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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Poem in a Tweet : Pewter suitcase

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 August

After reading George Monbiot on climate breakdown*... :

End-notes :

* Also, here :

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

Souvenir (2016) ['Memory'] itself remembers - far better than The Artist (2011) - a bygone style and feel of film [work in progress]

This is an appreciation of Souvenir (2016), as seen at Saffron Screen

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 August

This is an (accreting) appreciation of Souvenir (2016), as seen at Saffron Screen on Monday 28 August at 8.00 p.m.

Of course, the release-date of a film – in this case, 2016 – is just as much a different matter from when, in the UK (say), it has distribution and one gets to see it as from when Isabelle Huppert would have signed up to the film, the dates of the shoot [IMDb (@IMDb) does not give any, but such as The Hollywood Reporter might], and the period of editing and other post-production work before one gets anywhere near ‘a theatrical release'.

All that aside, though, Huppert shows – in this film and in Elle (2016), released in the same year – such a different side to her acting that the contrast is palpable and endearing : the humour, the awkwardness, the pulls of desire are assuredly there in Elle, but the overall affect of Paul Verhoeven’s film is quite another, on account alone of Michèle’s (Huppert's) parents and her feelings towards them both !

Nonetheless, Elle - and Huppert's effective performances in Michael Haneke's films, from The Piano Teacher (2001) and Time of the Wolf (Le temps du loup) (2013) to Amour* (2012) - was a good enough reason to want to watch Souvenir...



Film-references :

* Bright Days Ahead (Les beaux jours) (2013)

* Edward Scissorhands (1990) - fable / Thurber

* Indecent Proposal (1993)

* Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

* Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymes) (2010)

* The Artist (2011)

End-notes :

* Somewhat coolly playing Eva, the daughter of Emmanuelle Riva (Anne) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges).

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

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Real, moving and effective power in these massed voices¹

This reviews Stephen Layton conducting the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 August

This is a review of a concert given, under the guest conductorship of Stephen Layton, by the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge,
on Friday 25 August 2017 at 7.30 p.m.

First half :

1. Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) ~ ‘Exultate Deo’ (1941)

2. Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) ~ ‘O sacrum convivium’ (1937)

3. Frank Martin (1890-1974) ~ Messe pour double chœur à cappella (1922-1926) :
Kyrie - Gloria - Credo - Sanctus / Benedictus - Agnus Dei

Judge just by the title (1) ‘Exultate Deo’, and then by the text (as heard, e.g. ‘Exultate timpanum’), that this short piece by Poulenc (from 1941) is a setting of praise (taken from the Psalms). With its bright, dawn-like opening (this material recurs), this was where one first took in the clear, full and assured sound of nearly ninety voices – soon into passages of subtle light and shade, as well as Poulenc’s uncompromising use of dissonance :

Straightaway, in this initial choice of repertoire, and in Stephen Layton’s (@StephenDLayton's) home acoustic at Trinity, Cambridge, we were able to appreciate the clear diction and unmuddied sound² of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB), and the exciting effect, in this familiar space, of ‘falling away’ into silence at the close.

In (2) ‘O sacrum convivium’ (1937), a second piece – and a more difficult one (?) – sung from memory, appropriately reflective tone and affect were brought out in a very mature and measured response to this text, a setting that wonders at the sacrament of communion (the Eucharist).

Although Messiaen’s spiritual and theological message is abiding in his canon, it appears that this work is unusual in being liturgical. Particularly striking were the gradations of dynamics across the ensemble, and the employment of softness and hush, which may be known from works as diversely religious as Quatuor pour la fin de temps [Quartet for the End of Time (1941)] or, for solo organ, La Nativité du Seigneur (1935), his beautiful meditation(s) on the birth of Christ.

The Kyrie of this well-known (but simple and unfussy ?) (3) mass-setting by Martin (1922-1926) begins with a multi-entry section [the first entreaty of Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy)], which, through the rendering of its flowing melismatic lines, established warmth and the celebratory sense of participating together in the mass. The central Christe eleison rose at least to fortissimo [ff], but still with a good balance.

