Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Favourites

So, a brief recap of 2011's brighter moments, according to yours truly. This was an unusual year, in that I never left London, and my picks reflect that.

Favourite art exhibit:
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage
A legal psychedelic trip, with bubbles, knickers, and all manner of visual delights. Running at Hayward Gallery until 8 January.

Favourite film:
Dreams of a Life, dir. Carol Morley
Moving and profound imagining of a life lost in London. Running now in UK.

Favourite gig / live event:
Sound and Silents
Live scoring of four short films from early women directors, which played at Queen Elizabeth Hall in March as part of the Bird's Eye View festival.

Favourite album:
W, Planningtorock
A late spring release that I continued to play into winter. Quite moody, at times disturbing, but also playful conceptual album from Janine Rostron, whose stage get-up resembles one of Buffy's demons.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Shirin Neshat on Winter

This is Shirin Neshat's contribution to the New York Times' Seasons project. Sadly, there is no way to embed it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Politics, Art and a President

So, farewell to Vaclav Havel, one-time dissident-turned president. I was always impressed that the first president of Czechoslovakia, Masaryk, was a philosopher and the first president of the Czech Republic was a playwright, and one influenced by the Velvet Underground, at that. It says a lot.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

International Human Rights Day

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. I don't think Hillary Clinton has made an appearance in this blog, but here is her speech this week declaring that LGBT rights are human rights.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Dreams of a Life

My Quietus story on Dreams of a Life is finally live, although I could have written something twice as long, such was my enthusiasm for the film and the abundance of quotes I had from my chat with director Carol Morley. There is so much to say about this documentary on Joyce Carol Vincent and about how people in cities can become strangers to each other.

I reviewed the film briefly when it premiered at the London Film Festival, but only saw it on a preview DVD, so am curious to see how it plays in a cinema with an attentive audience. It's out in the UK on 16 December and also has a preview at the spanking new Hackney Picture House on 9 December, with Morley and star Zawe Ashton conducting a Q&A.

There is also a very strange interactive companion piece, Dreams of Your Life, which I took for a spin a couple of days ago. It's a bit like sitting down with an inquisitive therapist or taking a phone call from a menacing stranger. Not for the easily disturbed.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The pause that refreshes

One of those days. Loads of ideas. Technical hitches. Nothing quite getting finished.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bad Reputation live

Wahey! Here's Joan Jett and her pick-up band, Foo Fighters, performing her classic "Bad Reputation" on Letterman (is he still on?).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Coming soon to a pie near you

Chinese pumpkin; photo by Val Phoenix
This intriguing specimen is a pumpkin, a Chinese pumpkin grown in Maldon, Essex, to be precise. I acquired it yesterday after fruitless weeks of searching for a pumpkin for my yearly excursion into pumpkin pie, which I guess is my reminder to self that I'm American by birth.

Anyway, the market trader assured me its sweetness is unsurpassed and it should keep for two months! The day of reckoning is next Wednesday. I hope what it lacks in aesthetic appeal it will make up for in flavour.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Art in Abundance

Jon Snow and Jude Cowan; photo by Val PhoenixI haven't had time to blog for the last couple of days, so busy was I running around London to intriguing events.

First up, the private view of For the Messengers at Woolfson and Tay, followed by a public event featuring artist Jude Cowan and newsreader Jon Snow, who proved to be a gushing fan of Ms. Cowan, pronouncing her a star and confessing that when he finds himself out on location in, say, Japan during the tsunami, he wonders to himself, "What would Jude think?"

Detail from Here Come the Girls by Susie MacMurray; photo by Val PhoenixLast night it was a double bill of art and music, with the private viewing of Susie MacMurray's exhibit, The Eyes of the Skin, at Agnew's Gallery. Not familiar with her work, I was highly impressed by her use of household materials such as rubber and shrink wrap, to create evocative pieces with myriad explanations. Here Come the Girls, for example, features numerous lipstick-smeared wine glasses suspended from the ceiling in a rather seedy bouquet.

Brigitte Handley of The Dark Shadows; photo by Val Phoenix
Lastly, and appropriately, late at night, it was a trek out to my old stomping ground of Archway to see Sydney three-piece gothabilly act The Dark Shadows. Although I have several of their records, I had never seen them live and was rewarded with a brisk and entertaining set in the very cramped conditions of The Hideaway (no stage!) running through much of their oeuvre and peaking with their cover of "Eisbär", which features on their new EP, 11:11. I don't think I've ever sung along to a song in German before. Bliss.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Google honours Curie

Happy Birthday, Marie Curie. And Trotsky. And Joni Mitchell. Now there's a party.

An amusing line in the Mirror's bio of Curie, regarding her and Pierre: "their mutual interest in magnetism drew them together". Ouch.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Naming: My Faves

This is a rather startled-looking Miranda July, whom I met recently at a press junket for her film, The Future, which opened today in the UK. Although we only had 12 minutes or so to speak, she was quite chatty about her past in the DIY music and art world, which I duly wrote up for a piece in The Quietus.

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link and found this title: "From Queercore to The Future: Miranda July Talks Independent Art". Although queercore is actually only mentioned once (by me) in passing, it gets into the headline! I wondered how often that word had appeared on the site and, using the handy Search facility, discovered it's the second time ever. Pretty cool.

It reminds me of a few times when I decided there were certain words that I had to put in my articles, if only because they were so completely at odds with the typical readership of a particular publication.

To wit: "punk" in the Financial Times and "communist" and "dominatrix" in Pop Matters. I also handed in a piece to The Wire with the title "Naming the Waves", which is the name of a collection of lesbian poetry from the 1980s. This, I thought, would be my crowning achievement as a mischievous queer journalist. Sadly, when the article was published, the editor had re-named it "Wave Theory". Pfft.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

For the Messengers exhibit

Jude Cowan at The Space; photo by Val PhoenixOpening today in sunny Bermondsey is Jude Cowan's debut solo exhibit, For the Messengers, which echoes her recent poetry collection of the same name and is similarly inspired by her work at the Reuters archive.

Showing along with Jude's artwork will be two films I recently shot with her, one of which illustrates the poems performed live in various locations and was shot on a gloriously sunny day around Hackney Wick.

The other documents some of her preparation for her performance at the Fifteen theatre festival in September and was shot on a slightly less sunny day in a church on the Isle of Dogs. We also braved the security restrictions of Canary Wharf to record a quick interview outside Reuters HQ.

Turning the films around quickly enough for the exhibit proved something of a challenge for me. Luckily, I am a seasoned journalist and used to deadline pressure! Looking forward to seeing the whole thing come together. DIY, innit?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LFF: Dendera

Still from DenderaIf you only see one film about elderly Japanese women bent on a bloody revenge mission, make it this one! Yes, Dendera ploughs its own furrow, turning an intriguing concept into a gory struggle.... against a bear.

