Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Portobello Film Festival Awards

Portobello Film Festival programmes; photo by Val PhoenixElectric Cinema
21 August 2007

Back in Blighty, I just caught the end of the festival, with its awards ceremony in the oh-so-plush Electric Cinema on Portobello Road.

As it started late, I had to leave early and so missed the presentations but prior to that, the shortlist was screened.

Top of the list was the very clever and well-made The Last thing To Go Through A Fly's Mind (dir Steve Webb), which won for best film. This was a surrealist comedy touching on reincarnation and karma. No, really. I could see the payoff coming a mile away, unlike the fly. Bah-dum-sum.

Green Pages won for best director (Sasha C Danjanovski). I had seen this film and found it incredibly tedious on preview but it played better in a quiet cinema. I still think it's overlong, but I can see why it won this award: directing a one-shot film dependent entirely on the actors' performances (the screenplay is directory entries) is certainly a big ask. Not my cup of tea, though.

Winner for best foreign film was The Dreams Of Lost Time (dir Faysal Saysal), which I found incomprehensible. It seemed to be a meditation on death and motherhood set in Iran, but the English subtitles were comically bad and obviously not accurate. A pity as it was beautifully shot.

Je Suis Jean, the winner for best art film, is a Marmite film (dir Christine Pinheiro/Andre Scucat), a tres arte black and white surrealist (that word again) take on Monsieur Cocteau. Lovely images. The point?

Salt And Vinegar (dir Mark Jackson), which I saw at Raindance last year, won for best animation. A punk rock musical about chips and rebellion.

Kourtrajme won for best cinematography, an interesting choice as this group has filmed the Paris riots and the footage shown, all hand-held camcorder shots of milling men throwing stones at the police, was set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" ("I'm having such a good time") in what I imagine was meant to be a light-hearted two fingers up to the authorities. However, in my eyes, all it did was trivialise a highly charged and serious issue, remove from it any context and present it as a macho past-time. The message left: rioting is fun. A bit more thought could have gone into that, methinks.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Berlin Record Stores

Hair wax bottles at Core-Tex; photo by Val Phoenix
Core-Tex; photo by Val Phoenix
In my quest for certain hard-to-find indie records on Berlin-based labels, I embarked on an odyssey around the city, taking me from Friedrichshain to Mitte and up to Prenzlauer Berg. I discovered that Berlin indie record stores tend to be small and of minimalist decor, with none of the flyers and milling scenesters I tend to associate with London record shops. More´s the pity.

I also found that what they advertise on the net is not necessarily what is in-store. As I was looking for CDs by post-punk bands, I bypassed shops only selling vinyl. Ironically, it might have been easier to buy vinyl even for modern bands and most shops had turntables set up to preview.

In the end, I found Dense in Prenzl´berg (Oderberger str. 34) had a good selection, which was catalogued on computer, and available in both vinyl and on CD but it was pricey, at 16 to 17 euros per CD. The stock covered several forms of dance and alternative music and was classed by artist and local label, making it easy to search for other acts on the same label.

Other shops visited included:

Saturn, huge chain shop in Alexanderplatz; stocks mostly current releases

Neurotitan, Rosenthaler str. 39, 2nd hof, first floor; hard to find; overpriced and arty with not a very good selection

Rotation Records, Weinbergsweg 3; good stock of dance vinyl, plus an assortment of shirts

Das Drehmoment, Lychener str. 23; an entire section for Skinny Puppy; interesting architectural feature--a bust of Lenin

Vopo, Danziger str. 31; Deutscher hip-hop, hard rock and band T-shirts

Core-Tex, Oranienstr. 3; big selection of hardcore, oi and modern punk, plus Dr Martens shoes, hair wax (pictured above) and band T-shirts; quite macho

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ladyfest Berlin: Shirts v Skins

Las Furias at Ladyfest Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixVarious Locations, 4-5 August

I don´t give nipples, mine or others', a whole lot of thought, I must admit. They´re there. Occasionally, one gets a bit of chafing, etc. But, they are not a part of the body that impinges on my consciousness.

But after the kerfuffle at Ladyfest Berlin over exposed nipples, it is one aspect of body consciousness I shall have to give more consideration. The row over exposed chests cast a bit of a pall over an otherwise sunny (weather and atmosphere-wise) weekend of festie-going.

Saturday night´s gig was capped by an uproarious performance by Barcelona quartet Las Furias (pictured above), three diminutive women and one male, who play old-fashioned surf rock. The women, on bass, vocals, and guitar, ran through the full gamut of rock postures, including falling to the floor, jumping on the monitors and flinging themselves into the audience, all to ecstatic effect. They were rapturously received, the only hint of discord coming when the drummer took off his shirt in the heat. Performance artist Die Helmut appeared on-stage and proferred her shirt to him and he put his shirt back on and the performance continued. Most people probably didn´t even notice the moment.

However, on Sunday, with the band Queen Kong playing, their male guitarist removed his T-shirt and then took down his braces and the reaction was very different. First, two Ladyfest women got on-stage and danced in front of him. Then he was asked to put on his shirt and he explained he didn´t feel comfortable and asked for a vote. The band´s supporters cheered him on and he put one brace back on, but not the shirt. Later, a bra was thrown onstage and he was asked to wear it. In the meantime the band´s female bassist had taken her shirt off and was wearing a bra. Then the singer took off her bathing suit top and bound her chest in duct tape, all in an effort to achieve some kind of parity. He said he would wear the bra if he could get the rest of it and tossed it away.

However, things turned confrontational. One woman from the Ladyfest group demanded he wear duct tape as his bandmate was doing. But another woman said it would be cruel. The first woman confronted the guitarist and then jumped on-stage and unplugged the band. Some discussion followed at the side of the stage and then the band left. Some time later they played another song but by then the congenial atmosphere had been ruined.

The issue has a history at the festival because in 2005 another band´s male drummer had removed his shirt and the objection was made that why should he be able to when women are prohibited from doing so, and why should a women´s space make that concession to him. Obviously, some members of the organising group feel very strongly about it. Most people on Sunday didn´t appear to be offended or angered by the guitarist´s gesture and, indeed, the loudest opinions were the band´s fans clapping in protest at the power cut.

My feeling is there is a big discussion to be had about body image, empowerment and safe space but that it didn´t happen at this gig and shutting down a performance in mid-flow is not the right way to achieve anyone´s liberation. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Keep your shirt on." Ahem.

Other than that, big props to French hip-hop duo Grace and Volupte Van Van who opened Sunday´s show with a very entertaining set of French and English-language originals. They had a good posse of followers who willingly jumped on-stage for some interpretative dance, as well. Nothing out on record yet, though.

Earlier in the day there was a picnic at Mauer Park in Prenzl´berg, a fantastic, visually impressive, lively location. However, for some reason the picnic was held in the least felicitous, hard-to-find spot akin to a gravel-strewn car park. Baffling.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Ladyfest Berlin: Openstage

RAW Tempel

Well, it was technically 4 August when I arrived, having been delayed by non-running S-bahns and poor signage but the venue was extraordinary, a reclaimed post-industrial site straight out of Blade Runner.

The Ladyfest Openstage was in full effect and the area thronged with alternative lifestyle practitioners swigging beer and plotting the revolution. I thoroughly approved. The acts appearing on-stage ran the gamut from silent performance to rock guitar. None will trouble the charts, methinks, but that's not the point. The Ladyfest ethos is more about creating links and giving women a chance to take centre-stage, rather than commercial success and polished performance. The venue was buzzing and I look forward to more today and right on through Monday the 6th.