Friday, 31 October 2014

Clinton Heylin on Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes Complete

Bob Dylan’s back pages: the truth behind the Basement Tapes
The Basement Tapes have never before been heard in their entirety. Now, with the official release of all 138 songs, Dylan expert Clinton Heylin examines the myth and the reality of one of rock’s seminal long-lost masterpieces

Clinton Heylin
The Guardian
Thursday 30 October 2014

In June 1975, between Blood on the Tracks and Desire, Bob Dylan approved the release of the most famous publishing demos in pop. The Basement Tapes, recorded off the radar in the summer of 1967, in the garage of the Band’s rented house in West Saugerties in upstate New York (which a previous owner had painted a gaudy pink), are seen as the missing link between the expansive Blonde on Blonde and the pared-down simplicity of John Wesley Harding. They were also the first music Dylan made as he recovered from a serious motorcycle accident on 29 July 1966, even as the dust of rumour conspired to cover him.

For six months after the accident Dylan, recuperated by cutting himself off from music, as he had done once before, after the Kennedy assassination, just jotting down lyrics. The rest of the time Dylan spent “poring over books by people you never heard of, thinking about where I’m going, and why am I running and am I mixed up too much and what am I knowing and what am I giving and what am I taking”. Or so he told the one journalist he spoke to on the record at the time, Michael Iachetta of the New York Daily News.

But according to Al Aronowitz, the one writer he spoke to regularly, off the record, throughout 1967: “That was just a contribution to the Dylan mystery. Actually, Dylan was writing 10 new songs a week, rehearsing them in his living room with [Robbie] Robertson’s group, the Hawks [AKA the Band].” And it turned out Aronowitz was right – the aural evidence began dribbling out in late 1967 as other groups started releasing their recordings of the songs Dylan had been writing, beginning with Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of Too Much of Nothing that November

Why had Dylan and his friends been working so hard? To what purpose? According to Robertson, the reason “we would play music every day” was “to keep one of us from going crazy”. He may not have meant Dylan, who was slowly wending his way back from the brink, but rather the Band’s Richard Manuel, who was heading unsteadily towards the cliff. (He would finally take his own life in 1986.)

What began as a form of musical therapy, initially in Dylan’s own Red Room at his home in nearby Byrdcliffe, soon evolved into so much more. In late spring 1967, when proceedings transferred to the Hawks’ colourful home, dubbed “Big Pink”, organist Garth Hudson set up a simple soundscape: three mikes into an Altech mixer, with instruments panned left or right, on to a Nagra reel-to-reel – what Robertson later called “this shitty little recorder” – that had already seen service on their dramatic 1966 world tour with Dylan. And the tapes kept a-rollin’.

For when it comes to “the basements”, evolution is the key. The Basement Tapes were, and are, a musical process; a journey away from the edge via the rich traditions of Anglo-American song. Such is the attention to detail and sheer intensity in Dylan’s delivery on songs such as Young But Daily Growing or The Banks of the Royal Canal, both steeped in a tradition that was to him “the only true valid death you can feel today”, that they often seem like the meat of the matter.

But by the middle of 1967 the secret sessions had a more immediate purpose: they had become a way for Dylan to show the Band how to make their own statement in song. The razor-sharp Robertson realised what was going on quickly enough: “Bob was educating us a little. The whole folkie thing was still very questionable to us … but he remembered too much, remembered too many songs too well. He’d come over to Big Pink … and pull out some old song – he’d prepped for this.” Yet it was Manuel and Rick Danko whom Dylan was trying to teach to release their demons in song, not Robertson, who had yet to pen a single song he could call his own.

Dylan even gave Manuel and Danko a lyric apiece to put to song. And what lyrics – Tears of Rage and This Wheel’s on Fire. By then, he had started using the sessions as a way for him to fulfil the demand for new songs his manager and co-publisher Albert Grossman was making, albeit at arm’s length. (Dylan had spent much of his recuperation poring over the 10-year management contract he signed in 1962, and he was not amused.)

Starting in June or July 1967, Dylan began laying down songs with enough pop sensibility, a surfeit of madcap lyricism and even a chorus or 12, to be copyrighted and distributed to any artist keen to record one or more unreleased Bob Dylan songs. These songs, with titles such as Yea Heavy And a Bottle of Bread, Tiny Montgomery and Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood) seemed to have been mined direct from some ancient realm of poesy, so rich was the wordplay and many-humoured the worldview. It was like “Phaedra with her looking glass” had made a secret tryst with “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood”, and this was their progeny.

Whether characters such as Quinn the Eskimo, Skinny Moo and T-Bone Frank were laughing at or with their listeners Dylan refused to resolve, but it mattered not. What came across most was a joie de vivre that suggested he couldn’t believe he was still alive, literally, let alone creatively. And if the five musicians seem at times as if they are teetering on the brink of insanity (The Spanish Song, Next Time on the Highway, All You Have To Do Is Dream can all now take a bow), it is because they were.

Indeed, this joyous musical brinkmanship seems most evident on those occasions when the musicians sound wholly pie-eyed. Because anyone who thinks Dylan had cleaned up his act after his fall simply ain’t been listenin’. These guys are flying low over the mountains, pilled to the gills, low as Hamlet, high as kites. Take one listen to Teenage Prayer, which puts the I in innuendo. Or Please Mrs Henry, as scatalogical as a Carry On film. Or Sign on the Cross, in which the keys to the kingdom come wrapped in silver foil. These songs have Mystery written all over them, but beware of licking the label lest a white rabbit appear.

By January 1968, when the first 14 songs were collected on to publishing demo acetates, just about anyone with a stake in the future of rock wanted to hear – and indeed own – copies of Dylan’s own versions. As such, for the next seven years, the 14 (later, 18) songs Dylan copyrighted would circulate first on reel-to-reel and then, from 1969, on the bootleg albums this hallowed set of acetates spawned.

At the same time, these seminal songs enjoyed a parallel life as chart fodder for the likes of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity (This Wheel’s on Fire – a UK No 1), Manfred Mann (The Mighty Quinn – a Top 5 single), the Band (I Shall Be Released and Tears of Rage), the Byrds (Nothing Was Delivered) and Fairport Convention (Million Dollar Bash). McGuinness Flint went as far as recording seven basement tracks for their 1972 all-Dylan album, Lo and Behold.
In those years The Basement Tapes grew in the public imagination to constitute a body of songs as famous as the reclusive folk-rock bard himself. Soon enough, no charity gig was complete without a rousingly righteous I Shall Be Released, while The Mighty Quinn became the basis for any number of football chants. The real music from Big Pink – almost despite Dylan – was everywhere.

Yet the circumstances of these remarkable recordings remained steadfastly vague, despite Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner pressing Dylan during his second major post-accident interview to spill the beans, asking him for “the origin of that collection of songs, of that tape”. When Dylan pretended not to know what he meant, Wenner asked flat-out: “Where was that done?” Dylan, attempting to dismiss the subject with an offhand, “Out in somebody’s basement – just a basement tape,” unwittingly christened the tape for all eternity.

The subject seemed to continue bothering Dylan even as he finally approved an official release, largely to help fund the Band’s relocation to California. He hardly proved forthcoming when asked about the tapes by Mary Travers, the former singer in Peter, Paul and Mary, on her own radio show.

Travers had been among the first to hear the Big Pink fare, Peter, Paul and Mary’s recording of Too Much of Nothing predating even that song’s copyright registration. And Travers was simply trying to do Dylan a favour by previewing the imminent release of the official CBS Basement Tapes set, a set Dylan told Travers was being released “so people could hear it in its entirety and know just exactly what we were doing up there in those years”.

The release, now, of a further 122 songs as part of The Basement Tapes Complete (Bootleg Series Vol 11) rather suggests Dylan was blowing smoke signals the day he sold his message to Mary. He must have known that Band guitarist Robbie Robertson and producer Rob Fraboni had compiled an extensive set of “reference” tapes from the 17 or so reels. Even with recourse to just three of the dozens of cover versions they had recorded, it comprised 45 Dylan performances and 10 Band performances (mostly studio takes), from which that 1975 set was ultimately compiled.

Back in 1975, no one knew the 16 Dylan songs on said CBS set were the tip of an enormous iceberg. However, even then, just about every critic worth his truckload of salt knew that the set was missing at least half a dozen important Dylan originals. Hence the tears of outrage that greeted the omission of I Shall Be Released, Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), the hymnal Sign on the Cross (one of the most exquisite Dylan vocals in his entire lexicon) and the elliptical I’m Not There, while the “correct” demos of Too Much of Nothing and Tears of Rage were sacrificed for first runthroughs. (All of the above were already circulating in collector circles.)

