Follow by e-mail

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Postcards to Outer Space : Sarah Gillespie Band at Cambridge Modern Jazz

A mini-review of Sarah Gillespie Band at Cambridge Modern Jazz

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

27 April

A mini-review of Sarah Gillespie Band at Cambridge Modern Jazz (at Hidden Rooms¹, Cambridge) on Thursday 27 April 2017 at 8.00 p.m.

This was a compelling evening of songs by Sarah Gillespie and her band (a quartet, in all), which had mainly been written by Sarah Gillespie herself (@Stalkingjuliet /, and which she performed with energy and sincerity.

Often bluesy in style (she identified Bessie Smith as someone to whom she looks), her vocal-quality was always full and emotive, e.g. a heartfelt 'St James Infirmary', which, in introducing it, she located for us as partly her version (it is on the Glory Days album - please see below), partly Armstrong's.

She also does not choose to stick to one register within a song : it is clear that, if it fits better to place sections in her higher range, but contrast them with the effect of using the lower part of her voice, she will do so. (However, she does it so naturally and well that one may easily not realize, which is real thought and care.)

Although Sarah Gillespie has a new album, her third, the Glory Days was most representative of what we heard across two sets, songs relating to losing her mother (there were at least six numbers from it – sitting at the front meant that one could also read the set-list on the piano...).

Personnel :

* Tom Cawley² ~ piano
* Sarah Gillespie ~ vocals and guitar
* Ruth Goller ~ double-bass
* James Maddren ~ drums

NB Regarding the poem (referred to in the Tweet above), this was in a comedic vein, and presented by Gillespie as inspired by surveying what people say about themselves to the world at large, but without seeming to realize what it tells others about them, her favourite being that 'a pink, round, bald man' was seeking the opposite of himself : in the songs generally, there is much that is observational and / or wry (as well as lyrical), but this was a chance to be openly amused by her words.

Maybe Gillespie's roots are really in country (?), but, although two numbers certainly started off in that idiom (and she readily employs its characteristic tremolos and extended vowel-sounds, or a drawled type delivery), jazz and country are, of course, broad terms – not inflexible categories.

Certainly, her fondness for the blues means that we do hear the jazz vibe and its tropes overlaid on the more open and uncomplicated sound-world of country (i.e. that often hallmarks it), and with a nice band of instrumentalists who can exploit that jazzy / bluesy territory and spin off very germane accompaniment and solos.

Another demonstration that (with the support of the regular team at Hidden Rooms¹ and John, as usual, on sound), Cambridge Modern Jazz ( / @camjazz) can be looked to for the programming of a variety of performers who will make an evening’s jazz as stimulating and of such quality as this one !

End-notes :

¹ The venue of Hidden Rooms is located on Jesus Lane in Cambridge, underneath Pizza Express (the stairs down to it are to the right of the stairs up to the pizzeria).

² The line-up originally included the Hammond supremo Kit Downes (on piano), but Cawley deputized to cover Downes’ injury to a tendon.

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

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Two types of female emotion in Eon-hie Lee's Missing (Sarajin Yeoja) (2016) (work in progress)

This is a review of Missing (2016) (London Korean Film Festival screening) (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)

24 April

This is a review of Missing (Sarajin Yeoja) (2016), as screened as the second ‘teaser’ for London Korean Film Festival, in conjunction with Cambridge Film Festival, at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, at 6.30 on Monday 24 April 2017 (work in progress)

Note : The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (2016) is significantly mentioned in this review (as David Lynch's films will be), not because both are Korean films, but because, in Missing (2016), Eon-hie Lee has something to say to director Chan-wook Park (judged, as yet, by not having seen the director’s cut) : just as Prevenge (2016) and Free Fire (2016) were actually reviewed together, not just as having been seen within days of each other, but because their writer / directors Alice Lowe and Ben Wheatley, respectively, had made Sightseers (2012) together.

The distinct impression gained, when watching The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (2016) during Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (@camfilmfest), was that more than an influence of Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White could be detected – not unreasonably, as it turns out, since director Chan-wook Park is credited, in having written the film (with co-author Seo-kyeong Jeong), as having been ‘inspired by’ Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, which is set in the latter half of the nineteenth century. (Collins published his novel in 1859, and The Moonstone in 1868.)

