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Thursday, 23 February 2017

I lost track, somewhere – what was real, what was performance

This is a response to Mica Levi's score for Jackie (2016) and its context in the film

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


22 February

This is a response to Mica Levi's score for Jackie (2016) and its context in the film


Right from the start of the film, Natalie Portman’s detail-rooted response, as Jackie Kennedy, to the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy – to losing him, and to what his assassination means, because he was also the 35th President of the United States of America – is prefigured and then accentuated by ‘a dying fall’ in Mica Levi’s score¹ :

As we proceed with the elements of Levi’s sound-world and with Jackie (2016), they are multi-layered, with, for example, a cello-part that alludes to when Pablo Casals performed at The White House (as depicted), and, with some material, Levi sometimes seems to be subtly evoking the stateliness of many tributes in music to JFK² (if not to the twelve-tone Elegy for J.F.K. (1964) that Stravinsky composed [Cathy Berberian, and three clarinet soloists from the Rome Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Pierre Boulez, via YouTube] ?).




As mentioned, Neil White’s (@everyfilmneil’s) long-running cinema-blog [everyfilm.blogspot.co.uk], where he sets himself the challenge every year of watching every film that has any release in the UK [starting from 1 January, Neil’s reviews number 87 at the time of writing], had very usefully set out what this film is, and so caused it to be listed to be watched :

Portman captures Jackie's essence in a film which is quite different to any which will be released this year. […]
It ought to be made clear that this is not a biopic of Jackie's life with JFK nor does it explore her further life and marriage to Aristotle Onassis.
Instead, it concentrates on the immediate aftermath of the assassination with occasional flashbacks to the shooting and a live TV programme in 1961 in which she revealed changes she had made to the White House.


Although Jackie is seen through the relative calm of being framed by a fictionalized newspaper interview³ (one of several ‘frames’ within the film, another of which also involves a significant conversation³), the scenes within its chosen strands speak of Jackie’s deep anxiety at the death of her husband, and at The White House, following her life with him there. As alluded to by Neil White, these are lives effectively lived out on t.v. : when Jackie Kennedy gives a tour of what Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) suggests she call ‘the people’s house’, it is largely on her own, because it has been thought best for her husband only to join her at the end, and we see all the apparatus of the static and wheeled cameras that make this welcome possible, and, behind the illusion, Nancy mouthing reminders and encouragements to smile…


Director Pablo Larraín and director of photography Stéphane Fontaine have given the meeting with the journalist a very different ambience (with its peaceful location on the edge of water, at a named property in Massachusetts), so the times when we are with them cause other parts of the film – whose shooting-style and camera-movement make them feel highly tense and claustrophobic – more manageable⁴. For us, as much as for Jackie Kennedy : nonetheless, the cumulative effect of the motifs of Mica Levi’s music – and finally seeing the horror, near the end of the film, of being at John Kennedy’s side during the shooting – leave us unsettled.

The grief, the guilt and the anger at God, which we hear her ruminate and rage on in the moments with The Priest⁴ (John Hurt), are very much her own (could she have shielded her husband, and where was God in it all ?), and we have a very definite sense of place. Yet, in both of these ‘frames’, time seems deliberately elongated and a little unreal, and, when we end up at night-fall, it seems even more unworldly…

Maybe the anxiety, which in Jackie Kennedy has her mind concentrate on all that is specific (as a way of trying to cope with the reality of what has happened), is not being portrayed because she is different, or set apart from, our experience. The particularities of her hurt and pain apart, can we identify with moments as nonsensical as someone insisting that an autopsy has to take place, because it is ‘required by law’, but not being able – or not being willing – to say what an autopsy entails ?

Is anything familiar in that nightmarish moment of her rushing to the doors behind which the autopsy is taking place, only to be caught and turned back by Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) ?


End-notes :

¹ That straine agen, it had a dying fall.


Twelfth Night (Act I, Scene 1) [text from the First Folio]


² Though, necessarily, avoiding the obvious sound of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings [Leonard Bernstein conducts The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, via YouTube], which was broadcast over the television at the announcement of Kennedy’s death. (It was an arrangement that Barber had made, in the same year as his String Quartet, Op. 11 (1936), of its slow movement, and which had been heard when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death was announced, and on many public occasions since.)

