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Monday, 20 March 2017

A few Tweets about Asghar Farhadi's traumatic The Salesman (Forushande) (2016)

A few Tweets about Asghar Farhadi's traumatic The Salesman (Forushande) (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 March

A few Tweets about Asghar Farhadi's traumatic The Salesman (Forushande) (2016)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Turner Prize Tweets 2016 (work in progress)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

16 March

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Beautiful Brahms, and somewhat baffling Haydn : A concert with The Endellion String Quartet (uncorrected proof)

This is a review of The Endellion String Quartet playing Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 March

This is a review of a concert given by The Endellion String Quartet at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Wednesday 15 March at 7.30 p.m. (uncorrected proof)

It has to be said that, when none of the string quartets on the programme (except perhaps the Mendelssohn ?) could be thought of as the core works of repertoire (though that makes it an inevitability that, for no good reason, a composition such as the Brahms A Minor is too little heard), The Endellion String Quartet clearly has a dedicated ‘fan-base’ [] : there must easily have been more than 300 in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (@WestRoadCH), so who says that there are no big audiences for chamber music… ?

Programme :

1. Josef Haydn (1732–1809) ~ String Quartet in E Major, Op. 54, No. 3

2. Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) ~ String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80

3. Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) ~ String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2

* * *

Haydn ~ String Quartet in E Major, Op. 54, No. 3 (1789)

1. Allegro

2. Largo cantabile

3. Menuetto : Allegretto

4. Finale : Presto

The Haydn of the string quartets seems influenced, here, by his symphonic writing. The Allegro opens with a pair of balanced bars, and then fast writing for first violin (Andrew Watkinson). Eventually, we are into territory that is serious, and, no longer with an appearance of graciousness, which is characterized by an ascent that, through being staggered by backwards steps, is not a scale : on the way up, or descending, it is impliedly modulating as it goes. The movement is in sonata form, so we hear anew, in the light of what has just preceded, material with which we are already familiar.

In the following movement, marked Largo cantabile (but which seemed to have some of the qualities of a Scherzo), Haydn gives another orchestral theme, a hymn-like one, in which we may hear a marching motif. Next, before the opening material recurred, darker tones from the second violin (Ralph de Souza), which were expansively worked on by his fellow violinist, Andrew Watkinson, and with a virtuoso feel to the string-writing.

The opening theme seems to be subjected to some brief variations, before the darker tones return, and then more of the virtuoso style of the first violin, but which seems to become increasingly out of tempo with the measure that the rest of the quartet is beating - almost as if 'Papa' Haydn is depicting a state of inebriation ? This curious quality to the quartet continued with the Menuetto : Allegretto, which had a strange opening figure, and then set the first violin, with quirkily spiky gestures, against the other players.

In turn, the gestures became even more quirkily accented. Rather than have a Minuet followed by a Trio section, Haydn gives us, after a rather odd Menuetto, an Allegretto that seems curiously dislocated, and almost as if his composition is assembled around dance-like rhythms. The Finale : Presto opens with the instruments other than the first violin, and then, when it enters, in a lively and open way, we perceive it as distinct, again, from the trio of other instruments.

Even so, this movement seemed most like what one expects from Haydn, when writing for the forces of string quartet, and he uses, as his driving force, the sort of chirping that one gets from repeated notes and trills. He takes us into the minor, and is then modulating, as the work draws to a conclusion – with the strong impression of the first violin as a maverick loner.

When Andrew Watkinson next spoke from the stage (and then we heard him play in the Mendelssohn) from and for The Endellion String Quartet (@EndellionQt), it became quickly apparent that the character of the first violin part is not his, but Haydn’s.

He had been addressing us to draw our attention to the next concert, on Wednesday 26 April 2017, and to commend both the work by Anton Arensky to be performed (the String Quartet for Violin, Viola and Two Cellos in A Minor, Op. 35), and the fact that, needing a second cellist (and only one violinist), Laura van der Heijden (@LauraVDHCello) was to be a guest perfomer. The following Tweets refer…

Mendelssohn ~ String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80 (1847)

1. Allegro vivace assai

2. Allegro assai

3. Adagio

4. Finale : Allegro molto

The second string quartet in the first half, for knowing which a debt is owed to The Coull Quartet (when they¹ played at Cambridge Music Festival in around 2004), began with a nicely-judged combination of sensitivity, passion and tension, so much so that sitting back and listening to the music, rather than – concentrate the mind and one’s hearing though it does – doing so with much eye to review-notes, seemed recommended. In the concluding bars, which were suitably vigorous, Mendelssohn completes the impression made by the Allegro vivace assai.

The second movement (marked Allegro assai) has been anticipated in the first, and was boldly played, but not excessively so, and so one could enjoy the lugubrious bass-line, with Mendelssohn’s murky colourings. As the opening material recurred, it was with a quality of insistence to it, but only to give way to a reappearance of the quieter mood, and, after some tail-notes and playing pizzicato, ending pianissimo.

