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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Forty years on, what The Front (1976) tells us...

Responses to The Front (1976) [Woody Allen fronts for black-listed writers]

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

New Year's Eve

Some immediate responses to The Front (1976), in which Woody Allen plays Howard Prince, who fronts for writers who have been black-listed under ‘McCarthyism’

With the opening archival montage, and as we hear Sinatra (with ‘Young at Heart’ [Carolyn Leigh / Johnny Richards]), the tone of irony and of dramatic irony¹ is set : deliberately (but only if we stop to ask ourselves what the images that we are seeing depict), a contrast of ostentation, as set against disadvantage…

Almost at the centre of the film (which goes on to shed insights into the origins of the part of Danny Rose in Broadway Danny Rose (1984)), there is a scene between ‘Hecky’ Brown² (Zero Mostel) and Hennessey (Remak Ramsay), the post of the latter of whom² (whatever is his exact office, which seems to answer callers as 'Freedom Information Service' [suitably Orwellian ?]) effectively influences studios in whom they should consider ‘Unamerican’, and why… :

Brown : You want me to spy on Howard Prince ?

Hennessey : We are in a war, Mr Brown, against a ruthless and tricky enemy, who will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life. To be a spy, on the side of freedom, is an honour !

Brown : And, if I spy on Howard Prince, I can work ?

Hennessey : I don’t do the hiring, Mr Brown – I only advise about Americanism. But, in my opinion, and as the sign of a true patriot, it would certainly help…

Brown : (Smiles, and laughs.)

End-notes :

¹ Sometimes, we are allowed to congratulate ourselves for seeing in advance what is coming, which helpfully hinders our confidence in our judgement at other times, when we are not granted that privilege. (Irrespective of how meritorious the subject and message of - not unrelatedly - Snowden (2016) may be, the fact that it is lacking in irony, or in putting what we know to good effect with dramatic irony, is a large part of what is so dismally disappointing about the film.)

² IMDb (@IMDb) is, as usual, fairly hopeless on character-names : in the dialogue, we hear Brown’s real name (Herschel Brownstien³, not just this nick-name), and Hennessey has his full name on his desk (Francis Hennessey, with a middle initial of X.⁴), but the web-page for the film, however its information may be gathered (here, just from the closing credits ?), is ignorant of this knowledge, and not to be relied on for it.

³ Except that American pronunciation is notorious for pronouncing a Germanic 'stein' as 'steen'...

⁴ Thereby invoking an Irish-American background and, via the name Francis Xavier (a co-founder of the Society of Jesus), The Spanish Inquisition.

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

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

I do in friendship counsel you / To leave this place¹ : A response to Long Forgotten Fields (2015)

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

28 December

This is a Festival response to Long Forgotten Fields (2015) (which was directed by Jon Stanford, and premiered at Raindance Film Festival 2016)

Featuring what is insightful understanding in, and in showing, whatever is happening to² Sam (Tom Campion), all of it is at the centre of Long Forgotten Fields (2015), but without its being or seeming to be ‘about that', since there are many other connected themes that question the meaning of notions of strength, trust, duty, and loyalty, and how we describe them both to ourselves and to others when we invoked them.

We are put us straight into the woodland, and then, through his sister, into Sam’s time at home on leave : an embeddedness, in the setting in Shropshire, acts as a tension with what is and becomes reality for Sam, and into which Lily [Rebecca Birch] finds herself entering, and thus becomes – at various levels – complicit...

Very positively meant, perhaps a little as if Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden (in As You Like It) actually turns out a far worse place than being in the life of a provincial French court, and subject to its ways¹ ? :

And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.

Duke Senior ~ As You Like It, Act II, Scene 1

End-notes :

¹ Le Beau ~ As You Like It, Act I, Scene 2.

² Diagnostic labels, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or schizophrenia, rarely add to the nature of such experience, or the acceptance - or other accommodation - of those who have or see it, because they are reductionist in nature.

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

A Faustian underpinning to An Affair to Remember (work in progress)

Elements of a Faustian underpinning to An Affair to Remember (work in progress)

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

27 December

Elements of a Faustian underpinning to An Affair to Remember (work in progress)

It is said that An Affair to Remember (1957) closely followed its predecessor Love Affair (1939) : be that as it may, the former was screened at Cary Grant Comes Home for the Weekend Festival (@carycomeshome), in July 2016, so it is the treatment there that is considered¹

It is exactly a quantitative versus a qualitative measure that distinguishes Don Juan / Giovanni [DJ/G] from Faust : DJ/G needs, but can never find, satiety, and so continues desiring and seducing (if the latter is not wholly swallowed up by the former ?), whereas it is more that Faust's palate has become jaded than that he needs [Mephistopheles to allow him] to devour. It appears that, in Faust's sub-lunary perception, everything is mundane, and has lost (or he himself has deprived it of ?) its taste. However, that means that Faust, unlike DJ/G, is at least still capable of feeling, and of making quantitative distinctions - despite his head-bound living, and thereby not valuing putting his talents to good use.

