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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Section 136 : What is it and why do we have it ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 November (now (5 December) with esteemed Tweets of appreciation from @MentalHealthCop)

One would have to read Hansard, the verbatim record of the business of the Houses of Parliament, to know what was on the mind of MPs and Peers when they enacted the Mental Health Act 1983 (since amended), and, within it as a sequence of numbered enactments, section 136, which begins (quoting sub-section 1) :

Mentally disordered persons found in public places

(1) If a constable finds in a place to which the public have access a person who appears to him to be suffering from mental disorder and to be in immediate need of care or control, the constable may, if he thinks it necessary to do so in the interests of that person or for the protection of other persons, remove that person to a place of safety within the meaning of section 135 above.

Not exactly normal English ! However, if they can interpret it, our police are given a power by this sub-section (s. 136(1)), but only if the criteria apply for it to arise – one could infer a concomitant duty to act by using this power, though, if so, one should be able to justify one’s thoughts…

The test of whether someone is ‘suffering from mental disorder’ is a subjective one, i.e. what appears to the constable. Fair enough, but how has the constable been trained to recognize ‘mental disorder’*, and does the constable even know what happened last time that he or she exercised the power (please see below for how often officers are wrong) ? If not, how does he or she know whether that had been a case of ‘mental disorder’ and so learn from it ?

Or should we even be putting a responsibility on the police to construe mental-health legislation and to assess the appearance of a person on public property as to whether there is mental disorder ? One has to ask, because (under s. 136(2)), the person with the appearance of mental disorder can be detained (i.e. against his or her will) for as long as 72 hours. Sub-section 2 specifies what that period of time – longer, by far, than the period for which someone can be detained, on such authority, because of suspected criminality – is to be used for :

(2) A person removed to a place of safety under this section may be detained there for a period not exceeding 72 hours for the purpose of enabling him to be examined by a registered medical practitioner and to be interviewed by an approved mental health professional and of making any necessary arrangements for his treatment or care.

The sub-section is therefore quite precise about what the purpose of the detention is, but the Act fails to make any link between sub-section 2, and exercising the power to take the person (against his or her will) to a place of safety under sub-section 1 : where is the link, except temporally, for up to 3 days in detention within which to arrange the specified matters ?

The Act is not explicit, but one is essentially looking at an assessment to see whether the person should be detained under ss. 2, 3 – but giving this period of 72 hours in a so-called place of safety to do it. As can be seen above, s. 136(1) refers to s. 135 in this connection for a definition, where s. 135(6) says :

(6) In this section “place of safety” means residential accommodation provided by a local social services authority under Part III of the National Assistance Act 1948..., a hospital as defined by this Act, a police station, an independent hospital or care home for mentally disordered persons or any other suitable place the occupier of which is willing temporarily to receive the patient.

Pretty broad, one would think – so why do commissioners of mental-health services not have standing arrangements with, say, independent hospitals for them to be places of safety in case of need ? Why, if NHS Trusts do not have the beds, is someone not paying for them to be provided in this way – somewhere that would also have staff trained to know mental disorder when they see it ?

And we are relying on officers on the street, etc., to determine what appears to be mental disorder, when – even if they could all be given training in Mental Health First Aid – it would probably be far better for them to call someone who is versed is mental disorder – except that we seem to jump straight to the ‘place of safety’, often enough a police-cell, and then no one stirs themselves, because the medical practitioner and / or AMHP (approved mental health professional) have three days in which to call by.

Would a police officer be trusted to move someone with a suspected broken neck in the back of a police-car ? No, of course not ! An ambulance would be called, and one would rely on those trained medical staff to deal with assessing the person’s injuries and moving him or her.

If there were a crowd or other situation, one would keep the person safe at the scene until the trained staff arrived, and then assist them in carrying out their duties or treatment on site and of taking the person to an appropriate hospital. Why – just because so many people view those who may have a mental disorder as nutters ? – should the status quo equally not be maintained until appropriately trained mental-health professionals can arrive, rather than ‘carting the person off’ ?

Allegedly, we have parity of esteem under the NHS (Health and Social Care Act 2012) for mental and physical health, so why is the person suspected of a breakdown not treated in the same way as for a broken neck ? So, X fell from a balcony in a shopping centre – we clear the area and keep him or her out of harm until the ambulance crew arrives – and the same should apply if X had been reported to be behaving bizarrely in that shopping centre, keeping X safe until the trained personnel come.

A Briefing Note by the Centre for Medical Health makes a point relevant to how s. 136 is being used, quoting this statistic given by a report from 2013 by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Care Quality Commission, Health Inspectorate of Wales, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons :

It also noted that 80% of those detained under section 136 are not admitted to hospital for treatment. This suggests an urgent need for better working relationships and knowledge between the police and mental health services.

Thus, in just 1 in 5 cases, the officer was right. Hardly a good enough percentage on the basis of which – even if it were not otherwise problematic – to continue as we are ?

But we must end as we began, with sage words - albeit of denial - from @MentalHealthCop... :


* If one wants to know what that phrase means, the much-amended s. 1 tells one…

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

Friday, 28 November 2014

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part III)

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part III)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 November

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part III)

Our guest soloist at The Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx) in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Japanese-born Noriko Ogawa – as well as the work itself – forms the focus for this posting

That said, there is also a soloist for organ on the programme, in the shape of Oliver Condy, for Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C Minor*, Op. 78 (and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances**)

For those who would like a taste of Ogawa’s playing, she can be heard here (for 30 days from Friday 7 November) on In Tune (@BBCInTune), talking to Radio 3’s (@BBCRadio3blog’s) Suzy Klein, along with fellow judge and head of the panel for Dudley International Piano Competition, John Humphreys, with whom she plays some duets.