We read in Wikipedia® :The Adagio for Strings was one of John F. Kennedy’s favorite pieces of music. Jackie Kennedy arranged a concert the Monday after his death with the National Symphony Orchestra and they played to an empty hall.


³ Neil White comments on this point in his review (please see main text, above), 'Director Pablo Larrain based the movie around an interview which Mrs Kennedy conducted with Life Magazine's Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. who is played by Billy Crudup but not named.' On the film's web-page on IMDb (@IMDb), Billy Crudup is generically credited as ‘The Journalist’, John Hurt as ‘The Priest’.

⁴ Not the least of the ambiguity, with The Journalist (and The Priest ?), is what, of what we see Jackie Kennedy speak, she is actually saying to him, and what saying, but forbidding him to report (since she had said, at the outset, that she would be editing as they go) – but also the uncertainties between them all along, such as when she asks whether he is giving her career advice, or suggesting that she should hold a party at the house, or matter-of-factly telling him, I don’t smoke, so directly denying what we see her do.




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

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Further Beyond (2016) : Is Eliot right that we Cannot bear very much reality ? (work in progress)

This is a response to Further Beyond (2016) and a Q&A with Christine Molloy

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


21 February


This is a response to Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s Further Beyond (2016), which screened at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Tuesday 7 February 2017, and was followed by a Q&A with the former (work in progress)

At the conclusion of the Q&A (to which we return below), Christine Molloy was asked about Barry Lyndon (1975) – Further Beyond (2016) had itself alluded to director Stanley Kubrick, in a perhaps wry anecdote about location-scouting for the duel at the start of Barry Lyndon. (Specifically, about the use of the narrator (Michael Hordern) as a reference for Further Beyond.)

Barry Lyndon ends with a measure of uncertainty, with Hordern’s voice-over veiling what is known about Redmond Barry after the counter-balancing duel, at the end of the film, that causes him to lose a leg : Kubrick has deliberately had us follow Barry / him for most of three hours (but, all along not without quite a little irony in the tone and content of the narration), only to have – as Barry’s leg is – our knowledge curtailed. (For novelist Thackeray’s purposes, maybe there was also more interest in the first place – and more anti-Irish feeling to be maintained or generated ? – by telling certain aspects of the story of this real-life character.)

In cinematic terms, however, it is as though Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy had pursued Kubrick’s trail from this point onwards, where it goes cold, in making a film that deals with the earlier parts of their subject Ambrosio O’Higgins’ life, in that they are most drawn to that about which they (or anyone) know least, and making that its matter…



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

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Highlights ahead at Thaxted Festival 2017 - Four Friday-to-Sunday weekends (from Friday 23 June)

Highlights ahead at Thaxted Festival 2017 (Friday 23 June to Sunday 16 July)

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


19 February


The (accreting) #UCFF choice of highlights ahead at Thaxted Festival 2017 - Four Friday-to-Sunday weekends (from Friday 23 June to Sunday 16 July)

No, it is not primarily an excuse to provide links to reviews from performances at previous Thaxted Festivals (though they will duly appear below), but part of the blog's wish to celebrate very rewarding opportunities to hear live music in quality venues, in and around Cambridgeshire...


Weekend 1 (23 to 25 June) :

Saturday 24 June at 7.00 p.m.





Sunday 25 June at 7.30 p.m.




More to come, but meanwhile Report from Thaxted Festival : The Gould Piano Trio on fine form [reviewing recital on 26 June 2015]...





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

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Birthday Party – Pinter in Fourteen Tweets

The Birthday Party – Pinter in Fourteen Tweets

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


19 February

The Birthday Party – Pinter in Fourteen Tweets

To Roland Clare
(for publishing abroad ‘The Macbeth Murder Mystery’¹, and thus Thurber's wider delights)













Postlude :




As to The Homecoming, where, at the end of the play, Teddy goes back to the States just with the injunction Don't become a stranger, from his wife Ruth : we are first surprised with the proposition (after Teddy's brother Lenny has said Why don't I take her up with me to Greek Street ?) from Max, her father-in-law, We'll put her on the game. That's a stroke of genius, that's a marvellous idea.

