Monthly Archives: October 2014

London Film Festival 2014 Part 3

One of my exhibitions of the year so far was Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now at Dilston Grove, organised by the always interesting Matt’s Gallery. I added it to the list of places to keep an eye on, even though it’s quite far from home. Until 26th October, they have The Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores. It’s one of sadly few shows to have a smell element (one reason I like going to the Saatchi Gallery is to smell the room in the basement filled with oil). A bit like the now-closed Wapping Project, something about the space itself seems to attract good work, in this case the creation of a new type of urban garden, inspired by Stephen Cripps’ proposal. As you enter, it’s surprisingly claustrophobic, because there’s a low net bulging with what you’d have to call rubbish, the identity of which is unclear at first. There are improvised sofas and chairs at the side, and a pond at the far end.

Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores

I’ve always been a sucker for multi-channel sound, and it’s used very well here, conversations or music going on at the other end, inviting you to go down there or just to be pleased that something is transpiring. At one point, I was sitting opposite a recording of a booming sound system, complete with MC, while later on a young male voice asked for a “flat white, please” (recently someone had to explain to me what one of these is), amongst a commentary about the fertility of the urban environment.

One of the gallery staff offered to take me and someone else who was also reposing in the garden, up to the altar. From there, we could see the other side of the net, which was startlingly different, and gaze down on the pond.

Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores

Around the latter were dangling bags of water, without any fish inside, and a sternly silent PA speaker.

Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores

Walking back to the entrance I felt the ribbed pipes, hoping for a sensation of water flowing, but either my touch was too coarse or I picked the wrong ones. Sadly, I couldn’t attend the night of live performances in Dilston Grove on 18th October, but at least I’m writing about it and recommending it before it closes, which is a rare achievement.

Link to Flickr album

There’s clearly a circuit in Southwark Park. The small group I saw at Dilston Grove went ahead of me to the Cafe Gallery at the other end, to see Sharon Kivland’s Crazy About Their Bodies. I quite liked the stuffed animals wearing fezzes and spouting Marx, like escapees from a Godard film, but as happened the last time I visited, I found that it suffered in comparison with the Dilston Grove installation. The sticky notes in various texts, such as Benjamin’s Arcades Project, in the little bookshop area, were a nice touch. Perhaps I should change the order for my next visit.

On the way to the ICA, for my next Festival film, I saw a squirrel scornful of those stuffed instances. The film was Still the Water, clearly a favourite with flies, notably the one that spent the whole time flying around near the screen. It shared a feeling for the power of the sea and rocky sea shores, with the preceding day’s Lav Diaz film. The ubiquity of music, singing and dancing around the terminally-ill shaman mother was particularly affecting. In contrast, the slaughter of a goat drew lots of gasps and seat-squirmings.

Caught up with some of my reading at the Royal Festival Hall before the second film of the day, the talk at one of the neighbouring tables being exclamations such as:

“You’ve burnt my Ferrari”

and

“I would have invoiced my Parisian travel expenses”.

At the NFT I saw people with the same problem as me – bundles of Festival tickets, through which you have to fumble to find the right one. The Bulgarian ambassador very proudly introduced the director of Viktoria, who introduced the film. It was an interesting take on the recent manifestations of the Eastern Question at the large and the human scale, and I don’t think I’d seen a Bulgarian telling before (having seen lots of Romanian and at least one Hungarian). Funny at times, grim at others, I think I agreed in part with the person next to me who told his friend that it was overlong. That said, the director stated in the Q&A it was very much her own story and it may be harder to trim as a result. Asked what her cinematic influences were, she said that in fact she drew more from stills photographers than filmmakers.

“Why are forests always blue?”

was one of her laments, and a failing she saw in others she didn’t want to repeat. Two of the actors were with her, and it came out during a question about casting that one of them was in fact her niece, who admitted that the shoot had been difficult because she was, well, a teenager, but:

“I love you, auntie”.

On the train home, which was the last one, a woman lamented to her companions that

Boys don’t deserve to have good eyelashes.

Hmm. Still a week to go in my retrospective round-up. At least there will be another appearance from Godard in the next instalment.

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London Film Festival 2014 Part 2

In between films, I have been trying to accommodate other cultural needs, hence a trip to Wandsworth to the Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery to see gleam, by Richard Stone. The last time I’d been there the owner had proudly shown me one of Stone’s works (a marvellously organic marble piece), waiting to go on display. The violence of some of the sea paintings reminded me of the show at the National Maritime Museum, while others resembled slices taken through complicated layers of stone, which was an effect I hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t much time to hang around, because I needed to go back to Waterloo for that day’s festival film, From What Is Before, by Lav Diaz. On the train there, someone complained that:

they’re doing matching wines and I don’t see the point of that.

The film festival representative, who’d clearly rushed from another part of the building to the Studio, told us that we were:

..in for a very long stint, and I wish you all the best.