And there was more: specifically five more Basement originals copyrighted in 1973, the lyrics of which suggested even more tantalising treasure lay outside collectors’ reach. None of these songs – Silent Weekend, Santa Fe, Bourbon Street, All American Boy and Wild Wolf – would circulate until the early 90s, by which time the whole of Wild Wolf and two-thirds of the completely mad Bourbon Street had disappeared from the upstate locker of Band archivist Garth Hudson.

It turns out that all these tracks, with the exception of All American Boy, were part of a 50-minute composite reel that had been loaned by Hudson to Dylan’s office in the early 1990s, and never seemingly returned. And because they were not in Hudson’s lockup, they were not accessible to the Band roadie who helped himself to direct dubs of most of the other reels at the time Dylan’s first Bootleg Series was appearing, in 1991.

Relocated by Sony archivist Glenn Korman, that reel appears on the new Basement Tapes edition in its entirety, revealing not only all five 1973 copyrights but four more gems only previously whispered of in Dylan circles: My Woman, She’s a-Leavin; Mary Lou, I Love You Too; Dress It Up; Better Have It All; and What’s It Gonna Be When It Comes Up.

What makes the contents of this reel particularly intriguing is the suspicion, confirmed by the reel number assigned by Hudson back then, that this is probably the last Basement reel, save for a three-song Anthology of American Folk Music jam session. Indeed, we appear to have crept into 1968 with these recordings. John Wesley Harding has certainly been recorded already, and we are witnessing how the Hawks plan to reintegrate Levon Helm – who had missed the Basement sessions – into their new sound while continuing to experiment with an inspired Dylan, even after he returned from three trips to Nashville with his new album and, seemingly, a new direction home.

This, it seems, was the direction Dylan was heading in when those inspirational “lights went out”, as he put it in 1978. Wild Wolf may well be the last time he went “half-stepping” before his muse pulled the switch. Five long years of creative darkness would follow.
That final reel thus provides one of the bookends on the new 6-CD Basement Tapes Complete. For fans of Dylan’s unique brand of Anglo-Americana, the set also reveals the sessions’ starting point – an equally vital, if ropier-sounding two sides’ worth of Red Room recordings that predate anything collectors have heard to date on the many bootleg Basement recordings.

For once, such a “for completists only” trawl through the vaults serves to fill in the blanks and connect the dots in such a way that one’s appreciation of Dylan and the Band’s achievement is actually heightened. These backwoods boys rehearsed off tape and rarely recorded more than two takes of anything, originals included. Listening to all their extensive forays, one finally understands what Robertson meant when he suggested that they were trying to “stop time”.

And for those who think this is a case of “feel the width”, somewhere in among the haunted leaves of this mighty tree is a 24-track collection of all the songs copyrighted between 1967 and 1975, which would rank alongside any Dylan collection. Sadly, Sony wasted an opportunity to release such a companion CD. Instead, they went with a 2-CD version that is neither fish nor fowl, as much mish as mash.

Nevertheless, this banquet really needs to be savoured entire. After all, seeing the stack of reels that sat in a Toronto studio awaiting transfer to digital, one can’t help but be reminded the boys at Big Pink took their time. The Basement Tapes, which for years were seen as the work of a few summer days, turn out to be nine months in the life of a former boy wonder and a family man, at a time when he could still make music in the most idyllic of settings and count his blessings.

Even Dylan allowed himself to wax lyrical about those times when prompted to remember them by a young Wenner: “You know, that’s really the way to do a recording – in a peaceful, relaxed setting, in somebody’s basement, with the windows open and a dog lying on the floor.” No expectations, no commitments. Just for the love of it. Expect to spend a lifetime unravelling the mystery that is Big Pink. Dylan has.

Bob Dylan and the Band: The Basement Tapes Complete review – rickety, strange and utterly timeless
Whether or not the 138 songs on this uber-bootleg six-CD box set really did change the course of rock music, the best bits are as good as it gets

Alexis Petridis
The Guardian
Thursday 30 October 2014

There’s something winningly quaint about the security measures surrounding The Complete Basement Tapes. In order to combat piracy, there are no promotional CDs: those who wish to cast a critical ear over the 138 tracks are required to listen to them via a stream, or visit the record company’s offices, taking the precaution to first pack a sleeping bag and a change of clothes. No one must bootleg The Basement Tapes; that seems to be the message.

Given that someone first bootlegged The Basement Tapes 45 years ago– indeed, someone went to the trouble of inventing the entire bootleg industry specifically in order to bootleg The Basement Tapes – and that the intervening five decades have been packed with people bootlegging them in a variety of formats, culminating in the appearance of not one but two multi-CD sets of Basement Tapes bootlegs, this does feel a trifle like shutting the proverbial stable door. Still, the preponderance of Basement Tapes bootlegs tells you something about the importance heaped on the music they contain.

The rough recordings Dylan made in Woodstock in the spring and summer of 1967 had a profound effect, widely held to represent the third time in as many years that he altered the course of music. The accepted wisdom is that when some of the lo-fi songs he’d taped leaked via a publishing acetate, his peers took it as a sign that Dylan was calling time on the experimentation of the psychedelic era, directing them to an earthier hue: he and the Band had cleared the path that led the Beatles from Sergeant Pepper to the Get Back sessions, the Rolling Stones from We Love You to Beggars’ Banquet and the Byrds from Artificial Energy and Dolphin’s Smile to Sweetheart of the Rodeo – an album that included not one, but two songs from The Basement Tapes.

Certainly the music was radically different from anything any other major artist was attempting at the time – tellingly, when Julie Driscoll and Manfred Mann covered two of Dylan’s new songs, they felt obliged to dress them up in the era’s sonic finery – and Certainly the singer-songwriter had earned a position as an avatar of taste: on the disc of outtakes that came with Let It Be… Naked, you can hear George Harrison blithely informing his Beatles that Dylan and The Band thought the best song on The White Album was Ringo’s countrified Don’t Pass Me By, although the audible skepticism of Paul McCartney’s response is something to behold. There’s so much diversity on The Basement Tapes Complete – stoned jokes, old folk ballads, covers of Hank Williams, Frank Sinatra, Bo Diddley and the Impressions – that it’s daft to try and make definitive statements about it. But listening to it almost 50 years on, one striking thing is how much they sound like the songs Dylan wrote before The Basement Tapes, how little they resemble a game-changing stylistic rupture destined to jolt any musician who heard them. Sign on the Cross and I Shall Be Released do tap into a vein of Americana forgotten during pop’s headlong rush into the future in the mid-60s, but tapping into veins of Americana forgotten by others was pretty much what Dylan had been doing before he relocated to Woodstock: while the Beatles were playing tape loops backwards and inviting sitar players into Abbey Road, he was ensconced in Nashville, making Blonde on Blonde with country and western session men so deeply uncool that when the singer meaningfully enquired about recreational activities, one of them suggested a game of golf. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture those same session musicians fleshing out You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere or Don’t Ya Tell Henry and the results slotting onto Dylan’s previous album, just as it’s easy to envisage Odds And Ends or Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread being reworked in the torrential style of Tombstone Blues.

But there’s one sense in which the music on The Basement Tapes feels utterly different to what came before. Had Dylan recorded You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere a year or two previously, it’s hard not to imagine the vocals would have been delivered with his patent, bug-eyed derision, the words elongated until every syllable felt like a sneer. That was the sound of a man pouring scorn from a great height, and it’s entirely absent on these six CDs: the albums that preceded The Basement Tapes sound like works of supreme confidence, but these recordings sound rickety and strange. That’s partly due to the fact that these were effectively rehearsals: the rough sound quality, the musicians fluffing notes, the absence, for the most part, of drummer Levon Helm. But it’s also a mood that seems to be emanating from Dylan himself. Sometimes he sounds like a man who thought the guy who shouted “Judas!” might have had a point after all, returning to the kind of songs he would have sung in folk clubs six years previously as if hoping to tunnel his way out of the mid-60s and back to a less chaotic, complicated time: Nine Hundred Miles, Young But Daily Growing, Johnny Todd (the latter, distractingly for the British listener of a certain age, set to the same tune as the theme from Z Cars).. Sometimes he sounds shattered and rueful, like a man reeling from the experience of being Bob Dylan. The most beautiful songs here are shot through with an affecting world-weariness: Too Much of Nothing, Edge of the Ocean (a gorgeous ballad that previously escaped the bootleggers), the astonishing I’m Not There (1956), a song as good as anything Dylan ever wrote. There’s a remarkable cover of Ian and Sylvia’s 1964 hit Four Strong Winds. The original is sung in the kind of slightly pompous folkie voice so expertly parodied in A Mighty Wind, but in Dylan’s hands it becomes a kind of defeated sigh.