If we know nothing from The Moonstone itself, we will be aware that Collins is considered the father of detective fiction in the English language¹. However, whereas Missing knows that a crime-writer who challenges his or her reader, by saying Look, I led you up the garden path, and this is not the story that you thought, can only do so once, The Handmaiden fails to realize this fact – as if unaware that the viewer / reader is on notice not to be trusting of the film-maker / writer again – and so reveals flaws in the plotting², or makes evident what is meant to be a further surprise to us².

That said, when a film is called Missing³ (2016), one can hardly be creating a spoiler to say that it features a disappearance : whether a film is The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), or The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), its essence is that, with the passing of time, it concerns what is [believed to be] known, and to whom, about what has disappeared – it will proceed by (some of) its characters considering what may have been concealed, and if so, why, and what that then suggests has also been done and / or concealed.

Hyo-jin Kong (as Han-mae)

When the morning came, your language and conduct showed that you were absolutely ignorant of what you had said and done overnight. At the same time, Miss Verinder’s language and conduct showed that she was resolved to say nothing (in mercy to you) on her side. If Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite chose to keep the Diamond, he might do so with perfect impunity. The Moonstone stood between him and ruin. He put the Moonstone into his pocket.

The Moonstone (Second Period, Sixth Narrative, Part IV, concluding paragraph)

Of course, in those films, the nature of the disappearance does not actually relate, per se, to someone's safety. With Blue Velvet (1986), where such concerns do come to be an issue, Lynch has it played so matter-of-factly that, although Jeffrey's father is seriously unwell, he naturally loses any sight - once he finds the severed ear - of his purpose for being back home (and we barely see him visit the hospital again). Instead, he does all that we see unfold – ruses, suspicions, and downright hunches – because he wants to know more (and not be put off by Sandy's policeman father)...

In this respect, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) a little resembles the Pevensie children, needing adventure when evacuated from The Blitz to stay in their uncle’s forbidding house... except that C. S. Lewis does not create them with sexual needs and urges. With Jeffrey, although he has the flesh-and-blood Sandy (Laura Dern) in front of him, it is as if he already somehow scents Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), in all her dangerous allure, and it is clear that he uses Sandy to get access to her. Those hunches, and Jeffrey's resourcefulness, are also there - and with more explicit reason - as we understand the character of Ji-sun (Ji-won Uhm) in Missing...

We see, from the start, the familial and professional pressure that Ji-sun receives, but we likewise gather much about how the boss and her in-laws disparage / discredit her and her abilities (irrespective of its likelihood to impact even more negatively on them – no doubt, she is considered dispensable) : maybe we even believe (and so she surprises us the more) that they are not wholly wrong, when we hear her grovel (having - in the circumstances - to grovel), and execute formal bows to show her humility and contrition ? (A societal motif played with in A Quiet Dream (2016), the previous London Korean Film Festival ‘teaser’ - a film that is perhaps reminiscent of the meandering and droll way in which Jim Jarmusch has us follow an off-beat trio of men in Down By Law (1986) [Roberto Benigni, John Lurie, Tom Waits] ?)

Those elements in the initial presentation of Ji-sun’s character may make her feel stylized, and even a little too much to the fore, but she starts to show that she is a true force of nature – with her sixth sense and intuition, she becomes not some superhero figure, but a human tour de force (and one did wonder whether even Doona Bae could have risen to this challenge). The pace and frenetic extent of twenty-first century existence is located in often incessant calls to her mobile phone, and we sometimes almost want her to have respite from them so that we can have peace.

Yet, tool or nuisance, the phone is what informs and assists her quest, whether in the dubious recesses of an establishment called Heavenly Woman, or navigating her way out of town to where someone had been - ignoring all good feeling - cruelly treated (please see below). In addition, Ji-sun's hidden energy and intellect, her investigative ability to see back in time and to understand what must have happened (shown to us either as flashbacks, or as pure flashes of insight – as against the relatively flat-footed enquiries that, Wilkie Collins shows us, too, in Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone) make her one sort of embodiment of female emotion.

She is not always rational (e.g. some of the accusations that she makes, or how she conducts herself, at one point, at Heavenly Woman), because of the choice to have the divorce / custody proceedings portray her as unstable (and, as a vicious spiral, such attacks can get to anyone, probably not least in her country’s culture), but we sense her courage, and we feel for her at moments of anxiety, tension, or sheer fear, in and through Ja wan Koo’s excellent score, which, for the other female lead**** - and her own trauma, as Ji-sun comes to appreciate - makes prominent use of the cello.