Ogawa also gives a lot more out than when performing, as her web-site shows : as mentioned, she is an adjudicator, but additionally a teacher (including at The Guildhall), and has raised funds for the Red Cross Japanese Tsunami Appeal, and The Japan Society (in continuation of that work).

Ten years ago, Ogawa started giving Jamie’s Concerts to provide a sort of musical oasis : they are named after Jamie Mather, the son of Janice, both of whom she came to know when she lodged with Janice and could see how Jamie’s severe autism affected Janice and him. The concerts are not only a practical support for carers through the therapy of music being played for them, but have also helped raised awareness for the demands that they face. She has now just become a Cultural Ambassador of The National Autistic Society.

The opening movement (Allegro con brio) has a very hushed introduction before what then feels like an explosion of sound – just as, in the same time-frame (although it opens with abrupt initial chords), Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (in E Flat Major, Op. 55) goes on to make a very strong statement of the principal theme. The concerto and symphony were composed three or four years apart, and first performed – nearly to the day – within two years of each other :

5 April 1803 :

* This concerto - in C Minor, Op. 37

* Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36

* Christ on the Mount of Olives (Christus am Ölberge), Op. 85 (oratorio)

On 7 April 1805, his Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55 was first publicly performed (the same year as the first version of Fidelio (with the Leonora Overture No. 2)), but seemed, to some, in the shade of Anton Eberl's Symphony in E Flat Major

In this concerto that Ogawa is bringing to Cambridge, she can be heard, via YouTube, in a nine-minute excerpt that concludes the first movement. Her playing is characterized by a feeling of fluidity, but also reflecting, at other moments, the lugubrious or hesitant character of the writing : repeated notes, sustained trills, and a sense of danger, summed up in the querulous undertones of the final chord.

In a performance by Mitsuko Uchida (with The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Mariss Jansons), the Largo*** is, at times, extremely hushed and tender – with Uchida’s entranced engagement with, and responsiveness to, the dynamics and mood of the quieter sections of the orchestral accompaniment :

Since the movement (not least as Uchida plays) begins almost like a meditation or prayer, and it leads to, and so sets up, the livelier rhythmicity of the Rondo – Allegro, might we likewise see Ogawa communicating with key players of the reeds and woodwind – particularly with the principal flute, who has a near-duet with her (and which is an instrument that is to the fore in the concerto’s closing moments) ?

Also, Wikipedia® has a lengthy list of first-movement cadenzas composed by others (more than a dozen, including by pianists Wilhelm Kempff and Franz Liszt). Might we find ourselves surprised by hearing not Beethoven’s written-out ones, but someone else’s ? – or could there even be one improvised afresh on the stage of The Corn Exchange… ?

One says ‘afresh’, because, without wanting variation for the sake of it, music played is only music as long as it lives, and has life


* The same key as the concerto.

** Which, by long tradition, have been extracted from his opera Prince Igor - rather as the so-called Manfred Overture by Schumann…

*** It starts at around 16:41. It is curious : Look, alongside this one, for the top listings for performances of this Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, on, and Krystian Zimerman, Evgeny Kissin and Uchida not only all finish before the thirty-eighth minute, but within no more than twelve seconds of each other.

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

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

That film - again !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

26 November

Before I Go to Sleep (2014) is that film at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (#CamFF), which provoked an uncomfortable response afterwards from the persons questioned (the director / writer (Rowan Joffe), and the original novelist (Steve Watson)) - on a par with the following occasions when :

* A minister from the Home Office, at a launch event for the Community Legal Service, had to admit that making its information Internet based almost certainly meant that those who were most likely to qualify (those on low incomes and, as a likely subset, those also with disabilities) were least likely to be able to access it easily

* A composer, who had been commissioned to write a work in response to and for the same forces as a piece by Mozart, could not say – if Mozart had been plucked from history to meet him – what he would say to Mozart to explain his composition

A spoilery, stinging posting sets out some of the many ways in which the film’s plot fails so often to hang together, but it was then interesting to see, on the Rotten Tomatoes web-site, what even the positive reviews (the so-called ‘fresh’ ones) had to say about it…

Even the ‘Fresh’ reviews...

3* from Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

Perhaps it’s a limitation of the material, or overfamiliarity with the themes of the amnesia thriller, but you’re left wishing that the filmmakers hadn’t forgotten all that has gone before when approaching this.

3* from Stella Papamichael, Digital Spy

It's no wonder Christine is so confused about who she can trust, although there are times when she believes too willingly what she is told; often, when it's convenient for the plot. The verbal spills of information are always less interesting than the uncertainty and as the moment of epiphany draws closer, the truth seems less plausible. Consequently, what might have been a smart, insightful thriller is instead a creepy bedtime story.

3* from Allan Hunter, Sunday Express

The first half of the film is the strongest as Joffe retains a firm hold on the material, feeding us revelations that are like tiny explosions that completely change your sense of the story.

He also immerses us in Christine’s dilemma of trying to figure out what kind of person she is and what really happened before the night returns to steal away her memories all over again.
The second half is slightly less successful as the human dilemma gives way to the mechanics of the plot.

And these are people who give the film as many as three stars…

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

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Henry James in Poland ? (Part II)

This is a follow-on from a Festival review of Ida (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 November (updated 25 November)

* Contains spoilers *

This is a follow-on from a Festival review of Ida (2013)

Some reviewers have made claims for the strength of the film’s cinematography*, and comment has already been made (in Part I) about how the monochrome makes the convent look and feel. Outside that setting, one hoped for uses of the medium that would match the power and rare presence of the landscapes in Nebraska (2013), but there are very few moments of such cinematic beauty (all of which feature trees, and two movement), and instead the film-makers choose to alter the aspect ratio, as if to suggest moments of ‘widening out’** :

* A misty rank of trees on the sky-line

* Leaves (which appear to have been added by CGI) falling in an avenue (which we come back to)

* Trees to the side of the moving car, which, through persistence of vision, create a pattern

In Nebraska, as in Frances Ha (2012) for that matter (and despite some banal critical assertions made about both films and other uses of monochrome), its use here felt integral to the project. In Ida, except when she is framed on a diagonal, or fellow novices and she are decorating Jesus (on a plinth) and then – through the snow (more CGI ?) – carry not so much their cross as his***, nothing remarkable is going on with the composition (one hoped for it - it was not there).