Characteristically rounded and pure vowel-sounds flooded the sound-world of the Gloria and, as Frank Martin again gives us a multi-entry setting of the text, we clearly heard, in a trio of statements prefaced by Domine Deus, Agnus Dei… [‘Lord God, Lamb of God’], the sincere and solemn heart of this section of the Messe :

Martin has some of the singers imitate a drone, thereby giving the quality of a suspensive underpinning to each affirmation (and, not for the only time this evening, the powerful sense of sounds that, because one could not immediately locate them, evoked aetherial disembodiment). At Quoniam tu solus sanctus (‘For you alone are the most high’), we bridged into a form of chanting, and with the vivid impression of composer, conductor and choir together heightening our perception of what is very active within the words of the standard text of the Latin mass.

Except when one such as that of Stravinsky (1944-1948) whisks through it, the Credo – which almost certainly contains more words than in the other four sections combined – inevitably forms a significant portion of a setting : this one makes generous and vibrant use of a double choir, and, again, of wordlessly hummed notes and of crescendi to the full sound of the ensemble.

Amongst various others, some features in particular were highly moving : the tenderness, in the singing and the writing, of the passage that sets Et incarnatus est ('And [He] became man') ; then, the dramatic present of Crucifixus etiam ('For us [He] was likewise crucified'), but with neither Layton nor Martin rushing anything in the specificity that is in the text that starts with sub Pontio Pilato… (‘in the reign of Pontius Pilate’) ; and in the simple joy of Et resurrexit ('And [he] was resurrected'), which re-deploys the theme of running notes from the Kyrie.

There is a real, moving and effective power in these massed voices, they and we alike enjoying Martin’s flowing melodic lines, but held back in Et unam, sanctam, catholicam… ('And a single, holy, catholic [church]') – before a declaration of faith in Et exspecto…, ('I await [resurrection and eternal life]') and the closing ‘blaze’ of Amen.

Maybe these are not the right words for it, but there was ‘luxuriant’ writing and singing in the repeated word ‘Sanctus’, which then gently ‘retired’, so giving a strong contrast with the dynamics of Pleni sunt coeli (‘The heavens are full…’). Afterwards, we were into the peals / waves of the first Hosanna - before the Benedictus commenced with almost sub voce 'utterances', developing and ‘rolling’ into repeating the acclamation Hosanna !

With its tri-partite form, the Agnus Dei had an otherworldly, ‘uncanny’ feel to it at the start [for the words are addressed directly to Christ], with voices supporting, and yet moving against, each other – and then an evocation as of a calm beat of a clock (or heart ?), in which one senses Martin’s conviction most, and also, just as significantly, these performers’ dedication to conveying the text.

After all that has gone before, both in this section and in Martin’s mass for double choir as a whole, the concluding chords - which set the supplication Dona nobis pacem (‘[Lamb of God,] give us Peace’) - are open. As Peace is open to us... ?

Certainly, the audience seemed very open to giving applause from its hearts for this accomplished and engaged performance under Stephen Layton, a celebrated interpreter of such sacred works – one had also had the privilege of seeing close to his encouragement of and approbation for the members of NYCGB, and of feeling pride as they took an orderly step down to walk along the aisle, and out, at the end of this impressive first half.

Second half :

4. Vytautas Miškinis (1954-) ~ 'Angelis suis Deus' (2006)

5. Eriks Ešenvalds (1977-) ~ 'Salutation' [world premiere]

6. Ugis Praulinš (1957-) ~ Missa Rigensis (2003)

7. Paweł Łukaszewski (1968-) ~ ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (2007)

Again from memory, two short pieces (maybe shorter again than the Poulenc and the Messiaen ?) began the second half, by which time one finds that, both as one settles into a programme, and into taking further pleasure from it (even as it advances into territory that is less familiar, but no less engaging), one tends - for good or ill - to have to keep prompting oneself to record impressions in one's review-notes, and so makes fewer… [Apologies for anything not noted at the time, and so unlikely to be here now.]

