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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 4th April 2004

Lucian Freud's Ugly Streak


Lucian Freud has often been accused of misogyny thanks to the uncharitable way in which women are depicted in his paintings. Supermodels like Jerry Hall and Kate Moss are transformed into wizened concentration-camp victims, while ordinary-looking women, such as benefits officer Sue Tilley, become galumphing sea monsters. According to one critic, he made the Queen look like "a blue-chinned nightclub bouncer in a fright wig and a filthy temper".

Rubbish, say his defenders. Freud is merely painting women as they really are. It's the artist's unflinching gaze that's responsible for their unglamorous appearance, not his antipathy towards the opposite sex.

Freud's latest self-portrait, which was unveiled at the Wallace Collection this week, gives the lie to this argument. Instead of painting himself in the warts-and-all style he's famous for, the 81-year-old artist has produced an immensely flattering portrait in which he looks like a retired movie star living out his golden years in Beverly Hills. Far from bravely chronicling the destructive effects of time, something he always does when painting women, he looks no older than he did in a previous self-portrait dating back to 1985.

"Mustn't be indulgent to the subject-matter," Freud once said. "That is a recipe for bad art."

That may be true when it comes to portraying women, including his two ex-wives, his four daughters and his mother. But when it comes to painting himself, Freud is happy to transform his prune-like head into the bust of a Greek god.

Hurricane

The best play in the West End at the moment is Hurricane, a one-man show in which Richard Dormer takes us on a 60-minute dash through the life of Alex Higgins. I've been working as the theatre critic of The Spectator for two-and-a-half years now, but this is the first play I've seen about one of Britain's sporting heroes. That's all the more surprising, considering what great subjects they make, particularly if they have a self-destructive streak. Assuming Hurricane is a hit, which I'm sure it will be, I look forward to seeing plays about George Best, Paul Gascoigne and Frank Bruno.

The latest addition to this list may well turn out to be Wayne Rooney. Judging from the antics of his friends and relatives at the party he threw in Liverpool to celebrate his fiance's 18th birthday this week, it won't be long before he self-combusts. My favourite quote about the melee was supplied by one of Rooney's uncles. "Practically everyone was fighting or in the middle, trying to calm it down," he told a broadsheet newspaper.

In all his innocence, Rooney's uncle doesn't realise that he's confirmed the stereotypical view of Scousers, namely, that they alternate between saying "calm down, calm down" and beating the crap out of each other.

Come to think of it, if a one-man show about Wayne Rooney ever does reach the West End it should be a comedy rather than a straight play. I can't think of a better actor to portray the 18-year-old Everton player than Harry Enfield.

The Who

I went to see The Who last Monday at the Royal Albert Hall and was pleased to note that Pete Townsend's recent brush with the law hasn't diminished the band's popularity. Far from it. The concert sold out within hours of the tickets going on sale.

This has confirmed my view that, provided you're a bona fide rock star, you can get away with almost anything. I say "almost" because there's one thing for which they're never forgiven--and that's being bald.

I remember watching Barbara Walters interviewing Elton John just before the Oscars in 1994. Walters is famous for asking the questions that no other interviewer dares asks and she grilled the bespectacled singer relentlessly. No topic was out of bounds, from his battle with drug addiction, to the death of his former lover from AIDS. No topic, that is, except the bright orange rug that was conspicuously perched on top of his head.

It's funny. If it emerged that Pete Townsend was a serial killer who fried up his victims livers with some fava beans and a nice Chianti I don't suppose it would effect The Who's popularity one jot. But if, God forbid, Roger Daltry started losing his hair, he'd have to pay a visit to Elton John's wig-maker or the band wouldn't sell another ticket.

iPod Users Look Out

I was surprised to read that iPod-users are now being targeted by muggers. I'm the proud owner of an iPod and I venture out with it in Shepherd's Bush all the time, yet I've never been mugged.

The explanation, I fear, is that I bought my iPod in December, 2002, and it's now been superseded by a newer, smaller model. The fashion-conscious thieves of Shepherd's Bush aren't interested in an out-of-date machine like mine. They're after state-of-the-art iPods.

Why is it that, whenever a new model of any gizmo comes out, it's always more portable than the last? Don't the manufacturers of these products realise that it's their very portability that makes them so easy to steal? After all, if Apple's next generation of iPods were the size of old-fashioned boogie boxes they'd be a lot harder to make off with.

The same applies to mobile phones. Back in the 80s, when mobiles were the size of breeze blocks, you never heard any reports of people being mugged for their phones. Today, mobile phone theft has reached epidemic proportions. Clearly, the solution is for Motorola and Nokia to introduce a "classic" range, featuring some of their best-selling models from yesteryear. Even if some die-hard yobs still try and steal them, they'll make excellent weapons for fighting them off.

Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead, the latest zombie flick to hit our screens, has the best pre-credit sequence of any film I've seen since Moonraker. It starts quite slowly, then suddenly erupts in a jet of heart-stopping adrenalin that doesn't let up for ten minutes. It's one of the most skilfully directed action sequences I've ever seen.

The remaining 90 minutes, by contrast, seem to belong to a different film. It's a perfectly competent remake of George Romero's 1978 masterpiece, but there's nothing to match the brilliance of the opening scene. How to account for this discrepancy?

The answer is that the pre-credit sequence was broadcast in its entirety on American television four days before it was released. In other words, the first 10 minutes were designed to act as a carrot to lure audiences into the cinema. Clearly, the director put all his energy into perfecting this marketing device, knowing his film would stand or fall on its merits, and didn't bother with the rest. I can only imagine how good Dawn of the Dead would be if he'd managed to sustain the same high standard throughout.

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