As to what the images in the heart of this film denote, unearthing past events – not least in the Nazi period (when motives and actions had necessarily been mixed) – is almost bound to be compelling (please see below), and doing so is with Wanda to the fore, again necessarily. Three times (before the cock crows three times ?), Ida absents herself from the scene of her aunt’s apparent endeavours on her behalf (we go with her) :

* To the cow-shed (with the parental stained glass) (during the interrogation)

* To bed in her habit (rather than go down to the jazz with Wanda – Wanda, Ida somehow thinks (so she says), cannot really be there to find out what happened, if she wants to dance)

* To the street (when Wanda starts breaking into the flat (of Szymon Skiba ?))

Discovering the fate of her own sister, Róża Lebenstein, is possibly too close to home and so what Wanda has been assiduously avoiding in the years when she was acted as a prosecutor and since : however Wanda survived the war, Ida’s own Jewishness seems to have either been disregarded or overlooked by her peers (although Mother Superior and the authorities must have known all along, if they now know Wanda ?), so maybe Wanda’s asserting that it is not there was part of her life, and has become essential to it.

After all, her first impulse is to greet her niece coolly with I know who you are, with facts about her history (We were from Lublin), and to brush Ida off quickly, after what she insultingly describes as ‘our little family reunion’. If the film really gave us space to contemplate Wanda’s position, her attitude to the past, and what it means to her, it would be good to feel that that one really could do so alongside Ida’s exploration of her equivalent of The Old World and its ways, which she can barely know.

When, for example, Wanda is asked on their travels Who are you ?, and replies I used to be someone once, it is not even as if, self-pityingly or otherwise, her response is really allowed to hang in the air. Yes, it is Wanda’s style to utter things casually and then act as if she did not say them, but, here, nothing stems from her comment, nothing depends on it, and, having had her say it, it is as if she makes (perfectly psychologically) as if the hurt is healed over :

Since we seem influenced to concentrate so much on Ida, since she lost the parents whom she was thus never to know (not only a sibling), and, just until now, her fate resulted from what happened to them (as Wanda’s patently did not). Granted, the film is in translation, and a Polish viewer might gain a different impression.

Even so, the film - named after Ida, after all - seems to have the flaw (unless that can be seen as a strength, of some sort ?) of placing us in alignment so often with her point of view (see above for the three points where we leave Wanda, going with Ida). In the shot in question, we are far more with Ida at the wayside shrine (than with Wanda in the car), looking – in those Jamesian terms – out from The New World at what is happening. These are not the casual religious observances that travellers on the road might make out of habit or ritual, but part of her life and / or identity.

As to Wanda's more uncertain identity, we learn that she is Wanda Gruz (Red Wanda is her nickname) and that she used to be a State prosecutor (so, until we learn that she is a judge, it is unclear what panel she still sits on, when we momentarily see her), and now her status still gets her released (after a delay, when they realize that, as she says, she is a judge) from an incident of drink driving that takes the car off the road. To try to find out the truth about her sister, she is aggressive, and threatens I can destroy you, whereas, when with Ida, she makes idle references (which will not be understood) such as to Gone with the Wind.

Then again, Peter Bradshaw, in his review for The Guardian, suggests that he knows more (but where, even if it is in the press-pack, is this information in the film ? - such layers of bogus description, posing as interpretation (if not vice versa), just obscure what is to be seen or heard) :

In @PeterBradshaw1's review of Ida (2013), he says that Wanda 'owing to misdemeanours, is reduced to [...] judging petty quarrels' - script?

[...] Wanda Gruz, tremendously played Agata Kulesza: a worldly hard-drinking woman who lives on her own, and who is evidently something of an embarrassment to the authorities.

Wanda was once a high-flying state prosecutor and former zealot of the communist state who, owing to misdemeanours, is reduced to being a magistrate, judging petty quarrels between neighbours. [...]

That said, despite having determined that dancing is inconsistent with searching for (the truth about) her parents (the arbitrary law of the excluded middle), we still cannot much identify with whatever hang-ups Ida has about going down to listen to the music with Wanda – and the film, even in its own terms, then wants to have Ida assimilating jazz (by osmosis through Wanda's comment about the sax in the car ?) when she has never heard it before (irrespective of who is on alto).

Fortunately, the tune played, when Ida’s curiosity gets the better of her, is the Coltrane of ‘Naima’ (as she is told – his ‘Equinox’ is also used****), not Ascension, from three years later ! As to the authenticity, in Eastern Bloc Poland, of jazzers travelling around the countryside to gigs, one does wonder…

At its touching core, at the burial-place, we have Wanda and Ida united (just for now, anyway) : they have passed through trees that we are almost sure that we saw on their journey, one with headscarf, the other with the head-dress of her habit. All of which has been rooted in the ground of temptation, family-feeling, and discovering what people did in the recent past (but have so soon concealed, forgotten). Undeniable, powerful material, but does it sit that well with (let alone with Wanda's deeper motivations and thoughts) an exploration of the territory of The Last Temptation of Christ, taking as its seeming starting point this exchange (quoted in >Part I) [the last utterance is paraphrased] :

Wanda : Have you had impure thoughts ?

Ida: Yes.

Wanda : Carnal ?