The Adagio has a quietly reflective, and restrained mood. To it, we heard contributions made by low cello-notes (David Waterman), as if in a sadly thoughtful vein. The cello takes its place hesitantly in the general section, but as if then using patterns of notes to stir itself. The movement became enlivened and impassioned, but these feelings subsided, and it came to a very quiet close.

Mendelssohn builds his Finale from tonally ambiguous material, as well as prominent gestures, and The Endellion Quartet created a texture that swelled from placid to turbulent. Though they are very differently written and characterized from those in Haydn’s piece, it also has passages for the first violin against the trio of other instruments. One really did feel this as Allegro molto, pushing onwards, expressively and, in doing so, rhythmically – a final movement that is so full of drama that it is a conclusion without fully seeming like a resolution.

It was a true pleasure to hear this work again live, and in such a strongly felt performance.

Brahms ~ String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2 (1873)

1. Allegro non troppo

2. Andante moderato

3. Quasi Minuetto, moderato

4. Finale : Allegro non assai

Prominent in the opening of the first movement (marked Allegro non troppo) was a long held note from David Waterman (on cello) before we moved into the ‘sunny’ and airy material, with pizzicato cello, that makes this composition shine - especially with The Endellion String Quartet sounding so well together, with a very good ensemble.

Seamlessly, Brahms takes us back into the (sometimes) tempestuous initial theme, with its bold statements, and fluidity in the writing, which is as compelling as in the better-known Piano Quintet in F Minor, Opus 34 (although his string quartets generally receive less attention than they deserve). With the recurrence of the more cheery theme, his emphasis is on the viola (Garfield Jackson), before - as if at the end of a complete work - the movement closes very definitely.

In the Andante moderato, the cello was again to fore, and the players and their sounds in perfect balance. The measured development had a suspensive, shy start, and then, led by a strong line from the cello (David Waterman), a passage marked (at least) forte, but which Brahms lets dissipate (as he might in the symphonies).

Ruminatively, and Sotto voce, the writing seems – or, rather, makes us – unsure about which key it is in at any time, and as if it dare not decide. Then, a measured, lingering cello-line, appearing to be tempting the other instruments ‘to talk’, and so brings about a small crescendo. Via rhythmic patterning from the cello, and then a passage of high notes on its upper string, we are brought to a soft close, with viola pizzicato.

The slow movement, an Adagio, begins – as did one in the Haydn – with twinned sets of assertions, here feeling to be delicately placed into the aether, before we move into a fast, and lighter, section that resembles a fugato. A cascade of notes develops, flowing between the instruments, but with Brahms moving us so cleverly between sections that it seems quite natural and casual. Cello-notes and a few sympathetic strokes bring the movement to an end.

At the start of the Finale (Allegro non assai), the first violin, before passing the material to the viola, is answered by the cello, which, before we have a reprise of where we began, leads to some fugal writing. Another cello-line, again high up, came to the sounds made by gentle strokes from the other players, just before Brahms evokes the opening of the work, and then, with some vigorous pizzicato, brings it to a spirited end.

A hugely enjoyable evening with these insightful players, and who are playing works, written within ninety years of each other², that are much in need of an airing !

End-notes :

¹ Do quartets like to be 'they' or 'it' ? (It rather matters more to try to please than whether it is ‘The company is’ or ‘The company are’, except by striving to be consistent.)

² Even with different ideas of adulthood, and reaching maturity, two of these composers could never have met as adults (Mendelssohn was born in the year of Haydn's death), and Mendelssohn and Brahms barely so, but the music passes between them...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 13 March 2017

All the best compliments are dubious – that is part of their charm (review in progress)

This is a review of A Quiet Passion (2016) (work in progress)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 March

This is a review of A Quiet Passion (2016) (work in progress)

As with John Keats, about whose love affair with Fanny Brawne Bright Star (2009) was wonderfully made by Jane Campion*, Emily Dickinson’s poetry was very little recognized in her life-time (1830–1886**) : Keats, alive for less than half that span (1795-1821), did manage to publish, but was met with savaging reviews, whereas – to judge by Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion (2016) – Dickinson looked, with limited success, to a newspaper (The Springfield Republican), in terms both of which poems / how many were accepted for publication, and how little her style of punctuation was respected.

Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne in Bright Star (2009)

The following exchange could have been taken from – and would not have been out of place in – Children (1976), say, or Of Time and the City (2008), because Terence Davies’ concerns and fascinations in life have been abiding :

Do you wish to come to God and be saved ?

I have no sense of my sins – and how can I ?

In fact, the words are taken from the opening moments of A Quiet Passion (2016), when Emily Dickinson, at college age (Emma Bell), asserts herself, which is always an attraction to Davies as a champion of independent minds - as it was with Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) in Sunset Song (2015).