In an Affair to Remember, Goethe's character of Faust is, vis-à-vis Gretchen and he, telescoped into a number of largely discrete sections, which necessarily hint at Nicolò Ferrante (Cary Grant) as a redeemable figure, such as Goethe has him be (versus, say, Chrisopher Marlowe), but in no way trying 'to flesh out' the whole Faustian background (or even any Mephistophelean pact - Nicki F. is anyone who could be astray in life, not a specific as Faust is) :

1. Time at sea (including, at its core (cuore), the time inland, chez Janou)

2. The sixth-month time of probation, and what causes it not to terminate

3. Commencing with Nicki renouncing waiting at the meeting-place, and the resultant voluntary and involuntary (attitudes that lead to) prolongation of the self-imposed separation

4. Beyond death, and by virtue of another call chez Janou² (with whom Terry also tried to correspond²), and via a chance and awkward encounter (suggestive of each, to the other, a falling-away of their shared promises ?), a bringing-together in and through Janou's gift to Terry, as conveyed by the angry, hurt Nicki


End-notes :

¹ As it went, it was recalled initially, and faintly, as if it were not itself, but another, very similar film... until one recalled actually having watched this film before (the wonder of cinema ? !).

² A reaching-out, beyond themselves, to a kindred spirit.

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

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dream : A Poem-Play

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
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29 November

Dream : A Poem–Play

Knots, in the spirit of That Time, with a hint of Pinter

A : I pretend to insult you

B : I pretend to hear you

C : You pretend to be insulted

D : You pretend to care enough to make insults

A : I pretend to know what will hurt you

B : I pretend that you were right

C : You pretend that convincingly pretending matters

D : You pretend that you are even trying to hurt

A : I pretend to feel regret

B : I pretend to be angered when you feign softening

C : You pretend that anger is an appropriate response

D : You pretend that it is worthwhile to seem hurt in the face of your sickening insincerity

Omnes : (Pause) Might we not just... pretend to stop ?

© Belston Night Works 2016

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

Friday, 18 November 2016

Compelling unity at the Unitarian Church (work in progress)

This is a review of Kate Williams with Four Plus Three in Cambridge

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
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18 November

This is an accreting review [first set covered] of Kate Williams with Four Plus Three for Cambridge International Jazz Festival at Cambridge Unitarian Church (Emmanuel Road, corner of Victoria Street) on Friday 18 November 2016 at 7.30 p.m.

First set :

1. Love for Sale (Cole Porter)
2. Portrait in Black and White (Antônio Carlos Jobim) (Retrato Em Branco E Preto, or Zingaro)
3. Eleven Tonal (KW original, which derives from having been a long intro to a Bill Evans treatment)
4. B Minor Waltz (Bill Evans)
5. Dream Dancing (Cole Porter)
6. Triste
7. Walking Up (Bill Evans)

Whether one likes to listen out for a theme, such as that of Cole Porter’s sultry (1) ‘Love for Sale’, and puzzle at the known amongst the unknown, say, as it emerges from the shadows of street-walking into lamp-light, or more passively have a number come to one – there simply is no right or wrong way to listen, and one’s preferences may change in dependence on mood, levels of energy, or simply whether one ever knowingly heard the melody-line before…

Very early on (when, frankly, jazzers and string quartets may not always be a match made in heaven¹), pianist / composer / arranger Kate Williams gave us the assurance of three things here, that :

(a) The writing for quartet fitted the instruments (first and second violins, viola, cello), and is in the idiom of what is strong about using those forces,

(b) The piano trio (piano, upright bass, drums) was just as much real jazz, and not just written-out parts (though all seven players are music-literate, and had scores), and, most importantly and in consequence,

(c) What resulted was not arbitrarily a quartet playing alongside a trio (Four Plus Three), or vice versa, but a planned scope of the broad interaction of the two principal groups of instruments that insulted no one’s intelligence – hardly the prettifying effect of just bringing in a rich string-sound ensemble to tug at the heart-strings (naming no names for such historic uses, in many sorts of recorded music), but otherwise scant integration with the whole ethos and feel of the piece !

Looking back on both sets, and as they unfolded, one cannot say that there was ever the usual feeling of needing to build the audience’s acceptance of what it was listening to – the appreciation was warm and sincere right at the outset, and one can also challenge anyone there with this observation : unlike the typical way in which a pair of set-lists is put together, could one ever say, of a few items in the first set, that they were less assured, and slipped in as material 'to run through', in the knowledge that the best would be in the second set, and with the first concluding on at least one ‘safe’ number ?

Back at the opener : other than feeling straightaway that, with Kate Williams, this project was both sound, and its execution and scoring in safe hands, this arrangement of (1) ‘Love for Sale’ drew our attention to her use of and delight in cross-rhythms, which she used, in (2) ‘Portrait in Black and White' (Zingaro), to bring out the rocking movement in its moment-to-moment structure.

The third number, (3) ‘Eleven Tonal’, Williams explained² that she had liberated, from the role of an extended introduction to a cover of Bill Evans' ‘Twelve Tonal’, to a free-standing Evans tribute (the first of several, since she was unhesitant in expressing her admiration) – and this was our first chance with her more compositional side, and hearing her own vitally alive, and syncopated, stamp of creativity – as neatly followed by hearing her arranging Evans’ (4) ‘B Minor Waltz’ for strings [i.e. quartet] alone :

Down to the care in and behind the set-list, and the genuineness with which Williams could be seen to acknowledge our response, the whole evening was opening out with a wonderfully powerful feel of very appropriate curation in a jazz context, with the sense of Four Plus Three’s discrete sound-groups, but of acutely careful and compositionally minded ways of making a synergy – hence ‘Plus’. Thus, for example, (5) ‘Dream Dancing’ may have had a string introduction, but that did not, per se, mean that the quartet’s players were not otherwise (going to be) integrated closely into the tune and how Williams directed its development, even if the succeeding moment had us pass over to the forces of the trio, in a working-out that, with the true beauty of a piano trio matched with a string quartet. The piece came to a close with a heartfelt sense of not a diminuendo, but a ‘slippin’ away’ – this Cole Porter number had, after all, been played in a tribute to the fact that the late Bobby Wellins had liked playing it. (He had died on 27 October.)

