Saturday, July 30, 2016

Finding Dory

Yesterday evening I found myself in the extremely plush Picturehouse Central with my friend L. watching the Disney Pixar release Finding Dory. I had never seen the film that spawned this sequel. Nor have I ever to my knowledge seen a Pixar film. They seemed aimed at kids and I wasn't too interested. But, Finding Dory had good reviews and I was in the mood for some undemanding laughs. And it starred Ellen De Generes as the central character, a blue tang fish, thus ticking a Bechdel-Wallace test box. So.... in I went.

It wasn't too hard to pick up on the plot, though I needed the steer the film provides that it picks up one year after Finding Nemo, with Nemo's dad Marlin proving to be Dory's guide/father figure. Dory's most interesting characteristic, aside from her very disturbing bulging eyes, is her short term memory loss, which provides the film's chief complication. How can she search for her missing parents when she can't remember more than a few seconds back? It is unusual for mainstream films to foreground any kind of disability and this one handles it pretty well. The parents, seen in flashback, try to reassure Dory and also take steps to make it easier to find them, which proves useful. Despite their worried expressions and glances, they clearly want her to make the most of herself. And Marlin losing his temper with her is also easy to understand, though he tries to make amends.

Dory, for me, was a somewhat difficult character. Her age is uncertain. She is meant to be somewhat grown up and is voiced by an adult, but her behaviour is extremely childlike, as she constantly wanders, asking strangers for help and dreaming wistfully of finding the parents she forgot. I guess this makes her easier for kids to relate to, but I found her helplessness grated on me over time. Of course, the mouse house wants its characers to be cute and ingratiating, but it did get to be a bit much, especially as the "finding home" storyline was laid on with increasing unsubtlety.

Thank heavens for Hank the septopus, who turns up in a marine lab to help extricate Dory from captivity. As voiced by Ed O'Neill, he is gruff and gnarled, and desperate to reach the marine centre in Cleveland for his retirement. The character is used to very clever effect, as he is able to camouflage himself in the most unlikely situations and the scene in which he and Dory take over a shipment of fish, with him at the wheel is one of the funniest things I've seen in ages.

 The sealife breakout is quite radical in its own way, as the characters resist the centre's entreaty (as voiced by Sigourney Weaver!) of "Rescue, Rehabilitate, Release" to force their own liberation. This is when the film really took off, its family values homillies expanding to encompass a whole community.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whitstable Biennale 2016

This is a bit late, as I attended opening day last Saturday and the festival closes tomorrow. Nevertheless, it's always a pleasure to visit the lovely seaside town of Whitstable and take in its arty offerings, this year with my chum, C.

beach chairs; photo: Val Phoenix
In addition to the cultural pleasures, I was on a mission to visit Mystic Chips, celebrated as something of a touchstone by my friend, B., who couldn't make it this year, though we did attend in 2014. Her memory had converted Mr. Chips to Mystic Chips, and I promised her I would make the pilgrimage. In the end, eating chips on the beach while watching the tide go out and finding various crawly creatures in the retreating surf was a blissful interlude in the trip.

Of the works visited in one full day my highlight was Louise Martin's film, Lossy Ecology, on show at the Museum, which coincidentally was also the site for my 2014 favourite. Martin's elegant, beautifully realised work darts from one subject to another, from an acrobat to flowers on a rostrum, puzzling the viewer but making connections to her subject of embodiment, of interest to me as I am currently working on a project also combining art and science. C. and I agreed we were not clear on the connection to autism but thought it was a gorgeous film. One annoyance: not enough headphones to go around, necessary to hear the ambient soundtrack which added much to the work.

Viewing conditions proved to be something of a theme on this visit. Trish Scott's beach hut installation Medium was an audio work experienced while seated in blackout conditions, except when someone pulled back the curtain and audience members were exposed, blinking, to the outside world, while the would-be listener gaped in astonishment at being in such close proximity to the audience. Many backed out while others pushed in, disturbing the ambience of the event, which was a very clever multi-channel work with a great deal of humour not always present in contemporary art. Scott had contacted numerous mediums to ask what they thought would be her work for the festival. She had then voiced their replies, which were played out through speakers in the space, creating a delightful sound art performance. Meeting Scott later, I learned that she had intended for only three people to be in the hut at one time, to preserve the intimacy.

