Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Picturehouse Film Club - May

Last night's WEA Film Club at Clapham Picturehouse was great fun and the films were about as big a set of contrasts as you could imagine.

The feature was Hanna and a post-film discussion ranged over how sympathetic the lead character was, how well it mixed the thriller and fairy-tale elements, the (intentional or otherwise?) trajectory of Joe Wright's career, the publication history of the Grimm's stories, and the veracity of Hollywood accounting methods...

Then it was downstairs to the bar for a Staropramen (or whatever), a collection of short films and a chat with the makers.

We kicked off with two from Alan Walsh, whose impressively "just get on with it" approach meant that, when he realised he needed another film for the event, he just went out and made it. But first there was Mirror Mirror, a quirky little film that's a reinterpretation of something that his film school managed to destroy.

That was followed by his new one, so hot off the metaphorical moviola that, announced as Coffee, it had been retitled Short Changed.

Alan talked about his training in Prague before his regular collaborators Anthony Cozens and Ben Jeen Williams joined in to give us an insight into where they get their inspiration from and the way they work.

After that there was a distinct change of mood with three films from Rebecca Feiner.

Based in the East End, Rebecca makes films, curates, writes etc. She brought along three of her films.

Skin Code is the film element of an installation that she took to the Cannes Film Festival. In a one-person cinema, the viewer watches extreme close ups of a man's body to a soundtrack of Gregorian chant. Amusingly, while lots of Cannes visitors liked it, they were mostly men who were keen to reiterate that they didn't like it in that way...

Exhumation is another installation film, screened in the Belfry of St John's church in Bethnal Green as part of Ghost II, an exhibition curated by Sarah Sparkes and Dr Ricarda Vidal. It's another semi-abstract piece very much concerned with the body.

Rebecca was interested to see her films in different circumstances from the ones they were conceived for: a room full of people rather than a one-person box and on a screen rather than a wall and, à propos Hanna, touched on their gender concerns.

Next up was a free-form documentary, Spirit of Hackney Wick, which roams over the 2009 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival, which is organised by local artists in the shadow of the gates which have divided Hackney preparatory to the 2012 Olympics. Afterwards we talked about how the film undercuts the official propaganda about the Olympics and how it is increasingly difficult for artists to find affordable places to live and work.

Next month's film (13 June) is the documentary Senna, when director Asif Kapadia,who will also be interviewed before we move on to another selection of short films and directors (that's the films that are short, not the directors. Though, of course, if you are a short director...)

As before, feel free to get in touch if you'd like the chance to come along and show your films.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Show Your Shorts

I've started hosting a Film Club for the Workers’ Educational Association London, in association with Clapham Picturehouse (76 Venn St, London SW4 0AT, two minutes walk from Clapham Common tube).

It'll be happening every second Monday of the month, 6pm to 10pm, and the format is that after the main feature there'll be a discussion, then we'll go up to the bar to watch some short films and discuss them with the film-makers. £10 for the evening.
There's a full list of dates and details of how to submit your films at the bottom of
this post.

Meanwhile the next event is on Monday 9th May at 6pm:

HANNA, the new action/fairy tale/thriller from director Joe
Wright, plus post film discussion

"invigorating to the extreme; a feast on the eyes and ears… the most stylistically engaging recent release to come out in quite some time. …. this is new territory for Joe Wright. Two of his previous three feature films were the period pieces, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.
Without Wright at the helm, this would have been a mediocre film with a fantastic central performance. He has transformed the material into a hip work of art with incessantly strong visual flair. Clearly influenced by many different sources, Wright puts his inspiration to good practice. His use of tracking shots, extreme close-ups, extreme long shots, handheld camera work and much more all contribute to Hanna’s singularly high-powered style. He also keeps a lot of the action in camera, making the choreography stand out. Whether creating an engaging hyper-stylistic action set piece or subjectively aligning the audience with Hanna’s experiences, Wright always has motivations for his choices and it is a delight to work through them while watching the film."

8.30pm Intermission and a chance to get a round in

9pm Show Your Shorts: two short films by Alan Walsh and three by Rebecca Feiner, with both filmmakers in conversation

MIRROR MIRROR. The story of one man and the lengths he’ll go to fit in. Told through his relationship with his mirror, we see him try to re-invent himself to the demands of society

COFFEE. First screening of Alan Walsh’s new short!