By the time some of the music here began to circulate, Dylan wasn’t the only one feeling that way. The beatific idealism of the Summer of Love had begun to curdle, the appeal of the sonic experimentation Dylan never countenanced in the first place was wearing off: evidence of the havoc LSD could wreak on artists who used it to blast their music into the unknown began washing up. Perhaps that, as much as the rootsy file-under-Americana sound or the sheer quality of the songs, accounts for The Basement Tapes’ impact on rock music in the years that followed. In spring 1967, Dylan and the Band were out of step, but ahead of the curve. Now, 47 years on, even the listener overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of what’s on offer here – who doesn’t want to hear the false starts and fragments and gags – might conclude that the highlights are as timeless as rock music in the 60s got.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone: The Search for Leon Redbone - promo film

Leon Redbone’s life is a mystery. It is almost entirely based on rumors. And he’s okay with that. In the tradition of films like Be Here To Love Me and No Direction Home, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone: The Search for Leon Redbone goes beyond the myth, even as it adds to the legend, of this fabled performer. With performances by Redbone and appearances by Adam Sandler, Bonnie Raitt, Lorne Michaels, David Wilcox, Ringo Starr, Zooey Deschanel and more. Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone celebrates a true original, and one of the most admired musicians of the past 40 years.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Rembrandt's Late Works at the National Gallery

Rembrandt's Self Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669.
Rembrandt, Self Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669

Rembrandt: The Late Works review – triumph in master’s tragedy
National Gallery, London
This brilliant, brave journey through the tragedy of his fall reveals the true Rembrandt – a man at the end of his tether

Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
Sunday 12 October 2014

Rembrandt is so high in the ranking of great artists that our amassed reverence has sunk like syrup into the brown and gold surfaces of his paintings.

There he is in the first room of this startling exhibition, gazing back from his self-portraits, a sage and infinitely gentle soul: Rembrandt the master. Then the curators pull a hidden lever and the floor disappears.
Woman Bathing in a Stream, 1665

This brilliant, brave blockbuster reveals the true Rembrandt – a man at the end of his tether. It is a shocking and cathartic journey through the tragedy of his fall. By exposing that, it reveals his ultimate triumph. It is like seeing a great actor play King Lear and Prospero as a double bill.

In the second room hangs one of Rembrandt’s most bizarre and disturbing works, The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis. This mad history painting was commissioned in 1660 for Amsterdam town hall. Rembrandt was one of several artists hired to decorate its interior with noble scenes glorifying the Dutch republic
The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, 1660

He portrayed the rebellion of the ancient Batavians, a favourite patriotic legend of a republic that had recently freed itself from Spain. But he changed it into an image of madness and desolation.

Tradition had it that the rebel leader Claudius Civilis had only one eye. Instead of concealing or ennobling this lack as a conventional history painting might, Rembrandt homed in on it with morbid fascination. The empty eye socket of Claudius Civilis becomes the focal point of this painting of blind faith and blind courage – a desperate, scary drama of suicidal heroism.

This vision of extreme, amoral bravery with its dark suggestion that war, freedom and nation are empty myths was quickly taken down from the town hall.
Portrait of Frederik Ribel on Horseback, circa 1663

The censorship of one of his most ambitious paintings was a further humiliation for Rembrandt. For the man we meet here was a failure. In the 1650s, in his mid 40s, Rembrandt went bankrupt. He had to sell all the jewels and art he had collected in his wealthy years. The luscious gold-spun clothes and jewellery in his 1665 masterpiece The Jewish Bride, one of this exhibition’s most incandescent marvels, are imaginary replacements for the material possessions he lost.
The Jewish Bride. circa 1665-1669

As a bankrupt he depended on his son Titus and his housekeeper and lover Hendrickje Stoffels to do business on his behalf. For her pains, Stoffels was excommunicated from church for “practising whoredom with the painter Rembrandt”.
Love and sex are among the great themes of Rembrandt’s late art, as he insists on the beauty of the human stuff Christianity condemned. In one erotic etching he portrays a black woman naked. He loves her difference. But his most frequent model was Stoffels, who poses for him stepping into a stream or as the Roman heroine Lucretia choosing death over shame.

These portraits are both sexual and full of pathos. He wants to show the world – show history, show us – that she is no “whore” but his dignified and serious beloved.
Bathsheba at her Bath, 1654

She poses most poignantly as Bathsheba, who in the Old Testament was summoned to sleep with King David, simply because he wished it. A servant washes Bathsheba’s feet while she sits gravely meditating on David’s letter. Rembrandt hails the grandeur of her nakedness – and her sorrow, as she endures the burden of a king’s desire
The Syndics, 1662

So many sorrows, so many souls. They look at you from Rembrandt’s great group portrait, The Syndics (1662) – faces that suddenly seem alive and self-conscious, returning the beholder’s gaze with a kind of intimate pity. We are all in this together, they sadly, silently say.

Rembrandt’s compassionate drawings of a young woman hanging from a gibbet are among the show’s many shocks. She and the Syndics – even though the girl is an outcast, an executed criminal, and the Syndics are pillars of Amsterdam society – are somehow the same.

For they and we are headed to the same undiscovered country as the horribly cut-up corpse that Rembrandt portrays with eerie attentiveness in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Joan Deyman. A student holds the sawn off top of the dead man’s skull, as if it were a cup. The exposed brain is a labyrinth of pink goo.
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Joan Deyman, 1656

Rembrandt learned so much from his failures, his humiliations. He learned that we are all equal. The shadows of death gather around us like the black ink that overwhelms his etching of the crucifixion – but we can be heroes in love, in truth.

Here is the human condition laid bare by a man who never painted to reassure. No artist has ever been more modern than Rembrandt, if modernity means looking with total frankness at the darkness and the light.
Rembrandt: The Late Works, from 15 October, the National Gallery, London

Detail from Rembrandt's The Suicide of Lucretia, 1666.
The Suicide of Lucretia, 1666

How Rembrandt dressed his women for death
Simon Schama takes a closer look at two studies in sexual tragedy painted in the very last years of the great master's life

Simon Schama
The Guardian
Friday 17 October 2014

Rembrandt's Eyes was originally published 15 years ago, but the ambition to engage with the artist's life and work went back at least another decade to my earlier book, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, when I deliberately shut him out as a misleading Great Exception. By the time I eventually plucked up the courage to tackle the subject, the fashion in Rembrandt studies was beady-eyed disenchantment. The "G" word, as in genius, was dismissed as romantic fetishism; and talk of exceptional originality not explainable by historical or social context was written off as starry-eyed mush. At the same time the Rembrandt Research Project was at its most Jacobin, whittling down a bloated corpus to a scientifically verifiable core: a challenge ultimately defeated by an inability to agree on what the baseline of indisputable Rembrandtism looked like, or indeed how it could ever be fixed in the work of so notoriously shape-shifting an artist. The reclassification of many Rembrandt-effect paintings as works of pupils or assistants had pluralised the artist into a brand, rather than a solitary figure. This pluralisation led to a number of exhibitions whose selling point was to claim – unpersuasively – that but for the obsession of "genius" the pictures of "the workshop" could be valued on a par with those of the master.

Wilfully perhaps, I wanted to go against the grain of this flinty purism, not by restoring breathless enchantment but by giving full weight to the singularity of Rembrandt's achievement in revolutionising so many genres, especially group portraiture; to his reinvention of history painting; to his struggles in finding ways of fitting style to subject (stupendously evident in the great fragment of The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis); and in the two paintings of Lucretia. Following the poet Jeremias Decker, whose portrait Rembrandt painted and who could find no higher praise for the artist than to praise his mind, I wanted to register the strenuous creativity of his restless intellect, not just the emotive expressiveness. Aside from putting the incommensurability of the master paintings back at the centre of the story I aimed to give intensely detailed readings – the ekphrasis – which once was thought to be the condition of interpretation. There are passages of painting in the late works, now brought together at London's National Gallery, that are so dense in their texture, so thickly woven from spools and spills of brilliant colour that they seemed to call for a descriptive vocabulary not much encouraged by the cool norms or theoretically opaque weight of much modern art historical writing. I was more interested in the loaded brush than the loaded judgment.

Did I over-correct? You decide. But above all go to see the astonishing late paintings, many of them brought to London for the first time, and get a new pair of eyes, courtesy of the master.

In October 1662, when the chill Amsterdam nights were draining light from the afternoons, Rembrandt sold his wife Saskia's grave. The buyer was the gravedigger at the Oude Kerk who made a little money from these transactions, acquiring lots from the hard-pressed and reselling them to those who needed space for the freshly deceased. With the plague raging again in the city, taking more victims than ever before, the market for grave space was brisk and prices high. So men with round-blade shovels came to the place in the chancel behind the organ and turfed out Saskia's bones to make room for the next lodger, one Hillegondt Willems. It was not so very shocking. The fate of mortal remains was of no concern to the church; nor did the site of their repose have any bearing on the salvation of souls, decided alone and from the beginning by the Almighty. One might be buried on a dung heap and still be received into the bosom of the Father.

