Tuesday, October 30, 2007

M is for ...

video

The independent Berlin label Monika Enterprise is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a hometown gig on 4 November. This seemed an opportune moment to visit label HQ and chat with founder and owner Gudrun Gut, a long-time Berlin mover and shaker.

Having arrived in a still-divided Berlin in the 1970s in order to attend art school (that venerable training ground for musicians--does anyone study art at art school? Anyway...), she has stayed on and continued making music as well as acquiring many quirky artists for the Monika label, Barbara Morgenstern, Quarks and Cobra Killer among them.

Settling down in the kitchen with coffee and cigarettes, Gut, smoky of voice and eye, explained the label ethos: "It is more an artist-orientated label. We do more artist development and every artist has to have their own expression."

In 1997 when the label started, there wasn't much industry interest in the quiet Wohnzimmer scene that produced Morgenstern and Quarks and so Gut, who already ran her reissue label Moabit, turned her attention to new artists. With a handful of releases per year, Monika is a small concern, concentrating on quality rather than quantity.

In addition to solo albums, the label has also produced compilations and the series 4 Women No Cry, with four women artists from different countries. Gut explained, "Each artist has 20 minutes and they have to fit on one album. The idea is we get so many nice demos and lots from women, too, because they know we do lots of female releases."

The internet has proved a fruitful source of talent. "I mostly find the artists on MySpace, actually. It is a really good space for finding new artists."

Recent releases include albums by Milenasong, Chica and the Folder, Michaela Melián and Gut herself. "I was working on it for quite awhile. It was more a question of finishing it 'cause I never had the time." She cleared her throat and continued, "To finish an album you have to have some concentrated time to dive in to it and really finish it."

She works with a small studio set-up: "Oh, it's really simple. A big Mac and a good mic and a good compressor." Highly textured and multi-layered, the record draws from many genres and each song has its own inspiration and dedication. "I wanted it to have not too much of an electronic record. I wanted to have some more... atmosphere."

What with the labels and Ocean Club, her weekly radio show with Thomas Fehlmann, the record was a long time coming but as she explained, Monika pretty much runs itself now. "My assistants can do what I do, more or less, so I could do my own record last year. That was very good. I needed that."

Gut's previous work includes the bands Mania D, Malaria!, and Matador and spoken word collaboration Miasma. The eagle-eyed will spot these names all start with M. She explained: "in the '80s we just did so many projects and to have something in common, we did the M thing. That was really simple. M is for mother, money, moon and it's in the hand. You know, you've got an M in the hand." She held out her hand and one saw that the lines of the palm could be interpreted, by an imaginative art student, as a swirly M. "That's where it comes from," she concluded with a dirty laugh.

Over the last decade Berlin has transformed and Gut welcomes changes to the city, which was something of an island when she arrived. "You couldn't go out. You had the wall around it. You had to pass the borders and it was a pretty tough border crossing.

"Now the last 15 years what's changed the most is business is coming to Berlin. You see people in suits and white collars and we didn't have that before. It's like 'Wow! It's a real city now.' I think it's healthy. It needs that. Because we had it without it and it's a little claustrophobic."

Still, for her Berlin remains a place of boldness and creativity. "Berlin has mostly everything I like because it has this border feeling... The culture is really interesting. It has this underground feel always, kind of daring in the arts. I like that."

Ten Years of Monika, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, 4 November, with live performances by: Chica and the Folder, Gudrun Gut, Michaela Melián, Barbara Morgenstern + short appearances by Quarks, Cobra Killer and Masha Qrella.

Michaela Melián is included in the art exhibit Same same, but different, exploring "minimal deviations from the status quo". Curated by Lena Ziese, it is on at Jet, Memhardstrasse 1, Berlin, through 10 November.

Friday, October 26, 2007

LFF: The Unpolished

The Southbank Centre; photo by Val Phoenixdir Pia Marais

"By the way, our daughter worries we're losers." Given the large number of films viewed at the festival focusing on dysfunctional families, it is fitting that the final film viewed is The Unpolished, a German ode to parental irresponsibility and childhood accommodation. Stevie, who looks to be about 12, is the most mature and rational member of her brood: her mum takes drugs, Dad's a dealer just released from jail and they move around Europe in pursuit of his business activities.

