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Thursday, 23 February 2017

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

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

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

22 February

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

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

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

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

Portman captures Jackie's essence in a film which is quite different to any which will be released this year. […]

It ought to be made clear that this is not a biopic of Jackie's life with JFK nor does it explore her further life and marriage to Aristotle Onassis.

Instead, it concentrates on the immediate aftermath of the assassination with occasional flashbacks to the shooting and a live TV programme in 1961 in which she revealed changes she had made to the White House.

Greta Gerwig (as Nancy Tuckerman)

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

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

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

Jackie Kennedy with The Priest (John Hurt)

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

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

End-notes :

¹ That straine agen, it had a dying fall.

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

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

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

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

Jackie Kennedy with The Journalist (Billy Crudup)

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

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

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Further Beyond (2016) : Is Eliot right that we Cannot bear very much reality ? (uncorrected proof)

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

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

21 February

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

The review

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

It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarrelled ; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.

Apart from this levelling remark, Barry Lyndon leaves a measure of uncertainty, with Hordern’s voice-over veiling, near the end of the film, what is known about Redmond Barry after the counter-balancing duel that causes him to lose a leg : Kubrick has deliberately had us follow Barry / him for most of three hours (but, all along, not without quite a little irony in the tone and content of the narration), only to have – as Barry’s leg is – our knowledge curtailed. (For Thackeray’s novelistic purposes, maybe one could believe [until looking at the text... please see below¹, and the Epilogue⁴] that he also had more interest in the first place – and that more anti-Irish feeling was to be maintained or generated ? – by just telling certain aspects of the story of this real-life character (taken from Andrew Robinson Stoney, an Anglo-Irish rake and fortune-hunter).)

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

In the English translation of his novel Molloy (written in French, and co-translated by Samuel Beckettt with Patrick Bowles), the second part, narrated by Jacques Moran, begins with – what literary critic Hugh Kenner classifies as – two declarative sentences. At the very close of the book, those sentences are quoted, before its final two sentences calmly put both into the past tense, and (truncating the second) negate them both :

Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.

Even for those who know the novel (with all its evasions and qualifications), and that it is leading up to this denial, the effect remains profound, disquieting.

With Further Beyond, unlike Beckettt’s provisionality with consequences (or even Kubrick's), we are perhaps more in the territory of Laurence Sterne, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, where we should know that we are being spun a story to amuse us, but which, taken for a serious account, might vex and infuriate – for example, by having us accord, to a squiggle on the page, a description of the movement of a stick wielded by Corporal Trim.

The directors may not have intended us to be so casual about the just as real-life Ambrosio O’Higgins (just as Thackeray, in Stoney, had his original material). However, in a way, what might the cumulative effect be of repeatedly being told, at various points, what the film ‘would have shown’ next, and of interjections such as It can be a real pain in the arse, all of this !, and could it not leave one – rather than in a Becketttian state of provisional, creative uncertainty – not knowing whether to believe any of the story of Ambrosio (or that of Helen, co-told with his³) ?

If so, might we be, despite ourselves, largely indifferent whether any of it - a field in Meath, or what we are told is [the townland of] Ballynary, Co. Sligo - is true or not... ?


As Sterne's A Sentimental Journey (1768) might have observed, the attempt to do justice to five or six enquiries - and Christine Molloy's response to them - in a write-up of the Q&A had, on advice, in fact struck a false tone : since it had failed in its own terms, it has now been omitted.


Should the first part of this write-up seem harsh, what we are talking about is not the quality of the film-making, or the subject (Helen and Ambrosio’s real stories) : rather, it is a matter of trying to assess, in the assembly and presentation of the material, what directorial judgements have been made, and – for good or ill – to what effect.

With regard to the deliberate uncertainties and doubts employed in Barry Lyndon (or in Beckettt’s novel Molloy) (please see above), they do seem more finely balanced. In Michael Hordern’s words or tone, Kubrick is hinting, amongst other aspects of the film, at the question of reliability of the edifice that is / is behind con-artist Redmond Barry’s life⁴, and it is all done so as to enrich and nourish our appreciation of the nature of what telling a story essentially always is, of putting things a certain way – in a certain light.

In a way, happy though we may be with it, Kubrick’s version of the conclusion of Barry’s life⁴ has him slip away into the unknown (rather than, before a return to England, and Barry’s capture and imprisonment, doing so at that point, as in Thackeray’s novel (with whatever relation it has to the real case of Stoney (please see above)). Whereas, although Thackeray’s novel has no doubt whatever about Barry’s final years, demise, or even cause of death, this is not the stuff of films, and so Lawlor and Molloy have sought to make Further Beyond in full knowledge of that spirit. Others, in watching the film, may not have doubted so much what they were being told that they renounced the enterprise…

Other reviewers

Finally, two reviews are linked via the film’s web-page on IMDb (@IMDb) :

That by Tony Tracy [also called ‘Tom’ ?], for Film Ireland, seems to end up in the same place as this posting’s Epilogue (above), by saying [what is quoted is from the beginning of the long last paragraph, and represents two-thirds of it – the review runs to around 1,500 words] :

I’ve included all this detail to communicate that the film is dense and complex, both in its construction and ideas. But while both these individuals are fascinating in their own way and while the film is full of stimulating intellectual digressions (with reference to Barthes, Bachelard, Sontag, Benjamin and others) I was not entirely convinced that bringing them together illuminates the other or the larger themes the film is reaching for. While there is an outline of each narrative ‘journey’ and while there is speculation as to their thoughts, Ambrose and Helen feel like rather strained projections than real people. (Perhaps there was a more solid basis for their thoughts than was revealed). The film ends with the suggestion to ‘make a start’ and while that is in keeping with the tentativeness of the film’s overall approach, it proves deeply frustrating from the perspective of story or even thesis. With so much called into question through form, narration or tone, the film leaves us with little to dwell on or hold onto. And yet, it would not be fair to summarily dismiss it: in its formal experimentation, its memorable characters and its thinking out loud about making cinematic history (particularly of the ‘great man’ variety), it represents an ambitious and engaging intervention about an often deeply clichéd genre.