This was after he’d explained that there would be no interval in the five and a half hour film, mainly because the director had made no allowances for one. Oddly, a couple did leave several hours before the end, though I couldn’t tell you how long they had stayed. Someone did take advantage of their departure to sprawl more, which helped when he was taking in some sneaky food, to sustain his viewing.

There were quite a few parallels with Timbuktu, which I had seen the night before, notably the manifestation of evil in a specific place, and the ubiquity of guns, this time M16s instead of grubby AK47s. The austerity of the desert in Sissako’s film had its equivalent here in the remorseless fecundity of the Philippines, which seemed in itself to contribute to moral degradation. A couple of hours shorter than Satantango, it did share that focus on a single location. Not that long ago I saw Diaz’s Norte, the end of History, and the new film shared with that the ordeal of viewing – I mean that in a good way. You really feel like you’ve shared your life with the characters, rather than just sitting through some images. The occasionally black humour didn’t detract from the political message, which was all the more resonant for the immersion that Diaz achieved. This was the first time I’d seen references to the kapre, which is a malign mythical creature. One particularly memorable phrase, coming from the lackadaisical government response to animal deaths, was the danger of:

perilous microbes.

The man next to me reacted with some astonishment when he asked his wife what time it was at the end:

Jesus Christ. You’re joking? Is that the time?

which suggests she may not have briefed him fully on the nature of their joint Saturday afternoon.

That evening, I was due to see Underworld, performing the dubnobasswithmyheadman album twenty years after its release. I think the Guardian has decided that these album playthroughs are a bad thing now. Nevertheless, I went along. The South Bank proximity meant I could linger in the Royal Festival Hall for a while, recovering from the Lav Diaz film, and preparing for a rather different experience. The unrecognisable booms of the soundcheck were audible while I read my month-old New Yorker and watched people trying to jib in to the Members’ Bar, both Blue and Green sides (I imagine). A couple of e-mails that week had informed us that there would be an “overture” before the main set, with no support act. Some people at the front, waiting, rang their friends who were in the circle and waved at them, taunting them with their own high-status proximity to the stage. Meanwhile, the lights on the rig above could be seen moving around, without illumination, in practice for later on. When the auditorium lights were lowered, there were some premature whoops, also practice for later on. As with Jon Hopkins, most of the audience stood for most of the performance, with ostentatious dancing in the aisles and by the stage, as well as in those strange boxes above the stalls. Not sure I actually have that album, though I knew a lot of the songs anyway, the mid-nineties being near the peak of my musical acuity. They do make quite a funny pair, Smith and Hyde, the poet and the loss adjuster. A large display panel was behind them, mainly used to show the song titles, these acting like phone photo catnip for most in the crowd. Rick Smith had three laptops plus mixing desk, while a third person (Darren Price?) had a separate laptop towards the side, and for each song Price would come and change the paper strips for the desk. These strips reminded me of how air traffic control used to work, in the days of West Drayton. Cowgirl and Rez were my favourites, not spoiled by a brief interlude of equipment meltdown.

Underworld at the Royal Festival Hall

For once the encore did seem to be a genuine one, because the mixing desk seemed to have the wrong channel labels at first and the bass was far too quiet for Born Slippy .Nuxx. Rick Smith indicated with strident hand gestures what needed to be remedied, and it was. Naturally, I didn’t share the “euphoria” of many of those around me, but I did really enjoy it, even more than I expected, indulging the me of twenty years before. (I probably saw them at Megadog or similar, but I can’t remember). What most surprised me was the spectacle of Karl Hyde’s funky hips.

It’s considered a bit non-U to mention that Danny Boyle was sitting behind me, so I won’t under any circumstances do that.

 

One third of the Booker shortlist and one from the longlist

Nine years ago I was quite pleased to have read one of the Booker-shortlisted books before the list was announced. It was Arthur and George. (Actually, I think I read The Sense of an Ending before that won as well. Spooky Barnes). I’d also read the previous two years’ winners. Now that I’m mostly dependent for reading on what’s available in the library, I wanted to take in as many of this year’s shortlist as I could, again before the cheesy big night, because that would make it more Genuine. (I’m going to attempt the same with the Turner Prize). When I remembered Howard Jacobson’s J, loads of people had already reserved it, so there was no way it would arrive in time. Bah. Greater success with To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, which I remembered being ambivalently well reviewed, on Saturday Review. Some of it was hilarious, notably the arguments with Mrs Conroy, while other parts were too earnest and schematic. It does have a bad structure, in that it comes to an end rather unsatisfyingly. A sense of uncomprehending alienation is well conveyed. Definite semito-phile elements.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, was another Radio 3 special, in that they discussed it on Free Thinking a few months ago, which meant I had to postpone the podcast until I’d read it. Should give credit to Matthew Sweet here, who was careful to point out that the discussion would be unable to avoid spoilers. This was the first I’d heard of it, and after that I deliberately avoided reviews. It’s very poignant and the most affecting of the three candidate books I’ve encompassed. The structure is interesting, and she calls attention to it herself, which doesn’t at all ruin the trick. It strongly reminded me of a fairly recent film, whose identity I shouldn’t reveal, because the link in itself would constitute an involuntary reveal. Weirdly, there was a mention of frog dissection, just as I’d read about a few weeks before, carried out by Bazarov in Fathers and Sons.