End-notes :

* With Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish, respectively.

** Emily Dickinson is buried in Wildwood Cemetery, Amherst, MA.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 10 March 2017

Michèle : Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to make us stop doing anything (work in progress)

This is a review of Elle (2016) (work in progress)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

10 March

This is a review of Elle (2016) (work in progress)

Well you know I've got me an imaginary friend
And it's his daydreams they buy in the end
He won't let me break, he won't let me bend
He puts it all together and I just press send
And he's a shadow behind me in the light
And he takes me walking in the park at night

He makes me do something wrong,
Do something right
And disappears before the morning

Quoted, with kind permission of Ezio Lunedei (@eziolunedei)
'The further we stretch' ~ Ezio [Black Boots on Latin Feet (1995)]

During pre-festival drinks one Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest), and talking about Lars von Trier (and where he has been since Breaking the Waves (1996)), it was remarked – to someone likely to be in the know – that von Trier appears to have been working his way through DSM-IV. (Or DSM-V, as he remarked, since he was in the know, and the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual controversially stood about to be adopted [an article for Mad in America writes 'How Reliable is the DSM-5 ?'].)

Here, we are in a different territory, more as where - in adapting Michel Houllebecq’s novel - Atomised (2006) gives us a generalized sense of the formative parental relationships. Likewise, with the young protagonists of Jeune et Jolie (2013), or, also directed by François Ozon, In the House (Dans la maison) (2012), with Isabelle (Marine Vacth) and Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), respectively, both doing what they can, because they can : when Isabelle is asked for a reason, by her mother, for setting herself up as a sex worker, she provides a sufficient reason for this purpose, but to make money does not account for why she did this. (In this respect, the closest parallel with Michael Haneke's films - please see below - is in the chilling mood of The White Ribbon (2009).)


On the level of the film's ambit, and how it communicates to us the different places where it resides, Elle has something in common with Eastern Boys (2013). However, although the latter - though to very little effect (other than adding variety to the changing dominant scene ?) - evokes a merging of the power-play of the everyday world with that of gaming and gamers, Elle (2016) actually does it. Regarding the 'shop of horrors' shown in the still (which clearly equates to an armoury, or other repository, for one's character to select weaponry in a game - and which may even have equipped her attacker, with the hood, and some sort of special codpiece ?), one is almost in two minds whether, when someone is feeling threatened to the extent of buying equipment, that disturbing state of mind is being matched by another one, in having such a clear sense of contemplating what to buy, and to achieve what end :

As to Michèle’s purchases, and how we see them used (and notably not used again), there must be some ambiguity whether – however they might have been employed – she was thinking, as in a game, in part offensively. If so, we might wonder whether thinking in terms of attack, rather than defence, helps her generate the perception of danger on which she acts (if, that is, it is indeed a genuine apprehension, on account of the fact that Michèle seems unengaged and to be explaining disingenuously pre-emptive actions that are highly precipitate - just as when, earlier, she more than mischievously blamed a substantially wrecked bumper on quelqu'un).

Michèle (Isabelle Huppert - who brought us the insane and transgressive intensity of Haneke's The Piano Teacher (La pianiste) (2001)) is interchangeably gaming in her living whilst also living in her gaming, and so candidly says to Richard Leblanc (from whom she is, if not divorced, then separated), about his young girlfriend, You've broken the rules. (Richard suggests that he was not aware that there were any, but thereby plays her game : he may not recently have read, or at all, Eric Berne's book Games People Play, on transactional analysis...)

Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel in The Piano Teacher (2001)

Oscar Isaac, as the title-character of Inside Llewyn Davies (2013), the pair of Paul and Peter (played, respectively, by Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) in Funny Games* (1997) [the German-language original], and Michèle in Elle all have in common that they prioritize their (emotional or other) need over that of others : it is partly in the degree of the middle example that it differs, with its scenario of torture and pain. (Which Michael Haneke says that he is willing us not to keep watching. Having, one way or another, disposed of three members of a family, it turns out to be only so that Peter and Paul can cyclically move on to exploit an earlier introduction to another family as an entrée for their previous opening gambit.)

With Llewyn Davies, even if he were not portrayed as a performing artist, persisting until he becomes successful (as we always knew that he did), there is a narcissistic quality to him that may make us find him unlikeable. [If so, although seeing Llewyn Davies' narcissism play out (and bothering to contrive to get to Chicago, but with no idea how to present himself) is relatively uninteresting, because his is an almost one-dimensional portrayal, and The Coen Brothers import positivity to the affect through Carey Mulligan and to her in the musical numbers (although they are done less well than usually given credit for).] On the level of the quality of the film and of its music, and the depth of the performances, might one think that Un cœur en hiver (1992) has much more to offer ?).

