Sunday, September 25, 2022

Fringe! Shorts: weird and wonderful

This year, as with the last, I am not able to attend Fringe! festival in person but the queer film festival is offering Fringe! From Home options which is welcome. 

So far I have viewed two shorts programmes and will extract the standouts for this post. 

The French long short Daughters of Destiny (dir. Valentin Noujaïm) is an absorbing atmospheric sci-fi tale of three young women being kidnapped by aliens who claim to have a paradise that looks a lot like a smoky queer night club. I found it quite imaginative and with resonances of Girlhood. It could also be expanded into a feature, should the filmmaker wish it. 

ELIZA (dir. Amy Pennington) is a comic mockumentary about lesser known poet Eliza Cook who wrote in the 19th century. I was slightly confused as to why the actor had a heavy Northern accent while claiming to be from London, but it was quite amusing to see the Victorian-clad poet wandering around present day Kent reminiscing about the last time she was there.

Another comedic short, How To Sex Your Cannabis (dir. Ryan Suits) uses facts about cannabis to make points about gender expression. A great example of using DIY techniques to create a world. 

Some films cross genres. A wild patience has taken me here (dir. Érica Sarmet) at first appears to be a documentary, as a Brazilian lesbian speaks to camera and then takes tea with her cat at home. Once she goes out, however, she meets up with four younger dykes and suddenly the film seems to be some kind of intergenerational fantasy in which everyone has sex and makes vlogs. Most odd. 

More sedate in tone is I was looking for you (dir. Georgia Helen Twigg) in which a woman bakes using a recipe from an older woman she realises recognised her as a kindred spirit. It poses the intriguing question as to whether people can see more in us than we do ourselves. Quietly affecting. 

Also bowing to queer elders is the futuristic comedy Don't Text Your Ex (dir. Jo Güstin) in which a filmmaker interviews an older couple who offer nuggets of wisdom and not a little swearing. The best bit is the end credits which read as text exchanges of the cast and crew. Quite clever. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Vanishing Mysterious Cult Artist

I was struck by the language used in describing the career and death of Diane Luckey, whose nom de plume was Q Lazzarus. The singer, who died in July, had songs on four Jonathan Demme films, but never had a recording contract. She disappeared from public view after the release of Philadelphia, only re-emerging to connect with a filmmaker who is now making a documentary about her. 

Even Luckey's age was disputed, some publications noting it as 60 and some as 62. It's quite unusual in the digital age for any public figure, no matter how cult, to not have details of birth, death and everything in between on the record. Wikipedia has revealed many birth dates certain actors would rather not have publicised. 

For my part, I was ignorant of Q Lazzarus's music, even though it was featured on several films I have seen. I loved the Something Wild soundtrack but never noticed her song. 

Since her passing, I have made the acquaintance of her best known song, "Goodbye Horses", featured on not one but two Jonathan Demme film soundtracks. What a haunting piece it is! I don't know how I missed it. Or her. One hopes the upcoming documentary will fill in the gaps and offer an appreciation of her. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Slow Burn

Happy 64th birthday to Ms. Kate Bush! Or Happy Katemas to those in the fandom. Surely this month must mark one of the most unexpected career boosts of any artist of this century, at least. All those young'uns cheering on Max fleeing Vecna in Stranger Things have helped get "Running Up That Hill" to number one in several countries. 

Those of us old enough to remember the original release can only marvel at its sudden ubiquity after 36 years. But, tortoise and hare and all that. 

But today is also The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever, as thousands flock to perform the iconic dance that accompanied Bush's debut single in 1978. I have seen videos from Australia but had not realised it happens in other places, as well. Why not London? Next year, definitely. 

Also, happy birthday to Emily Brontë who started it all in 1818. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Whitstable Biennale

 It was great to get back to this event after six years, but the date I chose was the hottest day of the year, so my memories are slightly blurred by heat exhaustion. Beautiful sea and sky and absolute crowds on the beach made getting inside to exhibits quite the feat. 

First up was old reliable Horsebridge Arts Centre which had two exhibits. Downstairs was Savinder Bual's Fade + High and Low, two water-powered works requiring topping up by human beings, which I thought was novel, if labour intensive. 

Upstairs was a viewing room to see two films by Sonya Dyer. I caught The Betsey Drake Equation, which juxtaposed two white male scientists discussing cosmology with a black female dancer interrupting the discourse. I am told cosmology is quite in right now. 

Jennet Thomas's The Great Curdling was a baffling, bonkers film screened in The Old Bank which had me guffawing out loud. A bit sci-fi, a bit high school musical, it featured characters in the future lamenting the loss of the sea through recitals and songs and dodging low fi special effects. I missed the accompanying live performance. 

This film and several exhibits had to be moved from The Cockle Shed owing to a fire and I never found the new location for Sarah Craske's An Eco-Hauntology, which I was looking forward to seeing.  

