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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Any spaces

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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31 August

A debate arose about the use of the question-mark this lunchtime, except that it was only a debate in the modern sense : I received an explanation of how many screens, if one had been driving when sending Any spaces as a message, one would have had to go through to add the punctuation, whereas I had pointed out that the pithiness of some of the messages sent had bordered on abruptness.

As to a question-mark, clearly it had to be a question - although, had it started with a lower-case letter (some friends never use capitals), one might have wondered whether it was the tail-fragment - and clearly one also inferred the missing Are there.

Which brought us to what happens when a proposition is not, as almost in that case (it would actually have been Are there spaces ?), turned into a question by inversion, but by intonation :

You are coming as statement

You are coming ! as a form of imperative

You are coming ? as a question

Are you coming ? also as a question

Likewise :

You want that as statement

You want that ? as a form of derision in a question

You want that ? possibly, again, as a form of derision in a question, possibly not

You want that ? as a form of uncertainty, perhaps

Etc., etc. with several words stressed...

But :

Do you want that ? as a question

Do you want that ? as an intensified question

Do you want that ? as another intensified question

Do you want that ? as a third intensified question

Etc., etc. with several words stressed...

Questions, we take them for granted, but forming them can - rightly or wrongly - impart all sorts of meaning, without even considering adding another intensifying word such as 'really'...

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

Friday, 30 August 2013

What the heck is 'competition', Competition Commission ?

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31 August

If you've never heard of the MMC*, you might wonder what the Competition Commission does ?

Do they police the occasions when you came up for a brilliant new name for Frosties, but didn't win, or that holiday in Honolulu that they keep ringing me about ?

Well, this probably won't help : Imagine a town, Townchester, with a big branch of Tesco a few streets away from one side of the river, and an equally big branch of Asda in the same position on the other side. Imagine Asda decided that they thought that people were more interested in carpet, and devoted half of their floor-space to that instead of their normal range of goods.

So what has happened to competition in Townchester ? Asda, for whatever business or other reason, has effectively given Tesco a massive advantage, and could make its so very low prices creep up, because it knows that customers can less easily find all that they need at Asda.

But does the Competition Commission have anything to say about this ? I understand not, and it would take Asda to decide to sell up to Tesco altogether before, as I gather, The Office of Fair Trading might refer the matter to the Commission.

Does this make any sense ? In both cases, a market position lessens competition, but, unless I am quite wrong, the Commission won't oblige Asda to compete fully with Tesco, any more than it will, if Asda does as I say with 70% of its floor area, encourage Lidl or who knows what other supermarket retailer in to keep Tesco in check.

And does it nap ? A very big Sainsbury's has now opened in Bicester, but I am reliably informed (by a friend who lives there) that the competitive playing-field before then saw no fewer than seven, yes seven, Tesco branches in this one town.

Anyway, apply this 'thinking' to the business of cinemas, of projecting films for public exhibition, and Festival Central is threatened because Cineworld, which had a cinema already, now owns both : the Commission, from the lofty height of its great wisdom, records that there are membership schemes and a diversity between the type of films shown at each.

It records that state of affairs, but decides, I am told (by @MovieEvangelist), to take no account of it, irrespective of the fact that one largely could not see almost all of the films shown at Festival Central at Cineworld. It focuses (again, @MovieEvangelist informs me) on odd assumptions about what people would do if prices rose 5%, but has no wit to think that, if the cost of seeing films did increase that much, one would not, as it surmises, go to another cinema where one could not see the films that one chooses to view, but just not watch quite so many films - if the price of beer goes up, do I just consume as much, if my income has not kept pace, or have slightly fewer pints ?

It's obvious, but seemingly not to the Competition Commission. And membership : one pays a fee for membership at Festival Central, but then gets three free tickets, 10% of food and drink, and up to £2.00 off the price of almost all other tickets, all applicable across Picturehouse cinemas. One can just discount that, when Cambridge Vue, I gather, does not have such a scheme ? Cineworld has an unlimited subscription (@MovieEvangelist says), allowing the holder to see any number of films for a monthly payment - can that, too, just be ignored, if one wants to talk about ticket-prices ?

Whose interests, then, is the Commission protecting ? The one-off visitor to Cambridge who wants to see a film ? If the visitor likes world or independent cinema, and is a member at The Belmont, in Aberdeen, he or she can use those free tickets, or get something up to £2.00 off, plus the 10% discount, so why compare the straight price of, say, a matinee ticket at the Vue with that ?

Regarding supermarkets without their loyalty cards, discount vouchers, and three-for-two offers - would looking at the ordinary prices, without being able to cash in points on meals, holidays, probably cinema tickets, make sense ?

In the Commission's world, there is the possibility of the lessening of its arcane notion of competition, and it seems not to care that the consequence of believing that action probably must be taken, i.e. requiring Cineworld to sell one of the Cambridge cinemas, runs the risk of three cinemas showing pretty much the same films**.

If that is the desired outcome, then it is the desert that we have of multi-channel t.v., with no variety within the large number of channels, save that each one is a different channel, in terms of the quality and worth of content. Making big players bid to screen prestigious sporting fixtures just meant that the winners passed on the cost of their winning bid to the public - pay £Z to subscribe, or you don't see these events.

The public had these events more easily and less inexpensively available before. They have just had them sold back at the high price of subscribing, say, to Mr Murdoch's services.

Only beneficiaries ? : Mr Murdoch, the shareholders of his companies, the staff who encrypt and broadcast the events, allow the subscriber, both physically and by checking that he or she continues to pay, to watch, and the manufacturers of the technology that the subscriber needs, and their staff and shareholders.

What price a film festival ? Oh, a fanciful notion of competition has to be explored to protect the public from seeing the latest Woody Allen, world premieres, twenty documentaries (when Cambridge is not even primarily a documentary film festival)...

