Sunday, November 26, 2023

Dolly Parton Rockstar


Well, this is unexpected. Rockstar, Dolly Parton's first rock album, prompted by her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, spans 30 tracks of fist-pumping, guitar strumming, wide-legged RAWK. Plus, some power ballads. Anyway....

If you did not have Dolly warbling alongside Paul McCartney, Pat Benatar and Kid Rock on your 2023 bingo card, well, join the club. I was speechless as I listened. Mostly for all the right reasons. 

One could play a really fun game of Rock Wish List for a project like this. I would have loved to hear what Dolly could do alongside Tina Turner or a contemporary band like Idles. Hell, what about Ozzy Osbourne or Slipknot? But, no. It's a bit more safe, with a lot of her contemporaries and then a few "kids" like  Miley Cyrus. No Lil Nas X? He was all over Twitter wanting her to appear on "Old Town Road" a few years ago. Perhaps for Rockstar v. 2 if that appears. 

For this album, though, most of the superstars play quiet support to Dolly's vocals and it works well on such tracks as "Every Breath You Take" with Sting relegated to backing vocals. On "What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done for You" Dolly is clearly enjoying  her back and forth with Stevie Nicks, but the song is not up to their talents. 

When Dolly takes centre stage she really rules. "Purple Rain" is a gorgeous gospelly take on Prince's classic. Only someone like Mavis Staples could have enriched the vocal but Dolly's voice stands alone and I only wish the guitar solo had been a bit more commanding to build the power. 

"Wrecking Ball" alongside Miley Cyrus is OMFG and Dolly goes there, quoting "I Will Only Love You" for the first time on the album. Will the video recreate the original? We can only wait. 

"Satisfaction" done as a trio with Pink and Brandi Carlile is a proper stomper and quite fun. 

When Lizzo and her flute turn up for "Stairway to Heaven" we know we have truly reached peak 2023 weirdness but it works a treat. 

I love the trio of Emmylou Harris, Dolly and Sheryl Crow on "You're No Good", offering a tip of the hat to Linda Ronstadt, who also straddled country and rock back in the day. 

Simon Le Bon, Steve Perry, Rob Halford and John Fogerty offer very little on their tracks but thanks for coming. 

The truly bonkers  finale features Dolly soloing on "Free Bird" and then basically restarting the song and duetting with the corpse of Ronnie Van Zant, courtesy of his widow allowing her the use of his original vocals. 10:45 is the duration of this album closer. It's exhausting and exhilarating. 

Plus, there are B-sides and extended versions I have not heard. The mind boggles. Truly, Dolly, you are too generous. 

Honestly, this is the most fun I have had listening to an album in ages. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

BFI London Film Festival highlights

 I say highlights, but they are simply a sampling of what I saw. Not much, but how wonderful to be able to go out to the cinema again! I am cautious--I mask and distance as much as I can, and hardly anyone else does, which is disconcerting. But I was thrilled to be able to sit in a cinema seat and watch a screen. 

Actually, Curzon Soho's cinema 2 worked out well for me, because I was in the back row and on the end, in what felt like was the usher's seat. Ample legroom and nobody near me. Hurrah!

The films. Well, I only saw two features, both by celebrated auteurs but with very different outcomes. I am embarrassed to say I had never seen anything by Aki Kaurismäki before, though I know him by reputation. His latest, Fallen Leaves, is a curiously slight piece of work, at heart a two hander of lonely man and woman pursuing each other. There are other minor characters and also a dog, but really it's just those two being awkward and laconic and not much happens. The Ukraine war is on the radio as a backdrop, but I am not sure of the significance. The humour is dry and the performances were good but I was left unmoved by the thing. 

Todd Haynes' May December is a different beast, an unsettling expose of human denial, betrayal and deceit. I was a bit shaken by it. Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman are excellent as subject and actress playing subject. Their dance of power is played out as a slow burn over the film's length, with excellent support from Charles Melton as Moore's husband. I will say no more. 

As usual for the last few years, I also watched the shorts available online and found a few of note. Khabur (dir Nafis Fathollahzadeh) explores the ethnographic studies Germans made of their excavations of a site in Syria in the early 20th century. The director repurposes these to expose the assumptions of superiority and exploitation behind the works. She then gives voice to one statue as it sits in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. I found the sound mix a bit iffy, but the film is strong. 

Essex Girls  (dir Yero Timi-Biu) is a contemporary story of a girl navigating different social groups and trying to find her place in among them. Well acted and features Corinna Brown (Tara in Heartstopper!) in a supporting role. 

The other one I really liked was an animation, Boat People (dir Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma), which is the director's remembrances of leaving Vietnam with her family as a very young child. What she knew then and understands now are of course quite different. 

I hoped to get to some of the art exhibits but did not. It was good to be back. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

Fringe! Queer Arts and Film Festival

 The festival finished last week but I have taken some time to finish watching films and gather my thoughts. 

Naturally, I spent a bit of time pondering my own film, Lactasia, which made its belated UK debut. The screening was socially distanced and relaxed and was somewhat masked. It certainly was a new experience for me to see people lying on bean bags at a festival screening. We were even offered gay masks! Well, rainbow ones. I have kept one as a souvenir. 

Here is a pic of the installation I put up at Rich Mix for my screening. 

But the other films I saw ranged from the high camp of Captain Faggotron to a whole programme of witchy experimental shorts. Captain Faggotron was great fun and a distant cousin to Lactasia in its B-movie values and humour. And it was set in Berlin, which is always a delight to see on film. 