God knows, Rembrandt needed the money. He lived with just a few sticks of furniture, ate fish and cheese and hard bread and sour beer from plain pewter, and it was still too much. He pawned more, borrowed 537 guilders from Harmen Becker, who lived in grandeur in a stone-faced house on the Keizersgracht and who specialised in making loans to painters in difficulties and getting work from them as security. Rembrandt soon found himself binding over nine paintings (as well as two albums of etchings) to the loan shark, for which he would get nothing but temporary relief on back debts. Hendrickje Stoffels, his lover, managed as best she could. But she had been ground down by their struggles and now her health was failing. The Jordaan, with its houses pressed close against each other and the refuse-clogged alleys between them a cosy home for rats, was a nursery of infection.

In 1660 Rembrandt painted Hendrickje, her skin the colour of unrisen dough, dark eyes sunken into puffed-out cheeks. It was time for that perennial ritual in the Rembrandt household, the making of wills. This one needed to be especially careful, since once Hendrickje was gone, her seven-year-old daughter, Cornelia, would, if not otherwise indicated, get a court-appointed guardian who might see to it that Rembrandt had no access to the inheritance. So the will spelled out Hendrickje's wish that Rembrandt be appointed Cornelia's sole guardian; that in the event of Cornelia predeceasing him, his son Titus should be her heir; and that the partnership she had formed with Titus to trade in works of art should, after her death, also be controlled by Rembrandt. The painter would thus "receive the benefits [of Cornelia's legacy] and enjoyment thereof for his nourishment for the rest of his life". When she died in the spring of 1663, one of the 9,000 taken by the bubonic plague that year in Amsterdam, Rembrandt set her in a rented unmarked grave in the Westerkerk. Should the rent fall into arrears or lapse, the grave would be opened again for a new tenant. No one knows how long the body of Hendrickje Stoffels was left undisturbed.

Other women, then, had to model for Rembrandt's two paintings of the suicidal Lucretia, one on the point of thrusting a dagger into her body, the other with the weapon ripped back out, the wound's blood soaking her slit shirt. It is extraordinary that in the very last years of his life Rembrandt should have wanted to paint another study in sexual tragedy. But ever since the Susanna and the Elders of 1634, he had brooded on the relationship between carnal aggression, virtue, and sacrifice; between the rapine stare and the fatal touch; between sex and history. Ten years before, in Bathsheba at Her Bath, he had posed Hendrickje's undressed body in such a way as to provoke both desire and remorse, precoital greed and postcoital shame. Livy's famous history, set in the last days of the early Roman kingdom of the Tarquins, revisited many of those same dark themes that had long obsessed Rembrandt: a wife's innocent loyalty that itself inflamed lust; the malevolent abuse of princely sovereignty; an act of brutal possession that was repaid with political punishment.

Lucretia's husband, Collatinus, was a soldier on campaign for his king, besieging the Ardeans, when he made the mistake of bragging of his wife's superior virtue. To test the boast, he and his companions – among them Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the royal tyrant – rode back to Rome, only to find Lucretia at her spinning wheel, the very emblem of unimpeachable domesticity, while the other wives lounged about in dissipation. Days later, Sextus secretly returned to Lucretia's chamber, attempted to rape her and, when she resisted, threatened to kill both her and his own slave and leave them naked together in her bed. A double sacrifice followed. First Lucretia gives herself to her assailant. The following day she calls her father and husband, confesses her violation, and over their protests, and in their presence, takes a dagger to her heart. Over her corpse, father, husband, and companions (including Marcus Junius Brutus) swear a solemn oath not only to revenge her innocence but to rid Rome forever of the Tarquins. Lucretia's body becomes the altar of republican freedom.

The story, with its richly mingled bloodflow of sex and politics, had long been irresistible to history painters, who had depicted either the act of the rape itself or Lucretia's death in the presence of her friends and family. In both cases, opportunities offered themselves to expose the virtuous body either completely, as in the outrageously voluptuous nude of Giampetro Rizzi, or more conventionally, with a breast or at least a shoulder and the upper chest exposed. But to make us painfully conscious of the prior penetration of her body, Rembrandt has dressed her for death.
Lucretia, 1664

The artist has made something crushingly weighty of these costumes, building the paint until it is as solid and impenetrable as the ironclad armour of the heroine's virtue. Yet it is an armour that has been pierced. The deep green impasto of the Washington National Gallery painting is especially worked and layered in the lower part of the painting where Lucretia's skirt is vainly girdled by a belt that circles her body just below the waist. But all this heavy casing of the paint layer is calculated to make the sense of the soft vulnerability of the body within – not just in the painfully delicate exposure of the flesh at her throat and between her breasts, but in the fore-shortened left forearm at her opened sleeve – even more poignant. The fastenings of her bodice have been loosed and hang freely down to her waist. A teardrop pearl, the insignia of her virtue, is suspended just above the site where the dagger will rend the flimsy veil of her shift and into her heart. But her eyes are red with tears already shed, others gathering and brimming; her upper lip moist with misery.

In both paintings, Rembrandt, as was his habit, has removed the supporting cast, and with them any distractions that could disperse the concentrated force of the tragedy. But in the Washington painting (as in most past versions of the scene), there is a strongly implied sense of an audience, transferred to the spectator. Lucretia holds up her left hand, both in affirmation of her innocence and also to still the protests of her horrified household. But the Minneapolis version, painted two years later, around 1666, even though representing the subsequent scene where Livy makes the most of the gathered witnesses, effaces them even more completely, picturing Lucretia in the deepest solitude as her lifeblood leaches away. A genteel tradition has imagined that the heroine is holding on to a bell rope, to summon her friends and family. But this supposes her to be the doyenne of some country house in 19th-century Britain where the mistress rings for the servants by pulling on a cord that would ring in the downstairs parlor. Seventeenth-century Amsterdam knew no bell ropes. Lucretia is, in fact, both clinging (for support) and pulling on the cord which will open the concealing curtains of the canopy bed – the bed on which she has twice been violently penetrated, once in rape, once in atonement. She is at the moment of exposure, between private hurt and public grief.

There had never been a Lucretia like this (just as there had never been a Susanna or a Bathsheba like Rembrandt's), her face shiny and pallid with death, a painting of slits and gashes and apertures, where the torn, punctured body of the woman is made utterly naked by being ostensibly covered. The powerless belt slung across her hips in the Washington painting has, in the later work, become a slung sash extending from her right shoulder down to the left side of her waist and so travelling across the sites of her violation. It fixes our gaze, first on the deep V-shaped opening of her shirt and then on the terrible, spreading, soaking bloodstain that extends from her heart down toward her thighs. There is nothing like this bloodstain in all the countless martyrdoms of baroque painting, in all of the spurting severed heads and severed breasts; nothing that pulses quietly and fatally out of an unseen wound. Rembrandt has even made the folds of Lucretia's shift hang forward on either side of the wound, while between them, in a saturated depression, as if rehearsing the site of her rape, the blood-soaked fabric clings wetly to her skin.

Lucretia's stain had long created difficulties for the Christian tradition. The more severe authorities had thought her rape, whatever her personal virtue, a taint from which she could never be cleansed, and judged her suicide, an act abhorrent to God, as compounding rather than expiating the foulness. Calvinism, which placed the utmost emphasis on utter surrender to God's will, deemed self-murder a particularly horrifying defiance of divine dispensation, a complete forfeit of grace.

But then, Rembrandt is no orthodox Calvinist, no orthodox anything. His Lucretia has not taken arms against herself, much less against divine writ. Her pathos is of resignation. She has opened herself, bodily, to the possibility of mercy. Faultless, she has nonetheless sinned; spotless, she has become stained. But she hangs on to the cord, life ebbing from her, awaiting the embrace of compassion, the reception of grace.

• Rembrandt: The Late Works is at the National Gallery, London WC2N, until 18 January. 

Rembrandt's Eyes is being reissued this month by Penguin.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Last Night's Setlist - at the Old Princeton Landing, Half Moon Bay, California

Love Art Blues
Mellow My Mind
One Of These Days

Encore : Human Highway

There may have been more; the poor guy's been awake for two days! Hope he hasn't deprived himself of drink...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Clive James on James Garner: A Man for All Seasons

The Rockford Style
Eastwood? McQueen? Why James Garner is the real star of his era

Clive James
26 October 2011

STAND ASIDE FOR Maverick! Stand aside again for Jim Rockford! They live forever in the shining presence of one man! Let his name ring out: James Bumgarner!

