Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Thing

Haven't blogged much lately, because I have been consumed by preparing A Thing. I can't say what it is yet, but I am working on it, diligently. Gathering information, synthesising it, learning new technologies (for me), such as the mysterious Power Point and Pro Tools. Yes, the thing will be a multi-media, audio-visual delight, A Thing of splendour. And it will encompass some of this other thing I have been working on for the last, oh, 17 years or so. Will let you know how it goes.

BTW can't say I am feeling the new Blogger layout. At All. It really has taken "creative white space" to extremes. Apologies if you are not a Blogger user and can't see the back end of the site. But, urgh. Don't like. Vimeo has also just revamped its site to make it spectacularly less user-friendly. Why, why, why?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hole Reunion On-stage

They said it would never happen. But, for two songs it did in NYC. You can only watch in awe at the chaos that ensues when you invite Courtney Love to join you....

Filmic Friday

Sign to Little Joe Clubhouse; photo by Val PhoenixAnd then it was back to the films, as I made a return to my old stomping ground of Brick Lane for some bagels and then a visit to the Little Joe Clubhouse currently in residence through Sunday (as part of Fringe!) in the basement of Rich Mix, a venue that didn't even exist when I lived around the corner 10 years ago.

The Clubhouse is a wood and textile construction that would do the Scouts and Guides proud and indeed one of the visitors was an ex-Cub, so we bonded over childhood memories of... not going out to the woods and making fires. Didn't happen in my Brownie chapter in the Bronx.

There was a lot of time for bonding, as the scheduled film, Star, was delayed for some reason. But when the DVD got going, we saw some very entertaining clips of two little-known Indian disco films from the early '80s. As presenter Shanay Jhaveri explained, this was an intriguing experiment in a cross-cultural youth movement translating to film. Not too successfully, as it happens, as the films bombed and the actors didn't work again! It was marvelllously camp, with sassy women and tight-trousered men rocking the disco beat, surrounded by totally OTT lighting.

Stumbling out of that humming one of the songs, I headed to the Southbank for two Made In Britain programmes. I have seen the work of most of the directors on show, but not that of the twice Oscar-nominated doc director Lucy Walker and was looking forward to two of her films, Devil's Playground and the recent The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. In truth, I wasn't bowled over by either film, though she got brilliant access for both, as an outsider. DP is a 2001 account of the Amish tradition of rumspringa, when teens go out into the world to sample the forbidden before deciding whether to commit to the church or not. She found some intriguing subjects, most notably the wayward Faron and his on-off girlfriend Emma, who tempts him to leave the church and make a new life. But it felt overlong. Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom I found simplistic and a bit manipulative, with Moby's music used to push the audience's buttons in a way that is not necessary. The tragedy of the Japanese tsunami is powerful enough. It didn't need any cinematic trickery. It reminded me of Steven Spielberg's overly sentimental work. Perhaps this is something to do with Walker working in the USA.

After a brief pause, it was on to the second programme, Carol Morley's The Alcohol Years, which I have been keen to see since finding Dreams of a Life. Somehow I missed TAY when it was on Channel 4 all those years ago. It was preceded by two shorts, Everyday Something, which is really quite comic and disturbing at the same time and The Madness of the Dance, which I saw years ago at Raindance and hated. I still find it an uncomfortable mix of quasi-scientific pontificating and musical numbers, and I really, really don't like the final scene, which seems to ridicule the notion of mass hystaeria as experienced by women. But, I accept I may have misinterpreted it, as Morley's other films exhibit a keen empathy with her female protagonists. In any case, it certainly illustrates her fascination with real-life subjects, which she finds through newspaper clippings.

TAY, of course, is about her search for herself, as seen through other people's eyes. Having lost five years of her youth to alcohol-fuelled hedonism in Manchester, Morley journeyed back in 2000 to ask people who knew her then to recount their memories, and it really is a fascinating portrait, utterly unsparing in its criticism of her, her behaviour, her promiscuity and her relationships. What isn't said by anybody, really, is that this was clearly a vulnerable child seeking attention and love and not finding it. Speaking onstage afterward, Morley referred to two or three people in the audience as saving her, but her public demeanour is utterly lacking in self-pity or -congratulation. It's very Mancunian, I would venture to say. As a non-Mancunian, I did find the lack of captions most irritating, as the only people I recognised were Liz Naylor and Pete Shelley, but that is another Morley hallmark, as she likes to let the audience meet the characters without being prompted by captions. This quirk aside, I do find her work quite impressive, and look forward to her next project, which she teased would feature adolescent 1960s girls as we've never seen them on-screen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Little Battles Launch

She Makes War at Half Moon; photo by Val PhoenixIt's great to get out and experience some live music again after weeks of film viewing, and last night's She Makes War album launch was a spectacular return. It involved a journey down to Herne Hill, not my neck of the woods, but was well worth it. The venue, Half Moon, was surprisingly roomy, the sound crystal clear and the performance was something special.

