Viri and Nedra Berland live a charmed life. He, an architect, intelligent, with good friends and the most wonderful way with his kids; she, the type of woman you see on the tube and construct – correctly – a whole beautiful back story just from the cut of her sweater and the way she tucks her hair behind her ear.
In Light Years, the simple, telling details (James Salter's glory), narrated through a series of snapshots, chart the course of the Berlands' lives from late twenties to latter years. Their days unfold quietly, tastefully. 'It was like a garment, this life. Its beauty was outside, its warmth within.' Affectionate throughout, never violent, ever faithful – even while neither actually managing to be faithful – unerringly loving towards their children, nevertheless they are restless, dissatisfied. For all that they have, they still want more. Theirs is a life to simultaneously crave and reject.
So why write about this book this month? Because: for all the cracks that inevitably begin to show, the Berlands sure know how to host a good gathering. From candle-lit dinners, to Easter egg hunts; from dad-run puppet shows, and huge papier- mâché frogs filled with gifts and chocolate coins, to 'lunches on a blue checked cloth on which salt is spilled. The smell of tobacco. Brie, yellow apples, wood-handled knives', their life is a blueprint for celebration. Feast on this family's tender, seductive magic.
THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO
The first time I watched The Last Days of Disco I was fourteen years old. Any dance film was a win, so, disco? Count me in. Sadly, I just didn't get it. Sure, the clothes were good, locations glamorous, music pleasingly familiar but where was the oompf? The plot? Why so much talking? I wrote it off as a dud. What I should have done is re-watch it two years later in the midst of my English Lit GCSE – I would have been tickled by Charlotte's peerless, Jane Austen-esque life and dating advice directed at the serious, bookish Alice. (Side-note: once you've watched Chloë Sevigny saying she thinks Scrooge McDuck is sexy, you'll forgive yourself all mild, mid-seduction blunders). Or two years after that, when I would have half nodded along to, half rolled my eyes at the whole gang's discussion of Lady and the Tramp ('Films like this programme women to adore jerks'. As Kate Beckinsale says in an interview: this scene is 'weirdly, wistfully amazing.').
What actually happened is that I waited over twenty years for my second viewing, and this time around, the third in Whit Stillman's loosely connected trilogy that he informally refers to as his 'Doomed Bourgeois in Love' series, was everything I needed it to be. Released in 1998, the film is set in the early 80s, 'a little later than prime-time disco' (Stillman), and centres around a group of twenty-something friends, navigating love, life and the last days of disco in all their messy, abstract, anxiety-ridden, life-giving forms. Highly stylised, intensely verbose, it takes a while to settle into it. But once you do: it's a delight! As one character declares at the end (only partially retracting his statement later): 'Disco will never be over'. Take that spirit and sally forth to all your Christmas parties.
INTO THE NIGHT
Sticking with the theme of night clubs, albeit this time, those of the avant-garde, we recommend a visit to the Barbican Art Gallery's Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art.
Spanning the period from the 1880s to the 1960s and showcasing the work of those such as Josef Hoffmann, Giacomo Balla, Fortunato Depero, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Jean Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Theo van Doesburg, Loïe Fuller and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as Henri Rivière, Jeanne Mammen, Erna Schmidt-Carroll, Duro Ladipo and Ibrahim El-Salahi, 'Into the Night explores the social and artistic role of cabarets, cafes and clubs in modern art across the world, from New York to Tehran, Paris, Mexico City, London, Berlin, Vienna, Ibadan and beyond … highlighting how these creative spaces offered platforms for artistic experimentation and exchange between artists, architects, designers, writers, dancers and musicians.'
Entering the exhibition, head upstairs to pore over art works, ephemera, objects (we loved such details as the clothing clip for waiters at the Cabaret Fledermaus, 1908) and furniture, or stand entranced before films, the cacophony of sounds spilling from each room only adding to the experience. Head downstairs for 1:1 scale recreations of a few of the vital social spaces featured above. Our favourites: Henri Rivière's shadow theatre at Chat Noir, and the the dazzling, elegant, colour and pattern-clashing Cabaret Fledermaus bar.
Into the Night continues until Sun 19 Jan 2020. Tickets on Thursday to Saturday evening include live jazz music performances and access to the in-gallery bar.