Or perhaps not. At the appropriate moment, he changed his moniker. It was his one and only fiddle with the facts. Let this neatly written and well-supplemented little book—all of his friends provide relevant stories and fond judgments—set a new standard of integrity for the genre. But for a book to have that, the subject has to have the same, or he will have falsified the facts even before fame got to him.

James Garner, you can bet on it, has never told an important lie in his life. He really is like the men he plays onscreen, even unto the modest requirements symbolized by the humble trailer that serves Jim Rockford for a residence. He is thoughtful, honest, and fundamentally gentle, although he has knocked men down when riled. On the evidence given here, one doesn’t doubt that they asked for it. One doesn’t doubt this guy at all.

Every sane person’s favorite modern male movie star, Garner might have done even better if he’d been less articulate. In his generation, three male TV stars made it big in the movies: Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Garner. All of them became stars in TV Westerns: McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive, Eastwood in Rawhide, and Garner in Maverick. The only one of them who looked and sounded as if he enjoyed communicating by means of the spoken word was Garner. McQueen never felt ready for a film role until he had figured out what the character should do with his hands: that scene-stealing bit in his breakout movie, The Magnificent Seven, in which he shakes the shotgun cartridges beside his ear, was McQueen’s equivalent of a Shakespearean soliloquy, or of a practice session for a postatomic future in which language had ceased to exist.

As for Eastwood, he puts all that effort into gritting his teeth, because his tongue is tied. Garner could learn and deliver page after page of neat Paddy Chayevsky. If you can bear the idea of watching Eastwood struggling with a long speech, take a look at his self-constructed disaster movie White Hunter, Black Heart, in which he plays John Huston at the theoretical top of his mad male confidence: it’s like watching a mouse choke. Like McQueen, Eastwood never really left the Wild West, where little is said except by a six-gun. When McQueen and Eastwood moved up, they took the Wild West with them. Or at any rate, they took a context in which the important things are all unspoken, because nobody really knows how to speak.

Garner or his narrator could really have told us more about just how leaden-tongued modern Hollywood is. Writers like Chayevsky and Aaron Sorkin are rare cases, and the preferred way of writing is to bolt together clichés that have already been tested to near-destruction. When Garner speaks here about the marvelous Joan Hackett, he forgets to say that she spoke beautifully. Of what use was that, in a medium that spoke—still speaks—in a string of sunsets and crashed cars?

Garner, a quick study who could learn and deliver speeches long enough to make his awed listeners hold their breath to the breaking point, was the only one who seemed to enjoy producing intelligible noise. But Garner, compared with the other two, never really caught on as a big-screen leading man. Though tall and handsome, he was never remote: he had an air of belonging down here with us. As a small-screen leading man, he had done too thorough a job with the 20 or 30 good lines in every episode of Maverick or The Rockford Files to make an easy transition into a putatively larger medium that gave him many times more square feet of screen to inhabit, but many times less to say.

In a feature movie like Support Your Local Sheriff, he was charming, but his standout line of dialogue, the line that we all took home, was all that he got to take home as well. I loved that line, especially in its final variation, when he is beginning to lose patience with pests: “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that basically I’m on my way to Australia.” The tag became one of my own call signs, and I would try to get the soft richness of his voice into my own timbre. But in the movies, you just couldn’t get enough of him. When, in earlier years, he made the occasional movie that rang the bell—The Americanization of Emily,The Great Escape—it was a reminder that his television shows had more of him in them. And even today—except for those movies that, in his near-retirement leisure, he has been choosing with great care, sometimes developing the entire project—you still can never quite get enough of him. Nobody ever felt that way about Clint Eastwood, because all he ever did was grit his teeth as he varied his “art” movies with thrillers, the same story made half a dozen times while he was holding the same gun, a .44 Magnum that slowly acquired the patina of the Statue of Liberty. But I digress.

Garner, though he had to nerve himself to do it, spoke wonderfully, even though he spoke against his nature. In real life, he was comparatively unforthcoming, as people who were beaten up at home during their childhood sometimes are. (More of these domestic tortures in a minute, after we get a clearer focus on the person they happened to when he was not much more than knee-high to the people hitting him.) But he positively loved to read out written words. In The Americanization of Emily, he has a long speech by Chayevsky that Eastwood and McQueen, put together, could never have finished reading even silently. Garner flew through it. As it happens, his views about dying for your country were the same as Chayevsky’s, but it wasn’t mere congruence of mind that made the matchup of writer and actor so thrilling: it was synchronicity of tone. While mourning the continued loss of The Hospital, the great movie Chayevsky wrote for George C. Scott (if the role wasn’t first conceived with Scott in mind, we can still say that he was born to play it) (where is the damned thing?), let us think for a moment of what the great writer would have done for Garner, and for all of us, if only the great writer had lived to a proper age. If Garner himself were to think too much about such things, he would go nuts. One of the secrets of maintaining a long and fruitful career is not to mourn too much for the might-have-beens.

On the evidence the ghostly Winokur provides, Garner’s early jobs were never part of a plan leading toward show business. Such plans, in America, are usually called “dreams.” To the extent that the apparently aimless and perhaps ineducable Garner had them, all the dreams must have been of his stepmother, who was fond of beating him with a spatula and made him parade around in a girl’s dress while everyone called him “Louise.” He somehow limped away from these rehearsals doing a convincing impersonation of a sane man. The war in Korea tried to kill him a couple of times but got no closer than qualifying him for two Purple Hearts, bestowed for wounds that he later made a point of shrugging off.

Honesty about himself is important to him. We feel, when reading, that he is leaving out none of his vices: he swore too much when he played golf, but only because he couldn’t bring himself to cheat. Traditionally, Hollywood stars are allowed to cheat at everything, including marriage, but Garner has quite evidently played it straight all along. (McQueen notoriously milked the budget of every movie—if the hero he was playing wore a suit, it would mean 10 more Savile Row suits for McQueen—and Eastwood, worshipped by now as a pillar of artistic integrity, has never expected himself to present the picture of faithfulness that is provided here of Garner.) The question about Garner is not whether he has really played it as straight as he says but whether he has ever played anything.

But the answer has to be yes, and the role he has played is (you guessed it) James Garner. Aside from the solid nice-guy basis provided by mother nature (or stepmother nature, if you prefer to think that a little routine homicidal mania makyth the man), he has had to make it all up. Nothing was given to him, except the looks. He had to deepen his voice (he never tells us how he did it: perhaps, in these censorious days, he prefers to omit the information that he did it the way Lauren Bacall did, by steamboating a few thousand cigarettes). Even today, he is not really comfortable speaking to a roomful of people: the camera is a way of not having to do so. (And even to the television camera, his discomfort shows if he has to speak in propria persona: in a tribute to Doris Day, he praised her devotedly, but it was obviously only the obligation of a close friendship that could make him speak at all.)

As he reveals several times during the course of this short book, he thinks actors should say what is set down for them—which rather rules out the prospect of speaking impromptu. By listening, he learned that the script is the foundation of the house. He was always a great one for learning things, and the key to that was to keep his ears cocked. In his pre-television career, when he was playing one of the silent judges in a touring company of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, he learned that listening properly to the other actors is the only way to keep your face alive for the audience. If you don’t listen, they won’t look. On set, he learned not to sit around and shoot the bull for too long with the crew: better to study the camera, treating the various parts of its façade as parts of a face. If it’s you that’s supposed to be delivering lines from offscreen, be there to deliver them on the spot instead of looping them afterward. It will sound better for you, and look better for everybody. (There are plenty of actors hiding in their trailers who don’t know that one.)

All of his skills have been improved by study—often of other actors. Fans of Henry Fonda will be glad to find that Garner copied a little dance step in Local Sheriff from My Darling Clementine. Garner is good throughout the book when speaking about most other actors, but far too generous when praising his buddy Marlon Brando. “We were both rebels” sounds like a rare instance of his normally finely tuned ghost letting the tone control slip, but there’s nothing wrong about praising Brando as long as you admit that the capacity for industrial sabotage that he brought to so many of his film sets was another form of robbery: somewhere, somebody was paying for every extra hour that Brando’s behavior cost. Still on the subject of Brando, a judgment like “best movie actor we’ve ever had” would mean more if Garner had taken room to say that Alan Arkin was a much better movie actor but didn’t look it.

It’s dissatisfying to find Garner so predictable about actors, when he’s otherwise so open and honest. But no one can complain about his honesty when it comes to the executives who were still, in those days, running the industry like a canyonful of horse thieves. At a time when Jack Benny was earning $25,000 a week on television, Garner was starring in Maverick for a 50th of that amount, and practically paying for his own pants. It might have been treatment like that, when McQueen was doing Wanted: Dead or Alive, that made McQueen into the future burglar of any movie’s budget, but you can’t be made into a thief except to feed your family. Garner was never a thief. He played it straight over money, and expected everyone else to as well.

