Issue 284 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review




Cultural currents

Sects, lies and virile monks

The history of decadent, out of touch rulers should worry Tony Blair, writes Mike Gonzalez

The Romanovs failed to see the tsar's fate in the star
The Romanovs failed to see the tsar's fate in the stars

Listening to Blair's Churchillian blast at Labour's spring conference was a peculiarly unpleasant experience. As usual, he mobilised his two good old standbys--moralism and fear. Like Canute, Blair stood resolutely on the beach looking out across the water and commanded the waves to turn back. This was a man so obviously lying to himself and others--so obviously acting a part--that not even the toadies and sycophants lined beaming along the front row of the hall could have believed a word of it. Yet Tony glowed with a sense of mission, of moral fervour--and with a conviction that he alone stood between us and the catastrophe to come.

What is it that makes powerful people facing disaster undergo this peculiar conversion? What weird psychological mechanism blinds the emperor to the collapse of his empire? Literature and art are full of self deluding tyrants who cannot see their imminent fall. King Lear stumbles across a heath that is, almost certainly, a kind of inner landscape--barren, empty of love, full of menace (winds and storms). His daughter Cordelia has warned him of the disaster to come but he prefers the flattery and self interested reassurance of his older daughters and their ambitious consorts.

In Gabriel García Márquez's wonderful novel The Autumn of the Patriarch the protagonist rides though the streets in disguise so that he can hear what the people are saying about him--he cannot believe that they have ceased to love him, despite the terrible things he has done in their name.

It seems that rulers, especially those like Blair who see themselves as destined to hold power, react in disbelief when they see it slipping from their hands. In the final years of the Romanov dynasty, having celebrated their 300 years in power in 1913, the court of the Russian Tsar seemed to have slowly spun into a kind of madness. Behind the stiff formality of the regime there was decay and internal collapse. Astrology and magic, black arts and eccentric quacks were seen more and more at court. The parties grew wilder, the sexual relations more inventive and bizarre.

And then, as if to symbolise the collective instability, the mad monk Rasputin. Born a poor peasant in 1869, by the beginning of the 20th century he had acquired incredible influence at court. People insisted that he could cure the sick with a look or a touch. He dressed in rags and rarely took a bath, which fascinated the carefully washed and perfumed aristocrats round the tsar and his family. Rumours of his extraordinary sexual powers spread and multiplied, though they were probably nonsense--there seems more evidence, indeed, to suggest that he was sexually impotent. But he was clearly a tremendously successful seducer of both men and women, who seemed ready to allow him to humiliate and scorn them in public, and use them to extend his influence and control at court.

When he was finally murdered by a well educated gay military lover on behalf of a group of aristocrats at court, he appeared to have few material possessions, but what he did have was clout--ways of getting his friends and favourites into positions of power, ways of persuading the decadent Romanovs to do his bidding.

It is not only his prowess, reputed or real, that gave Rasputin his power. Why should a class which had absolutely no contact with or knowledge of the life of the poor become so hypnotised by this uneducated peasant? Why did they surround themselves with quacks and false philosophers, and priests of various hedonistic sects? It was a sign of absolute isolation, of the hypnotic and blinding influence of power. But it was also a sign of a class that saw its right to rule as beyond question and beyond criticism--until the revolution of 1917 swept them from the map of history.

There is, of course, no comparison to be made with the latter days of a democratically elected British prime minister. And there is certainly no possible parallel between a ragged and disreputable Russian peasant and a lithe and elegant style guru with a strange hold over him and his wife. And yet there are signs of the delusions that come with excessive power: the strange and inexplicable ceremonies that involve mud baths and animistic rituals; the insistent fundamentalist Christian rhetoric with its idea of community that has little to do with solidarity or democracy and a great deal to do with an overweening and immovable sense of moral authority; the strange indifference to public perceptions; the circle of protectors who shield this insulated family from any kind of reality (except of course for those three days holiday in Britain, between Barbados and Tuscany--was it at Center Parcs?); the eyes constantly lifted to heaven, the sermonising tone.

It begins to feel like those wild and heady days that came before the fall of the Romanovs.



An interview with Pete Doherty

The Libertines on stage at Love Music Hate Racism (pic:Angela Stapleford)
The Libertines on stage at Love Music Hate Racism (pic:Angela Stapleford)

Phil Whaite spoke to Pete Doherty of The Libertines after a Love Music Hate Racism gig that filled the London Astoria.

