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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Fahrelnissa Zeid at Tate Modern ~ 13 June to 8 October 2017

Fahrelnissa Zeid in four key works - and #UCFF comments on three...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 September

Fahrelnissa Zeid in four key works - and #UCFF comments on three...

Tate has chosen to present one of its current exhibitions in this way : Fahrelnissa Zeid in four key works.

Coincidentally, #UCFF had this to comment about the show, which included three of these works :

There is subtle delineation, as if by the use of leading in a stained-glass window, in Abstract Parrot (c. 1948-1949), and the fiery terror of Alice in Wonderland* (1952) and Ubu Bird ('The Phoenix') (1952).

Planes open into planes in Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life (1962), and we see the tensions of the picture-plane in both My Hell (1951) and in 'Untitled' (c. 1950s). All of this was inherent in the (relatively) understated Resolved Problems (1948).

Another interesting room follows, with London ('The Firework') (before 1972) and Puncta Imperator ('Sea Cave') (1963), before the exhibition ends spectacularly** with Someone from the Past (1980).

End-notes :

* Outdoing Tim Burton's visions.

** As if in allusion to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) [about whose scenes with James Stewart and Kim Novak, in the art gallery at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, one can read here] ?

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

Friday, 15 September 2017

I can bring to life whatever I can dream ~ [James Dangerfield as] Joseph Frank Keaton (first draft)

This reviews James Dangerfield in his ‘Buster’ Keaton show, When You Fall Down

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 September

This is a review (at first-draft stage) of James Dangerfield in his one-man ‘Buster’ Keaton show, When You Fall Down, at The Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington, London, on Thursday 14 September at 7.30 p.m.

Run against the wind
But they won’t see the strain

James Dangerfield has written, scored, and performed a one-man show about Joseph Frank ‘Buster’ Keaton that leaves us wanting more : it runs to around fifty minutes, during which - with a consistency of diction - he blends in and out of spoken song (or lightly accented speech). Moreover, in Dangerfield’s original lyrics, there are allusions to the guiding forces in Keaton's life and that to which they have given rise in him as values (or principles).

However, without diluting the artistry of story-telling and of much that is cinematic in this presentation, we can easily imagine it extended to a full evening, and bringing others in Keaton’s life on stage with him (and not by the artifice of a candle-stick telephone), such as producer Joe Schenck (who worked alongside Keaton at Buster Keaton Productions), or Keaton’s wife Natalie¹...

The show gives us significant moments in the early film-career of Keaton, before he signed to MGM² (The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation), as if Keaton were introducing himself to the staff of MGM through a précis – each moment chronological, and heralded by its own film-clip (announcing the month and year), from the period when he started making films (March 1917) until he signed to MGM (January 1928).

In the script of the show, and importantly in its songs, James Dangerfield has chosen moments that tell us what matters to Keaton (please see below). In doing so, he employs ways not only to show that Keaton had values of hard work, fidelity in friendship, trust, and pursuing his insight into what could be achieved in film (and where those values came from), but also that evoke Keaton through costume, the grace of movement (and of dance-steps), magical sleight of hand, and, of course, through footage from Keaton’s films, such as Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926), Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).

Two images from The General (1926)

As Keaton, James Dangerfield presents himself as being very light footed, and he has composed original music that is very sympathetic to the tone-colours of his voice (and to where it lies). The very opening theme is auspicious, and leads into Keaton - at the time when he has been appearing, in March 1917, in the Shubert Brothers' review, The Passing Show - having been urged, by his friend Roscoe Arbuckle, to take his first steps on film [in The Butcher Boy (1917)].

Performing almost as long as you’ve been alive³

All those years as a human mop³

Keaton reflects on his life, and, contemplating the camera, considers (in 'What is this ? What are you ?') all that he sees that the camera is capable of depicting for others to see :

I can bring to life
Whatever I can dream

The optimistic tone of the opening resumes in this number, to end triumphantly - already, the audience was with Dangerfield as Keaton, just as assuredly it was (in October 1924) in 'I am The Navigator', a big and inspiring musical number of self-belief :

The best effects
Ever employed
On celluloid !

