Fast and Furious

Nina Hamnett

God knows I loves me some Nina Hamnett. But like her fellow Welsh-born artist and bohemian trailblazer Augustus John, she has rarely been the subject of the kind of serious documentary appraisal accorded many of her illustrious contemporaries. And so I was particularly pleased to stumble across this recently. Entitled Fast and Furious, it’s a short film portrait from 1989 which depicts the struggle between art and life which characterized much of Hamnett’s existence. It was a contest, in fact, which was only resolved by her definitive renunciation of both, when she committed suicide in 1956.

The overall impression from this film is of a woefully undervalued artistic legacy. This was partly due to Hamnett’s chaotic living conditions (although we learn that she was a surprisingly assiduous archivist, early on at least) but also attributable to a depressingly familiar marginalisation of 20th century female artists. While Hamnett’s two volumes of titillating, name-dropping memoirs were snapped up by a public eager for vicarious bohemian kicks, there has never been a monograph of her work.

In its 26 minutes Fast and Furious inevitably leaves some questions unanswered, perhaps none more tantalising than this: what the hell did James Joyce and Rudolf Valentino talk about when Hamnett introduced them to each other?

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13 comments

  1. Jerry Sprague

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the Nina Hamnett film. It is a revelation to me because with all of the reading I have done of Paris from the Belle Epoque through the 1950’s and of the Bloomsbury group, I have never before encountered Nina Hamnett. You continually open up new worlds for me. Thank you.

  2. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Joyce and Valentino most likely talked about… themselves.

  3. sunbad

    Great post, James – I will definitely look out for Fast & Furious (wonder how many revheads are perplexed by a trip to Fitzrovia rather than Highway 66?).

    I recently read Jack Lindsay’s autobiographical trilogy, Life Rarely Tells, which includes The Roaring Twenties, his account of Sydney bohemia, and Franfrolico and Beyond, about his time in London, meeting the likes of Lawrence, Hamnett and others while running the Franfrolico Press with the complex and appalling Inky Stephensen. Stephensen, who ghostwrote 70 books for the odious Frank Clune, also ran a vanity publisher which published Patrick White’s first collection of poetry, and founded the pro-Aboriginal, pro-Japanese, anti-British, anti-Semitic Publicist with JM Miles (the infamous Bea’s dad). Stephensen was the Queensland Rhodes Scholar for 1924 and was in the Communist Party at Oxford along with Graham Greene, AJP Taylor, Guy Burgess and Tom Driberg.

    It’s said that Driberg first coined the phrase “Fitzrovia” but others say that the Ceylonese-Tamil poet and publisher, James Meary Tambimuttu, nicknamed “Tambi” (which also means “little boy” in Tamil), who came up with it first. Tambi was friend and confidante to many writers and poets and artists in Fitzrovia and edited the magazine Poetry for 15 issues until fleeing the country in 1949. Anyway, a great post! And a reply, I realise, not very Hamnetty. Some more info on Tambi: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/found-the-secrets-of-the-little-prince-still-alive-527435.html

    PS: My wife and I are seeing Barry Humphries and Miaow Miaow singing Weimar cabaret with the Australian Chamber Orchestra at the Opera House tonight. So exciting! http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/barry-humphries-dancing-on-a-volcano/story-fn9n8gph-1226613262761

    • Thanks so much for your fascinating comment! I was walking through Fitzrovia the other day reflecting mournfully how little respect present-day London seems to have for more or less any 20th century figure not associated with war and/or governance, even the widely regarded artists and writers let alone some of the more marginal figures inhabiting the Fitzroy Tavern. Tambi is another one I’ve been meaning to return to.

      And I’ve been meaning to thank you for the recommendation of ‘Dancing with Empty Pockets’ which I am currently reading. Marcus Clarke – who knew? I had hoped to use it as the basis for some research in Sydney but that prospect dimmed any time the opportunity of a beach or restaurant came up.

      I trust the Weimar cabaret evening was a treat – I knew Barry Humphries to be a devotee of obscure 1890s figures but his appreciation of 1920s Berlin is new to me.

  4. Wow! Thank you so much for this great post. So happy to know about Fast and Furious!

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  6. jayjay

    Love to see this film sometime…. I went to school in Tenby but a bit far from home at the moment…
    FYI ….. Denise Hooker wrote a book, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia in 1986, and Ede’s book on Gaudier has some descriptions of Nina. Gaudier’s torso’s and Dancer are amazing sculptures for the time.

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