Next, the classic (6) Triste (whose origin no one ever dares admit that they do not know… ?) – in arranging which Williams had given the quartet that kind of interaction where, to talk in film terms, Foley and music become very familiar bed-fellows : that metallic sound that one can produce, with varying timbres, and with residual, if unplaceable, pitch by bouncing the bow on one or more strings of, usually, a violin or viola. Williams was to revisit that moment towards the close, but the trio next gave us upthrusts and plunges in dynamics, and with that sense of quirkiness where her playing and writing not only come into their own, but also appear to come into line – until we become thwartingly out of measure once more, and then - via the ‘bounced’ bowing - to end with harmonics from the upper strings…

(7) ‘Walking Up’, the last item before the interval, was a third Bill Evans number, and Williams showed versatility, both of the quartet and of her arrangement, by colouring it with a ‘nutty’, banjo-style pizzicato - all in all, an excellent opening set, which cohered between items and within them !

Second set :

8. Storm Before Calm (KW original)
9. Twilight’s Last Blink (KW original)
10. Big Shoes (KW original)
11. How Deep is the Ocean ?
12. Round Trip (KW original)
13. You Know I Care (Duke Pearson)


End-notes :

¹ Jacqui Dankworth is a great and sensitive vocalist, but it was a little painful that, in a first set with The Brodsky Quartet at King’s Place, the otherwise interesting arrangements (usually brought to us by viola-player Paul Cassidy) palpably left her uncertain when her entry actually was...

² Some leaders can be drawn into being a little too expansive, and do not just tell us a little about what is to come next - then, actually, Less is more… As for Stacey Kent, one night, in the first set of a gig at The Arts Theatre (Cambridge - @camartstheatre), where one had to conclude that Jim Tomlinson made her aware of it during the break : a kind and natural impulse that can 'get in the way' of the music ? (Whereas, for quite other reasons, Clare Teal or Katie Derham always say far too much, and can have the effect of excluding one from what they introduce and / or appreciate... ?)

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

Thursday, 10 November 2016

A Nuclear Story - or An Unclear Story ? (uncorrected proof)

This is a Festival review of Fukushima : A Nuclear Story (2015)

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

7 November

This is a review (uncorrected proof) of Fukushima : A Nuclear Story (2015), which had its UK premiere¹ at Cambridge Film Festival on Thursday 27 October at 3.30 p.m. (in Screen 2 at Festival Central)

Pio d’Emilia is at the centre of this film – since it chooses to open with him, and with his recorded reaction to the huge earthquake on Friday 11 March 2011 (which was at 9.1 on The Richter Scale, and whose epicentre was off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, around 43 miles east of the peninsula of Oshika).

Pio d'Emilia appears below his fellow screenwriters, Christine Reinhold and Matteo Gagliardi,&nbsp(the latter of whom also directed the film)

In documentary terms, and in many ways, d’Emilia is – for good or ill – at the epicentre of Fukushima : A Nuclear Story (2015). The reasons are both that it bases itself (in part)² on his book (Lo tsunami nucleare. I trenta giorni che sconvolsero il Giappone), and so, perhaps, necessarily having him as both a writer of the film and a human subject within it seemed right, even if the consequence for the film may be that it has ended up actually telling an unclear story : for some, after all, it may be no more acceptable than for a philosophy essay to end by quoting a pure work of fiction than for a documentary to be mimetic of the confusion that may have held sway at the time of the events in question – first, the earthquake, then the predicted tsunami, whose scale and size were far greater than the nuclear plant at Fukushima had been planned to withstand.

We will return, below, to d'Emilia's role(s) in the film, but it is not, after all, as if the film's description on IMDb (@IMDb) is unequivocally appreciative, in saying ‘A powerful documentary – […dates of filming…] – that sheds some light [my emphasis] on what really happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the 2011 earthquake and the tsunami that followed’. Do we not want now, in a dedicated documentary, a little more than some light, given what other film-makers have done in covering part of this ground - Robb Moss and Peter Galison's Containment (2015), for example, which also had its world premiere last year¹, at Sheffield Documentary Festival (@sheffdocfest)... ?

Arguably, Galison and Moss may have stolen a march on Fukushima at Doc / Fest , because they show failure in the integrity of both some of the vessels used and what had been promised as a result of the natural geology of the site for underground storage, in New Mexico (Carlsbad). Although Fukushima’s overhasty example (which also felt out of place) is in Finland (or Sweden ?), including it at all surely meant that the same questions needed to be raised, about claims made, or not scrutinized, for the effectiveness of placing waste underground (as well as, common to both storage sites, how or whether to warn of its existence thousands of years later) ?

As for d’Emilia, and clues as to how and why A Nuclear Story takes the shape that it does, it is known early on what credentials he has established as resident within, but not assimilated into, life in Tokyo (for example, his habit of still drinking coffee). However, less clear was exactly who he is (or was) as a journalist, and why, from the day of the earthquake at the beginning of the film, we had to start by following his personal journeys and explorations for around ten days. On one, merely technological level, his having made the contemporaneous footage was a necessary, but not a sufficient, reason to have him 'steer' the film, but... when d'Emilia needed, if we were meant to follow his accounts or explanations of technical matters, to slow down was just when he seemed to speed up...