Daniel Auteuil (as Stéphane) in Un cœur en hiver (1992)

In any case, with Michèle in Elle, she is much more nuanced and changeable than Llewyn Davies. For example, just in relation to her ex alone (played with patience by Charles Berling), we see Michèle at least four times exploit circumstances to punish him, whereas, at the same time, she has no anger or retribution for (but a continuing relationship with) three men who have quite deliberately exploited or humiliated her** - it may, equally, be a response by them to something in her (and so some sort of match, not exactly made in heaven, but which draws them to each other***), but it seems to unlock something in her psyche to which she can respond. It fascinates and stimulates her, which we are shown, when she takes the opportunity to observe one of these men from a distance, and give free rein to sexual excitement and climax.

It seems not unlikely that the element of religious observance at this moment heightens, or gives rise to, Michèle’s arousal, and that her being drawn to these men is also because of something in the behaviour or character of her father. However, this film is not Nymphomaniac Vol. I (2013) (or Vol. II (2013)) – although it is in other ways – or Marnie (1964), or Spellbound (1945), and we barely know any more about Michèle’s father, and her relationship with him, than she herself narrates. Given that she tells what seems a frank and open account to one of the men, but is in seductive mode still (having covertly made her intentions very clear to him), she may want to judge his reaction / arousal, and, from elsewhere in the film, we then have only bares bones to judge by of the story of her father and her (he is now 76, and her contact with him was until around the age of 10).

Though it is with Michèle as she is, rather than how she has come to be, that Paul Verhoeven concerns himself and us (even if she takes that as a given, with fierce and fiercely held attitudes, and much disrespect for others : we twice see her rebuff being criticized for not knocking, by asking why she should, when she has the key). After we have seen her (both mistakenly and needlessly ?) deploy her chosen weapons, she is arguably just as much in need of them afterwards, yet we do not even see them again. Is it as if the rules of combat say so – or as in playing an on-line game, perhaps, where some items are only available to be used once… ?

Later, when it would have counted to have them to hand, Michèle has disarmed herself / is unarmed****, which then means that how she reacts has to be ad hoc - as we see with the scissors, which are what happens to be within reach (Verhoeven is obviously causing us to recollect Dial M for Murder (1954)). One can say too much about nerdyism in programming or related fields, but Michèle and Anna (Anne Consigny) have been brought to friendship by something more than occupying the same maternity ward***** in order to achieve success in the world of designing and making games of extreme violence and eroticism – which feel quite large and loud, bursting into the safety of the auditorium.

To return briefly to when we see Michèle determine to buy the black axe (shown in an image, above), it is only in remembrance, fantasy or dream (or some combination of all) that she imagines, in a game-like way, the damage that such a weapon could cause. Significantly, it is a picturing that gives her power that she then does not use (instead, it is the arbitrariness of the scissors) - perhaps because she does not, on various levels, now wish to do something so damaging, or not, at least, when it is so graphically seen.

By now, she has already used her weapons – and, in the event (given what she does), there are no consequences (for her). Here, it may not now be a meaningful distinction to make whether Michèle does what she does because she 'needs to', or because – pre-emptively, and selectively – she can : she is highly unlikely to make any such conscious distinction, but, as Cleese and Skynner looked at (please see above***), is attracted to men who behave in certain ways.

One does ask, not only because, of all other kinds, one sees Michèle calculatedly (or recklessly) cause damage. For example, before about to have dinner out with a group of friends (a sparkling wine is just being ordered, so a call has to be made to delay pouring it), declaring to the party that she has been attacked, but without accepting responsibility for the effect of saying it. As if, in the circumstances, she is being reasonable (not they), and of course she can just mention it as a passing, if important, fact, and then they just eat – quite, at face value, without her seeming to envisage that questioning and comment would ensue, which she coolly insists on silencing.


It is clear that, being self-centred, Michèle expects that some rules, which she several times disapplies in respect of others (to the extent of being told, in all seriousness, You’re so selfish it’s frightening), should hold for her : at a crucial time, she asks, of another such as she, Pourquoi ?, just to be told C’était necessaire. So we see her not exactly destroying people from within (as effectively as calmly pouring salt on a slug), but at least waiting for the right moment to press on the weak point (meanwhile, of all things, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 [Brief Encounter (1945)] plays at the dinner table), and then denying any responsibility again – irrespective of what the consequences may be.

To the extent that, as if this were games theory or tactics, and not life, she can in all conscience ask, when being shown a scan of an aneurysm and someone is a coma, You’re medically certain this is for real ? : highly bizarre thinking, borne out by telling the unconscious person that she does not believe it, and calling it treachery – as lacking in empathy as if divorced from the presenting facts, and, in an inter-player chat, berating someone, for betraying a strategic alliance in a game ?

In the very closing shot of the film, when there might be reasons not to be there, it seems as if Anna and Michèle's understanding of, and for, each other runs more deeply than between others (and we heard that, in the oddly delighted energy with which, at the launch-party for the new game, Anna tells some news about Robert (Christian Berkel)).

