Wednesday, December 31, 2014

An artistic blunder

Years ago, I returned home in a rage after seeing Amadeus. Surely Mozart could not have been that silly, vapid child Peter Schaffer had made him out to be.  So I re-read Mozart's letters, and the light dawned - Schaffer's interpretation was perfectly valid.  Wolfgang may have been a genius, but he was never a pompous ass.

In November I went to see the Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain.  I was overwhelmed by his sheer ability with paint, and the way in which he captured the very essence of light.  There were pictures at which one could stare for hours on end, reveling in their grandeur. There were tiny watercolours, with human figures the size of ants, but still they were captured in rapid motion.  And there were the wonderful seascapes, with storms rendered far more faithfully than anything those great Dutch and Flemish painters ever managed to achieve.

So when Mr Turner appeared on our screens, I hurried to see it, returned in a rage, read Turner's biography. and penned a hate letter to the director, Mike Leigh. Leigh is an English director of minor films which seem to be known chiefly for their slow pace and serious character (his enemies call "serious character" "bloody gloominess").  

Gloom reigned supreme in his Mr Turner. There were scenes when the Turner painting was captured in some latter-day views of Britain, and long lingering was felt merited.  After the third such trick, the idea, which was not very original in the first instance, palled - or do I mean "cloyed"? For the rest, a few scenes showing that the old man still had some life in his veins were meant to provide the story line on which the whole was knitted together. They didn't. Timothy Spall provided a gout-ridden grumpy old man as Mr Turner.  I am sure the character was the creation of Leigh - Spall is too good an actor to fall for such a travesty without a fight.

And travesty it was.  When I got home, I immediately read two or three different biographies.  The picture that emerged was of a simple, uneducated man whose genius took him far and wide and enriched him with knowledge and wisdom such as he could never have gained had he finished his schooling. There were many stories of his love of young people - Leigh's Turner was positively anti-juvenile. The real Turner was a man with a natural charm - Leigh's Turner  could best be described as a curmudgeon. In life, Turner had loyal, lifelong friends; in Leigh's film, one woman was the extent of his human contact. Turner could sketch with extraordinary facility; Leigh's Turner drew carthorses with crayons. Turner travelled widely; the audience at this film could have been forgiven for thinking he never passed Margate,

If there had been some sort of plot, the whole might have been forgiven.  As it was, one was left with the feeling that, having won a bucket load of cash from the lottery, the director felt he could throw a mess of pottage in the public's face and satisfy his sponsors. He shouldn't have, and he didn't.

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