Ida : No.

Wanda : That’s a shame. (Slight pause.) How do you know what you are giving up ?

Henry James writ large enough, but in a story that wants to yoke together not only a dichotomy of The New World / The Old World, but also guilt and retribution, what one did in the time of war and why, the lure of the alto sax, and even what makes life worth living. Realistically, too many calls on a run-time of around 80 minutes ?


* For example, Linsey Satterthwaite for New Empress Magazine :

Ida […] is also one of the most stunningly shot films to emerge this year, very much to the credit of cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal. Director Pawel Pawlikowski presents a masterclass in black and white imagery; each scene is assembled with mesmeric precision. Every shot looks like a piece of art, as Ida explores the outside world anew concealed in her habit, it is like a Vermeer painting has come to life.

Well, yes, the cutting between the different scenes, contexts and lighting conditions makes for an interesting montage of Ida, determinedly pressing on towards we know not what (though not art - and nothing but her head-dress to invoke Tracy Chevallier's wretched Girl with a Pearl Earring : as to whether she has anything to 'explore' is doubtful, since she is just crossing rural terrain, back-roads and the like).

Everything else being equal, it would seem like a good place to part from her, leaving us at last in doubt about what she intends, after a couple of all-too-human minor reversals of action - yet is it now a cop-out, suggesting that more has emotionally been captured in Ida than bears rational examination ?

Would we even think such things, if this were not 'evocative' monochrome ? Just compare this with the resolution and conclusion found with Bruce Dern in Nebraska...

** The format is variable, between nigh square to rectangular.

*** Even here, the symbolism felt a little heavy handed, let alone when we explored our Jamesian dichotomy (please see Part I) of ‘being in, but not of, the world’. Compare this with the limitation of an entirely static camera in all but three of the fourteen scenes of Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg), which might sound wholly artificial and sterile as an idea. However, the effect of this limitation was very and surprisingly full – quite apart from the riches of the script and performances.

**** As are, prominently, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (‘Jupiter’) and Bach’s Chorale Prelude Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 639 (from Das Orgelbüchlein) – beloved of Tarkovsky ?

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

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Henry James comes to Poland ? (Part I)

This is a Festival review of Ida (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 November

This is a Festival review of Ida (2013)
(because it should have been seen on Day 3 of Cambridge Film Festival)

Some narratives [some really just do not care that one is awake enough to ask] need to be able to answer the question Why this – why now ? It is convenient enough that, before making a commitment (and so that there is a film), Anna is given knowledge that she has not had before : that, for all the time that she has been in the convent, she has had a living relative, whom she is now being sent to meet.

Understandably, as a good convent girl, she accepts what has happened, and does not seem angry or bitter, but, when she meets Wanda Gruz and learns that her real name is Ida*, she does still ask Wanda why she did not have her to live with her. Ida gets a good enough, and candid answer : maybe the candour actually goes over her head (or she has learnt much despite her upbringing), but she gives the impression of somehow being unshockable.

People will praise Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida) for her performance, imagining that age is a factor to allow for and that the interpretation can be attributed to her, but Agata Kulesza (Wanda) is the one to be impressed by, for her emotional energy and depth, and her integrity.

In any case, there is a sort of reason behind her deciding to get interested in her niece, when we see Wanda sitting on a tribunal panel, but, because she is never asked this quite obvious question, the film and she only obliquely answer it – if what she determines to do now with Ida matters, why is she only doing it now ?

In the opening part, before Ida meets Wanda, film-making gives us an example of how using monochrome can neatly lend visual severity to scenes in a convent. However, unlike the painful, extended treatment of this kind of setting, in colour in Beyond the Hills** (Dupa dealuri) (2012), here it feels gratuitous to use colour-deprivation – almost as if it is employing the potential of the aesthetics of asceticism to mislead.

Yet, although this is not an equivalent religious regime to that shown in Romania (and so that is not the point being made), giving an appearance of being austere chooses to suggest to us what might be – along with, later, showing prostate, cruciform candidates for taking orders, which might be straight out of Luis Buñuel at his most anti-clerical.

The convent is no doubt run strictly, with a seeming rule of silence at meals (and it is a nod that advises Anna to see Mother Superior), and the story-telling here is crisp, neat, orderly. However, what director Pawel Pawlikowski is really about here, in a film set in 1962 (according to IMDb), is setting up a dichotomy, which for Henry James’ characters was between The New World and The Old World (e.g. in novels such as The Ambassadors, or The Golden Bowl) – hence this review’s title.

In James, the dichotomy becomes embodied by, and so takes place within, the visitors from the States, who bring their preconceptions and imagination, but hamper them by not using their perceptions. Ida, summoned on the verge of taking orders, is told to go to stay with her aunt ‘for as long as is necessary’ (which is sufficiently vague to allow it to further the plot).

It may not the only dichotomy in the film, but it is summed up in this exchange – in the car – between Ida and her aunt [the last utterance is paraphrased] :

Wanda : Have you had impure thoughts ?

Ida: Yes.

Wanda : Carnal ?

Ida : No.

Wanda : That’s a shame. (Slight pause.) How do you know what you are giving up ?

To look further at the film requires a further posting and being spoilery…

Suffice for now to say that the working out of dichotomies here is fairly predictable. Which one would not expect of the director of The Woman in the Fifth (La femme du Vème) (2011), and is also lacking the subtleties of the various Jamesian texts that have been so successfully adapted cinematically.


* Pronounced, whatever one may think, in the film Eh-dah.