The review as a whole, which is detailed and thoughtful, is worth reading, since, for example, the writer argues for it to be seen as an essay film (not a documentary as such), and sheds light both on who Helen is, and on aspects of Ambrosio’s life, which we are not allowed to know : Meeting an expert historian in Santiago, they (but not the audience) hear details of Ambrosia’s complex, adventurer life. (I later look it up online and it is fascinating but largely occluded in the film).

By contrast, for The Irish Times, a review by Donald Clarke, its usual reviewer of films, is so brief – a tenth of the length, as with some of those short reviews in The Guardian, or The Observer - that it can be quoted in full [Clarke gave the film four stars out of five] :

We have learned to expect the oblique from Desperate Optimists. Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, the co-operative that goes by that name, do not disappoint – although they may occasionally frustrate – with this discursive meditation inspired by Ambrose O’Higgins, the Sligo man who became captain general of Chile in the 18th century. “Certain genres set the alarm bells ringing, and the biopic is one,” the script explains. Thus arrested, the film-makers set out, with Godardian awkwardness, to dismantle the machinery of their own nascent project. The voice-over artists introduce themselves and become involved in satellite plotlines. Robert Flaherty, Susan Sontag and Steven Soderbergh are brought into the conversation.

The film ponders its own dishonesty in presenting a composite location as a single property. Happily, there is enough wit and imagination on display to dispel the wrong (non-Brechtian) class of alienation. Thomas Sterne might have got on well with it. [Query : Does Clarke mean 'Thomas' Sterne, or is it possible that the review was dictated, and that this is an uncorrected mishearing of 'Laurence Sterne' ?]

End-notes :

¹ Compared with The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq., Kubrick considerably simplifies the story : he has the return of Lord Bullingdon being at an earlier time in Barry’s life (and for other reasons), and so conflates the outcome of the duel (which, for dramatic purposes, Kubrick invents²) and negotiating an annuity with Barry on the basis that he leave England. (In Thackeray’s fact-based novel, the latter happens sooner, and quite differently (being in the company, and with the complicity, of Lady Lyndon), whereas Barry does not encounter Lord Bullingdon until he has been abroad and sneaked back into the country, and the end of Thackeray’s novel, and of Barry’s life, has quite a different tone.)

² Thackeray’s text gives us something quite other : For calling the honour of his mother in question, Lord Bullingdon assaulted his stepfather (living at Bath under the name of Mr. Jones), and administered to him a tremendous castigation in the Pump-Room. (The word ‘assault’ does not, of course, bear its common, modern meaning : the common law still technically calls this ‘battery’, and an assault the apprehension of a battery’s immediately being inflicted (whereas, with a fist pulled back, but not brought forward, it might not be : one would have an assault, but no battery).)

³ When being shown a railing that could be any railing, but being told ‘This one’, do we believe that any more ? Or, when Voice Over Artist 2 (Alan Howley) makes an aside to the effect about Helen not really being his mother, can we then still take her to be not another professional actor, but who she is said to be – candidly caught, on film, for a theatre project ?

⁴ Overall, the significant change that Kubrick brings to adapting Thackeray’s novel is not to have Barry tell his own story : whatever tone it sets in a book, Kubrick has a narrator, Hordern, and can do things that are quite other with that voice, external to the action. (Even if we only know what that action is, because of the voice, of course.)

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

Sunday, 19 February 2017

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

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

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

19 February

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

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

Weekend 1 (23 to 25 June) :

Saturday 24 June at 7.00 p.m.

A review, by Tweet and in other text, of John Lill's recital at Thaxted Festival, on Saturday 24 June 2017 at 7.00 p.m., is now accreting here...

Sunday 25 June at 7.30 p.m.

Weekend 2 (30 June to 2 July) :

Sunday 2 July at 7.30 p.m.

Weekend 3 (7 to 9 July) :

Friday 7 July at 8.00 p.m.

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

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

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Birthday Party – Pinter in Fourteen Tweets

The Birthday Party – Pinter in Fourteen Tweets

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

19 February

The Birthday Party – Pinter in Fourteen Tweets

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

Postlude :

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

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

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

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

End-notes :

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End-notes :

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

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

Donalbain (Act II, Scene 3)

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

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

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

Friday, 17 February 2017

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

Table manners - or barely disguised hostilities and aggressions ?

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

17 February

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The You’re-a-Fuss Fairy Tale

The You’re-a-Fuss Fairy Tale

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

16 February

The You’re-a-Fuss Fairy Tale

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

1. Bodger Dave decided to hold a prize-competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Belston Night Works 2017

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

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

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

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

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

14 February

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

Programme :

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stravinsky I ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹)

1. Danse

2. Eccentrique

3. Cantique

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

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

Turnage I ~ Prayer for a great man (2010)

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

Knussen ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977)

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

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

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

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

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

Ravel ~ Introduction and Allegro(1905)

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

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

Turnage II (1960-) ~ Col (2016)

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

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

Stravinsky II ~ Concertino for String Quartet

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

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

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

End-notes :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 13 February 2017

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

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

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

14 February

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

See also Jack Toye (@jackabuss), at / for TAKE ONE (@TakeOneCinema) :

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