The superb new exhibition at the Royal Academy, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, is not a retrospective. Nonetheless it is one of the most revealing presentations of this great painter’s work I have ever seen. It follows one of the most important of the chains of thought and feeling that ran through his art — animality: the beastliness in humanity, and the humanity of beasts.
He was a great master of the feral. ‘Man with Dog’ (1953) depicts a creature with which it would be hazardous to tangle: a blurred, slathering smear with just a hint of Cerberus, the ancient guardian of Hades.
Moulin Rouge wins no marks for its storyline. A struggling Parisian theatre is bought out by an evil financier who wants to marry the venue’s star, Satine, whose heart belongs elsewhere. The show opens like a pantomime with a bantering style and cheesy jokes. And there are passages of physical comedy that look weird amid the glamour of fin-de-siècle Paris. But the slapstick is crisply acted and well directed. And the comic scenes are balanced by full-throttle dance routines played by strutting hunks and twerking lovelies in black fishnet stockings.
Older readers may remember a time when people signalled their cultural superiority with the weird boast that they didn’t watch television. These days the same mistaken sense of superiority is more likely to rely on the equally weird one that they don’t watch terrestrial television. So now that the BBC and ITV find themselves in the historically improbable role of plucky underdogs, it’s pleasing to report that this week saw the launch of two terrific new terrestrial shows — one of which already looks set to be as good as anything on Netflix, Amazon or Disney+ (except for Get Back of course).
The second most interesting thing about this digital exhibition is that it is not for art critics like me. I first had to download Fortnite, before bumbling through the introductions and menus for roughly half an hour, accidentally playing a match for a few minutes before figuring out how to access the ‘island’ in the game where one sees the exhibition.
Once inside, Kaws’s usual character statues and cartoonish abstractions looked much worse than the photos online because my utilitarian laptop doesn’t have the processing power to run the game at high resolution.
Pedro Almodovar’s latest is a film about identity, secrets, lies, buried skeletons, real and metaphorical. But what you mainly need to know is: it is wonderful and delicious and blissfully styled — Almodovar doesn’t do ‘neutrals’ or Uggs — and constantly surprising. With most films you know exactly what you’ll be getting within the first ten minutes. Oh, it’s that film. But here we’ve often no idea what direction it’s going to take and although the focus shifts it never feels fragmented.
This week marks the beginning of modernism season on BBC Radio 3 and 4, which means it’s time for some pundit or other to own up to abandoning Ulysses at page seven, or to finding T.S. Eliot a bore, or to infinitely preferring the landscapes of J.M.W. Turner to the repetitive squares of Kazimir Malevich. That pundit, however, won’t be me.
Modernism is rather like the birth of the Roman Empire. It could be seen as a brilliant sloughing off of everything that had decayed in favour of sensible revolution, or as the predictably reactive consequence of years of wrangling over a loss of identity.
Velvet waistcoats, technicolour tulle and some very spangly harem pants — English National Ballet’s atelier must have been mighty busy prepping for Raymonda, Tamara Rojo’s lavish new reboot of Marius Petipa’s 1898 ballet. Antony McDonald’s costumes shimmer as vibrantly as his stage design, and Rojo’s choreographic treatment is its own visual feast, packed with pinwheeling set pieces that repackage Petipa’s fearsome technique with their own pizazz.
The single thing you don’t want when you are beginning a run of four shows in a prestige venue, with reviewers out in force, is for it all to go tits up at the start. Which is precisely what happened to Idles as they opened their Brixton run. On came the band, up started the throb of the opening song, ‘MTT 420 RR’, and off stalked singer Joe Talbot. Back he came. Off he went. Back he came. Off he went, clearly dealing with some technical issue.
Say what you like about that Duke of Mantua, but he’s basically an OK sort of bloke. A bit of an arse, sure; the kind of TOWIE-adjacent, skinny jean-wearing reality star who’d commission photographic portraits of himself and recruit an entourage of hipsters and B-boy wannabes. But really, his worst crimes are against taste. His neon-lit crib might be hung with hideous religious art, but his parties are relatively free of the nudity, quaffing and non-consensual dry-humping that tends to characterise Act One of Verdi’s Rigoletto.