Thanks, and make me have to spend at least £13 on a Travelcard to London and then to have to pay the high admission fees of London Film Festival's screenings !


* The Monopolies and Mergers Commission, replaced by the CC on 1 April 1999 (from memory).

** Of course, that is pure competition, rather than having this arthouse muck screened ! (Almost in the same way that Nineteen Eighty-Four has three massive powers vying for it.)

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

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Damien and The Castle

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30 August

* Contains spoilers *

When I watched Looking for Hortense (2012) again, I wanted to see the film more freely than when tied to the sub-titles first time around, to catch the French more (the translation is quite free - even the original title really means Find Hortense !), and do my variously named Does it work the second time ? test.

In reverse order, yes, everything dovetails beautifully with the Aurore / Zorica identity, I could hear more idiom, and the film's arc affected me wonderfully now that I could see how we got to Antoine and Eva in the car. But, amongst all of that, ironies, subtleties and confluences of Franz Kafka's Das Schloß*, The Castle, which visibly owes much to the time when he lived in Prague's Golden Lane, very near (almost part of ?) that city's castle complex.

The mapping works thus :

* Damien is the hen-pecked ambassador to his father (Sébastien) on behalf of Zorica, whom he does not know (he has already neglected his task once, partly because he does not wish to have to have contact with Sébastien)

* Zorica and her plight are known to him via the partner (Véra) of the brother (Marco) of his partner (Iva)

* At Time A, Damien's trip to see Sébastien proves to be a waste of time, because judicial matters have overrun, and then Sébastien looks at his diary and writes off the next fortnight as offering no replacement time

* He has just met Aurore (not knowing that she is Zorica, too), and Sébastien has to tap Damien firmly on the shoulder to distract him from watching her have an altercation in the square below : the irony is that Damien breaks off watching to talk about the case of the person whom he was watching

* When he leaves, something on his phone causes Damien to miss speaking to Aurore when she is sitting on a bench

* So, not through his own fault, Damien has not managed to articulate anything to his father when Véra and Marco turn up with oysters (Time B) to celebrate what they think that he has done

* It is, though, Damien's fault, both that they are under this impression (as he lied to Iva about having lunch with Sébastien), and that he does not disabuse them (so guilt attaches, and the stickiness of the task results, because he has been treated as having done what he failed to do, which has something of a paralysing rather than spurring effect)

* At Time B, however, Damien is stirred to exchange text-messages with Sébastien, trying (and failing) to find a time to have lunch that does not clash with his class tuition - none is forthcoming, but they fix Time C

* On account of this renewed activity, he is not free when they have Zorica on the phone, wishing to thank him (so Aurore and he miss again)

* In the unbridled sort of way highly reminiscent of K. having sex with Frieda on the floor of the inn and amidst the slops**, early on in the Kafka novel, Marco and Vera copulate noisily in the bathroom (their celebration ?)

* With the task in his sights in a K.-like determination, Damien finishes his lecture early for Time C, but cannot hail a taxi quickly, and then the cab-driver does not know anywhere by means of which he tries to specify his desired destination (a driver as useless in that role as K.'s 'assistants' are to him)

* He arrives late, to Sébastien's consternation, who will not allow him longer than scheduled

* However, what time they have is wasted, because Sébastien's sybaritic behaviour towards the androgynous waiter Satoshi causes Damien to enquire into his father's sexuality, and he then becomes flustered and cannot dismiss his curiosity

* This sort of distraction happens all the time in Kafka, e.g. Josef K. seducing Leni (in Der Prozeß, The Trial) when he is supposed to be having a consultation with the advocate, or K. (in Das Schloß) missing his appointment in The Herrenhof since, as I recall, he is more interested in finding out what Frieda is now doing

* As in both novels, the matter is an administrative matter with judicial / bureaucratic machinery in the way : here, both getting to see Sébastien, and the meeting being meaningful

* However, Damien would not be side-tracked by Sébastien, if the latter did not flirt with Satoshi and, ignoring what Damien had started saying, concern himself with the gastronomic excesses of his ice-cream dessert, but, once he sees his father's infatuation, he loses sight of the whole purpose of seeing Sébastien until he insists on going

* The task was given to Damien by Iva in the first place, but it has made him less available to her obviously self-inflated ego, which is partly the attraction of Antoine from the latest play that, with whatever skill, she is directing - a form of castration, to which Josef K. and K. are prone (e.g. Frieda decides that one of the assistants is a better bet than staying with K., after K. evict them from the schoolroom)

* The boy, Noé, refers to Iva, and without obvious correction, as 'the airhead' at one point, and Kristin Scott Thomas cleverly and gradually brings her self-obsession out - she cannot cope without purely physical things such as her cigarettes, coffee, her watch

* When Iva admits the affair, but tries to buy more time, Damien insists that she leave

* It is at this time that Aurore and Zorica collapse into one person, and Damien is confronted with having failed someone whom he likes under another name - at least, though, he is honest with her, not least since he has demanded Iva tell him the truth

* That might be where some takes on what Kafka is like would have the story end, and not resolve, but other strands come together, also in a Kafka-like way :

* Damien barges into a meeting at the court and insists that Sébastien listen - he agrees, but a pause covers whatever he says, and we hear Sébastien saying why it is not possible to help by speaking to the Hortense of the title, because Hortense will refuse, and Sébastien does not want that

* Reading between the lines, when we see Damien blag Hortense's number from his mother and first speak to and then meet Hortense (after some suitably poised being made to wait in a Japanese-style conservatory), the sybaritic manners of this man suggest that Damien's father and he probably are (or have been) lovers

* The reason for being unable to contact Hortense is, at the level of bodies and persons, the sort of force that makes K. associating with Barnabas and his family, when he thinks that it will help, damaging to his cause, or Josef K. always deciding that he knows better about his case than people whose time with him is secured to try to assist

* Much as one of Kafka's officials might do, Hortense claims to have an excellent memory and not to need Aurore's paperwork

* Whatever Damien may think or know, he is no longer impressed by getting to see Hortense, and cannot conceal what he feels from Aurore, who has come to wait his exit

From here, how things resolve is Damien getting himself arrested so that Aurore, who has no papers, can escape, but then falling very ill from the drenching rain - in his deepening fever, he reaches out to her with his words, his strong memory of what made him the academic that he became.