Let me start again. Somewhere in a Japan where it is always snowing, village protocol dictates that residents who turn 70 are dumped on a mountainside and left to die. One woman, Mei, refuses to die and slowly builds up a women-only community--Dendera--out of those deemed expendable.

But, Mei's survival instinct is stoked by the burning injustice of being so callously discarded and she wants revenge on her former neighbours, especially the men who dictate policy. This may be an extended metaphor for modern society. Or it may be a needlessly explicit gorefest, as the women become distracted from their desire for vengeance by a bear that wanders into the camp and wreaks terror on it. Not out of any malign intent. But, rather because it's a bear and is hungry.

While it was great to see these women kicking ass, I just couldn't get into the bear hunt and was rooting for the poor creature to escape or join forces with the women. But, no. Lots of blood. Lots of chases. One character asks, "And who won?" Indeed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

LFF: Difficult Second Feature

Three eagerly awaited films playing at this year's London Film Festival are from second-time feature directors.

Marjane Satrapi, having left Iran in her teens, lives in France and her new film Chicken with Plums follows Persepolis, an adaptation of her comic strip. The first surprise is that it is live action, not animation, although it features a similarly starry cast in small roles: Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, Chiara Mastroianni and Golshifteh Farahani (another Iranian exile) among them. However, the lead role is the family patriarch, played by Mathieu Amalric, and his is an unsympathetic character, a self-obsessed musician detached from his children and resentful of his wife, whom he married without loving her. Although there are comic moments, I found myself growing restless before the end.

Still from Where Do We Go Now?Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? follows the enormously enjoyable Caramel and doesn't disappoint, expanding the cast of characters from the workers in a Beirut hair salon to a village in a remote area. The main conflict is the interference of the outside world on this small village where Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for generations but where violence is always threatening to break out and news coverage is viewed as a threat to peace. Labaki takes a back seat, allowing her ensemble to shine and shine they do, especially the women who take centre-stage pretty quickly. While the comedy is broad, there were plenty of belly laughs and the subject is oh-so-topical.

If Labaki is broadening her horizons, Miranda July seems to be shrinking hers, retreating from the ensemble that held sway in her debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to focus on two people, a floundering couple inhabiting a flat in the Los Angeles suburbs, in The Future. July plays two roles, one half of the couple and a cat that provides a voiceover. Yes, indeed. But, you can do that when you're the writer-director. It's a bold move and I didn't mind the cat's narration. It was more confusing when it all went a bit Donnie Darko three quarters of the way through. Most curious.

Friday, October 21, 2011

LFF: Hackney Lullabies

Still from Hackney LullabiesA quick word about a lovely short showing at the festival. Any film with Hackney in the title takes my notice, but I was not expecting a film from Germany to choose the LBH as its subject.

And what a lovely film Kiyoko Miyake's Hackney Lullabies is. The subjects are mothers with immigrant backgrounds raising their children in the People's Republic. They want their kids to be integrated, while at the same time maintaining their roots.

And they do this by calling on their own childhoods to sing them lullabies and nursery rhymes. The mothers are delightful, sharing bits and pieces of why they live there and their aspirations for their kids. And then they sing the lullabies, in a range of languages that are not English, with the subtitles dancing across the screen. Never has Hackney looked so beautiful. Diane Abbott would approve.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

LFF: Journeys

Still from Bernadette: Notes on a Political JourneysAnother day at the festival and another sighting of Diane Abbott. This time the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington turned up at a screening of Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, Lelia Doolan's precis of the life of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. I say precis, because as Doolan herself acknowledged, her 88-minute documentary is cut down from three hours.

As it stands, this version covers Devlin's entry into Parliament at 21, her arrest for inciting violence in the Bogside riots and her subsequent involvement in the hunger strikes of 1980-81. It all goes quiet after an attempt on her life in 1981, and her disillusionment with the peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement was a curiosity to me. I asked Doolan if McAliskey chose not to be involved or if she were excluded and her answer was contradictory. So, let's have that three-hour version to fill in the gaps! Abbott might agree, as she called the doc amazing. One might speculate as to why the MP (who was sitting front and centre, not to the left) might find common ground with an outsider who professed to not want to be part of any club. But, that would be speculation.

Closer to home, I was less impressed with Strawberry Fields, which has its world premiere tonight. Frances Lea's melodrama, a Microwave project, is set on a strawberry farm in Kent and centres on the group of fruit pickers, introduced as being a motley band of immigrants and rogues. That might have been interesting but the focus is actually on a newcomer to the group, the flighty Gillian, who goes incognito as Tammy. The performance by Anna Madeley is twitchy and irritating and when her even more dizzy sister Emily arrives, the irritation levels go through the roof. Emily is meant to be troubled, possibly mentally ill, but as played by Christine Bottomley (excellent in last year's The Arbor), she seems to be channeling Marilyn Monroe, breathy-voiced and flirty. It gets worse, much worse. Nice fruit, though.

Monday, October 17, 2011

LFF: Deep South Drama

Still from Hard LaborTwo dramas from South America were among my recent viewing. Hard Labor (dirs Juliana Rojas / Marco Dutra) is a Brazilian dramedy which is part social critique and part horror film, as a bourgeois couple face the dual challenges of starting a business (her) and finding a new job following redundancy (him). Their financial pinch doesn't stop them from hiring a maid, and the three characters orbit each other, illustrating class conflict and thwarted aspirations. The horror aspect is downplayed, serving more as a metaphor for oppressive working conditions than anything else. An intriguing oddity.

Ostende (dir Laura Citarella), from Argentina, is a slow-burning character study of a woman on holiday whose propensity for observation fires her imagination to wild proportions, as she conjures up all manner of explanations for the older man who appears to be squiring two young women. What could he be up to? And has she really thwarted a kidnapping? This is the only film I've yet viewed whose closing credit sequence changes how one views the rest of the film. Still not sure whether I liked it or not, though.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

LFF: A Troubled Life

Still from Dreams of a LifeCarol Morley's doc Dreams of a Life receives its world premiere tonight at the LFF. Morley is known for her flights of fancy with the documentary form, but here she reins herself in for a gripping and troubling consideration of the life of Joyce Carol Vincent. Who? Who, exactly, for Ms. Vincent was the unfortunate soul whose dead body lay undetected in her London flat for more than two years.

How did a woman described by acquaintances as beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, ambitious and so forth come to such a grim end, surrounded by unopened Christmas presents? Why did nobody look for her? In search of answers, Morley (unseen and largely unheard behind the camera) placed adverts asking for those who knew (or thought they did) Vincent to come forward, and their on-camera interviews form the narrative of Dreams of a Life, as they offer sometimes contradictory assessments of a woman who seemed to hold herself apart and may have chosen to die alone.

