenty of original plaster, bronze and marble examples of many of Rodin‚Äôs sculptures on loan from the Mus√©e Rodin in Paris, as well as the Parthenon marbles that are already (controversially) in the British Museum.

Icarus’ sister.

I also got to hear that Lord Elgin originally wanted sculptor Antonio Canova to ‘renovate’ the Ancient Greek fragments and complete them. Luckily, Canova was wise enough to not meddle with the beauty of the original. Rodin himself was so taken by the incomplete statues, that he deliberately sculpted many of his own like that.

The Walking Man.

The links with literature were never far away. Not only was¬†Rainer Maria Rilke briefly Rodin’s secretary, but I was not aware that Rodin had illustrated Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal¬†(one of my favourite volumes of poetry, especially back when I was in my teens). And that he intended to reproduce it in sculpture as well.

Je suis belle, √ī mortels! comme un r√™ve de pierre…

A wonderful, calming way to start the day with art, not forgetting the quotes from Rodin about the sculptor’s ability to capture motion.

For next week, I have a very special recommendation for you: experience a piece of literature in an all-immersive annual event at Senate House on 23rd May. To celebrate 200 years since the first creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the School of Advanced Studies will present a¬†Living Frankenstein evening, with pop-up activities, talks, films, performances and ghost stories. The full programme is here.

Finally, no weekly summary would be complete without a few books begged, borrowed, stolen or bought.

From the library I borrowed Susan Jacoby’s¬†The Age of American Unreason, the May read for the David Bowie Book Club. Written in 2007-8, it is sadly more timely than ever. I was also looking for some Richard Yates novels which I haven’t read yet, but found instead a very bulky biography by Blake Bailey¬†A Tragic Honesty. Nicely cheery, then…

I also got Ali Smith’s¬†Autumn,¬†the so-called Brexit novel, and Louise Penny’s¬†A Great Reckoning.¬†I’ve already finished the latter: this author is one of my favourite comfort reads, and Three Pines is where I would love to retire if only it existed. I also came across a strange little volume called¬†Alberta Alone¬†by Cora Sandel, an early Norwegian feminist compared to Colette and Jean Rhys.

Last but not least, Europa Editions are producing new editions of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille trilogy and have sent me the first volume, Total Chaos. Little do they know that it is one of my favourite French novels (or trilogies) ever and that I bribed a second-hand bookshop in Lyon to find me all three volumes in French. You can expect a close read of the book in French and in translation coming up soon. (Although my personal favourite is Chourmo,¬†the second in the trilogy, coming out in August 2018.)


9 thoughts on “Cultural Events Summary 20 May 2018”

  1. How lovely you got those new editions, Marina Sofia! Lucky you! And thank you for sharing those ‘photos. I’d have loved to see the Rodin exhibit. The film sounds well-done, too, and if it takes you back to an exhilarating time, then it drew you in, and that makes it even better.

  2. I’ve not seen 120 BPM but I want to, it sounds excellent.

    The Rodin looks stunning! I’ll definitely be popping along at some point.

    I’ve never heard of Cora Sandel but she sounds intriguing, I’ll look forward to your thoughts on Alberta Alone.

  3. I’m glad you got a chance to see 120 BPM – such a passionate film, full of vitality and energy. I took a chance on it at last year’s London Film Fest, and it turned to be one of my favourites from the fortnight. As a sight aside, have you seen The Class by Laurent Cantet? I think Robin Campillo co-wrote the screenplay for that film, which makes a lot of sense given the similarities in style – I couldn’t help but be reminded of it during the debate scenes in 120 BPM.

    1. The name rings a bell, but I don’t think I’ve seen it. You are much more of a film buff than me… I just don’t seem to have the time to see good films (it also doesn’t help that the local Odeon only shows the big mainstream releases…).

  4. I like the sound of 120 BPM. I lived in New York City during the AIDS crisis and ACT-UP’s acting up everywhere to get funding for research and treatment for the disease. I lost friends to this horrid disease. St. Vincent’s Hospital, near my house, had an AIDS ward where people checked in, but never left. It was a terrible time.
    But what made it an exciting time was ACT-UP’s activism. That group did everything it could. And they succeeded.
    I remember when they planned to have a lie-in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I remember being involved in anti-war work then and wow — it was such a divisive tactic even in that milieu. But ACT-UP prevailed and they did the lie-in. It was impressive.
    So I definitely want to see this film.
    And The Class is a good, very realistic film, almost like a docudrama.
    Eagerly await your book reviews of the above-mentioned titles.

    1. Yes this one was very like a docudrama too, at least the first part, which focused more on the group as a whole, while the second was the story of a few individuals within the movement. I think you might like it – above all, I enjoyed the fact that it does not idealise these people, they are presented warts and all (sarcoma and all, one might add).

  5. Oh, gosh. I worked for a civil liberties law office for 10 years. One of the nicest people was a gay attorney, always good to work with and talk to. He left to head up a gay rights legal organization. Then he got Karposi’s Sarcoma and eventually, died. What a big loss to the gay community and humanity, in general.
    It was a tragedy, but ACT-UP took hold of it and acted up.

    By the way, if you have seen PRIDE, one of my favorite films, the leader of the gay activists was the character based on Mark Ashton. He died of AIDS at 27, a terrible loss to many communities.

Do share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.