Since we did start with him, as well as a sing-song voice of artificiality (which seemed to represent how what was happening in Japan was meant to be ‘consumed’ by the rest of the world ?), the film-makers, perhaps in a way that desired to be comfortably seemly, did not seem to consider it necessary to tell us more about this Pio d'Emilia than he did himself – at a level of banality, unfortunately, about coffee-drinking, and what it would have been like for him personally to be in his home when the earthquake happened. (Contrast the care with which, using footage from when they met during Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Werner Herzog introduces volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer in voice-overs, so that we know the reason for the latter's being the former’s guide³ in Into the Inferno (2016) – and our front-man, interviewing on camera - whereas Herzog stays behind it, or is there, voicing the film. And, to pursue that thought / division of labour a little further for a purpose, if Herzog found further things of interest to film about active volcanoes, one hopes that he would do likewise - not decide to cut out Oppenheimer, and have us hear about the discoveries directly from him, and trying to go for an exclusive...)

Herzog in Antarctica in Encounters at the End of the World

Certainly, we were on a human scale⁴ with Pio d’Emilia as he tried to decide whether to leave the country, or, having failed to approach Fukushima from the south, to attempt it from the north – and what, in doing so, his thinking was and what he did next (in fact, did he seem to be acting as if he were after an exclusive ?). However, it felt like much time on screen⁵, not least when, especially through the use of so much of his own footage of his endeavours, his story after the earthquake seemed to have become unhelpfully foregrounded – did it fail to feel integrated with that of those who had been directly affected by the three meltdowns at the nuclear-power plant, because we had already seen so much detail ‘in passing’ by that point, and which was an effect that even employing techniques from manga to place d'Emilia and others in this post-tsunami world ?

Even when, after the fact, d’Emilia is on a tour of the site of the Daichii nuclear facility with other journalists, one could not help feeling that he seemed a bigger player than the story itself – for reasons, still, that one did not fully understand - even if he did seem to influence the course of events, through his top-level connections ? And, thus, what was the story, amidst much highly significant material ? At one point in the film (his own footage, filmed for television back home in Italy), d’Emilia waved a relatively small A4 pamphlet at us, and said that it was the official report – but whose official report ? The government’s, or the company’s, because we later saw a much larger report being referred to in a public meeting…

As mentioned above, more than a year ago, Containment (2015) suggested that one cannot show underground storage facilities for nuclear waste – and what means one could use to alert others in thousands of years not to investigate, one of which is an artistic depiction, in the film's poster, of a physical warning – without showing what happened in practice with such facilities… Those issues are better, and more tellingly raised, in that other film, whereas it is as if Gagliardi, Reinhold and d’Emilia either made their film in a vacuum, or do not choose to update it, either by excising the mention, or inserting an inter-title.

Maybe all just examples of lack of care ? From, for whatever reason, not identifying d’Emilia to us properly to us to the fact that the diagrams that he desires ‘to talk us through’ all appear to be commercial ones, used with acknowledgement (and not independently commissioned for the film), all of these things make it a missed opportunity for the definitive documentary about what did happen – or nearly happened – at Fukushima…

For what, in modest terms, we learn from the film is :


End-notes :

¹ This film premiered in Italy in 2015, according to IMDb (@IMDb), and then screened at the Docs Against Gravity Film Festival in Poland on 14 May 2016 (and had t.v. premieres, in Sweden and Norway shortly beforehand). Containment's world premiere was on Saturday 9 June, with a second screening on the following day.

² Although, for some reason, the film’s web-page ( uses the words loosely based (as the film’s credits probably do)…

³ Admittedly, Oppenheimer was there to tease us briefly himself, before this year’s Cambridge Film Festival Closing Night Film (at 8.00 p.m. on Thursday 27 October), that he was Herzog under his head-gear, and so had spoken to us directly, before that on-screen moment of recollection and place-marking…

The Human Scale (2012) is both a very good documentary in its own right, but was also brought to mind, at this year’s Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF), by Tomorrow (Demain) (2015), another film about the environment.

⁵ Though, as part of the on-screen experience, cinema-time can be a nebulously imprecise notion, and not borne out by fact and / or the clock...

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

Monday, 31 October 2016

Stile Antico in Cambridge, but also in the musical world of William Shakespeare

An assemblage of Tweets : Stile Antico at Cambridge Early Music

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

30 October

An accreting assemblage of Tweets after Stile Antico's concert for Cambridge Early Music on Saturday 29 October at 7.30 p.m.


More to come...

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

Friday, 28 October 2016

Tweets from Cambridge Film Festival 2016 : @SnowdenTheMovie (2016)

Tweets from Cambridge Film Festival 2016 about Snowden (2016)

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

27 October

Tweets from Cambridge Film Festival 2016 about Snowden (2016)

Snowden, which has only closing credits, turned out to be the Festival's Surprise Film - with a brief recorded greeting from director Oliver Stone - at 11.00 p.m. on Thursday 27 October, in Screen 2 at Festival Central

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

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Demain - et après demain ?