** Or even in Philomena (2013).

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

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ingmarssönerna (1919) and inter-titles...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 November

* Contains spoilers *

In their role in the status of what a silent film presents, inter-titles are a thing in themselves, carrying more weight than a voice-over often does now – since they intercede in the action, literally interrupting it, and interpret to us what has been seen, what is to come :

Provided, of course, that one can read them in time (especially with inter-titles in translation), there is no escaping them, no doubting their authoritativeness. Not, at any rate, in the way that one can ascribe an interpretative bias to (or infer one from) what a narrative voice says, suggesting that maybe it is not to be trusted…

Taking Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919) as an example, we ‘get told’ the following things (about Birta, played by Harriet Bosse), that, having moved from her parents’ property at Bergksog to Ingmar’s Farm (following the reading of the banns), she :

* Became ‘more quiet and strange’

* Had ‘a wild look in her eyes’

In between, we are also told that, in Young Ingmar (Victor Sjöström), there is ‘suspicion brooding’ (although he may have said these words to Old Ingmar). Informing us, in any case, that Brita is behaving ‘strangely’ or has ‘a wild look’ obviates the need to show such things – just as it does to try to present us physically with Ingmar’s brooding suspicion : we can have them implanted as facts, or givens, and make of them as seems fit.

Meanwhile, Kajsa, who seeks to minister to Birta at the farm by assuring her that all is well, seems of a piece with the travelling painter : it seems quite apt that they will meet on the precipice, where Birta says that she desires ‘Peace in my soul’.

The cause, maybe guessed at, of her pain and hurt is learnt in actual speech, to Old Ingmar (and to the judge ?), when Young Ingmar says (of Birta) I forced myself on her : Even so, it ‘came out in the land’ earlier, in Biblical outworking / pathetic fallacy such as we later see, say, in Days of Heaven (1978), and, before it, in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).

Unlike The Holy Family, Ingmar trusts to his material resources, and so fails to have the wedding that he does not think that he can afford, and does not realize what he has turned his fiancée into – in her eyes – as a result. We have the grandeur of the magnificently visual wedding, but it is just what should have been, not, for all its reality before us, what was…

In saying that he forced himself on Birta, he is ready to abase himself, though acknowledging less, at the very same moment, how Birta actually felt about this, or his own failure to address her feelings. Outside the very prison, he is still pleased to imagine that other victims have ‘suffered less’ than he, but it is where but begins the dance between them, as she challenges him – R. D. Laing style – to respond to her, responding to him.

And Mother Märta, who could not have been at church (but maybe she is exempted on account of her great age), pronounces sentence on her son for wanting Birta back, but finds herself forced to reverse it – and to literal rejoicing in heaven, which is suddenly cognisant of the mortal realm, or Ingmar of it, once more.

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

Monday, 17 November 2014

La Bretagna all'Italiana - or La Serenissima in Cambridge (Part II)

A review of La Serenissima's concert, performing with Mhairi Lawson at Trinity College, Cambridge

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 November

This is the companion-piece to an (over)lengthy review of a Cambridge Early Music concert given by La Serenissima, with soprano Mhairi Lawson, in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, on Monday 13 October

Second half


5. Due Canzoni da Battello ~ Anon. (c. 1730)

6. Sonata in B Flat for harpsichord, HWV 434 ~ George Frederic Handel (1685–1759)

7. Sonata VIII for violin and continuo in G ~ Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli (1699 / 1700–1773)

8. Un’alma inamorata, HWV 173 ~ Handel

The two further (5) Canzoni began with one that, as a pastoral lute-song (Al prato e al cale o ninfe), would not sound out of place transmuted in Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella* (1920), not least since named composers in John Walsh’s three volumes do, Adrian Chandler’s notes tell us, include Giovanni Pergolesi. It was succeeded by No stè a condanarme, which was much more dramatic, with high notes and an emotional quality that suited Mhairi’s vibrato-less soprano voice.

In the introduction, from the stage, to (6) Handel’s Sonata in B Flat for harpsichord, we were advised to listen out for the piece’s elements of toccata, with improvisatory scales, and promised an eventual return to B Flat Major, as well as music that sounds like that from Rinaldo.

The Prelude felt exploratory of scales and tonality, but with ‘mellow’ moments, and nothing too outré. By contrast, the Allegro was passionate, at the pace of ‘The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba’ (from Handel’s oratorio Solomon) and using repeated notes, yet with a feeling of elegance, albeit of a restrained character.

The Aria con Variazioni presented as beautifully refined, with confident, clear articulation from Robert Howarth, and space left for the variations to breathe between times – one of which (almost in anticipation of Schumann’s Kinderszenen) seemed to have the quality of a nursery-rhyme.

This was engaging solo music-making, in confirmation of which, as Adrian sat at the side of the chapel (to be out of the way), his head could be seen, irresistibly dancing away to it : as the set of variations built up from an apparent pleasing simplicity, it challenged us, and, when it came to the last variation, the richness of both manuals made a highly satisfying conclusion.

If the ‘Manchester’ sonata** in the first half had been a winning combination of dedicated scholarship, musicianship and compositional skill, no less so was the (7) Sonata by Carbonelli – to whom, as Adrian observed, the passage of time has not been kind.

Maybe this was despite – or because of ? – the assimilation into life in Canterbury, under the name of John Stephen Carbonell, of which Adrian told us, and of Carbonell's business, latterly and by royal appointment, of importing wine ? In any event, we were made aware that, in this Sonata numbered VIII from the set of Sonate da Camera, we would spot connections with what is also the eighth of Corelli’s Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, and its Siciliana :

The opening tune of the Largo section of the first movement had an ‘easy’ quality to it, and, in combination with held notes for cello, gave rise to the effect of a drone (whence the reminder of Corelli and of shepherds with bagpipes). A modulating Andante section took us back to the Largo, and it was full of sweetness, as well as multiple stopping and sweeps across Adrian’s instrument.