Hyo-jin Kong (as Han-mae)

Other than the sleuthing that - in common with Blue Velvet - Mulholland Drive (2001) shows (with Betty trying to find out who Rita is, and where Diane Selwyn fits in), what is more of interest is that there is a strong sense, as in Missing, of being able to see into other worlds (not for nothing do we have the word 'seer') : Ji-sun feels her way into the past, weaving through appearances and towards sensing what, in fact, did happen (perhaps one also thinks of the Earthsea novels and stories of Ursula Le Guin ?).


End-notes :

¹ South of the border with Scotland, at least, whereas, via Robert Louis Stevenson, a different tradition is claimed north of it : at least, Val McDiarmid did (when asked by #UCFF whether she considered herself primarily a writer, or a Scottish writer).

² For those who have not seen the film, the clues to what is adrift are, respectively, trees and opiates, and smoking. (And, as both Jin-woong Jo and Jung-woo Ha are not averse to causing others harm, why might they not have poisoned the closing moments... ?)

³ Whereas, on IMDb (@IMDb), perhaps the web-page for the film more accurately reflects the film’s title in Korean (but it causes difficulty in finding the film at all) ?

**** Another point of contact with The Handmaiden, as well as that there are again two female leads, is that one woman is an emigrée (and so under economic constraints).

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

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Tweets from Easter at King's 2017

Tweets from Easter at King's 2017 (and a night at Cambridge Modern Jazz)

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

Tweets from Easter at King's 2017 (and a night at Cambridge Modern Jazz)

Tuesday 11 April :

Wednesday 12 April :

Maundy Thursday [at Cambridge Modern Jazz, with Arnie Somogy's 'Jump Monk' Quintet] ~ 13 April :

Not in any formally aleatoric way, but just because that was how pieces had fallen from, and been restored to, his music-stand, leader Arnie Somogyi (double-bass) deviated from the set-list, and so there was an uneven spread between what Thelonius Sphere Monk and Charles Mingus had written :

This went well, because we knew that we were in for an evening of Monk and Mingus staples – the latter had even written ‘Jump Monk’ for the former (even if most of Monk’s puns or wordplay remained just as obscure). When frontmen, Tony Kofi (alto) and Jeremy Price (trombone) stepped aside, we reduced to the cohesive form of the classic trio, with Mark Edwards (piano) and Clark Tracey (drums) playing tightly with Somogyi, and not even averse to a solo, all of which rarely did not have us nodding along to what these exponents of their art were devising.

Price and Kofi are very different players, so they did not try to compete with each other’s style, and Price’s playing complemented the improvisation that we had heard from Kofi : they each listened with care to the other, and, whereas Kofi’s is a more right-ahead sound, Price played with an inward-out manner that focused on a rounded tone-quality. As the audience did, who were really getting into these developmental lines, Somogyi must have liked long-form solos, and he would only sparingly call in any of the players, when he wanted to shape where the number was going. All in all, a very full and good night’s jazz !

* * *

Good Friday ~ 14 April :

Holy Saturday ~ 15 April :

Easter Monday ~ 17 April :

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

Friday, 14 April 2017

Tennant as Laing : True to the notion of his practice, even if playing fast and loose with history ?

This is a review of Mad to be Normal (2017)

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

10 April

This is a review of Mad to be Normal (2017)

NB Even before having started this review, the decades were getting confused - as could be apt for the 1960s... ? - and the days of operation of the therapeutic community, at Kingsley Hall, then kept being placed in the handful of years up to 1960 (rather than in 1965-1970)...

In making an account of someone’s life as a cinematic endeavour (if not as strict documentary, e.g. Jackie (2016), which is nonetheless powerful), it would be normal enough (to choose) to make a film that is set in, say, the period 1965 to 1970, and then wilfully incorporate artefacts and events from outside it - such as having a character read from a book not published in the format shown before 1965¹ (and why - except so that we will recognize it - would the author not have the original edition¹, from 1960, to hand ?) : however, unless one expects one’s audience to know so little that they will not be in a position to doubt when the book had appeared (and check the date of publication later), or one has some other motive, why make that period the time of the film anyway, into which to import other things, which are even more extraneous to it… ?

Searching for images of Kingsley Hall (below), one finds that films about Laing are hardly rare : doubtless, director Robert Mullan has also been influenced, in what to say, by what has already been said ?