Except that Ruth, given that Teddy has not seemed very interested (or even surprised) that Lenny, and then Joey, go to bed with her, is then freely bargaining, with Max and her brothers-in-law, in such terms as You would have to regard your original outlay simply as a capital investment [sc. setting Ruth up in a flat with three rooms and a bathroom]... :



In ‘Different Viewpoints in the Play’ (1982), an extract from his monograph Harold Pinter², Bernard F. Dekore suggests, on this point, Perhaps the devious Teddy did not introduce her to his family when they married but does so now because he expects to happen later when did not happen then.

Dekore goes on to say, If this is the reason for his homecoming, […] it could underlie Pinter’s statement (to John Lahr³) that ‘if ever there was a villain in the play, Teddy was it’ […]


End-notes :

¹ The piece first appeared in The New Yorker (p. 16 of the edition dated 2 October 1937), as linked here.


² In the Modern Dramatists series [Macmillan, London (1982)], and collected in the selection of critical essays Harold Pinter : The Birthday Party, The Caretaker and The Homecoming (ed. Michael Scott) (Macmillan, London (1986)).

³ ‘A Director’s Approach’ by Peter Hall, in A Casebook on Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’, p. 20 (ed. John Lahr) (New York, 1971).




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

The advertisement encouraged those with mental-health issues to apply...

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


18 February


Working for a Local Mind Association : The advertisement encouraged those with mental-health issues to apply...



It was a crazy, over-the-top, three-part interview for a two-day per week job-share with someone doing equivalent hours : a panel interview with three people, joined by three service-users for a role-play (where then then manager, who headed the panel, pretended to be an advocacy client on a psychiatric unit - and said to me (wearing a suit for the day), in this effort for realism as I role-played a mental-health advocate, that Everyone wearing a suit is a cunt), and then a presentation to the service-users...





These initiatives in The City - Thank you for having the bravery to be up front with your colleagues about your mental-health difficulty :

I do, earnestly, wish for a different outcome for them, where outing oneself still seems a good thing, later on, but I know human nature, so I fear for those who have already told others (too much)...




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

A ramble around some themes in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth (work in progress)

A gradually proceeding ramble around some themes in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth

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


18 February

A ramble around some themes in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth


NB This image from the First Folio, and the one below, is not necessarily from the Digital facsimile of the Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, Arch. G c.7










Maybe other matters in the play (clues, some might call them* ?) give us pause here...

Before Gaetano Donizetti and the later era of opera, it had had ‘mad scenes’ in the works of such as Hasse and Handel : are we so taken by Lady Macbeth’s madness, as the nurse and doctor overhear, that we do not question why she remarks about ‘so much blood in’ Duncan, but take it all as one guilty, bloody stuff ?


Yet that cannot be right. Having drugged the guards’ possets (Act II, Scene 2), she specifically says (having just doubted Macbeth, who has in fact ‘done the deed’, and, hearing him, assumed that the guards have awoken) Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done’t*. Yet why, at this same time, this tenderness of feeling, which but stifles a lack of it in wishing to kill instead of Macbeth (as if already doubting him) ?

[James Thurber cleverly works with this¹, but] Lady Macbeth’s thought-patterns are so quicksilver that, often enough, we may not slow them down, but take them at the very level of the face value, which the drama itself distrusts / urges us to distrust². Back at Act V, Scene 1, is where we encounter the image of washing ‘this filthy witness from your hand’, but it is hard on the heels of it, here, that she realizes that all has not gone to plan, and – only when Macbeth refuses – does she have to go again into Duncan’s chamber³ :

Why did you bring these daggers from the place ?
They must lie there. Go carry them and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.




Does this set of three lines seem, despite it all, terribly controlled - the words of someone who might have done all this before... ?

What is Duncan's age, on any reading of the play, at this time, and is it right to assume that Lady means Duncan, when she remarks who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him ?


End-notes :

¹ James Thurber makes play with this and other points in the text (in ‘The Macbeth Murder Mystery’, collected in The Thurber Carnival), but, at that level, we may not need to operate. (The piece first appeared in The New Yorker (p. 16 of the edition dated 2 October 1937), as linked here.)

² […] Where we are,
There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The near in blood,
The nearer bloody.


Donalbain (Act II, Scene 3)


³ Both seeds of the sleep-walking scene at the end of the play have now been sown, because, before returning with ‘hands of your colour’ and saying A little water clears us of this deed, she rationally seeks to dismiss what Macbeth says, first with Consider it not so deeply, and then [when his mind is still rooted in his recent experience], with :

These deeds must not be thought
After these ways. So, it will make us mad.