Here, he ensured that his playing was serving Carbonelli’s music, and that, where it had character and made a statement, there was virtuosity with ego : the Allgero was musical enjoyment itself, and took its own shape, and ventured from being grand to urbane and back again, as well as taking time to be thoughtful, but finally expressive. If not the birds from the trees, in this piece made immediate that we did not know before, then Adrian’s approach to the closing Allegro – Largo was guaranteed to charm us, with slurs, bowing and accents performed to perfection.

And, as Carbonelli also knew that we could not have too much of a good thing, he brought back, in restrained form, that winning tune from the sonata’s opening. The piece delighted the audience, and was met with very keen applause.

Dating to the first decade of the eighteenth century, and, as Adrian said, now in the form recitative – aria, recitative – aria, recitative – aria, this (8) operatic recitativo demonstrated the clarity of Mhairi’s diction and the depth of her voice. In the first aria, at times we had a prominent accompaniment, at others obbligato violin, at others yet intermediate instrumental material – Handel’s vocal writing is superb, and alternated with the violin-led passages, which were performed with assurance and grace.

The second aria was marked by a good melody, full of variety and in which one could see where more mature Handel would come from, with a nicely judged balance between rhythm and harmony. Here, the violin acted as a second voice, an echo to the chirpy good-humour of Mhairi’s delivery, in a part whose tessitura she handled with ease – and with an agreeably falling figure in the harpsichord part, which then migrated to the violin. The aria ended simply, with violin.

The finale, by contrast, was in ‘summing-up’ style, the text full of sententiae, and the feeling unalloyed. A delight to see all the musicians listening to, and communicating with, each other – right up to the close !


* That said, either scholarship has moved on since The Agent first heard a recording, or Wikipedia® is being fertile in telling the tale, because the latter asserts that Diaghilev not only connived at Stravinsky basing his composition on Pergolesi, but urged it, even providing further scores of what was thought to be Pergolesi’s music.

Since (as the mid-1980s told us) Stravinsky did not acknowledge his sources, which then still appeared to be in Pergolesi, it seemed that he was disguising his plagiarism. Yet, if he did not reveal his sources, it follows that it is relatively unimportant (to Pulcinella and the various Suites made from it) whether the attributions in them were correct.

** By chance, since writing that first part of the review, the Central Library in Manchester has been visited, where staff in the Henry Watson Library confirmed that Adrian Chandler is personally known to them as a visitor…

And on the day of writing (10 November), though not with Adrian playing, Radio 3’s (@BBCRadio3blog’s) programme ‘In Tune’ is about to celebrate both the fact and history of the sonatas’ discovery and the music itself : 'listening again' (at 7:05 to 19:29), a week on, violinist Lucy Russell (accompanied by Peter Seymour) is, sadly, not a patch on Adrian's performance for musicality or expressiveness.

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

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Living safely - and playing dangerously

This is a review of The Philip Glass Ensemble at The Corn Exchange, Cambridge

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 November

This is a review of the concert that The Philip Glass Ensemble (PGE) gave at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge (@CambridgeCornEx) as part of Cambridge Music Festival (@cammusicfest) on Friday 14 November 2014

In April 2014, Philip Glass had graced Cambridge, not with his presence, but with his Cello Concerto No. 2, played by Matt Haimovitz (for whom it had been written) under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies

Large (left to right) : Philip Glass, Andrew Sterman, Michael Riesman
Top right : Lisa Bielawa (to the right of Philip Glass)
Bottom right : (after Michael Riesman, left to right) Mick Rossi, Jon Gibson, David Crowell, Lisa Bielawa

The running order was announced from the stage, piece by piece, by Philip Glass.

It differed from that in the Cambridge Music Festival programme, both as to when played and - in some cases - what was included / substituted (as usefully confirmed by this image provided by Tweeter Rob Patchett - @Never0ffside) :

1. 'Cologne section', CIVIL warS #2 (from 1984)

2, 3. Selections from Music in 12 Parts, from 1971 to 1974 : Parts 1 and 2 were played

4. Façades (from Glassworks - 1983) [moved from the second half]

5. 'The Grid' (from Koyaanisqatsi (1982))

Starting with pieces that concluded the first half, both were 'safe bets', with (4) Façades the equivalent of Arvo Pärt's Fratres, as an also much-arranged signature-tune, both seemingly simple : the plangent, lonely clarinet* (cor anglais ?) of Andrew Sterman being joined, and then replaced, by alto* (Jon Gibson).

However, with (5) 'The Grid', the ensemble was consciously not reproducing the full, familiar version, following the immediacy, rawness and rhythmicity of the carousel-like keyboard parts. Its celebratory tone made it a good place to pause.

Beforehand, we accustomed to the ensemble's set-up with (1) CIVIL warS #2, and its four keyboard-players, two (facing Glass) with double manuals, in the form of Michael Riesman (musical director) and Mick Rossi (along with Riesman, Glass, Sterman and Gibson, another composer).

Behind Glass was the unmissable Lisa Biewala, who was distinguished by having a head-level microphone (as was Sterman) - and, of the back rank of reeds and woodwind - Sterman was the one wielding piccolo, as essential to Glass' sound-world as Biewala's high soprano (or Gibson's and his doubling on flute in Part 1 of Music in 12 Parts).

Here, the ensemble seemed to operate as a collective, but with Riesman performing the bulk of the keyboard work, Glass adding in swirling effects, or what seemed like foghorn blasts. However, the balance changed with (2) Part 1, because (after sounding soprano voice and spinet-effect had set the tone) Glass was signalling changes within the fabric with a clear nod.

Either in its own terms, or as Glass determined (as might a leader of church music, indicating repeating a Chorus), Part 1 was the junior partner to the highly extended Part 2, developing almost like a séance, with the effect of Bielawa's voice multiplied**. It had less emphasis on variation, more on what – within the mesmeric patterns – could be detected to have changed with each nod, be it an edge to the flute-sound, a dropping interval, a single note, or a held note in the voice, or Sterman joining in with low, loud vocal sounds.