Two images from Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Early on, we heard that he married Natalie and moved to LA (at the age of twenty-five), but, within six years, he is ruefully calling out her name, and soon – which Dangerfield did in real time on stage - drawing bigger and bigger images of the houses that he offered to build her...

Even so, in Keaton's 3.5-acre Italian villa, where Harold Lloyd, Louise Brooks, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin visited, on him Natalie’s relations looked on as a clowning oddity, in a house with The bedroom where I now sleep separately.

The quality of the writing, and of the song, stop Dangerfield being maudlin, but having Natalie portrayed directly would obviously give the problems of the marriage a rounded impression...

Just one who gets back on his feet
Whatever has been thrown at me

We also saw Keaton in real pain at others ruining my friend, 'Fatty' Arbuckle – who had got him into film – after the world determined that What the press has decided happened and 'to hang you out to dry' :

They tried you three times
And never gave you blame

We hear Keaton say, of his film-making, that you Don’t always need to speak to be heard, and, both in re-creating how Keaton might have gone about meeting himself on screen – in the midst of his off-screen life – and evoking Keaton being chased, and also with Martyn Stringer (who arranged Dangerfield's songs and wrote the instrumental numbers), Dangerfield has worked carefully to be filmic.

In September 1927, the final moment in the show, Stringer gives us the sense of danger in his score before we even hear that Schenck has been saying to Keaton that it is Not like the old days now, and we see the creative Keaton fearing that he might lose all creative control by signing to MGM… Even so, he does sign (and a series of closing-titles tells us what happens to Arbuckle, Keaton, and his marriage), but not before a rousing reprise of ‘I am The Navigator’ - with Keaton’s eye back to the camera.

A well-written and very confidently performed and convivial one-man show by James Dangerfield, which deserves to be seen more widely, and with which, for now, Keaton and he have a date at The Buster Keaton Convention - all present on the night enjoyed the spectacle, as well as learning more about Keaton’s life, and we wish the show a very bright future !

End-notes :

¹ Natalie Talmadge, sister of Norma and Constance Talmadge, and who retired from acting in 1923 : the image shows her on screen with Keaton in Our Hospitality (1923).

² Apparently, against the advice of both Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.

³ It seems that Houdini gave Keaton the nick-name ‘Buster’, after seeing him fall down a flight of stairs as a very young vaudeville artist, and saying to Keaton’s parents ‘That was some buster your son took’. In Buster Keaton : Cut to the Chase (Da Capo Press, 1977), Marion Meade says, about the physical nature of his father Joe Keaton's stage-act, that it 'pushed slapstick so far that it straddled the line between physical comedy and child abuse'.

Take the knocks
Absorb the shocks
And keep on going

There’s nothing left of me
They could tear down

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

Monday, 11 September 2017

Is The Villainess (2017) - despite resemblance to the Kill Bill volumes (2003 / 2004) - closer to Looper (2012) ?

Responses to a Teaser screening of The Villainess (Ak-Nyeo) (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 September

Some first-night responses to a Teaser screening, by London Korean Film Festival (in conjunction with Cambridge Film Festival), of The Villainess (Ak-Nyeo) (2017), screened at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Monday 11 September at 9.00 p.m.

In The Villainess (2017), who is the title-character ?
Is it Seo-hyeong Kim ?

Amidst all the sequences where so much happens so quickly (the whirl that is typically in The Matrix (1999), or of the Kill Bill films (2003, 2004)), the opposite pole of The Villainess - aside from the possible elements of melodrama* of which Mark Morris spoke - is that type of moment when one thing reminds of another (which is there, with Motoko, in Ghost in the Shell (1995)) :

Sook-hee (played by Ok-bin Kim) is no longer in the present, because her instant has become the time to which (drawn by remembrance) she has disassociated - and so she is then visibly not 'present' to someone near her. But this is not mere daydream, but traumatic revisiting of episodes (or eras) of abuse [As in As if I am Not There (2010)].

As Motoko arguably is intuitively seeking – without knowing whom, or what, she seeks (but having the capacity ‘to dive into’ the being of others) – so is Sook-hee. Accordingly, we see her, finding in parts of her memory to which she does not have direct access things that events throw up, but unable to give her complete history (and so the film does not show it, not even 'out of order'). To this extent, The Villainess will not fully explain who Sook-hee is, or why, but just alludes to the tortuousness of her life - as its painful and wounded nature becomes clear to us.

