Wednesday, April 30, 2014

[Film] "Lawrence of Belgravia" (2011)

This is another one of the music documentaries from the Allison and Tiffany Anders music section of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It tells the story of Lawrence, frontman of the iconic 1980s indie band Felt and then in the 1990s of Denim. More recently he has led Go-Kart Mozart. If you are old like me or have read books about indie music of yore you will know that Lawrence was long famous as a somewhat eccentric character. In the 1980s he was known for the extremely OCD rules governing his home, which went so far as not allowing his flatmate's friends to use the toilet there (as the flatmate's friends included Bobby Gillespie this was perhaps not such a crazy idea). This film does not go over this old ground, eschewing a biographical approach in favour of presenting a portrait of Lawrence as he is now ("now" being the eight years or so the film took to make, something it largely obscures).

This was a film I had been looking forward to seeing for ages and I was excited that it was finally coming to Dublin. But five minutes or so into the film I was starting to think it was perhaps one of the most depressing things ever committed to celluloid. Lawrence is still making music but he is someone whose moment has very much passed. If there was ever a real possibility that he was going to hit the big time, that possibility is now gone. That would not necessarily be a problem, as many people plug away in relative obscurity, following their music and happy enough to make music for whoever ends up liking it. But Lawrence still comes across as a driven character feeling that his day is yet to come, that any day now he will see himself on a revived Top of the Pops and find himself being driven around in a limo while screaming fans run down the street after him. That this is not going to happen seemed at first to mark him out as some kind of delusional saddo.

The other disturbing thing about the film initially is shock at what a wreck Lawrence has become. He has notably aged far worse than other contemporaries of his who show up in the film. When he was younger he was a rather stylish character. While now he is still someone who takes a certain interest in his appearance, his look is now one of a crazy eccentric rather than anyone who is ever going to grace the pages of The Chap. And his living conditions seemed to have declined somewhat. I doubt he was ever inhabiting penthouses, but the first flat we see him in looks extremely dingy. I suspected that Bobby Gillespie would have no problem using the toilet there.

The reason for Lawrence's decline is touched on obliquely rather than directly stated. Basically, as well as suffering from mental health issues, he has for many years now been in thrall to heroin and methadone. It seems that he fell into a dark place after the record company dropped Denim in 1997 or thereabouts. He has been living in relative poverty since then, though he is lucky that he is in the UK and can get access to council accommodation and be prescribed opiates rather than become a homeless junkie (though obviously it would be wrong to think that the UK is some kind of utopia where people with drøg addictions are looked after; there are plenty of homeless junkies in that country).

Once that penny drops the film becomes a lot less depressing. For one thing, I found myself becoming habituated to Lawrence's droll sense of humour. I particularly liked when he mentioned some people he had fallen in with, saying that he met them while he was living in Pete Astor's loft (too cumbersome to explain if you do not get it straight off). But I think more generally I started finding Lawrence almost inspirational. He has his vision of pop stardom and he keeps working to achieve it. Maybe he is delusional and has no realistic chance of achieving his goal, but he keeps at it, not letting poverty or opiate addiction stop his pursuit of his muse. I think anyone who has engaged in largely pointless artistic endeavour will see something of themselves in Lawrence's refusal to give up.

Paul Kelly, the film's director was there for questions and answers after film. He proved to be an engaging and likeable character. He said that Lawrence would have come along to the film's screening except that travelling outside the UK would have required him to take off his hat, something he never does in public (I think for reasons of baldness, another terrible cross he has to bear).


London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 11 (Death image source)

Foxtrot Echo Lima Tango (old Lawrence image source)

Chapter one of a recent example of my own largely pointless artistic endeavours

The Anders' JDIFF music programme

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

[Film] "The Wrecking Crew" (2008)

I saw a number of films in the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Most of them were music documentaries, brought to the festival by guest curators Allison Anders and Tiffany Anders, a mother and daughter team from Los Angeles who combine film-making chops and music appreciation (and indeed music-making - Tiffany Anders has released an album produced by P.J. Harvey). This was the first film they presented to us, a documentary by Denny Tedesco about the Los Angeles session musicians who played on every record released in the 1960s. It featured interviews with some of these people as well as with some of the people who fronted their records (Cher, Brian Wilson, Nancy Sinatra, Jimmy Webb, among others). Glen Campbell manages to straddle both camps, as he worked for a long time as a session musician in Los Angeles before eventually releasing his own records, on which many of the other session musicians played. Tedesco's father, was the late Tommy Tedesco, another session guitarist, and he appears in archive footage and some interviews filmed before he died.