Stevie's not been to school in ages and the scenes of her parents attempting to enrol her without any documentation are amusing. Eventually, she sends them out of the room in order to reason with the head herself; true to form, she offers the woman a bribe. It's not often one sees a child trying to get INTO school.

Rather than attending school, Stevie spends her days breaking into homes and stealing family photos so that she can paste her and her family's heads over the more conventional poses. Yearning for attention, she attempts to seduce Ingmar, one of her father's many hangers-on. She also befriends the kids next door, wowing them with made-up tales of her exotic past in Brazil. Observing the morning after a night of Bacchanalian excess, which includes adultery, drugs, etc. her neighbour observes drily, "Your parents have a weird ethos." It all ends in tears, the parents go off and Stevie must decide whether to trail in their wake or strike out on her own.

One can only imagine how Hollywood would have depicted the same scenario: either a Home Alone-type gross-out comedy or a shocking drama, ending in tragedy or punishment. Not so in this film. Stevie chides, acts out, and lies when it suits her, but she copes with the situation and eventually makes a decision. It's all presented quite matter-of-factly, no matter how many acceptable boundaries are crossed in this family's life.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

LFF: The World Unseen

(dir Shamim Sarif)

Adapted by Sarif from her own novel, this plays a bit like Desert Hearts, as a forbidden romance is played out in the wide open spaces and stifling society of the 1950s, in this case Cape Town, 1952.

Housewife Miriam and cafe owner Amina are emigres from India, occupying a niche somewhere between the native Africans and the ruling whites in the apartheid hierarchy. Amina does her best to resist the restrictions placed on her, running the cafe with her "coloured" partner Jacob, wearing trousers and resisting her family's entreaties to marry. By contrast, Miriam is under the thumb of her husband Omar, who is having an affair with a family friend, and finds herself expecting her third child and trying to run a shop in a remote location outside the city.

Amina proves to be a lifeline for Miriam, reawakening her love of books and encouraging her to question what she has been taught. The two spend much of the film making eyes at each other and it's only a matter of time before they are having "driving lessons" under Omar's nose as their attraction develops. In a parallel storyline Jacob is romancing the white post-mistress, also transgressive behaviour. How will it all turn out?

Beautifully shot, the film is enjoyable but flawed: some characters and underwritten and the ending feels far too glib. The lead performances are uneven: Miriam seems to have stepped out of a 1940s Hollywood film, with her deferential glances and excessively slow speech, while Amina reminded me a lot of the Cay Rivvers character from Desert Hearts. Indeed, Donna Deitch is thanked in the end credits. But, there are intriguing insights into apartheid society and how the different strata could be simultaneously oppressed and oppressive.

Speaking at a publicity appearance the morning after the screening, Shamim Sarif told me that the ending is not meant to focus on the love affair but Miriam's increasing independence. There is no guarantee the romance will continue, but whatever happens, "Miriam will be OK."

She spoke also of the inspiration for the story, her grandparents' and parents' stories from when they lived in South Africa. She said emigre Indians seem to have a "knack of fitting in" and making the best of whatever situation. Nor was the racism expressed by the Indians toward black Africans something she ducked, explaining it as something that occurs in a "system that promotes stepping on people below you."

Her own parents, she said, would have been horrified if she had brought home a black man to marry. She laughed. "As it happened, I ended up with a woman, so a black guy would have been good."

Though set in the past in a disappeared system, the story is still relevant, she said. "People always feel confined in some way", whether from expectations or religion. The film is about "what it takes to think outside the box. It upsets things," she explained. "I think of it as a maturity thing, learning to critique."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

LFF: Caramel / At the River

Photo for CaramelCaramel (dir Nadine Labaki)

A delightful film about the bonds between women and set in a beauty parlour, this plays as a kind of Lebanese Almodovar picture, substituting Beirut for Barcelona. The writer-director Labaki also plays the lead, Layale, a Christian who is having an affair with a married man and putting her life on hold for him. Her colleagues are equally troubled, "living a lie" as one character puts it. Nisrine, a Muslim, is about to marry but is not a virgin and takes extreme measures to keep this fact from her fiancé. Rima has an unspoken passion for a client. And Jamale, another client, is not dealing with the ageing process.