In literary terms, one is reminded not only of G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (and Conrad's The Secret Agent), but also the weirdness of Iain Banks in The Wasp Factory, A Song of Stone, and - of course - The Business !

Film-references :

* Akira (1988)

* As if I am Not There (2010)

* Ghost in the Shell (1995)

* Jupiter Ascending (2015)

* Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) / Vol. 2 (2004)

* Looper (2012) [Surprise Film at Cambridge Film Festival]

* Salt (2010)

* The Matrix (1999)

These tattered corridors, do they remind us of where Neo seems to have been gunned down for good... ?

End-notes :

* There are certainly romantic tropes, but how much are they undercut by everything else that we know... ? (Even so it is very important for Sook-hee to know whether she was ever loved, whatever happens Now.)

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

Don't medicalize everything !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
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11 September

Just try getting diagnosed with OCD...

Maybe - at that time in your life - you were obsessively making sure that you could remember the number-plate of every car of which you had been the registered keeper...

But a low-level mental-health worker showed you the diagnostic criteria for OCD, and it was straightaway clear that this 'obsession' about the number-plates did not go on to have almost any of the consequences that were required for a formal diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder : we have probably all left the house at some point, and worried about whether we left the oven or coffee-maker on, but this really wasn't OCD.

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

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

What more is Catalan cinema ? [work in progress]

What more is Catalan cinema ? ~ Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
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4 September

What more is Catalan cinema ? ~ Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival
[work in progress]

Three years ago, leading up to the third season of Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival [then in its 34th season], the question was posed What is Catalan cinema ? - in answering which, some of the defining features seemed to be :

Yet, as well as all these things (which, along with the Catalan films from 2012 to that date, are considered in more detail in What is Catalan cinema ?), succeeding seasons of Camera Catalonia have shown that the autonomous region in Spain called Catalunya – which, as with Scotland, some would see have a greater, independent status – gives us cinema that :

* Remembers its history, right back to when Spain took control of Catalunya, in Claudio Zulian's thoughtful Born (2014) (@Bornfilm), reconstructing a few connected lives at the time of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), with Vicky Luengo a most desirable mistress to Josep Julien and the sister of Marc Martínez (Julien’s wealthy debtor, until Julien proves to back the wrong side in the war…)

* In the Catalan people, presents ones as reserved as the British, who - in two films that star the radiant Nora Navas (Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013) and L’adopció (Awaiting) (2015)) – manage to avoid talking to each other, but try to make happen what they assume should happen, and, in doing so, seem to lose sight of who is getting hurt, or for what reason

* Looks to literature such as Shakespeare, either in the feel - in Barcelona Summer Night (Barcelona, nit d'estiu) (2013) - of A Midsummer Night's Dream...

Or, in Hammudi al-Rahmoun Font's shocking telling of a classic tragedy, in Otel.lo (Othello) (2012) : 'OTHELLO is a cinematographic essay about power, desire, jealousy and deceit ; a thought on the boundaries between fiction and real life' (from IMDb)

Hammudi (with The Agent) at Cambridge Film Festival 2014

* Films as diverse as Ficció (Fiction) (2006), Fill de Caín (Son of Cain) (2013), and Menú degustació (Tasting Menu) (2013) are, in their quite different ways, further evidence* of flexibility in, and of creative thinking about, employing conventional elements of story-telling and of both the expectations to which their nature gives rise and what writers and / or directors do to subvert them

* Those living at the extremes of experience, in both Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) and El camí més llarg per tornar a casa (The Long Way Home) (2014)

Upper : Marc Garcia Coté in Tots els camins de Déu (2014)
Lower : Borja Espinosa in El camí més llarg per tornar a casa (2014)

* Adapts stage-plays very cinematically, whether Sílvia Munt [interviewed here], making a film of Josep María Sagarra's classic work El Cafè de la Marina (2014), or Ventura Pons of a contemporary writer in El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) (2015)

Marina Salas in El cafè de la Marina

(Upper) Rubén de Eguia and (Lower) Albert Ausellé and Diana Gómez in El virus de la por (2015)

Ramon Lamarca (with Jesús Monllaó, before the poster of his film Fill de Caín (2013)),
by and courtesy of David Riley

Catalan cinema - to judge by the films that Camera Catalonia programmer Ramon Lamarca (pictured above) brings to Cambridge (and the ICA) - is high-quality work that values its audiences enough to respect them : join us for the sixth year of a Catalan strand at Cambridge Film Festival, Camera Catalonia, to see why he and #UCFF give it due regard.