Also mixing the dramatic and the documentary is Shock Head Soul, Simon Pummell's inventive telling of the story of Daniel Paul Schreber, a self-styled mystic who was committed to an asylum in Germany in the early twentieth century. Schreber resisted his diagnosis, explaining that he received messages from God, and he wrote up his ideas in an document that was praised by Jung and Freud, among others.

While Pummell allows the eloquent Schreber his space and displays the brutal treatments he was subject to, the mix of genres doesn't always work. In particular, the use of modern psychoanalysts (in period dress, no less) offering testimony and sometimes addressing characters directly is incredibly awkward. The animation sequences, as well, illustrating Schreber's visions also become intrusive after awhile. Ambitious, but flawed.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

London Film Festival: Teenage Kicks

Still from Pariah
Having done my LFF preview for The Quietus via preview DVDs and press screenings, it was a relief to get to the festival proper and lo! Friday turned up not one but two girl-girl dramas in the shape of Pariah and She-Monkeys.

Pariah, a debut feature from Dee Rees, started life as a feature-length screenplay, reached the screen as a short and has now been realised in its original form. 17-year-old African-American Alike, aka Lee, is taking the first steps into baby dykedom, trying out a street butch style and pondering whether strap-ons are her thing. It's all a bit hypothetical, as she's a virgin and looking to her butch pal Laura for advice. But, she's still in the closet around her family, including her strict and religious Mom, and her always-at-work police officer Dad.

Having drawn on her own life, Rees has crafted the film with honesty and artistry in abundance. The early club scenes in which the characters riff and bluff in street speak may be difficult for outsiders, but the emotions felt by Lee, which she can only really express in her writing, are easily relatable. At the screening, one audience member asked how black American audiences had responded to the film, and my head turned, as I thought I recognised the voice of the questioner. Blow me down! It was only Diane Abbott MP, taking a day off from her political duties to take in some cinema. She told me she thought the film was lovely and only wished more people had turned out.

Later that evening, I returned to the VUE to see the hotly tipped She-Monkeys, nominated for the Sutherland Award for most notable debut feature. To my eyes this film was less than the sum of its parts, with an excellent premise--the rivalry and power struggle between two young equestrian acrobats--let down by too much internalising.

I really had no idea at the end of the film whether the central relationship between Emma and Cassandra was one of love, hate, lust, manipulation or other. In fact, the most expressive character in the film was the six-year-old sister of Emma. She had the best lines. The post-film Q&A with director Lisa Aschan also rates as one of the least informative I've seen. I don't know whether she was nervous, tired or tired and emotional, but her answers were largely monosyllabic and punctuated by giggles.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Liane Lang: House Guests

The titular guests are inhabiting a house in Hackney Downs. But, their origin is apparently a house lived in by Rudyard Kipling in Vermont, of all places. Lang's mixed media installation is set in two rooms, one darkened with brown walls, and one brightly lit with white walls.

The darkened room looks like a study and one wall is taken up with her looped video, also called House Guests. It is projected onto what looks like stacks of papers and is an animation of a visit to Kipling's house, populated by moving furniture and unseen ghosts. The soundtrack is understated and sometimes overshadowed by the clock on the wall of the room. I found it intriguing.

The white room is more stark, with photos that seem to come from the video. Why two rooms? For more guests?

House Guests runs through 22 October at WW Gallery.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage

Long overdue, Pipilotti Rist's retrospective at the Hayward Gallery is a bit of a tonic for the stressed Londoner. Approaching the gallery from Waterloo Bridge, one's first glimpse is of pants rustling in the wind. A bit of typical whimsy from Rist, this piece, Enlighted Hips, introduces the viewer to the artist's preoccupation with the body, as well as her sense of humour.

Once inside, one can feel immediately overwhelmed: to one side, huge, overlapping installations, to the other, a darkened room crammed full of videos, searching spotlights and diaphanous enclosures. What's it all about? Unless one can read the small guide in the dark (I couldn't) or memorise the map on the wall (ditto), one might be a bit clueless as to the titles.

But, in the end it didn't much matter. I wandered, crouched, poked my head through a hole, lay on some cushions shaped like clothing-covered body parts and slowly, slowly relaxed into the vibe. It's the most artistic chill-out space ever.

The three-screen installation, Lobe of the Lung, in particular, found a host of visitors reclining on cushions (not especially comfortable, it must be said), their forms doubled by the mirrors behind them. I leant against the mirror and then found my view blocked by an arriving mother with child and pram in tow. It's the first time I've ever been obstructed at a gallery by a pram. "Ooh, piggies," cooed the child. Not sure how Mummy explained the vaginas.

Ah, yes, the vaginas. Rist is especially attracted to the female form, zooming her mini-cameras around her own body, to depict menstrual blood and close-up views of the pudenda. But, her take on it is less biological than the body-centred art of 1970s feminism. Rist views the body as landscape, and she intersperses her internal visuals with plants, flowers, all spewed out in such bright colours as to appear psychedelic, with equally far out titles: one video is called Pimple Porn.

Interestingly, for all the explicit female bodies on display, the only advisory comes upstairs in the Project Space, where a sign warns of male nudity on show. Hypocrisy in art? Surely not. Cool videos, though, especially her early work, Ever Is Over All. The glee with which she smashes those car windows. It's infectious.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Glamour of the Gods

Now into its last month or so, the Glamour of the Gods exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery delves into the John Korbal collection to showcase the so-called golden age of Hollywood, when stars were STARS.

What is most striking, aside from the super-high production values of these portraits, is the extreme and, now, obvious artifice involved. Nothing was left to chance--not the clothes, the lighting, the framing and, of course, the correction.

In the pre-Photoshop age, this must have been quite labour-intensive, but as one example showing Joan Crawford pre- and post-retouched shows, it makes all the difference. Gone are those freckles, worry lines, and, indeed, anything that might show her actual facial features. Wouldn't want those to get in the way of the arched eyebrows that were her trademark. Odd how influential this look was.

Still, it's always welcome to see Marlene, Katharine, Greta and others splendidly turned out, looking down on all us little people.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A Worthy Winner

Congratulations to PJ Harvey for scooping the Mercury Music Prize for Let England Shake. A concept album about war is a hard sell, and those extra album sales "from a low sales base" (so sayeth WENN) will be well appreciated. Amazing she's been around for 20 years already, and yet still seems like a "new" artist.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Gas Masked

This is what happens when two worlds collide south of the river on a sunny Thursday afternoon. Jude Cowan supplied the gas mask, bicycle, fan and camera. I busked the shots, in between sniffling. She edited to accompany one of her World News Vision improvised songs. Et voilà!