Why did you feel it was important to do this gig?

There's a point you reach before you're perverted and tainted by all the things that drag you into the music business, like avarice or a lust for fame. The original reason why I started was some feeling of community, equality, wanting to fight for things you believe in. Any kid who's gone to a state school knows what it's all about--bullying, racism. And you've just got to make a stand.

Rock Against Racism in the 1970s had the effect of bringing a whole new generation of young people into anti-racist politics, and into radical politics. What do you think the Love Music Hate Racism campaign can achieve today?

I think it's woken me up to a few things, and you do become complacent. As well as being anti something, you've got to be pro something. So you're anti racism, so what are you pro? You're pro community. I would put my hand on my heart and I'd attach myself to socialist ideas. Because I believe in society. And it's bollocks that black people have any less worth in society than white people, which is basically what people like the BNP say.

What does socialism mean to you?

I do have utopian fantasies. A lot of them are more--I wouldn't say spiritual, but they relate more to the imagination and the individual. But for me socialism is a way of trying to put far-fetched ideas into everyday use, trying to find a way to bridge the gap between that fantasy and reality, and reaching out across that gap to the people who can actually do something to make the change.

What music did you listen to growing up? What do you feel has influenced the music you make today?

I was a bit of a late starter with bands. It just passed me by, even though when I was at school bands like Nirvana and Oasis were around. Looking back, I remember people being into them, but at the time I was in another world. And then, at 16, 17, I heard The Smiths and a whole new world opened up. I suppose obsessed would be the right word--not in a morbid way. It broke my heart when I realised they had split up 12 years previously. After discovering The Smiths, I followed the trail back to The Buzzcocks and I was well into The Only Ones--melodic bands who had a bit of a dirty sound. And then New York Dolls--I fell in love with them--and The Stooges. The driving aggressive stuff that I like is the English punk and the New York era. Carl's [Carl Barat, The Libertines' other singer] more the metal side of it--he was into Rage Against the Machine and Iron Maiden when he was a kid.

The Libertines seem to have become popular in a different way to other bands. There's a kind of a punk ethic--you play secret gigs in pubs and flats, with people finding out where you're playing at the last minute--and it doesn't seem to be like what anybody else who has risen to the prominence that you have is doing at the moment. Where did that idea come from?

The secret gigs aren't really secret. It's just that the only way of communicating with people is through the internet, and it's normally a last minute decision to play. I'll have a new song, and I'll think, 'I want to play it,' so I whack it on the internet. But generally I'll just do it in a local pub or my front room or something, because I know it's going to be a last minute terrorist gig. There's never any hassle, the neighbours are normally alright, and the police have got better things to do, I'm sure. But Gary, John and Carl, they're not really into that so much. It's not normally a Libertines thing. It's normally working with other musicians that I've written songs with, or playing on my own. And similarly with the punk ethic--if we've got one--when we went into the studio with Mick Jones, I was the only one who knew who he was.

You went to prison last year for burgling Carl's flat after you'd been thrown out of the band. Did prison change the way you look at the world?

It opened my eyes to things. I think I lived a little bit blinkered. It made me want to sharpen myself up a bit. It wasn't a fun place to be. You're sat in a cell for 23 hours. Supposedly there's education and facilities, but in reality there's overcrowding and understaffing. You're sat in a cell and it's as boring as fuck. But alliances were forged, new worlds opened up, I did a lot of writing. There's a lot of unhappiness in prison, and I had some really unhappy moments. But there were people who reached out to me and helped me, and hopefully I helped a few people as well, in simple ways, like friendship.

I think I'll be really unlucky if I go back to prison, or stupid, but there are a lot of people who are in and out, in and out. Prison can make people hopeless, make them lose any sense of self value.

Many of your songs refer to a notion of 'Englishness'. What does 'Englishness' mean to you?

It's always a contradiction. I don't feel myself to be representative of a general feeling of Englishness. I'm interested in William Blake, but there are less spiritual, more practical people like Galton and Simpson, and Joe Orton, who were interested in the fineries of everyday dialogue and puns. In the same way that I immersed myself in The Smiths, I did the same with a lot of aspects of English culture. I was obsessed with certain writers, certain styles of film. Those kitchen sink films, like Billy Liar, hit me right in the heart. I suppose I did live inside those films for want of a better place to be. The films I watched were about a pride, a dignity and a respect for people who you feel you belong with--a community and a mutual respect.

