Follow by e-mail

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Sounding different - and sounding just the same as always...

Perhaps, in disguise, some responses to a recital of string quartets in Cambridge...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

31 January

Perhaps, in disguise, some responses to a recital of string quartets in Cambridge...

A standard account or explanation of the poor reception of the first performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms (in D Minor, Op. 15) is that there was insufficient familiarity with the work, probably by players and audience alike, but does one - although there are people who go to certain orchestral concerts, because they want to hear works played just the way that they know them - want to allow the fact that one knows a work to solidify how it is to sound ? (More scope to change that, perhaps, as a solo performer, or a conductor, than if, say, the members of a string quartet or trio attempt to come to 'anbsp;democratic agreement' after arguing points over ?)

Two theses here, then. One is that, accepted that there is an overlap between performance practice and playing a composition by Tchaikovsky in the style of Vivaldi (or vice versa), chamber musicians can easily respond to each other to avoid the familiar, and, by introducing small changes in emphasis, etc., they can bring us the piece with new ears.

The other is that one could, for example, adopt quite different approaches to the sound of the first two movements (Allegro and Molto adagio, etc., respectively) of the second of Beethoven's so-called Razumovsky quartets (Op. 59), but, if the Allegretto and Presto, in the nature of their playing, do not (or not easily) lend themselves to one's continuing in that vein, one may not meaningfully have transformed a listener's experience of the quartet as a unity.

What gives hope that music can be so, and artists give us a studied insight that shapes the whole piece, are such examples as :

* Imogen Cooper's three live double-CD performances of Schubert, where the care is in the structure of the individual programmes and in the way that she gives us a coherent reading of each work

* Likewise, when Angela Hewitt played the whole Book II (BWV 870-893) of Das wohltemperierte Klavier at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

* When Nicholas Collon conducted a programme of Vaughan Williams, Britten and Elgar at The Corn Exchange, Cambridge

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

Monday, 28 January 2019

Some responses to Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Some responses to Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 January

Some responses to Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

From @JimGR's review :

The true issue is [the face-to-face meeting] is shot more like a perfume advert : bed sheets artfully hung everywhere to obscure the women’s view both literally and metaphorically, gently brushed aside one at a time in soft light.

[The review by Jim Ross (@JimGR), for TAKE ONE, can be found here]

Whether this scene is also referencing such things as David Inshaw’s The Badminton Game (1972-1973), or The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), one doubts that the impetus for including it is John Guy’s book Queen of Scots : The True Life of Mary Stuart, on which the film says that it is based. Between them, first-time director Josie Rourke and first-time screenwriter Beau Willimon have decided to structure their film by having all the politicking that was to come about after Mary’s being taken into ‘protective custody’ - including what ensued by way of investigation into the death of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the circumstances in which it happened - subsumed into cinematic imagery that invokes mirrors and confusion, and then, as the shoot-out, resolved by an over-frank discussion that supposedly, at this moment, gave Elizabeth determination (which had been seen long eluding her)¹.

It is as if they have built backwards from this point to determine what the scope of the rest of the film will be (where they make simplifications to the established fact (e.g. the fact that Mary had to break out of prison), and truncate time (such as the that between the death of Darnlet and her marriage to Bothwell), yet with no good reason – as Jim Ross says, the scene feels out of place, and, in #UCFF's view, it is sentimental, and overladen with meaning and portents.

People want drama, but they never met so they could never explain their motives to one another - that is one of the triggers that lead to Mary's death, she could never explain her motives or what happened in her own life before her death.

When in the film she says she considers Elizabeth as her inferior - she would never have said that to her face. And then Elizabeth is seen crying? She would never have done that, she would have flipped. ~ Dr Estelle Paranque [quoted in The Telegraph]

In The Lady from Shanghai (1947), the mirror-scene [the link is to YouTube] had a context, however, of the actual interplay between Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth, as the titular Lady), Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles), Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) and others, whereas Queen of Scots effectively has none, except the jockeying between the English and Scottish courts², and some messages and portraits passed between the queens (inevitably reminding, as in the case of Elizabeth’s father and Anne of Cleves, that portraits were the closest to photographs, but could mislead).