I was a bit worried before this film started that something would go wrong with it. I am not sure what exactly I feared, but maybe the experience of the Muscle Shoals film had me thinking that the film would be over-poncey or that it would feature too much in the way of irrelevant talking head stuff from gobshites who would have had little or nothing to do with the music under discussion. But it all works. The music does a lot of the talking (they managed to get rights to lots and lots of it, thanks I think to some kind of Kickstarter campaign that raised a lot of cash), and it is very good music. The musicians tell their stories, though as these people were jobbing musicians rather than people going on the road and getting up to hi-jinks the stories are a bit "I played on this record and came up with this baseline; then I played on this record and came up with this guitar lick". There is not really much about snorting cocaine off the buttocks of underage groupies in this film.

Even so, the musicians do not come across as boring. Tommy Tedesco seems to have been a bit of a roffler, while Carol Kaye (one of few women musicians at the top level of this scene) comes across as an interesting character. Drummer Earl Palmer maybe says the most interesting thing of all of them, revealing that he did not particularly like any music other than jazz, but when you are being paid to play on a rock, pop, or country record you have to play it like it is your favourite thing. That probably is stating the obvious, but I can imagine that very few people are capable of doing it.

There were a couple of interesting questions that the film did not explicitly address. One of these was the question of creativity. The musicians and the other voices talk a lot about the session players' contribution to the recording process, which went far beyond just playing parts handed to them. There is much mention of distinctive guitar riffs, drum rolls and basslines created by the session players, contributions without which these records would lack so much that in many cases they would not have been hits without them. I found myself wondering whether the musicians found these contributions a sufficient outlet for their creativity, or whether they cared. They were being very well paid, after all, and it was striking from the film how few of them bothered releasing records with their own original compositions.

The other question was one that would have jarred in a film that was such a celebration of these musicians. Basically, if you have a situation where the same people are playing on all the records, does it end up with all the records sounding the same? These were very versatile players who could adapt their styles to the type of music they were playing, but did these players' ubiquity lead to music that was plastic and soulless? No one asks this question in the film and there is no real expression of the somewhat rockist contention that bands should play on their own records without recourse to session players.

The film reports that the glory days of the Los Angeles session players came to an end. The bands got better at playing their own instruments so the Wrecking Crew were no longer so needed, and another generation of younger and cheaper players came up and took their place. But the film does not have a "rock music is a shit business" vibe to it. The sense I got was that in the heyday of the scene these people made a lot of money (at one point it was mentioned that in the mid-1960s Carol Kaye was earning more than the US President) and that if their income declined it did not disappear. Perhaps because so much of the music in this film is so appealing, the film could not really leave the viewer with anything other than a sense that music is great.


Forgotten Heroes: Carol Kaye (Carole Kaye image source)

Drummerworld: Earl Palmer (Earl Palmer image source)

Tommy Tedesco and Friends on the Golden Age of Studio Guitar (Tommy Tedesco image source)

Muscle Shoals (my review of this film)

The Anders' JDIFF music programme

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Monday, April 28, 2014

[live] Jaki Liebezeit with Drums Off Chaos and Burnt Friedman

I went to see Jaki Liebezeit, legendary drummer of popular band Can. He was playing in the Grand Social. At this concert the headliners were going to be Jaki Liebezeit and Burnt Friedman, while the support act was Drums Off Chaos, which was Mr Liebezeit drumming with two other guys. Yes, readers, Jaki Liebezeit was supporting himself.

Full disclosure, I arrived at the event after a wine-tasting at work, so I was feeling a bit *relaxed* and so was perhaps not in the best of states to enjoy the music. But Drums Off Chaos were nevertheless enjoyed by me. There is always fun to be had watching serious drummers doing their stuff. I was also fascinated by the way Liebezeit, like other ageing heads from the German 1970s music scene (e.g. Ralf Hütter and Michael Rother) seems now to have turned into the kind of respectable character who could chat convincingly to your parents about stock options and long term investment yields. He is also older than my parents, but he does not look it.
Jaki Liebezeit and Burnt Friedman was Mr Liebezeit drumming and Mr Friedman playing keyboardy synthesiser stuff. My recollection is that it was more angular, with the keyboards being a bit textural and intermittent rather than either melodic or percussive. I fount it quite interesting but I was overcome by a terrible tiredness so I had to slip out of the venue and go home to my bed. Of the two sets, I reckon that the Drums Off Chaos one would be the one that you would rather hear live while the Jaki Liebezeit & Burnt Friedman would be the better listen at home.

