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Showing posts with label Mike Leigh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Leigh. Show all posts

Monday, 17 December 2018

In four Tweets, a taste of Mike Leigh's Peterloo (2018)

In four Tweets, a taste of Mike Leigh's Peterloo (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)

16 December

In four Tweets, a taste of Mike Leigh's Peterloo (2018)

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

Friday, 7 November 2014

Remember me, but forget my fate ~ Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell

This is a review of Mr. Turner (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 November

This is a review of Mr. Turner (2014)

Probably too much has already been written, spoken or just thought about Mr. Turner (2014) since its win for Timothy Spall at Cannes (as well as for cinematographer Dick Pope), and its nomination for the Palme d’Or. (And maybe it has not attracted much attention, but the scoring of the film is so intelligent, just even with the simple falling motif on alto sax (four saxes are credited), picked up by the strings.) So the unaccustomed aim here will be (relative) brevity :

The simple truth is that Spall, Pope and director Mike Leigh, amongst others, have collaborated on an excellently cinematic piece of work. Whether or not one wishes to interpret the composition of shots as somehow mimetic of Turner's painterly art and / or vision, the quality of them, and the care behind them, is profound : unlike some films, incidentally using this medium (as a way of reaching an audience with a story), the film is indissoluble from the story.

Just as, in Mr. Turner, we see the artist having confidence in his work* (declaring that he is leaving it, as a collection, to the nation : the collection that, indeed, we have at Tate Britain (@Tate)), Leigh likewise has every reason to be pleased with what this film looks like and says.

Whether the details of art history (or of biographical fact) are correct is for others to debate (to the extent that we can know). Others, for example, can research Turner's known relations with his father or his niece, or observe on what basis we can say what did happen with that daub of red paint at the summer exhibition (?) at The Royal Academy. The fact is that, with Spall (and others), Leigh has - as he said himself to Radio 3 Free Thinking's (@BBCFreeThinking's) Matthew Sweet - someone who can be seen to be sketching, applying paint to a canvas, scumbling.

Leigh has no need for Spall to be Turner through and through, researched ad infinitum, but a man such as we see could have happened to be such an artist, a man embodying an economy of means and words, who was J. M. W. Turner.

In fact, it is actually of no importance to the worth of this film whether there ever was a Mrs Sophia Booth in Margate - she could be conflation, or pure invention, for all that it matters. Even more vigorously and vividly than Daniel Auteuil does Marseille in Marius and Fanny, Leigh creates this Margate, the industry on the foreshore, the close quarters on land, the sails from the front windows : we believe that Turner would choose such a spot, such scenes, such a woman (as Marion Bailey becomes, in Sophia).

It is almost, in a rather Becketttian way**, as though Leigh creates the creating Turner as his creature, in which aim Leigh is in no way about what Ralph Fiennes worked to achieve with Dickens in his The Invisible Woman (2013). That film seems to tell his lack of moral courage and to rehabilitate him sympathetically in our eyes at the same time ; although Mr. Turner does share an era with when Dickens' illicit relationship took place, the mores here seem to be quite different.

Spall may be 5’8”, but the sense that Leigh’s framing and Pope’s camerawork give is of the presence of the man, his bulk in the scene, as what balances it and makes it complete*** - just as we see him, discovered as we follow two local women along a canal path at the start, working from the perfect point on the opposite bank for the view that he wants.

Or, for example, when Turner is on his way (to Chelsea ?), we are confronted with an assemblage of people, who are there for us to view as he strides past. The assurance in the construction of this film matches Turner’s confidence about what he was giving the nation :

Although it was tempting to use another quotation, No good deed goes unpunished, this review is titled with one from 'Dido's Lament' (from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas) : not for nothing does Leigh have Spall, feelingly if obviously not expertly, sing along to Miss Coggins' (Karina Fernandez's****) playing this number. As Turner reaches for the words (finding, as happens with even the best-learnt text, synonyms that fit the scansion), he is virtually writing his own epitaph.

Content with himself, as he strolls around the Academy show, being acknowledged, making comment, he is most of all a man who has a position that he knows - or knows himself by his position ? Having a daguerrotype made - and then persuading Mrs Booth to do the same with him - he is not the obedient subject, but exercising his intellect to understand the mechanism and the medium, rather than accepting what is presented, and how that is done.