So, not what the artist intended. But, what did Tessa Lynch intend? We never even got into her performance of Green Belt? The door of the venue rose, the audience stood in anticipation, pushing into the Boatshed. And then we stopped, as the artist sat on the floor and spoke into an under-powered microphone, some kind of tablet in her hand. C. and I looked at each other. "What is she saying? Can you see her?" The performance was scheduled to last 75 minutes, but we left after about five, frustrated at not being able to hear or see anything. It was later suggested to me that she may have deliberately created a frustrating experience. Hmm, I though. Did I miss the point? Possibly.

On the other side of challenging was Marcia Farquhar's jamboree, Rooty Tooty, including Jem Finer on guitar and Dempsey, ex-Dolly Mixture, on vocals. The artist's theme was ice cream and she handed out free samples to various children and held up signs with lyrics, while doing some goofy dancing. Truthfully, I was not clear what the significance of ice cream was, but it was a very enjoyable performance and I became fascinated with some tiny birds flitting about and chirping loudly in the background. Sue Jones, director of the festival, suggested they might be some type of sparrow, possibly hedge sparrows. They contributed greatly to the feelgood factor the day, as did the weather, which was hazy the entire day, sea and sky merging at the horizon, which was a bit disorienting but added to the mysticism of the experience.

Whitstable Biennale continues through 12 June. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


If ever a film rested in the spaces between its hypenated words it's Mustang, a "comedy-drama" according to the reviews I'd seen. Intrigued by the idea of five sisters being the leads, I went to see it today and emerged shattered. It's comedy if the idea of girls being so oppressed they have to resort to locking themselves in their own home is funny. There are moments of levity, but it is a gruelling watch--part family drama, part suspense thriller, much coming of age awkwardness and a lot of gender oppression. I would recommend it, but a trigger warning would not go amiss.

What is most interesting about the film is the time it takes to let the audience get to know the girls, who live with extended relatives somewhere in Turkey 1,000 km from cosmospolitan Istanbul, the dream destination for anyone who doesn't enjoy living a rigidly controlled life where modern comforts are locked away, lest they lead to degeneration. The youngest, Lale, gradually emerges as the audience's eyes and ears and unexpected heroine as she seeks to escape the constrictions. When she slams a door and announces, "We are playing hard to get!", it's hard not to raise a fist in solidarity. A surefooted debut from director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang lingers long in the memory.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

We can't compete

Been inundated with things this month and lo! It's May. So, time to get back to blogging.

This week I ventured over to artists' space to see films by Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell, visiting from Toronto, where they run the Feminist Art Gallery or FAG, "an irresistible acronym", as one of their pieces had it, drawing a laugh from the audience.

The programme interspersed Allyson and Deirdre's films, as although the collaborate in art and life, they don't actually make films together, which is interesting. The post-screening Q&A didn't really touch on this, though it did touch on how they keep their public and private lives separate, when they are so entangled--FAG is based at their house, for instance, and they seek to make it an open space, where many under-represented groups can find a platform. How, moderator Karen Mirza wondered, did that work? Mitchell and Logue allowed that they were still working through that, as FAG has put them on the edge of bankruptcy and it hasn't proven the seed they quite hoped. As with Ladyfest, they hoped others would take the model and transplant it. Logue and Mitchell differed on the success of this mission.

They have very different styles, which is apparent in the films shown. Logue's were very autobiographical and often quite intense. Tape, which drew many comments, is quite visceral and disturbing in its presentation, with a discordant popping soundtrack that punctuates Logue's efforts to tape and untape her face. Mitchell's work tends to be quite playful, with elements of kitsch and satire. Intro to FAG, which I have quoted above includes the refrain "We can't compete/we won't compete" in a distorted vocal that runs over quite a catchy dance track. I pondered what it means to not compete. Not compete with other women? With the dominant structures? Other galleries? It sounds like a very feminist ideology. And one you can dance too, as well.

I have read Mitchell's article on Deep Lez, as well as attending the duo's Killjoy's Kastle installation and talk at Flare two years ago. Their film oeuvre offers additional insight into their practice.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Flare: Feelings Are Facts

The last few years have offered a range of material on dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. Now comes a documentary on her, Feelings Are Facts: the Life of Yvonne Rainer, courtesy of director Jack Walsh. Taking her 1966 dance piece Trio A as its starting point, the film recounts Rainer's creative output, only pausing midway through to discuss her life, an odd decision, I felt. The interviews with Rainer and a host of luminaries, from Carolee Schneeman, B. Ruby Rich and others, are set in sumptuous rooms with fireplaces and richly coloured walls. I thought they all must live in fabulous mansions until I saw the interview locations credited at the end. Ah, the duplicity of film.