The cover of the album Up The Bracket has lines of riot police, and 'Time for Heroes' talks about 'the stylish kids in the riot' and 'truncheons and shields'. Where did those ideas come from?

I wrote 'Time for Heroes' after May Day in 2001. At the time it was one of the most exciting days of my life. Everyone said, 'Oh, it was rubbish, we got penned in at Oxford Circus,' but we didn't. Quite a lot of people got penned in, but some of us made a break for it, and that was a great feeling. It was quite a peaceful protest up until the police attacked. But I like the fact that when the police kicked off, and it wasn't justified, a lot of people stood their ground. And it felt quite good to be fighting for a cause. I felt like there were so many things wrong, and I didn't know where to channel it, and for that moment it felt like I was with a lot of people who believed in the same thing, and we were all channelling it together. If there had been more, we'd have gone to parliament--that was the dream.

You can have people who disagree on things, but they can unite for the important things. It's like, if we were to go on stage as a band and not have a name, it would be very difficult to organise gigs, to release records--it would be chaos. But we have a name, The Libertines, and it makes things a lot easier. What I'm trying to say is that you've got this unrest, this general feeling that things are wrong. But you call it anti-capitalism and you can pick that apart bit by bit, and show where that's wrong and doesn't make sense--but basically you've got a heading for it, and you can channel it there. It's a direction, and it's the right direction, and people notice--anti capitalism, pro society, pro equality, anti inequality. That's the way I see it. Capitalism breeds inequality everywhere in the world. There isn't a case where it doesn't. The gaps are bigger. The rich are richer than ever.

Pete Doherty has a single out on 12 April with Wolfman, 'For Lovers'. As part of a national programme of gigs, Love Music Hate Racism has organised weekly gigs of up and coming acts at London's Borderline club. For more information go to



Dir: Siddiq Barmak

Lives under seige
Lives under seige

Kabul's sandblasted and windswept streets set the opening scene for Osama, the first film released about Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. A flood of widows in cornflower blue burqas, demanding the right to work, sweep the viewer convincingly right into the middle of the drama, where a western cameraman captures the commotion. Guided through the crowd by a mischievous boy called Espandi, the camera lens drowns in water when armed Taliban enforcers arrive to halt the illegal demonstration with water cannons.

Among the fleeing protesters a mother runs with her daughter whose eyes fill with tears, nakedly showing the pain of a 12 year old girl who already has felt too much agony in her short lifetime. Born into a misogynist system which denounces all female virtues, denies women the right to education or work and forbids them to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative or husband, the girl is entrapped by the task of surviving. Her mother and grandmother succumb to desperation and force her into disguise so she can work. Dressed in her deceased father's clothes and with her hair cut short, she starts living the unfamiliar life of an Afghan boy.

She gets employment in the local corner shop and manages to bring food to the dinner table, but concealing her identity proves more difficult than anticipated. The girl is rounded up together with Kabul's male youngsters and sent off to religious school, where her high-pitched voice and fear of climbing the schoolground tree awake the suspicion of her classmates and teachers. Espandi, who knows of her secret, desperately tries to defend her from detection, giving her the name Osama and encouraging her to boyish behaviour.

Being a man is the only way to overcome the harsh reality in which constant fear and terror mute the female population into obedience. Every step on the streets of Kabul has to be taken with care and vigilance against ever-present Taliban squads. Anxiety grips the onlooker throughout the 80-minute film, and the dusty imagery of real Afghan life verifies the horrors of military rule. Osama depicts Kabul under siege in a manner that has never been seen before, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The film justifies Taliban defeat but doesn't display who masterminded the creation of the militant rulers in the first place.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the world's eyes turned to Afghanistan. The country had fallen into oblivion since the US withdrew from the region at the end of 1980. To stop the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA secretly trained, armed and funded militant Islamists from all over the Middle East. Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian multimillionaire, set up an international network of hard-line Islamist: Al Qaida. Osama's followers continued to flourish after the US withdrawal, growing increasingly anti-American. 9/11 hit the western world as a shock and sending troops back to Afghanistan, now to fight against the Taliban, was presented as the only solution.