However, the film does not play like a drama, but a comedy. The atmosphere in the salon is full of squabbles and banter. Layale has a flirtatious running feud with a traffic cop. Jamale goes to disastrous auditions and next-door neighbour Rose has to keep an eye on her mentally fragile sister Lili. Some of these situations do turn dramatic and even sad, but the film's world is one of warmth, both emotional and lighting-wise, and the women are all engaging. Even the wife who is the rival for Layale is drawn sympathetically. Given the subsequent bombing by Israel, the peacetime world depicted here may seem out of step with current events but Labaki feels it gives the world a political element she didn't expect.

By contrast, At the River (dir Eva Neymann) is about the ties that bind, whether one wants them to or not, as an aged Ukrainian mother and daughter play out a love-hate relationship in their shabby apartment before taking a day out to continue hostilities on the river. It is painfully slow-going and laughs are thin on the ground. Even more puzzlingly, the whole middle section is given over to minor characters who appear and disappear without explanation as to why they are there. A most peculiar film.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

LFF: Docs

A Walk Into the Sea (dir Esther Robinson)
We Want Roses Too (dir Alina Marazzi)

Two docs to ponder: Esther Robinson's is an exploration of the disappearance of her uncle, Danny Williams, in 1967. Using interviews with those who knew him from his work as a film editor and member of Warhol's Factory circle, the film creates a portrait of a sensitive young man, who seemed to be damaged and defeated by the competitive, druggy atmosphere of the Warhol crowd. While there is no narration, Robinson's voice is heard in the background asking questions of her family and associates of her uncle. She is puzzled as to how he could just walk out on a family gathering one evening and not return.

Most puzzling is Warhol's indifferent reaction at the time to Williams' disappearance, as they were lovers. But as a range of interviewees, including Factory acolytes Billy Name, Gerard Malanga and Brigid Berlin, explains, sensitivity to others wasn't Warhol's strong suit. Much like the Wagstaff documentary, A Walk reveals as much about the self-centred manipulation of the famous artist as it does about the less celebrated partner.

Even less conventionally authored is We Want Roses Too. Its subject is not immediately apparent as a woman is seen in lurid Technicolor window-shopping. Gradually, a picture emerges of Italian sexual mores from 1967 (that year again) until the late '90s, with women's roles shifting amid much protest and social ferment. Marazzi makes much use of found footage and women's diaries over the period, with voiceover reading the passages.

Again there is no narration but a patchwork of sources, including animation, tells an intriguing story of women's ambitions being thwarted by a combination of church, state and family and the attempts of feminism to change everyone's thinking. An hilarious advert for feminism exhorts: "Ladies, young ladies, girls. We're expecting you."

Monday, October 22, 2007

LFF: Brand Upon the Brain / Black, White and Gray

Still from Brand Upon the BrainThough I've never met Guy Maddin, I think it's safe to say he has issues. This view is formed not only from Brand Upon the Brain, his latest work, but also my attendance at his birthday party at this year's Berlinale. This was a very public event hosted by Cheap, at which Marie Losier premiered Manuelle Labour, a faux silent featuring her giving birth to Guy Maddin's hands, the result, she explained, of her wanting to do a portrait of him.

If this wasn't startling enough, Maddin was as surprised as any of the onlookers when he was presented with a cake and forced to exorcise the painful childhood memory of being terrorised by a monkey at a birthday party. This was accomplished via a series of silent film titles, filmmakers dressed as monkeys and, back in the Cheap Gossip studio, a quick number on a piano--Marlene Dietrich's piano, no less, specially wheeled in for the occasion from the adjacent Film Museum. The cake was then smashed on the floor.

At the Berlinale, Brand Upon the Brain was given a gala staging with musicians and live voiceover by Isabella Rossellini. At the LFF it is playing as a standard film, but is still enormously inventive, witty, beautifully executed and clearly the product of a delightfully twisted mind.