Of those two actually on the shortlist, Karen Joy Fowler’s would be my choice. When I picked it, Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World was on the longlist, and didn’t make it further. I read it anyway, finishing last week. A few people have reserved it after me, but they’ve been caught out because my local library is being “refurbished”, and I don’t have to return it until January. Of these three, it’s much the most work to read, in a good way. The decision to frame it as the compilation of a multiplicity of sources allows for the picture of the protagonist to be more ambivalent, rendering the political point more effective, I think. It’s one of the very few times I’ve read convincing descriptions of artworks in a novel.

None of these are the “bookies”‘ choice, so I doubt I’m picking the ultimate winner here. Still, I think a one-third sampling isn’t too discreditable.

London Film Festival 2014 Part 1

October is the month of exceeding normal limits. In this case, seeing more films than may be advisable for a civilian, at the London Film Festival. Having missed out on the opening night gala stuff, the first one for me this year was Men, Women and Children, admittedly a choice largely made by my coeval. It’s unfortunate that most of the big “film events” of the festival take place in Leicester Square, most woeful of all the West End foci. There are extra barriers for the Red Carpets, making an already confusing layout more difficult still. There were Young People making those sounds and taking their photos of people on the carpet, which was puzzling because I didn’t think there was anyone particularly salient in the cast. It is a bit odd being ushered in the same way as the famous celebrities, though it is, after all, just a carpet. Inside the cinema there were special cordoned off areas for the different grades of attendee, and I waited by one of those for my coeval’s comfort break, during which she benefitted from some practical advice by someone who turned out to be one of the film’s stars. Each seat had a bottle of water and a small free bar of chocolate, the latter turning out to be a feature of all the gala screenings.

It turned out that the screams outside must have been for the two “young stars”, one of whom we’ve met already. They joined Jason Reitman onstage for the introduction, during which he singled out the composer, who was hiding in the main audience. I disagreed with claims that the inclusion of instant messages on the screen was innovative, given I remember seeing a South Korean film that did something similar about ten years ago. The themes were interesting, notably the mad excesses misguided parental over-protectiveness can reach, and the minor reversal at the end was quite satisfying in a rather bleak way, but I did think it was rather unsubtle and glib.

Non-attendees presented post-film choc sweep opportunities, not that I would stoop to that level. The next day it was Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, the audience for this being skewed (as Hank would say) to an older demographic. In particular, there were lots of middle-aged women determined to grab photos/footage of Leigh and Spall et al on the stage. The Red Carpet was less of an obstacle this time, and I saw Leigh being interviewed by a TV crew. He pointed out that Turner almost definitely would have walked that very spot, because he was such a keen explorer. It reminded me that I still haven’t been to the Turner House in Twickenham, even though I lived very close to it for a while. In the Spring we saw Topsy-Turvy with members of the cast and it was interesting to compare the two. These historical settings induce a very different feel, based as they are on “real” events. It was just as good as you would expect, with Spall’s marvellous irascibility and Dorothy Atkinson great again (she stood out in Topsy-Turvy, too). It looks beautiful, as it should, and Spall convinces as an instinctive, not an intellectual painter. The gentlemen’s club that was the Royal Academy was particularly funny, and poignant. In free chocolate news, they were handed out on the way in, and the couple in front of me couldn’t seem to make their minds up whether to accept them, to the confused exasperation of the usher.

The slightly odd aspect of that evening was that I had a ticket to see the next film, on the same screen in the same venue, but I had to leave and then wait outside in the square until they could let me back in. Someone with a different personality might have stayed in screen 2 and argued that it was pointless to go and come back… At least it wasn’t raining while I watched the large queue forming down the side road, and the consternation amongst those who thought they should be admitted straight away. By the entrance I marvelled at a man who had a dual ice cream cone, with three scoops, one of them nestling mid-cone, which he was nonchalantly slurping. The film we were waiting for was Timbuktu, which I think was one of my secondary purchases (I buy a big batch of tickets on the day they become available then gradually add more as the schedule clarifies). The director gave a brief introduction, helped by the lady who seems to be the go-to BFI French translator. He described it as a “film about water and sun“. I thought it was a pretty extraordinary combination of the blackest farcical humour and the sort of bleak tragedy of remorseless inevitability you see in Paths of Glory. When asked about the process of making the film, the director Abderrahmane Sissako said that:

A film is about the relationship with the people making it, not the script.

In the original script, a daughter was three years old, but when he met a 12 year-old from a refugee camp, who turned up for each of the many auditions, he rewrote it to include her.

Anyway, that’s two days, from a week ago. Lots more reporting to come…