Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brian Sewell’

England My England, Bulgarian Style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th June, 2013

England My England 2Tony PalmerThe British author and film-maker Tony Palmer has had a lifelong passion for music, though unusually he straddles both pop and classical and has made a whole series of remarkable films covering both genres. Tonight, in the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Kensington he attended a screening of his 1995 masterwork about Henry Purcell, England My England, which he says he made for a mere £90,000 — amazing when one considers the length of the movie and its brilliance. Several days shooting took place in Bulgaria — hence the link, as well as there having been a Bulgarian associate producer for the film — including shots of medieval streets meant to conjure up the packed dwellings of seventeenth century London during the plague, as well as a set of building facades on fire representing the Great Fire of London. The film has some first rate acting by Simon Callow as Charles II (and the actor-playwright in a parallel contemporary story line) and Michael Ball as Purcell. But the thing that really makes England My England truly unforgettable is the sublime level of the performances of Purcell’s works, which are seen in the context of his life and British history, including both rehearsals and performances as if in the period. The ending aptly incorporates a stunning Dido’s Lament. The script picks up on the poetry of Dryden and other librettists in a skilfully controlled screenplay by the late John Osborne. Osborne’s quirkiness comes through at times, not least in a sudden blast against the Common Market, forerunner of the European Union, which Tony Palmer warmly endorsed, but struck some audience members as misplaced. In the Q&A session after the screening he described the EU as a ‘con’. But his most vitriolic remarks — and he is, as one might say, a plain speaker — were reserved for some members of the audience who had talked inanely almost non-stop during the film, repeatedly glancing at their mobile phones to see the time, before noisily leaving two thirds of the way through, and even more so for what Palmer called the idiotic presenters, all female as it happens, who front Arts programmes on both the BBC and the independent channels these days. I had better not mention the young ladies’ names as they might justifiably consider the criticism libelous. But Tony Palmer is right, of course, about the way that television talks down to viewers as if they are thick and need to have everything explained or made ‘relevant’and he was delighted that he got a handwritten note of solidarity from the acerbic Arts critic Brian Sewell who read some of the director’s opinions in yesterday’s Times.

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Growing Old Disgracefully

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th January, 2013

Outsider IIBrian SewellThe Evening Standard’s freelance art critic, Brian Sewell, has established himself as something of a national treasure, even if some of his colleagues in the art world have a tendency to kick him in the shins. He is often acerbic, indeed can be curmudgeonly, and is widely believed to be fonder of dogs than of humans. That not withstanding, he has had an eclectic cricle of professional acquaintances and friends; though I have  never met him, I used to hear about him from his close pal the Kensington Liberal, Colin Darracott, before the latter moved down to Bath. I have entered Sewell’s world backwards, so to speak, by reading the second volume of his memoirs, Outsider II*, before acquiring the first, so have savoured the flavours of an octogenarian looking back on the second part of his life, when his work as an art dealer and expert consultant was largely replaced by his activities as a critic — an ucompomising one, which is why his long essays in the Standard are often such fun, as well as informative. I don’t always agree with his critical judgments, but then why should I necessarily? What he has to say about painters is always worthwhile reading, and in this book one has the added delights of artistic gossip, from his appropriately surreal encounters with Salvador Dali in Spain to his loyal friendship with Anthony Blunt in London and his love-hate relationship with his live-in mother in her final decrepitude. As those who have read extracts of either volume of his memoirs will already know there is plenty of graphic descripion of casual homosexual encounters, from the old guards barracks at Hyde Park to the village boys of Turkey. But if Sewell, like Oscar Wilde, had his feet firmly in gutter he also has his eyes on the stars.

Quartet, £25

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