Mrs Lowry and Son

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This film, set just three and half miles down the road from me, has the wonderful message that there is always beauty in everything.  Even bare bottoms (there seem to be a lot of these on our screens lately) in Agecroft 🙂 .  And mill chimneys, railway viaducts, canal bridges, and, of course, people. On the face of it, it’s a rather bleak film about a woman who can’t accept her loss of financial and social status, and deals with it by controlling and constantly putting down her lonely middle-aged son.  But there is that message there; and it’ll particularly mean a lot to those of us who know Pendlebury, Agecroft, Farnworth, Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the other places mentioned, even if we don’t remember the days when Victoria Park was a posh area!  Superb performances from Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave.  They even do pretty well with the Lancashire accents!

They aren’t today’s Manchester/Salford accents, but accents, like places, change over the years, and they work for the 1930s.  It’s 1934, and L.S. Lowry is living in Pendlebury with his mother Elizabeth – working as a rent collector, and painting in the attic in his spare time.  I’m not good with art, but I can always tell a Lowry. Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs 🙂 . We’re proud of him.  The Lowry Centre is – obviously! – named after him.  There are songs about him. There’s even a statue of him in Sam’s Chop House. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t very proud of him.  She resented the fact that the debts left by his late father meant that they had to leave Victoria Park, quite a posh area in the 1930s, and move to a two-up two-down in a working-class part of Salford (I’m not quite clear on how a two-up two-down comes to have an attic, but never mind), she saw her son as a disappointment, and she controlled and dominated him.

I don’t think she was as bad as she’s shown here, and I don’t think he was anything like as downtrodden as he’s shown here; but it works for the sake of the film, and there was certainly a fair amount of truth to it.  The film is almost entirely about the two of them.  No-one else has more than a handful of lines, and much of the action takes place in her bedroom, which she rarely leaves.  They even eat their tea in there.  She stays there all day, whilst he goes around the area working as a rent collector.  She complains about his job, even telling him to wash his hands when he gets in, and demanding to see if they’re clean as if he were a little boy.  And she keeps on telling him that his paintings are no good.  It’s partly to put him down, to knock whatever confidence he’s got, but it’s also because most of them are of the industrial landscape and its people, our people, and she doesn’t want that – she doesn’t want the life, and she doesn’t want the depictions of it.

But he sees the beauty in it all.  The Hovis advert streets.  I’m not sure where that was filmed: nowhere in Salford actually looks like that!  Looking down on the mill chimneys of Bolton from the moors.  The canals.  The railway arches.  The miner who works at Agecroft Colliery – which was about two and a half miles from me, and, like all the other Lancashire collieries, is now closed – having a bath in the back yard and then getting out of it.  The woman with a beard.  He says that he paints, and he paints what he sees.  And it’s beautiful.

I mean, obviously industrial Lancashire is beautiful 😉 . We all know that!  But he’s got the gift of seeing beauty in everything.  At the moment, it seems as if too many people want only to see ugliness in everything.  I’m so upset about Bury FC being kicked out of the league.  L S Lowry would be too, if he were still alive.  He knew that there was beauty in going to a football match, even if he did support City!  But the beauty in it was all the support from fans of other clubs, and all the people talking about community and history and heritage without some sneering avocado-eater from Islington or Notting Hill calling them racists.  It so often seems now that people want to see hatred and ugliness in everything that anyone else says or does, and in every little thing that they see around them.  Why do people have to be like that?  Walk around the streets, look around you, look at the people around you, and see the beauty there.

She couldn’t – she didn’t even leave the house, and all she could see was disappointment.   He wanted so badly to please her, but he couldn’t.  But he’s pleased so many other people.  And he’s reminded us that there is always beauty all around us – and that’s lovely.

The Dark Ages: An Age of Light – BBC 4

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Word PressThe Dark Ages get a bad press.  The word “Dark” says it all.  And the names of a lot of the groups associated with the Dark Ages, such as the Goths, the Huns and the Vandals, get misused in all sorts of ways … and they’re grouped together as “the barbarians”, which rather sums it up.  I think the problem is that our society now is so based on the written word (or, these days, the typed-into-cyberspace word), and the Dark Ages wasn’t much of a time for writing.  However, this excellent series, presented by the very entertaining Waldemar Januszczak, aims to show that the Dark Ages weren’t “dark” at all.  Art, jewellery, buildings … there was plenty of absolutely exquisite stuff produced in those days.

