Thursday, October 31, 2013

Crystal Palace International Film Festival

Venturing south of the river for an evening's cinematic viewing, I found myself in quite a nifty venue in The Triangle (as the locals deem it), Crystal Palace's entertainment hub.

The evening's offering was student film, with six films and a Q&A on offer. They were, indeed, international, with South Korea, USA, Sweden, New Zealand and the UK represented. Violence was the dominant theme, with five out of the six fixated on acts or threats of violence. Students, eh?

By far the standout film was the Swedish entry, Annalyn (dir Maria Eriksson), the only one more interested in the minutae of human relationships than violent action (and the only one directed by a woman!). Eriksson's bittersweet but highly comic film runs 30 minutes and was by far the longest film on show, but absolutely flew by, as Agnes came to terms with her crumbling relationship and stumblingly tried to get to grips with her feelings for the new woman in her life--her father's new wife. Comedy of embarrassment didn't cover it. My companions were especially impressed with the dialogue, which covered a lot (in three languages) in quite short order.

Of the other films, the two US offerings were pretty good, as well, with excellent cinematography. The Painter (dir Nate Townsend) presented a middle-aged man reflecting on a turning point in his life at a remove of 35 years and offered a poignant twist that stayed with the audience. Awwww was my reaction.

Never Gonna Break (dir Thomas Backer) also had a twist, but the climax went a bit melodramatic for my taste--screaming and guns played a role.

The final film, Ugly Night (dir Won Kang) from South Korea, we all agreed, was well-shot (or even, eh, executed), but proved to be a blood-drenched, pointless exercise. Its director will no doubt go on to be a millionaire.

Crystal Palace International Film Festival continues through 9 November.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Far from Home

Kristin Hersh; photo by Val Phoenix
Got in late last night after an epic day, during which I finally, FINALLY made the acquaintance of one Kristin Hersh after a generation or so of listening and quite a few interview requests. The interview happened, of which more later (should be an Odd Girl Out podcast). And Ms. Hersh couldn't have been more self-effacing and brilliantly poetic in her musings, which included never really being at home anywhere.

Which strikes a chord for me, not just because I am a long-term expat. But, there are some people in creation who just don't seem to fit their surroundings. Like me. I've long pondered the notion that I am some alien being beamed in from goodness-knows-where in order to survey this strange planet and its inhabitants. My report is forthcoming. Beware.

Anyway, after the interview it was on to sunny Wood Green where Kristin was doing a reading/mini-gig in a bookstore. I do love me an independent bookstore, and so it was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of Big Green Books, to scan its shelves and then settle in for an all-too-brief set by Kristin of new Throwing Muses tracks, plus readings from the accompanying book. 'Cause this is the way of the world now, kids. Since the music biz collapsed, it's all about the crowdfunding and bundling of activities.

I quite like the notion of a book-cum-record, and Purgatory/Paradise by Throwing Muses is an intriguing proposition. 32 tracks is a bit much to take in in one sitting for me, so will have to return to it. But, the writing, by Kristin, is brilliant, full of insights into her world and what I call her pancake philosophising. She takes quotidien events and objects and expounds on them in a way that makes profound points.

The set was actually two new Muses songs, plus a traditional spiritual, "The Wayfaring Stranger", which reflects on the journey of life and trying to get, um, home. Kristin remarked it was written by God. Looking it up, I see it appeared in Cold Mountain, which I, by chance, have just seen on DVD. Do like a bit of hillbilly music, when it isn't too God-oriented. There is an aura of melancholia and world-weariness that hangs over such tunes, and, indeed, much of Kristin's work, as well. Soulmates, they are.

After the gig, I joined an erstwhile classmate of mine, plus his mate, for some home-made risotto in a reclaimed old people's home. Now that was weird.

Kristin Hersh will launch Purgatory/Paradise on 28 October at Rough Trade East in London.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Visitors to Intervals by Ayse Erkmen; photo: Val Phoenix
Paying a visit to the Barbican yesterday, I swung by The Curve to check out the new exhibition, only to find I was too early, an unusual occurrence for me. But, when I returned after 11 am, I was greeted by an open door leading down to a screen covering the space. Hmm, I thought. This could be a short visit. I hovered uncertainly at the top of the stairs, wondering if I was allowed to venture closer. As I registered the wall text accompanying the exhibit, the invigilator drew my attention to a brochure that he said had the same text. I took the brochure, read the wall text and ventured in, as the screen lifted to reveal another.