Monday, August 29, 2011

'80s Flashback: Lennox in Drag

For those who still think Lady Gaga is the epitome of out-thereness and originality, because she appeared on the MTV VMAs in drag, here is Annie Lennox of Eurythmics weirding out John Denver at the Grammys. In 1984.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Pharmacy of Stories

Mermaid song and lustrous balm; photo by Val PhoenixTo sunny Hackney to see a private view of Mermaid song and lustrous balm, a new show at The Pharmacy of Stories, tucked away behind a non-descript office building abutting London Fields.

A bijou space is transformed into a fantastical grotto, which on the night was populated by singing mermaids, salty tales and audience participation.

As I boarded my bus home, I noticed the paper badge I had been handed at the exhibit had fallen off its safety pin. I wonder what a passerby would make of the message: Consume my flesh and be immortal.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Support indie labels

One of the victims of the rioting in London was the Sony DADC warehouse, which went up in flames, destroying stock from the many indie labels distributed by PIAS.

The full implications of this catastrophe in such a difficult economy are as yet unknown, but in the meantime music lovers are encouraged to support the labels by buying their wares online or through local record stores. PIAS has put up a link to their catalogues on Spotify.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Friday, August 05, 2011

Silver Jubilee

Sony Walkman Professional; photo by Val PhoenixToday marks the 25th anniversary of my receiving this piece of kit, which has been my electronic companion through thick and thin. Together we have traversed continents, attended concerts and found ourselves privy to many a fascinating conversation.

Now in semi-retirement, it still manages the odd dubbing session. Though I have searched high and low, I have yet to find anything digital to replace it. All hail the analogue recorder.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

DCF recap

Dangerous Dinky and the Electric Puffs; photo by Val Phoenix
A bit late reporting back from Dirty Cop Friday, but I took awhile to download my pix. The one displayed here shows Dangerous Dinky onstage with the Electric Puffs, while Sista Kist from Anarchistwood dances with abandon. Dinky's crop is not in this photo, but was certainly present throughout much of the set, smacking botties aplenty. Ahem.

I also made my debut as a video interviewer, but have yet to see the footage.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This week: Dirty Cop Friday

Dirty Cop Friday is back in two days, with an array of bands, DJs and art at the Old Police Station.

Healthy Junkies
Dangerous Dinky
The Electric Puffs

Dave Dog

Cartel Show - curated by Dave Beech

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ballad of the bad muffins

blackberries in bowl; photo by Val Phoenix
This being blackberry time, I trudged up to my favourite patch and collected the first pickings of the season. I only got 1/2 kg, but it was enough for a yummy smoothie and some pancakes, so I checked back three days later and was able to gather 1 kg, with minimal blood lost (a snagged trouser leg).

It wasn't enough to bother with freezing, so I pondered how to put the haul to good use and decided on muffins. Now, my last few batches have been a bit hit-and-miss. I made some pretty awful oily corn muffins some weeks back, but the next batch was tasty.

Fresh blackberry muffins! In the oven they went and I settled down with a paper. And forgot them for a bit. When I took them out, they looked a little browner than optimum. But, they had risen nicely and I could see the blackberries peeping through. I lifted one out, made some tea and took a bite.

It was foul. Wow. Really bad. Maybe excess heat or excess baking soda was to blame. The texture was moist and there was plenty of blackberry, but the thing was barely edible. How could muffins that looked so yummy be that bad? Never mind. I can't bear food being wasted. I made myself eat it, washed down with copious amounts of tea. I shall now apportion one bad muffin a day until they are all done. And enjoy the smoothies.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Word of the day: de-arrest

Just finished watching a new doc on environmental activism and I was struck by a wave of deja-vu observing the planning and training that goes into such actions. "Oh," I thought. "We used to do that", regarding going limp and so forth. Ah, yes, back in the day, in the early '90s, when the streets of San Francisco were alive with shouting.

One tactic that was new to me was "de-arresting": if someone gets grabbed by the police, the person shouts "De-arrest!" and the rest of the affinity group swarms around in an act of collective liberation. Imagine how that would work in the wider world: you're walking down the street and confronted by an assailant. You shout "De-arrest!" and people come out of the woodwork to your aid. Most empowering.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want

Now showing at the Hayward Gallery through August, this Tracey Emin retrospective is a dizzying mass of wood, neon, cut-up clothing and found objects, all filtered through the lens of La Emin. Which isn't to say Love Is What You Want is bad (Brian Sewell's bilious review notwithstanding). But, given Emin's raddled image and how much the prospective visitor thinks s/he knows about the artist, it is illuminating.

Walking through the warren of rooms on multiple levels, I tried to recall what other Emin artwork I had seen over the years and found myself faltering. Was it White Cube in the noughties? Tate Modern in the '90s? Hadn't I seen that shack before? Or was it on the internet? I really couldn't recall, as Emin has such a high profile, her actual art gets less scrutiny than her life.

But, seeing the works close up (or as close up as one can when so many are under glass--peering through a glass case to fathom tiny printed letters, I was chastised by a guard for "leaning on" the glass; my notebook may have brushed it in passing, but I put no weight on it whatsoever), I found myself warming to some and was left indifferent by others. The drawings, for instance, didn't hold my interest nearly as much as the quilts, cut from the clothing of loved ones and stitched with Emin's texts, many of which seem to be messages to herself. Some are funny, some poignant, but, all demand to be considered.

The neon works are less emotive, but also notable, even if only to punctuate the exhibit. A pity so many were stacked up in one place, giving the black corridor the look of Soho on a Saturday night.

What really startled me as I entered each room was the array of people sketching. Even in rooms showing films, there were earnest people sitting cross-legged in dark corners, sketching away. For once, as I scribbled my observations in my notebook, I didn't feel so out of place. Was it student day or is every day like this?

Themes that emerged were Emin's ambivalence over her abortions; her conflicted relationships with family members; her grappling with the past; and her quest for love, of herself and others. In the video work, "Conversation with My Mum", Emin and her mother sit at a table, munching chocolates and smoking while debating whether the younger Emin should or should not have a baby. I sat there, jaw dropped, as the older Emin proffered words of wisdom to her daughter along the line of: "Every woman who doesn't have one wants to have a baby" and "Having a baby would ruin your life." Contradiction obviously runs in the family.

Wood and spirals leapt out at me. The first she admires for its weathered, natural qualities and the second, I am guessing, because it moves inward as it travels.

I also discovered that 3 July is Tracey Emin's birthday, celebrated in 1993 with the closing of her enterprise with Sarah Lucas, The Shop, which is recalled here with a jumble of objects in a case, including a box with the ashes of the unsold goods. This was juxtaposed with the work recalling her beloved nan, "There's a lot of money in chairs", with text appliqued to the back of an antique chair Emin took on tour in the USA.

