June 21, 2013
June 17, 2013
Eyes screwed shut behind her glasses. Her face, neck and shoulders are wet with pepper spray. Woman in a summer dress. Woman in the city on a warm night. Woman of a certain age. Old enough – sorry if this sounds rude – old enough to have grown a little fat; but no, our friend, the new friend we’ve never seen before, is growing thin and stringy instead. And this moment – with the pepper spray moist and prickly, condensing on her reddening skin – may be the moment that dries her out, thins and brittles her till the end of her days.
With so much frailty exposed, we can hardly fail to befriend her. She is to us like the tendons and muscles in anatomical drawings: raw and tenderised. Best not shake hands: hers might come away in ours.
Zap! Pow! A cartoon of vexatious particles aimed and fired at the woman of a certain age, the woman in a summer dress, in the city; streaming so neatly they could have been drawn on. Behind the thin straight line of pepper spray, a gloved hand holding the canister; and inside the glove, metal fingers? Or maybe no fingers at all: just the glove, and the padded sleeves, protective vest, over-trousers and over-sized helmet. Programmed from the outset but nothing inside except Robocop Till It Drops.
But look again at the narrow shoulders underneath the hard hat: you wouldn’t design Robocop to be so small. This is a case of Petite Police. A younger woman, perhaps; or a slim-hipped youth all booted up and set to go – who knows what human frailty that helmet is hiding?
We are at the cinema. On screen, the restaurant scene in which a villainous Mr Saatchi is seen holding the curvaceous Ms Lawson by the throat. There are shades of noir; echoes of Ace In The Hole (1951, with Kirk Douglas in the Saatchi position and Jan Sterling feeling his fingers around her neck); Beware, My Lovely (1952, Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino); Angel Face (1953, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons) andThe Big Knife (1955, Jack Palance and, again, Ida Lupino).
Luckless Lupino – seemingly the girl most likely to find herself in a throat-hold – was really A Player in 1950s Hollywood, adding writer, director and producer credits to her acting roles. Ida’s position of strength is echoed today in Nigella’s show-making, deal-clinching status in foodie TV both for the BBC and now ABC (as seen in the new, piping hot show, The Taste).
Meanwhile her husband, Charles Saatchi – the ex-adman-turned-art-collector who’s never alone because he always has a cigarette to hold hands with, is such a dyed-in the-wool smoker he too might be described as taking a leaf out of the noir pack.
Yet for all the smoke signals of the past, the mise en scene has moved on from the 1950s. No morechiaroscuro; instead of a monochrome contrast between light and dark, the current scene offers a full spectrum of colour and texture.
Partly decorative, partly a screen to make the protagonists’ faces more elusive, more alluring, the restaurant is woven with pistachio green plants set against the incandescent copper-and-glass tubing which serves to warm this Mayfair terrace on an unseasonably cold day in June.
The tubing is smooth; so too is the suede of the villain’s shoes, but in a different way – one hairless, the other furry. And, somewhere in between, his immaculate, clinically white shirt made of the softest cotton: material that says ‘touch me’ even though you know you’re only ever going to see it on someone you don’t.