The true history of the Taliban doesn't shine through behind the girl's cruel destiny. Created by United Artists and MGM Studios, the film was unlikely to shed bad light on the US, as Osama is produced with American money. But the girl's tears, her mother's distress and the veiled widows pleading for the right to earn a living are consequences of US foreign policy. The sandblasted streets of Kabul could have been free from terror had they not been haunted by a ruthless history.
Liv Lewitschnik


The Fog of War
Dir: Errol Morris

Cold calculation: Robert McNamara
Cold calculation: Robert McNamara

Errol Morris has made a really good documentary based on interviews with Robert McNamara. It is a history lesson for the second half of the 20th century, as well as an insight into the methods and thinking of a member of the ruling class. McNamara did the same job during the Vietnam War that Donald Rumsfeld does today, and was just as hated.

A technocrat with philosophical leanings, he became a trusted altar boy to the profit system. To him every element of every action can be studied and made more efficient--whether this applies to killing humans or producing cars. McNamara first came to prominence in the Second World War. He was central to planning the strategic bombing of Japanese cities. In one air raid alone over Tokyo 100,000 civilians were burnt to death. After the war he was recruited by Fords, becoming president of the company in 1959. A short while later he was summoned to serve the newly elected John F Kennedy as secretary of defence.

The documentary lets its subject dominate the discussion while intercutting footage that shows the real impact of his efficiency programmes. Morris himself was an anti-war protester, so the footage he uses is very effective. Despite McNamara having some doubts over the consequences of the orders he gave, he never questions what he was trying to achieve. He asks the question of whether 100,000 deaths in Tokyo were necessary--then places this figure against one expected for US casualties, anticipated from a direct invasion of the Japanese home islands. It is all cold calculation. He even admits that had the US lost the war he would have been considered a war criminal. During the Cuban missile crisis he became aware that nuclear war was too risky, so he turned to organising conventional warfare but along corporate lines--hence the barbarous policy of attrition practised in South East Asia from which millions died.

Does the man once described as a human IBM show any remorse? Does he regret what he was responsible for in Vietnam? On this question he refuses to be drawn. He does admit the US conceived the war wrongly--but he does not admit it was wrong to fight it.

Maybe the clue to what McNamara really thinks is in what he has done since he quit office in 1967, which is not referred to in the documentary. As head of the World Development Bank (WDB), which he ran like an autocrat from 1968 to 1981, he transformed the organisation. It acquired something that he had described as a 'moral precept' to fight poverty in developing countries and so bring about stability. Sounds great, but the reality of his actions is no different from his previous record. For instance, his policies of lending large amounts for agricultural development in Third World countries had the same impact on the very poor as the enclosure acts in Britain prior to the industrial revolution. The majority of peasant farmers, too poor to get credit, quickly lost their lands to those who could. McNamara's WDB actually increased impoverishment over this period.

Just look at who the WDB saw as preferred borrowers: Chile only received loans after the military coup in 1973; the Romanian dictator Ceausescu had good credit at the WDB, as did General Suharto's Indonesia. The more repressive a regime, the more likely it was to get loans from the bank. This was McNamara's policy, just like Vietnam was. He is recognised as a business genius, but under a mask of civilisation he is an organiser of mass carnage.
Nigel Davey



Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, then touring

The chaotic Red Brigades in 'Homage to Catalonia'
The chaotic Red Brigades in Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia, first published in 1938, remains one of those books that all socialists have read or should read. When it was first published it raised a storm on the left because of its clear opposition to Stalinism and the role Stalin played in the defeat of the Spanish Revolution. Furthermore, it was one of his most optimistic books, where he experienced a taste of what socialism could be like. For those of us in West Yorkshire, where the British National Party (BNP) is contesting both Euro and local elections, a stage adaptation looking at the fight against fascism and the discussion engendered by it has to be applauded.

From the start the production uses authentic documentary film footage, a strong visual presence, and a mixture of English and Catalan to create an exciting scene alive with revolutionary potential. The characters are all in Orwell's book but act more as narrators than in dialogue with each other. This is obviously a way that the actors and director involved have interpreted a book that, while telling stories, isn't itself a story. The stage in the first act often seems quite cluttered with piles of clothes, books and bits of furniture, which does, however, give an impressionistic view of the somewhat chaotic state of the Republican brigades with ill-assorted uniforms and few arms, but all proudly wearing the red and black bandanna. The dehumanising conditions of trench warfare are well expressed. The lack of conventional military hierarchy is also shown in the struggle to build equality within their own ranks. The use of English and Catalan is very effective as it both gives it authenticity and also a flavour of the excitement of young anti-fascists trying to communicate across language barriers. We also see how the traditional role of women was questioned as they joined the brigades and challenged the authority of state and church. What is possibly lacking is the empathy that is created by the relationships between characters, thus some of the passion and feeling is understated. However, the emotional chanting of 'They shall not pass' together with an assorted cacophony of loud music evokes a powerful message for today.