I did stumble on Chromatic Agency's Ephemeral Evidence while wandering down a side street. Two versions of the film play out on a screen while a giant lump of clay is available to mark. The film details Southern Water's release of raw sewage into the sea and asks who speaks for the sea? 

My final visit was a long trek to the library to view Alicia Radage's installation MOTHER BENT, which took up a whole room upstairs in the lecture hall. The floor was covered in dirt which had screens and sculptures of body parts pointing upward. Sounds came through speakers while headphones offered additional sounds. I spent quite a lot of time here and allowed myself to really get immersed. I did not see the additional works in the adjacent library. 

What was surprising this year was the lack of a Biennale HQ to offer a gathering place for visitors. Venues did not seem to know about events at other spaces. It would have been good to feel more of a connection with other visitors to the festival. But a day out in Whitstable offers its own connections, to the sea and shore and of course the gorgeous sky. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Creating Change

Farewell then to the tireless activist Urvashi Vaid whose passing was announced last week. I met her in the early 1990s while strolling down Castro Street in San Francisco, stopped her for a chat and ended up exchanging details with her to set up an interview. All this while her partner, the comedian Kate Clinton, waited patiently by her side. 

Just before we parted, Vaid reached into her trouser pocket, pulled out a rather crumpled object and told me to listen to it. It was Clinton's latest album. I left impressed by them both. 

Eventually, we did speak and I wrote up the interview for Deneuve magazine. I saw her speak at several events including Creating Change West in 1991 and the March on Washington in 1993 and she was always forceful, charismatic and on point. 

I lost touch once I moved to the UK, but I always found Urv an inspiring figure and a much-needed leader in many overlapping communities. My deepest sympathies to Kate Clinton. 

Here is an interview with Vaid and Clinton from 2014. 

Monday, April 04, 2022

BFI Flare: Unsaid

So, this really will be my final post for this year's Flare. My last feature is The Sound of Scars, a doc on the rock band Life of Agony. Knowing nothing of their story, I was pleased to learn they were from Brooklyn. Always good to hear some authentic NYC accents. Singer Mina Caputo had transitioned some years back, in between band break-ups, and this was one stream of the film, another being that several members of the band had suffered traumatic childhoods. A lot of footage showed young boys in various states of rough and tumble. I had rather expected Mina Caputo to reflect on the lasting scars of toxic masculinity in the scene, but this theme was notable by its absence. 

Reflecting back on 1990s hardcore, I remember it was this very strain that alienated so many girls and women from attending gigs, let alone joining bands. What a missed opportunity. Anyway, the band have a new drummer and album and seem to be putting things back together. 

The short Borekas is largely a two-hander of a father and son leaving much unsaid as the latter prepares to fly back from his homeland to his life in Munich. The fumbling of the father and the angst of the sun are well played and the final awkward pat on the back is poignant. 

Syed Family...

And for a final heart-warming family comedy, there is The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night, a mouthful to say and replete with cringey moments of recognition, as little sister brings her girlfriend home for the titular event. Actor turned director Fawzia Mirza brings order to chaos, wringing out every last drop of tension and humour from the making of a pot of chai. Coquitos all around!

Sunday, April 03, 2022

BFI Flare: Making Space

 I am coming to the end of my Flare viewing and have a trio of films to explore, all of which deal with repression, tradition and making space when it is not offered. 

Terence Davies' drama Benediction is a languid depiction of the life and loves of Siegfried Sassoon, best know as a First World War poet. Davies uses a lot of archive footage from the front, as well as having actor Jack Lowden, who plays Sassoon, voice his poems, but this really unbalances the film. I found the poems to be the least affecting aspect of the drama and was more interested in Sassoon's relationships with his peers. Later in life he married a woman, despite being gay and the film also has disconcerting flashes forward to him as an older man converting to Catholicism and arguing with his son. The whole thing dragged badly and I wished Davies had trimmed the film down. 

Camila Comes Out Tonight is an Argentine drama about a teenager finding life in Buenos Aires to be somewhat out of her comfort zone. Dragged their by her mother as her grandmother lies dying in hospital, Camila meets a boy, then a girl and finds herself negotiating her sexuality as her relationship with her mum becomes strained. The first hour is absolutely tedious but the last act is incredible, with secrets aired and revenge enacted in a way I found delightful. It's rare for a film to depict intergenerational family relationships in a way that is fair to all and it is also refreshing to see the street protests in Argentina given air time. Seeing girls chanting My Body, My Business was a fist-pumping moment for me. 

Gateways Grind

And finally, Gateways Grind is a TV show masquerading as a film that is littered with delightful anecdotes and archival footage as Sandi Toksvig rides around London in a cab offering a history of the historic lesbian nightspot The Gateways Club which closed in 1985. There is a lot of dish, especially around the filming of The Killing of Sister George, but also about the staff and patrons of the club. I was utterly fascinated by the story of proprietor Gina Ware, who was married to the owner but had a close relationship with bar woman Smithy, as told by Ware's daughter. They deserve their own film. A wonderful watch.