The Betterment Society have now met to discuss our autumn choice of film, book, poet, artist and album. Undoubtedly, the choice on this occasion was more balanced, but we both agreed that the choice included items which neither of us would have approached given a free choice.
John Abbott McNeill Whister
YL had remembered seeing some of Whistler’s cityscapes of London at a 2005 Tate Britain exhibition and was struck by the modern simplicity of some pictures such as Nocturne In Blue and Silver (1871). But early on in our discussion we discovered that our views on Whistler’s work had been governed by the quality of the reproduction of his paintings in different books. T&B was using a late 1970s monograph, with quite poor colour reproductions – they looked dirty. Pictures we found online, were much more vibrant, with the Phaidon monograph acquired by YL falling somewhere in between. Nevertheless, looking at other images did allow us to reconsider Whistler from our immediate reactions, with T&B won round a little to pictures such as Symphony in White No.1: The White Girl (1862) and At the Piano (1858/59). YL, in contrast, was fonder of the historic images of London, and it’s industrial brutality though pictures such as Nocturne: Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge (1972/73) and The Thames in Ice (1860).
T&B: 6 YL:7 Total: 13
London Grammar: If You Wait
For T&B this album was excellent, an album which deserved to be played from beginning to end with no interruptions and where no individual track could be regarded as filler. For YL the album was too reminiscent of The xx – whilst there were some very good and memorable tracks on the album, there was too much that was forgettable. For YL the final five tracks in particular blurred into one another and were something of a morose dirge. There’s no doubt this a melancholic album, but the Society was in full agreement that songs such as Wasting My Young Years and Strong were the stand out tracks. For YL the opener, Hey Now, also fell into that category. There was also no doubt the the vocals of Hannah Reid were exceptional, reminiscent of Florence Welch or even Beth Gibbons.
T&B: 8 YL: 6 Total: 14
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Society was generally in full agreement of the film choice. We both felt it was a strong work and well dramatised version of the early life of Jordan Belfort and was, without doubt, a work by Martin Scorsese. Indeed T&B, more acquainted with the Scorsese oeuvre than YL, felt there were many similarities to his earlier film Goodfellas (1990). Perhaps this was deliberate – comparing the Mafia with the greed of 1980s Wall Street. For T&B, Leonardo DiCaprio is one of our greatest living actors, so can do no wrong. Indeed we both felt that his performance in this film was exceptional. It drew you into a world that was unfamiliar and kept you entranced. To a degree, because we both also felt the film was a little on the long side, and could easily have had 45 minutes shaved from it without spoiling the plot.
T&B: 7 YL:7 Total 14
How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran
The choice of T&B, a fan of Moran’s earlier book How To Be A Woman, as well as her journalism. For YL, his only memory of Moran was from Channel 4’s Naked City in the early 1990s. For both of us the book was a quick and easy read. The book was praised for it’s portrayal of the sexuality of teenage girls, a subject simply absent from a great deal of fiction (here is Moran talking out this on Newsnight). YL compared the book to much earlier coming of age novels, many set in northern or Midland’s towns, books such as Billy Liar and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. However, in both cases the protagonists are male. How To Build A Girl brought that up-to-date, by not only portraying a female coming of age story. But like those stories from the past, this features a lead character trying to better themselves, to rise above the poverty they grew up amongst, and trying to find their place in the world, when they have often felt left out.
T&B: 7 YL: 6 Total 13
This choice led to the largest division of opinion across the five choices at this meeting. For YL the poems of Armitage resonated with the North of England and the place he grew up. For YL Armitage doesn’t shy away from the realities of life, even if they are not particularly glamorous. YL’s affection of Amitage’s poetry has led to the acquisition of a number of his volumes of poems. For T&B, a southerner by upbringing, a lot of the meaning was lost. T&B described it as reading a in-joke, without being in on what was supposed to be funny. YL will go on to explore more of Armitage’s work.
T&B: 4 YL: 8 Total: 12