Glass had said that the beginning of (3) Part 2 would be apparent, and, in throbbing, pulsing keyboard rhythms, it was. In the world of film, some critics talk about 'a slow burn', and, just as much as Ravel's Boléro is one, so was Part 2, after repeating a falling interval that sounded like Je-sum, and then a three-note dropping flute-pattern.

With time, it became faster, and more intricately patterned. As each mood came and went, it was a juxtaposition of repetitions, with small changes such as the centrality of the flute giving way to alto, up and down the keyboards, or a quick pattern or dazzling / shimmering from the sax (David Crowell) - all bulking up to a sound that - in such relief - felt highly full, and, having won us over, ended with the trio at the back.

* * * * *

In the second half, Floe and Rubric (both from Glassworks - 1983) and Music in Similar Motion (from 1969) were substituted by the first three pieces that were played

6. 'The Building' (from Act 4, Scene 1 of Einstein on the Beach (four-act opera, first performed in 1976))

7. 'Raising the Sail' (from The Truman Show (1998))

8. 'Dance IX' (from In The Upper Room - 2009)

9. Act III, The Photographer [chamber opera, from 1983]

Before the major work in this half, (9) from The Photographer, a significant piece was (6) from Einstein on the Beach : Sterman’s solo part was clearly not written out (i.e. improvised), and Riesman was now directing the Ensemble.

It begins with swirling, short-valued notes, with which – in a stratospheric overlay – a second keyboard then joins, growing into a roar of sound, with another keyboard entry and soaring soprano. As Bielawa’s voice mounts, there is richness and dimension to the music, to which Sterman’s tenor sax adds : the overwhelming sensation is of intense wave-fronts, until, eventually, it dies away – almost as if after orgasm.

The number* from (7) The Truman Show, after beginning in a measured, chorale-like way, sets woodwind against a slow, sustained keyboard trill. Later, Bielawa gave us sampled tubular bells (momentarily, one wished for real percussion), chiming with stately octaves, which finally dissolve.

(8) 'Dance IX' is in sonata form (A – B – A), with A itself deriving from an alternating pattern of arpeggios, which bring in soprano and sax. After section A has recurred, Bielawa has a rising motif, with repeated notes, to reiterate : as the pulsing effect grows, the piece is, again, greater than its constituents. Then, with alto and flute to the fore, it ends with the sound of piccolo.

Just as (2, 3) Music in 12 Parts is said ‘to describe a vocabulary of techniques’, so (9) The Photographer used a fair few, starting by exploiting enhancement of the soprano voice plus a piccolo, then going up a tone and playing on the discord.

A new section begins instrumentally, and, as one detects a kind of keyboard buzzing, Bielawa makes long, sustained ‘Ah’ sounds, which are picked up by the piccolo, before further demands are next made on her : first, with descending intervals, and then leading to an intense vocal jabber, which alternates with short whelps that one might associate more with Siouxsie Sioux’s vocal style at its most vigorous.

A central section steps back, with keyboard arpeggios and woodwind, before it builds in intensity over an ostinato in the bass, with parps on saxes. Upon a rallentando, repeated intervallic motifs set a backdrop for Bielawa, giving us an array of differing intervals. Over it all, Glass floats a sax for a while, then the bass comes in, with a tutti of shimmering effervescence.

There is an exciting feel to the finale, with the voice-sound first processed, then interrupted, alongside keyboard modulations. At the very end, the music goes up a gear – a joyous mood, exploring tonalities, and with the ensemble giving it all. A strong piece of performance, very well received.

10. Encore : 'Spaceship' (from Act 4, Scene 3 of Einstein on the Beach - 1976)

The piece (10) famously opens with warbling keyboard : to it are added voice and flute, piccolo plus sax, with Bielawa then appearing to be counting One Two Three / One Two Three Four, over and over. Next, Glass contrasts her high voice with somewhat ponderous bass notes, until a gradual slowing with piccolo and flute.

The end seems in variation form, at times with motifs / scales up and down the keyboard, before doing so stormingly – as if in delayed gratification. On a hiatus per tutti, the voice comes in much more quickly, finishing in a few bars.

Maybe it was there all along, but one became aware of dark purple spots that played upwards onto a screen at the back - as if evoking Rothko, and the parallel of colour field painting in these textures :

This concert, without images, nonetheless resembled a spectacle. One could have imagined clips projected above the ensemble, but instead they played onto our minds and souls.

It has since been seen that bachtrack's - somewhat picky**** - review of PGE's gig at Bristol's Colston Hall (@Colston_Hall), on Saturday 8 November, makes the same point about visuals, but comes to a different conclusion...


* A real challenge to one's identification of different reeds, and lovely to hear them live ! The instrumentalists were not on platforms, so friends with balcony seats could see them better (than from the tiered seating), but were still unsure about the scoring.

** Courtesy of Messrs Ryan Kelly and Dan Bora on audio.

*** Radio 3 Free Thinking’s (@BBCFreeThinking’s) Matthew Sweet (@DrMatthewSweet) unfailing calls them ‘cues’.

**** There is clearly some disparity between the views of its reviewer, Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres, and those of Lou Trimby for Bristol 24/7, because the latter reports :

[I]t was clear that Ensemble were so familiar with the work performed and yet still passionate about it that there was little likelihood of them being anything other than note perfect. And note perfect they were.

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

In my Father's house, there are many rooms

This is a review of Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 November

This is a Cambridge Film Consortium review of Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919) as performed at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) with live solo piano accompaniment by John Sweeney

If you missed it, the film is to be shown again on Sunday 16 November at 1.00 p.m.