Martin Scorsese made The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), truly ahead of the game, because there are people in the world who are / behave like Jordan Belfort - not because he wanted us to like him / his story.


A closing thought :

Giving a childish excuse, youngsters might say that ‘Mr Nobody did it’ – or that quelqu'un had.

What if someone whose treatment caused her to became dehumanized – and was no longer allowed to be Michèle - because, whoever that was, that was not who this person was now ?

Could that person inhabit the second half of the name Mich-èle, and become just Elle... ?

End-notes :

* In films from Haneke's oeuvre, we need not limit our thinking to Funny Games, though, because – without spelling them out – themes in The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny's Video (1992), or The White Ribbon (2009) are highly relevant here.

*** In the book that he wrote with John Cleese, Robyn Skynner describes The Family Systems Exercise in this way : Its purpose is to show what lies behind the way that couples pick each other out across a crowded room ! Families and How to Survive Them by John Cleese and Robin Skynner, Oxford University Press, Oxford (1984), p. 17.

**** Whatever that – and there are very good reasons for asking – says about Michèle's deeper motivations.

***** Though, of course, that happens commonly enough, at a pivotal time in a mother’s life. Yet we only hear about the connection between Anna and her (seemingly ?) inconsequentially when, with apparent absolute candour, she tells a story that invokes the two women before King Solomon : is Michèle broken in the sort of way where she would want half a disputed child ? (Or where, in the circumstances, someone would normally be expected to explode when an employee cheekily asks to be paid for something, she just says no.)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

On Radio 3 Late Junction, Annette Peacock makes claims for Candy Dulfer's playing

On Radio 3 Late Junction, Annette Peacock makes claims for Candy Dulfer's playing

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 March

On Radio 3 Late Junction from 11.00 p.m., during International Women's Day (8 March 2017), Annette Peacock makes claims for Candy Dulfer's playing

When, in one of the programme's signature seamless trio of tracks, Annette Peacock played 'Lily Was Here' [at 00:20 mins in, but maybe only for the next 30 days] on Radio 3 Late Junction (@BBCRadio3 #LateJunction) - on the same evening when Kerry Andrew gave us her mix-tape for International Women's Day - one straightaway recognized Dave Stewart with saxophonist Candy Dulfer...

Then, as Peacock spoke to presenter Fiona Talkington (@fionatalkington) and explained / justified her choices, she praised Dulfer, and made a few assertions [at around 23:00 mins in, available to listen to for the next 30 days] about the stature of Dulfer's playing. These were in the context of being asked to say what these three tracks were, which, as Talkington described it, Peacock had Not just chosen, but crafted together, and are transcribed here :

Well, of course, the first track was Diamanda Galás, and, uh, the second was ‘My Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook’, by Annette Peacock. And, uh, Diamanda’s track, I think, was recorded in 1996, mine was… 19… 78. And the last one, Candy Dulfer, that was 1980, yeah.

I mean, the thing about Candy is that, you know, she’s just the embodiment of effortless joyous expression. She is a consummate musician – she was born to do this, you know. And every phrase is lyrical and definitive, and she is one of the great players on the instrument, beyond the equal of, you know, many of her male counterparts, I think.

You know, those three tracks were all, sort of, done in one take, you know, Diamanda’s, mine and Candy’s – just spontaneously, basically, they were recorded as a one-take sort of jam, basically. So you get that sort of realism when that’s happening, you know – it’s a different sort of approach to recording.

Yet are Peacock's comments especially borne out by this track, which we will all know - but need not, for that reason, think remarkable (please see below) - or which we may not even like all that much ? :

At the time, it then seemed best to Twitterate the question... :

In a way, one cannot disagree with what Candy Dulfer herself comments, except that :

(a) The track was, at the time, a hit / it was in the charts

(b) Which means that, love even what one does, might one still not wish to hear it, over and over, for weeks - or months ?

(c) The danger with 'Lily Was Here' is that it had grounds to be immensely popular, and there is almost nothing not to like - even so, does the fact remain that something that is lacking reasons not to be liked is a subtly different matter from there being positive reasons to like it... ?

Could one contend, though, that Baker Street – cited on account of its own sax solo, by Raphael Ravenscroft – makes a bigger impact and statement ?

Unlike the Dave Stewart track, and Dulfer’s sax-playing, does Gerry Rafferty’s song, and the place of the solo within it, make a more persuasive case that we should actually approve of it, not disapprove of it ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

All the raw edges, but with respect and compassion : Cameraperson (2016)

This enthusiastic response is to Kirsten Johnson's Cameraperson (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 March

This is a response – enthusiastic – to Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson (2016), shown for International Women’s Day by The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Wednesday 8 March 2017

Kirsten Johnson’s film luxuriates spiritedly in the constructed status and quality of cinema, whose nature as artefact, even in documentary, is usually heavily disguised – although, on the borders, there is little divide between documentaries and feature films, e.g. Man on Wire (2008), or the astonishing Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975) (screened in 2016 in the Chantal Akerman retrospective at Sheffield Documentary Festival (Doc / Fest, @sheffdocfest)).

