Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Miss Potter's Rabbit

I can't think of a better movie to see during my visit to London this Christmas week than "Miss Potter," the new biopic starring Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter, the artist and author who drew and wrote about Peter Rabbit. Much of it takes place in Victorian London, and when when the cameras go out of town it is to the gorgeous Lake District where Miss Potter was responsible for buying and preserving from development more than 4,000 acres of farm land. My father read Peter Rabbit to me and I had many of the books written and illustrated by Miss Potter when I was a child. The film, directed by Chris Noonan, his first since "Babe" in 1995, and written by Tony-winning musical director ("Fosse") Richard Maltby Jr., is being released this month here and in the U.S. for Oscar consideration, but it's no winner. Zellweger's Potter is a bit daffy (though I love her, she has the annoying habit of constantly pursing her lips), the occasional animation is cute, and the romance with her book publisher played by Ewan McGregor is heart-warming. But it's only a nice film, a family film, a travelogue for England, and not a work of cinematic art.

On my last day in England, we met Helen's friend Daniel for breakfast at the Hampstead Tea House, which is run by a Russian whose ears perked up when I told him Santa Cruz could use an olde tea room. And then we took buses from Highgate into the center of London(there is nothing like the view from the top of a red double decker bus, even on an overcast day). Our goal was Trafalgar Square which is graced by a giant Christmas Tree and and the recently installed giant statue of a pregnant woman with no arms (a Thalidamide child, I assumed), put there by the mayor to illustrate the "potential for humanity." I was told it was quite controversial, but I liked it. From there we considered the Impressionist exhibit at the nearby National Gallery and then opted for the Hockney show at the Tate Portrait Gallery around the corner.

I was amazed by the variety of styles in "David Hockney Portraits: Life Love Art," and the mediums in which he has worked. It begins with `conventional portraits of his family when the artist was in his teens. His "Mum" is featured in work throughout the show, along with his many lovers and friends in various art and cultural words (include Andy Warhol, and, surprisingly, Lawrence Weshler who was a graduate of UC Santa Cruz before going to write at The New Yorker). I particularly liked his giant figure portraits which looked like human still lifes, often with a vase of flowers and a glass-topped table. And I loved his drawings, particularly in pen and ink. Finally, I found the photo collages fascinating and worthy of his great influence, Picasso (one drawing pictures Hockney with his mentor, whom he never met).

There is a slight red tinge at the edge of the horizon which might indicate that the sun is eventually coming out. But I doubt if it will before I leave. It's time to repack my suitcase for warmer climes and leave behind the scarf, fur hat and gloves, the sweater and warm socks for my return here in February when I plan to zip over to Paris on the EuroStar for two days. I'm going to the airport in sandals, taking the gamble that the streets will not be full of slushy snow when I walk back up Darmouth Hill to Helen's house some six weeks from now.

Bonnie, the beautiful long-haired cat of Helen's house mate Amy, has graduated from hissing to meowing at me. That's progress. Grace lets me scratch her back but not her ears. And Helen lets me do the washing up, something few guests before me have been permitted. I can find my way around London on the buses and tube trains, and I know how to count out change in pounds and pence. Every now and then a memory from my life here forty years ago comes back like a distant relative, and I remember "Swinging London" of the 1960s. The other day I was singing Petulah Clark's "Downtown," a hit of the period, and a young pop singer came on TV singing the same song. She hadn't even bothered to change the arrangement much, give it a hip hop or reggae tinge. Helen and I reminisce about Los Angeles in the early 1960s and the friends, music business and Subud people we knew in common. All I need to feel truly at home now is a rocking chair.

Tomorrow India.

No comments: