Monday, 6 February 2017


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 4 February 2017.



The late artist Francis Bacon has always struck me as the sort of boozy raconteur who’d be entertaining company until one drink over his tolerance level transformed him into the kind of monstrous bore for whom swift exits were built.

That’s raging alcoholics for you, especially those possessed of talent, brains and an infinite capacity for self-loathing.

While the stark documentary FRANCIS BACON: A BRUSH WITH VIOLENCE did little to disabuse me of this view, it did succeed in humanising a man whose riotous legend was at odds with the lost soul who flailed in its shadow.

Although I’m sometimes guilty of it myself, I’m suspicious of our tendency to lionise unhappy geniuses. I’d rather they found peace during their lifetime than suffer the indignity of antiseptic experts pontificating over their tragic legacy. But Bacon wouldn’t have painted his masterpieces without that tortured drive. A chicken, egg and Bacon sandwich.

 As with most introspective artists, it’s impossible to judge their work without examining their private lives. Bacon enjoyed publicity, hence the smattering of archive interviews included here. I would’ve preferred to watch those interviews in full than listen to talking heads pontificate on his behalf.

Bacon’s extraordinary paintings were shocking, spiteful, furious, horrific. They possessed a visceral ugliness which, depending on one’s taste for the morbid, could seem rather beautiful in a certain sensitive light.

I’ve seen Ricky Gervais’ Derek, so I know what it’s like to gaze into the abyss. Bacon’s work is but a light aperitif.

A homosexual whose work screamed against the abusive tyranny of his upbringing and dysfunctional adult relationships, Bacon’s propensity for masochism and black humour was hardly surprising.  

This lonely demon-bohemian with the puffy cherub face and Tony Curtis quiff would, I hope, have chuckled at this grubby canvas of essay-quoting critics and old friends, now greying eccentrics, who somehow survived all that after-hours drinking and existential jousting.

A final joke before closing time.

Tracey Ullman is a talented show-off whose undoubted artistry and intelligence ceases to be entertaining when allowed to roam unfettered.

Her old US sketch show – which famously begat The Simpsons – was proof of her tendency towards overbearing self-indulgence, and the first series of TRACEY ULLMAN’S SHOW, her UK comeback vehicle for the BBC, confirmed it.

A frustrating talent, she’s always seemed tantalisingly capable of creating great work. A handful of sketches in series one did at least suggest a depth of ambition beyond the usual confines of mainstream British comedy, even when they fell short of their potential.

Every spotty sketch show deserves a second chance, especially one starring a comedian capable of uncanny impressions of Judi Dench and Clare Balding, but it’s still nothing more than a generic compendium of, at best, mildly amusing spoofs.

These are the jokes, folks. Dench exploits her status as a beloved national treasure to cause mayhem (quite funny the first time; tiresome when repeated ad nauseam). Balding is manically ubiquitous. Nicola Sturgeon is a Bond-style supervillain. And so on. It’s terribly weak, strained sauce.

I quite liked Angela Merkel’s tearfully melodramatic musical number about being ostracised by her old EU chums, but finding anything to enjoy in this show is like clutching at straws.

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