Rainer is a fascinating subject and seeing her on screen, I marvelled she is in her 80s, now quite proudly out and evincing a weathered butchness in her dotage. Throughout the film, she outlines a range of credos, from working with her own limited body to her No Manifesto to her use of pedestrian movement. But, she is adamant she is no theorist. Another critic offers a rejoinder. Rainer's work, she says, is choreography as theory.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Flare: Family Drama

As I did last year, I shall continue reviewing films from Flare, thanks to the online screening service available for a bit. Today I shall look at some films charting personal dramas.

One of the films that earned repeated screenings at the festival was Akron, prompting me to give it a look. It certainly pushes some populist buttons: two hunky jocks hook up in the US midwest, but then are torn apart by tensions between their families. Christopher and Benny have a meet-cute on a football field while playing "mudball" and then quickly get together. Refreshingly, the drama is not because they are gay, but rather improbably that they were witnesses to a death some years back, something their families can never forget. Aside from the ridiculous premise, it's actually a pretty decent film, with some juicy roles for the two actresses playing their mothers. And it's unusual to see a Mexican-American as the lead character, with his family not portrayed as homophobic. It's a bit neat and clean for me, but an unusual mix of first love and melodrama.

Almost entirely in the melodrama corner is the French short Between Silences, which is a rather drawn out encounter between two lovers, before one threatens to leave. It took me ages to figure out this was an adaptation of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and that the drama was in the power struggle between the two protagonists. Didn't really float my boat, but Fassbinder fans should take note.

A film featuring no dialogue whatsoever is the curious Trouser Bar, directed by Kristen Bjorn and with a script credited to no-one. A series of gentlemen arrive at the titular location sporting awful wigs (to suggest the 1970s), eye each other up, stroke some trousers and proceed to get it on in the changing rooms, all to a 1970s porny soundtrack. While not the target audience, I found it rather funny and silly, especially when other gentlemen arrive to peer through the windows, among them Julian Clary and Nigel Havers!! Online research reveals the gentleman responsible for the script. Well, well.

On a more innocent note, there were tonnes of films featuring kids this year, among them the Heathers-like Little Doll, in which dorky girl Elenore falls in with the beautiful but aloof Alex. At first, all goes well and it seems as if the two will form a band. But, then Elenore comes face-to-face with Alex's circle of friends, including a very jealous girl who looks about five years older. Anyway, it doesn't end well. Kids can be cruel.

On a more positive note, the gender-queer heroine of Take Your Partners, Ollie, finds a way of creating her chosen style and observing school regulations, all while charming the object of her affections. Result! If only all of life were so simple to negotiate.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Flare: La belle saison

The closing night film at Flare was La belle saison (Summertime) (dir Catherine Corsini), which I'd seen some weeks back at a press screening. At the time I found it initially dazzling, losing its verve mid-way through. But, a lovely film. I was struck, though, reading a Twitter comment after the screening last night that it lacked a "lesbian happy ending". Hmm, I thought, it didn't end badly for the protagonists, did it? (spoiler alert) Nobody died.

But, what the viewer probably meant is that the two protagonists, Carole, a sophisticated feminist activist, and Delphine, a younger farm girl, don't end the film by running into one another's arms. True. But, this film is largely about recognising the specificity of existence. Aside from the age difference, the two women come from quite distant backgrounds and the film is set in 1971, when social mores were being prodded from many directions. Geography is important in this film, with Delphine constantly commenting on how different things are, how she's never been this far from home, as she soaks up the vibrant energy of the cause and the thrilling women she is meeting.

For me, the best scene is when the women decide to spring a gay man from an institution where he's been sent to be "cured". The film palls when it deposits Delphine back on the farm to care for her ailing father. Then it becomes more of a family melodrama with typical quandaries: will Delphine tell her family she and Carole are lovers? How will they react? I found this a bit drama by numbers, in contrast to the Paris section where the women are meeting, debating, planning and acting. The ending, by the way, finds the women some years on knowing quite a bit more about themselves and what they need in life. So, it may not be a Hollywood happy ending, but it's a pretty good resolution.