Friday, February 26, 2021

Directors on Directors: Olivia Wilde & Emerald Fennell

While on the hunt for some cultural podcasts to explore, I stumbled on this conversation posted to Variety earlier this month, in which directors Emerald Fennell (A Promising Young Woman) and Olivia Wilde (Booksmart) praise each other's work and compare notes on directing. I found it so fascinating to hear their experiences of being in the director's chair and doing it their way. 

While my own directing has been limited to shorts and no-budget work, I had a spark of recognition in hearing them say how unhelpful the paradigm of the tortured tyrant as director is. Why not be more egalitarian? Listen to suggestions? Keep the actors in the loop of the shoot? It all makes a lot of sense. They also have their own quirks and interest in details which is what makes work personal. As Wilde says at the end, "Be weird, be bold, make it yours." 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

BFI Flare launch

As with everything else screen-related over the last year, Flare's annual launch went online. So, no programmes or cake presentation, but the usual montage of clips from the films was screened. I was a bit late getting to the correct Facebook page, as it was not well sign-posted, but did see some familiar faces presenting the clips. The key points are that the festival will screen this year on the BFI Player and all the shorts will be free. 

I have had a nose through the online programme and am quite excited about the long awaited world premiere of Rebel Dykes, a post-punk documentary which has been offering WIP screenings for some years now at conferences. Other docs focus on Billy Tipton and Gloria Allen. Biopics on Tove Jansson and Rainer Werner Fassbinder are also in the mix. And the late Cloris Leachman stars in Jump, Darling, which sounds intriguing. 

Here is the festival trailer.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree online

 One of the many casualties of the COVID crisis was this exhibit, scheduled to open last year at Camden Arts Centre in London. However, the gallery grasped the opportunity to move the exhibit online and indeed reflect on how its themes resonate in this peculiar time we are living through. 

Indeed, why wouldn't you reflect on how nature forms patterns, how it perseveres, how the living world operates through an interaction of plants and animals? There is much to unpack in these concepts. This introductory video introduces many of the concepts and there are also playlists and podcasts on the exhibit website

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Pauline Boty's Nightmare

 While I have been in lockdown I have kept myself busy taking online courses, the most recent of which included Pop Art and Modern Sculpture. It was in the former that I made the acquaintance of the incredible talent that was Pauline Boty. A new name to me, she blazed brilliantly and briefly in the 1960s, creating striking Pop Art paintings that satirised sexual mores of the time, while also acting and broadcasting. Sadly, she died at 28 in 1966.

Like so many women artists Boty's star ebbed after her death and her paintings languished in family barns for many years awaiting rediscovery by discerning critics. 

This video is an excerpt from a documentary by Ken Russell and features music by Delia Derbyshire. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Flare online: Our Dance of Revolution

Phillip Pike's documentary on Toronto's black LGBTQ community feels like a throwback to an era when community, coalition and activism were everyday words in the vocabulary. That Black Lives Matter now thrives on these terms is an interesting note thrown up by the film which covers an enormous amount of ground during its 102 minutes.

Our Dance of Revolution
Pike focuses on a handful of key events and groups such as the foundation of a group house, the AIDS crisis and current conflicts. If some of these feel rushed, there is much to discuss. Interspersed throughout the archive footage, interviews and current-day protests are performances of poetry that give another facet to the unfolding story. The use of the arts in this documentary was something I appreciated: dancing, singing and performing are all important ways for a community to express itself. It reminded me very much of the community I came out in in San Francisco in the early 1990s. As one interviewee says, it's hard to be angry all the time.

A few things I found odd: the drag queen Michelle Ross is shown and lauded but never interviewed; singer Faith Nolan appears repeatedly in a group interview, but is never named or interviewed; an activist called Sherona Hall is mourned, but her death is not explained. Perhaps there is a longer version that clears up these points, but the film celebrates a community forge in struggle but moving forward into its power with passion and determination.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Flare online: A Dog Barking at the Moon

A Dog Barking at the Moon is a film about family drama and is also made by family in that it is written and directed by Zi Xiang and the cinematography is by her partner, Jose Val Bal. They also co-produced it. One would think that this would lend it a cohesive feel, but that is not the case. A young woman and her husband fly into China to stay with her parents before her baby is born. The mother is angry, as her husband wants a divorce. The daughter advises her to get the divorce or stop complaining. So, the stage is set for family drama, but the film is a frustrating watch. 

A Dog Barking at the Moon
For one, the cinematography is almost static. Entire scenes play out as wide shots that drag on and on with no camera movement and little action. The story moves back and forth in time with very little explanation and then suddenly scenes are dropped in that make no sense, the actors interacting with no props or costumes on a stage. I wish that lent it an air of intrigue, but I was just bored most of the time.

The actress playing the daughter barely shows a flicker of emotion, massively underplaying, while her mother lashes out in furious rages, chewing the scenery. The other characters barely register and it is confusing to keep track of the different family members, especially as there are so many flashbacks. I had an inkling that two characters shown as young women might develop into something interesting, but this did not seem to be happening. 

And then in the last 15 minutes, wow--suddenly there is drama, character, emotion and a painfully played out reaction shot. I can't say it makes up for the previous 90 minutes but at least there was something to watch. A dance number, flashes of colour and life. And then it ends, oddly. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Flare online: Rettet das Feuer

Continuing with the oh-so-topical self-isolation viewing, I watched the doc Rettet das Feuer, directed by Jasco Viefhues. I was keen to see this story of an artist living with HIV in 1990s Berlin, although not familiar with him or his work. Sadly, by the end of the film, I still felt I knew very little about him. J├╝rgen Baldiga, we learn, was a photographer and artist whose words and images fill the screen throughout the film, his diary entries read out by the filmmaker. 

Rettet das Feuer
 But the film spends most of the time in an unnamed archive (I guessed the Schwules Museum) with unnamed people poring over his donated works. I tried to work out who was who but failed. First names are thrown around but it is very hard to assign a name to a face or understand their relationship to this man who seemed to be very important to them.

Nor is any context given for Baldiga's life--where did he come from? What was Berlin like at that time? What was the drag scene that he photographed like? What was the situation for people with HIV? All of this information is withheld from the viewer and so we are left with black and white photos and chaps sitting in white rooms. I was completely nonplussed. It feels like an extended home movie where you have to already know who everybody is. Very frustrating.