It would not enrich a commendation of this excellent piece of cinema to distend it with an exact catalogue of the ways in which it works or has been assembled – though it possibly says too little that Kirsten Johnson works with juxtaposition and accumulation.

In a three-line inter-title at or near the start of the film¹, she tells us that the footage is taken from what she has shot for films during the last twenty-five years, but which was not used in the film in question. (Given that a documentary not untypically has more than a hundred hours of material – from which it is edited down to, at most, somewhere between two and three hours² - this is a large amount.) Johnson extrapolates from that fact to call the film that we are about to see, if not a testimony (one forgets her word), then at least describing it in such a way that we appreciate that it is far from being constituted as if it were any sort of demo-reel :

Johnson, rather, has graciously chosen what to show us not necessarily because it is technically best, but so that we can see, and appreciate, what she does, sometimes including, as she lines up or composes her shot, dialogue with her producer or other person in the production team (presumably actually recorded in situ from her camera’s microphone, which is how she asks us to perceive it).

Johnson shows footage, from which this is taken, for Derrida (2002), where she is negotiating how to film the group of people to whom Derrida is talking as he crosses the road

There are three broad ways in which, as we go, we are aware of Johnson working on documentaries, which are when she is filming on her own behalf, and so being the voice asking questions or engaging with the person on screen (even if through an interpreter), when – which is clearly Michael Moore’s film – working with him, on Fahrenheit 9 / 11 (2004), and somewhere in between, where the conversations that she is having as she shoots suggest that the film is co-directed, co-produced, or made alongside a sympathetic colleague. (On IMDb, Johnson has more credits as a producer than as a director.)

Marine Abdul Henderson and Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9 / 11 (2004)
In the footage shown, Johnson is talking to Moore about the technicalitities of arranging him, in relation to Henderson as his on-screen interviewee, and with The Capitol as a backdrop

Early on in Cameraperson, an assemblage of pieces of footage was presented at a great hurry, and which was also noisy (in the way that that sort of scratchiness of sound can be), which is very untypical of the film, because otherwise this work of editing (with film editor Nels Bangerter) shows that Kirsten Johnson wants to keep the rootedness and immediacy that she had when shooting, be it just a one-off attempt to film illicitly outside a prison for reasons of international interest, or where we see her several times, relating to who she is with and where that is. Nonetheless, it was a moment that suggested both the many places and people that are in her experience from close proximity, and, of them, the noise that news media seek to make for viewers.

Michael Koresky (in the helpful review for Film Comment, cited below - @filmcomment)) conveniently describes what also served as a very telling moment, and which shows what a cinematographer does to get a clear shot – and, naturally, reaching out with her hand, from behind the camera, where we can see what she is doing :

In Foca, the camera searches rural environs ; the voice comments on the patches of wildflowers ; a shepherd and his flock trail by. When she finds the right composition, a hand emerges from the left, reaches around to the front of the camera and pulls a few blades of grass from the ground, so they’ll sully the frame no longer.

The vivid, fresh water-melon that is cut up by a member of the militia (in Iraq ?), but the men are called away, joking – to one knows not what – before they can eat any of it : such an evocative image. Before, towards the end of the film, we hear someone speaking for dignity, and for it to be applied to injured and dead bodies in the media as ‘The golden rule’, we have already seen it enacted by Johnson in her practice.

It is there in not gratuitously giving us gruesome insights into the evidence that had been presented to a court-room about how a man came to be dead, but in very deferentially shooting a woman’s knees and hands as she talks, hearing a young man talk plainly about what happened to his injured face, and hearing those who were raped in the occupation of Bosnia, and those who have been investigating these war-crimes.

In the feature film As if I am not There (2010)³, concerning the fate of younger women during The Bosnian War, director Juanita Wilson based it on dramatizing stories revealed during the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague

Now, from colleagues at TAKE ONE (@TakeOneCinema), a review of Cameraperson on the web-site [with a comment from #UCFF]


¹ Apart from captions that locate us in, say, in Foča, Bosnia, or Kabul, Afghanistan, Johnson usually tells us relatively little about what we are seeing, or why we are seeing it, and has left what she has chosen to put on the screen to talk to other material, not just what immediately preceded or follows it. For example, we are in Brooklyn, New York, a couple of times early on, but the significant and longer clip is near the end of the film, and which sheds light on all that we have seen in between. (The principal exceptions to saying little by way of context are such as for footage of her twins, or of them with her father, or of her deceased mother (and her mother's artefacts and memorial place those things into time).)