That was a revolutionary attitude in Hollywood, where everybody expected the written deal to be a mere preliminary to the subsequent larceny. The problem wasn’t so much the system as it was the custom. When the studio system finally came apart and the big moguls were no longer on the telephone together except via Tokyo, the custom continued of robbing the artists. It continues to this day—I have a director friend who has given his career to making off-trail movies but he has found to his cost, and repeatedly, that his backers will back out when the thing is nine-tenths complete and leave him to finance the remaining tenth, because they know he will mortgage his house (again) rather than abandon the project. Garner, whose natural integrity makes you wonder why he is not a Quaker or an Amish person or something—how do you escape with so much virtue from a house ruled by a sadist?—simply hates such an attitude. When he finally got around to studying the accounts for the worldwide television reruns and saw how Lew Wasserman and Universal were robbing him, he sued them. Nobody ever does that.

Garner did it, and got some millions back when he finally agreed with the thieves to settle out of court, he having been vindicated and they, no doubt, still with a mountain range of stolen money yet to spend. The impressive thing here is that Garner was in no way a born litigant. He doesn’t like having his time wasted, any more than anyone else. He just wanted to correct an anomaly, to punish an offense: to get justice, if you wish. You could hand this book as a primer on ethics to any young man just reaching the age of choosing his way in life. Perhaps the most useful thing it shows is that you need not panic if the choice is not clear: things sometimes just happen. Given his proclivities, Garner could have driven racing cars. But by accident, he wandered into a situation where they were looking for an actor roughly his shape and size.

Later on, he became a renowned amateur race-car driver anyway, like Paul Newman. And although Newman drove race cars onscreen to formidable effect, he never got the chance to be a Formula One star onscreen, as Garner did in Grand Prix, the split-screen guy-thing blockbuster by John Frankenheimer. Garner likes that movie a bit too much—the story line is even worse than he says—but maybe he still smells high-octane gasoline. A measure of his generosity and understanding is that concerning Grand Prix, he refrains from making the most of his opportunity to call McQueen a dolt, which the bullet-headed one clearly was. Grand Prix was McQueen’s starring vehicle if he wanted it. He walked away from it. Then, when Garner took it, McQueen had the hide to behave as if Garner had stolen it.

Perhaps the equivalent book about McQueen should be handed to your young man as a guide to what not to do. I have an idea for packaging the two books together. But I wouldn’t want to do anything that Mr. Garner might not like, and I imagine the same sentiment is general throughout show business. In every field of creative activity, there are people famous for their goodness: they are rarely at the top of the tree, which is a harsh environment. But the occasional one is. In time, James Garner’s lasting importance might be that he showed how a television career and a movie career could be fruitfully combined. But it must be said that the TV actors have a very good reason for leaving a hit show behind when the moment comes, and Garner and his ghost have done a very good job of showing what that reason is.

The work is just too hard. A good show takes more than a week to make, so making one a week leaves no time at all. The mental strain is vivid, and even the mere physical strain can leave a strong man needing knee replacements. In the later episodes of The Rockford Files, that deep pain in Jim’s eyes was probably the spin-off from about six different areas of arthritis at once. So successful in television that he could rarely stop work to make the movies that would have made him a great film star, he wore the silver shackles of the golden slave ship. James Bumgarner, in my country, Australia—the magic land to which you were always on your way—we have a name for you. We call you a hero.

Clive James is an Australian poet and critic who has lived in London since the early 1960s.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Lynda Bellingham RIP

Lynda Bellingham obituary
Star with a wide-ranging TV and stage career, best remembered as the ‘Oxo mum’ in a long-running TV ad

Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian
Monday 20 October 2014 

Lynda Bellingham, who has died aged 66, played many roles during her five-decade professional career, but became synonymous with one. “Being a mum making gravy was not quite how I had seen my career advancing,” she said once. But between 1983 and 1999 that’s what she did in 42 “episodes” of an award-winning TV ad. Since the early 1980s, her name was rarely mentioned in print without it being prefaced with “Oxo mum”.

During her career, though, she starred on TV as the vet’s wife Helen Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small in the 80s and as one of two divorcees trying to forge a relationship in the 90s sitcom Second Thoughts, opposite James Bolam. On stage she was best known for playing the lead in a touring production of Calendar Girls between 2008 and 2012. She was also, for four years between 2007 and 2011, a regular member of the team on Loose Women, the daytime TV chat show. She had few regrets about how her career turned out, summarising its trajectory thus on her website: “Arrived in London at the Central School [for Speech and Drama] in 1966 and never looked back. I had a ball!”

Bellingham, though, knew that gravy, like Lady Macbeth’s damned spot, left an indelible mark. “In many ways I was very proud of what we did, but there is no doubt that my credibility as an actress was knocked,” she reflected. “Certain people in the industry would never employ me as a serious actress after it. On the other hand, it gave me the financial security to go off and work in the theatre for very little money.” Her performances as Mrs Oxo were reportedly responsible for a 10% increase in stock cube sales.

But being typecast in the role of, as she put it in her autobiography, “the nation’s favourite mum”, wasn’t the only reason she missed out on roles that could have sent her career in a different direction. Her friend the writer Lynda La Plante once rang to ask her if she was interested in playing a detective for television. Too busy with sitcom and advertising jobs, she turned down the chance to play DI Jane Tennison, later taken by Helen Mirren. Bellingham used her autobiography, Lost and Found (2010), to complain about the fact that she was never allowed to reprise her 1986 role as a time lord on Doctor Who during its revival under Russell T Davies.

She was born Meredith Lee Hughes in Montreal, Quebec. Her Canadian birth mother, Marjorie Hughes, gave her daughter up for adoption to an English couple. Her biological father, Carl Hutton, was a crewman whom Marjorie met on board ship as she sailed from Canada to New Zealand to meet the parents of her husband, a pilot who was missing in action during the second world war.

Her adoptive parents, Don and Ruth Bellingham, had been staying in Canada, where Don was training pilots for the British Overseas Airways Corporation. The couple returned to the UK and raised the girl they called Lynda on their farm near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, with their two biological daughters, Barbara and Jean. Lynda found out she was adopted only when she was in her teens. She recalled the revelation in her autobiography: “One day, when I skipped school to go to the pictures, my mother blurted out: ‘The trouble is, Lynda, we just don’t know who you are any more. God knows where you come from. We’ll never know. We’ve dreaded this moment.’” In 1990, she met her birth mother in Canada and they stayed in touch until Marjorie’s death.

She developed an enthusiasm for acting at school and in local theatre clubs, but gave her best early performance at the Central School, where, after receiving a rejection letter, she turned up in person and demanded of George Hall, head of stage, that he reconsider. Hall told her he would not but, when she returned home dejectedly, her parents told her that they had just got off the phone – he had changed his mind and given her a place. Why? Bellingham reported it was because Hall believed that “even if I was the worst actress in the world, I would always work because I was so pushy”.

Bellingham proved just as dogged as Hall hoped. After graduating she worked in Frinton and Crewe, amassing the 40 weeks of theatre necessary to get an Equity card. Then, she believed, TV and cinema stardom would follow. She was rejected for a role on ITV’s early 70s afternoon soap General Hospital because, as she put it, they were casting a pretty nurse and a fat nurse and “I fell into neither category”. Undaunted, she put her hair in a bun, rouged her cheeks, sported flat shoes, and wore a dress that cut her legs across the calves, making them look twice their normal size. Thus attired, she demanded a second audition as the fat nurse – and got the part, as Nurse Hilda Price.

Her romantic life, which she detailed unflinchingly in her autobiography, included two disastrous marriages. She married the film producer Greg Smith in 1975. Shortly after the wedding, he cast her in the film Confessions of a Driving Instructor. “I had only been married a few weeks and my husband, the Big Producer, was screwing his way through all the female artists,” she recalled. “Just not me.” They divorced soon afterwards.

Her second marriage, in 1981, was to a Neapolitan restaurant owner, Nunzio Peluso, with whom she had two children, Michael and Robbie. This turned out worse. He submitted her to 15 years of physical and mental abuse and after their divorce in 1996 was subject to a restraining order. She wrote, with understatement: “Playing the nation’s favourite mum on screen and going home to an unhappy and abusive relationship was extremely stressful.”

On her 60th birthday, in 2008, she was married for a third time, to a mortgage broker Michael Pattemore, with whom she later ran a property business based in London.

