The Verse’s Jake Francis attends ‘Fake News: The British Cinema Newspapers’ at The South Gallery, University of Brighton, which runs until 9th December 2017
It’s not common for an exhibition to be the epitome of its title. Nine times out of ten, art events are tied together under some sort of baggy, ‘artsy fartsy’ generalisation. You’ll find an exhibition of rocks suddenly being united by words like ‘sanctum’ or something irritating like ‘static beauty’. This is not the case with Fake News – an exhibition that says it like it is, but not what you may presume.
I didn’t know anything about this show before I visited. My only recollection was the generic details printed on its windows. Naturally, I made the fatal error of assuming this would be an exhibition that bears the scars of recent scandals: irrefutable news stories, click bait jargon, and headline polishing. The bulk of our social media news feeds. But as usual, I was wrong (sort of).
After delving my attention to the front page of an ancient newspaper, its plush framing implying historical and cultural importance. I soon realise in reading the label below that it is not ‘real’, but actually a film prop. Serves me right for always skipping those lengthy wall introductions.
This happens repeatedly until my stubborn (and admittedly slow) brain decides that this isn’t the exhibition I signed up for. I decided to break one of my two* cardinal rules of art viewing, reading that dreaded introduction pamphlet/text before viewing all of the art (or in this case, props). This sounds naive I know, but I prefer to see all of the work before subjecting myself to the bolt-on reading and justifications. I feel art as a whole should be interesting without context and explanation. If it is, then I’ll get to the writing later. After painstakingly squinting my eyes to read each and every word of that dreaded cascade of information, I knew where and what I was standing in. A mini-retrospective of the cinematic tabloid.
Amongst these literally ‘fake’ broadsheets, you’ll find the headlines of films such as Brighton Rock, A Clockwork Orange, and numerous Hitchcock thrillers. In many cases, the headlines are the only coherent thing you’ll find within these props. With the surrounding stories stolen from actual newspapers and having no connection between its by-line and content whatsoever. (My personal favourite being the story of a gallery’s redevelopment plan under the headline ‘Cereal Killer’)
Alongside the static newspapers, there is also an alluring video collage of Hitchcock’s films, bringing a wide array of newspaper-as-narrative scenes together (with the fitting ‘plink-plonk audio of a Hitchcockian classic.) The exhibition is certainly not one that fills an afternoon, but the items on display are hugely interesting and hold a lot of potential enjoyment. While an exhibition of newspaper clippings doesn’t sound too enticing, there is a range of mini-newspapers from various Wallace and Gromit films. Perfectly suited and scaled to our familiar plasticine heroes.
Throughout the exhibition, the concept of ‘storytelling’ is understandably palpable. Each prop standing as confirmation of how we rationalise information within the fast-paced narratives inside the cinematic tale. It’s clear, especially today, that we summarise a complex issue or story by its headline or title – rightly or wrongly.
Many directors have utilised this to their advantage since the medium’s conception. Despite it being an age-old technique, it has evidently kept its rigour as technology has progressed. It’s hard to find an episode of Hollyoaks without the story being stitched together by a text message. Or a film antagonist googling a news headline to progress his/her connection to the film’s endpoint. Some may call this lazy or even ‘bad’ narration, but the following quote from Hitchcock found within the exhibition has a calculated response for its justified use, ‘Where can you get movie stories that are better than today’s headlines?’ I have to agree with him.
‘Fake News: The British Cinema Newspapers’ is on display at The South Gallery, University of Brighton until the 9th of December. Entry is free.
Monday – Friday 11am – 7pm
Saturday 10am – 4pm
*The other rule is one of complete disregard for audio guides. They are awful and they deserve the most amount of contempt that you have to spare.