A man, called Guy Maddin, returns to his childhood home on an island, after an absence of 30 years, summoned by his mother to give the lighthouse two coats of paint. Most people's memories of childhood are charged enough, but poor Guy has quite a lot of baggage to unearth, as his memories emerge over 12 chapters. His mother ran an orphanage while his father carried out mysterious experiments in the lab. When teen sleuth Wendy Hale arrives on the island, all kinds of passions are unleashed, all under his mother's omnipotent gaze, equipped with the lighthouse searchlight and the aerophone, which she uses to keep tabs on eager-to-please Guy and his sister.

Mother and son have an unsettlingly close relationship and all kinds of dynamics within the family are hinted at. Guy and his sister Sis end up vying for the attentions of Wendy, who disguises herself as her brother Chance and confuses everyone. So, in the midst of a lot of sci-fi hokum and family melodrama, a very sweet lesbian romance unfolds, leaving Guy on the sidelines.

All of this is accomplished in Maddin's signature faux-silent style, with voiceover, intertitles, asynchronous sound, no dialogue and vignetted black and white photography.

Much black and white photography is on display in Black White and Gray (dir James Crump), a documentary on the life of New York art curator/collector Sam Wagstaff, a powerful figure in the 1970s who is almost forgotten now, unlike his protégé and lover Robert Mapplethorpe. It was Wagstaff, 25 years older, who promoted Mapplethorpe and drove up prices for his work. Wagstaff also left much of his enormous wealth to Mapplethorpe, who profited greatly from the relationship.

In fact, there are those in the film who suggest Wagstaff was nothing more than a convenient sugar daddy for Mapplethorpe. By contrast, Patti Smith, who lived with Mapplethorpe when he met Wagstaff, insists that the photographer loved Wagstaff and she paints a picture of a threesome who all got along, despite the differences in their backgrounds and outlooks. Wagstaff came from a privileged Ivy League background, whereas Mapplethorpe was more rough around the edges.

As a curator, Wagstaff favoured modern art and hated photography until he had a change of heart and pursued his interest in voracious style. It is suggested that he was a collector of people as well as art. And so the two formed an alliance that lasted until their deaths from AIDS in the late 80s, during which time Wagstaff changed from a Brooks Brothers suit-wearing establishment figure to a leather-jacket wearing habitué of the meat-packing district.

The doc features work by artists favoured by Wagstaff, such as Tony Smith and Mapplethorpe, as well as interviews with various art world figures from New York and London and a few archive clips of Mapplethorpe and Wagstaff. Wagstaff's photography collection is now owned by the Getty Museum.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

LFF: I'm Not There / Hounds

I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' much-anticipated riff on the life of Bob Dylan, is quite the ambitious enterprise and a huge disappointment. Using six actors to portray various aspects of Dylan, the film jumps back and forth in time and location and confuses greatly. Perhaps Haynes is just too much of a fan, trying to cram in every last utterance of the great man, but the film is deadly in its talkiness, encompassing long, existential monologues and endless debates about whether the artist cares about his audience and whether he feels protest can change the world.

Most successful of the unconventional casting is the mercurial Cate Blanchett, who proves a surprisingly foxy Dylan, whether performing on-stage, or chasing an heiress in the forest. Christian Bale offers a hollow impression while Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin are irritating.

And what exactly is Richard Gere doing in this picture? He seems to have wandered in, astride his horse, from a Clint Eastwood western shooting next door. Guest appearances from Julianne Moore, Kim Gordon and Calexico can't save a story that drags badly. No doubt Haynes intended this to be an artful, ambitious alternative to the typical biopic but there's no there there.

Hounds (dir Ann-Kristin Reyels), by contrast, is an engaging art-house picture on a theme of loneliness. Set in a small, wintry German town, the film is engaging and at times enchanting.

Ignored by the locals and estranged from his father, teenaged newcomer Lars bonds with mute Marie, much to the disapproval of her father. Lars' father, on the other hand, has taken up with his sister-in-law and seems insensitive to his son's feelings. The boy consoles himself with long walks in the forest with the eponymous dogs, but even this loses its allure when one of the dogs is killed.