In the second act we see the characters dressed in expensive clothes, symbolising the failure of the revolution and the return of bourgeois values. It shows the sense of betrayal when the Stalinists end up murdering the Trotskyist/anarchist-led militia, the Poum, who were Orwell's comrades, and articulates well the agony and anger felt by Orwell expressed so well in his original book. He understood the importance of unity in fighting fascism. If you want to stop fascism, how can you destroy those so committed to fighting against it? On returning home Orwell was clear that the victory of fascism in Spain was Stalin's responsibility.

At a time when the role of united and popular fronts is very much on the agenda, Orwell's work has a resonance. One of the most harrowing aspects is the continuous film footage, at first showing the excitement, the comradeship and the sense of being on the brink of change, and then the death and destruction rained on the republic by Franco's bombs.

This production uses some radical techniques and tries to explore unconventional approaches. This means it isn't always easy, but it is challenging and thought-provoking. Whether or not you have read the book or are familiar with Orwell's politics, this production both inspires and raises a whole number of unsettling questions that are equally important in the current political period.
Jenny Taylor and Paula Champion



by Richard Wagner
English National Opera at the Coliseum

Wagner's music represents the high point of German Romanticism and gives powerful expression to German nationalism. In his early life, he was involved with a liberal nationalist organisation called Young Germany, and in 1848 he welcomed the outbreak of revolution throughout Europe with a poem celebrating the uprising in Vienna. When the revolutionary wave reached Dresden in May 1849 he became editor of a republican weekly and narrowly escaped arrest. Unfortunately, in later life Wagner became a virulent anti-Semite, and there has been much debate as to whether or not his music was misused by the Nazis. But as Anthony Arblaster emphasises in Viva La Liberta: Politics in Opera, Wagner always conceived of his operas as music that would speak to and for the people.

One of Wagner's greatest achievements is the cycle of four linked though independent operas known as The Ring of the Niebelung, a complex story drawn from German medieval mythology involving Rhinemaidens, gods, giants and dwarves, as well as humans. Its central theme is the struggle between love and power, the overthrow of a world gripped by greed and oppression, and its replacement by one ruled by freedom and benevolence.

Rhinegold is the first opera of the cycle and is Wagner's most political work. Its narrative centres around the struggle for the gold between the characters and the price they are prepared to pay for it. The three Rhinemaidens watch over the gold--however, they are interested in it not for commercial but for aesthetic reasons, admiring its radiance. Alberich the dwarf (Niebelung) makes a pass at each of the maidens in turn but is rejected by all three. One maiden lets slip that the gold possesses magic powers--whoever acquires and fashions a ring from it could make themselves master of the world. There is one condition, however: the would-be owner must renounce love. Alberich does so and seizes the gold. In a subsequent scene, he has used the power afforded him by the ring to enslave his fellow dwarves. In the dwarves' realm of Niebelheim, in the depths of the mountain, we see him driving them with a whip to mine gold for him. This seems a clear allegorical reference to the new industrial capitalism--whoever possesses the ring acquires supreme economic power, the power to exploit fellow humans. Rhinegold thus contains an explicit critique of the destructive effects of capitalist relations--love and capitalism don't go together.

Wotan, chief of the gods, and Loge, the god of fire (the gods represent an old leisure class), take Alberich prisoner and demand the gold in return for his freedom. They need it to pay off the two giants Fafner and Fasolt who have built Valhalla, Wotan's new castle at the top of the mountain. Not content with the gold, Wotan wrests the ring from Alberich's finger, whereupon the dwarf utters a curse on all who may possess the ring.

Rhinegold is full of music of immense lyrical and dramatic power. Wagner's originality is also evident in his use of the 'leitmotiv': the symbolic representation of different characters or elements in the opera by specific musical themes.