This is a quick account – by Tweet – of Tomorrow (Demain) (2015)

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

26 October

This is a quick account – by Tweet – of Tomorrow (Demain) (2015)

Film references :

* Energized (2014) [reviewed with Last Call (2013) - please see below]

* Freistunde (Doing Nothing All Day) (2015) [this link is to the film’s own web-site, not to a review]

* Last Call (2013) [reviewed with Energized (2014) - please see above]

* The Human Scale (2012)

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

Friday, 21 October 2016

Midsummer Night's Revelry and Revelations

This is a Festival preview of Barcelona Summer Night (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
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12 September

This is a Festival preview of Barcelona Summer Night (Barcelona, nit d'estiu) (2013) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

What happens whilst waiting for the main event can be more important…

In our recent history, hearing the news of the shooting of John Lennon, or an occasion such as New Year’s Eve 1999 (but also built up by The Millennium Bug – and what its dread consequences were supposed to be), are alike often cited as moments when we can be confident of remembering where we were, and what we were doing, at the time :

However, Director Dani de la Orden’s film does not concern itself with learning the hard central facts of something that has happened (with subsidiary reports that follow, as the story ‘breaks’) - or the immediacy of wondering which city’s fireworks were going to be the best (Sydney Harbour Bridge ?), but about the curious nature of the time in between, where uncertainty precedes expectation… A comet called Rose (Roser in Catalan) is coming, but what will it / she do, what does it mean right now ?

A prodigy of fear and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times
Henry IV, Part I (Act V, Scene 1)

Forty-eight years after Shakespeare’s death, there was another such bright comet, which not only provoked fears for what it might herald, but actually also turned out to precede both The Great Plague¹ (1665) and – as if it could then get no worse – The Great Fire of London (1666). Fear and portents indeed !

Albeit Shakespeare is present only in a low-key way in this film (for those who choose to find him), it is relevant to quote him because, be it in the accidental or deliberate confusions of A Midsummer Night's Dream (or those of As You Like It), he deals with themes and emotions that continue to occupy twenty-first-century hearts and minds² - ones which, for this reason, have long permeated Continental culture and literature. (Chaucer adapted Giovanni Boccaccio in The Canterbury Tales (in 'The Knight's Tale', for example.)

So, then as now, friends lead each other on, or astray, or even lead themselves off course. Although Barcelona Summer Night is an ensemble film, some characters may not have anything else in common, since it comprises six temporally matched strands, which do not intersect each other (even if, in passing, we may notice some little 'crossings-over'). In this respect, it necessarily shares something with Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013), which was set amongst the diners on the closing night of a restaurant on the Catalan coast, and [had its UK premiere] at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF / @camfilmfest) in 2014 : on these pages, its Festival preview had, as its sub-title, A night of enchantment, misunderstanding, and phone-calls.

Here, there are perhaps fewer phone-calls, and whereas the sensibility of Catalunya may seem drawn to what enchants us (and also to what leads to misunderstanding), some of the energy in this film better resembles V.O.S. (2009), another Catalan film, which is surveyed in What is Catalan cinema ?, which looks more closely at films from Camera Catalonia in previous years at the Festival : Barcelona, nit d'estiu is not as playful (or knowing) with the cinematic medium, but the visual and relational vibrancy is of a different kind from that of Menú degustació.

Of course, the film is carefully constructed to have these qualities, but there are feelings of immediacy and naturalness in how it is shot, with cinematographer Ricard Canyellas ably showing that interesting the eye is not inconsistent with, or an interruption in, telling a story, and that cinema should neglect to do so : one could justly ask whether mere story-telling on celluloid deserves to be called or in the cinema...)

The film is also proud of Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia – Catalunya, in Catalan), but does not wish to be more than rooted in the city, rather than making it the much-coined character in its own right, with a clear 'personality', Which, although the screenplay was not originally set there, is what Woody Allen may have successfully done in Vicky Cristina Barcelona³ (2008) [Just as he had (with co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman) in Manhattan (1979) (and was to do again in Midnight in Paris (2011)).]

~ ~ ~

Not to say too much, but facets that Canyellas and de la Orden – and writers Dani González, Eric Navarro, and Eduard Sola – glint off include the following (in no particular order, maybe some imagined ?) :

* FC Barcelona (Barça)

* Montserrat, a legendary twenty-four-hour ice-cream parlour

* The view-point of Bunkers del Carmel (Turó de la Rovira)

* A semi-confessional drinking-game, in English called ‘I have never…’ (it really exists – will it catch on here ?)

* The LGBTQ and club scenes

* Plus, of course, Inca prophecies about Roser (‘Rose’), the comet that everyone is waiting for…

And what portent does Antoni Gaudí’s most famous building in the city have for the night's events ? At the time, surrounded as his cathedral is by cranes, the non-Catalan half of a couple is perhaps less than impressed :

It looks like Mordor, with the eye

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans

‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ ~ John Lennon⁴

* * * * *

End-notes :

¹ Indeed, some continue to hypothesize - and seem back in vogue, for doing so ? - that it was the meteorite that gave rise to the plague (through microbes from outer space, brought in via the meteorite). Naturally, many of the seventeenth-century associations were more grounded in fear and judgement, and of a less scientifically causal or nature...

² This film is far less complicated than As You Like It, which centres on a woman (Rosalind), pretending to be a man (Ganymede), and teaching a man (Orlando) to woo her (as if she were Rosalind) - and all that, in the process, happens all around her... By contrast, the film's love-coaching is fairly uncomplicated ! (But might Rosalind's story crop up in another way ?)

³ The film may have relatively little to commend it, beyond the montage of city-sights, and the contribution of Penélope Cruz (Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in The Academy Awards 2009 (@TheAcademy)) ?

⁴ Though the words are first attributed to Allen Saunders, in Reader’s Digest in January 1957, according to the Quote Investigator web-site.