Image source

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

[Film] "Lift to the Scaffold" / "L'Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud" (1958)

The IFI was showing this old Louis Malle film from 1958. The plot is an odd one. One Julien Tavernier (played by Maurice Ronet) murders his shady industrialist boss but then becomes trapped in a lift as he tries to make his escape. A small time crook and a flower girl (played by Georges Poujouly and Yori Bertin respectively) then steal his car, driving off to have an adventure of their own. As they go they drive by Florence Carala, the industrialist's wife (played by Jeanne Moreau), revealed as Tavernier's lover and his co-plotter in the murder of her husband. She sees the flower girl in the car and assumes that her lover has betrayed her.

For much of the rest of the film Tavernier is stuck in the lift, trying to get out, trying not to get killed when he does so, and trying not to be found there. Meanwhile the crook and the flower girl head off to the countryside to spend his money and live the highlife while Florence trawls the city looking for her lover. Although we feel that Tavernier and Florence are the primary protagonists here, far more things actually happen to the delinquent young folk. Things go horribly wrong for them, leading to repercussions for Tavernier and Florence.

So in some ways, not too much happens in the film. Instead it is about mood and atmosphere, with Tavernier making his endless attempts to escape his trap and Florence roaming the city in her futile quest for him. Her journey is a fascinating one, taking her to an endless series of dive bars and low-life hang-outs. The youths' adventure switches from being one of carefree abandon to one of disaster, with them ending up consumed by fear at the consequences of their actions (for all that their fear seems as over-dramatic and detached from reality as their initial quest for adventure). The generally alienated atmosphere is partially brought into being by the soundtrack, a selection of moody jazz pieces performed for it by Miles Davis.

There are hints here to a political subtext. The industrialist is an arms manufacturer, someone who is profiting out of the war then raging in Algeria. In the scene between him and Tavernier at the start of the film, there seemed a suggestion that he might also have been operating a spy ring, with Tavernier the traveller who collects intelligence from field agents and assets. Tavernier is a veteran of the wars in Algeria and Indochina, and his carrying a gun seems to be unremarkable. In some ways the film ends up with the kind of Crime Does Not Pay message common to films of that era, but there did seem a suggestion that the victims and killers all somehow deserved their fate. And there is a very non-Hollywood sense of playing with guns being dangerous and not fun.

This film is apparently seen as hovering on the frontiers between film noir and the French nouvelle vague. Either way it is a most unusual work and something that I recommend to all readers.

Trailer for reissued version of film:

The ponderous original French trailer:

See also:

Derek Winnert's review (Jeanne Moreau image source)

Ascenseur Pour L'Èchafaud (Lift To The Scaffold) : Original Soundtrack (Miles Davis image source)

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

[travel] Greece: signs of the crisis

Regarding my travels to Greece, a few people asked me if I saw any signs of Greece's economic problems while I was there, and I would have to say that I did not. It did not feel like a country that was falling apart, though obviously I did not have to engage with the country's healthcare system or state apparatus.

The only thing that came close to indicating the country's economic problems was the train system. This has been severely curtailed as a result of the tightening of public spending, to the extent that there are no longer direct train links between Greece and neighbouring countries. If this had not been the case I may have travelled to Greece through the Balkans rather than by getting an overnight ferry from Bari in Italy to Patras. And because the train line to Patras has been shut down, I had to get a bus from there to Athens.

Apart from that I did not see any direct sign of the crisis: no people rooting through rubbish bins for food, no more beggars on the street than you would get in any country, no obvious signs of there being masses of people sleeping rough in Athens (unlike in prosperous Milan where I saw quite a few rough sleepers). The centre of Athens felt like a prosperous enough place and while the city has its seamier bits, so does everywhere. Sparta (the least touristy place I visited) also did not feel like somewhere in the grip of an economic meltdown. I am not saying this to suggest that the Greeks are only pretending to have endured one of the most extreme declines in living standards ever experienced by a developed country, just to say that the effects of this fall off were hidden from me.

I did see a guy protesting outside the Greek Parliament (holding up a sign informing passers by that Wall Street is where he defecates), but I see that kind of thing all the time in Dublin so it was not really much of a novelty. On my last day in Athens there was a big demonstration against austerity. I wondered if it would all kick off with me in the middle of the action, but this proved not to be the case.

One hears a lot about how the far right is on the rise in Greece. I did not see any fascist gobshites parading around, but I did see some instances of graffiti featuring the sunwheel cross, a far right emblem. In most places, any instances of these were defaced, often with an Anarchy sign drawn over or beside them. The only place I can recall seeing an undefaced sunwheel cross was in Sparta. I have read guidebooks saying that Sparta prides itself on being Greece's most rightwing town, which seems appropriate given its ancient history as a centre of slavery and brutal militarism. Apart from that one piece of graffiti, however, modern Sparta did not come across as an obvious hotbed of the far right.