And, there, Leigh cannot resist giving him prescience for our modern obsession with making / distributing images.


* We also see that it could have been far from facile to maintain that belief, because of trends in fashion / art such as that which began just with the initials ‘PRB’, before The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ventured its name…

The young John Ruskin (in a scene that some view as unforgivably disrespectful of him) cannot venerate Claude as Turner does, but seeks to worship Turner in his stead - the key point, other than that Ruskin is young, is that Turner's estimation of his own work does not depend on no longer valuing what went before : he likens Sophia to a representation of Aphrodite, he respects Claude for painting the sea 'from the land'.

** Thinking of the late 'novels', Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho.

Quick - leave him !

*** Not in the same way, exactly, as in the montage that closes Calvary (2014), but the closing shot is of absence, of grief. And, when we see the dying Turner, it has been arranged so that Sophia Booth, to his right, is in a shallow depth of field, and is the one in focus.

**** Another Leigh regular, along with Lesley Manville (Mrs Somerville) and David Horovitch (Dr. Price) - as was Spall himself, in the mid 1990s.

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

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Notes on a performance: Grief, 'a new play by mike leigh'

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 November

Mike Leigh explicitly works on plays and films by freely involving the cast in improvisation, role-play, etc. – does this make for a less tenable notion of a play being 'by him' than with a film? (The short answer: probably not, but it feels as though it should, feels as though someone who sat in on a development session and contributed a line 23 minutes in, when everyone was stuck, might have something to say…)

Although the script of a play may, after experimentation, become fixed (as I understand Leigh’s does), with a film there is a set of performances whose nuances are captured (i.e. more than one take might be made, and then there would be a choice, but the choice, once made, would be in the cut).

With plays in general, how the words are delivered, or the stage-directions observed, can vary immensely from one show to the next, let alone one theatre – or one production - to the next. Admittedly, less likely to be so, if the actors are good ones, and the writer/director keeps an eye on things.

If the film credit says 'BUBBLEPOP - A Mike Leigh film', we know that, in studio speak, that may mean more than 'Presented by Dead Parrots Pty' or 'A Clint Eastwood production', but, perhaps crucially, who claims ownership or authorship of the script in the credits? The massed dancing bands of the city of Brno?

At any rate, the programme tells me - in a note on Leigh by Michael Coveney - that the gesture used to be 'devised and directed by', and maybe I'm happier with that.

Anyway, as to Grief, it needs to be judged whether it really works, but it is not, I believe, a great piece of theatre.

It all happens on one set, changing only as to time of day, which is shown largely through the large bay-window, stage right (but also through the light entering into the hallway, which is also stage right, through the room’s entrance in the long downstage flat). Light within the room, when it needs to be turned on during a scene, is always done by Dorothy (Lesley Manville), otherwise by the stage crew between scenes.

That said, there are various curiosities of this household, as we see it move from late 1957 into mid-1958, and which crucially relate to the staging (and what is staged):

* The only bell that we hear is the doorbell - the telephone (if there is one) never rings, is never referred to (or used), and visitors just turn up unannounced, starting with Edwin’s GP friend, Hugh (David Horovitch).

Yet this is not the provinces, but suburbia: which means not only that people may have come from a distance to happen by, but also that, though it is still early days for television, it is not for a telephone. As we know how the play has developed, this approach to people calling will be a given, but how true is it to its period?

* For the simple reason that, if visitors did turn up unexpectedly, there would be somewhere to receive them, houses of the time had two reception rooms: what we are shown here would have been the front room, almost exclusively used to keep neat and show guests into (whereas another might have doubled up as a dining-room, which Dorothy’s household has).

Guests simply would not have seen the living room in the way that is shown here, and those social niceties were alive well into the 60s and 70s (and beyond). We are, unrealistically (because anachronistically), presented with one room with the shared function of those in the household coming together and of receiving guests, i.e. what is now a lounge.

* Dorothy would have been viewed very strangely by her other well-heeled ex-telephonist friends from wartime, let alone the cleaner, if she had really had a home on the principles shown§. As to the telephone, I do not know, but it seems surprising, as does the absence of radio.