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

Friday, 17 February 2017

Pass the salt, dear ! [Hissed : No - not that way, Sybil...]

Table manners - or barely disguised hostilities and aggressions ?

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


17 February

What do we really learn at the table together : table manners - or barely disguised hostilities and aggressions ?

The schoolboy wisdom, when chastised, may have been that we owe table manners just to the court of Versailles, and so we can dispense with being 'hung up up' about them. (It is a moot point, though, who gets hung up (or which more) - those offended, or the transgressor ?).

However, their arbitrary employment can show barely disguised hostilities and aggressions between us what we might call society (or - even more bogusly - polite company'





To be continued - but it is also linked to the posting ???





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

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The You’re-a-Fuss Fairy Tale

The You’re-a-Fuss Fairy Tale

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


16 February


The You’re-a-Fuss Fairy Tale

Once upon lots of times, as no history is better at repeating itself than horrible history, it was a bit like this :

1. Bodger Dave decided to hold a prize-competition

2. But he let some sort of friend, BJ the Bold, draw up the competition-rules

3. Without even bothering to read them, Dave published the rules

4. They promised 52 prizes of £350m per year for life

5. BJ then decided that he was less Bold – and more like Surf or Ariel

6. So BJ sold (or gave ?) his idea for winning the competition to Truculent Theresa, The Mare of Maidenhead

7. The Mare entered the competition fifty-two times, with the same entry

8. Dave thought that this was odd, and nearly declared – he probably did declare, but then rescinded it – all of The Mare’s entries to be invalid

9. Realizing that BJ or Dave ‘might do something’, The Mare pointed out noisily – in that truculent sort of way of The Press Barons, around The Trough of Self-Interest – various features of the competition-rules

10. First, The Mare said, the rules did not prohibit multiple entries, or anyone winning multiply – even fifty-two times out of fifty-two…

11. Second, the rules forgot to say that the judges’ decision was final

12. Third, The Mare said, she was a better judge anyway of what was fair, Dave and BJ included, and declared herself sole arbiter

13. And so The Mare won all of the fifty-two prizes, because that – wasn’t it ? – was what everyone wanted...



Copyright © Belston Night Works 2017




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

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

'Energetic and energizing' : At Lunch Two with Britten Sinfonia

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia's recital At Lunch Two on 14 February 2017

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


14 February

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia with At Lunch Two at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, at 1.00 p.m. on Tuesday 14 February 2017


Programme :

1. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹) [4 players]

2. Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960-) ~ Prayer for a great man (2010) [2 players]

3. Oliver Knussen (1952-) ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977) [4 players]

4. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) ~ Introduction and Allegro (1905) [7 players]

5. Turnage ~ Col (2016) [8 players]

6. Stravinsky ~ Concertino for String Quartet (1920) [4 players]



Stravinsky I ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹)

1. Danse

2. Eccentrique

3. Cantique


(1) Vibrant tone-colour from Jacqueline Shave (1st violin) and vigorous pizzicato on cello (Caroline Dearnley) characterized the first impression of the work, with Miranda Dale (2nd violin) making lively interjections in the brief Danse. Even so, we hear that Stravinsky’s writing is of a contrasting nature, and – in the overall somewhat atrophied sounds of the opening bars of Eccentrique – is juxtaposing inertia and lyricism. Before, that is, the intense flowering of the development section, and a return to this quirky form of spikiness, and the opening material’s serving partly as punctuation, partly as an ending.

Last, sensitively rendered by the violinists and more mournful, Cantique resembles a less-uninformed version of Beethoven as processed in Strauss’ Metamorphosen : quicker, but a mutated theme. Again, the writing relies on a contrast between passages and their affective colouring, but evoking a memory that is rooted, not in nostalgia, but in grief.



Turnage I ~ Prayer for a great man (2010)

(2) Prayer is uplifted, and positive, if stoic – it is, as with the preceding work, a fascinating blend of sounds, those of cello and of the horn – Martin Owen – with all its connotations of the martial, the inward, and the rustic. As the short piece progressed, we were aware how Caroline Dearnley’s freely-flowing cello-line worked with the latter : in the string legato, melding tones, although there was a deliberate, gentle mismatch with the horn’s timbre. A final, muted, section perhaps seemed to speak of adieu, or farewell.