After the illness, he narrates greater separation from, and flightiness of, Iva, and one cannot help thinking that the luxury to be a director has been at the vampiric cost of living off Damien, his care for the house and for Noé, and the roof over their heads.

He thinks that Aurore has gone to India with the man who excessively to his embarrassment thanks Damien for saving his life, and tries to threaten Sébastien with the gun by whose removal he did it. Sébastien is not to be threatened, but does despair of love in the future after being rejected (by Hortense ? the final resolution of a quarrel ?)

Realizing that Aurore did not go away, he speaks to her, finds her, sees her. She did not go, because of what he said on the verge of collapse. Things have finally had their consequence and brought them, at least for now, together, a battle, a struggle through the labyrinth of missed meetings, mistakes, lies and confessions...

For Der Verschollene, the third of Kafka's novels, translated as The Man Who Disappeared, such a resolution does not seem impossible - Max Brod claims so, some other material suggests as much, and The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma*** seems of a positive kind


* It, as with Kafka's other two novels, is incomplete, in that we have the hint of how it might end (courtesy of his literary executor and first editor, Max Brod), but episodes to get us there are wanting.

** Haneke's 1997 film of the novel brings out well that K. is seeking advantage in seducing Frieda, as well as satisfying lust.

*** Which inspired a huge installation by Martin Kippenberger.

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

I counted them all out...

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29 August

Sadly, I do not have the skills of a Brian Hanrahan, but, going through the Festival's Main Features (that link takes one to where the PDF brochure can be downloaded), I made it twenty documentaries*, and there may be others (there and elsewhere) - in former times, which was not necessarily better save from a bean-counting perspective, they were listed in a separate section from the feature films per se, but now they mingle.

I think that I spotted a score of the DOC logos. I was looking, because, in one of our chats the other day, Festival Director Tony Jones said that emphasis is needed on how many one can see - over the 11 days, however exactly they may be spread, that is around two per day, after all, so one can see his point. (I always like to make space for three or four in the course of my Festival viewing, but, as with the whole Festival juggling cum three-dimensional crossword, compromise is inevitable.)

Tony is a nice, level-headed guy, and always makes time to talk to me. A few weeks back now, he and I chatted as we negotiated Parker's Piece in Cambridge**, and I learnt for the first time that Hawking was coming to the Festival, and about negotiations for getting Hawking people over from the States for it.

This most recent time, it was the documentaries, and also exactly what hard work for Festival stalwarts from the Arts Picturehouse and from his family (and from his son's circle) it had been to put on twinned screenings on Grantchester Meadows***. As I said to Tony, not wishing to diminish that effort and to remind him of his great enthusiasm for outdoor screenings, he wouldn't do it, if he didn't enjoy it.

The previous time, a little word that - whatever it may be, and I do not think that I am being indiscreet - Surprise Film 1**** is a World Premiere. Famously, no one knows (though @JimGRoss always guesses) what the film is / films are except Tony, and the projectionist only gets it / them just in time to do the necessary...

And I remember, last of all, coming out of Cell 211 (2009), and Tony wondering, even though he was pleased that I thought that it was a powerful screening, how it would stand for getting distributed. (If you follow that link, you will see (on IMDb) that the film, after all, did pretty well for itself.)


* Sadly, I am an idiot, and failed to appreciate the music-documentary nature of the 33 1/3 strand, which makes the sum around thirty !

** For those who do not know it, click on this link, book yourselves some films, and get over to Cambridge to see this square of land, criss-crossed by paths, bicycles and foreign language students, and home to cricket- and football-pitches and the like on your own scenic walk from the station...

*** A real place, known to many by virtue of Fink Ployed.

**** Last year, there were two (for the first time ?), and the first of this year's is on Saturday 28 September.

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

Monday, 26 August 2013

Just sheltering ?

This is a review of The Sheltering Sky (1990)

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27 August

This is a review of The Sheltering Sky (1990) in a 70mm print

* Contains spoilers *

Not least through the experience of being seen in 70mm, with JM being Malkovich, DW Winger, and co-written and directed by Bertolucci.

Another in the Festival Central audience (and from the team at TAKE ONE) gave us:

I am unsure where the impenetrability crept in (if that is what impenetrability does, rather than suddenly shutting the door - or window), but, because I did not experience it, I would be de facto.

I also did not find myself at a remove, that anything was remote : unlike the fascination of, say, the very different Only God Forgives (2013), which comes from the other side of something much more substantial than a bamboo curtain.

Moving on, though in a sense not, there is a strong feeling of Pirandello at a crucial moment, where much more unravels that has gone before - I am thinking, needless to say, of Six Characters, as his best-known work (drama or otherwise) in the UK. Suddenly, the sporadic narrator, who seemed located when first we heard his voice, has a significance that we failed to grasp.

Does everything dissolve back to the point where we have nothing ? No, I still do not think so, hours later, though it might be worth at the original novel by Paul Bowles - I cannot see myself doing more than flicking through to have a feel for the narrative effect. I am left more with a feeling of benevolence, not that what I have engaged with has been insubstantial, the stuff of dreams.

That said, I do believe that there is a point, when Kit (Winger) leaves Port(er) (Malkovich) - and we have been greeted with a shot from then at the start of the film, after some sort of establishing of era and class has been effected by stock footage - and goes off with her little case, where the status of what we then see divides / departs from 'reality'. After all, it does not seem very likely that she would simply abandon him, and what she does is hardly the best way to cope with her position.