In any case, from a trio of twentieth-century composers in the French tradition (none still alive, though their music continues) to ones all still living and from Eastern Europe (Latvia [Ešenvalds], Lithuania (x2), and Poland [Łukaszewski]) – and, this time, not with works now seventy-five or more years old (yet sounding so fresh), but everything from the twenty-first century.

We even had a new commission from Eriks Ešenvalds, as well as a second of the composers (Ugis Praulinš) with us, in the chapel itself. Before it, though it had in common that it evoked the sound-world and affect of John Rutter (also said afterwards to have been present), (4) Vytautas Miškinis’ ‘Angelis suis Deus’ (2006) had a swaying motion to it, which was rooted in the bass and treble lines. [As for the text, that will need to be researched (for an end-note), but had apparently been set to celebrate Stephen Layton’s birthday, when he was forty…]

(5) ‘Salutation’, with a text in English, felt like a pæan, and we had been told that Ešenvalds, in common with large numbers around the world (via live-streaming), was intending to watch the world premiere of this work : the words Senses reach out, and touch thy word at my feet were noted, but this, too, needs research. The overall impression of the ensemble was of brightness, but, within it, Ešenvalds had placed little harmonic hesitations, or what seemed like remembrances of Morten Lauridsen, and then brought the piece to a close with a beautiful bass-note : repeated listening will be necessary, but the audience responded very well to his setting, as it had to that of Miškinis.

As with the Mass setting by Frank Martin, that by (6) Ugis Praulinš, Missa Rigensis (2003), had a strong opening, and the effect of echoic falling-away. To judge by the singing and how the choir looked, it must be thrilling to perform this composition, and this was an excellent space in which the sounds could die away.

In the Kyrie, one could pick out some lovely soprano voices, nicely blended. A bass took a solo in Christe eleison³, and Praulinš also gave us little lingering individual sounds, and an a capella voice to close.

The rhythms and style of the Gloria were exciting, but it was also a moving setting, and employed chant-style sections. One almost had the feeling here, as when soloists step down from the choir, of individual testimonies being given³, and with a vivid sense of expectation in the Domine Deus.

The clever impression (as of rain-drops) that is formed by the overlay of voices in the Credo also feels in line with worship, and the harmonic riches that Praulinš bestows (as Martin did) on this part of Missa Rigensis put one in mind of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (other composers' works aplenty were discernibly quoted). Particular focii for attention were, again, the words Qui propter nos homines ('Who, for mankind and for our salvation, came down from Heaven'), and a remarkable setting of the Crucifixus, after which Stephen Layton brought us an impassioned believer's personal confession of faith³.

The Sanctus was full of life, especially the 'Hosannas', and was simply set until the repeat of Dona nobis pacem ('[Lamb of God], may you give us Peace'), when the Agnus Dei then had unexpected twists and turns. An accomplished bass recitation³, to a wordless hum, led to a simple close.

Ugis Praulinš, who was in the front row, keenly applauded the NYCGB and Stephen Layton, and was clearly affected by the performance. (It was also a pleasure to have him kindly receive some brief words of thanks afterwards.)

The programme closed with - as fitting both the purpose of the work and the reason for programming it - a ruminative setting by (7) Paweł Łukaszewski of the 'Nunc Dimittis' (2007), and with the uncomplicated beauty in which it ends : again, there was an element of voices 'coming off' and so our hearing a remaining voice exposed.

This was an extremely enjoyable concert, and one that gives great comfort at the depth and breadth of new choral singing, and also very real delight in individual performers within a tight and disciplined ensemble.

No doubt some very proud parents and other relatives would have shed a tear of pride as the NYCGB processed out !


¹ A review-comment, as noted on the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (@nycgb) in Frank Martin's Messe pour double chœur à cappella (1922-1926).

² The confidence of these young performers – and the worthwhile promise that they show for the future – was, too, inspiring in their appearance, in how they held and comported themselves : assuredly, one power that there is in justified self-belief.

³ As if, perhaps, the representative characters of The Apostles had been given, to show that we, through them, were in the midst of this act in remembrance of The Last Supper. (Some - if so, they could not have been many - might have found this work theatrical, but it served the liturgy and felt apt in doing so.)