End-notes :

* In 2012, Camera Catalonia had included V.O.S. (2009), also – with Ficció (2006) - the work of director Cesc Gay.

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

A response to Logan Lucky (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
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4 September

A response to Logan Lucky (2017)

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, although funny (as are, despite themselves, the characters played by Jack Quaid (Fish Bang) and Brian Gleeson (Sam Bang)), are not the best thing about the film - one of the best things about the film is that it can use its pace to tell a tale that makes scant little sense, and then put two fingers up to us at the end - as if that mattered, except that, after a slow start of great excruciation (extrusion ?), one is buffeted by it for more than a quite lively eighty or ninety minutes.

A man (Joe Bang) chalks an equation, which we can't quite see or follow, for why some sweets and a couple of other domestic ingredients is what his team should trust him with - not only the accent, but Craig also has the presence to carry this scene off...

Though, with the real wall of where they are trying to penetrate replaced by a transparent one, can we understand what they are trying to achieve - or how and why do we believe in it... ?

Wherever we are, and whatever Craig (right) is saying to Driver and Tatum (left) - how can a vessel such as the one that he is holding (even using a differential in aerodynamic pressure) negotiate curved piping such as is shown behind them ?



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

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Some Tweets after a preview screening (plus Q&A) of The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Some Tweets after a preview screening (plus Q&A) of The Limehouse Golem (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
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30 August

Some Tweets after a preview screening (plus Q&A) of The Limehouse Golem (2016) at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Wednesday 30 August 2017 at 6.20 p.m.

María Valverde, Sam Reid, Douglas Booth, Olivia Cooke, and Eddie Marsan

Douglas Booth and Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Douglas Booth is tremendous in the film – but he was tremendous (and very unpleasant) in Jupiter Ascending (2015), so it is hardly surprising, whereas Bill Nighy, although dependable, is rather unexciting, not least considering that screenwriter Jane Goldman, by promoting a minor part in the original novel Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem (by Victorian specialist Peter Ackroyd), created the role – as a Golem – from raw materials : what he does in the film, the book does not need from him at all...

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

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Poem in a Tweet : Pewter suitcase

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 August

After reading George Monbiot on climate breakdown*... :

End-notes :

* Also, here :

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

Souvenir (2016) ['Memory'] itself remembers - far better than The Artist (2011) - a bygone style and feel of film [work in progress]

This is an appreciation of Souvenir (2016), as seen at Saffron Screen

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
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28 August

This is an (accreting) appreciation of Souvenir (2016), as seen at Saffron Screen on Monday 28 August at 8.00 p.m.

Of course, the release-date of a film – in this case, 2016 – is just as much a different matter from when, in the UK (say), it has distribution and one gets to see it as from when Isabelle Huppert would have signed up to the film, the dates of the shoot [IMDb (@IMDb) does not give any, but such as The Hollywood Reporter might], and the period of editing and other post-production work before one gets anywhere near ‘a theatrical release'.

All that aside, though, Huppert shows – in this film and in Elle (2016), released in the same year – such a different side to her acting that the contrast is palpable and endearing : the humour, the awkwardness, the pulls of desire are assuredly there in Elle, but the overall affect of Paul Verhoeven’s film is quite another, on account alone of Michèle’s (Huppert's) parents and her feelings towards them both !

Nonetheless, Elle - and Huppert's effective performances in Michael Haneke's films, from The Piano Teacher (2001) and Time of the Wolf (Le temps du loup) (2013) to Amour* (2012) - was a good enough reason to want to watch Souvenir...



Film-references :

* Bright Days Ahead (Les beaux jours) (2013)

* Edward Scissorhands (1990) - fable / Thurber

* Indecent Proposal (1993)

* Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

* Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymes) (2010)

* The Artist (2011)

End-notes :

* Somewhat coolly playing Eva, the daughter of Emmanuelle Riva (Anne) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges).