The scene in the market, where the flies are back*, the people, into whom or whose culture she has scarcely integrated, throng around her - this becomes the stuff of nightmare from which she wishes, unlike Joyce's Stephen, to escape into her own history.

Probably as long as we will ever know, we have had emperors dreaming that they were butterflies who might be dreaming the emperors, the King in Alice who is dreaming her, and Borges conjuring up a man who does conjuring himself only to find that he is another's creation. At the level of the narrative, Bertolucci's film gives us Port seeming to flee himself (or, at any rate, Tunner**) to take Kit to 'the pass', the view from which explains the title : he describes how it seems to protect, as if like a mantle, whereas she wants to know from what, and what is beyond.

On their initial arrival in the port town, Kit storms off at Port persisting in telling his dream to Tunner. This is where the occasional narration, and the appearance of the narrator, begin. However, beforehand, Port gestures at a white car arriving outside, and says to Tunner that Kit cannot have the white car just be a white car, but it has to mean something - which, in the film that follows, it does.

That impulse as describes by Port to Tunner is there again in Kit's unsettled response to being told about the sky (a half-empty one, not a half-full one), and the anxiety, the jealousy, the guilt surface as they are making love at that spot, and then deny them of a climax, whereas we most want that they should give themselves to each other and shakes off negative impulses. It becomes another such impulse in its own right.

And, finally, Port's sickness, which draws Kit to him : is it, in any sense, real or is it symbolic ? Does it represent the decay of their relationship (Port has been off for the night***, and she has woken from the train journey to find Tunner), which only, when Kit is properly afraid of losing Port, brings her back to him, and is there not quite a strong feel of, for example, Truffaut in Jules et Jim (1962) ?

If seeking to join a camel-train does not also operate on the level of some sort of psychological coping-mechanism, some projection of the self out of the situation into the fantasy of becoming an Arabic man's wife (or mistress), I am misreading this film and what I see it suggesting about these characters.

I do not think so, for, as with that scene on the edge of the cliff, the scenery - shot with real flair and a sense of grandeur by Vittorio Storaro) - feels there not merely for the purpose of telling a story, but is the story, or in inseparable from the story, or the story from it. The grotesqueries of travelling companions (includingly the lovingly obnoxious Timothy Spall), the purgatorial conditions, all of these things operate multiply, and make that quick flick through Bowles' original seem more likely...


* Were we, at some level, reminded of the Biblical plague of flies (and / or of such tones in Days of Heaven (1978)) ? Do the weevils in the flour with which the soup has been made likewise say something to us ? (Port and Kit play oblivious to them just to banish Tunner, with his incessant spraying !)

** Played by Campbell Scott, he is George Tunner, irritating, ingratiating, even seductive (but kept at arm's length by his surname ?). He could be all men / suitors / rivals - or none, and just a cipher.

*** Self-destructively, he is not content just to get away with his wallet, but has to show that he has done so.

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

Does one have to be a vegetarian to be a Morrissey fan... ?

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27 August

A particular song in Morrissey 25 : Live, about Meat and complete with black-and-white images of creatures and carcasses*, might make you think so. For me, it was the least subtle moment of the night in almost all respects, whether lyrics, message, or even pointing a finger by naming KFC - or in the swoon that Morrissey affected afterwards on his knees.

It must have been affected, because there was a spot perfectly focused to illuminate his back, and spots mean lighting-rigs, and they mean rehearsing the lighting-changes, so he would have hit the mark placed on the stage as much the benefit of those who would see the filmed gig as those at the venue.

That quibble apart, there was much that was spontaneous and warm about this performance, recorded live at Hollywood High School (on 2 March 2013) - obviously not, again, when Morrissey ripped open a shirt that he must have intended to sacrifice (unlike the first two, which he had worn to go offstage and change, and which looked much nicer**) at crucial words about those whose physical appearance one despises, but that was momentary, and gave the fans a moment of nearly baying frenzy when he chucked it into the crowd at the front***.

I watched  with a friend, who could keep me abreast of where, before and after The Smiths, each number came from in Morrissey's recording history. (A couple from the second solo album both sounded heavily redolent of the earlier sound.) We probably also had three or so songs from before he went solo, and I was informed that one later song reflected what happened in litigation between band and former lead singer.

All of which is more than enough to give away the fact that I do not buy Morrissey's albums or go to his gigs, but that was no reason not to watch the cinematic release. (Those who read further afield on this blog will find that I talk about art, but one does not have to like an artist as such to talk about his or her work and try to understand it.)

As to being dramatic, it was clearly not - because of the size of the venue and the difference between the artists - going to compare with something like the video of Peter Gabriel's 'Secret World' tour, and it was really (apart from that mentioned) only the third in the running order that made a striking use of visual material. However, it all did the job of giving one some sense of what it might have been like to be there, and one got wonderfully close to the singing Morrissey.

He gave a strong performance, buttoned and unbuttoned his shirts as the mood took him, and was well supported by his band (one of whom, apparently, has been with him since he split off from The Smiths). How he would lash the stage so much, as he did earlier on, with a cordless microphone I do not know - maybe he stopped, maybe I became less conscious, because the first two songs definitely felt like openers, and then everything had more presence (not least with the way that the third item had been assembled for film).

Some of Morrissey's songs I might well look out and read, because, unlike the fans mouthing or singing alone, I do not know much of what he does, and it helped when I could lip-read from him : one, rightly enough and unobjectionably, told us that we all have a date with an undertaker that we cannot break. In addition, I was given a strong sense that any notion of ego about Morrissey is really a front, a view with which my friend agreed, and that the songs fairly often are sung by a persona, which it would be the grossest of simplifications to identify directly with him :

I initially formed that view by seeing how he gave a little bow to all the people whom we saw him giving handshakes to at the beginning, which seemed out of genuine respect. Expectation had been
built up by fans saying how they felt, seeing the empty auditorium, and the titles, and then we had him on stage, bedding down the act, and seeming to have no fear of reaching out to the audience, or of validating those who made it onto the stage by extending a hand to them : of course, we were all touched by his reception of the nine-year-old boy to whom he had spoken earlier being beside him.

