Every little helps…
Enfant Terrible was a word used to describe people like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin during their rise into the public consciousness. For centuries there have been people in the arts ‘making waves’ or shocking the establishment, and these type of tag-names help reinforce the effect. There is, though a lot of distance between someone like Damien Hirst and the tortuous life of Dostoyevsky. Maybe that is because we live in more ‘stable’ times – the threat of the establishment smothering the life out of anything that purports to go against the grain is less likely now – isn’t it.
Isn’t it? or is it? as Robert McCrum aptly put the other day there is a deal of difference between being ‘disloyal’ and ‘complicity’. Shazia Mirza was also banging on about the amount of petty hate that’s flying around these days – like the venom spouted toward Jedward, Tiger Woods, Jordan and various people who have very little real effect on our lives, and certainly not worthy of the vitriol given to that of Hitler, say, or Pol Pot. It seems that for most of us the minutiae of detail we seem to absorb on a daily basis deserves the same amount of hurrumphed response of a Victor Meldrew clone in full swing.
And the arts are no less affected; the last time I recall the arts having a really momentous avant-garde moment (apart from Mr Rushdie’s singular attempt and as opposed to active ’disloyal’ people protests like that for the Poll Tax/Criminal Justice Bill etc). At the last count saying something ‘incompliant’ was in the days of punk – and even that was really about making your own crap music in your bedroom – but you know – in general up till then apart from blues, or rock and roll type stuff, for main stream popular music the affordability and ‘knowhow’ was the reserve of a few.
When I heard of Sam Taylor Woods new film ‘Nowhere Boy’ (I couldn’t miss it really being in lieu of its release) I winced thinking about the press responses to ‘an artist doing a film’ and not just that ‘an artist doing a film about a treasured icon’.
The usual knee jerk reaction to most artists encroaching on different territory is ‘go back to what you do best’ etc etc., ‘jack of all trades master of none’. True, there is something very relevant about being a master at what you do best. But Sam Taylor-Wood is a visual artist, she has done many short films, photographic pieces, and emotional visual forays into unchartered territory – not necessarily in a shocking way either. No the wince factor for me came when I saw she had done what looked like an emotionally heavy look at the early life of John Lennon – and why not, indeed she got the backing of Yoko Ono to use the song ‘Mother’ after she had seen a special screening of the film. But the iconic nature of John Lennon and how he touched many in some way by his life if not his death, I’d hazard a guess that if you didn’t like his music or even the public persona and were over 9 you would at least respect the talent and genius.
So it didn’t surprise me when sifting through some of the early comments about this film that aside from the usual arty spats between critics, there was an element within the press who were somewhat disgruntled that she had chosen to show him as anything other than a perfect example of how a budding rock/pop star should behave. Sacrilege sprung to mind as I read one review, well all I could think of was the response to Steve MQueen’s foray into feature film a couple of years ago (he too a visual artist) with ‘Hunger’ about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. A barrel of laughs it was never going to be and indeed Nowhere Boy does not have to have the precursor to be the ‘happy go lucky art school cheeky boy made good’ subsequently being shot down, thus delivering us with a ‘righteous tear fest’. Life isn’t like that but for some reason going against the grain by ‘telling it like it is’ albeit an interpretation, is nothing short of defamation – of what though? the rose tinted idea? – Robert McCrum talked of artists today being fearful of risk – vulnerable to propaganda and being prisoners of conventional wisdom. This is a sobering and true sentiment – as is Tom Paine’s ‘we must guard even our enemies against injustice’.
So if I hear the baying crowd rallying around some petty injustice of idyll whether it is a Middle England preserve or whatever – Sam’s film will remind me that ‘disloyalty’ and risk are part of the wider issue of Not being compliant – so that, without wanting to sound too dramatic, the Dostoevsky’s of the future do not have to suffer the same fate again.
As Neil Young sang in the 70’s, Rust Never Sleeps; so however ridiculous and irrelevant the concept of going against the grain may seem today, falling into step with the crowd is still a one-way ticket, not least for creative originality (and god knows how difficult it is to create something absolutely and completely original).
Graham Greene passionately believed in playing devil’s advocate and ’being a piece of grit in the state machinery’. With popular culture now as state of the art if not art masquerading as entertainment, however small the ‘disloyal’ gesture made it will go some way to ensure the imploding nature of complicity doesn’t take hold – every little helps.