As well as Asylum (1972) (pictured above), Laing’s life had certainly already given rise to Mike Maran's one-man stage-play (and its associated CD [please see image below]), a film by Luke Fowler as a nominee for The Turner Prize [All Divided Selves (2011)], and two biographies (one by Adrian Laing, one of his sons), so why not David Tennant as Ronnie Laing ? One reason why Tennant works as Laing is his undeniable charisma, which Laing had in quantity, as witness television and film appearances, and his style as a writer (talking about psychiatry for the wider public¹) ; another, apart from the obvious link of Scottishness, is that Tennant brings a sense of conviction to the role, without pretending to resemble Laing point for point (although there is a good physical likeness). Even so (as shown below), it is a convenient fiction (one of several fictions) to let us infer that the community at Kingsley Hall (which existed between 1965 and 1970) had been established just because of Laing² (and that its day-to-day operation devolved - however improbably - on just Laing himself and a colleague called Paul Zemmell (Adam Paul Harvey)).

As to director Robert Mullan’s ascription to his selected era – the time when Kingley Hall was operational as a psychiatric community² – of such matters as the death of Laing’s daughter (with Laing's insisting that he would not conceal from her that she was terminally ill), or, on the visit to the States³ that we see, signing copies of Knots [a book that was not even published in the UK until 1970 (or 1971 ?)], Mullan must know, from his other projects on Ronnie Laing, all too well otherwise (i.e. Susan did not die until March 1976, at the age of 21, as a review in Scotland’s The Sunday Herald (by Brian Beacom) confirms, but, however, without pointing out this anachronism (or any of the others) [as we are told, The Sunday Herald is the Glasgow Film Festival's media partner]).

With what Mullan is doing, then, we are unable to think that these errors are just mistakes : but perhaps they arise, quite normally, from the influence of producers (or funders), who want certain things of a pitch or a script (as the comments that Beacom elicits from Mullan suggest, as well as the fact that the film has taken nine years to make...) ? However, maybe he also wills that we conflate the mad and the normal, and so we are meant to see what actually happened later in Laing’s life as having its roots in this time. If so, is Mullan then expecting too much of his audience : will they see Laing signing books, but just take at face value that Vintage had actually published them in the States by the mid- to late 1960s (not 1972) ?

Our having been given parts played by such as Michael Gambon (Sydney) and Gabriel Byrne (Jim) for those who lived at Kingsley Hall, one not only fears that the latter, certainly, tends to confirm the public’s lightly-based belief that those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia connote dangerousness, but also suspects that selective recourse may have been had to material in Dominic Harris' The Residents (a work of photo-portraiture and recorded memory / interview, on which The Guardian reported in 2012) [available from]. On wholly another level, there is also a celebrity element to the activities of Kingsley Hall : we know that, with the distortions of Laing’s childhood and his doubtless related capacity and propensity for drink (very much a part of Maran's one-man play about him), he likes to party, but the connection to the environment in which we several times see him hold court (and where Angela (Elisabeth Moss) performs a song), is opaque. Just as we are not really told how the community there came about, this side of things is not explained - not even by some throwaway lines in the dialogue - so we can only suppose that it is a fund-raiser and / or support-group for the work of the Hall.

Upper : Gabriel Byrne, Michael Gambon and David Tennant in Mad to be Normal
Lower : David Tennant and Elisabeth Moss

Going to the end of the film (towards which, the film sags somewhat), and if we did credit what we are shown about the circumstances in which the closure of Kingsley Hall came about, not only is there a purported abduction (which, if it happened, would have had criminal and professional consequences - however kindly it was meant), but also an external factor that is closely tied to the person abducted. In fact (having researched whether this episode is licence, or has any basis in truth), one finds that John Clay prosaically reports, in his biography of Laing⁴, 'Kingsley Hall closed in 1970 after five years, when the lease ran out and was not renewed'. (A significant reason may also have been that, as we see (and as Clay tells us⁴ (op. cit., pp. 132-133), there was antagonism and aggression towards those who lived there, from the residents of the area (the Hall is located in Powis Road, Bromley by Bow, London Borough of Tower Hamlets).) By contrast with what the film shows, Adrian Laing tells us (op. cit., pp. 126-127) that his father had moved out years before the Hall closed :

By the end of 1966 Ronnie was getting tired of Kingsley Hall. Having lived there full time for nearly twelve months during the latter part of 1965 and late 1966 (and for a good time thereafter on an ad hoc basis), he had had enough. It was time to hand over the baton. There was no shortage of people to take over the running of the place in Ronnie's absence. [Laing goes on to say who]

As Mullan must be aware (which is where, before the action, a title with a sweepingly wide disclaimer comes in⁵), closing Kingsley Hall was far more mundane than Mad to be Normal portrays, and - just as the relationship with someone called Angela is fiction per se⁵ - so is the suggestion that the abduction torpedoes it : in reality (as Adrian Laing, foreshadowing the above, had told us (op. cit., p. 114)), Ronnie moved into Kingsley Hall on a permanent basis in December 1965 and stayed there for a year before moving into a four-roomed flat with Jutta […] where the couple lived for almost ten years.