Trish Shiel, of Cambridge Film Consortium, introduced the event, telling us that it was being projected from a 35mm print and that, to add in an English translation of the inter-titles (which are in Swedish), manual dual projection was being used - stressing that The Arts is one of a few cinemas equipped to mount such a performance.

She also said a few words about the film, its history, and its director, male lead and co-writer, Victor Sjöström, who later worked with Ingmar Bergman (who remarked of the film Where did Sjöström get the idea of composing these incredible sequences, these remarkable, exciting scenes ?). That said, nothing prepared for the pleasure of learning who played the principal female role of Brita (on whom, more below...) :

The title of Ingmarssönerna (1919) has been translated as Sons of Ingmar, but they are more like 'descendants' than sons : suffice to say that it reveals little to say that, in thought if not in reality (whatever reality is, when one can feel oneself to be part of a line of men who have occupied the same land for centuries), Young Ingmar goes to meet his father, Old Ingmar, with a dilemma.

And, before he gets there, we have visuals of a ladder up to heaven (and down from that ladder) that give us all the evocations from Jacob's ladder to Jack's Beanstalk to The Tower of Babel. Quite a quaint sort of heaven, however, where only the directly ascending, male relatives are there (and, from what follows, they are unaware of what befalls those still alive) ?

Be that as it may, Young gets Old to come into a side-room and tells him a whole story, where the inter-titles, from time to time, remind us with an icon that this is still in heaven and still telling the background to the dilemma...

A risky stratagem for a film, one might think, to rely on the patience of the audience with such a lengthy narration, and which is hardly a strength of the structure here any more than it is, celebratedly, in Anne Brontë's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Yet, after the decision that is pressing on Young Ingmar has been explained, and when omens have been interpreted as guiding his way, the film distinctly picks up in energy and emotional pull, as the core story that was within that daring flashback now unfolds.

Harriet Bosse, playing in Strindberg (apparently in To Damascus)

Perhaps naively, we may imagine that, because film was in its relative infancy, a dramatic approach to contextualizing our mixed motives and feelings in life through this medium was necessarily novel. Put this in context, though, and this film's Harriet Bosse (as Brita) was, briefly, August Strindberg's third wife, and Strindberg wrote the roles of Eleonora in Easter (1901) and Agnes in A Dream Play (1902) for her (amongst others), the latter of which alone shows the psychological depth of theatre at the time :

Although Dream Play was not to be performed until 1907, that is a clear decade before the present film, so we can guess that Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf - of whose novel Jerusalem this film adapts the first part (and Karin Ingmarsdotter (1920) the conclusion) - would have known some of Strindberg's significant plays, which date to when Lagerlöf was writing her work.

Though it is true to remark, say, that the preoccupations at the time of the United Artists, from Mary Pickford to D. W. Griffiths, were very different from that here**, one only needs to delve into an overview such as Francine Stock's In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us to realize that, just because these films now look old (physically, they are), we need not imagine their makers to be unknowing - any more than we should imagine that our grandparents knew nothing about sex.

Without giving away the main story, there are so many reminders here of other works. For the subject-matter, though it has its particularities, is universal :

* Schumann's last acts outside the locked door of the asylum

* Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête*** (1946)

* Shakespearean pairs such as Much Ado About Nothing's Beatrice and Benedick

* Even Chaucer's long-suffering Griselda**** (in The Clerk's Tale)

In the screening, what made the impact was the subtlety of Bosse's expressiveness, the action going on in the eyes and the look of her face (when not, very demonstrably, throwing herself on her pillow, or the ground), and one need only reach back in time to what she might have been like on the stage. Now, though, one is haunted by Sjöström's long-jawed face, and, in the context of the film, he is having himself be La Bête, with a largely down-turned, hangdog mouth, until he finds out who he is.

Which is where the story closes, not concerned with the expected resolution, but with a reverie of the kind that James Thurber gave us for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), when we gained a name for that type of character / behaviour :

Since this is just the first part of the story (seemingly re-made, according to Amazon®, in Jerusalem (1996)), though it stands complete in itself (despite the puzzling absorption in Ingmar's being elsewhere), one might detect a hook here, from Sjöström, for Karin Ingmarsdotter...

In introducing the screening for those unfamiliar with silent film, Trish Sheil had rightly pointed out that the painting of the scene in the accompaniment is part of what makes such films different - as is knowing that it is the accompanist's skill to give that portrayal whilst keep pace with the unfolding of the film.

In his inspiringly colourful accompaniment, John Sweeney (who gave us Hitchock's Blackmail at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) 2012) organized himself around themes for the various moods and evocations of the film, from anxiety to tenderness, or to depict energetic behaviour as against reflectiveness - and, likewise, using unsettling rumbles alongside bell-tones (the high and low registers of the keyboard).

Sweeney had a very warm round of applause at the close, and had provided us with an excellently enjoyable musical experience to match the emotional range of the film.

And now there is a follow-up piece about the effect of inter-titles in the film...


* Which, thanks to marketing manager Jack Toye's Tweet from the second screening, looks frighteningly complicated :

** With, for example, Pickford continuing to play the role of a young girl / woman when she was very much older - just as, here, Bosse and Victor Sjöström are too old to be taken literally for Brita and Young Ingmar (Bosse was 41 at the time of the film's release).

*** In Young Ingmar, a similarly gruff and hidebound figure, desiring wisdom, but finding himself locked in by duty, and Birta, against her will, in the equivalent of La Bête's domain : even requesting Birta's hand, his vacillating nature intervenes, and his heart is never quite in it.

**** The magnanimity of You'll have to forgive me for all the pain that I have caused you, Ingmar and I wanted to ask your forgiveness, although also the exposed feeling of O, dear God, I will be saved of nothing ?, when he insists on reading her letter.

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