There was a fair amount of graffiti in Athens, some of it political and some of it less so. I do not think you could link the amount of graffiti to the crisis and I suspect that there was as much political graffiti before the crisis as there is now. Possibly my favourite piece of graffiti in Athens was done by someone who wrote "A. MERKEL" in Roman script. I do not know whether the writer was interrupted before finishing his work, or maybe the German chancellor herself was passing by and decided to put down her mark.

Actually no, this is my favourite bit of Greek graffiti:

Cthulhu ftagn!

An account of my travels in Greece: part 1

An account of my travels in Greece: part 2

My Greece pictures

Pictures of Graffiti in Greece

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Friday, April 25, 2014

[live] The Gaudete Singers salute the magic of Carlo Gesualdo

I went to this concert by the Gaudete Singers, a small choral group that one of my pals is in. This was taking place in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin and programme was to be a number of pieces by Carlo Gesualdo with some organ interludes by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Gesualdo pieces (composed) in 1611 or thereabouts) were all of a religious theme. Gesualdo's music has a reputation for being a bit on the odd side, accidentally pioneering techniques that would not reappear until the 20th century. From looking at the programme notes, it seems that this can be characterised as extreme chromaticism, but I am a bit pig ignorant when it comes to musicology so I do not really have much sense of what that means.

I can however say two things about the music in this performance. First of all, I like it. Secondly, it did not sound that weird to me (even though a famous musicologist John Milsom began his review of a CD release of these pieces with the words "Is this great music , or merely weird?"). I do not know what that means - maybe I have listened to so much weirdo music in my life that nothing sounds that unusual anymore.

So all in all, the Gesualdo choral pieces were fascinating and most enjoyable to listen to, as were the two Bach organ interludes. But it would be remiss of me not to conclude by describing the colourful life of Carlo Gesualdo. He was an amateur composer, as his status as a member of the Neapolitan nobility meant that he did not have to earn a crust from music. Aside from these musical pieces, he is best known for murdering his wife and her lover when he discovered them in flagrante delicto. He is also accused of murdering one of his sons and his father-in-law, who had attempted to avenge the first murder. In the end he fell into a deep melancholia and near insanity and seems to have retired to live the life of a gothic recluse in an isolated country castle, from where he published the pieces performed tonight.

The other odd thing about the concert was that someone's phone went off and then rang and rang and rang, with its owner being either unable or unwilling to decline the call. For all that the young folk are the ones seen as being so wedded to their phones that they cannot envisage turning them off, I increasingly have come to realise that it is older middle class people who let their phones ring inappropriately. For whatever reason they seem to find the idea of a turned off phone a concept completely impossible to contemplate.

Image source (Wikipedia)

Carlo Gesualdo: composer or crazed psychopath? (Guardian)

The Gaudete Singers

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Suspicious Similarity

Image sources:

Inside the giant panda research centre - in pictures (Guardian)

Story 29 - The Tenth Planet (Tardis Musings)

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[live] The Zurmukhti Music Ensemble play in a church

This lot were playing live as part of the Five Lamps Festival. In case you are unfamiliar with Dublin, the Five Lamps is a north inner city landmark (a lamppost at a junction with five lamps) that to an extent gives its name to the surrounding area. The area is a bit heart of the rowl. The Zurmukhti Music Ensemble were playing in the St. Laurence O'Toole Church on Seville Terrace. The ensemble's name is an odd one but it has a meaning. The group sings Georgian polyphonic music and Zurmukhti translates into English as Emerald (for Emerald Isle). And this is the singing group that Irene has been singing with and this was to be possibly their first proper public concert.

The songs brought us on a musical tour of Georgia and were performed sometimes by the full choir and sometimes in smaller groups, with most of the songs probably being performed in trios. All of the songs featured the sustained notes and three part harmonies I think of as Georgian music's thing. I understand that if you know about these things (i.e. if you are a member of the Zurmukhti choir) then you can see clear stylistic differences between the regional repertoires, but for someone like me their overall Georgianness was more salient than anything else.

They finished with a song that had the whole choir blasting forth at us and I was impressed at how they had programmed the show to end with such a bang. Afterwards Irene revealed that most of them had never heard the song before and were just copying the handful who did. I don't think anyone in the audience noticed.

