Allen Jones: Women and Men Review

Though as much a painter as he is a sculptor, Allen Jones’ reputation – and, to some, notoriety – rests on the latter, three pieces from 1969 in particular. Table, Chair and Hat Stand presented a trio of idealised, sexualised and scantily-clad mannequins as, effectively, the furniture of their respective titles. Commanding coverage in glossy magazines and the ire of the feminist community, it is these works through which all of Jones’ other efforts have been viewed. Partially because to continues to work along similar themes, but predominantly because of the controversy they caused.

Jake Auerbach’s documentary – released onto DVD by the man himself – takes Table as its starting point. A damning contemporary article by Laura Mulvey is flashed onscreen and we hear of the vandalism it provoked: attacks by acid and paint stripper. It’s an understandable opening, and one that grabs the viewer’s attention, confronted as we are with these images of display and subjugation. But then Auerbach steps back and Allen Jones: Women and Men begins to follow a more conventional path.

Beginning with a potted history of Jones’ early career – the Royal College of Art with Peter Blake and David Hockney as contemporaries; the influence of Miro; a stint in New York working alongside Warhol and Lichtenstein – we settle into a documentary that is, essentially, Jones in his own words. Other talking heads punctuate the piece, amongst them Gary Hume, Paddy Whitaker and Darcy Bussell (the subject of Jones’ 1993 National Portrait Gallery commission), but for the most part this is Jones on Jones. Certainly it’s a worthy approach as we are taken through the methods and processes of both the canvases and sculptures, with specific works coming under scrutiny. We follow the Pianist Man paintings from sketch to finished work, see the influence of conjurer’s tricks on a new series, and take a look at his distinctive calligraphy-inspired sculptures amongst others. And we do gain an understanding of Jones, albeit one-sided. When the issues that Table and its companion pieces provoked are raised they are also somewhat brushed aside – acknowledged but never truly explored, like the proverbial elephant in the room.

Indeed Women and Men can’t help but feel incomplete as a result. As a subject – whether you’re for, against or neutral – Jones certainly warrants the documentary attention. Moreover his screen presence is such that we’ll willingly spend an hour or so in his company. However, there’s another film to be made here, a more probing, wide-ranging one that’ll gleefully get its teeth into the issues Jones’ work raises. As it stands Auerbach has produced a polished piece – technically sound, well paced, perfectly watchable in fact – but also a slightly empty one.

The Disc

Allen Jones: Women and Men is given the standard, no-frills DVD release – hardly surprising given it’s a self-produced release. The documentary comes in its original stereo and 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and both are generally sound. An hour’s worth of material on a single-layered disc we really shouldn’t expect otherwise. Certainly, it may not be perfect given the slight artefacting apparent from time to time and moderate edge enhancement, but the end result is never less than watchable and taken from a pleasing print. Similarly the soundtrack demonstrates no pronounced flaws and, of course, has little to contend with – just the voices of its contributors and the occasional bit of background music. Extras are non-existent which perhaps isn’t surprising, though one wonders if interview outtakes were numerable enough to warrant inclusion. (The disc is also with optional English subtitles, hard of hearing or otherwise.)

6 out of 10
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Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:32:37

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