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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dream : A Poem-Play

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

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)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

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)