² Even though many film-makers will edit ‘the rushes’ as they go, to keep on top of the scale and scope of the film.

³ The film had funding from a number of sources, including The Irish Film Board [and appears amongst Fifteen fine festival films].

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

LGBTQ and the new world of F-Rated films (thanks to Holly Tarquini at Bath Film Festival) - a good fit ? (work in progress)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 March

LGBTQ and the world of F-Rated films : Read more below, and your comments are welcome – is it a good match for those who do not identify with polarity of gender, or see themselves as necessarily having a gender, etc., etc. ? (work in progress)

As a result of the efforts of Holly Tarquini at Bath Film Festival (@BathFilm), a rating for films, F Rated, has not only been used at the Festival, and elsewhere, for a while (@F__Rating, but is now being adopted by IMDb.

IMDb, short for the International Movie Data-base (@IMDb), is both, as in the Bath area, amongst the Festival’s neighbours and one of its collaborators (and owned by Amazon, hence all those promotional banners / links to buy on Amazon…)

However, confusion already exists, by virtue of people assuming – or being told, and not checking – that ‘F’ denotes ‘feminist’. Although the criteria for F-Rating clearly do not say this, and a film can be F-Rated simply by virtue of the fact that a woman directed or wrote it (or both), does whether an F-Rated film is then wrongly taken to be an endorsement of it or its values and ethos need due consideration - not least when IMDb / Amazon start F-Rating films in earnest ?

And, then, does the stipulation of a female director start posing questions, when it was Andy and Larry Wachowski (now, respectively, Lilly and Lana) who made The Matrix (1999), etc. [the IMDb biography for Lana Wachowski, compared with that for Lilly, has greatly submerged the birth-name] ? :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Certain Women (2016) : when flatness of affect turns leaden, and less could have been more

This is a critique of Certain Women (2016) – as against what it could have been

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 March

Spoiler alert - to talk of the film, as here, it is almost necessarily full to the brim with them

This is a critique of Certain Women (2016) – as made, as against what it could have been (work in progress)

There is an approach in cinema, which is almost as much a state of mind for us, as viewers, as for the depicted places and persons, that is best characterized by citing Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (2011) – though, for those with no patience or feeling for mood and reflective space, Sokurov’s much, much shorter Mother and Son (1997) will seem more of an endurance than around three hours ?

In Certain Women (2016), no such ethos is evoked, but there is a flatness of affect to it from the very opening shot :

A train heads towards the bottom left-hand corner (and, there, the plant that is the only thing in focus). (Even the table-top mountain – and unmoving clouds – look as if unrealistically let into the background to the rail-road in the foreground, and the expanse behind it [i.e. done unconvincingly in post-production].) Then, of sorts, a mood is generated, but not pervasively, by a man dressing post-coitally, extreme right and in another room, and a woman seen just from below her knees, putting on socks – it is the height of trying to create a frisson of dullness around Laura, despite taking time in her lunch-break for an affair.

Laura (Laura Dern) goes on to be, if she were to have survived in the profession for any time, an implausibly malleable attorney (and Fuller, doing the manipulation, a claimant – they are still called plaintiffs in the States – to resist and reject whose demands, with dignity and justification, she seems quite unused, unsuited, and unskilled). The lingering question why Fuller feels aggrieved may deliberately only ever be given in snatches that are interrupted, and so partial, but, then, this is because the story decides to foreground the element of unreasonable expectation / unreasonable acquiescence – just as the opening image does the train, in motion – and leaves the looming question how he actually could have compromised his injury case for peanuts*.

Maile Meloy, in the stories that are Certain Women’s basis, may have evidenced better understanding of real law (practice and procedure), rather than the pretend variety that litters film and t.v., but it is not here. The boring fact of the matter (i.e. the mountain that, after the fact, has not so artfully been grafted in behind) is that attorneys specifically need and have the protection of standard protocols (because, for one thing, their professional indemnity cover would insist on following them) for dealing with clients who ill-advisedly wish to accept settlement offers that, without being as derisory as this one seems to have been, no one with a duty to advise them could recommend accepting.

That may be uncharitably against the unrealism of scenarios with a client and an attorney, and it could equally miss something in the kindred setting of Nebraska* (2013) to ask for strict verismilitude, but making a compromise with the tenable has to be for good reason (not just that it is simple to make up and fake). Whereas this story, told with unutterable flatness as if it is a virtue, and with Laura even being casually manipulated by the law-enforcement officers to endanger herself for no good reason, made one long for Steve Coogan’s take on such matters in Alan Partridge : Alpha Papa (2013) : yes, Laura is one of these ‘certain women’ of the title, and she has a particularity, but it is only of not being persuasive that she could, if twisted thus, survive in legal practice, when client-work is ever full of inter-personal traps.