Old cynic that I sometimes am, Morrissey's generosity of spirit warmed me - of course, it could have been a stunt for the boy to get to the stage and for Morrissey to hold him up by one arm for a while, but I had warmed to him by then, and I quite rejected the account of this show that has it that 'that the fella can sing but does he really have to wrap himself in a cloak of his own misery ?'.

No cloak, no misery that I could see - I did not recognize the Morrissey of (from memory) these words, and maybe they should not be divorced from what follows :

As the twelve-ton truck
Kills the both of us

For me, reflecting on one's mortality, on wanting to be authentic in one's own terms, and on what, rather than separating us, we have in common seems perfectly fine territory for a song-writer.


* Then again, this made for a very filmic treatment of the footage from the stage, by overlaying it with images (or parts of them) from the screened projection, and so offset the relative banality of the rest (i.e. of equating killing and eating with murder).

** Belatedly, because I lost the link, I am reciprocating the kind link by @Notorious_QRG to this posting, in which words from this paragraph about the shirts were quoted - apologies !

I am still unsure whether Morrissey is rightly thought of as having an indissoluble ego, or whether the expressions that he had on stage are capable of having been misconstrued. Certainly, when he gave the audience the microphone and asked if they wanted to say something (and, even, to do so 'if they were hard enough'), there must have been a fair chance that they were fans and were going to be complimentary, but, just possibly, they could have chanted a lyric about tetanus injections for astrologers...

*** This latter gesture, too, I had been prepared for by the trailer.

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

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Cambridge Film Festival : Friday Films at The Red Lion, Whittlesford

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26 August

<i>If you haven't seen Woody Allen's classic take on a rom-com, we cannot recommend this highly enough ! Consistently voted a top comedy, it has inspired TV & film ever since.

Friday 6 September - doors open at 6.00 - films at dusk</i>

Except that :

1. The word 'rhombus' does not rhyme with the word 'comedy', so the term is a nonsense.

2. Anyway, a real romantic comedy, such as Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), keeps you waiting until the end to find out.

3. Maybe, for all Allen's and Keaton's quips, it is not even a comedy.

4. In any case, although he is never properly given credit for it, Marshall Brickman co-wrote the film with Allen.

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

Guff instead of substance

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25 August

Try as I might, when I read chapters in some books about film (usually, where I have seen the film, and wish to see what the writer has to say, be it the opinions of Barry Norman, or some collection about the 100 this or that), I am reminded by the literary-critical movements of the late 1970s, and wonder why I am reading this stuff.

Just at the moment, it is Fifty Key American Films*, and a hair’s breadth separates me from not continuing reading what Jean Welsh has to say about Thelma and Louise (1991), in this collection edited by local academic John White and Sabine Haenni, because I have just reached :

This makes the female representations oxymoronic in ways which may reflect more truly the ambivalent position of women in society (p. 216)

Uh ? Fewer than two printed sides earlier, the author used one of these adjectives in a way that suggests no understanding of how it should be used :

She [Callie Khouri] is also ambivalent about the film’s status as a feminist text : ‘the issues surrounding the film are feminist. But the film itself is not’ (p. 214)

It is not that Welsh fails to spot that screenwriter Khouri distinguishes between the film (which Welsh is writing about) and these issues (which she mentioned earlier), but how she couches introducing the comparison makes one think that she is trying to be clever by deploying the word ‘ambivalent’, whereas Khouri is quite openly stating that the film is not feminist, and has no hesitation – in what is quoted – about saying that it should not have that status.

What I believe that Welsh means that is that Khouri is ambivalent about the film being perceived as making a feminist statement, because, although she states that the film itself is not one, the issues that surrounded it are. Whether or not I am right, this is not Welsh says, and, instead, she makes me feel that she is so busy trying to write in an academic way that she neglects to realize that she obscures her own meaning by so doing.

Back to the first example, and Welsh seems to be showing off again that she is using the word ‘oxymoron’. However, she is using it as an adjective and qualifying the word ‘representations’ by it, quite apart from the fact that an oxymoron is typified by the example bitter-sweet, a yoking together of opposites that are almost always polar ones.

Of course, we have the benefit of reading what she has just written, but using a word such as ‘oxymoronic’ in this way should be summative, it should be a drawing together of what has already been said, not one that makes the reader scratch his or her head and wonder what the writer is talking about, and why this is an oxymoron at all.

Again, about the choice of words, and using them appropriately, whereas these texts of film studies seem to rejoice in obfuscation, in using the word ‘oneiric’ to prove that they know it, not just that all that they mean are that whatever the word qualifies is of or relating to dreams. Cannot these people grow up ? Did they read so much Roland Barthes, and are so keen to maintain the position of their writing as an academic subject, that they have to use unreal academic prose ?

And what is ‘ambivalent’ about ‘the position of women in society’ (even if we limit the society to that in which the film is set) ? Whose ambivalence even are we talking about, because a position cannot really be any more ambivalent than the thoughts of the person who is either in that position, or views something (or someone) in two quite different ways ? (No more so than a representation can be oxymoronic.)

There may be ambivalence about the position of women in society, but can it mean anything (much) for the position itself to be ambivalent ?

All of which makes me feel that I have tired of all this – if the writer cannot straightforwardly express matters, why should I trouble myself to figure out what she did mean (or might have meant)… ?