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

I made millions of people happy with my music ~ Xavier Cugat

This is a Festival preview of Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas (2016)

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

1 October

This is a Festival preview of Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas
Sexo, maracas y chihuahuas) (2016) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

For the generations that grew up knowing him, perhaps band-leader, actor, caricaturist and cartoonist¹ Xavier Cugat seemed as though he had always been there - here, there and everywhere ? For, as this film readily shows us, Cugat was a household name, leading his Latin orchestra – although he had come, via Cuba, to make his fortune in the States, he and his background were actually Catalan By birth - please see below) – and seen, both in films and on television, with all the glamorous stars, his violin, and, often enough, a trademark Chihuahua under his left arm, as he conducted with the other.

Right at the opening, a curated set of introductions, heard just after the logos of production partners, funders, and distributors, and over psychedelic titles, straightaway establishes for audiences now that his was a name once conjured with : the film goes on to demonstrate how and why Cugat had so many stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame², and is credited with finding and making many names that have perhaps outlived his own in the memory of intervening decades.

Though, in fact, it is best left to Cugat himself in the film to tell us who most of these stars were, he is heard to tell us, amongst other things, that this is how it happened :

Stars are not made. I was lucky enough to have a keen eye...
and be able to recognise talent. I was very lucky.

Perhaps, though, denying any more than the luck of having an ability (and also having the opportunity) cuts both ways – just as Dvořák wanted to do, by asserting the opposite : fine, Dvořák said, to think that discovering themes was what mattered, but he wanted to claim that knowing how to use and develop them was far more important (e.g. employing, or being inspired by, traditional music in his 'American' string quartet, or the so-called New World Symphony (No. 9 in E Minor, ‘From the New World’, Op. 95)). In Cugat’s case, would saying that he had made others as important as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis stars imply that he, too, had been made a star… ? If so, effectively the same argument as Dvořák’s : Talent matters, and will out.

Which is fine, since the truth is that, although just listing here what Xavier Cugat could - and did - do might not make relatively little impression on us¹, Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas aptly demonstrates that Cugat was not merely 'taken into' the world of Hollywood, but importantly helped create it. In, for example, those expensively elaborate cinematic productions that are often described as being from its ‘Golden Days’ – as composer, arranger, film-star, and musician / band-leader alone, he was not part of Hollywood, but was Hollywood embodied.

Referring to Xavier Cugat's latter years back in Catalonia - Cugat had been born in Girona, in Catalunya (‘Catalonia’ in Catalan), and went to live in Barcelona - historian and scriptwriter Román Gubern suggests that Cugat's Catalan spirit was a last-minute opportunistic claim.

So the film is neither so reverential that the sense of a real person, with human weakness, is absent, nor is it uncovering every stone so that the overriding impression is not of truthfulness, but of disrespect. (However, it must be said that, although Gubern, as an authority in his field, is one of the film's main commentators, here (and below) he does not seem very kind to Cugat's memory, or gracious about his credentials, as if not thoroughly appreciating his many achievements - please see below.) In this, it is in the best of documentary style, as typified – for the world of (popular) music – by Jeanie Finlay’s (@JeanieFinlay’s) Orion : The Man Who Would Be King (@OrionMovie), telling us a story (a history, in both cases) with most of which we may be unfamiliar, but of men who were sought after in their time (if in such different ways as Jimmy Ellis and he… ?).

Yet maybe not in wholly different ways, as we progress, and delve back with director Diego Mas Trelles from where Cugat got to in life to how he got there – even though Jimmy Ellis, to experience what he wanted and have fame, clearly both was and felt trapped by being obliged to be a performer just known as Orion (and only permitted to be a successful singer when wearing one of Orion’s many mysterious masks [Mark Kermode's review, for The Observer, contains some copyright imagery). In due time, we learn both how Cugat came to the States, and of his skill in fabricating an image of himself – for Cugat, unlike Ellis, seems to have been quite happy in deliberately trading on his time in Cuba and being taken for Latin American : all consistent with being in the States to be a success and, not unrelatedly, his view that Hollywood itself in the 1920s was such an evocation and incarnation of fantasy (but one which, in his estimation as he looks back, had started to diminish).

In the US he was considered a latino and lived like one. He earned a living as a latino.

Román Gubern

That said, as has been commented above, Gubern may effectively be being harsh on Cugat here, in saying this in relation to Cugat's returning to Catalonia towards the end of his life, since Cugat says that the family moved from Girona when he was three. (Although Gubern says that Cugat deserves his admiration for how he gained his career, he is also hardly uncritical elsewhere.) Cugat's formative years, in terms of an education in music and imbibing its colours and contours, were thus actually spent in Cuba.

Chucho Valdés

I think that those guys took Cuban music to another level. Cugat paved the way. Later, this helped others to follow suit. But, without him, it might have taken a lot longer.

Chucho Valdés (musician)

By the time that one of the film's speakers makes the comment that Cugat liked taking credit for things, we have already heard more than a little bit of boasting from him⁴, including his claim to have foreshadowed the first 'talkie', which is not now accepted to have been The Jazz Singer (1927), 'long before' - with Cugat and his Gigolos⁵. However, it seems that Cugat did, for example, really first see the talent of Margarita Cansino - even if Harry Cohn, studio head at Columbia Pictures, and not he, probably (according to such sources as IMDb (@IMDb)) gave her the famous name that we know her by (but who she was would be telling !)... Even so, Cugat is always one to behave graciously (and to ensure doing so), and so he acknowledges I've been very lucky, my friends wrote great tunes. I didn't compose a lot.