Among the roles she was particularly proud of were playing opposite Janet Suzman and Maureen Lipman in the Old Vic’s production of The Sisters Rosensweig at the Old Vic (1994-95) and in the Royal Court production of a drama about sex tourism, Sugar Mummies (2006). She also played the Empress Alexandra in Gleb Panfilov’s Russian film The Romanovs: A Crowned Family (2000), about the last year and a half of the lives of Tsar Nicholas II and his family until their execution in July 1918. Her voice was dubbed into Russian. In 2009, she appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, and was eliminated in the fourth week. In 2012, she presented a daytime cookery series, My Tasty Travels, and in 2013 Country House Sunday.

In 2013, she disclosed on Twitter that she had been diagnosed with cancer, and last month announced that she had chosen to stop having chemotherapy. She was made OBE in the 2014 New Year’s honours list.

Bellingham is survived by her husband and sons.

• Lynda Bellingham, actor, born 31 May 1948; died 19 October 2014

Monday, 20 October 2014

Christopher Ricks - Bob Dylan: The Lyrics Since 1962

American folk pop singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, seen in April 1965.
The Most of Bob Dylan

By Alan Kozinin
7 October 2014

When music fans in the 1960s described Bob Dylan’s songs, in terminology of the day, as “heavy,” they didn’t know the half of it.

A hefty new edition of Mr. Dylan’s collected work, “The Lyrics: Since 1962,” due from Simon & Schuster in November, is slightly larger than an LP, more than 960 pages long, and weighs about 13 and a half pounds. It’s actually the more affordable of two limited editions — a printing of 3,500 copies (500 are for the British market) — and will sell for $200. A numbered edition of 50 copies, each signed by Mr. Dylan, will have a slipcase and gilded pages; that edition is priced at $5,000.

“It’s the biggest, most expensive book we’ve ever published, as far as I know,” Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s president and publisher said. The signed edition is available from; the $200 version will be available in bookshops.

The book is not simply an update of the previous compilation, “Lyrics: 1962-2001.” Christopher Ricks, a British literary scholar on the faculty of Boston University (and the author of the 2003 analytical overview, “Dylan’s Visions of Sin”), edited the lyrics and wrote a lengthy, philosophical introduction, with the sisters Lisa and Julie Nemrow as co-editors.

The Nemrows, who run a design company and imprint, Un-Gyve Press, also created the book’s luxurious layout. The songs are presented chronologically, including alternative versions released as part of Mr. Dylan’s archival “Bootleg Series.” The album covers, front and back, are reproduced.

The way the songs are laid out is meant “to help the eye see what the ear hears,” Mr. Ricks said. “If you print the songs flush left,” he added, “it doesn’t represent, visually, the audible experience.” So refrains, choruses and bridges are indented. And where Mr. Dylan intended a line, however long, to be unbroken, it sprawls across the 13-inch-wide page.

How did the editors know which lines were meant to be unbroken? Did Mr. Dylan provide feedback or comments? Mr. Karp said he had heard that Mr. Dylan provided notebooks and manuscripts. Mr. Ricks refused to elaborate.

“I think the right thing for us,” he said, “is not to go into the question of the particular kinds of help and assistance and advice that we were in a position to receive.”

The editors’ other mission was to show the different ways Mr. Dylan has performed the songs over time, or even at a single recording session. When a song’s previously published lyrics differ from what Mr. Dylan sang on the original recording, the differences are noted. So are differences that crop up on officially released live recordings, or outtakes from the “Bootleg Series.” (Only officially released albums are considered.)

“Some of the changes were minute things — a telling change of preposition, perhaps — which make a gigantic difference,” Mr. Ricks said. Others include added or deleted verses, or show Mr. Dylan’s composition process at work. The version of “Tombstone Blues” on “Highway 61 Revisited,” for example, opens with the lines: “Well John the Baptist, after torturing a thief.” An annotation shows that in an alternative version, released on “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7,” Mr. Dylan sings: “Ah, John the blacksmith, he’s torturing a thief.”

Who does Mr. Ricks regard as the audience for the book?

“It is, in a way, a work of scholarship,” he said. “But it is also a book for people who love these songs, and who would be grateful to be reminded that these songs are always in a state of extraordinary flux. They’re amazing, shape-changing things.”

Press release from Simon and Schuster:

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Garry Winogrand: American Street Photographer

New York, 1962.
New York, 1962

Garry Winogrand: the restless genius who gave street photography attitude
From the Bronx to Dealey Plaza, Garry Winogrand pounded the streets of America every day of his life photographing reluctant subjects – and he left behind 6,500 undeveloped films when he died. A powerful new retrospective makes sense of the torrent of imagery by the prolific American master

Sean O'Hagan
Wednesday 15 October 2014

“When I’m photographing I see life. That’s what I deal with,” Garry Winogrand once said. Life, for him, was the energy of the street in all its unruly momentum. In the 1960s and 70s, he defined street photography as an attitude as well as a style – and it has laboured in his shadow ever since, so definitive are his photographs of New York.
New York, 1955.
New York, 1955

Thirty years after his untimely death in 1984, aged 56, Winogrand’s legend endures: the instinctive genius of American photography whose disinterest in technique was matched by an obsessive devotion to shooting on the street all day, every day. Towards the end of his life, photographing became a kind of mania – he left behind 6,500 rolls of unprocessed film.

As this retrospective at Jeu de Paume in Paris shows, the challenge of containing the photographer’s frantic vision is a singular one, not least because, as curator Leo Rubinfien points out, he “often worked in a headlong way, preferring to spend another day shooting rather than processing his film or editing his pictures”. Perhaps because of his seeming disregard for his own archive, Winogrand has been, as Rubinfien puts it, “the most sparsely studied and least understood of his peers, who included Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander.”
New York, 1960.
New York, 1960

Not only that, but Winogrand’s energy is so overpowering and his vision so democratic and wide-ranging that the curious visitor may find it hard to find a way into his work. This chronological show, which arrives from the Met in New York, is an instructive place to start insofar as it retraces and illuminates Winogrand’s headlong creative journey without taming his restless spirit.
New York, 1962.
New York, 1962

It begins – where else? – on the streets of 1950s New York or, to be precise, the crowded sidewalks between midtown and Central Park, which give off the aura of a city still stuck in an earlier, tougher time. This section, titled Down From the Bronx, includes two very early, atypically spartan images of lone pedestrians wandering deserted snowy streets. Soon, though, we see the beginnings of a style – a stern woman shot up-close on a bustling street, a cigarette clutched between her lips. She may be unaware of Winogrand’s presence, but the two other passersby are not. They cast coldly suspicious eyes at his intrusive lens.
Central Park Zoo, New York, 1967.
Central Park Zoo, 1967

This single image signals much of what is to come. The intimacy, the awkward expression of the central subject and the accusatory stares of passersby are the results of a naturally bullish approach – a working-class Bronx attitude – and they recur throughout his life’s work. While his contemporary, Joel Meyerowitz, stalked the streets of New York trying to be invisible, Winogrand did not mind being noticed. Revealingly, though, many of his reluctant subjects only seem to register his presence at the very moment he presses the shutter. In one of his best-known images, a chubby girl stares at him curiously, while another, older girl catches him out of the corner of her eye as she is being snogged by her boyfriend. As is often the case with Winogrand’s photographs, you long to find out what happened next.
Garry Winogrand
New York, 1969.

There’s a similar moment when a dapper Italian-looking gent strides towards Winogrand’s camera, hand upturned and an expression that says “What gives?” And in one famous shot from 1959, a monkey glares at his camera from the rear of an open-top car, while the couple in the front seats seem more concerned with the creature’s angry reaction than with the intruder who provoked it. You cannot help but feel the monkey was on to something – a stranger coming this close does not usually have one’s best intentions at heart. Winogrand, though, was not a cruel photographer in the way Arbus was or, more pertinently, Bruce Gilden can be. Arbus, in fact, nailed it when she described Winogrand as “an instinctive, nearly primitive ironist, so totally without malice, so unflinching, even cheerful ...”.
Park Avenue, New York, 1959

His subjects tend to stare back at his camera sadly or in a slightly bewildered fashion. Around them, the world tilts – the horizon line is seldom level – but there is always what might be called a Winograndian logic to his compositions, an instinctive grasp of the geometry of a good photograph. His interest was the rhythm of the streets and the people who created it. There is a melancholy visual poetry in all these anonymous passing souls with their sad, strained, beleaguered or beautiful faces as they go about their daily business. Again and again, Winogrand captured photographs within photographs, smaller narratives within the bigger picture. A row of animated people on a park bench could easily be broken down into three distinct images about intimacy, fatigue and human curiosity. As it is, though, it is pure Winogrand: a metaphor for city life with all its snatched moments of quiet relief amid the constant distraction.
New York World’s Fair, 1964