Afterwards I was lounging around with some of our friends who had come along to the concert, and one of them remarked of one of the Zurmukhti members that she was smiling a lot and looked very happy about things. I revealed that she was none other than one of the presenters of the evening of erotic songs and stories of the night before.

Zurmukhti Georgian Ensemble

That evening of erotic songs and stories (do not click on that link unless you are broadminded and adult enough to handle a frank account of an evening of erotic songs and stories)

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

[film] "Inside Llewyn Davis" (2014)

This is the latest Coen Brothers film and it does not feature any vampires, though it does feature a character who is revealed to be a heroin addict, with vampirism in films (including Only Lovers Left Alive) often serving as a metaphor for heroin addiction. It follows the titular character, a struggling folk musician (played by Oscar Isaac) whose musical career is going nowhere and who learns the lesson over the film that it is time to give up, but finds it surprisingly hard to do so. As is the way of Coen Brothers films, he finds obstacles placed in his path and he must also approach various important men sitting behind desks. Davis comes across as a bit of a dick, though it is unclear as to how much of this is the bitterness of failure. He is also more or less completely ignorant of the extent to which other people's generosity is keeping him afloat, but that is true of many of us.

In culture generally we are often presented with the idea that any artist with belief in their own success will eventually succeed. In real life this is bullshit, with success happening for any number of reasons separate to the magical self belief of the artist. So it is refreshing to see a film about artistic failure. For all that this sounds a bit miserable, the film is surprisingly light in tone and I did not leave the film feeling a great sadness at the plight of the main character (unlike, say, with The Man Who Wasn't There).

I should mention i) the cat who serves as a bit of a plot bunny and ii) the film's oddly cyclical nature, with a scene from the beginning recurring near the end. Does the latter signify that Davis' life is caught in a rut of endless repetition, or should we infer something else?

The soundtrack is a load of folkie songs specially recorded for the film (mostly sung by actors in the film like Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake). Irish readers will particularly enjoy the performance of 'The Auld Triangle' by a group of Aran Jumper wearing Irishmen.

Image sources:

'Why Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't get inside the Village' (Guardian)

Minimal Cat Poster

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cats get lost, cats get found

Pets often go missing. Owners of missing pets then post up photographs of their animals, asking people to keep an eye out for them and report them if found. For a while now I have been photographing these lost animal notices and posting them to a Flickr album and to Facebook. I find the pictures interesting in and of themselves but I do also like to think that maybe, just maybe, sharing the photos online will help the lost animals find their way home.

Today I was waking home from work a bit later than usual along the canal near the Luas Bridge, by the Hilton, when I saw a cat nosing around. Something about the cat seemed a bit odd, like it was almost approaching people but not quite, not a behaviour I generally see in our feline friends. And it looked a bit familiar. I fumbled for my mobile phone and looked at pictures of lost cats I had posted to Facebook, and thought that this one looked rather like one I had posted last January. Could it be the same one? I hurriedly wrote down one of the numbers on the poster and rang the number, leaving a somewhat confused phone message. Then I sent a more detailed text message to the phone numbers.

I watched the cat as it prowled around in the grass beside the canal, intently eyeing the birds swimming in the water. Perhaps it was hoping to chance upon a chick or a small bird ashore, or an unwary rodent. But it did not and moved away from the water. It came close to me, seeming to neither beg for food and attention nor to exhibit any obvious fear of humans. I thought of trying to catch it, which I think would have been easy enough, but I had no idea how long it would take the owners to come back to me. It would be a bit annoying if I was holding an angry cat when a message reached me that the owners had recovered their tiddles months previously. So I watched it for a bit longer and then decided to slink home lest I be arrested as one of those shifty characters who loiters outside hotels.

And then when I was nearly home I received a text message form the owners thanking me and saying that they had recovered the cat by the hotel. Jurassic Park.

Pets - Lost and Found

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[Film] Under the Skin (2014)

This is another film with a somewhat vampiric theme. It is also a low budget Scottish film in which Scarlet Johansson plays an alien or something who drives a van around Glasgow luring young men to their deaths. As well as the more intelligent of vampire films, it also reminds me of Upstream Color, in that it does not bother to over-explain what is going on, with many key elements remaining unclear at the film's close. So although we see that Scarlet Johansson's unnamed character is some kind of inhuman creature preying on the single men she picks up, we never really learn why she is doing this or where she has come from. Likewise, we can see that the man on the motorbike (and the other men on motorbikes who appear in one brief scene) clearly have some association with her, but its precise nature is never made plain. And the scenes in which the men she predates on meet their doom - are these literal depictions of their fate or just metaphors?