The relationship of Lars and Marie is charted painstakingly, with many silent conversations and visits to a swing by a frozen lake. In one scene Lars and Marie put on masks and prance about on the surface, two outsiders finding understanding.

When Lars' mother arrives with her new boyfriend, the stage is set for a confrontation and resolution but the film then loses its way and the ending is unsatisfying. But the first 85 minutes are a delight.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival: Shorts

London Film Festival-branded bag; photo by Val PhoenixWho Are You
Mondo Mayhem

Two shorts programmes on view at the festival span the sedate to the way out and how. Who Are You is centred on identity and features mostly North American work, the exception being Isold Uggadottir's Icelandic coming out story Family Reunion, which starts in New York but then ventures to Reykjavik as a young woman fears her secret being revealed to her family. Strangely grainy in tone, it features an amusing twist.

Other films venture into darker territory, with Slippin' (dir Mike Forshaw) exploring the crisis of masculinity in a group of London youths trying ever so hard to impress each other with their posturing and drinking. Tragi-comic is the word. Screening (dir Anthony Green) takes the ever-so-topical war on terror/homeland security/paranoia from a personal point of view as a woman traveling back to Britain fears a fellow air passenger. There is real tension but I could see the twist coming a mile away. Funniest of the pack is I Am Bob (dir Donald Rice), featuring everyone's favourite saint, The Geldof, not being recognised at a Lookalike Convention and having to sing for his supper.

Mondo Mayhem, curated by Philip Ilson, veers off the straight and narrow into the downright weird, offering, as promised, several "what the f---k" moments. Most bizarre is the Mexican A Red Recipe to Cook Crustaceans (dir Eun-hee Ihm), which is baffling but beautifully shot. After an abusive father chokes to death, his wife and son spend most of the film boiling and eating his reincarnated body with lip-smacking and bizarrely sensual relish.

Almost as strange is Mammal (dir Astrid Rieger), which features a man plunging his face into bread dough, a woman being dropped into a soup pot and a man hiding under a carpet. Anemone (dir Nathalie Teirlinck) is a truly disturbing depiction of a girl's birthday party under surveilance by a paedophile and the consequences of his actions.

Offering light relief are Taste of Kream (dir Deanna Russo), a mock-doc on some deluded cat owners in Florida, and Thanks Anyway (dirs Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke), in which the latter practises some squeegee cleaning on the trams and S-bahns of Berlin, with amusing results.

Help is Coming (dir Ben Mor) is a riposte to the promises offered by Washington and assorted cronies to the people of New Orleans, post-Katrina.

Welcome to the Black Parade (dir Yasmine Abboud) is an alternate vision of the song by the irredeemably crap My Chemical Romance. Now, I find it difficult that anyone could extract anything profound from this extremely trite band. I find it even less possible that the people of Beirut, having been shelled by Israel, could find comfort in this music. I am not at all sure what Abboud's message is, as she mixes images of soldiers and various militaristic figures with skaters. "Keep on skating?" "Resist and rebel?" "Fight the power?" I only know I had this f-----g song in my head the rest of the day.

The Art of Lee Miller

Cover of Lee Miller exhibit catalogue; photo by Val PhoenixV & A
London
Until 6 January 2008

Model, photographer, journalist, adventurer. Lee Miller's centenary is being celebrated in this exhibit at the V & A, continuing her belated recognition. The art is featured here, not the extraordinary life that began in oh-so-homely Poughkeepsie, New York (amazing anyone of achievement came from there) and ended in England 30 years ago.

In between, Miller became a Surrealist in Paris, then a war photographer and writer. She ended up doing features for British Vogue, coming full circle, having started as a model in American Vogue.

What comes through sharply in the exhibit is Miller's dissatisfaction with being a Thing, albeit a Beautiful one. She was clearly a woman of action, which must have been quite difficult in that era. The portraits of her as a young woman, by a range of male photographers, including her father, show a bestilled glacial beauty. She looks trapped and bored.

