Tag Archives: film

Stratford bears witness five times in one day

Norwich 11th July 2015

Self-knowledge has been a theme in at least one conversation lately. One finding well attested in my own domain is that I can’t be trusted to catch a specific train, leading to the appeal of flexible tickets. Various aspects of the long-term economic plan mean that flexible tickets are unpleasantly aligned price-band wise. Hence, to meet my desire to see some of the visual arts-related events in the Manchester International Festival, I had planned a bracingly early train this morning back to my home town. After various recent contrariwise success, I reverted to my own mean and missed the intended train. Rather, I set out from my flat knowing I would miss it, refreshing Citymapper to see by how many minutes I would miss it, all the while nearing Euston slightly. It’s so tragic to arrive at Euston and see your train disappear from the departure board before you’ve even negotiated the pitiful interface of the ticket collection machines. Alighting at Stratford, I crossed over the platforms to go back whence I’d come, all the while wondering how I could rescue a Saturday that looked to be manifesting itself in all the wrong ways.

One expedition I had been planning was to Norwich, for the Francis Bacon and the Masters exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. A summary of two reviews I’d skimmed through was that the main effect is to permanently relegate Bacon to a much lower artistic tier. Nevertheless, if nothing else I wanted to see all the loans from the Hermitage that had never been here before. The intention had been to leave work early on a Friday, having started early in compensation, to travel there for the late openings. Sir Humphrey might have described such an arrangement as “brave”.

It felt like going there was the best I could do to salvage the day. Arriving at my home station, I crossed over the bridge to take the next train back West, thereby passing through Stratford for the third time in an hour. Wonder what TfL’s data brains will make of that blip in their records? A slight saving grace was that I could use my Gold Card for the trip to Norwich, with its pleasing discount, meaning I didn’t feel like quite such a chump. Hmm.

A mother and daughter were in my carriage and ended up taking the same bus as me from Norwich station. “He texted me, and I was like, I know you are forgetful, but you’ve got to keep in touch with me”, was one of the latter’s complaints to the former. Life is, indeed, very hard. Going through Diss reminded me of attending the 1996 edition of the Big Chill, when the conductor, in a fit of extemporisation that wouldn’t be countenanced today, gave his

“welcome to the hordes who have joined us at Diss. And they are hordes. But they’re just as welcome”.

The Google directions on which I was relying were a little hazy, and I lamented that the bus didn’t have the enunciations of each stop that are so handy in That London. There was also something on the SCVA site about the normal bus route not working, so I was prepared for some emergency yomping. It did drop me off on the campus, eventually, and unlike CERN there were plenty of signposts, so it was easy to find the venue.

The first room includes large photos taken of Bacon’s studio in South Ken, which makes me wonder if I used to walk near there when I worked in that area. It looked like a six-year-old child’s idea of a good painting studio, which is probably a good thing. A husband, coming down the spiral stairs into this room with his wife, having waited for people coming up to pass, informed her firmly that it’s “much easier downstairs on the outside, upstairs on the inside, because of the wider steps”. The self-portrait by Cézanne did indeed shine compared with the neighbouring Bacon.

After hearing the same thing about Modigliani, it was noteworthy that Bacon too had a very high regard for ancient Egyptian art, and I liked the examples of statues and death masks. One of the very pleasing things about the venue, which I hadn’t visited before, was that it was quite spacious, meaning that there was plenty of room to see things at your own pace without being jostled by audioguide-wearing dullards.

Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy was cited as a specific inspiration for Bacon, and was displayed on a large circular plinth, with the protective detectors around it making erratic clicks. The boy makes you crouch in order to see him and his despair properly. Trying to avoid some chatterers, I went around the corner to the Rembrandt section.

Two ladies were particularly impressed with the way brushstrokes had been used to create the impression of veins in the hands of the old man. In one of the blurbs they found the word “verisimilitude” unfamiliar and mis-pronounced it. Ever keen to be helpful, I offered both a pronunciation and a definition. They looked back from the old lady portrait to the old man, who looked “so Jewish”. Both of these were startlingly full of psychological depth, rendered in Bacon’s words by:

“Non-rational marks, a coagulation of non-representational marks”

The Bacon portraits next to them did look pretty amateurish and thin in comparison, not an observation I savour, because I’ve always liked Bacon. The two Velazquez royal portraits were nearlya s good as the Rembrandts. I came around to the Crouching Boy again
and decided that it’s actually better that you can’t easily see the face.