REBECCA FEINER "mixes the confessional style of Tracy Emin with the objectivity of American conceptualist, Joseph Kosuth" - Mark Currah, Time Out, Sept.1999

EXHUMATION. "the only ghosts that haunt are the ones we carry with us." Exhumation explores memory & the ghost of violence. To survive and preserve our identity we suppress memories and choose to forget. Exhumation is the first film where the artist has chosen to place herself as performer. Originally screened in 2009 as the main installation for GHOST II, an annual exhibition in London curated by Dr Ricarda Vidal & Sarah Sparkes.

SKIN-CODE. Reversing the camera's traditional gaze, Skin-code gets up close and personal, exploring masculinity, body as landscape and the notion of a male muse. Premiered at the Cannes film festival 2003 as part of the centenary of the Lumiere brothers cinema, in an unsual DIY cinema for one - a wardrobe (Variety)

SPIRIT OF THE WICK. Capturing the spirit of the area through the annual arts festival Hackney Wicked, contradicting glossy propaganda promises of Olympic regeneration. The festival is organised by the artistic enclave living and working in the shadow of London's 2012 Olympics site, whose high security walls and infamous "blue gates" have sliced Hackney Wick in half. Premiered on 23 July 2010 as part of Spirit of the Wick, a festival of 31 short films, installations and sculpture curated by Rebecca Feiner at Stour Space, an old converted wine warehouse on Fish Island, Hackney Wick, London.

FUTURE DATES (all on the second Monday of the month at 6pm):
13 June; 11 July; 8 August; 12 September; 10 October; 14 November; 12 December

If you'd like a chance to Show Your Shorts, drop me line or contact Steve Rushton at WEA

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Something I've been meaning to flag up for a while is Hitchcock's Blackmail at the Barbican, on Sunday 31 October at 8pm, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing a new score by Neil Brand. This will be about the fourth score I'll have heard for it but if Neil Brand's past scores are anything to go by, it should be good.

Years ago (1993, a little research rather scarily tells me), I remember seeing Jonathan Lloyd's score which, after an initial flurry, doesn't seem to get done much any more. Perhaps the fact that the Lyons Corner House scene featured a set of variations on the (still-in-copyright) Tea for Two is a disincentive. Youmans comes out of copyright in 2016, so hang onto your hats...

Oddly enough I was only doing a session comparing the sound and silent versions a couple of weeks ago, so this will be an interesting addition to the mix.

Shamefully, you have to go to Germany to get a decent DVD of both the silent and sound versions of Blackmail [Erpressung] (even though it uses NFTVA material. It also turns up in a nice, but now, I see, quite expensive box called Master of Suspense, though the selection of titles is a bit random: Champagne (1928), two Blackmails (1929), Murder (1930) and its German-language equivalent Mary [Mord - Sir John greift an] (1931), Rich and Strange (1931) Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941) and Under Capricorn (1949).

Hopefully the BFI's Olympic project of restoring all nine of Hitchcock's surviving silents and commissioning new scores will bring forth a grand box to replace some of the less than satisfactory transfers that we currently labour under, perhaps (and this is mere speculation) including this new Blackmail score.

In the meantime, there's still a chance to donate to the restoration fund and, of course, to have one last look in the loft for that print of The Mountain Eagle!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Russian Film Festival

Autumn's always a busy time for me: immediately after the London Film Festival, there'll be the Russian Film Festival

Rather than try manically to blog as we go I'll try to put a bit of perspective to both events. But a heads up for a couple of RFF strands.

They'll be marking the centenary of Tolstoy's death with a few films, including a complete War and Peace (Война и мир) - presumably the proper widescreen print rather than the TV pan-and-scan that occasionally turns up! and, even rarer, Vengerov's Living Corpse (Живой труп, 1968). Should be fascinating to see this after the LFF's revival of Ozep's silent version a couple of years ago.

The animation strand is, as usual, strong, with retrospectives of Garry Bardin and Irina Evteeva.

Bardin's dark 1990 fable Grey Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood (Серый волк энд Красная Шапочка) was on Channel 4. Once. About 15 years ago. Probably at about 3am. So it'll be interesting to see how he deals with Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, (Гадкий Утенок, illustrated above) especially as, keeping fine old traditions intact, it was banned from Russian TV.

Among Evteva's work is a version of Pushkin's Little Tragedies (Маленькие Трагедии) which again should prove an interesting compare-and-contrast with Mikhail Shveitser's 1979 effort. Evteeva races through in 38 minutes what took Shveitser (as so often in his career) a lumbering 240 minutes. A propos Tolstoy, Shveitser's Kreutzer Sonata always seems longer than its 158 minutes, though it might have been nice to include it in the festival as a little nod to Oleg Yankovsky, who died earlier this year. I've not seen his 209-minute Resurrection (Воскресение) from 1961. But there are so many Tolstoy adaptations to choose from...