Like so much else of this film, the ending is a bit odd. The Johansson character seems to discover some kind of humanity after sparing a victim suffering from a pretty extreme facial disfigurement but then has a bit of a breakdown. Eventually she ends up in a forest where she is attacked by a perv, but once he discovers her true nature he douses her in petrol and sets fire to her (spoilers). Was this meant to be some kind of ironic reversal - female alien sexual predator falls victim to tawdry male human sexual predator? Either way I was uncomfortable with this. Depictions of human sexual criminals are distasteful to me in a way that ones of vampiric aliens are not. And I was also unclear as to what stopped the alien doing to the perv what she had done to the hapless Glaswegian men.

One thing I did like was the alien woman being English while everyone else was Scottish (apart from a Slovakian guy) and blessed with largely incomprehensible Glaswegian accents. This allowed Johansson to show off that unlike most American actors she can do accents. It also accentuated the difference between her and the people around her, but by giving her an English accent closer to what is the centre of gravity of the bourgeois London controlled anti-Scottish media the alien ends up seeming more familiar and normal than the humans she predates upon.

The film is also like Upstream Color in that it uses sound and music most effectively in conjunction with its careful visuals. And like the lead in that film, Johansson has interesting hair, though not hair as interesting (and possibly a wig, unlike the three lovely hairstyles sported by Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color) But this does bring me to another thing about Under the Skin. It has in some quarters been billed as an exciting opportunity to get your eyeful of Johansson's naked body, but I reckon that if you had gone to see it on that basis you would leave the cinema rather disappointed. I would like to think that this is not why I too found the film a bit on the boring side while watching it and initially concluded it was not all that. In retrospect, though, I find myself liking it more and more, its unexplained elements intriguing me rather than leaving me feeling like this is a film half-finished.


I saw Upstream Color

"How Scarlett Johansson helped me challenge disfigurement stigma" (Guardian interview with Adam Pearson)

image source (review on Glide Magazine website)

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Monday, April 21, 2014

[film] "Only Lovers Left Alive" (2013)

This is the Jim Jarmusch film in which Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are two immortal vampire lovers. As the film opens one of them is in Detroit, working on music and feeling a bit mopey while the other is hanging out in Tangiers with Christopher Marlowe. The Tilda Swinton character (Eve) returns to Detroit to be with the mopey Tom Hiddleston character (Adam). Rather than being the kind of old school vampires who prey on people and suck out their blood, they instead source what they need from corrupt doctors with access to blood banks, though this seems to be as much for convenience as for any love of humanity.

Bad things happen when Eve's sister Ava shows up. She is played by Mia Wasikowska, an amusing bit of casting for anyone who has seen her in Stoker, where deliberate misdirection suggested falsely that there was something vampiric about her and her family (spoilers). Ava is a more wild and careless character than her sister and she fucks it up for Adam and her sister by killing Adam's human fixer (something that to the audience was self-evidently going to happen but which caught Eve and Adam completely by surprise; immortality may not necessarily lead to higher intelligence). This obliges them to hightail it to Tangiers, where the film ends with them on their uppers, attacking two young lovers to temporarily satisfy their inhuman appetite.

The plot is not really what the film is about, though. It is more about the sense of detachment that comes from immortality and the accompanying loss of humanity. This is largely accomplished through shots of Tom Hiddleston looking sad or through tracking shots Detroit at night. Some time ago I saw a documentary about Detroit called Detropia, picking up from it that people from there are a bit hostile to the pornography of ruins thing people attach to their city. Perhaps so, but the city has seldom been better used as a backdrop suggesting the impermanence of human endeavours and the likely apocalyptic future faced by our society everywhere. The lute-tastic score of Jozef van Wissem (amped up here by being played with some metally group called Sqürl) adds to that sense of decay and melancholia.

There are odd features to it all, though. Like where do Adam & Eve get their money from? And why do they have none of it at the end? And can you really fly all the way from Detroit to Tangiers without seeing daylight?

Like Detroit, the Tangiers setting is also well used as somewhere that seems both exciting and interesting but also seedy and the wrong kind of edgy. When Adam & Eve walk the streets there they are continuously offered drøgs from a succession of shifty types straight from the pages of Edward Said (though I was reminded of the first night I spent with friends in the small Moroccan tourist town Essaouira). Against that unpleasantness there is also a beautiful moment when they stumble onto a woman singing with musical accompaniment in a small café, the kind of thing you wish would happen to you when you are abroad.