There was a better juxtaposition between Bacon’s portrait of Lisa Sainsbury and a Picasso portrait of a woman, in the next room. Bacon referred to a specific Van Gogh work repeatedly, but again I preferred the ‘originals’, though there was a strange landscape, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier that stood out more successfully than many of the other Bacons. The link that was claimed to Ingres seemed tenuous, at least the actual Ingres painting that was included (there was at least one book on Ingres in the display taken from the contents of Bacon’s studio). Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X was particularly favoured by Bacon. Did I imagine that I saw it in the fairly recent National Gallery show about colours? Hmm. I was pleased to have realised that one of the Greek sculptures was of Hercules before I read the caption, which must mean that my recent visit to the Greek art show at the British Museum had implanted in my mind after all. Overall, it is a very satisfying show, albeit mainly for the reference points cited for and by Bacon, rather than his own works. Who indeed would shine next to Rembrandt and Velazquez, though? It does confirm that I need to visit the Hermitage, which is an easy thing to say…

Given the travails of my travels, it made sense to explore the rest of the gallery. In the Tony Birks: A Passion for Pots, I did find the earthenware violin notable, and I liked a display of The Backs by Matisse, on loan from the Tate. Upstairs was Abstraction and the Art of John Golding, comprising a small set of abstract 20th century art then several series from Golding, another new artist to me. Hans Arp, who was referred to in the Bacon show, appeared again, as did Hepworth (whom I saw recently at Tate Britain). To me it was a very satisfying survey of abstraction, one of my favourite types of art and I really liked some of the Golding. Apparently a proper retrospective is in preparation.

Taking lunch outside, I saw some Scottish visitors, one of whom took a photo of the rest from behind a Henry Moore sculpture. “That’s very rude” was the comment. Walking back to the bus stop through the campus, the various noises from building cooling systems and plant seemed very familiar, even in their variety. Something of an academic environment universal. On the way out of the campus there was a board with flyers, one of which was for Shed Seven and Inspiral Carpets. Repetitions of what I could have seen twenty five years ago does not feel like a healthy sign.

Next to me in the carriage was a group of three train spotters, the defence of whom John Peel was always keen to make, I remember. One of them was getting married, with the “stag” organised by his step-children.

“Some people walking down the platform, I could do with a whistle, lean out of the window and blow it. Might get in trouble, though”

mused one of them, in response to a female student (with backpack) and her mother walking along. The conductor was quite cheery and savoured the pronunciation of Manningtree in his roll-call of stations. It was on this service that I went through Stratford for the fourth time. Instead of the awkward formulation of trains “terminating”, he referred to “Liverpool Street, where this train completes its journey”, which is much more soothing.

Back on the Central Line again, on which a man ostentatiously packed away his laptop when I took the neighbouring seat, then started reading his Kindle. Perhaps he was worried about the trade secrets of his consultancy business. On this journey home I passed through Stratford for the fifth time. Eheu.

Link to Flickr album

To avoid making it six Stratford encounters, I went to see Amy at my local Odeon. Just as with Senna, you hope that somehow it will be alright, even as you know it won’t be, which is testament to how cleverly Kapadia draws together the archive footage with the audio interviews. Using her lyrics as the armature was an inspired move, given how directly she wrote about herself. How could anyone sustain that kind of life, especially with the nature of the circus that attached itself to her? The saddest and most apposite comment in the film came from Tony Bennett, someone she idolised, who said that

“Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough”.

Final day prequel sequel

Following some excursions and other days, the next event was Tim Key’s Father Slutmas, the second year running that I’d seen his Festivus show. This time it was at the Arts Theatre, the lobby of which grew remarkably crowded while we waited for the auditorium to be prepared. That seems to be the pattern at this venue. Daniel Kitson nonchalantly came up to collect his ticket. In fact, during the show, there was apparently Someone Famous a few rows from the front, to which Key referred, but I didn’t recognise them. The victim in the audience who was invited onto the stage was particularly keen and compliant, if indeed he was genuine. Key still does the best shouting of any comedian. At TCR, a rather drunk person was very pleased with her feeding of the mice on the tracks. On the train itself, some women were lamenting the lack of essence in their phones:

“What kind of bar doesn’t have a charger? 1% battery”.

