Friday, January 27, 2023

Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel

I finally got out to see an exhibit! Since I have been lying low during the pandemic, I have rarely ventured into a gallery. But since I was meeting my old chum B., we decided to take in an exhibition. 

Rebel Rebel was a good choice. The Curve at the Barbican is a unique space which begs the visitor to take a journey. Sokhanvari has installed her paintings of a range of iconic Iranian women along its length, the small egg tempera pieces placed on a backdrop of geometric patterns recalling traditional Islamic art work. 

It's a sumptuous mix of pop art, portraiture and Iranian cultural history, as the artist places her subjects, among them directors, singers and actors, against vivid backdrops of rugs, curtains and walls all brilliantly coloured and patterned. The names were all new to me but well known in their times: Delkash was the first woman to cross dress on screen. Kobra Saeedi was an actor and writer who decried sexism and now lives in obscurity. Ramesh was a pop singer who fused genres. And many more besides.

At the end of the space is a giant mirrored screen showing some of the films of the subjects. When one reads the biographies of these amazing women it is sobering to hear how often their voices were silenced by the 1979 revolution. Some emigrated, some were imprisoned and others disappeared from view. Many died young. The triumph of the exhibit is to see them rendered as bursting with life and in full voice. 

Rebel Rebel continues until 26 February 2023 at the Barbican Centre in London. 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

End of 2022 Thoughts

I usually find myself in a reflective mood toward the end of any year. I recount highlights and favourite books or films. This year, though, I really could not think of any cultural products that stood out. Partly that is because I am still not going out, but also because what I did read, listen to or watch did not seem especially note-worthy. 

However, I did find some wonderful moments to recount for my end of year thoughts. I have already blogged about the astonishing late acclaim for "Running Up That Hill", which remains one of the highlights of 2022 for me. 

To this I will add the colossal win of England's Lionesses to take home the Euros trophy. I was cheering as loudly as I could. I am so, so pleased that this has led to a real breakthrough for women's sport in the UK, with opportunities opening up not just for more participation in sport but also commercial opportunities for the players, everything from appearing on soaps to receiving awards. It is long overdue. 

The Euros campaign is recounted in this online documentary.

I also very much enjoyed the odd Twitter storm, such as when Lizzo played Pres James Madison's crystal flute. This appealed to me on so many levels, being a former flute nerd as a kid. Nobody liked this instrument! It was played by turtleneck-wearing men! Now it's played by amazing all round performers and nothing is more bling than a crystal flute. Kudos to the Library of Congress for inviting Lizzo in to try it out, horrifying gammon everywhere.

And my final moment also loomed large on the Twittersphere recently, when Greta Thunberg took out a misogynist with some well placed words. Delightful!

I wish all a calm, peaceful, inspiring 2023. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Remember My Name

 Farewell then singer and actress Irene Cara whose passing was announced today. I was immediately struck by youthful pangs of idolatry, recalling her singing not one but two immensely popular title tracks from musical films, Fame and Flashdance. By the time Flashdance came out, I was old enough to see the film and buy the soundtrack which I wore out on the family turntable. It was groundbreaking to see a woman welder who also danced and flirted confidently with her love interest. The dancing was out of this world. 

Fame, however, came out when I was too young to see it and I knew of it only from reputation for years. But as a kid growing up in NYC I was mesmerised by the clips I saw of teenagers dancing and singing in the streets of Manhattan, of taut, thrusting bodies in body-hugging gear and leg warmers. How we all obsessed over leg warmers in those days. It really was a thing. We all wanted to attend the School of Performing Arts, too. The closest I came was when our high school choir performed a medley from Fame

As an adult I finally saw the film and was struck by how intense it was, how it dealt with serious issues like family abuse, exploitation, and so forth. I don't know why I am so surprised that a musical can also be a serious film, even knowing how Dirty Dancing and Footloose also addressed contemporary issues. I found out only today that Irene Cara was from the Bronx, which gives added resonance as that is my hometown, too. 

Decades on from its release, I still get a thrill seeing those kids dance onto the street and walk over those cars. RIP Irene. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

London Film Festival Shorts for Free 2022

 Once again this year I was not able to attend LFF but I did catch their Shorts for Free that were available online, with today being the last day to view.

It was quite a variable selection in terms of theme and quality. I was surprised to learn Dropout (writer/ dir Ade Femzo) won the audience award for best film, as I found it pleasant but unremarkable, a boy hiding the news of his music career taking off from his mum who wants him to stay in uni. John Boyega had some behind the scenes involvement, so perhaps that connection gave the film a publicity boost. 

The Chinese film I Have No Legs, and I Must Run won the festival's best short award, which is more understandable. It is an unsettling, atmospheric watch steepd in homoeroticism , as two runners compete for a place on the team, forcing each other to greater and greater effort until one of them breaks down. Director Yue Li makes references to pigs in a cage as his two leads work under the beady eye of a demanding coach. 

The other standout for me was Transparent, dancer Siobhan Davies' autobiographical reflection on her motivations and themes, beautifully shot and imaginatively rendered. I also recognised some of the East London locations. 

Several of the films I found annoyingly pretentious, but there were a couple other queer ones I want to mention. An Avocado Pit (dir Ary Zarabrings together a sex worker and potential client for a roam around Lisbon. Very talky but prettily shot. 

Checoslovaquia (dir Dennis Perinango), a Peruvian film, feels like the start of a longer work, as a mechanic-cum-taxi driver becomes entwined in the lives of the queer folk he spies on playing volleyball at the local river (as you do). His struggles with his own toxic masculinity play out over the course of the film and the title has something to do with a sport he watched as a youngster but this was not well rendered in the translated subtitles so I was left confused. The ending, too, feels rushed but it feels like the core of an excellent longer film is there. 

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.