One thing I did find a bit distasteful was the reaction of some audience members to Ava's killing of Adam's fixer (and not just because, like me, the fixer is named Ian). The sight of his dead body, drained of blood engendered laughter on the part of some people in the cinema. I do not like the tendency of some vampire film viewers to identify with the sad plight of the vampire and to ignore the fate of the people on whom the undead prey. There is a certain reactionary outsider elitism, as they too at some level like to think of themselves as cut off from the swinish multitude with their own deep thoughts and angsts the like of which ordinary people could not even begin to understand.

But you should not judge a film by how some people react to it. Only Lovers Left Alive remains a stunning piece of work and an atmospheric evocation of alienation and emotional estrangement. With its combination of sound, music and visual images it is clearly a masterpiece of cinema and if other Jim Jarmusch films are even remotely as interesting as this I have a lot of catching up to do.



Tilda Swinton image source (a review from Totally Dublin)

Sad Tom Hiddleston image source (We Got This Covered)

I saw Josef van Wissem

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Napoleon's farewell

This is a year of anniversaries. Later many will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. But this year is also the 200th anniversary of the first fall of Napoleon. As the year began, he tried to defend France from an invasion by the combined forces of Austria, Russia and Prussia. By now Napoleon's armies had been devastated by decades of combat - he had lost one vast army in Russia in 1812 and another in the 1813 battles in Germany that brought his enemies to the borders of France. By 1814 he was commanding an army largely composed of press-ganged 17 year olds and was terribly outnumbered, facing half a million enemy troops with something like 75,000 men.

Despite this, Napoleon almost managed to turn things around. With his back against the wall, he seemed to recover his old poise. In February he raced his army around and won a series of battles against the dispersed enemy forces. For a brief moment it seemed that the allies would abandon their attempt to seize Paris, but their nerve held and they continued their advance. Napoleon tried to lure the allies away from the capital, but they pressed on and seized it on the 31st of March.

Napoleon then proposed to lead his army against the occupiers of Paris, but his war-weary marshals mutinied, refusing to lead the army against France's capital. The revolt of the marshals eventually convinced Napoleon that the game was up. He entered into negotiations with the allies and unconditionally abdicated on the 12th of April. He then attempted suicide, but the vial of poison he had been carrying since 1812 was no longer lethal; though he became very ill, he survived.

The allies decided that they would exile Napoleon on the Mediterranean island of Elba. There he would retain the title of Emperor and exercise sovereignty over the island, and would also receive a substantial annual subsidy.

On the 20th of April, Napoleon bade farewell to the Imperial Guard before departing for exile. He addressed his men:

"Soldiers of my Old Guard, I bid you goodbye. For twenty years I have found you uninterruptedly on the path of honour and glory. Lately no less than when things went well you have continuously been models of courage and loyalty. With men like you our cause was not lost; but the war could not be ended: it would have been civil war, and that would only have brought France more misfortune. So I have sacrificed our interests for those of the Patrie. I am leaving you, my friends, are going to go on serving France. France's happiness was my one thought; and it will always be what I wish for most. Don't be sorry for me; if I have chosen to go on living, I have done so in order to go on serving your glory. I want to write about the great things we have done together! …. Goodbye, my children! I should like to press you all to my heart, but at least I shall kiss your flag!"

It is reported that many of Napoleon's veterans wept as their master delivered this address, as did the representatives of Britain, Prussia and Austria who were present (the Russians were unmoved).

Napoleon then left his army and departed for Elba, expecting to never see France again.
Image source (Wikipedia: an account of the 1814 campaign whose neutrality is disputed; it is the least 'Wikipedia' article I have ever seen on that website, which might explain why it reads so well, particularly the account of Napoleon's farewell to the Guard)

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[Live] Songs of Lily and Willy: an evening of erotic songs and stories

My beloved and one of her visiting singing friends were going to this event, which was part of the Five Lamps Festival. It was suggested that I could come to. Initially I thought this was crazy talk, but the event sounded so bizarre that I thought, what the hell, I am broadminded and willing to give anything a go. So I went. The venue (the In-spire Galerie on Lower Gardiner Street) was rather hard to find but I got there in the end.

The event was presented by a man and a woman, Andrew Ilsey and Fiona Dowling. She told the stories and he sang the songs (with Ms Dowling assisting on some of them). The stories varied between ones that were genuinely a bit saucy to ones that were more notable for having sexual content but being more based on humour or bizarre situations. Of the latter category there was an interesting tale of the Lakota Indians about the recurring legendary character Iktomi. In this one he finds himself in a village of women and has to teach them the arts of male-female copulation, but rather than being a tale of one man who can't believe his luck, the one-man-many-women situation leads to Iktomi fleeing lest the arduous women wear him out. Another French story featured a knight who, in an unlikely sequence of events, becomes able to talk to the vaginas of women (or any animal that has one) and have them answer him back. Apart from talking vaginas this story features almost no smutty content.