I think they were trying to record the number of a potential gentleman caller.

“I might as well have a land line”.

A day later I saw Alice Neel at Victoria Miro Mayfair. Not really to my taste, in spite of the feline subjects, though it was interesting to see the changes in her style over the years, the progression towards stronger, thicker lines. Not too far away was the Carroll/Fletcher Project Space, for Uncertain Identities. My favourite piece here was The Conductor’s Fear of the Soloist – Ten Small Pieces for Violin, a video showing downstairs on two screens at a right-angle. The sang-froid of the violinist, keeping alive in the middle of the road while playing his music, was very impressive. Some of the people driving and walking past barely noticed him, untroubled by a mid-tarmac musician, while others stared and recorded. No one, in the sections I saw, engaged with him. On the other screen, the traffic was in a genuine gridlock, worthy of Jacques Tati.

To what we can only call Islington the following day, for the other Victoria Miro gallery. There were some pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama outside, attracting methodical attention by Japanese tourists:

External installation at Victoria Miro

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin at Victoria Miro

Next to it was James Clar’s installation celebrating 10 years of Parasol Unit:

James Clar - All Everything

Outdoor installation at Parasol Unit

Back inside, the collage-paintings of Wangechi Mutu were very dense and at first I resisted them. Looking more closely, I liked the way she was using materials, such as a flower composed of insects, pearls, feathers and snake skins (while disapproving, faintly). The video upstairs was very cleverly done, with its reversed movements. One of the reliable pleasures here is the comments book. Someone who taught African Studies realised as a result of seeing Mutu’s work that the course was very male-dominated:

“Seeing these feminine centred evocations of Gikuyu mythology and blackness more generally is just so beautiful and evocative and inspiring. I can’t thank you enough for producing this work.”

Someone else said that the “creature gave me goosebumps”.
That morning while travelling I read an article in an old New Yorker about Eric Fischl’s paintings of attendees at private views and art fairs, and he had a show in the remaining Victoria Miro space. One of the male figures was reminiscent of Alan ‘Botney’ Yentob, but perhaps that was just a coincidence. Fischl’s contempt for his subjects was hilarious, including the superimposition of a skull. Again the comments revealed people’s appreciation.

Eric Fischl comments

Comments book for Eric Fischl

That evening, an old lady at a bus stop in Kilburn queried my Parasol Unit bag:

“Parasol? Parasol? Is Polish?”

The next day began with a trip to the Work Gallery, for After the flash, which explored the imagery of the Atomic Age. It conveyed a sense of the American feeling of power and plenitude in the 1950s, as well as the banality of the secret projects that sought to maintain and extend that power. Also prominent was the remarkable complacency and nonchalance with which they plundered the environment, and the unlikely glamour of atomic weaponry. There was a photo of some Teddy boy types with their molls, lolling about in the desert, attracted perhaps by a bomb test. Apparently a man who had worked at Sellafield came to the show and was talking about the changes at the site compared with the cheery postcard from the 1950s. There’s a good write-up of the show, with lots of photos, including some from the associated book, here. It reminded me that I need to read the Command and Control book that I bought with book tokens in Christmas 2013.

Over to Soho for the inconspicuous Anthony Reynolds gallery and their show What’s In and What’s Not, an interestingly varied group show, then Mayfair for the Timothy Taylor gallery, only to find that it was closed, owing to “construction works”. Tsk. At least that freed some time for Gerhard Richter show at the Marian Goodman gallery, again the last day, which meant it was quite crowded. These were mostly fairly recent works, rather different than the large retrospective I’d seen at Tate Modern a few years ago. At first I was rather wary of the squashed-behind-glass paintings, but I did warm to them when I spotted wrinkles caused by the squashing, and when some of them came to resemble cross-sections of cells, with stretched blobs and holes. There was a member of staff with a trolley on which a laptop was perched, and some tools. He was checking one of the paintings in a way that seemed quite mysterious, and his presence was sufficiently noteworthy that people were taking photos of him rather than the painting itself. Observing my own reactions, it became clear that the mood of the coloured line paintings was altered by the varying prevalence of the collections of stripes – some of the conjunctions sang, while others were mute.