Even so, the story, even in its own terms, is just as much about Fuller, which means that the film has hindered its own credibility, by making scant sense of Laura’s role as his legal adviser (none of which is much assisted by off-hand remarks from one or two others, who suggest some merit in his feeling aggrieved). Even if one shelves Laura, sitting on the floor in the middle of the night and reading out his case-file to him, onto the level of the symbolic, doing so effectively side-lines issues of whether she did right by him, if the court and she in any way wrongly facilitated a settlement that precluded considering the effect of a prognosis where a provisional award for damages was likely to be better : good law, but a poor story - which should counsel against not adapting the story in film ?

The second story takes up some more screen-time (it would have been interesting to have noted how much the first and second occupy in relation to, and before we get to, the third – after two indifferent segments, one with production values that are not just per se better, but wholly quite other, with qualities of performance / presence / poise, cinematography, editing, sound-design…).

Put more briefly, some awkwardness, along with much more flatness, in a couple’s buying (or being given), some building-stone from a man of 76, whose connection to them is wholly unapparent. (Everyone calls the material sandstone, but it little resembles what that term usually refers to, and more resembles granite ?). The wife (whose wife is she, i.e. who is he ?¹), Gina (Michelle Williams), is the moving force behind asking if they can buy it – yet, at best, it seems to be acquired for no better reason than, as she reasons to herself, if they did not take it, someone else would, because there is somehow too little left, of what was once a school-house, to do much with.

(Apart from a bit of bogus ambiguity whether Albert, the 76-year-old, feels cheated, a story about precious little, although someone somewhere must believe that it said more : it is as if, on a recommendation that one increasingly doubted, one newly started watching New York Stories (1989), but Scorsese’s incendiary opener ‘Life Lessons’, with Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette, had just been substituted by another segment as trite and unchallenging as what follows it, Coppola’s ‘Life without Zoe’.)

What we hear said plenty, but in emotionally largely even terms, is to care for Gina, because she does so much for them (e.g. negotiating this pile of building material, with which little can be done ?). Yet the only moment in the whole section that really spoke of anything that seemed felt was when her husband¹ makes a long reverse down to the gate, which she has opened for him, and. in doing so, he talks to their daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) in a monologue…


From a review by Leslie Felperin for The Hollywood Reporter :

Yet while there’s no doubt this is the work of a filmmaker entirely in command of her craft, there’s something a trifle academic and dry about the whole exercise, and slightly lacking in narrative cohesion given the nature of its origins. Unlike, say Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or other films adapted from collections, this feels like three discrete works laid alongside one another, like pictures in a gallery, not a triptych.

Post-script :

There is now another perspective to share, after chatting the film over, with someone who – on another day – just happened to have seen the film (this is the stuff of being at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse) – not just during Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest)).

After agreement that the second story seemed (for want of the words used at the time) inadequately substantial (though leaving the interlocutor keen enough to read the original short stories), there was more interest in Laura, and less being distracted by the plausibility of her career in law : the suggestion is that she is a small-town lawyer, used to small-town matters, and that, when she took on this this compensation case, she had found herself out of her depth, and thus her inability to parry the demands from Fuller results from something different. Maybe…

To some, the title also appears to offer another way of understating the word ‘certain’, beyond that familiar in some forms of narration (or one could naturally say ‘certain types’), such as ’Now there were certain Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. Reading Certain Women this way would imply that one can ascribe acting decisively to the behaviour of the women, and – except to the extent that most films depend on something happening – might one look for that quality of certitude in vain ? (It is only essential to find if, if one wants to say that each woman acts with certainty, and that there doing so is important to the film. Words [from a review ?] that are being used to promote the film begin 'Three strong-willed women'.)

End-notes :

¹ One forgets, but state or federal law takes the usual position further that a full and final settlement should not be accepted when the prognosis has not resolved, but an interim payment : here it appears that an employer that makes a payment in settlement binds the employee against the person who might have been sued. It is vaguely enough there in the story, but really skated over.

² As in the past, IMDb, lets us down here : the last character in Laura’s story is Amituana, it then lists Gina, her daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), Albert (Rene Auberjonois), but not Gina’s husband, as the next character is The Rancher (Lily Gladstone), and that is the third story…

However, as looked to be the case at the time - but how does one confirm it (in a Montana ID parade, one big man with a big beard, briefly seen, looks much like any other) ? - Neil White (@everyfilmneil) clarifies, in his review : The lawyer's hook-up (James Le Gros) turns out to be the husband of a businesswoman (Williams) who goes on a weekend family camping trip and visit to an elderly man they know.

³ It would be good to have confirmation of this perception (as screen-time is not always possible to judge accurately), but the running-time of the third story may nearly equal that of the other two combined : with reprises of the latter feeling as if they have been tacked on at the end to provide a sense - not a very good one - of a frame. (Plus locating in Laura's law office in the place where Lily Gladstone's character, in the third story, drives to and makes speculative enquiries).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)