The songs were pretty much of the fnarr fnarr school of double or single entendre folk tunes. They feature many women having their meadows ploughed by obliging farm hands and so forth. The funniest was perhaps the first, because the singer kept forgetting his lines, just as it was reaching the saucy bits, making him a bit of a song tease. With the tunes generally I was curious as to whether any I recognised would show up, with the 'Bonny Black Hare' being an obvious candidate. In the end, the only song I knew was 'Gently Johnny', in the version set to music by Paul Giovanni in The Wicker Man.

My overall view of this event - well it was a bit strange. The erotic is something we are conditioned to experience in private. Or perhaps in semi-private public spaces, like darkened cinemas. Society has something of a taboo against public sexual arousal, so at an event like this there is a strong social pressure to swim against the erotic tide of the performers' material and make it something that is interesting or amusing but as unerotic as possible. Which is kind of missing the point. Or maybe this dialectic is the point.

It turned out that there were a lot of my beloved's Georgian singing friends at this event. After it was over they milled around and I suddenly realised that they were about to have one of their impromptu "polyphonic sing-songs", which would leave me feeling like a bit of a spare wheel. So I made my excuses and left, walking home in the rain.


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Friday, April 18, 2014

My Important Project

Noticing that this year would be the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I started thinking about doing blog posts on the anniversary of key Great War events. Then the idea grew legs and I started thinking about doing more and more posts, ending up that my plan now is to set up a dedicated real time First World War blog to try and pass myself off as some kind of expert in that conflict. The basic inspiration for this would have to be the wonderful @RealTimeWWII on Twitter, only not as comprehensive (it is important to know your limitations) and based more around slightly longer but less frequent blog posts. To this end I have started reading more about the First World War, with a current particular focus on the July Crisis. The plan is to start a dedicated real time Great War blog, set to auto-post to a dedicated Twitter account, which will start from roughly Franz Ferdinand's assassination and them, like the real war, peter out.

I have started developing slight cold feet about all this recently, for a number of reasons. The most pressing of these is the realisation that, obviously, other people are going to be doing the same thing. There is already a @RealTimeWW1 on Twitter, live tweeting events in the run up to the big event (recently mentioning the bizarre event in which the wife of a leading French politician shot and killed the editor of Le Figaro, an event whose non-occurrence could have prevented the war). As someone prone to self-doubt and all that, the realisation that I would obviously be one of many people doing something broadly similar makes me concerned that my efforts would be less interesting than theirs, making my Important Project effectively a waste of time. The realisation as to how the Important Project has grown legs and turned into a Very Big Project has also made me increasingly conscious of what a big commitment it all is. But I am not going to stop now. Maybe a year into my Important Project if it turns out that basically no one is reading it I will give up, but for now I will soldier on.

I had some ambitious plans to travel to Sarajevo, either for the anniversary of Franz Ferdinand's assassination or, more likely, earlier in order to take photographs that could accompany a post on the assassination. As I became more and more ambitious I started thinking about perhaps starting off in Belgrade and travelling overland to Sarajevo, like Gavrilo Princip and his colleagues, and then taking the train from Sarajevo to Vienna to see Franz Ferdinand's last uniform in that city's war museum (and then take the train home, because I wuv trains). But sadly it looks increasingly unlikely that any of this will be happening. We have received notice here in Panda Mansions that our lease is not being renewed, so over the next while we will be looking for somewhere new and getting ready to move into it. There have always been a good few things wrong with this particular Panda Mansions and in many ways I have not warmed to it and I do not dread the prospect of living somewhere else. But house-hunting and moving are terribly time consuming and depressing business and I fear that I will need to dedicate so much time to all this that there will be no opportunities for continental or foreign jaunts for quite some time. And if rents are really sky-rocketing as much as they are reported to be then it looks like even after moving I will not be able to afford to travel anywhere.

Before moving I need to get rid of a lot of superfluous stuff, so the charity shops of Dublin may soon be being flooded with CDs by obscure artists no one is going to be that pushed about buying. I will probably get rid of some books as well, possibly even some boardgames. And I may even accept that I will never be playing some of those roleplaying games I have and get rid of them as well. All of this makes me sad. But my misfortunes are minor compared to those of the millions who fought and died in the First World War.


@RealTimeWWII (I cannot praise this one highly enough)


Gavrilo Princip

Franz Ferdinand

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