The most extraordinary photo of her is the earliest, a full-length shot from 1915, when she was eight. She appears as a handsome young boy with a crewcut, overalls and her hand clutching a post. Lips pursed, eyes veiled by shadows, she appears grave and solemn, but with a direct gaze. Given that she was raped at age 7, it is poignant indeed.

That she went on to become a model and a great beauty is an irony--always an object of someone else's gaze. She must have been keen to rebel against this fate, and at age 22 headed for Paris where some of her best work was done. Her nudes show a delicate sensuality and her eye for detail makes pictures of chairs and ironwork into works of art, unrecognisable as common-place objects. With Man Ray she developed solarisation, a technique which adds a magical quality to such portraits as that of Unknown Woman, 1930.

The exhibit includes a few drawings from this period, eye-opening depictions of a woman's head under a bell jar and another being pinned to a wall by daggers. Proto-feminist statements? Well, how about her Untitled [severed breast from mastectomy], which, far from being set in some medical scenario, is depicted on a dinner plate, complete with service? Surely, this is a woman with a critique of her surroundings.

Later, she worked in New York and then returned to Europe, turning her eye to photojournalism in London and in France during the Second World War. These pictures serve a different purpose, documenting the horrors of war, lest anyone deny or forget what happened.

She also became a war correspondent for Vogue New York, and her diatribe against the Germans she met accompanying the invading troops in 1945 makes for uncomfortable reading, especially as the layout contrasts the well-fed children of Germany with the murdered Holocaust victims. Miller's anger is palpable. Other work during this period includes a shot of her towering over Pablo Picasso in his studio in liberated Paris, the statuesque Miller, looking tired in her uniform, linking arms with a gleeful Picasso.

The pictures in Hitler's apartment in Munich seem quite off-colour, staged shots of her in his bathtub and a soldier reading Mein Kampf. What are they meant to depict? The banality of evil? If anything they seem disrespectful to the thousands of his victims, cocking a snook at a deposed dictator by turning his lair into a joke.

Curiously, Miller's work tails off after the war, just when she should have been at the peak of her powers and a double threat as photographer and writer. There is only a photo essay on Working Guests at her Sussex farmhouse from 1953 and then nothing, though she lived until 1977.

What happened? Did she retire? Did the work dry up? It seems sad that this cut-off seems to have coincided with her 50th birthday. Was the great beauty considered past her sell-by date? It is disappointing that after a life of action, she ended up becalmed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Frieze Art Fair

Visitor to Frieze Art Fair; photo by Val PhoenixLondon
11-14 October

So, to Regent's Park for the annual confab of the great and good (and the odd Hollywood D-lister wanting to look cultural). A big white tent, stuffiness, goodie bags, anxious/bored looking people clutching mobiles and laptops. Hmmm.

One stall (David Zwirner) had a Saab as its attraction while another appeared to be a caravan and had been sold to Tate Modern. The lines between art and commerce aren't blurred; they're non-existent on such occasions.

As far as stalls go, Gavin Brown's Enterprise was certainly busy, with a witty installation of Rob Pruitt's flea market. It's a cheeky notion, taking detritus from artists and flogging it off to a willing set of buyers in a high art setting. And indeed the crowds were lapping it up. With hand-written signs and rails of clothing, it was, indeed, reminiscent of an ordinary flea market but with Jay Jopling's White Cube and other high-powered dealers in close proximity, it certainly hit the irony button on the head.

Jopling's stall was a bit of a disappointment, lacking any particular outrage or attraction, just a video by Sam Taylor-Wood being of note. But then I'd missed the previous day's signing by the tragically over-rated Chapman brothers adorning the queen's head on notes (defacing currency is a criminal offence, don't you know?). Such a pity.

Oddity of the day was the Frankfurter Kunstverein "performance", which appeared to be a bored-looking chap making noises into a microphone, while a bemused crowd looked on. Was this the performance? A warm-up? Nobody seemed to know. Cheers.