The second section of the show, named after Winogrand’s description of himself as A Student of America, ranges from California to Texas. If anything, his eye becomes more bemused by the America he encounters in all its contradictions. He photographed the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 1960, lurking on the fringes of the main events to capture spectator reactions. In one mischievous image, the young John F Kennedy is just another face in a group of more animated faces gathered around him.
John F. Kennedy, Democratic National Convention, 1960

Four years later, Winogrand homes in on the hawkers peddling postcards of Kennedy’s assassination site on the streets of Dealey Plaza in Dallas. By then, his photographs had become (by his own restless standards) more reflective, even still. In another image taken in Dallas, a latter-day cowboy seems to float in the air above a pavement, sombre and out of time. On a New York street, a beautiful woman in a black coat and a white poloneck looks, at first glance, like a nun. Carrying a single white flower, she strides forward, looking either anguished or elated. The energy has shifted in these images and people seem more cut off from each other, more insular and self-absorbed.
Dallas, 1964

The bleak tone continues into the final section, Boom and Bust, in which Winogrand photographed once more in Texas and Los Angeles where, as an unreconstructed son of the Bronx, he surely felt a stranger. It is harder to engage emotionally with these later pictures, but cumulatively, they denote a darker state of mind – Winogrand’s as well as America’s. Many were selected posthumously and they attest to his tangible sense of disenchantment with America and, perhaps, with photography. In one intriguing image, a woman lies prone outside a fast-food restaurant on an LA street as a Porsche rolls by and people dine inside, seemingly oblivious. It could be a still from a noir film or a real accident. There is an unsettling heartlessness here that is, in Winogrand’s eyes, profoundly American.
Los Angeles, 1980 - 83

“I look at the pictures I have done up to now,” he once wrote, “and they make me feel that who we are and how we feel and what is to become of us just doesn’t matter. Our aspirations and successes have been cheap and petty. I can only conclude that we have lost ourselves ...” That aimlessness he sensed in America is all too palpable in Winogrand’s later work, and it seems to have infected him, too, profoundly altering his way of seeing even as he continued to photograph the world around him with a new urgency. He died in March 1984, one month after being diagnosed with cancer. This consistently illuminating retrospective makes beautiful sense of an unruly life and the torrent of images it produced.

• Garry Winogrand is until 8 February 2015. Details: +33 (0)1 47 03 12 50. Venue: Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Garry Winogrand, on the prowl in Los Angeles. Ted Pushinsky

Never Before Seen Photos From Legendary Street Photographer Garry Winogrand

Mark Murrmann
Friday 8 March 2013

The GarryWinogrand retrospective is on view at the Jeu de Paume, Paris (October 14, 2014 through January 25, 2015); and the Fundacion MAPFRE, Madrid (March 3 through May 10, 2015).

When Garry Winogrand died in 1984, the celebrated street photographer left behind close to 6,500 rolls of undeveloped film. Now his old friend and student Leo Rubinfien, along with Erin O'Toole, a curator at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, and Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, have mined this trove to produce the first major Winogrand retrospective in almost three decades. The touring exhibit—which kicked off at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in March 2013—and accompanying catalog consist of more than 400 images derived largely from Winogrand's later days roaming the streets of Los Angeles with his Leicas. While he may be best known for his New York City scenes, these photos prove that Winogrand's wry eye could unpack the social complexities of Cold War America no matter where he prowled.

I went to check out the exhibit with San Francisco street photography legend Ted Pushinsky, who had casually mentioned he knew Winogrand toward the end of his life. (He shot the photo up above.) And as we took it all in, Pushinsky told me about their hangouts down in LA. It was a lot to take in. The massive exhibit borders on overwhelming, which is fitting given how prolific Winogrand was. It traces his career in something of a linear fashion, in three sections: Down From the Bronx (earlier work shot primarily while he was living in New York), A Student of America (his work from the mid-'60s through the '70s, from all over America), and finally Boom and Bust (mostly shot in Southern California, and much of which has never been viewed). Hanging on the walls, intermingled with his photos, are Winogrand's original contact sheets, pieces of this three Guggenheim Fellowship applications, letters to his daughters, and other personal artifacts. The phone book-size catalog gives photography fiends even more to chew on.

New York, 1950

Ted Pushinsky: I met Garry at the San Francisco Art Institute around 1980. He was giving a lecture, speaking about his work, giving a slideshow. Definitely speaking off the cuff. I went up to introduce myself. I wasn't necessarily an admirer of his work, but there was a photo in The Family of Man that meant a lot to me. I knew he took it. We had a mutual friend, so that was a basis for him saying, "Next time you're in LA, come visit." At the time I was writing screenplays, so I was back and forth in LA.

Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, 1960

Los Angeles, 1964
Mother Jones: You mention that you weren't necessarily an admirer. So what prompted you to contact him in Los Angeles?

TP: Garry was a photographer of some stature whose work I got to know. Having the opportunity to spend some time with him, I was hoping some of what he knew would rub off on me. Going down to LA, I had the opportunity to walk the streets with him and see what drove him.

MJ: At this point in his life, in the early '80s, just a few years before he died, Garry was well known for having people drive him around LA while he shot out the passenger window. I imagine you drove him a bit?

TP: I did the driving, yeah. I was staying in Santa Monica. I'd meet Garry at the Farmer's Market, have some breakfast, get in my car and drive to Venice. We'd walk the streets of Venice, sometimes Hollywood. As Garry told me, "I don't go on the freeways, I hang out the window and shoot." I respected that. No big deal for me.

Los Angeles, 1964

John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, 1968

New York, circa 1969

MJ: So do you feel like anything rubbed off on you?

TP: Perhaps a work ethic. Not anything in the way of teaching a way of seeing. I feel like I developed that myself. But Garry worked hard. He got up and started shooting. I get up and maybe read the newspaper. He shot an awful lot. It made me think, maybe I'm missing out if I'm not shooting.

MJ: Was there anything in the exhibit you recognized from when you were shooting with him?
Coney Island, 1952

TP: No, but what was great was seeing that picture from The Family of Man. It's a couple in the surf at Coney Island. That was part of the basis of me wanting to meet Garry. Because my parents had met in Coney Island and there's this photo of a couple shot from behind. I used to fantasize that it was my parents and it was shot by this guy named Garry Winogrand. And it turned out Garry went to the same high school as my father. Seeing that photograph was really great, in the Back to the Bronx section of the show.

Fort Worth, Texas, 1974

Fort Worth, Texas, 1975

MJ: You mentioned feeling a bit overwhelmed by the exhibit. I shared that feeling. Do you think there was too much?

TP: No. It was a great exhibit, like the [Diane] Arbus and [Robert] Frank exhibits. It requires two or three trips to the museum—to spend two or three hours in two rooms and come back to spend some more time.

MJ: Is Winogrand's work worthy of a massive retrospective like this?

TP: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. He had a way of seeing unlike anybody else. The retrospective gives us the opportunity to see things that nobody had ever seen before. It was great.

Point Magu Naval Air Station, California, circa 1979

Los Angeles, circa 1980–83

MJ: And what about his later work? John Szarkowski, the former director of photography at the New York Museum of Modern Art who put together the last large Winogrand exhibit in the late '80s, was quite dismissive of it, and that's partially what led Leo Rubinfien to revisit it in this exhibit. Does the later work hold up to his earlier work that he's better known for?

TP: Absolutely. I was impressed by it. It was funny hearing Leo Rubinfien talking about Szarkowski not liking the work. I was surprised by that. I was was wondering what I would see. I though it was just as strong.

MJ: Do you think that's because, as Leo mentioned, with the later work it might take going through 25 or 50 contact sheets to get one image that held up to the older work?

TP: Not at all. It wasn't Garry that went through those 50 contact sheets. Garry might have found nothing worth printing at all. He might have found 30 worth putting up on the wall. It only had to do with Garry because he shot it. They did a great job though. Every picture was strong. There could have been more.

MJ: I've read criticism of people going back over his work, picking photos that he didn't see. And they noted that in the exhibit—they mentioned which images Garry had marked on the contact sheets and which ones he hadn't marked as selections to print.

TP: I saw that. I don't think there's a problem with that, unless he specified in his will as some artists do, "Throw away everything. Burn it all!" Then you hate the fact that maybe they burnt the Kafka manuscript that you didn't get a chance to read. We were privileged to get to have someone do that for us.

MJ: When you would hang out with Garry, would you just drive him, or were you shooting alongside him?

TP: Oh, no. We would drive to a destination, usually the boardwalk in Venice or the Santa Monica pier. We would walk along together. I have some photographs of him shooting. I would try not to shoot what he's shooting, but he's shooting everything, so it's hard not to.