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

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Real, moving and effective power in these massed voices¹

This reviews Stephen Layton conducting the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 August

This is a review of a concert given, under the guest conductorship of Stephen Layton, by the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, on Friday 25 August at 7.30 p.m.

First half :

1. Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) ~ ‘Exultate Deo’ (1941)

2. Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) ~ ‘O sacrum convivium’ (1937)

3. Frank Martin (1890-1974) ~ Messe pour double chœur à cappella (1922-1926) :
Kyrie - Gloria - Credo - Sanctus / Benedictus - Agnus Dei

Judge just by the title (1) ‘Exultate Deo’, and then by the text (as heard, e.g. ‘Exultate timpanum’), that this short piece by Poulenc (from 1941) is a setting of praise (taken from the Psalms). With its bright, dawn-like opening (this material recurs), this was where one first took in the clear, full and assured sound of nearly ninety voices – soon into passages of subtle light and shade, as well as Poulenc’s uncompromising use of dissonance :

Straightaway, in this initial choice of repertoire, and in Stephen Layton’s (@StephenDLayton's) home acoustic at Trinity, Cambridge, we were able to appreciate the clear diction and unmuddied sound² of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB), and the exciting effect, in this familiar space, of ‘falling away’ into silence at the close.

In (2) ‘O sacrum convivium’ (1937), a second piece – and a more difficult one (?) – sung from memory, appropriately reflective tone and affect were brought out in a very mature and measured response to this text, a setting that wonders at the sacrament of communion (the Eucharist).

Although Messiaen’s spiritual and theological message is abiding in his canon, it appears that this work is unusual in being liturgical. Particularly striking were the gradations of dynamics across the ensemble, and the employment of softness and hush, which may be known from works as diversely religious as Quatuor pour la fin de temps [Quartet for the End of Time (1941)] or, for solo organ, La Nativité du Seigneur (1935), his beautiful meditation(s) on the birth of Christ.

The Kyrie of this well-known (but simple and unfussy ?) (3) mass-setting by Martin (1922-1926) begins with a multi-entry section [the first entreaty of Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy)], which, through the rendering of its flowing melismatic lines, established warmth and the celebratory sense of participating together in the mass. The central Christe eleison rose at least to fortissimo [ff], but still with a good balance.

Characteristically rounded and pure vowel-sounds flooded the sound-world of the Gloria and, as Frank Martin again gives us a multi-entry setting of the text, we clearly heard, in a trio of statements prefaced by Domine Deus, Agnus Dei… [‘Lord God, Lamb of God’], the sincere and solemn heart of this section of the Messe :

Martin has some of the singers imitate a drone, thereby giving the quality of a suspensive underpinning to each affirmation (and, not for the only time this evening, the powerful sense of sounds that, because one could not immediately locate them, evoked aetherial disembodiment). At Quoniam tu solus sanctus (‘For you alone are the most high’), we bridged into a form of chanting, and with the vivid impression of composer, conductor and choir together heightening our perception of what is very active within the words of the standard text of the Latin mass.

Except when one such as that of Stravinsky (1944-1948) whisks through it, the Credo – which almost certainly contains more words than in the other four sections combined – inevitably forms a significant portion of a setting : this one makes generous and vibrant use of a double choir, and, again, of wordlessly hummed notes and of crescendi to the full sound of the ensemble.

Amongst various others, some features in particular were highly moving : the tenderness, in the singing and the writing, of the passage that sets Et incarnatus est ('And [He] became man') ; then, the dramatic present of Crucifixus etiam ('For us [He] was likewise crucified'), but with neither Layton nor Martin rushing anything in the specificity that is in the text that starts with sub Pontio Pilato… (‘in the reign of Pontius Pilate’) ; and in the simple joy of Et resurrexit ('And [he] was resurrected'), which re-deploys the theme of running notes from the Kyrie.

There is a real, moving and effective power in these massed voices, they and we alike enjoying Martin’s flowing melodic lines, but held back in Et unam, sanctam, catholicam… ('And a single, holy, catholic [church]') – before a declaration of faith in Et exspecto…, ('I await [resurrection and eternal life]') and the closing ‘blaze’ of Amen.