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

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Song to Song : Much better made than Knight of Cups, but still well-made tedium

This is an [accreting] reaction to Terrence Malick's latest, Song to Song (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 August

This is an [accreting] reaction to Terrence Malick's latest, Song to Song (2017)

His being an auteur, Terrence Malick can, of course, interpret that to mean doing what he wants - desiring, as his characters* grandiosely emptily do, 'to be free', and / or 'to set others free' (sc. delude themselves, and / or screw others over, in the name of Freedom).

If Malick chooses, he can have us infer (and maybe agree) that he is painting with light, and that we are redundantly seeking a narrative (which he does not actually have, and so cannot deny us) - until he then gives us one, of sorts, but only once he has had his way with our mind, with his fractured slices**.


Film-references :

* Hideous Kinky (1998)

* Jules et Jim (1962)

* La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty [but #UCFF prefers 'Immense Beauty' as a title]) (2013)

* On the Road (2012)

* The Last Station (2009)

* The Master (2012)

* The Neon Demon (2016)

Interlude ~ Irreverent parody No. 1 :

The travel of Song to Song is from deliberately momentary snatches of the past - which have been blanked out by the actors, in confused guilt and shame at having been paid to arse around implausibly on camera - to healing (and, of course, the pay-cheque).

However, this only comes through expressionless (and barely cleansing ?) confessional utterances, spoken to God knows whom (an on-line diary, via voice-recognition ? or a very professionally indulgent therapist ?). Thus, if just as implausibly, they become reconnected with good, honest, Tolstoyan toil on - dare one say so ? - the soil that they had spurned.

In essence, the road's shown to be tough, but (for actors, at least) healing for careworn hedonism can be won by lost wild-child rockers-in-their-heads stars of screen !

Other references :

* Friends and Crocodiles

* The Diamond as Big as The Ritz ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

* The Lost Ones [Le dépeupler] ~ Samuel Beckettt

End-notes :

* If we may rightly call them that... Gosling, though perhaps never heard called that, is credited as 'BV' = boundlessly vacant, as Gosling usually does / is, or boulevard verdure ?

** Naturally, Woody Allen and Charlotte Rampling (as Dorrie) did this with far greater impact in Stardust Memories (1980).

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

Monday, 14 August 2017

Cool for cats ?

This is an appraisal [uncorrected proof] of Kedi (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

This is an appraisal [uncorrected proof] of Kedi (2016), as seen at Saffron Screen on Monday 14 August 2017 at 8.00 p.m.

Kedi (2016) is no more about cats¹ than Visitors (2013) is about alien life per se² on Earth : likewise, Wes Anderson does not intend us to understand The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) to be telling part of the history of The Republic of Zubrowka...

What probably cannot be told, even at the time of filming [the calendar included in one shot seems to show that at least part of the shoot was in 2014], could even less so now : in the Turkey of President Erdoğan, would making this film even be allowed...?

Plus-points :

* The nauticality, the maritime nature, of Istanbul both strongly and very beautifully comes out at times, and makes one think of - and long for - Venezia !

* it is very good that at least two (human) participants are heard talking about their mental-health issues in relation to how being with and caring for cats helps them (one says what her therapist thinks, one attributes his progress, after a nervous breakdown in 2002, to looking to feeding the street cats)

* The stories about the cats – whether one or two, or in numbers that run into tens – emerge as a way of managing one’s notional world, through having an understanding of it that is rooted in telling oneself how it is, and the film’s director (Ceyda Torun) acknowledges these stories and, through editing and framing, partly gives an authority to them (saying which, takes from what are clearly different occasions³ are editorially conflated to the end of telling visually what those near to the cat(s) want (us) to believe about each one)

* Though where the film comes into its own is at the point when talk about, or reflection on, the cats of the city shades into alluding to other things – to the question for whom cities and the life within them exist, what it is to be human, and what we lose to our peril…⁴ From this perspective, some, but not very many, of the tracks used alongside the composed score (please see below) are spot on for the part of the film for which they have been selected