Without finishing, I continued reading, but the more that I read, the more that it has become clear that White & Haenni should never have accepted this contribution, because it ain't about Thelma and Louise :

It is intended for quite another volume, Fifty Key American Filmscripts Subverted by the Director and / or Studio and / or XYZ, but, even so, it would have to be more honest** that no screenwriter gets what he or she wants into a film - and even people like Woody Allen tell you that of what he initially had in mind, regardless of so-called auteur theory (if it is auteur, why is it not théorie ?), what makes it to be released is often a messy compromise.

And, as if all this rampant multi-valued appreciation were not enough, how about this (from the closing paragraph) ? :

However, to anyone who has seen the film this potentially depressing reading [see below] doesn't ring true to the experience of watching the film. The ambivalence of the ending with its tension between the essentially depressing representation of female powerlessness and its fairytale happy ending where the women 'just keep  going' (emphasized by the use of the freeze-frame and the reprise of shots from earlier in the film) are in keeping with the rest of the film. (p. 217)

Again, the script is what counts, not the film - it is abundantly clear that the film as it was written has been betrayed by how it was directed, and yet we conclude with this sentence, where what seemed negative has suddenly become positive :

A great part of this film's power is to achieve the seemingly incompatible aim of both presenting a stark reality and providing an enjoyable escape from it.

I am right, that is praise, isn't it, but it seems like a non-sequitur ?

Was it, maybe, all that the editors really read, after glancing over the intro, or am I in some world of ambivalence where lessening the impact of the women driving over and into The Grand Canyon is somehow a virtue - when has giving something a 'fairytale happy ending' been something for which to thank a director for just because it avoids the force of an 'essentially depressing representation of female powerlessness' ?

So 'enjoyable escape' - the audience leaves, not thinking that the women have driven off the edge to their death, but remembering how they stuck up for themselves, and they go into a neverland, a bit like in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) ?


* I avoid such a use of the word ‘key’, let alone saying ‘These things are key’, which, if it means anything, is expressed just as well by ‘These are the key things’.

** Ideally, called Five Thousand and Fifty American Filmscripts, etc., etc.

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

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Cinema at Childerley Hall

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25 August

Kathryn Tickell's gig with The Side was held at Childerley Hall*.

Next month, on 14 September, is a screening in the run-up to the Film Festival of Edward Scissorhands (1990), a 12 certificate. The film will not be shown until dusk, but there is a chance to acquaint oneself with the gardens, which I always lose myself in (in more senses than one !), from 6.00.

Picturehouse members (with proof thereof) count as concessions, as do students and whatever those of a certain age care to call themselves, at £10, otherwise the adult admission is £12.

PS And this is what happened...


Those who, for some technological purpose, need to be told should make note of 3 Mill Yard, Dry Drayton CB23 8BA...

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

Friday, 23 August 2013

Gibberish comes to a home of academic excellence and parades as talking about 'competition'

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24 August

The following quotations are taken from the Provisional Findings Report of the Competition Commission, dated 20 August and called Cineworld / City Screen Merger Inquiry : Completed acquisition by Cineworld Group plc of City Screen Limited

In Cambridge, Picturehouse operates a three-screen cinema. There is a nine-screen Cineworld cinema and an eight-screen Vue cinema within less than 5 minutes’ drive-time. (para. 6.77)

Yes, that's all very well - you can be outside the Arts Picturehouse in a car and, from there, drive to Vue's premises, except that you cannot park immediately outside either of them. Being able to do that journey in less than five minutes ? Well, you would have to be very lucky with two major traffic-light-controlled junctions and two pelican crossings, and then you would be outside a cinema, momentarily, on a road where you cannot even stop.

Talking, then, of '20- and 30-minute drive-time isochrones' is then sheer nonsense - I might be able to drive to some prime location in London very quickly, but, if I cannot actually benefit from being there in and with a car, I would obviously not choose to drive there. One might do better, say, to compare being able to shop at Tesco in Royston (and park there) and then, within that timescale, getting to Morrison's in the town and being able to park - notional drive-times that have no element of practicability to them are meaningless. (I say that because when The Co-operative wanted to buy Somerfield stores, they either did not, or could not, buy what became the Morrison's.)

The report is not even consistent internally about what it means by 'travel', and so the following paragraph reads :

The parties’ survey showed that 81 per cent of Picturehouse Cambridge customers had travelled 30 minutes or less to the cinema from their home. This is consistent with our own survey, which also gave a result of 81 per cent. (para. 6.78)

This does not mean what it says, because the report is fixed on the idea of driving, as the subsequent text makes clear, but driving alone, not driving plus walking, or driving plus a parking-fee plus a smaller amount of walking. These factors might make, say, someone living in Stapleford more likely to cycle than even to get behind the wheel of a car - door-to-door transport at only the cost of effort, and with no extra time or cost, but still the journey-time.

This next paragraph beggars belief - you ask the people who would stand to benefit (by buying up one of the readymade sites) how they view Cambridge, and expect them to tell you the truth about their business plans, not playing down anything :

In addition, Curzon told us that although the demographics of Cambridge were attractive, there was too much competition under the control of Cineworld and it preferred to look at areas where there were more opportunities. Odeon considered Cambridge an attractive area, but the centre of Cambridge already had three cinemas, and it was not clear that there was enough demand to support another cinema. In addition, the city centre was tight and opportunities to enter consequently limited. Odeon [snip]. It was unlikely that Odeon would be able to open a cinema in the area in the next two to three years. If an opportunity arose, likely timescales for development were the next five to ten years. We therefore considered that timely entry in the Cambridge area was unlikely. We considered that competitive constraints on the parties would be weakened following the transaction and, on balance, that other factors at play in the Cambridge area would not defeat the lessening of competition. (para. 6.84)

So they play down how they can compete to encourage you to tell Cineworld to sell one of the cinemas, and then they just buy it. No matter whether the people who frequent these cinemas would want the films that Curzon or Odeon would show - they just get the chance to take over, because that's 'competition', even if it is a disservice to the present clientele.

Still, as long as someone watches some films or other, it doesn't matter much...