Gerhard Richter

There was another series of rather small landscapes which Richter had defaced/improved with very clever smudges and smears, making people smile as they realised what was happening.

DSC04932

Someone was escorted out of the building while I was there, saying

“How silly, not painting anything”.

Flickr album of Gerhard Richter at Marian Goodman

Final destination for the day was the BFI, for Another Earth, part of their Sci-Fi season. In contrast to some, I don’t shy away from buses, this time the 139. A pensioner commiserated with the driver, who had to cope with dilatory West End crowds, as well as the sluggish traffic. However, she rescinded her sympathy later when there was some confusion over whether the destination of the bus had changed or not. Eventually the bus did “terminate” early and people alighted forlornly, cursing the driver, who will have been told to do so by his Controllers, with their plans for the Greater Good. The film itself was open to charges of melodrama (not always a bad thing) and predictability, though with an unusually deft and satisfying ending.

There was more to see on Sunday, starting with Nathan Eastwood at the Nunnery Gallery, where I’d enjoyed the East London Group of Artists show in the summer. It also feels more virtuous to support a venue that’s at least vaguely local, instead of the usual trek into the Big Bad Centre. Because it was the last day, the artist himself was there, talking to someone who I think must have been a journalist or another member of the Art World. He said he was particularly interested in “social realism” and that he didn’t like having titles by his works (on the walls of the gallery), because they detracted from the visual effect. All of them had been painted specifically for this show, and he said he’d been inspired by seeing works by George Shaw several years ago. He also didn’t like having blurbs:

“Don’t explain everything”.

Because of this I was free to impose my own explanations, one of the paintings looking to me like the fractured ending of a residents’ meeting for a housing association, if such things still exist.

Onwards, onwards, to the Estorick Collection in Islington, for the final day of Roman Ostia. Free entry with my Art Fund card – opposite of tsk. This was a combination of ancient and modern, with some good abstract sculptures and lovely, sinister mosaics. I hadn’t seen the serrated card technique used by Umberto Mastroianni before, which is always good, though in the end most of the results were rather ugly (not always a bad thing). Amongst the frescoes on display, most of which were damaged, a woman’s eyes stood out, transcending the coarse medium.

DSC04946

Flickr album of Roman Ostia at the Estorick Collection.

Post-penultimate stop for the day was the ICA. For once I was a little early for my film, so I went into their “poundshop”, where I bought some Christmas-related item that I don’t think I used in the end. The film was Manakamana, which I think I’d made a note of from trailers a few months previously. It’s a wonderful example of that fixed situation genre, in this case a camera within cable cars going up from a village to a temple in Nepal and back again. There’s no voiceover, so you have to work out the relations between the occupants yourself. At first it’s unclear whether people even know each other, or whether they’ve been forced to co-habit for reasons of cable car efficiency. The first duo didn’t say a single word during the whole trip, while one of the following women declared:

“I’m not really a foothills person”.

Quite. In one case, the breathing of a wife was very prominent – I think she was rather anxious, being suspended that high up. Many people referred to the sal forest that they pass en route, one person extolling how good the corn is that’s grown there. The journeys we share with them take on a soothing rhythm, punctuated by sounds in the blackness at the end, as the car turns around inside the station, ready for the next ascent/descent. One group of young band members was particularly garrulous, full of their minutely-defined and ever-changing hierarchies.

“Nature is a flower pot for the cable car”,

said one, while another, who was hosting a very young kitten, said that they should grow out its hair, to match their own. At various points the car passes close to towers around which people cluster, and this group of musicians was jeered by such a group, perhaps because of their identifying haircuts.

A couple of women had ice creams, the results of which were that they fell into giggles, seemingly having forgotten any ice cream techniques they might once have known:

“We’re eating like children”.

One women travelling on her own had some flowers, and these seemed to be the cause of her beaming smile, emerging after shyness. Not quite so happy were the goats, tricked into a cable car journey, tied together no doubt very quickly so they were awkward and in each others’ way. Their car was rather more spartan, open to the air, and they showed their sincere fear in cycles during the ascent, the bleating possibly stimulated by the fact that the more exposed cars let in the sounds of the mechanism more strongly.