Maybe these are not the right words for it, but there was ‘luxuriant’ writing and singing in the repeated word ‘Sanctus’, which then gently ‘retired’, so giving a strong contrast with the dynamics of Pleni sunt coeli (‘The heavens are full…’). Afterwards, we were into the peals / waves of the first Hosanna - before the Benedictus commenced with almost sub voce 'utterances', developing and ‘rolling’ into repeating the acclamation Hosanna !

With its tri-partite form, the Agnus Dei had an otherworldly, ‘uncanny’ feel to it at the start [for the words are addressed directly to Christ], with voices supporting, and yet moving against, each other – and then an evocation as of a calm beat of a clock (or heart ?), in which one senses Martin’s conviction most, and also, just as significantly, these performers’ dedication to conveying the text.

After all that has gone before, both in this section and in Martin’s mass for double choir as a whole, the concluding chords - which set the supplication Dona nobis pacem (‘[Lamb of God,] give us Peace’) - are open. As Peace is open to us... ?

Certainly, the audience seemed very open to giving applause from its hearts for this accomplished and engaged performance under Stephen Layton, a celebrated interpreter of such sacred works – one had also had the privilege of seeing close to his encouragement of and approbation for the members of NYCGB, and of feeling pride as they took an orderly step down to walk along the aisle, and out, at the end of this impressive first half.

Second half :

4. Vytautas Miškinis (1954-) ~ 'Angelis suis Deus' (2006)

5. Eriks Ešenvalds (1977-) ~ 'Salutation' [world premiere]

6. Ugis Praulinš (1957-) ~ Missa Rigensis (2003)

7. Paweł Łukaszewski (1968-) ~ ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (2007)

Again from memory, two short pieces (maybe shorter again than the Poulenc and the Messiaen ?) began the second half, by which time one finds that, both as one settles into a programme, and into taking further pleasure from it (even as it advances into territory that is less familiar, but no less engaging), one tends - for good or ill - to have to keep prompting oneself to record impressions in one's review-notes, and so makes fewer… [Apologies for anything not noted at the time, and so unlikely to be here now.]

In any case, from a trio of twentieth-century composers in the French tradition (none still alive, though their music continues) to ones all still living and from Eastern Europe (Latvia [Ešenvalds], Lithuania (x2), and Poland [Łukaszewski]) – and, this time, not with works now seventy-five or more years old (yet sounding so fresh), but everything from the twenty-first century.

We even had a new commission from Eriks Ešenvalds, as well as a second of the composers (Ugis Praulinš) with us, in the chapel itself. Before it, though it had in common that it evoked the sound-world and affect of John Rutter (also said afterwards to have been present), (4) Vytautas Miškinis’ ‘Angelis suis Deus’ (2006) had a swaying motion to it, which was rooted in the bass and treble lines. [As for the text, that will need to be researched (for an end-note), but had apparently been set to celebrate Stephen Layton’s birthday, when he was forty…]

(5) ‘Salutation’, with a text in English, felt like a pæan, and we had been told that Ešenvalds, in common with large numbers around the world (via live-streaming), was intending to watch the world premiere of this work : the words Senses reach out, and touch thy word at my feet were noted, but this, too, needs research. The overall impression of the ensemble was of brightness, but, within it, Ešenvalds had placed little harmonic hesitations, or what seemed like remembrances of Morten Lauridsen, and then brought the piece to a close with a beautiful bass-note : repeated listening will be necessary, but the audience responded very well to his setting, as it had to that of Miškinis.

As with the Mass setting by Frank Martin, that by (6) Ugis Praulinš, Missa Rigensis (2003), had a strong opening, and the effect of echoic falling-away. To judge by the singing and how the choir looked, it must be thrilling to perform this composition, and this was an excellent space in which the sounds could die away.

In the Kyrie, one could pick out some lovely soprano voices, nicely blended. A bass took a solo in Christe eleison³, and Praulinš also gave us little lingering individual sounds, and an a capella voice to close.

The rhythms and style of the Gloria were exciting, but it was also a moving setting, and employed chant-style sections. One almost had the feeling here, as when soloists step down from the choir, of individual testimonies being given³, and with a vivid sense of expectation in the Domine Deus.