Or is that approach / logic more like that phrase of cutting off your nose to spite your face ?

And this little phrase was reported, and then ignored :

The parties also told us that demand in Cambridge could support another multiplex. (para. 6.83)

Are they trying to be clever, by saying that other chains might be drawn in, or not. It just hangs in the air - if they are right, then all the more reason for someone to gobble up whatever Cineworld is compelled to sell, because they can get rid of this home of the film festival and unprofitable arthouse rubbish, and put on solid blockbusters from noon to night !

And then there was something about surveying people and what they would do in the event of some percentage price-rise : if I wanted to watch, not the latest Batman caper, but, say, Samsara (2011), or Kosmos (2010), would I find either at Cambridge Vue or Cineworld ?

Rubbish in, rubbish out, in terms of asking a meaningful question ?

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

I knew Don Pasquale as a Cambridge restaurant

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12 August

* Contains spoilers *

I went to that restaurant for the first time with a friend long since lost - the Varsity Handbook of the time said, deliberately cruelly, that it was about as Italian as Watney's (itself rather an anachronism).

By utter contrast, Donizetti's Don P., relayed live from Glyndebourne (a place that my rather more well-heeled friend would know - I know that he knows), was not anything like a tepid ale, but magnificent, piece and production.

With what little I know of opera buffa, principally from a Haydn caper (with another man led into a delusion, that time that he had been transported to the moon), I was expecting something...

Here, the craziness was introduced step by step into the action proper, though signalled by the doctor (Dr Malatesta*) climbing in and out of secret passages during the overture - he could, equally, have been a behavioural scientist, and the others rats in his Skinner box, because he knew their world better than they did, and, more or less, pulled all the strings. (A rocking-horse soon after carried by the Don onto the part of the set that represented his (adult) nephew's bedroom hints at absurdity - no one knows the true meaning of Dada (as in Dadaism), but it is the French term for such a creature.)

I say, more or less, because de Niese (as Norina) is his essential collaborator, and she really throws herself into it, more assiduous than even Malatesta 'to teach Pasquale a lesson' ! Echoes, in that objective, of The Madness of King George (1994), Twelfth Night, or even the framing-device of The Taming of the Shrew. Notions of moral worth and not having a swollen head, which give us the term shrink (from head-shrink). (The oysters referred to above (and all that they imply) appear when Pasquale flips a hinged painting over, hiding a contemplative skull as memento mori, showing where his libido is now seeking to lead him.)

Malatesta is as focused on ends not means as Norina is, hence her not being averse to taking a bubble-bath whilst he is around, or to his getting into it... Surely not in the libretto, but pointing up what's in it for him in all this !

Likewise, Pasquale's retainer cum nurse, who is both clearly jealous when Norina in disguise comes on the scene (or curious when Malatesta shuts her out), and part of the notion that what is 'wrong with' him is his miserly and stiff-necked attitude. As Pasquale, Alessandro Corbelli showed his experience, and brought out the comedy both of his folly before 'marrying', and when his 'wife' has revealed himself in her true colours : de Niese wonderfully went to town, and Corbelli was her perfect foil.

Malatesta, creeping around the place at night like some over-sized Borrower, has been mentioned above, and this is where the stage's potential first became apparent - he would slip through one aperture, and, as the scenes moved right to left, appear somewhere else. All creating a pretty creepy, almost delusional feeling, of someone unseen on manoeuvres when one is unawares, and a very convincing (and two-faced) portrayal from Nikolay Borchev - according to one person leaving a comment on the Glyndebourne web-site, Malatesta is supposed to be 'the moral fulcrum of the tale', not a 'self interested puppet master', but, equally, de Niese was 'miscast'.

I cannot see myself ever researching this matter far enough to know what the plain text says about Malatesta, but, quite apart from anything else, Borchev sang well, and my recollection is clear enough that, unless passages have been deleted, interpolated or simply added, morality only seemed the doctor's part in the sense of Shakespearean 'problem' plays, such as All's Well That Ends Well or Measure for Measure.

Nephew Ernesto, played by Alek Schrader, did seem to have been miscast by contrast, because, for me, his voice needed to be blended with that of other singers, but otherwise seemed reedy and exposed when he had a solo line. As to Donizetti's music, de Niese seemed to have a fine sense for delivering recitative, and the harmonies created with four voices were quite enchanting.


* The name appears literally to mean 'bad in the head', but we need not worry, because Donizetti is drawing on figures from the Commedia dell'Arte.

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

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Russian dolls : the Western understanding of Pussy Riot

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22 August (updated 23 November - see asterisked paragraph)

I knew enough to make sure that I was accompanied by a native Russian when I saw Pussy Riot : A Punk Prayer (2013), if only because I wanted to hear whether the subtitles were both accurate and caught the essence.

However, it has to be said that the extensive perspectives shared afterwards by my sleeper-agent friend (we'll call her Agent Y) make me think that, without her there, I would have felt that I understood what was going on in this documentary, but have missed almost everything that, had I but known it, would have caused me to question the first-blush impression.

Starting with one thing, the three young women who were caught and put on trial after the events of 21 February 2012 (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadia), ‎Maria Alyokhina (Masha), and ‎Yekaterina Samutsevich (Katia)), one might have thought that there was a gross over-reaction in their ending up with two years each in a labour camp*. My point of comparison, probably, would have been the protest around a decade ago that sought to disrupt a live broadcast from Canterbury Cathedral - it must have been on the issue of gay clergy in the Church of England**.

What I, in trying to be worthy, may have been overlooking was the simple possibility that these women, however deeply held their beliefs, also just wanted to be somebody - after all, Maria's (?) mother did tell us that she had been very keen on The Spice Girls, in particular Victoria Beckham. Whatever girl power had really ever been about, it had never conflicted with self-advancement, it must be said.