By all means, we do appreciate that Mullan has made a dramatic film, and is wanting to give us a man who makes a heroic act (out of faith in his therapeutic method - shades of Awakenings (1990) ?), but it really has as little to do with Laing as Benedict Cumberbatch does, in The Imitation Game (2014), with Alan Turing : Mike Maran dramatizes Laing on stage, but does not find the same need to invent material that a remarkable life and career contain anyway (the excesses of Laing's personal and professional life that the film features, such as alcohol, envy / aggression, or the experiments with LSD, are well documented and known from elsewhere)...

The film is intent on providing a take on Laing where he hits Angela (and hits her in public, and likewise with Paul), swears at and challenges fellow psychiatrists (British and American ones), and generally acts the gifted (and so unpredictable) maverick : this may not be untrue of Laing’s life as a whole, but – if one wishes to base that impression in Mad to be Normal – there seems to be relatively little reason to locate it in the days of Kingsley Hall.

End-notes :

¹ The Divided Self by R. D. Laing, Tavistock Institute, London (1960) ; Penguin Books [Pelican, then Penguin Classics], London (1965).

The latter is not stated to be a new, or revised, edition - it is just part of popularizing the thought and thinkers of the day. (One early established, in reading R. D. Laing, that one cannot read a book of his without being informed that it is not 'Lang', but that (as he puts it) his name rhymes with 'angel' : there, at least, Mad to be Normal (2017) is spot on….)

² In a film that features [part of] a real person’s life, one expects an element of conflation. However, if one wanted a biography of R. D. Laing, and expects to be told about how his time, from 1956, at The Tavistock Institute led to the establishment of Kingsley Hall, one will be disappointed. Likewise, rather than making in any way clear that Laing is a member, even if also its founder, of The Philadelphia Association - according to its web-page on Wikipedia® :

The Philadelphia Association is a UK charity concerned with the understanding and relief of mental suffering. It was founded in 1965 by the radical psychiatrist and psychoanalyst R. D. Laing along with fellow psychiatrists David Cooper, Joseph Berke, Aaron Esterson, writer Clancy Sigal as well as John Heaton, Joan Cunnold and Sid Briskin.

The Philadelphia Association (PA) came into being to challenge and to widen the discourse around the teaching and practice of psychotherapy and continues to offer a training, an affordable therapy service and two community houses for those seeking retreat. Kingsley Hall, the first of a number of community houses, was founded in 1965 (a building dating from 1928).

³ As Adrian Laing tells us about the trip [R. D. Laing : A Life (HarperCollins (London), 1997, pp. 128-130)], it was not as Mad to be Normal would have us believe (nor is there any reason whatever to locate then the much-told story [Adrian Laing tells it in this piece in The Guardian (@guardian)] of how Laing took extreme steps to engage with a female patient who had not spoken in months, where it is placed as a 'breakthrough' demonstration, to those who received him rather differently than seems so) :

Although the institute [William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York] was fascinated to hear Ronnie's account of LSD therapy in the UK, the clinical use of LSD was nothing new to this audience. [...] Perhaps it was because Ronnie was in front of such seasoned characters that his talks were relatively passive. There was no desire to shock, no intention to rock the boat. [...] Ronnie conducted himself impeccably throughout his stay in New York [9-21 January 1967]

R. D. Laing : A Divided Self by John Clay. Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton (London)), 1997, p. 137.

⁵ When the film was seen to be preceded by this widely drawn disclaimer, it caused a number of the audience to laugh. (This was an ourscreen event (@ourscreenuk), rather than a regular Picturehouse screening (@CamPicturehouse), i.e. where, provided that sufficient people subscribe in advance at, it takes place.) Not the least of the fabrications of the film is that of Angela (Angie), an American (played by Elisabeth Moss), who effectively stands in the place of the real Jutta Werner (a German), who did live at Kingsley Hall for a while, and became Laing's second wife.

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