This week I went to Another Place – i.e. the seashore at Crosby: Another Place is the name of Anthony Gormley’s art installation there. It comprises a hundred cast-metal replicas of his body set on the shoreline, facing out to sea. I’ve previously only seen photos of the work looking enigmatic and beautiful with the sun setting over a seemingly endless expanse of sand which falls, almost imperceptibly, into the beckoning horizon. The day I visited, however, the sky was the colour of an old tin bath and the wind brought tears to my eyes. Never mind, I thought, don’t be disappointed: outdoor-art must necessarily be appreciated in all weathers and, in any case, the concept of “perfect conditions” is entirely subjective. Look for the beauty in the present: perfection– if you’re lucky enough to come across it - is rare.
It is abundant, however, in the cinematography of Hou Hsiao-hsien whose film The Assassin I saw the following day. He fills the screen with meticulously detailed costumes, sets and characters - all shot lasciviously in sumptuous colour. Three red-ripe pomegranates artfully poised in an elegant bowl particularly caught my eye and seemed to me to epitomise the aesthetic and symbolise the ethos of the ancient Chinese traditions depicted in the movie. But there is an unseen side to the visual gorgeousness, choreographed movement and formalised interaction idealised in this film which niggled me throughout: the unjust system of social repression which enabled an elite few to live in such privilege, pomp and luxury. By the end I had become so incensed that I began to sympathise with Chairman Mao’s attempt to obliterate such a culture. This may seem like an over-reaction but I was already inclined that way having watched recently the third episode of War & Peace in which various Counts, Princes and their degenerate dependents obsess about their privileged lives while the so-far-unseen majority of Russians endure a life of slavery, their euphemism for which is serfdom.
As you may have gathered, I’m at the end of my tether when it comes to the celebration of so-called nobility. It was refreshing, therefore, to see a film which has a more proletarian theme. Never on Sunday is set in Piraeus where I spent some time recently. It was released in 1960 but I had never seen it and was motivated to do so when, on visiting a museum in Athens, I learned something about the Greek cultural icons who were involved in its creation. The film contained an incidental surprise in the form of the appearance of a couple Royal Navy sailors wearing HMS MANCHESTER insignia on their caps. It also sprang a couple of revelations on me: first was that Greek men, like their Russian counterparts (as seen in the last episode of War & Peace) have a similar style of solo dance which involves strong liquor and slow, exaggerated macho gestures; second was that Melina Mercouri wasn’t just a singer and didn’t always wear big, thick-rimmed spectacles.
Films, much as I love them, are set pieces, fixed in the mode of their creation. I have no inclination to see them more than once. Gormley’s men on the beach, however, do tempt me back. I saw them when the tide was out and they stood oblivious of me and other admirers: the curious who wanted to touch their barnacles, stroke their smooth parts or dress them in funny hats; children playing around them; dogs chasing balls along the beach. I would like to observe them alone as they disappear under an advancing tide or face a lashing thunderstorm. I imagine that all the while they, like me, are waiting stoically for that perfect moment when the sun sets in a cloudless sky and reflects its fiery light off the water and into their unseeing eyes.