The Hayward is incorporating a lot of social media into this exhibit, including an intriguing Tracey Tuesdays feature, in which visitors can ask Tracey Emin questions and get responses on Facebook. Before I visited the exhibit, I checked out the page and was amused to see some of Emin's responses, including advice on where to eat in Margate.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fever Fever at Glastonbury

Quite a lot of goodies up on the BBC Glastonbury site, including a live feed from 6Music and videos of gigs, including one from Norwich's Fever Fever, whom I have played a bit on my show. Nice to see them getting some national exposure.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Die Hymne zur Frauen-WM

A quick side-step to football now, with the Women's World Cup about to start in Germany. But, what drew my attention was the theme song for the competition, as sung by none other than Melanie C, "Rock Me". One can see the thinking behind this: the one-time Sporty Spice, Girl Power, u.s.w., I mean, and so forth.

The song is a bit of Europop, proclaiming a desire to feel the fever. So far, so "World in Motion".

But the video is what caught my attention. What is going on there? OK. It's suitably urban, with arty graffiti I couldn't read, but apparently reads: Rock Me. There are even women displaying, gasp, footballing skills. But, Mel herself seems to have misread the script and appears to be auditioning for a spot in the Playboy mansion. Stop grabbing yourself, woman! Most odd.

Back to the football. Go, England! And do avoid penalties.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Word comes via Women and Hollywood that Renée, a doc on tennis coach/ophthalmologist Renée Richards is doing the festival circuit in the USA.

Richards, born Richard Raskind, was undoubtedly the first transsexual person of whom I was aware, and her struggles to play on the women's tennis tour after sex change surgery became tabloid fodder. Her becoming a coach to Martina Navratilova, my favourite player, only added fuel to the fire and increased my admiration for her.

As a teen, I remember reading Richards' autobiography, Second Serve (later turned into a TV movie), and being surprised that both Richard and Renée were actively heterosexual. Most confusing to an adolescent, but evidence of the wonderful multiplicity of human behaviour.

Sounds like things didn't go so smoothly between Renée and her son, mentioned in the book as preferring her to dress in men's garb when they had a visit. They later became estranged and the film explores their painful relationship, too. Let's hope the film makes it to this side of the pond.

I couldn't find any video relating to the doc, but here's a clip of Vanessa Redgrave from the TV film.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Sisters of Mirthy DIY podcast

The new Sisters of Mirthy podcast (not actually downloadable) on the subject of DIY is up and features interviews with zine makers and musicians, as well as yours truly ruminating on San Francisco, Berlin and DIY film-making. It's a bit quiet, so best for headphone listening.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The GBS comes to LDN

If only summertime were always like this--blue skies, sun-kissed gardens, roses abloom. A great day for washing the cat, admiring the views, etc.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kate Bush on 6Music

Haven't been able to hear it myself yet, but all this week, the reclusive Kate Bush is appearing on 6Music's new Radcliffe and Maconie show, speaking about The Director's Cut, her new album of old songs.

Check out the Listen Again function, which also has a handy list of tracks played, hinting at just where Ms. Bush's interview clips may crop up, facilitating fast-forwarding (I used to enjoy Radcliffe on Radio 1, but Maconie irritates me).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Ring Revisited

Flipping stations idly trying to find some intelligent conversation or good music, I found myself on Radio 3, mid-opera. As I ran my bath, I found I recognised the language (German) and, slowly, the music. It was Wagner's Ring Cycle, but which opera?

Hmmm. A baritone (probably a bad guy), tenor (probably a good guy) and soprano (could be heroine or love interest) locked in some kind of conflict. The tenor was singing a lot about his Vater, so I guessed Götterdämmerung, but eventually was informed differently. It was Die Walküre, Act I and live from The Met.


Having grown up in New York and having first heard opera on WNYC's Live from The Met broadcasts, introduced to Wagner by an impassioned music teacher, this was a real find. As I reclined in my bath, I tried to follow what was going on. Ah, yes, Sieglinde and Siegmund had just run off together, incurring the wrath of the gods. And Brunnhilde was about to get in a LOT of trouble.

Now Brunnhilde and I had some history, as I had played one of her sisters, Waltraute, and also been Brunnhilde's understudy in a children's version of the cycle, though I was much relieved I never had to go on-stage in this role. Too much pressure. But, I loved the costume, and especially my winged headgarb. That was pretty cool for an 11-year-old. But, I still marvel at the utter inappropriateness of kids playing out a drama that involves such a plethora of sexcapades and murders. Oh, well. I am sure it didn't shape my world view in any view. Ahem.

It did inspire me to learn German. And visits to The Met were a ticket to the promised land, extremely rare and to be treasured. Sitting in the nosebleed seats, peering through a black scrim, trying to fathom what was happening. For six hours. Bliss.

At the end, with Wotan bidding farewell to a sleeping Brunnhilde alone on her mountaintop, punished for daring to follow her instincts, I felt a pang for the past.
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Friday, May 06, 2011

Ooh! Get us!

The second best arts venue sarf of the rivah, according to Ye Olde Guardian....

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Movie MayDay

Doors to Genesis Cinema; photo by Val Phoenix
I haven't been to much at this year's East End Film Festival for its tenth anniversary, but tomorrow is Movie MayDay, with screenings, quizzes and other cinema-related events at 88 venues across the East End. Bank Holiday Monday and free cinema! Hurrah.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poly Styrene RIP

First Ari Up, now Poly Styrene. Not so unexpected, as she had been fighting cancer for awhile, but still.... Aargh. Never met her, never saw her play, but am an admirer from afar of her and X-Ray Spex. And "Identity" is one of my favourite songs EVAHHH!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hit So Hard

Just stumbled on Hit So Hard, which tells the life story of drummer Patty Schemel and had its premiere at SXSW last month. Schemel is an interesting enough subject and, naturally, the doc features interviews with her and other members of Hole. But, my eye is taken by the other names featuring, including Phranc, Gina Schock and Alice de Buhr. Sounds like it's just as interested in investigating the continuing invisibility of lesbians in the music world as in Schemel's struggles with drug addiction. Sounds ace.

I can't embed this extremely awkward Q &A which followed a recent screening in New York, and is most notable for the delicate pas de deux between estranged Hole members Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson, as they avoid any eye contact whatsoever, while standing on the same stage. But, here's the trailer.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Record Store Day 2011

Record Store Day, which is 16 April this year, just gets bigger and bigger. I couldn't have missed it coming, what with all the hoopla on the BBC. Championing independent record stores is a worthwhile endeavour. And, despite the arrival of an untimely spring cold, I will do my best to support it.

While New York gets a special Regina Spektor gig, London hosts all-day events at Rough Trade and a night-time gig at 93 Feet East. And loads of bands and labels are issuing one-day-only releases.

I am intrigued to learn that RSD has an official film, as well, Jeanie Finlay's Sound it Out, which will get multiple screenings.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sapphic Subversions at Fringe!