Anyway, back to what is in the festival, there's a whole load more, of course focusing on recent films, so I'll report back in due course.

Paris exhibition

I should flag a festival happening in Paris' Cite de la Musique, under the banner Lenine, Staline et la Musique.

A whole series of fascinating events will entertain Parisians from now until the middle of January. Apart from the big names: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian etc, there'll be chances to catch undeservedly lesser-known talents like Artur Lourie (who turns up in a veiled reference in Akhmatova's Poem without a Hero), Vladimir Deshevov, Nikolai Roslavets and Alexander Mosolov. Some of them are seen as 'one-work' composers (e.g. Deshevov, for Rails), so this will hopefully be a chance to correct that impression.

More info on the festival here

Also worth noting is the very impressive (256-page) accompanying catalogue (the cover is illustrated above). I had the pleasure of penning the cinema essay - the first page of which is on the left.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Cinéphilia West

Whilst I don't want this blog to become yet another outlet for obituaries, it's definitely worth passing on the very sad news that Cinéphilia West - I welcomed their exhibition of Polish film posters here - has been forced to close.

An edited version of their announcement, which you can read in full on the site:

The short story is that our ex-partner and landlord, Mr Amin Taha, has reneged on an existing agreement to enter into a new lease, at market rate, at our premises at 171 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, and has re-taken possession of the premises with a view to sell the entire building as vacant and without an existing tenant in situ. As Cinéphilia West was occupying the premises under a temporary arrangement ahead of the formal execution of a long-term lease we have no choice but to cease operation there and seek alternative premises for our business. This is with immediate effect, as no notice was given but bailiffs imposed to re-possess the premises, leaving us completely exposed to the damage to our reputation as though the business itself was not viable or successful, which it was, and giving the impression that we are in any way at fault, which we are not. We have been torpedoed by a very unscrupulous man, but do not have the substantial means to challenge his behaviour through legal channels, despite having the full force of the law in our favour.

As you can see, this isn't any failure on their part but - well, I suppose I'd have to be careful to word this in a non-actionable manner!

Perversely, I hope that the landlord has a real buyer: it would be doubly annoying if it stays empty after he'd been persuaded to "put it on the market" by some over-enthusiastic estate agent.

Thankfully, undeterred, they're looking for new premises and asking for suggestions. The alliteration and assonance of Cinéphilia South would appeal to me - let alone the improved proximity.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Farewell, UKFC


If culture was hoping for a stay of execution until October’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), yesterday it was disappointed. 55 organisations chopped or merged, the most high-profile demise being the UK Film Council.

The UKFC bestrode a huge – perhaps unbridgeable – field. Simultaneously making the economic, cultural and educational cases probably proved an unmasticateable mawful, and in film funding it often tried to make sure the toast fell jam-side up, with minority shares in semi-bankable projects.

Their First Light fund successfully supported young filmmakers but there’s little for experimental and artists’ film: Nowhere Boy and Hunger, whatever they are, aren’t cutting-edge and arguably Taylor-Wood and McQueen could have found their money elsewhere. And the UKFC wasn’t interested in gallery video art.

Not that that’s necessarily bad: The senior management’s background was overwhelmingly commercial, and wisely chose to channel money to organisations who knew the subject. But there was precious little of it.

The BFI used some to programme and release on DVD artists’ films, and even commission installations from people including Mat Collishaw and the Wilson Twins. Then there’s the Independent Cinema Office, onedotzero and others servicing (usually) slightly different groups. The Digital Innovation in Film programme (co-funded by NESTA – relatively safe under its endowment) helped some small (and not so small) companies.

Beyond that are bodies largely or wholly independent of the UKFC. Having been kicked around far too much in past years LUX, with its superb archive of artists’ films is an ACE client – though they’ve also been helped by UKFC. no.w.here does some great work with precious little. There are galleries such as the Tate and the (possibly, still troubled) ICA and publisher/distributors like Wallflower Press. Outside London, though, the picture is patchier.

So how might the UKFC’s demise affect artists who work in film? At the moment it’s hard to say, but the temptation is to say “not much”. Their money – when they have it – comes from elsewhere.

So, we still await the CSR…

Thanks to axisweb, which commissioned this piece and ran it here