* Despite some reservations (please see below), there are enough moments of pure cinema to please the fussy watcher of film – plus ones of unforced smiles and laughs about what it is about cats that has some people embrace philosophies or beliefs that assert that cats know God directly, and that we, when we (respond to God and) serve their needs, are but mediators of God’s will

Negatives (these are all less important than they seem, since, on Kedi the 'Ayes' have it) :

* If you did build your entire hopes for the film on seeing the cat from the poster, it is just in one shot

* Which could also be a positive, the fact that some of the film looks – for not necessarily being the best take, but perhaps an atmospheric one – unpolished

* With the first cat featured (who, about the body, is one of the more obviously unsymmetrical ones - ginger, but with predominantly white legs (one of which has a ginger 'flash')), one is 86% certain – and would have to re-watch, when the film is on DVD, to check – that some footage has been flipped, left to right, because, one imagines, having the image that way around looked right (ginger 'flash' apart) / fitted with that segment’s dynamic better⁵

* Kira Fontana’s original score for the film [one looks in vain to IMDb (@IMDb) for much detail about the film, except the soundtrack] is sometimes too intrusive on what one is seeing (for example, the ‘shimmer’ effect of what sounds like low-reverb vibraphone over marimba), with the result of detracting from what it tries to respond to (rather than amplifying it)

* Even when Fontana brings back the principal theme in its full form (presumably, ‘Nine Lives’), which feels as though it is meant to be the final reprise that pulls out all the stops (musically, and so emotionally), there is a connected question :

Does the film do itself a disservice by seeming to build to a closing image, but then reprising the featured cats, and ending (after an unattributed short commentary by voice-over⁶) on another shot and a fade-out – as if not confident that it has established the star cats in our mind ?

Maybe some closing words here (a quotation from Russell Hoban's novel Pilgermann might be good - or from his collection The Moment Under The Moment ?)... or maybe that is it... ?

End-notes :

¹ As one might guess, 'Kedi' is Turkish for 'cat'.

² In part, Godfrey Reggio is invoking a Biblical saying (1 Chronicles 29 : 15), and alluding to its wider relevance.

³ With, for example, the cat who taps on the window of the bar / restaurant when hungry, the open or shut front door, and where the cat is tapping, give this away.

⁴ With one commentator saying that, if people have lost their relation to cats, it is for them to rediscover it (not for cats to change who they are), for it is to our detriment. Kedi unavoidably reminds of the deeper matter of such films Citizen Jane : Battle for the City (2016), The Human Scale (2012), and A Dangerous Game (2014)…

⁵ If one watches too many films (or is otherwise attuned, as to an out-of-tune string orchestra), it may also grate when the chosen aesthetics of documentary have led the cinematographer (and director) to arbitrary choices about how to shoot. Such as evoking immediacy through a very shallow depth of field and / or when the focus keeps shifting during the shot (even if either may not just actually have some viewers irresistibly hunting around the image - trying to find something in focus, and not greatly fore- or backgrounded…).

⁶ It could have been added at any time, not least because it feels more contemporary to the Turkey of now than much of the film (except the clearances of the orchards, and the similar threat to the market area) ?

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

Monday, 7 August 2017

Maudie - or Maudit ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 August

Some observations, partly by Tweet, about Maudie (2016)

You are determined to put a stain on this family name !
Aunt Ida

This film, however based in reality, could only work on the level of parable -
and it unnecessarily laboured even that
Jacob Apsley

Some film-references :

* Being There (1979)

* Big Eyes (2014)

* Caravaggio (1986)

* Forrest Gump (1994)

* La belle et la bête (1946)

* Mr. Turner (2014)

* New York Stories (1989)

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

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Why is mental-health charity SANE promoting a survey that seems incapable of not using 'psychosis' and 'schizophrenia' interchangeably ?

SANE promotes a survey that uses 'psychosis' and 'schizophrenia' interchangeably

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 August

Why is mental-health charity SANE promoting a survey that seems incapable of not using 'psychosis' and 'schizophrenia' interchangeably ?

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