For radio would have been a large part of people’s lives at the time, but there is no evidence of one, or of anyone listening - only a reference by Gertrude (Marion Bailey) to a song that she asks Victoria (Ruby Bentall – more of an exciting name than her stage character’s) whether she has heard. (She has, much to the glee of 'Garrulous Gertie', who herself wants to seem young.)

Fine, with the second point, a number of those in the audience would have known that there was a conflation of function being shown, but younger viewers would not, and then one asks how much, if it is meant to be one, this is 'a slice of life'. It is a compromise, and one that, I imagine, one would not make in a version of the script for film - but I may imagine wrongly...

Of course, it is done just because it is a convenient way of having one large area on the stage, not the separate rooms often depicted in a set in a search for naturalism, but does that fatally flaw the integrity of trying to show a household in Britain where there is so much emphasis on a war that is not much more than a decade over, and of trying to (regain or) maintain reality? (Victoria is even told by her mother how good she was during the war.)

However, on another level, the five songs (including 'Goodnight, sweetheart' and 'Night and Day') that are burst into would not have had such a place with the presence of radio, the central one being Gertrude, Muriel and Dorothy singing 'Black Bottom' together. Otherwise, the songs are started in equal measure by Edwin or Dorothy, with the other joining in, complete with harmony at the end of some of them.

Edwin abruptly breaks off 'Night and Day', seemingly either through his own, or his sister's imagined, awkwardness: perhaps at the sentiments, although they do not differ vastly from other songs, perhaps from some connection to his bachelorhood. I was reminded not so much, as some might have been, of Dennis Potter, as of Pinter’s play Old Times, which Leigh surely knows, with its snatches of song shared in the same way.

Poor Edwin, unlike the eccentric - and, the more that we hear of him, rather irritating* – Dr Hugh, is doomed to exist more in his memories: both Dorothy and he are, and they take comfort in a familiar pattern of songs when holding their sherry, finishing with the usual ‘chin chin’, led by Edwin.

Before the final scene, with retired Edwin at home from May onwards, Dorothy and he seem like Winnie and Willie from Beckettt's Happy Days, presumably a deliberate reference by Leigh: Edwin calling out snippets from the newspaper, which make less sense to the person who cannot see it, whilst Dorothy tries to make conversation with him, but he is then immersed in this, or whatever else, he is reading. He has been warned about just slowing down rather pointedly by Dr Hugh, and the play is called Grief.

All of the cast were excellent, so I do not see the need to single any one out for praise, although, since they were necessarily on the stage for much of the two hours' duration, one's admiration for the leading players is greater.

As, though, to whether what they performed really amounted to much:

1. Grief had an end that always seemed likely (though it was unclear what we were to infer had happened to Edwin - a stroke?). Was the pain in his knee an aneurysm?

2. For the reasons stated, it was not true to its time (there were also momentary snatches of dialogue that seemed too modern for their time, e.g. Victoria saying ‘I hate you!’ to Dorothy, and largely getting away with it); and

3. Both in the 'steals' from other playwights, and the kind of life, rather empty except for remembering other times, and talk (or cross-talk) listened to by other characters with a sense of frustrated toleration, it lacked originality. Not that everything has to be new, and there were some amusing moments, but so what?

Unless it was deliberately anachronistic, and was trying to show us, by mixing times, that the 60s and 70s, and their attitudes, had their roots in the behaviour of the post-war period, which would, with war-time, have been all that Victoria knew.

* ’All's well that ends’ was fun as a quip the first time, but not by the second repetition: David Horovitch appeared in the Shakespeare, and he may have brought it to the party as a cast-joke. He seemed like a witty doctor, in a Chekhovian British vein, with his ‘Where there's death, there's hope’.

§ Not that the modern style of living with which we are all too familiar, with the emergence of the lounge-diner (or even the studio flat), had not begun in the 50s, but the window in the set showed that the house of which we saw part was not a new build of that type at all - if it had been, all well and good, and people getting used to others living that way would have been got out of the way well before the scenes that we witness, but what we were clearly shown was from an earlier property, not this.