Fringe! tattooTonight sees the start of the film screenings at Fringe!, East London's new queer film festival.

My film War With Love is showing as part of the Sapphic Subversions shorts programme.

We will be upstairs at a pie and mash shop (very cockney!) on the oh-so-hip Broadway Market. It starts at 19:30, with repeat screenings later on.

Last night I attended the launch party at the much vaunted Dalston Superstore. Didn't stay long, just enough time to admire the collection of frocks and haircuts on display. Back when I lived in Dalston, it was pretty much a no-go area for non-residents. My, how it's changed!

LLGFF: Roundup

Poster for A Marine StoryWith the festival now finished, here are the last few stragglers.

A Marine Story by wife-and-husband team of Dreya Weber and Ned Farr. Expelled lesbian Marine takes a teenaged tearaway under her wing and tries to get her ready for recruitment into... the Marines. Aside from the repugnant gung-ho politics, I found this surprisingly moving and Weber certainly kicks ass as the heroine.

Break My Fall--This DIY Hackney-based dyke drama (in every sense of the phrase) features a top-notch soundtrack and an uneasy balance of comic and dramatic scenes, as a young lesbian couple's relationship slowly disentegrates.

The People I've Slept With--Hit or miss comedy about sexually active woman who has to find out quickly who the father of her baby might be, from several candidates. The fact that the lead character, played by Karin Anna Cheung, is Asian-American is pretty much the only standout, but Wilson Cruz offers able comic support as her gay BFF.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

LLGFF: Together Alone

This year's just concluded LLGFF featured a coachload of ensemble pieces, such as New York-based comedy The Four-Faced Liar and wartime London drama The Night Watch.

The former, which closed the festival last night and is due out on DVD on Monday, is a witty take on that old trope, the conversion job, as 20-something dyke player Bridget falls for straight girl Molly, while they are, eh, researching a project for a literature class. Yes, somehow Wuthering Heights brings them together. That Emily Bronte.

What is interesting in terms of the structure of the film is that the lesbian character is foregrounded among a group of five: straight couples Trip and Chloe and Molly and Greg, plus Bridget. Far from being the odd one out, Bridget is the link between the groups, as she is the housemate of Trip, who becomes friends with deadly dull Greg.

The film has great fun contrasting the dude bonding of the two straight guys with Molly and Bridget's girl-bonding over Bronte and their emotional heart-to-hearts, while at the same time illustrating Bridget's desire to avoid emotional entanglements with anyone. Of course, it all gets terribly messy, but writer-producer-star Marja Lewis Ryan, who adapted the story from her play, is a real find.

Meanwhile, Monday saw the premiere of the BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters' Blitz-era novel The Night Watch. I found this book a bleak read, with the reversed chronology telling the unhappy ending before finishing with the meeting of two of the main characters, Kay and Helen.

The filmed version kept this structure, though sweetening it slightly. Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Kay, is physically slighter than I would have imagined, but has a very careworn demeanour that fits with the character's stolidness. The Blitz scenes really come to life, and the non-Kay storylines, which I found less interesting in the book, also stand up well.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

LLGFF: Hey Boy, Hey Girl

After the inter-generational lesbian clash of The Owls, it's interesting to view films pairing young gay men and straight women.

Sasha is a German coming out drama whose titular character comes from a conservative ex-Yugoslav background. His pal Jiao, though disappointed by Sasha romantically, stands by him, as he negotiates the tricky terrain of lusting after his older gay piano teacher, while keeping his budding sexuality secret from his warring parents and the prying eyes of his younger brother. It's mostly played for laughs, with Sasha's fumbling attempts to seduce the teacher contrasted with the desperate aspirations of his mother.

I was very curious to see Heartbeats, the latest from the hotly tipped enfant terrible, Xavier Dolan, and it didn't disappoint. A frustrated menage-a-trois featuring Dolan's Francis and his best pal, Marie, both lusting after the cherubic and sexually ambiguous Nicolas, the film plays as a coming-of-age comedy-drama, with Francis and Marie's relationship coming under severe strain, as their increasingly desperate efforts to gain Nicolas' favours takes its toll. Brilliant use of pop tunes adds to the tension and air of yearning, with Dolan showing a sure hand as writer, director and co-star.

LLGFF + Lacan

Although the truncated London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is well underway, I have only made the most cursory of visits so far. Oddly, though I have seen fewer films, I have been invited to more parties and what eye-openers those have been! Tonight, for example, I popped into a trans party and re-made the acquaintance of someone I haven't seen for five years. And there was cake!

Sunday night I was rubbing shoulders with the great and good connected to The Owls, Cheryl Dunye's collaborative lesbian thriller. Except it didn't really seem that collaborative: she is credited as director and co-writer and it was her story. But, the cast rewrote the script. It turned out as not much of a thriller, but had some great comic moments and the behind-the-scenes doc, Hooters, was a scream, providing some unintentionally hilarious moments of lesbian processing that had the audience in hysterics.

As it happened, this evening I also bumped into Lisa Gornick, one of the stars of The Owls, and asked her if the shoot was as much of a nightmare as Hooters suggests. She said not, but that it was a one-time experience for her: next it's back to her auteur films, this time not on the theme of babies, as had been the case with Tick-Tock Lullaby. This led to a lively discussion of lesbians and babies and how interesting that experience is to see on screen, and then she dropped the L-bomb: Lacan.

Yes, she said it was about "Lacanian lack". At the festival launch some weeks back, Gornick had told me queer film festivals were all about intellectualising and flirting through the brain, but here it was in evidence. Gotta love those brainy women.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Born in Flames

More underground NYC culture, at a viewing of Lizzie Borden's dystopian future vision at the finale of Reproductive Labour.

While I had seen the film years ago at a queer film festival, I didn't recall much of it. On this re-view, I found it quite thought-provoking and prescient, with its mix of female rebellion, eroding labour rights and African revolutionary struggles all conflated into one seething city, plus cameos from future stars Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Bogosian.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Downtown New York Scene

A visit to Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark, Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s is quite the eye-opener, especially conducted under the watchful eye of the "supermoon".

In truth, the moon wasn't much in evidence when I arrived at the gallery for an early Saturday evening visit. And when I emerged two hours later, the moon was nowhere to be seen. But, SOMETHING was in the air. How else to explain the strange confluence of events, from the mysterious piano appearing on the pavement of a Shoreditch street to the gravity-defying yoghurt accident that befell me? London felt like one big performance piece.

But, back to the exhibit, a sprawling beast taking in two floors, numerous rooms and multi, multi-media: sculpture, sound art, Super 8 film, drawings, and even some dance. Trisha Brown's gymnastics-infused choreography is performed several times a day on the walls of the Barbican, as well as on the floor. I saw two pieces, Floor of the Forest and Walking on the Wall and was left rather bemused. But, it's certainly unusual. Too bad there is no recreation of her dances performed on the roofs of NYC. That must have been something to see.

