Saturday 29 December 2018


Santa Maria dell Salute, Venezia, on a misty December morning...

Photo: David Weeks © 2018

Thursday 27 December 2018


Venice is celebrating in great style the 500th anniversary of the birth of Tintoretto (real name Jacopo Comin; or, as he was also known, Jacopo Robusti), one of the undoubted greatest exponents of the Venetian school of art.

In the first of two major exhibitions here in the city, the Gallerie dell'Accademia presents The Young Tintoretto, placing the artist in his artistic context leading up to his first major public work, 'The Miracle of the Slave' painted for the Scuola Grande di San Marco.
From Web Gallery of Art...


The Miracle of St Mark Freeing the Slave

Date: 1548
Oil on canvas, 415 x 541 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

The painting is the first of a series of works, painted in 1548 for the Scuola Grande di San Marco while Marco Episcopi, his future father-in-law was Grand Guardian of the School.
The subject of the huge canvas is the miraculous appearance of St Mark to rescue one of his devotees, a servant of a knight of Provence, who had been condemned to having his legs broken and his eyes put out for worshiping the relics of the saint against his master's will.

The scenes takes place on a kind of proscenium which seems to force the action out of the painting towards the spectator who is thus involved in the amazement of the crowd standing in a semi-circle around the protagonists: the fore-shortened figure of the slave lying on the ground, the dumbfounded executioner holding aloft the broken implements of torture, the knight of Provence starting up from his seat out of the shadow into the light, while the figure of St Mark swoops down from above.
In keeping with the drama of the action is the tight construction of the painting, the dramatic fore-shortening of the forms and sudden strong contrast of light and shade. 


For a chap who's generally fore-sworn treats, Venice at Christmas –– pretty much any time of the year, but especially at Christmas –– is trap for the unwary dieter!

So, I will just have to take photos and enjoy vicariously!

Photos: David Weeks & Brian Sibley, © 2018

Tuesday 25 December 2018


Christmas morning in Basilica Patriarcale di San Marco, Venezia...




Photos: David Weeks & Brian Sibley, © 2018


Photos: Brian Sibley & David Weeks, © 2018

Monday 24 December 2018


On this Christmas Eve in Venice, there's plenty to look at...

...and still time to stock up on a few provisions for the holiday season!

Photos: David Weeks and Brian Sibley © 2018

Friday 21 December 2018


As we move ever nearer to that eve of eves, time to watch (yet again) my favourite Christmas film, Frank Capra's eternally satisfying and edifying 1946 masterpiece, It's a Wonderful Life.

Supposing you agree with my estimation of the film's worth (and, if you don't, kindly stop reading and go and do something more satisfying!), it's not difficult to see why it works so powerfully on the heart and mind; it does so – not accidentally – in the same way as Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol: by touching on a sense of longing and a fear of loss that is universal to humankind.

And if James Stewart – an actor too easily pigeon-holed as being a charming but lightweight player – ever gave a more nuanced performance than his portrayal of George Bailey, then I don't know know of one, not even his benign, barnstorming performance as Jefferson Smith in Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

At the beginning of the film, Stewart is all wide-eyed optimism and energised hope; filled with a desire to shake off the dust of the archetypical American small town, Bedford Falls, and see the world. But as the story progresses, he registers disappointment and disillusionment not in a melodramatic way, but in his subtle – often unspoken – portrayal of a man forced to accept the burdens of duty, the need to trade-in his dreams in order to be able to stand by his family, friends and neighbours.

From that turning-point onward, Stewart shifts his performance through a state of happy resignation with his lot in life to one of uncontrolled anger and nihilistic despair. That is when the heartwarming, some might say hokey, portrayal of small people nobly and courageously living out their small lives against all odds takes a darkly dramatic turn and the hero becomes a haggard, worn-down figure of tragedy, ready to believe he would be better off dead.

What is, perhaps, most surprising about the film, and is evidence of Capra's genius as an auteur, is the shape of the narrative with two-thirds of the running-time devoted to establishing the characters – major and minor – and ensuring that we, as viewers, have an emotional investment in them all, so that, when George gets given the gift of being able to see what the world would have been like if he had never been born, we care not just about George's own reactions to the terrifying revelations, but also about all the other, by now loved, characters whose lives have been embittered, shriveled or destroyed.

I have praised Stewart, but it has also to be said that his central role is surrounded, supported and enhanced by his fellow players: Donna Reed as the ever loving, ever caring Mary and Lionel Barrymore, famous for his annual portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge on American radio, perfectly cast as that other "squeezing, grasping covetous old sinner", Henry Potter.