In the first episode, we got Christian religious art, including some interesting points about how set ideas of what the major Biblical figures looked like developed, even though the Bible doesn’t actually tell us!  Then the second episode covered the works of the so-called Barbarians, and the third episode the wonderful buildings of early Islam.  In the final episode, we’re getting the Vikings.  We’ve  all seen examples of this wonderful artwork and these glorious buildings, and yet we still use the term “the Dark Ages”. Some people do talk about the “Early Middle Ages”, but “the Dark Ages” is still the more familiar term.  We even use it as a jokey expression for something in our own lives that happened a long time ago.  Yet it’s a misnomer.  As the series title says, in many ways “the Dark Ages” were indeed “An Age of Light”!

The Renaissance Unchained – BBC 4

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Word Press How brilliant is Waldemar Januszczak?   Very, very entertaining presenter. Some people can be a bit pompous when talking about art, but he’s got a wonderfully dry, ironic way of discussing it, without being so sarcastic that he sounded like he was taking the mickey.   This series had four episodes, respectively entitled “Gods, Myths and Oil Paints”, “Whips, Death and Madonnas”, “Silk, Sex and Sin” and “Hell, Snakes and Giants”. They don’t teach you stuff like that at school

Having started my A-level history course two months after “Turtle Power” hit the number one spot in the British charts, I always associate the Renaissance with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael/Raffaello and Donatello; but, to be fair, so do most people! Well, they associate it with Italy, anyway. It’s also, as the word “Renaissance” suggests, considered to be a time of the rediscovery of ancient Greek, and to some extent ancient Roman, culture, associated with the fall of Constantinople; and it’s also seen as being what Waldemar described as “orderly”. The point being made in this series was that there was a lot more to it than that.

It started off by covering the Northern Renaissance, and that is definitely something which tends to be overlooked. The names are familiar, but few people would come up with van Eyck or Durer if asked to name some well-known figures of the Renaissance. And the idea of the splendour of the Burgundian court is also very familiar, but, again, the idea of the Renaissance as being an Italian phenomenon is so strong that you don’t really think of the Burgundian court as being part of the Renaissance.   The next episode was the more standard Renaissance stuff, Italy and in particular Florence, but with some different angles on religious art. The Council of Trent’s ban on certain types of artwork did get a brief mention at the end of the fourth episode, but didn’t really come into it.

Then the third episode was about Venice. I’m very glad that Venice got an episode to itself :-). A lot of that was about Venice looking to the east. I think that that’s one of the main reasons I like Venice so much: there is that Byzantine feeling about it, which you don’t really get anywhere else in Italy. Murano glass also featured. I wouldn’t necessarily have associated that with the Renaissance, but some interesting points were made. And the final episode covered things I wouldn’t have thought of as part of the Renaissance at all. Rudolf II and all his alchemy and astrology and so on, the connection being a Milanese artist called Arcimboldo who worked in Prague and painted some rather “different” pictures – human heads made up of fruit and vegetables, for example.  As Waldemar pointed out, Leonardo da Vinci also painted some “grotesques”. Also featured was a Huguenot potter called Bernard Palissy, whom I’m afraid I’d never heard of before but whose pottery featured wildlife which can be interpreted as reflecting the Bible stories in which certain types of wildlife, most famously the serpent in the Garden of Eden, are presented as the bad guys.   And El Greco – yes, I’ve heard of El Greco, and I’ve seen his his house in Toledo – and his distorted figures … like van Eyck and Durer, all very familiar, but not something I would necessarily think of if playing Renaissance-related word association. Ditto Hieronymus Bosch.

All in all, a fascinating series. And I am so jealous that Waldemar Januszczak got to visit some of the most important sites in Europe and have them all to himself! Well, himself and his film crew, presumably. The Basilica of St Francis in Assisi. The wonderful cathedral of Toledo. The Sistine Chapel. How amazing to be able to look round these places without there being hordes of other tourists there!   Very jealous ;-). Also very impressed: I shall definitely be keeping an eye out for any future programmes with him as their presenter.

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