The Graduate (1967)

Dir: Mike Nichols, with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft

I thought this was a brilliant film on many levels. As with “Blow Up” or “Alfie”, I had the idea beforehand that it would be about the “swinging sixties” and youthful idealism/rebellion . . . but it’s really about alienation again. And being young. It’s also very funny and satirical – “one word . . . plastics” – and somewhat poignant. The images remain with me – Benjamin like a drowned man in the swimming pool; in the deep end in a shallow world – and the songs are perfect.

It’s a film of two halves. Part one: Benjamin discovers sex . . . and then what? Part two: Benjamin discovers love . . . and then what? For all its gorgeous US west coast colour and luxury, the final scene of ambiguous sidelong glances echoes “A Kind of Loving” without the optimism!

The film’s treatment of Mrs Robinson – always “Mrs Robinson” – veers between sympathy (the abandoned interest in art) and vicious (final scene straight out of the Snow White stepmother file). Hoffman’s rather blank, affectless delivery works well for the brilliant lines he has.

Despite the obvious differences, there was something about The Graduate that reminded me of l’Eclisse: the failed desire to feel something real in busy, busy world.

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Leeds today

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Floor mosaic from Aldborough, North Yorks, 300-400 AD. I noticed that the display panel called it “The Wolf and Twins”. Presumably “Romulus and Remus” have passed into oblivion. Although the smiling wolf is the main attraction here . . . and, indeed, could have come straight out of a tap-dance version of Little Red Riding Hood

I had an hour to spare between satisfying my reason for coming to Leeds and lunch, so, as the art gallery is still closed, I visited the Leeds City Museum for the first time. It’s very child-friendly – something I would have appreciated 50 years ago – so I headed to the antiquities section on the top floor. There’s an interesting little collection, along with a very sensitively displayed Egyptian mummy (the contrast between the desiccated remains and the still-colourful coffin was rather chilling) and this endearing mosaic.

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Return of the alpacas

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They’re back, along with a youngster who looks as if it’s been sprayed with shaving foam.

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Arnside this morning

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The roadside verges on the way home were full of meadowsweet and cranesbill. And Himalayan balsam.

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Arnside this evening

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Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933

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Albert Dock, Liverpool. Not as impressive as the Speicher of Hamburg or Lübeck, though.

To Liverpool today to see this excellent exhibition at the Tate. It was really two exhibitions in one: the photographs of August Sander and the works of Otto Dix, both influenced by the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. In Sander’s case, you can see how he aimed at objectivity: even his most famous sitters like Richard Strauss are identified only by profession or status. Dix’s work is harshly realistic, but I can’t see that it’s objective: it seems saturated with emotion (mostly vitriol!).

Things I noticed in Sander’s photographs:

  • Boots. Big, black and buttoned. Prisons for toes. Exceptions were the painter’s wife (espadrilles) and the painter’s child (bare feet).
  • Photographs of crop-haired middle-class boys looked like young Erich von Stroheims.
  • Lots of sailor suits for middle-class boys.
  • Lots of big dogs for professional men.
  • Perhaps it’s my blind spot, but I couldn’t see any difference between the faces of the Nazi members and those of the bakers, students, masons, etc.

Things I learned:

  • I hadn’t realised how quickly Hitler had acted once Hindenburg appointed him Chancellor in January 1933: by July of that year not only had several oppressive laws been passed but, crucially, the NSDAP was the sole permitted political party.
  • The difference between Werkstudenten and Corpsstudenten: in 1920 there were 10,000 of the former and 64,000 in 1924.  From the photos I would say that they used far less hair oil and had fewer Mensur scars (Schmisse) than the latter. I guess it suggests a kind of proletarianisation of university study.

As for Dix:

  • There were several warnings in the gallery that some of his works were not “suitable” for everyone. How true! It’s easier to stand in front of etchings of rotting corpses in trenches than a whole row of brothel/male lust/Lustmord paintings. Disconcerting, but gallery-going ain’t for cissies.
  • The Dix rooms opened with some early gouache sketches  of vegetation from his pre-war student days . . . and they were utterly beautiful.
  • One war-time sketch was very futurist/cubist. A reminder that Dix might have taken another path.
  • I hadn’t realised how Dix had studied the Old masters and copied their techniques. There were paintings there – like the portrait of Johanna Ey – where the fabrics glowed like Holbein, or others that were Titian portraits of jazz-age blondes.
  • There’s always something unsettling about Dix’s portraits – even the commissioned ones where he might be expected to flatter. The angle, the eyes, the upper lip . . .
  • The War sequence of etchings: where does the mud end and the human/corpse begin? The vegetative tendrils that were so beautiful in the early studies are now seen again crawling through a skull. A dozen momento moris ranged on the wall.

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  • Coming from a cosseted and protected generation, I find it bewildering that men of Dix’s generation were accepting of their horrific wartime experience. (Robert Graves is another.) Yet they are. Dix said (I don’t know when) that you have to have seen people in the untethered state to know something about humans.

It was quite fascinating – not just the exhibits and the sense of the post-WWI victims and wounds, but also the timeline of events. If only there hadn’t been a global economic crash in 1929, could things have been different?  I haven’t yet given much thought to parallels with the present, but the impression of this exhibition will linger for a while yet.

There was also a short silent film of from 1927 by Walter Ruttman (Berlin: die Sinfonie der Großstadt), which revelled in the modernity of electric light, mass transport, advertising, proximity/anonymity, women’s legs . . . and hanging around on street corners.

And then there’s Liverpool itself – another city that reinvented itself in the modern age with mini-skyscrapers and civil engineering feats. I’ll be back in November to find out more.

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The garden today

DSC_0467Since returning home, I have spent 2 days picking and freezing currants and berries, mowing the lawn and tending the vegetable beds. There hasn’t been the explosion of growth I had expected: I swear the broccoli plants are no bigger than they were 3 weeks ago. The salad crop is a failure, so I sowed more seeds today. (It looks as if the weather has been unsettled and very windy.)

One thing I did notice was the clematis in the elder tree. This is is the same clematis which suffered from wilt each summer when it was in a pot at the front of the house.

Much as I dislike the grey squirrels in the garden for the damage they do, I was saddened to see one beside the raspberries this afternoon. At first I chased him off, but then I noticed his swollen face and his slow movements. I think he was suffering from an ever-growing tooth, which sounds like an unpleasant way to die, even for a pest.

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