Saturday, April 14, 2012

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.

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