Knussen ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977)

Before Oliver Knussen’s instrumental (3) Cantata, the statesman-like tone and appearance of Nicholas Daniel (later, in a post-concert workshop (with / for Jago Thornton’s prize-winning composition), maybe less so ?), who said that we could expect to hear some of the instruments in tempo, others playing ‘out of time’ : as he put it, Strict, but flexible – parenting, I suppose ?

Nicholas Daniel also told us that he favoured – over Knussen’s own account of the work – when Knussen had shared, with Sinfonia players, that it is ‘like a series of diary-entries’, but ones that are technically connected. Compared with other works, rehearsing this one had apparently been more intense, but also more rewarding, and, although Daniel says that he is usually hesitant to say the word ‘masterpiece’, he promised (not wrongly) that Cantata was one - and jewel like


Characterizing – or trying, and failing, to characterize – the mood or feel of such diary-entries, when Knussen is deliberately being holistic with them, would not let his work be the centre-piece that it was of this superbly wrought and planned Sinfonia recital. Here, the incalculably strong overall effect of a moving entity, comprising people and a feeling of place, of being placed into the timeless eternity of Time :

As one would know from typically thoughtful Sinfonia programming, pairing how the Stravinsky ends with Turnage’s reaction to the passing of his father-in-law naturally fits with Knussen’s conception of Cantata - with all the changeability that we are aware of with, say, Bach’s portraits of the facets of the seeking of a soul in penitence [counter-tenor Robin Blaze with BWV 170, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust], or Handel’s Un’alma inamorata, HWV 173 [Mhairi Lawson, with La Serenissima (LaSerenissimaUK)].

Or, of course, it could be Handel’s much more famous and beautiful da capo aria Laschia ch’io pianga [Almira / Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno / Rinaldo], or Bach’s even more famous Erbarme dich, so beautiful where it comes in St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) : at such times, what is Time ?



Ravel ~ Introduction and Allegro(1905)

Maurice Ravel, though, has a radiance that is rarely outshone, and so we aptly heard next, in the familiar (4) Introduction and Allegro, his feeling for poesie and fantasie in the intensity of an imagined world : in the first harp solo, it became very clear that Ravel, in being commissioned to write this work to show off a new make of harp (pace Donald Macleod on Radio 3, that self-same day, with the evening repeat of Composer of the Week [#COTW]), is scoring in the spirit of writing for piano.

Further on, and starting with the delicacy of the cello (Caroline Dearnley), the other players (Miranda Dale and Clare Finnimore) joined her in pizzicato to accompany Jacqueline Shave's bowed violin, before another gorgeous, rapt harp solo from Lucy Wakeford. With the ensemble embodying faerie and fruitfulness, we came to the flowering and fecundity of the Allegro section – with the very lovely phrasing of Lucy Wakeford, who was given a well-earnt accolade by her fellow Sinfonia performers.



Turnage II (1960-) ~ Col (2016)

A tradition in music of The British Isles that goes back well before Elgar’s variations presents portraits in music (of a sort, Façade (1918-1923) is also one). Unfortunately, this is what Mark-Anthony Turnage does in (5) Col, in a piece that starts in open terms, but becomes first ruminative, and then – with or at the return of that initial material – becomes downright maudlin.

This is unlike the spirit of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917), Arvo Pärt in In memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977), or Stravinsky’s Elegy for J.F.K. (1964) [or Double Canon ‘Raoul Dufy in Memoriam’ (1959)], and, rather, a requiem that is yet a birthday cake, but which serves as neither : though it is imperfect, one may be better hearing Colin Matthews the man, by watching Barrie Gavin’s Colin Matthews at 70 [seventy minutes or so of film about Colin Matthews, as screened at 2016’s Aldeburgh Festival of Arts and Music² (on which, see more, below)]…



Stravinsky II ~ Concertino for String Quartet

NB The programme-notes (by Jo Kirkbride) credit the (6) Concertino as dating to 1952 – having wondered about this, and then checked more authoritatively than on the Internet³ [Wikipedia®], the Concertino actually dates to 1920⁴, and its arrangement for small ensemble to 1952…

Given that L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) (1919) was from the year before 1920, it seems to endorse the comment above that one can hear hints of that work here. The Britten Sinfonia String Quartet plays the Concertino with aplomb : they happen, all, to be women, but the important point is that they are excellent musicians and communicators, and it is by their quality, not their gender, that one would commend their musicianship⁵.