Contrast their situation with that of people put away for sentences five times longer for being 'guilty' just by association with Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, and one could not help realizing that the plight of the rioting trio had to be looked at in the round. From what Agent Y said, which reminded me of things that I had heard before, there is more than a strong hint that Khodorkovskiy's continued and lengthening incarceration is Putin locking up a significant political rival.

Which leads on to another take on the trio : there seemed to be very free access to high-quality filming of all three girls' statements, both immediately prior to deliberation, conviction and sentencing, and for the appeal. They all spoke - as far as I could tell - with great assurance, and with clear articulation of the arguments and points that they wished to make, and nothing (except not being a Russian) got in the way of hearing every word of what they had to say.

* At Aldeburgh Documentary Festival last weekend, Nick Fraser, editor for the BBC for its Storyville series, commented on the footage of the trial : according to what he said in conversation with journalist Mary Ann Sieghart, after a screening of Rafea (2012), when it came to light, there was surprise that it existed, and no one quite knew how it had been obtained (and what the implications of using it might be). *

The attention of the world's media and press was on all this - we were shown part of an RT interview, and I recognized, for example, the initials on a microphone of Westdeutscher Rundfunk - but what, actually, was all this in relation to the other issues of Putin's Russia from which, maybe not wholly inconveniently, this served as a high-capacity sideshow ?

Couple this with some facts about the Cathedral that we were shown, outside and in (including in the infamous 30-second protest), and, however sincerely Pussy Riot's members on that day were seeking to further feminism and challenge sexism, one has to question what all this was about other than skin deep.

We were told that the Cathedral of Christ The Saviour was built in 1812, demolished (as we were dramatically shown) in the Soviet era, became the site of a swimming-pool, and rebuilt following Gorbachev - even if it could have been shown that there was a real heritage attaching to this place (despite simply not having existed for decades), Agent Y tells me that this so-called Cathedral is more in the political ceremonial arena, about as much a place of religious veneration as The Palace of Westminster.

Yes, one of the matters that the rioters listed as their issues (we did not really hear much from any of the other members of Pussy Riot, although it is clear that they are not, as perceived, the three who were on trial, plus those who managed to escape) was the lack of separation between Church and State, but this - for all its associations - seems to be as little a holy place per se as The Cenotaph. No one wants people to be disrespectful to The Cenotaph by association with the war dead, but to claim that it is a holy place is far fetched. Apparently, the Cathedral of Christ The Saviour is more of a civic memorial, less a spiritual one.

If, as is often said, The Church of England is, variously, the Conservative Party or The Establishment at prayer, a protest in The General Synod would have a religious element to it, but not seem blasphemous or desecrating a shrine in the way that was claimed by and for the Russian protectors of the Faith, who seemed quick enough to want to say (and without clearly distancing themselves from the perception)that Islam would have beheaded Pussy Riot for similar actions in a mosque (a double whammy of claiming another's intolerance, whilst being one slightly less hard line oneself).

Back at the film, we were left feeling that this was a holy of holies, rather than a perfect symbol of the Church being the reactionary servant of Putin's government - the status of this Cathedral is at the centre of our appreciation of what significance the members' action had. However, we were, at best, shown the Cathedral's congregation called to public prayer, with nothing, other than the police trying to move them on and a spat when tensions ran high, to say that they were not the unforgiving extremists whom they appeared. By which I mean that it was claimed that, because of how they appeared and what they did, the women must have been 'possessed' (a view shared by a host of a t.v. show of which we saw a clip), and there generally seemed - other than rather mechanistic waving of icons of The Virgin and Child - very little other than a human reaction to 'the offence' (real or perceived), and not a Divine one (or a mention of this saviour).

I forget who, but someone observed that no one would have derived any meaning, from the brief moments before the security guards stepped in, from the protest in the Cathedral - Pussy Riot proudly circulated footage of it, but, at face value, a few disarrayed seconds were never going to change the world, let alone put what was (apparently misleadingly) translated as It's God shit in context. Agent Y tells me that the actual phrase conveys a sense of going through the motions, of faking a faith : perhaps appropriate for people so offended, as six present were, that they had to complain to the prosecutor about how hurt they were.

We saw Pussy Riot's filming of three other demonstrations - at best, we were told that those taking part had received 'administrative fines', but no one could explain how their actions had not been known to Putin before. Then again, Agent Y says that, contrary to the assertion made by those close to the group that conceptual / performance art and staging a happening are not understood in Russia, such things are hardly new in Moscow, and, thus, that a man used to behave like a dog to the extent of excreting in the street.

In essence, one could sympathize with the Pussy Riot group in wanting to oppose sexism, and promote feminism, in the arena of Putin's politics. How effectual their protest had been before they chose a more high-profile target must be questioned, and what they expected from it, but so also must the film's complicity in presenting the Cathedral as more than a token religious place. If they have taken heat off Putin's other actions, allowing such free access to the court proceedings and to the women's relatives might have been a price well worth someone paying.


* One, Katia (?), was released on appeal - unlikely though it seemed, an argument on a technicality was accepted to free her.

However, one must admit that things can be seen differently : Agent Y interpreted using an argument to get out of jail as saying that Katia did not really support her fellow members of Pussy Riot, whereas I observed that, even with the case of those who make or attempted to make mass-murder with explosive devices, the accused terrorists never say We are terrorists and proud of it - we did these things, but expect their guilt to be shown.

As to Katia's father, Agent Y perceived him as having been privileged with a good wage and a dacha before perestroika. That may have been so, but that was no reason to think that his proudly giving out photos of his imprisoned daughter was not genuine pride in her and what she was fighting for, rather than clutching at importance on her coat-tails.

** In fact, it was as far back as 12 April 1998 (Easter Sunday), when Peter Tatchell and six other members of OutRage! made a protest : as a man of good character, Tatchell received a small fine, was ordered to pay costs, and was told that a custodial sentence had not been in issue.

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