Around the corner from that, hordes grabbed at posters printed in Hebrew rolling them up smartly and tucking them into their goodie bags, not even knowing what they were getting. Because they were free and they wanted souvenirs.

Outside, the sculpture garden was also free and the air was considerably cleaner. The fair runs through the 14th.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Front of Luxury

Rhythm King and Her Friends
The Front of Luxury / A Street Angel with a Cowboy Mouth
(Kitty-Yo)

The follow-up to I am Disco from 2004 finds Pauline Boudry and Linda Wölfel reclining almost into coma, so laid-back is this record. Having lost one member, the leaner, meaner duo is (according to the press notes) rocking out on this record. Can't hear it myself. In fact, the album sounds strangely detached and difficult for the listener to engage with.

For ones with so much to say, RKAHF don't make themselves easily understood. They sing about sexuality, economics, neo-liberalism (you know, the usual rock topics) and one strains to catch the words and the meaning. It's odd to hear vocals mixed down to the point of ambience. Very frustrating. Take the title track. What is the front of luxury? What does "we want desire's working like a factory" mean? Why obscure the lyrics so that they become unintelligible?

I was intrigued by the title "Queer Diskotek", possibly a nod to Stereolab's "French Disko", but it's a bit moody for the dance floor. "Metrosexual Ride"'s vocals sit under the bass and drums and it's difficult to extract what sounds like a critique of those who want all the trendiness of queerness without all the hassle of discrimination. "C'est un visite" is about the only decipherable lyric. The standout is "Speedometer", which is actually quite an old song, appearing on their first self release some years back. It's cool and sultry and quite Stereolabesque but more tuneful than the newer material, which is curiously pallid.

More satisfying is the accompanying DVD of tour diaries from 2004-2005 and thus promotion for the previous record. A Street Angel with a Cowboy Mouth (nope, not sure what it means either) is an intriguing 40 minutes of Pauline Boudry's observations about herself, her band, their tour and engagement with one's work. None of this is resolved either but it's an enjoyable ride. Boudry has a dab hand with film, having already made several and this is several cuts above the usual japes-in-the-van tour vid.

During the film, the band crosses Europe, loses a member, returns to Berlin and goes back on the road. We learn a bit about Boudry's use of language, observe slow-dancing lesbians at a Parisian bar (to "How Deep Is Your Love", which she mistakenly disparages as "bad 80s" pop when, of course, it dates from the '70s), and visit several sound checks with tiny, tiny snippets of touring partners Angie Reed, Scream Club and others, who are never interviewed, for some reason.

In fact, the best interaction with a fellow musician comes when Francoise of Stereo Total puts make-up on Boudry and Wölfel, sending them out giggling with moustaches to play a gig in Austria. This comes after RKAHF arrive at the venue and the in-house tech guys ignore the band's tech woman. So, they are rather annoyed and it looks like a confrontation may develop. Yet, we see nothing of that night's performance. How did the small-town audience react to a lesbian band with moustaches? We don't find out.

While the overall feel of the piece is dispassionate, there is understated humour: Boudry's T-shirt reading "Heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses"; her matter of fact explanation of them stealing the jacket that gave the band their name; and a group of lesbians she has just met enticing her bandmate Sara to go out on the town by calling up to her hotel window.

At the start of the film, Boudry expresses her frustration at the difficulty in finding female musicians (or "girl bands" as she puts it; a shame how "girl" has made a comeback to encompass "woman". It's as if feminism never happened!) and flips through her LP collection to show the discoveries she has made, everything from Siouxsie to Conscious Daughters. She goes on to say she wanted to illustrate the history of girl bands. Again it is not clear how this fits in with the ensuing film. Is this film a history of her band, her story? Is it meant to be one tiny chapter of a larger metaphorical book? Who knows? That strand disappears once the tour is underway.

Unanswered questions abound. Boudry drops such ambiguous statements as: "we are queering the audience through the way we address them" or "behind the trendy window displays it reeks of long work hours, flexibility and precarity", and one feels context is called for. One well-made point is in her critique of the music press for concentrating on male acts, and thus "listening to only half of the sound". This is illustrated by half of a broken record rotating on a turntable. Touché.