The clever impression (as of rain-drops) that is formed by the overlay of voices in the Credo also feels in line with worship, and the harmonic riches that Praulinš bestows (as Martin did) on this part of Missa Rigensis put one in mind of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (other composers' works aplenty were discernibly quoted). Particular focii for attention were, again, the words Qui propter nos homines ('Who, for mankind and for our salvation, came down from Heaven'), and a remarkable setting of the Crucifixus, after which Stephen Layton brought us an impassioned believer's personal confession of faith³.

The Sanctus was full of life, especially the 'Hosannas', and was simply set until the repeat of Dona nobis pacem ('[Lamb of God], may you give us Peace'), when the Agnus Dei then had unexpected twists and turns. An accomplished bass recitation³, to a wordless hum, led to a simple close.

Ugis Praulinš, who was in the front row, keenly applauded the NYCGB and Stephen Layton, and was clearly affected by the performance. (It was also a pleasure to have him kindly receive some brief words of thanks afterwards.)

The programme closed with - as fitting both the purpose of the work and the reason for programming it - a ruminative setting by (7) Paweł Łukaszewski of the 'Nunc Dimittis' (2007), and with the uncomplicated beauty in which it ends : again, there was an element of voices 'coming off' and so our hearing a remaining voice exposed.

This was an extremely enjoyable concert, and one that gives great comfort at the depth and breadth of new choral singing, and also very real delight in individual performers within a tight and disciplined ensemble.

No doubt some very proud parents and other relatives would have shed a tear of pride as the NYCGB processed out !


¹ A review-comment, as noted on the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (@nycgb) in Frank Martin's Messe pour double chœur à cappella (1922-1926).

² The confidence of these young performers – and the worthwhile promise that they show for the future – was, too, inspiring in their appearance, in how they held and comported themselves : assuredly, one power that there is in justified self-belief.

³ As if, perhaps, the representative characters of The Apostles had been given, to show that we, through them, were in the midst of this act in remembrance of The Last Supper. (Some - if so, they could not have been many - might have found this work theatrical, but it served the liturgy and felt apt in doing so.)

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

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Song to Song : Much better made than Knight of Cups, but still well-made tedium

This is an [accreting] reaction to Terrence Malick's latest, Song to Song (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 August

This is an [accreting] reaction to Terrence Malick's latest, Song to Song (2017)

His being an auteur, Terrence Malick can, of course, interpret that to mean doing what he wants - desiring, as his characters* grandiosely emptily do, 'to be free', and / or 'to set others free' (sc. delude themselves, and / or screw others over, in the name of Freedom).

If Malick chooses, he can have us infer (and maybe agree) that he is painting with light, and that we are redundantly seeking a narrative (which he does not actually have, and so cannot deny us) - until he then gives us one, of sorts, but only once he has had his way with our mind, with his fractured slices**.


Film-references :

* Hideous Kinky (1998)

* Jules et Jim (1962)

* La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty [but #UCFF prefers 'Immense Beauty' as a title]) (2013)

* On the Road (2012)

* The Last Station (2009)

* The Master (2012)

* The Neon Demon (2016)

Interlude ~ Irreverent parody No. 1 :

The travel of Song to Song is from deliberately momentary snatches of the past - which have been blanked out by the actors, in confused guilt and shame at having been paid to arse around implausibly on camera - to healing (and, of course, the pay-cheque).

However, this only comes through expressionless (and barely cleansing ?) confessional utterances, spoken to God knows whom (an on-line diary, via voice-recognition ? or a very professionally indulgent therapist ?). Thus, if just as implausibly, they become reconnected with good, honest, Tolstoyan toil on - dare one say so ? - the soil that they had spurned.

In essence, the road's shown to be tough, but (for actors, at least) healing for careworn hedonism can be won by lost wild-child rockers-in-their-heads stars of screen !

Other references :

* Friends and Crocodiles

* The Diamond as Big as The Ritz ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

* The Lost Ones [Le dépeupler] ~ Samuel Beckettt

End-notes :

* If we may rightly call them that... Gosling, though perhaps never heard called that, is credited as 'BV' = boundlessly vacant, as Gosling usually does / is, or boulevard verdure ?

** Naturally, Woody Allen and Charlotte Rampling (as Dorrie) did this with far greater impact in Stardust Memories (1980).

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