In this work, as brought out here, the motivic elements underlie, but do not belie, its meditative qualities – the recapitulation that we heard was brimful of feeling, and tacitly contradicts a conception of Stravinsky as cool and unemotional. Just as did, one reflects, this string quartet with the Stravinsky piece(s) with which it / they opened a tribute to Louis #Andriessen at Milton Court last year (at The Barbican).


End-notes :

¹ Please see the note at the beginning of the section (below) for the second Stravinsky work for string quartet (and its dependent end-note⁴).

² One way in which the Festival is on a human scale is that, during the interval of a concert that had featured Matthews' work last year, one had the informality to address him on the stairs - to shake his hand, and briefly thank him.




Sadly, at some more 'protective' venues - unlike, for example, The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM / @yorkearlymusic) - one may not approach performers, even though they are just a small distance away (though not evident, stewards are there to prevent it) : those on stage have to be at a signing, or otherwise choose to come out into the foyer, for approaching them to be permitted.


³ In Roman Vlad's monograph entitled Stravinsky, pp. 79-81 (Oxford University Press, London (1978)).

⁴ With Three Pieces for String Quartet, it initially seemed that they were written in 1914, revised in 1918, but probably not published until 1922.

Roman Vlad (ibid, p. 50), after saying ‘Although very little known, these pieces are extremely significant as far as Stravinsky’s stylistic development and inner artistic motivation are concerned’, and then devoting several pages to them [in which, by analysing them, Vlad explains their importance to Stravinsky's and other composers' works], goes on to tell us (p. 54) :

Stravinsky himself was always greatly attached to [the Three Pieces], so much so that in 1917 he transcribed them for orchestra under the titles of ‘Danse’: ‘Excentrique’ : ‘Cantique’ [my emphasis] […].

⁵ On which point, initiatives such as Holly Tarquini's F-Rating (F-Rated (@F__Rating)) at Bath Film Festival (@BathFilm), or Cambridge's Reel Women (@ReelWomenUK), might take pause ? [Unless, of course, one claims that inclusion in a programme at the latter, or the former's Festival, is an absolute guarantee, per se, of outstanding quality.]




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

Monday, 13 February 2017

Love film, and love a real projection from 35mm : True Romance at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (work in progress)

Love film, and love a real projection from 35mm : True Romance (1993) in Cambridge

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


14 February

Love film, and love a real projection from 35mm : True Romance (1993) at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge [script by Tarantino, directed by Tony Scott]









See also Jack Toye (@jackabuss), at / for TAKE ONE (@TakeOneCinema) : www.takeonecff.com/2015/interview-david-boyd







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

POV : or where is the camera placed - in the theatre, or art gallery ? (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)


14 February

POV : or where is the camera placed - in the theatre, or art gallery ? (work in progress)

In its day, the enterprise of BBC Television Shakespeare was not without its critics (and the whole thing would be done differently now, not with one director to each play, etc.), but it has this massive point in its favour : it does not present any sort of illusion that one is watching a stage production, or suggest that one might as well save (think that one saves ?) and go to the cinema to watch a 'live' (or 'encore') production, where a director gives you what to look at / what to think...

What - by comparison with the Television Shakespeare - does NT Live (or other theatres / theatre companies, now drearily doing the same) actually offer for a minimum of £16 per adult ticket for one of these directed, live performances ? The BBC endeavour was included in the licence fee - and, at some later point, one could buy the plays on VHS cassette, for example Felicity Kendal (as Rosamund) in As You Like it, or Derek Jacobi as Richard II, as one recalls...


More to come...