What a beautiful film.

London Film Festival 2014 Part 6

By now, several of the films I’ve mentioned, or am about to mention, are on show normally. It’s a slightly odd feeling, having taken them in already. In theory, this should make room for more, which is good. However, it does mean that the turnover in cinema listings feels particularly slow, when there’s nothing “new” on.

The next of my London Film Festival screenings was Phoenix, by Christian Petzold. Before it started (at Odeon West End, or OWE as it says on the tickets), I heard someone explaining Tarkovsky’s Solaris to her companion, decrying the Soderbergh version. Films of his I’ve seen are Yella, an acidic commentary on the corruption of German business and Barbara, a harrowing tale of political oppression in East Germany, both starring the wonderful Nina Hoss. She was present for this screening, and I think she gave one of the best Q&As of the entire festival. The interesting question is, I suppose, whether this coloured my view of the film. It covers the immediate post-war period in Germany, which is not one I’ve seen dramatised before. As usual Hoss is startlingly good. She took on a special walk, to “hide her femininity” and described her character as a “newborn”, an

“alien, who doesn’t know who she is”

All of this she conveys successfully, the most heartbreaking aspect being when the character can’t help herself, and is almost giddy, even though this giddiness is pushing her to make bad decisions. The plot is clever, with a particular song and its performance straddling the war and post-war periods, forming the arc of the film. Very highly recommended – I’m not sure when it will be released properly.

In passing, I note with dainty disdain that a man was watching Siralan on his tablet before the film started. Tsk.

The next day, at OWE again, was Mommy. I think this was one of those I bought later, after the festival had begun, when a scheduling conflict was removed. In the lobby I saw people taking “selfies” with a fairly short, well-dressed man. During the Q&A I realised this was the director, Xavier Dolan, and that he provoked a lot of excitement in the crowd. In my ignorance, I wasn’t particularly aware of his work, and had chosen this one for that reason. Because it was a gala screening, there was free chocolate again. The first thing I noticed about this film was the strangeness of the Canadian French dialect/accent, very different than the seemingly standard French you normally hear. It’s a slightly hysterical story, relying upon bold performances from the mother (who was a little reminiscent of the mother in Secrets and Lies) and the son, with a pretty downbeat ending. There’s an impressive moment when the aspect ratio completely changes, in a scene reminiscent of the imagined escape in The 25th Hour. Dolan said that he argued at length with the cinematographer about this and he felt he’d won the argument when there was applause at this point during an early screening. During the Q&A there was a rather pointless political question, lamenting the fact that Dolan had made films about mother figures but not father figures. The eager crowd booed at this and Dolan responded that he’d see the questioner for his next film, which is about a father. Another interesting point was about the music chosen for the soundtrack, which he defended from accusations of crude ironism. He said he

“wasn’t being funny”

with those choices. They were songs that were important to him.

After two days with just one film a day, it was back to the multiple film experience the next day, starting with a daytime screening of Foxcatcher. Here I think the less you know about the plot and the historical incident on which it’s based the better. I knew nothing and felt I enjoyed it more that way. Steve Carrell is chillingly good as du Pont. In fact, I didn’t realise it was him until afterwards. Adopting the Tom Paulin role, I’d have to say that it’s as much about America’s view of itself now, compared with the relative impunity of America in the 1980s, while also reflecting on the sinister narcissism of what in the old days we would call magnates. I agreed with the verdict of the person I overheard saying:

“That was a deep one. Extraordinary story. Those two were so good”

(referring to the two lead actors). Mark Ruffalo is also very good. One experience I couldn’t share was that of the person talking about the

“very expensive tour I did of the gardens, they were by du Pont”.

There was a bit of time before the next film, so I walked to the LRB shop, and fixed a niggle in my magazine obsession by finding an issue of the LRB that I’d missed, in the pile they have at the counter. Relax.