At the same time as being open, for example, that Cugat married very young women and remained happy with their success, but only as long as his billing at least equalled theirs, the overriding feeling of the film – and how it presents facts behind Cugat’s era and his career – is to embrace all of this on the level of fantasy and fun³, as the title Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas implies, of course :

Carmen Miranda

The film lavishly gives us animated versions of Cugat’s cartoons, which mingle with the lights of Las Vegas, the bright colours and flamboyance of his bands’ costumes (using which, he co-creates the liveliness of the rumba, the seductiveness of the beguine), and the legendary and excessively fruit-laden headdresses of the tropical oasis that was Carmen Miranda – we really do see the strength behind Cugat’s claim that Hollywood then was more of a living fantasy !

* * * * *

There are two scheduled screenings of Sexo, maracas y chihuahuas (2015) [the link is to the #CamFF web-page for the film] during Camera Catalonia :

* Monday 24 October at 10.15 p.m.

* Tuesday 25 October at 10.30 a.m.


¹ Amongst other achievements such as composing, directing films, and running business ventures – or lending his name or self-stylized image to them.

² As laid out on the blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street :

³ Cugat even seems to have embraced a fantasy life in reality, by carefully ensuring that each one of his five wives - Rita Montaner, Carmen Castillo, Lorraine Allen, Abbe Lane, and Charo (Baeza) - had her own house (according to ??), but thereby seeming to have endangered the financial basis of his retirement.

⁴ Yet, it is charmingly done, and Cugat is a fine raconteur, so we enjoy hearing him tell us about Valentino, Clark Gable, Cole Porter, and so on...

⁵ A short, he tells us, for Warner when he was 28 : The sound wasn't recorded with the film. It was on a record that was synchronised with the film. That said, Cugat was born in 1900, also according to IMDb (@IMDb)).

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

It's only in uncertainty that we're naked and alive ~ Peter Gabriel¹

This is a Festival preview of The Virus of Fear (El virus de la por) (2015)

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

16 October

This is a Festival preview of The Virus of Fear (El virus de la por) (2015) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

Albert Ausellé (as Hèctor) and Diana Gómez (Laura)

Well meant, for those who do not look to film to be easy and entertaining, people will find this sharply-edited film provocatively claustrophobic, in the way that Arthur Miller's The Crucible² is (or Max Frich's Andorra - please see below). (Its effect is gripping as a Vimeo download on a laptop, so it should be wildly immersive in Screen 1 at The Arts Picturehouse (APH / Festival Central), where it is programmed both times : please see below for the times, and for links to book seats.)

Rubén de Eguia as Jordi

(Rubén is expected as a Festival guest of Ramon Lamarca,
programmer of Camera Catalonia)

The Virus of Fear (El virus de la por) is a film that may turn out not to be ‘about’ what its subject is likely to seem to be. Not least if one guesses at its nature from the film's title, and from ways in which, sometimes largely figuratively, we have come to think what a virus is (rather than in the literal sense of Contagion (2011), Surprise Film at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) in that year).

It's so twisted ~ Jordi

Yet it is does not follow from any such realization³ that anyone would be precluded from wanting to watch El virus de la por again straightaway, because knowing what happens may leave us wanting to know more closely how we got there⁴ – how the experience gained by seeing the film has been created. Though - unlike Mulholland Drive (2001) might cause us to feel - it is not that Ventura Pons' cinematic world, as director (and co-writer), involves rather bewildering sleights of hand - yet, at the same time (and in an apparently naturalistic setting), the unfamiliar does assuredly appear familiar (and vice versa, as considered further below).

An image from a review of Archimedes' Principle
The play and this film's screenplay developed in a coeval manner

It is rather that we may know that is going to be worth retracing the journey that we took with the film : as one may have found with the power in and of Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) (2014) at the Festival in 2014, whose impact was even stronger on a second viewing - or with The Taste of Money (2012) [one of Fifteen fine festival films at the Festival, from 2011 to 2013].

The stage-play Archimedes’ Principle [does physics still, more long-windedly, talk of The Principle of Archimedes ?] and the screenplay for El virus de la por originated alongside each other, since playwright Josep Maria Miró (@josepmariamiro / was working with director Ventura Pons to co-write the screenplay. As a review of Archimedes’ Principle put it two years ago, when it was playing at London’s Park Theatre : we jump around in time, playing and replaying scenes, which take on different meanings once an alternative position has been expressed.

I really enjoy playing with discontinuous narrative ~ Ventura Pons

If we have not seen El virus de la por, the description in the review may at first remind us of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal⁵, a play with starts backwards and forwards in time, which make us ever aware that nothing, after all that we have seen and heard in the opening scene and then straight afterwards, is what it seems. However, in terms of theatre, there are closer analogues to what we see, such as in Max Frisch’s Andorra, with clashes between fact, what people believe, and how they act, or in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis clos [the play gives us the quotation much used in translation, Hell is other people (L'enfer, c'est les autres)]. The link is to a t.v. production in English (in 1964), with Pinter himself, Jane Arden, and Catherine Woodville : in In Camera (as the title in French is rendered), there is no static presentation, but a camera that roams, and with a wide selection of angles and framing-shots...

Much of which, for a work of cinema, is perhaps significantly missing from the film Betrayal⁵ (1983) ? And yet was present in the way that Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr and his wife Margrethe - as if, physically, they were sub-atomic particles - vividly seemed to relocate and rotate, at times, in a production of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen that came to The Arts Theatre, Cambridge (@camartstheatre) [Frayn was interviewed by The Stage (@TheStage), and starts by talking about the play].

