Sunday, 17 July 2011

My Week Destroying Apathy: media diary 4th - 10th July

This week I finally got round to making the trip over to Leeds for the monthly WYIFN meet-up. WYIFN used to stand for West Yorkshire Independent Film Network, but the whole thing picked up at such a pace and began drawing filmmakers from further afield so they made the strategic choice to change their name to We’re Your Independent Film Network. This month’s meet-up included a host of short films, all made under film competition circumstances. There was also a Skype video Q&A session with Monsters director Gareth Edwards. I am writing up this evening for so stay tuned over there for some fantastic insight from the guerrilla filmmaker.

Double bill - Akira (Katsuhiro Ohtomo) and Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
This was the first time I’ve seen Akira since I was about fourteen; the first time I’ve seen it subtitled rather than dubbed (although there’s nothing wrong with the dubbed version) and the first time I have seen it on the big screen. What I found particularly striking about the cinema viewing - even more than seeing these phenomenal visuals - was the music and the sound. People often remark on how important it is to ‘see’ certain films on the big screen, but not often enough do you hear people bang on about ‘hearing’ a film in the cinema. It’s one of the things that struck me most about seeing films at home, especially after my son had been born and we felt obliged to keep the volume at a certain level. In the cinema you hear it as it should be, and so long as the cinema has rigged up the system right (Hyde Park Picturehouse takes its cinema seriously and therefore sounds perfect) then the surround is there, the volume is right and you experience everything that the filmmaker intended. What a film to make the most of this on. From the thumping drums, to the ear piercingly high pitched hums, to the masterful utilisation of silence. This was far superior to watching it on VHS at home on a tiny box when I was about fourteen.
The post World War III depiction of the world is still as breathtaking as when it was first released and that one scene in the bedroom, with the bunny, the teddy and the car was more terrifying than I had remembered it to be. As my tastes have changed over the years, I probably noticed its lack of subtlety a little more (a consequence of adaptation from the Manga no doubt); the very defined notions of soldier, scientist, revolutionary, biker, corrupt politician, etc, but working with very defined characters makes it easier for any high concept, spectacle laden film to get across its message, or its parable if you will. Having these easily defined characters allows the film to make a vivid statement on humanity and society; maintaining these recognisable pillars of society in order to throw the ambiguity out to the situation in general. The film doesn’t have a strong bearing on what is right and wrong in this whole situation; all angles have their failings but have elements where the viewer can be sympathetic toward their ideals (except the politicians) or make their own mind up whether or not it would be a good thing if a power much mightier than the immensely flawed humanity just wiped everything out in order to start again. A notion reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s remark in taxi Driver: ‘Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets”. Actually, Scorcese’s New York isn't far removed, aesthetically, from Ohtomo’s depiction of Neo-Tokyo. Akira has recently been released on Blu-Ray and it really is a must own, which is a big comment coming from a tight-ass like me, as I very rarely buy any form of home video.

Hmmm, what to say about Tree of Life. To sum up my experience, I’d say that I wish I had loved it as much, and been moved as much as plenty of other people. I have pasted below, the comment I left on the review. Don’t read if you don’t want it spoiling.

Great review, but I seem to disagree with you and most other commenters. Despite not disliking the film, I felt the complete opposite of joy, or the wonder of how things are connected.
It made me feel the opposite: cold, disconnected; like all these characters were always on a different plane of existence to each other. There was very little room for happiness between either soul numbing passivity in the mother, or the self-destructive resentment towards the world displayed by the father. This was set up early on when the mother explained that there was a choice in life between ‘grace’ and ‘nature’. Her description of nature sounded akin to some kind of Lacanian lack, or that hole in the human heart that cannot be filled. Her opposite to this, ‘grace’ sounded to me like being completely passive and emotionless, letting things pass you by. A point Jack pulled her up on later: “you let him walk all over you”. The film leaves no other options apart from these. No option to love, just ignore things or destroy yourself.
For poor little Jack, This situation, plus the death of a brother he seemed to always have to struggle to love (through the same natural impulse toward resentment his father had imbued within him) left him with no possibility of fulfilment and therefore had drifted his way through life, trying to gain the approval of his father (hence, him being some kind of big shot money making man in a massive skyscraper). Something he ultimately fails at as we can tell from his brief phone conversation with his father. Add to this the feeling of complete individual insignificance induced by the creation of the universe scene and I was left feeling cold and numb inside.
As I said above, I don’t think this by any means makes this a bad film. If anything, I think it is more than successful at creating an empty numbness felt after the loss of a loved one, therefore the film has achieved something quite powerful.
I just can’t consider it joyful in any way.