Laurie Anderson I know mostly as an innovative musician, but her visual art was a revelation. Even her handwriting is artistic, perfectly formed letters that could be plucked from cartoons. No surprise then to discover she was a political cartoonist at the university newspaper. Is there nothing this woman can't do? Her drawings for such pieces as The Handphone Table were beautifully wrought, witty and clever.

And then to see the piece below and watch people's reactions to it was fascinating. When I'd arrived, I'd walked right past the cluster of her works, imagining the odd clasping gestures I witnessed to be one of the live performances scheduled. But, no, we were the performers for these pieces, as they were in the interactive section. Laying my head on the Talking Pillow, I heard Anderson whispering to me, while seated at The Handphone Table, hands pressed to my skull, I heard some bass frequencies.

By contrast, Matta-Clark's and Brown's displays were much grander: large-scale installations grounded in urban architecture and movement. Anderson's concerns seem more intimate and wittier and to me, more endearing. Though there was no video, just stills of it, I could well imagine her performing her Duets on Ice on the streets of New York, wearing ice skates encased in ice, playing her violin to passing jaded habitues of the city.

And there was a bit of nostalgia for me in this very New York show. Though much younger than the artists, I well remember the crumbling, grumbling New York City of this time in the early 1970s when The Big Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy. Though it spawned punk, No Wave and a host of counter-cultural movements, it was a difficult time. But, very exciting.

Of course, "downtown New York" meant Manhattan and I lived in the Bronx, oblivious to the world of performance and avant-garde. While Gordon Matta-Clark may have been "dancing with buildings", cutting sections out of them to highlight neglect, I was living a more mundane existence, full of subways, Yankees and the odd teachers strike. It takes a certain detachment to see everyday life as an art project.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When Ida Met Bridget

Earlier in the week I popped into the National Portrait Gallery to check out the new exhibit, tantalisingly titled Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-1974 (actually, having the dates in the title rather spoils the effect). That's quite a promise and the exhibit, to my mind, doesn't live up to the title.

Ida Kar sounds like a fascinating character, born in Moscow, educated in Paris, an established photographer in Cairo before she moved to London in 1945 and opened a gallery with her husband. She worked in several areas of photography, including portraiture and photojournalism. In fact, in some ways, her career paralleled that of Lee Miller, who has also been "rediscovered" after a period of neglect.

But, I didn't have nearly as strong or favourable a response to Kar's work, which occupies one corner of the NPG, divided up into various alcoves, illustrating her different eras, including trips to Havana and eastern Europe.

Much of the exhibit is devoted to her portraits of actors and artists of the mid-20th century, but I found this the dullest section, firstly, because I didn't recognise many of the names (how quickly the famous are forgotten!), but secondly, because they followed a rather staid formula: serious-looking artiste stares down the camera, surrounded by the detritus of his (and they are overwhelmingly male) profession. If he's a writer, he sits at a desk surrounded by books. If he's an artist, he stands by one of his works in a studio. The pictures were perfectly competent, but the subjects seemed rather stiff and self-important. I didn't feel invited into their worlds, fascinating though they may have been.

The one exception to this was a marvellous portrait of Bridget Riley. Positioned between two planes of one of her signature Op art pieces, Riley seems to actually emerge from her own art work and stares up at the camera, looking pensive and ever so slightly vulnerable. Partly, this is owing to the high angle of the shot, which is unusual in Kar's work. But, part of it must be down to something caught between Riley and Kar which is curiously absent from the rest of the show.

By chance I had just seen Riley's exhibit over the road at the National Gallery and was struck by her working methods and her presence in her studio, surrounded by assistants, recorded for a rather stodgy TV feature in 1979. Kar's portrait, shot in 1963, shows her in an earlier phase of her career, a promise of things to come.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

BEV: Sound and Silents

Still from Meshes of the AfternoonFriday night saw a coming together of music and silent film at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as Birds Eye View (or was it WOW? I got confused) presented four silent films with new live scores.

Of the four, I had only seen Meshes of the Afternoon, and so was intrigued to discover a plethora of old and new work, musical and cinematic. Sometimes I didn't know whether to watch the screen or the stage, as the performers could be quite animated.

First up was Hänsel and Gretel by the German pioneer animator Lotte Reiniger, scored by Micachu, standing behind a bank of computers. This was the toughest pairing for me, with Reiniger's delicate silhouette figures paired with Micachu's industrial squeaks. I wasn't quite sure this worked, but it was bold of Micachu to produce something so unmelodious for a fairy tale.

This was followed by Alexander Hammid's / Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, scored by Seaming, seated at a keyboard and clutching a clarinet. She added some piercing screams, as well, which was quite dramatic. I was enraptured, both by the film-making innovation (Deren's presentation is strikingly forward-looking) and the score.

Last before the interval was Tara Busch sitting down to another bank of instruments to score Lois Weber's melodrama, Suspense. Busch's music was quite modern, in contrast to the film, which was the most conventional narrative of the bunch.

After the break was the premiere of Imogen Heap's ambitious a cappella score with a 30-plus piece choir for Germaine Dulac's completely wacky surrealist film, La Coquille et le Clergyman. WTF? Heap's score featured hand claps, whistling, and some cooing, as well as conventional singing. In fact, one section was positively jaunty, considering the action on screen featured a priest attempting to strangle his love rival. Marvellous stuff.
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Monday, March 07, 2011

Birds Eye View Festival preview

Tomorrow, International Women's Day, sees the premiere of the Birds Eye View festival of women's film-making (albeit missing an apostrophe). Having seen a handful of the films, I think it's a pretty strong bill, featuring features, shorts, live music and some filmmaker Q & As.

Best of the bunch I've seen is Zeina Durra's debut feature, The Imperialists Are Still Alive! The title gives a clue to the film's tongue-in-cheek style. After a standout opening sequence featuring an Arab conceptual artist in New York staging a photo shoot with gun-toting Iraqi women, and champagne-swigging guests in an art gallery discussing a possible CIA rendition of a friend, my mouth was hanging open. The juxtaposition of the deadpan performances with the art-world-meets-global-issues was breathtaking. The film loses its way a bit, but Durra displays a keen eye for irony and sharp social commentary.

Compared to that, Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning drama, In a Better World, was a bit of a disappointment, a melodrama considering masculinity and power in both Africa and rural Denmark. It all goes a bit kitchen-sink-drama, as a troubled boy draws his bullied friend into a revenge fantasy. The scenes in an African refugee camp, in which a Swedish doctor attempts to provide treatment while wrestling with his marital problems, display a problematic issue for western filmmakers: none of the African characters has a name. They are merely types: victims, helpers or warlords. Quite disappointing.