Back to the Vue West End this time, for 1001 Grams. I’d previously enjoyed Bent Hamer’s Kitchen Stories and Factotum, and the context of the Norwegian Metrology Service was curiously appealing. The scenes of the special meeting about the new kilogram were quietly hilarious, as was a cameo from a zealous French customs official. The overheard verdict this time was:

“Gentle, wasn’t it. A bit slow.”

I think gentle and slow go together and it’s a very satisfying film. Ambient quotations from the audience, not related to 1001 Grams:

“The Gobi. I always think of that being more Northern Mongolia”

and

“Everything that should have been made of wood, was made of tyres”.

I will be tracking down films of his I’ve missed, after the pleasure of this one.

Before the third festival event of that day, for reasons of proximity I walked to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Virginia Woolf show. Because it was one of their “Late Shift” Fridays, there were musicians warming up and drones filled the entrance hall. The lady who sold me the ticket sighed over these noises. Someone sneaked in through what was supposed to be an exit, and was spotted by the staff, but excused herself as being “with someone”. The exhibition told the story of Woolf’s life well, the paintings and photos by various Bloomsbury Set members and their associates drawing you through her life. Her letters, often when she was in great distress, were very poignant, while the black book of people the Nazis planned to suppress upon invasion, which included Leonard and Virginia Woolf, was chilling.

The evening event was a Screen Talk with Bennett Miller, who directed Foxcatcher and Moneyball, both of which I enjoyed. He was an engaging, diffident interviewee, among the quotes being that “every portrait is a self portrait”. He referred to

“the price of answered prayers”

and wondered

“How do we know a story?”.

Talking about his experience of filmmaking with one of his collaborators he said

“we had a wonderful miserable time together”.

Asked about style, he claimed that

“Style is inherent, like the colour of your eyes.”

His description of his journey through film school and into eventually becoming a director was interesting and I liked his quiet confidence in his work.

On Saturday 18th I saw Winter Sleep, the Palme D’Or winner by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, now on general release like Leviathan. The person giving the introduction described it as

“quite an interestingly long film. An inaction film”.

It’s only a little over three hours, so not that long really. Apparently, some think it’s not as good as Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, which I confess I haven’t seen yet. There’s very little action, it being much more a character study, in Ceylan’s usual Chekovian mould, though there is one scene that in context is very shocking, reminding me of a similar highly charged moment in The Idiot. If you can sustain interest for this sort of duration, it’s very satisfying. One of the three best I saw at the festival, along with Phoenix and Leviathan.

The final film for me was 6 Desires: D.H. Lawrence and Sardinia by Mark Cousins, at the ICA. It’s a form of re-creation essay documentary, but with Cousins’ usual impish authorial reminders and interventions. His narration voice guides you along, giving way to his collaborator’s voice half-way through. As with his bracing A Story of Children and Film, at first he makes you feel bad for not having seen or read as much as him, but then inspires you to try and catch up. Right at the end he claims he will deny us something, for valid artistic reasons, with the possibility of relenting… An unusual treat for my own ending.

 

London Film Festival 2014 Part 4

When Gravity was coming out, I tried to buy tickets to the few IMAX showings. However, this was an unsatisfactory ‘experience’ – the only showings available were at unfeasible midnight-related hours of the night. Hence, the BFI IMAX remained just a building I saw during frequent trips to the Southbank, when taking a specific route to Waterloo, avoiding travelators for the Jubilee Line. What I hadn’t predicted was that my first visit there would be for a Jean Luc Godard film, in 3D. It’s actually quite a weird place to reach, with its isolation in a sort of roundabout, and a profusion of tunnels, only one of which leads to the entrance (more or less).

Though I love the early films of his I’ve seen, Breathless, Alphaville up to Le Weekend, and quite liked Eloge de l’amour, I’ve generally avoided the more sternly political Godard output of recent years. However, I couldn’t resist the idea of seeing Goodbye to Language on the huge screen, notwithstanding the dreariness of 3D glasses.  The people behind me had a similar elitist attitude, describing a previous visit:

“Normally I hate 3D films. We came and walked out.”