Interesting ? :






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

Seraphin Chamber Orchestra played in King's College Chapel, conducted by Joy Lisney

This reviews a concert given by Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, under Joy Lisney

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


12 February

This is a review of an inaugural concert given by Seraphin Chamber Orchestra in the chapel of King’s College on Sunday 12 February 2017 at 8.00 p.m., in a programme of works by Haydn and Tchaikovsky, and including a world premiere by Benjamin Graves, conducted by cellist Joy Lisney


Benjamin Graves (199?) (@BenjaminHGraves) ~ Three Folk Songs for String Orchestra (2017) (World premiere)

It is almost inevitable with modern compositions that one either runs out of sections, and has to reappraise whether what seemed like a pause delineated any more than a long rest, or the piece ends, when one is expecting more… (It was the latter, but no matter.)

I confess that this was my experience when Joy gave Benjamin Britten’s Suite for Cello No. 3 at Kings Place (@KingsPlace), a piece that I do not know well, and which one can hear and see Joy playing then here (on YouTube) :



The start of the work had aetherial, ancient tones, with subtle pulsings in the midst, and it felt that we were looking to ‘Max’ (Peter Maxwell Davies) with the use of layering, and of radiant and discordant elements. When we heard the leader with obbligato violin, alongside tremolo effects that shimmered, this was perhaps where the second Folk Song began :

At any rate, there was ‘a rise’, as of cavorting seals (it becomes hackneyed to talk too much about keening, but there was that about it). Probably the third of the Folk Songs began with rhythmicity, and ‘banjo-style’ cellos, and one appreciated the effect of divided first and second violins, and the move in and out of the minor, but all with a regal air. However, although we appeared to come to a sonority, the piece did not quite end on it, but with other-worldly qualities and effects.

The element of surprise… caught the audience by surprise, but the skill and care of Seraphin Chamber Orchestra (@SeraphinCO) in this composition was easily recognizable, and heralded a full hour of accomplishment and finely conveyed emotion under Joy Lisney’s (@JoyLisney’s) baton (or, in what followed, direction from the cello).




Josef Haydn (1732-1809) ~ Concerto for Cello in D Major, Op. 101, Hob. VIIIb : 2

1. Allegro moderato

2. Adagio

3. Allegro

Not that one would expect the opening Allegro moderato to be disrespectful, but this was treating ‘Papa’ Haydn with initial reverential respect, against which we could accord and register the flourishes on oboes and horns. Then, Joy signalled a boost in the orchestra’s volume, and we gained a sense of the echoic nature of Haydn’s writing.

In Joy's approach to his solo melody-line and its ornamentation, its beauty was paramount, and we could then, as the movement developed, appreciate the crispness of Christopher Xuereb on bass. From Joy, this was a gracious performance, with her facility at the service of bringing freshness to the interpretation. At times, she would wait, as the rest of the ensemble had a tutti passage, and she could no doubt have been content at the very great competence of Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, with its balanced and fully confident sound. We could next movingly see her feeling her way, and, come the cadenza (which one guesses may have been Joy’s own, thematically-oriented one), there was a real quiet in the chapel of King’s College, before the orchestra joined her for the close : there was not showiness here, but an appropriate response to the mood and style of Haydn’s work.


The Adagio had an understated opening, and we then heard the plangency of the oboes. Joy herself was exercising restraint as to being expressive at this stage, and then a moment of sweetness came forth – taking the simplicity in the melody-line at face value, with its honesty and clarity. In the cadenza, there were singing notes, and colours that allowed the ensemble to come quietly back in : this is not the Concerto in which to wring every essence of the Adagio for feeling, but one where its content and purpose are to serve the faster movements.

Joy allowed the closing Allegro to luxuriate in the rich loveliness of the writing, with its feel of a rondo, and horn-calls. She was clearly working very well with the orchestra, whose rehearsals had been much publicized on Twitter (at @SeraphinCO), and enjoying the pleasure of this finale. Haydn briefly modulates to the minor, and Joy, either side of highly proficient runs, brought out some momentarily forceful bowing to match the atmosphere. A brief moment of hearing the oboes without the solo voice, and then the delightful and well-received conclusion of the work, full of energy and life.


Those who knew the work, and its demands, would have called Joy back more than twice in reacting to this work, but the applause was generous for what one judged the composition of the audience to be (and, likewise when the time came, the Tchaikovsky could have been acclaimed for longer, and the impressive quality of this playing in a notoriously demanding acoustic).




Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) ~ Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 (1880)

1. Pezzo in forma di sonatina : Andante non troppo — Allegro moderato

2. Valse : Moderato — Tempo di valse

3. Élégie : Larghetto elegiaco

4. Finale (Tema russo) : Andante — Allegro con spirito

The opening statement was well paced, and had its necessary clarity, with Joy showing that it was not sufficient to play this music, but for it to speak and to unfold. There was some difficult cello-writing here, for example, but Seraphin Chamber Orchestra had assurance, and a good bass-line, as well as a clear string-sound : their conductor was confident, and appeared to be giving them confidence. With the reprise of the opening gestures, there was a good balance, which we were to notice further, as the Serenade continued.


The movement marked Valse seemed essentially carefree, but only mildly jaunty, and Joy made good use of ritardando for punctuation : with a work such as this, which we think that we know, but where we actually cannot place some parts of it, we need holding back, for our pleasure, in the familiar moments. Joy’s beating of time was gentle and leisurely.

In the Élégie, she had the orchestra carefully present the initial material, and slowly using its measures for expressivity : for it is here, if anywhere in the Serenade, that Tchaikovsky is likely to feel unknown to us, and we need shape and structure most then, not for a conductor to let it drift.

With the first violins against pizzicato strings, we began a gradual build, and then time to decelerate and to breathe. Again and again, Joy paced this movement, and brought us to a lovely hush, as of dying embers. Still aglow, the Larghetto was still being given due weight, and then gradually we came into a coda, with a pulse, and simple scales, to conclude.


The Finale (Tema russo) was in this same, quiet place, but more solemn, with Joy taking it steadily, and making us come again to this music, which was now familiar (in the way that our selective attention, or our listening that has been directed to what we know, the Élégie is relatively uncertain for us). Yes, we came into a little fizz and fireworks, but there was more to it than that, and Joy showed, again, that she had a sense of vision for this piece. After some luscious writing for her fellow cellists, we ended as we had begun, but with the theme’s statement now having greater poise and purpose…



Just one thing that could possibly have different : especially last year, when concerts during Easter at King’s were held at the West end (and especially with period instruments), the work of a cold building on strings was noticeable. Just maybe, after the third movement of the Serenade for Strings, taking a chance to re-tune might have been worthwhile ?




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

Monday, 6 February 2017

Some Tweets about Spike Lee's Chi-Raq (2015)

Some Tweets about Spike Lee's Chi-Raq (2015), seen at Saffron Screen

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


5 February


Some Tweets about Spike Lee's Chi-Raq (2015), seen at Saffron Screen, which - perhaps as an antidote to the cynicism of the musical or film called Chicago ? - looks to sisters in Ancient Greece, also tired of warfare, as a source of hope...



Nick Cannon (as Chi-Raq)

As we are shown by titles on the screen during the opening number, whose lyrics are otherwise displayed on a dark screen, the film is predicated on the fact that more men died violent deaths in 2015 in Chicago than US servicemen up to that point in Afghanistan and Iraq together : hence the name Chi-Raq, by which one of the gang-leaders (Nick Cannon) also calls himself (his opposite number is Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), and there is a loquacious chorus-figure, played by Samuel L. Jackson).


Above : John Cusack (Fr. Corridan), Wesley Snipes (Cyclops), La La Anthony (Hecuba) and Spike Lee
Below : Samuel L. Jackson (Dolmedes)


The sex-strike is started by Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) – as in his Greek model, but with the encouragement of Miss Helen (Angela Bassett).


Teyonah Parris (Lysistrata), Angela Bassett (Miss Helen), and
Jennifer Hudson (Irene [= Greek for Peace])


Spike Lee additionally gives a role for the black evangelical church : the real St. Sabina’s in Chicago (all of the locations shown are in the city), fronted by John Cusack (as Father Michael Corridan), but with the support and appearance of its own Father Michael Pfleger, and its music and dance-groups.


Above : John Cusack (Fr. Michael Corridan) and Father Michael Pfleger
Below : Spike Lee, Al Sharpton (not credited ?), and Father Pfleger





John Cusack and Spike Lee


Necessarily, obstacles are in the women’s way, otherwise no drama and no action to the film, but it ends with an unexpected act of mercy, and a revelation by Nick Cannon of the extent to which – except physically – his acting has been subdued until that moment.





Spike Lee offers a message of hope, and we would do well to heed him.



Angela Bassett (as Miss Helen)




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