Of the docs, Orgasm Inc. and Women of Hamas are timely and thought-provoking, as well as illustrating the lengths filmmakers will go to get their story out. Israeli filmmaker Suha Arraf was unable to get into Gaza once the border was closed, but enlisted local filmmakers to gather her footage. Liz Canner was working for a pharmaceutical company that was developing a new product for "female sexual dysfunction" when she found herself questioning the party line and embarked on a quest to discover the truth behind the need for this product.

Special events include an appearance by Margarethe von Trotta, who is the filmmaker in focus. Imogen Heap, Micachu and Tara Busch are among the musicians providing live scores to classic silents by Maya Deren and Germaine Dulac in Sound in Silents.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Other than Thursday's filmic forays, mostly the last two months have been spent at home, considering various improvement schemes of the personal and business kind. As I've moved around so often since I have been in London, I have fallen into the pragmatism of not bothering to do much decorating of my space. But, since this is the first place I have ever had that actually had room for a division of work and private, I spent a bit of time when I first moved in setting it up, mostly painting and installing shelves for my voluminous boxes, boxes, boxes (someday to be a brilliant book. Or DVD. Or website. We'll see how technology develops over the next millennium).

But, with the council insisting on refurbing my bathroom, I took the opportunity of the disruption (two weeks???!!!) to look at other areas that could use some TLC. Which basically means everything.

So far, before I tweaked my wrist today, I had managed a coat of paint on the foyer and front door (I declined the council's invitation to replace it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it), and finally painting the trim, trim being an option in my mind. Who looks at trim? Really.

Was going to get onto painting the office, but then decided it was well and truly time to tackle the accumulation of dust bunnies. OMG. The dust bunnies. I could knit a large coat with the dust bunnies I unearthed. I also disturbed a family of spiders that have taken up residence between my posters of Governor Ann Richards (RIP) and The Go-Gos reunion album of 1994. I decided it's too cold to rehouse them outdoors, so that web is staying for now. The dust bunnies, though, are well and truly expunged. For now. I am always amazed at the resilience of dust.

The nesting instinct is actually a bit ironic, given that the two months of the Shunda K Challenge ended with me holding the exact same status as before. Although not of a scientific bent, I can still see how there were significiant variables in our approaches to life that might explain the differing results achieved. Then there was the god thing. That wasn't happening. But, all is not lost. I am now creatively visualising clean walls, bright ceilings and shiny floors.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Where Art Meets Commerce

Sign on door of Showroom gallery announcing Reproductive Labour exhibit; photo by Val PhoenixYesterday provided a double helping of alternative cinema, as I visited Reproductive Labour, Cinenova's exhibit at the Showroom. Running for another three weeks, it offers tiny section of the archive of this longstanding feminist film distributor.

Each day of the exhibit a selection of films is screened. What I hadn't realised until I was in the space was that visitors could also request films. After a brief browse at the display of ephemera from various films in the archive, I settled down to watch Friday's selection, chosen (unseen) by Howard Slater, both on the theme of "father". The Death of the Father and The Father is Nothing both proved to be artful depictions of power and control, made in 1986 and 1991, respectively, quite a fruitful time for feminist film-making. I had a nose through some of the files on show and was amused to see some contained rejections from film festivals and apologies for delayed royalties! Perhaps too revealing. The next three Saturdays feature lectures and more extensive screenings.

Cake celebrating 25 years of London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival; photo by Val PhoenixThat evening it was on to the launch of the 25th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Festival launches tend to be little more than extended thank yous to sponsors, interspersed with a few clips to tantalise the punters. This one proved rather more dramatic, as the future of the festival was being loudly debated, first by the announcement of a Facebook campaign to "discuss" the BFI's stewardship and then at the after-party, as the rumour going round was that this is to be the last festival! What? I wondered. Funding cuts to the BFI mean the future of the LLGFF will be assessed between the end of the festival in April and the calendar year, and that comes from BFI director Amanda Nevill.

Which rather cast a pall over what should have been a pretty joyous knees-up. 25 years is pretty good going. This year's festival has been curtailed to one week, because of the missing money, but it still boasts some intriguing films and events, including a preview of The Night Watch and The Owls, a new feature from Cheryl Dunye starring a who's who of dyke cinema.

But, as the volunteers who run Cinenova know, providing a platform for artistic excellence is no guarantee of finding financial support. They haven't had a grant in years.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Best Gig Lineup Ever?

People of Gateshead, rejoice. You are about to be blessed with a superlative bill of punk and post-punk legends. Yes, Gina Birch, Viv Albertine and Helen McCookerybook are packing their gear into the latter's car (road trip!) to play Friday night at The Central Bar, there to be joined by Pauline Murray. Wow!!! Wish I could be there. It's rockin' oop north.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Buddha of Shoreditch

Hanif Kureishi reads at YARNfest; photo by Val PhoenixWhere does Shoreditch end and Hoxton begin? That's the question I asked myself as I trudged up and down the L-E-N-G-T-H of Curtain Road looking in vain for the elusive Queen of Hoxton public house. "It must be at the top end, near Hoxton," my logical brain told me. Nope. "Uh, then it must be by the bottom end, close to Liverpool Street," came the reply. Yes, there it was, sort of where I started some 25 minutes earlier, at the end of a rather long day, after a rather long weekend.

The occasion was Cover Wars, a live competition to redesign the cover of The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi's novel, courtesy of YARN, the multidisciplinary festival in its second year. I was curious to see what live cover-designing involved, and as Kureishi was also reading, thought it would be an interesting test of multi-tasking.

So, down the stairs I trooped, emerging into the darkened bar to find a veritable frenzy of activity, with two artists on-stage, beavering away at their easels, while compere/festival producer Gemma Mitchell verbally prodded them along, and Kureishi sat in the front row, occasionally offering a comment. He was put to work, coming on-stage to judge the efforts, reading some passages from the book and also signing in between judging rounds.

Alas, I had to leave before the tension-racked finale, but I must say I disagreed with the judges' choice in the first round. Fix!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Le Cinema des Femmes presents True Homance

True Homance poster
This month's LCdF screening, True Homance, celebrates female friendship in its most precious form: the homance. OK, so that's a bit of a trendy-street-slang word, but nonetheless it gets the job done. For a thoughtful consideration that takes in Daphne and Velma AND Oprah and Gayle, see my colleague Annette's post on the subject.

The films are Ghost World and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. Rumours of broken-heart cookies and BFF badges have yet to be confirmed...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Free Duke Spirit gig on Friday

Should you be in London this Friday, the 18th, it may be worth making the journey down Tooting way to check out The Duke Spirit at Remedy.

Here's a LiveBuzz performance they did of "Surrender" last year.