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:
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.
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.