I also saw a newly digitised version of Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire Too, which is an old favourite of mine. It looked great and it's always great to spend time with these amazing activists, now seen at a distance of 30 years. I think a lot of the youngers viewers were really impressed by what they saw and some women told me they wished they had been there. I had, of course, and was wearing my Lesbian Avengers T-shirt to prove it!

I viewed several shorts programmes, including the romance-themed Queer Summer Lovin'. The standout in this programme was definitely Youssou & Malek, which was very clever and beautifully shot. The two leads had great chemistry as a young couple faces being split up by life choices. 

The end of my attendance at the festival in a live capacity was the shorts programme Enchanted Visions, which featured an array of truly baffling and bewitching films, some more abstruse than others. I am not sure I truly understood any of them, in fact, but that may have been because I was utterly exhausted by that point. 

Suffice to say it was an exciting week for me, my first live festival in three years and a chance for people to see what I have been working on for eight years, too. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Made in East London

Tomorrow my film Lactasia gets its UK premiere at Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Festival in London. It's been a long process to get to this point, with many bumps in the road, not least Covid which delayed our post-production process by two years. 

still from Lactasia

Nonetheless, it's gratifying to finally get the chance to see the film on a proper cinema screen with an audience. And the film is very much steeped in East London, from its references, to its rehearsals, to its locations. Here I shall run through a bit of what that looks like. 

Rich Mix, the venue where the film is showing tomorrow, was the site of our rehearsals for our zombies, who stalk the film with their quest to find The Others. Two of the three zombies showed up for this meeting in September 2017, as we worked through what zombie drag queens sound like and how they move. It was great fun working through this. 

still from Lactasia

The montage sequences sprinkled throughout the film were largely shot in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green as I wandered up and down shooting interesting backdrops with a particular interest in street art such as murals and graffiti. Many of these, of course, no longer exist, as street art is usually ephemeral, unless it's Banksy's! But I felt that capturing a snap shot of how those streets looked at that moment gave the film a particular feeling of NOW. 

still from Lactasia

The climactic scenes at a goth club were shot in Bow, and I confess I have not been back since we shot there in 2019 but I assume the railway bridge is still there, quite eerie at night. 

Since our production and post process was so long, entire locations have disappeared. Some scenes were shot with the actors walking past such buildings as Mirth and Percy Ingle which have shut down. 

I have an especial fondness for a particular small alleyway in Walthamstow where our scenes of zombies trudging past a busker were soundtracked by the local sparrows in full song. I loved that sound, not quiet as the alleyway has been supplanted by blocks of flats. I hope the birds have found a new and better home. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Elizabeth Fraser at 60

 Happy Birthday, Ms. Fraser!

Can it be 41 years since Cocteau Twins' first album, Garlands? Here's a live version of "Wax and Wane", my favourite of their early work. 

And now she has a new creative outlet courtesy of Sun's Signature with her partner Damon Reece. 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Liz back in the 1990s when she talked of lacking confidence to venture out on her own. She was working with tape loops and really enjoying herself. It's take far to long to hear her post-Cocteaus work but damn if "Underwater", which was released under her own name years back and has now been reworked for the duo, isn't a gorgeous piece of work. The irony of it having a lyric video, when for years, Liz refused to release her lyrics, is quite amusing. 

Many happy returns, madam.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

RIP Sinéad

 This one is hard. Like many I have spent the last 24 hours immersed in the incredible back catalogue of Sinéad O'Connor who passed yesterday at age 56. 

"Be kind to Generation X," someone wrote on Twitter, and that is exactly how I feel. One of our own is gone and it really, really hurts. Here is one of my favourite songs by her, performed live in 1988 at a gig I should have been at!

I never met Ms. O'Connor. I'm sad to say I never interviewed her although there were near misses back in the 1990s. Many have amazing interactions to report, her humour, her sharp observations and pointy opinions to the fore. I was just a fan. 

But I can say that in my very polarized lesbian house in San Francisco, where we spanned a range from teens to 30s and from folkie to Riot Grrrl, we only agreed on one thing: we all loved Sinéad. So much so that we erected a shrine to her on one wall of our common room. I donated the poster, in which she slouched staring directly into the lens of the camera. Someone else draped fairy lights around it and a third added a home-made Irish flag. Anyone passing by the flat when the light was on could see it from across the road. That pleased me. She was our beacon. 

Slán abhaile. 

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Women Make Movies Pride Month

 In line with their promotion for Women's History Month in March, Women Make Movies, the New York distributor, has offered free access to an array of its films for Pride month. 

I have so far watched four and and am on my fifth, but will concentrate on what I have finished. 

Among the highlights are Esther Newton Made Me Gay (dir Jean Carlomusto), a reflection on the life of the anthropologist who made drag queens her focus in the 1960s. Newton tells her story with a great deal of humour, though serious subjects such as lesbophobia and health issues nibble at the edges. I would have liked to see a bit more of her partner, the performance artist Holly Hughes, but the doc is quite rich with archive footage and interviews with exes, friends and a bit of academic pondering, which is the weakest aspect. 

Another writer, the poet Kitty Tsui, tells her story in Nice Chinese Girls Don't (dir Jennifer Abod), which is very much a piece to camera with a bit of archive footage. Her poems are a highlight of this short piece. 

In Love, Barbara (dir Brydie O’Connor), it falls to Hammer's widow Florrie Burke to tell the story of their relationship and the burden of curating her partner's work. She mentions "turning over the archive" but does not say to where or whom. 

It could end up at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, which gets its due in The Archivettes (dir Megan Rossman), with a range of interviewees reflecting on their time there and its evolution from Joan Nestle's apartment to its dedicated space in Brooklyn. I would have liked a bit more on what is in the archives but the film covers its changing face well.