The film is not quite as lacking in being even handed as this, but the implication is that Mary is a force of nature, and, when confronted with her, Elizabeth has no doubt that she will and must clip her wings

For them to really work out who was who was never, except in the case of the Welles, part of and a vindication of the film that preceded this point, because Mary and Elizabeth have no actual past other than at a remove. A few moments of hide and seek and then seeing each other has Mary say stupid things to the cousin whom she expects to help her such as that Elizabeth is her inferior, and Elizabeth concluding that the qualities for which she was envious of Mary are actually what have brought about her downfall. Willimon and Rourke want to root everything that happened hereafter in this moment, at the point when Mary has come to England to be supported to get her throne back (as she is no longer Queen of Scots, and her son James is her half-brother’s ward), and the result is to highlight the artificiality with which they have differently portrayed the lives of Mary and Elizabeth.

It does not cement what we have seen of this Queen of Scots martyr-figure (King of the Jews ?), but unpicks the joins in the film, because we all know enough to understand that there was a whole world to what went on regarding Mary when she was in England¹, which cannot be sketched in with three captions. (And it cannot be sketched in by Simon Russell-Beale, sounding Shakespearean and, as with Lowden, not of a piece, because we probably know that the demise of Mary was as much a botch as that of Charles I : having seen how the film theatricalizes what Mary was wearing when she died, and then read an account, one marvels at what this cabaret-style presentation is for.)

* * * * *

Other things grated, too. The music of the two courts seemed woefully undifferentiated, as if they did not have different classical traditions. Sometimes, spotting the historic interiors was more interesting than the massed action that went on in them - with the script's uneven modern inflections and idiom (especially in the case of Darnley) just a distraction from both.

Darnley, played by Jack Lowden, seemed intent on rendering the part as if he were Eddie Izzard³, and his lines and manner just grated – fine that the film made gestures in the direction of theatricals and other entertainments for royalty at the time, but too much there was out of register. As John Knox, there appeared to be an element of historicity to what we see, but David Tennant was still ‘hammy’ with his acting⁴, and he is implausibly thrust into the first formal court appearance over which Mary seeks to preside (with the emphasis much on the 'seeking to') and the rough-hewn nature of those proceedings (not least compared with those in England).

Finally, the film is called Mary, Queen of Scots, seems to want to flesh out her claims as a worthwhile figure (if something of a victim ?), and at the same time not very unobviously point up some matters that, then as now, affect how England and Scotland relate to each other. How has the film benefited us, though, rather than our watching it benefited its makers ?

End-notes :

¹ Which, in no clear way, explains why Mary was taken into Elizabeth's protection on 18 May 1568, but did not die until 8 February 1587.

² And wanting to depict Mary as playful, fun-loving and affectionate, whereas Elizabeth simply is not, and largely accedes to what her advisers suggest (and puts an intense amount of trust in William Cecil, who, played here by Guy Pearce, may have been a powerful politician, but gave the impression of being either past it or from some very bygone age - despite Elizabeth's factually being his elder by thirteen years), is the facile contention that the film wants to make for much of its run-time.

³ Not the Izzard who is a pefectly competent actor, but he of his stage-act, lampooning the utility of Le Francais d'aujourd'hui with Le singe est dans l'arbre.

⁴ He has an attentive congregation, but, for some reason, in a tiny church building.

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

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Is Billboards really a screenplay - and not a play-script ?

Is Billboards really a screenplay - and not a play-script ? [posting in development]

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 January

Is Billboards really a screenplay - and not a play-script ? [posting in development]

Those who think Seven Psychopaths (2012) a great film can delight in that opinion. However, after the $15m that was spent on it (so it is estimated (as reported on IMDb)), the bosses at investors such as CBS Films, Film4 and BFI may have been less sure : in the US, it just made back what it is thought to have cost.

In that world, one could imagine Martin McDonagh, hawking pitches for a new film. He had tried a film that was very cinematic, and then had made this one, which dearly desired that some of Lynch had rubbed off on a tale of people who were not the people whom they seemed to be.

Maybe the inspiration was to make visual what one would never try to show on stage, these billboards : in a play, everyone would be talking about them, but they would be an off-stage trio of elephants.

Yet, as soon as you have them in a film, and in its title, the film-goers will know without needing to think (or question) that they are significant*, and a fierce Frances McDormand, pictured with them, can then import a #MeToo message that makes it a winner.

To be continued

* Missouri, and a made-up place there, being the other label on the tin : In Bruges, likewise, is going to be a film that is set in Bruges...

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