Having released her second album, Little Battles, on Monday, She Makes War had gathered some comrades in arms to perform as her backing band, The Olympians, and what an array of musicians! Two violinists, a harpist, two backing vocalists, two guitarists, a keyboardist and a drummer came and went in a range of combinations, making for a very busy stage indeed. And at the centre of it, Laura Kidd aka She Makes War, relieved of her usual multi-tasking duties to play bass, a bit of ukulele and, occasionally, vocals only. She was visibly enjoying the spectacle, grinning broadly, high-fiving a bandmate and generally drinking in the building vibe.

Playing tracks from debut Disarm as well as the newbie, The Olympians applied themselves in grand style. I particularly liked the songs featuring the dual violins, or duelling fiddles, as I called them. There was something magical about the way the two women flanked Kidd as she sang, almost like stringed guardian angels. If I won the lottery (not that I play, mind), I would definitely hire two violinists to accompany me for the day, as I went about my business.

Acting as bookends were my favourite tracks from the two albums, opener "Shields and Daggers" and closer "Scared to Capsize", which ended up in a surprising and delightful singalong, as Kidd stalked the stage with her megaphone and then did a turn through the audience, before returning to the stage to take her bow.

Friday, April 06, 2012


My round-up of the 26th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is now live on The Quietus site.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Made in Britain

A quick word about the Made in Britain series at the BFI Southbank. This edition of the ongoing programme celebrating UK filmmakers is devoted to women directors and runs through the end of April.

It's a great chance to check out the back catalogue of celebrated filmmakers like Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, and Lucy Walker, as well as artist-turned director Gillian Wearing. A pity they couldn't have found space for any women of colour, though.

Tonight Clio Barnard is in conversation after her amazing film, The Arbor. Carol Morley and Joanna Hogg will also participate in Q&As.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

LLGFF: Sisters in Struggle

Still from Joe + BelleHappy April Fool's Day. There will be no pranks played in this post, which winds up my coverage of the 26th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

Saturday's viewing started with a DVD of Joe + Belle, a real find and one of the highlights of the festival for me. An Israeli comic drama directed by Veronica Kedar, the film finds drug runner Joe going on the run with psychiatric patient Belle, who had broken into the former's flat in order to commit suicide. Joe's reaction to finding this stranger in her bathtub, razor in hand, is exquisitely deadpan, setting the tone for the rest of the picture. As they get deeper and deeper in trouble with the law, their relationship also deepens, setting up a most cryptic finale.

Second highlight of the day was Icelandic drama Jitters (dir Baldvin Z), which also had comic elements amid its teenaged highjinks and parental disapproval. Sensitive Gabriel has an encounter with fellow student Markus while on a school trip to Manchester. Returning home to join his group of friends, he finds himself called upon to solve all of their problems while keeping his own uncertainty at bay. What I really liked about this film is that it gave free rein to teenaged passions, especially drink and sex, while at the same time allowing the kids intelligence and sensitivity. The adults were shown to be distant or out of touch with their offspring, while trying to be authority figures, which really rang true.

And then on to the concluding programme and most problematic of the day: Mommy Is Coming + Sisterhood, two films from Berlin, both related to queer feminist porn. MIC is the latest from Cheryl Dunye, one of my favourite filmmakers since the 1990s, and is an odd mix of screwball comedy and porn, or, as I decided, screwball with the emphasis on the screw. Gender-bending, a fish out of water, and adopted identities provide the humour, while visits to a sex club provide the porn element, as well as the atrociously bad acting. Even Dunye, as the cab driver who picks up all of the characters, over-acts. Maybe it was meant to be a parody of trad porn. Anyway, that and her use of to-camera interviews proved to be quite irritating, tripping up the comedic moments time and again. Odd, really that Dunye and co-writer Sarah Schulman should choose to do porn at this time in their illustrious careers. And a very thin piece it is, too, at only 67 mins.

The companion piece, Sisterhood, directed by Marit Östberg, is a doc on her gang of collaborators who make queer feminist porn in Berlin. It references a film of hers, Share, which showed last year at the festival, but which I have not seen, making the actors' constant nods to it less than illuminating. And, quite frankly, it was a bit dull. While I admire the performers' thoughfulness on their participation in porn and what makes it compelling for them, I do not share that interest and found my attention wandering to the dog, Billie, which was in all of the group interview shots. How did it stay still so long? How did it stay awake?

So, not the best end to the festival, but a sign that many, many tastes are being catered for. Oh, and the Dyke March ending up at the BFI lent a rather surreal air to the proceedings. Emerging from a shorts programme, I wandered in a daze through the throng, wondering, "Where did all these women come from?" Spirits were high, and though the sun had long since departed, a warm glow suffused the hall.