Sunday, October 17, 2010

London Film Festival: weekend one

Detail from The Taqwacores
Five days into the festival, I can't yet say how it is shaping up. But the standout for me so far is definitely The Taqwacores. Adapted from Michael Muhammad Knight's novel about a group of punky Muslims living in a shabby group house in Buffalo, the film is a multifaceted look at how people negotiate "mismatching disenfranchised subcultures", as Mohawked punk visionary Jehangir (Dominic Rains in an astonishing performance) puts it. As naive student Yusuf moves into this house, he encounters many stripes of Islam, from strict adherents to the rather startling character of Rabeya, a burqa-clad Riot Grrl-ish character. Quite the eye opener for him and the audience. What is most interesting is that an actual taqwacore scene has emerged as a result of Knight's imaginings, and some of the bands that appear in this work of fiction are actually real performers.

Somewhat less rebellious is the doc on Creation Records, Upside Down. While I was quite looking forward to seeing the now-dead indie label recounted, I was not really looking forward to seeing footage of Oasis. Or Boo Radleys. Or indeed 18 Wheeler or Arnold. And, actually, there was no mention of either of the latter two bands touted by label co-founder Alan McGee, long since mythologised as a tastemaker of the highest order. Even though he signed Oasis. The film is largely a hagiography of McGee, featuring endless shots of him sporting a ridiculous fedora, the most ill-advised piece of baldness-hiding headgear since The Edge discovered his beanie. While truly visionary bands such as My Bloody Valentine are given short shrift, McGee's chum Bobby Gillespie is lionised as some kind of genius. Nonsense.

Also viewed were Howl, the rather limp docudrama on Allen Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem. The film can't decide if it's a courtroom drama depicting an obscenity case or a stream of consciousness riff on artistic inspiration. And it works as neither, despite the striking animation that backdrops the rather dull recitations of Ginsberg's poem by actor James Franco. Most disappointing.

Considerably upping the nailbiting stakes is The Orion, a tense guerrilla-shot drama depicting the consequences of a sexual encounter between two unmarried people in modern Iran. As the couple struggle to "undo" the damage to their reputations via backroom surgery, they come up against the very restrictive law at work in the country. Truly disturbing.

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