Director Phyllida Lloyd and designer Richard Hudson have given Rhinegold a contemporary setting--the Rhinemaidens are pole dancers in a nightclub, Wotan is an unscrupulous property developer and the giants are construction engineers, with the action taking place in Wotan's modern apartment. But this seems to diminish the work's universal theme, to deflect its message from the corrupting effects of the lust for money and power onto a narrower focus on property speculation. However, musically it is sung and played with considerable success.
Sabby Sagall



Pax Britannica: A Hellish Peace
Aquarium Gallery, London

Ralph Steadman is among the anti-war artists in 'Pax Britannica'
Ralph Steadman is among the anti-war artists in Pax Britannica

When Peter Kennard was commissioned by Orange for their 'Peace on Earth' show he depicted the Virgin Mary with a globe replacing her face and a CND sign as a halo. Orange refused to use the image, considering it 'unfit for grandparents and small children'. This is hardly surprising. The media have scrupulously avoided any account of the reality of war. That is why this free exhibition of the response to war by over 18 major artists is so important. Packed into the tiny Aquarium Gallery, alongside the placards of anti-war demonstrations are drawings, paintings and photographs as well as photomontage, which are often disturbing, sometimes amusing but collectively make a powerful statement against war.

Many of these works contain a rawness which is truly shocking, and offers a refreshing alternative to the stale clichés offered up by the Turner Prize and the Saatchi Gallery. In James Boswell's ink drawings, civilians and soldiers become so enmeshed with weapons, chains and machines that they are indistinguishable from them--he was a private in Iraq during the 1940s. Jenny Matthews brings us up to the present day in her journey through Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

There is a remarkable range of expression and themes covered by the exhibition. John Keane's paintings of Palestine are mounted beside Steve Bell's cartoons of Bush and Blair. Richard Hamilton's 'War Games' with its television dripping with blood, and Ralph Steadman's triptych attack the role of the media in selling us and distancing us from war. There is also work dealing with the assault on civil liberties and the horrors of Guantanamo Bay.

In drawing together anti-war art made over many decades the exhibition shows how wars, and the movements against them, have constantly inspired artists. Steadman, for example, explains how during the Vietnam War, 'When Nixon was in power I was really loving going for the jugular, trying to do something with him that would make him go ouch, and I used that phrase of Chuck Coulson, one of his chiefs of staff, who said, "Get them by the balls and hearts and minds will follow," and I drew that. Sometimes if you put words into a picture it's awful--doing it as graphically as that, makes it almost disgusting to say it.'

In particular the strength of photomontage as a medium stands out. In Gee Voucher's reinvention of the iconic poster 'Your Country Needs YOU', Uncle Sam is replaced with a blown-up hand, strewn over a barbed wire fence--a photograph taken during the Vietnam War. 'Welcome Home', at first sight a picture postcard of a family reunion with a young soldier, on closer inspection shows his face to be half blown away.

The exhibition's strength is the sharp portrayal of the horrors of war and the monstrous responsibility of the powerful in this process. But it doesn't really deal with the causes of war, something which photomontage and cartoons have been able to do in the past. This is perhaps understandable given the way in which the privatisation of art spaces during the last two decades has increasingly squeezed out political or radical art. Peter Kennard, whose Barbican exhibition of pictures dealing with the 1973 military coup in Chile was covered up for a visit by Chilean officials, argues 'Censorship of culture is something that one does not speak of in the free market... but in the visual arts it is an increasing determinant.' This is surely something that will change as artists continue to contribute to, and be influenced by, an increasingly confident and politicised anti-war movement.
Hannah Dee


Roy Lichtenstein
Hayward Gallery, London

Roy Lichtenstein's pop art paintings had an immediate and forceful impact on my 17 year old grandson. It was worth taking him to the exhibition to see how the comic-inspired images of the American Dream and the violence of war affected him.

At the beginning of the exhibition is a small cinema where a screening about Lichtenstein and his work gives a really useful introduction before going round the exhibition.

Some of the pictures are already planted in our consciousness: the kissing couple with the tear on the woman's cheek; the fighter plane shooting up another plane--WHAAM!; and the half of a woman's face like a punctuation mark with another tear on the cheek.

But to see 80 of the paintings together in one exhibition is a telling experience.

I was sorry that there were only three pictures from the 1950s, when he was just beginning to draw his ideas from cartoons. But there are some strips from the original comics that influenced him.

And the image that most stays with me is of Donald Duck with dollar signs in his eyes. That says it all, really.
Mary Phillips

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