Then there's Thomas Mitchell as the absent minded Uncle Billy; Beulah Bondi as George's mother; H. B. Warner as the town druggist, Mr. Gower; and, of course, Henry Travers, as Clarence Oddbody the "angel second class" who is a heaven-sent emissary determined both to prevent George from committing suicide, helping him see – despite all the vagaries and setbacks – that it truly is a wonderful life, and, in so doing, win his wings.

With its visions of Past, Present and a shockingly revisionist glimpse into the future, along with the spirit of goodwill to all men,we are definitely within the territory of Charles Dickens territory "ghost story of Christmas".

A Christmas Carol has inspired – or, if you prefer, spawned – hundreds of derivatives, but none, in our time, has been more enduring or more deserving of celebration than It's A Wonderful Life.


I am still catching up with my favourite versions of A Christmas Carol: most recently re-watching the 1984 version starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge.

It is, unquestionably, the most faithful film version of Dickens' novella – so much so that whenever it (albeit rarely) deviates from the original text it takes the viewer startlingly by surprise!

Shot on location in Shrewsbury (which serves as a passable double for 1800s London), the film has an outstanding supporting cast with David Warner and Susannah York as Bob and Mrs. Cractchit, Frank Finley as Marley's Ghost, Angela Pleasance as the Spirit of Christmas Past, Edward Woodward as Christmas Present and nice cameos from, among others, Timothy Bateson, Michael Gough, Peter Woodthorpe and Liz Smith. The direction is by Clive Doner who, over thirty years earlier, had edited the 1951 film, Scrooge, starring Alastiar Sim.

As for George C. Scott's Scrooge, here is a very different incarnation to that famously given us by Sim and many others: this is no unkempt, scruffily-dressed, penny-pinching miser, but a "hard and sharp as flint", cold and calculating, business man; smartly-attired and with a caustic wit. With a sardonic line in throw-away "humbugs", Scott provides a masterclass for all would-be Scrooges-to-Come!

Grabbed 25-minutes to enjoy Mickey's Christmas Carol from the previous year to the Scott version: story-wise it's pared to the bone but it has charm, much humour and, in Alan Young's vocal performance as Scrooge McDuck, the first seasonal skinflint to combine Scrooge's Dickens-originated characteristics with those of the comic stereotype of a mean Scotsman.

And it remains a reminder of just how good it was, back in 1984, to see Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and others back on screen after many years of retirement!

With a similar running-time is Richard Williams' 1971, Oscar-winning animated film with its stunning design of a Victorian-engraving-come-to-life.

The film crams every second with a richly-condensed essence of the original story (including details frequently omitted from versions with a running-time four times the length) and it is crowded with stunning animation set-pieces of which the-most-terrifying-ever Marley's Ghost and a shape-shifting Spirit of Christmas Past are but two.

Vocal reprises from the 1951 Scrooge give us Alastair Sim and Michael Hordern as Scrooge & Marley and Michael Redgrave is an authoritative Narrator to steer us through this picture-perfect, Dickensian roller-coaster.

Finally (for now) a newcomer: this year's The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford, this is a highly fictionalised biopic set in the run-up to Christmas 1843 with Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) desperately searching for a story to write in order to keep family and home together and fend off mounting debts.

The characters of Scrooge and Marley along with well-known lines (such as "dead as a door-nail" and "if they be like to die let them do it and decrease the surplus population") all present themselves to the beleaguered Dickens in his daily life and from these encounters and overhearings he eventually crafts the little book we know so well.

The moments of historic accuracy a far outweighed by the wild flights of fancy, but with Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce as Dickens' father and pop-up performances from Donald Sumpter, Simon Callow, Miles Jupp and Miriam Margolyes to keep the punch bowl bubbling, it is a highly enjoyable watch.

Whilst The Man Who Invented Christmas plays, perhaps inevitably, to that age old lie (so needed by those of us who lack the imaginative spark of creativity) that all classics must have sprung from some real-life occurrence rather than from the pure invention of genius, it manages – as does just about every film that owes something to Dickens' "Ghost story of Christmas" – to capture enough of the spirit of the book to be satisfactorily heartwarming on a cold, dark, winter's night!

Wednesday 19 December 2018


"Threatening clouds, but promise of late afternoon sun..."

Photo: David Weeks © 2018



Magical reflections, narrow streets, Madonnas and angels –– must be back in our second home...