Regarding their ticket purchase, they said that they’d joined specially to buy tickets for that film. Before the screening started, there was a brief introduction from Jonathan Romney, including the pleasing revelation that two of the actors would be answering questions afterwards. Romney prepared us by saying that it was like being savaged (or a similar violent simile). As usual, there was a period of acclimatisation to the 3D, but in this case Godard deliberately kept us on our toes, because at points we would use two different images, not to create the appearance of depth but to create a ghostly overlapping of two different versions of a scene at once, which was a disturbing but very effective trick. (For instance, you would see characters in two different positions at once, conveying different social dynamics). It may have been with this in mind that the question of whether the “non-working 3D was deliberate” was raised, to general bemusement.

Because I hadn’t read the blurb properly, I wasn’t aware how prominent a role the dog Roxy would play. In fact, he’s one of the main protagonists. A human says at one point that he “looks depressed”.

“No, he’s dreaming of the islands, like in the Jack London novel”,

responded another. The actors later lamented that they never got to meet Roxy during shooting. Some of the dialogue was textbook Godard:

“He’s just an individual…”

“I hate characters”

Someone asked whether the subtitles had been sub-contracted, explaining the errors he detected. The actors responded that Godard is involved directly in every part of his films and they assumed this applied to the subtitles as well. One of them also revealed that they’d watched it from the top of the IMAX, and the audience effectively appeared in the film for him. “Bravo”, was his verdict. It was another appearance for the now familiar French interpreter for the BFI, leading to the suggestion that soon

“we’ll need an interpreter for our own thoughts”.

As ever with Godard, the amount of female nudity didn’t seem fully justified and it was perhaps difficult to engage with the characters. However, it was highly distinctive and bracing, and thought-provoking. As Jonathan Romney said, it’s the

“most violent use of 3D ever”.

This was one of the two-film evenings, when I had to travel from Waterloo to Mayfair, for The Falling at the Curzon. On the way I bought some form of “super salad”, but forgot to take the free fork. Suffering some moral anguish, I nevertheless took a free fork from another shop, to save unedifying finger-based eating, which wouldn’t go down very well in that area. I’d never seen that Curzon so busy. There was basically no room inside, so people were congregating by the doors, sheltering from the unhelpful rain. A man was desperately trying to impress his lady companion with the tale of his recently-acquired flat, how he had out-foxed Foxton’s. After a false alarm, they came back out and he conceded that there is an “extra buzz” of seeing a film at a festival, being surrounded by journalists who’ve seen two films already. I think there were a lot of industry types there, judging by the comments such as

“the first film I ever art directed”

that I heard in passing.

Of course, I remember Carol Morley from the semi-infamous Tot in Manchester in the 1980s, who appeared on the Debris magazine compilation I bought from Eastern Bloc. The Alcohol Years was an intriguing glimpse into the Manchester of my teenage-hood, a little before I became aware, and Dreams Of A Life was wonderful. The Falling I found a little disappointing. Maxine Peake’s character was very thinly drawn and she was under-used, while the air of over-heated unreality that’s necessary for this sort of story wasn’t earned. It was interesting to see another film in which a tree had a central role (after the Japanese banyan), and I think it might benefit from a second viewing, for the generally good performances at least. It’s quite close to being a great film, but misfires somewhat. One distracting aspect of the Q&A was that as Carol Morley moved around on stage, her face was covered with a projected @ sign and a # mark, from the film festival message.

The next day, I had taken the day off work, trying to fit in as much as I could. Around lunchtime, it was back to Leicester Square (bah), for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, one of the three the festival director had recommended on the Film Programme. The film’s director appeared briefly beforehand, exclaiming:

“What’s up, London”,

rather incongruously. Fairly recently I saw a Lebanese vampire film, so I added to my collection with this (American-)Iranian one. Sheila Vand is striking as the protagonist,

“kind of young and old at the same time”,

as Amirpour said. It’s certainly enigmatic, with some unexplained assumptions and gruesome rituals amongst the townspeople, and the cinematography is great. Someone asked how she’d obtained permission to film in Iran, not realising it was in fact shot in America. I can’t remember the name of the town, I’m afraid, but one of the lead actors was also present and his summary of the town was:

“I won’t be going back there again.”

Naturally it’s not available in Iran, but the director said she was confident that it would be, once it’s been released in the West on DVD… She had a surprising sympathy for some of the largely “bad” characters in the film, which perhaps came from what she described as:

“the dark mass of my brain”.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

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…