This is Ayse Erkmen's intriguing installation, Intervals, making clever use of The Curve's position and shape as part of the backstage area of the most complex complex, The Barbican. A series of painted screens lifts and falls, drawing the visitor in and keeping one there for the duration of the randomly sequenced movements. I joked with the invigilator, "Has anyone gotten stuck?", to which he replied, "Not for long." I found it an entrancing experience, gazing on the elaborately painted screens, imagining the works that had prompted them, everything from Italian opera to modern dramas.

But, when I reached the eighth screen, I was puzzled. The brochure described it as inspired by the work of Turner, but the green leaves on the screen bore no resemblance to the brochure's description. As the screen lifted, I saw the next one over looked more Turner-esque and also depicted stairs, which would make sense if it was inspired by Turner's The Grand Staircase, From the West. Once I could get under that screen, I sought out the nearest invigilator to check, and he was none the wiser. I wondered then about the next few, as to whether they were correctly named, as well. In the end, we concluded that 8 and 9 (Turner and Morris) had been switched in the brochure, if not on the wall caption at the start. Funny nobody had noticed this before!

A bit of backstage mystery never went amiss. Other visitors didn't seem to take such a close interest in the individual screens, striding under them, or in the case of the many kids, approaching at high speed and doing a stop, drop and roll. My knees aren't up to that at present, but it was certainly a high-energy approach to art.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gloomy Wednesday

Sailor Girl from Entangled2 (Theatre II) by Lindsay Seers
What better way to spend a rainy day than to visit some galleries and take in some art? So, that's what I did yesterday, as the heavens opened in London. Unfortunately for me, my journey required a lot of walking between venues and I was one soggy figure on my arrival at Matt's Gallery for a viewing of Lindsay Seers' Entangled (Theatre II), a version of a piece I viewed last year in Margate.

The viewing requires an advance call to book a slot, and when I arrived early for mine, I had to wait for the previous viewing to finish, even though nobody was actually in the room. Once it was ready, I was handed a pair of headphones and beckoned into a small booth, which resembled nothing so much as a peep show booth which faced a red square viewing area. It was an odd juxtaposition for me: why the booth? The space in Margate was open between audience and the two spheres that formed the screen, so I am not clear on why she has set it up this way. In any event, there's nothing sleazy about the piece, which details testimony from two performers about their lives as male impersonators.

I am not sure if this is any different from the piece in Margate, but the space being discussed (and suggested in the viewing conditions) is the Mile End Genesis, rather than a Kent stage. Seers likes to localise her stagings of pieces, and as the Genesis used to be a live theatre before it was a cinema, she did some filming there and it gets a brief mention in the piece. I don't know if it's better or worse than what I saw in Margate, but I really like the use of the spheres to take on various characters in the stories the performers tell, from eyeballs to wombs. Most imaginative and evocative. Leaving the performance through an anteroom, I saw photos of the performers who inspired the work, Hetty King looking especially dapper as a sailor. Lucky the recipient of her signed photo!

Then it was onto the Whitechapel to see Sarah Lucas's retrospective. I felt I was entering the living room of a very eccentric relative as I opened the door to the first gallery: mobiles, wallpaper, and an array of tables, chairs, and mattresses greeted me. But, what furnishings! The mattresses were stained with food, the wallpaper was lurid newspaper headlines and the settees were made of MDF and breezeblocks. I warmed to the latter, even testing them out, once I was sure it was permitted. Sadly, taking photos is banned, a shame, because the most interesting aspect to my visit was watching the reactions and behaviours of the other visitors. Gleeful laughter, pointed fingers, frowns and grimaces were the order of the day, as everyone got to grips with Lucas's oeuvre. I found myself bemused and charmed, actually.

What is her POV, I wonder. Her use of food to convey markers of sex is well-known, but what point is she making with her giant plaster penises, which, er, popped up in an array of locations on the ground and upper floor? Though the exhibit contains warnings about graphic sexual material, I found it most unsexual, actually, more a presentation of grubby humanity. There is something a bit bleak about her equation of body parts with the detritus of human failure.

Upstairs I quite liked the brass casts, which echo the textile ones downstairs, twisted shapes perhaps recalling legs or even turds, I suppose. And I also really liked the cigarette portraits, which seems an apt form for someone who is often pictured with a fag jutting out of her mouth. An odd character, Lucas, who has abandoned London for Suffolk, but seems no less productive or more optimistic in her post-enfant terrible years.