If one reads what Edward Murray wrote (albeit in 1972), he does not disagree with what is said in the Tweet by Raindance Film Festival (@Raindance). (Chapters 7 and 20 of his book The Cinematic Imagination⁶ are critiques of, respectively, ‘the Cinematic Drama’ and ‘the Cinematic Novel’, and of present trends in each.) Even so, Murray goes further, raising serious doubts about the wisdom of the enterprise :

The immense majority of superior plays fail to survive the transfer from stage to screen ; while inferior plays ― though they ordinarily adapt better than major works ― hardly ever achieve the level of the most distinguished original screenplays.

The Cinematic Imagination⁶, pp. 101–102

Told later – by Ramon Lamarca, programmer of Camera Catalonia – that El virus de la por’s essential scenario also exists as a stage-play, this ‘clicked’, and made sense. However, because it is a very good collaboration, and does not even feel like a deliberately respectful adaptation of ‘a classic’ (such as is Sílvia Munt’s of Josep María de Sagarra in El Cafè de la Marina [Munt was interviewed, as reported here, and the film which screened at Cambridge Film Festival in 2015, with guest Vicky Luengo]), it is highly sympathetic to the medium, and immediately in tune with what Murray rightly says that we look to in such a screenplay :

When a play is brought to the screen, the audience has a right to expect a degree of cinematic technical complexity, and a level of thematic depth at least comparable to the original. There is no question here of literal fidelity to the source [emphasis added].

The Cinematic Imagination, p. 169

Reassure me that I don't have any reason to worry ~ Anna (Roser Batalla)

Unless one is highly adjusted to trailers and the work of excessive revelation that they usually perform, it is unideal to watch the film’s ‘making of’ first. That said, one does hear in it how director Ventura Pons and playwright Josep Maria Miró wrote the screenplay, and of the wider possibilities that it offered both – such as a real swimming-pool and water for Miró, and what Pons found when, breaking the habit of eight earlier adaptations, he worked with what were mainly stage-actors from the play’s original cast (from whom we also hear what they learnt by (adjusting to) being on a film-set, not just on a stage…).

This film is one whose opening gaze, an establishing shot from a vantage, and with the sound of the clock-display that we see clicking over, second by second, presents the time, is also located in time, and concerns itself with what happens within its chosen shifting timescale - for, including credits, we move from 7.45 a.m. to 3.09  p.m. within the first four minutes and thirty seconds :

By then, the seeds of everything have been sown, and yet everyone proves to know so little – we included – about how to protect all that we value. (Max Frisch – whose play Andorra was referred to above – famously sub-titled another of his plays (Biedermann und Die Brandstifter) ‘ein Lehrstück ohne Lehre’, which (although we might directly translate it as A lesson without teaching) effectively means that it is a parable.)

Maybe not for some a camera that is all too rigorous in obsessively looking at everything from every viewpoint. However, it has to be said that this film is ultimately not an extreme, practical lesson in moral relativism – those in tune with it will both find Pons’ directorial approach (and, of course, the cinematography of Andalu Vila-San-Juan) compelling, and then feel a sense of anxious reconsideration of the situation transmuted to embrace all of our own deepest feelings about what it means to be alive.

NB Potential spoiler (especially for those who like to go into a film 'blind')

The broad theme treated of in El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) might lead one to expect the same genre, mood and manner of development as in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (Jagten) (2012) [the link is to the entry on IMDb (@IMDb)].

Mads Mikkelsen as the hunted Lucas

So it needs to be said that all of those are very different here : if the latter is more like Contagion (2011) (mentioned above in passing, and also near that date of first release), El virus de la por is more like Sílvia Munt’s El Cafè de la Marina

End of spoiler...

* * * * *

There are two scheduled screenings of El virus de la por (2015) [the link is to the #CamFF web-page for the film] during Camera Catalonia (the links below are to the booking-pages for each screening) :

* Sunday 23 October at 3.30 p.m.

* Wednesday 26 October at 11.50 a.m.

End-notes :

¹ From Peter Gabriel's (@itspetergabriel's) ‘That Voice Again’ (on the album So (1986) (PG5)).

² Or even his own adapted screenplay, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, in 1996 ?

³ If one does find it right that the varying perspectives with which we find ourselves presented, as, within and between events, we move around spatially and temporally, at last coalesce into another dimension of life, taking on quite a different dimension, or even a changed Weltanschauung : if, from naturalistic presentation, we find ourselves entering a more symbolic realm, where we confront what our common humanity comprises (perhaps as in The Idiot (Idioot (2011), which screened in 2012).

⁴ Not uniquely (as, for example, audio-recordings can be exactly replayed), films can have this fascination about them – as some say that they found with Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michael Faber’s Under the Skin (2013) – and one very clearly knows that one wants to watch them again.

⁵ Pinter gave it a fairly direct translation to film in his screenplay of Betrayal (1983), with Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons, and Patricia Hodge – a film that director Mar Coll, Festival guest at Camera Catalonia in 2014, in passing indicated not approving, when talking about her work on the play’s material with students of film-making.

⁶ Edward Murray, The Cinematic Imagination : Writers and the Motion Pictures. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York (1972). Leading up to Chapter 7, Murray has considered examples both of plays that try to be too cinematic, and ‘film versions [that] suffer from a bad case of staginess’. [In contemporary cinema, the latter still seems the case with August, Osage County (2013) or Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure (2013)].

Murray goes on to say that such staginess [in most film versions of plays] 'has not deterred the movie moguls from buying nearly every play ― good, bad, and indifferent ― in sight’ (p. 102), and to quote Eugene O’Neill (in 1960) (p. 105) :

Plays should never be written with … Hollywood in mind. This is a terrific handicap to an author, although few of them seem to realize it.

Quoted in Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O’Neill (New York, 1960), p. 858

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