Dexter Season 4
Most evenings have been filled with a combination of DIY/decorating and watching Dexter with the wife. We’ve just clocked season 4, where Dexter’s parental duties caused more distraction from his ‘dark passenger’ than ever before. The programme as a whole gets better and better at illustrating the domestic tensions of having your own space, but also appreciating those close to you. How apt then that what I like most about watching it is that it’s something my wife and I both enjoy together.

Powell and Pressburger sibling meet-up
My sister (Twitter @xkellytotsx) has finally caught up with me on the films from the Powell and Pressburger box set, so we have begun our periodic P&P evenings. After both separately watching A Matter of Life and Death, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes it’s safe to say we had ticked off all the major titles, so we had no real system when going into this selection, but realised that I Know Where I’m Going stars Roger Livesy who is phenomenal in both AMOLAD and TLADOCB.
The film was just as interesting as you would expect from these wizards of cinema, with the ever-present themes of exile, the crossing of boundaries and the nature of national identity firmly in place as the English Joan (Wendy Hiller) is due to enter into a convenient though not necessarily passionate marriage with the rich Robert Bellinger. That is until she runs into the much more enigmatic, down to earth Torquil MacNeil, (Livesy) who is both familiar, yet exotic with his knowledge of, and a real history with these Scottish isles.
Through this P&P evening I got to better know another great twitter-type, as it turns out @momsfilms is as big a fan of The Archers as I am (P&P’s production company, not the BBC Radio 4 drama).

Phone hacking scandal
Wow, how instantly gratifying it is that those jokes-of-newspapers that we call tabloids are getting some bashing. I will have read further into the matter by next week so will sum up what I reckon then. However, my gut reaction is to be grateful for actual, in-depth and dedicated investigative journalism. I hate to feel like a cliché jumping to pat The Guardian on the back, but they have been the driving force in getting this whole thing uncovered, with the rest of the mainstream press completely ignoring it at best and actively fighting against it at worst. Like I said, I will be a little more informed by next week, and more will have been uncovered so I will leave it till then. I wouldn’t like to get too naive at the minute, but if this is a beginning to the decline of the apathy inducing, brain cell killing, smoke and mirrors hate machines known as the red tops then I will be celebrating hard!

Bjork: the wonders of a hyper-connected information system
Seeing Bjork in Manchester as part of her Biophillia residency at the Manchester International Festival was a wonderful testament to both the immediacy of the networked world and the spontaneity of life. It was just any old Wednesday, sat at work doing some mundane activity, when I saw on twitter that @_TomVincent, who I know had seen her the previous week and to whom I had expressed my jealousy mentioned me in a tweet saying that there were some tickets on sale for that evening’s show. After logging into the website, trying to buy tickets and being timed out three times in a row, then being told that the event had sold out I was a little deflated. It was a good job that my sister (who sits opposite me at work) had also began logging in to buy some. While she was signing up I informed her that they’d sold out so if she had some tickets reserved they were the last ones. I watched almost breathless as she clicked through to confirm on the screen that had three times timed me out. “Your booking has been successful” popped up and just like that we were going to see Bjork that night. For those of you that don’t have a young family probably think that this type of spontaneity is normal, well for me it isn’t so it was pretty exciting.
If I started writing up the actual show, I would be at this all night, so all I will say is that the new album sounds extraordinary, with Crystaline and Hollow really standing out as some of the best music she’s created (which is saying something). I knew she wasn’t going to get through half of her back catalogue of near perfect tracks, but I really was desperate for a certain one. One that I consider to be one of the greatest songs of all time, and one she left until the very last of the night. When she said it would be her last, my anticipation peaked, then when the bass line kicked in, I could have exploded. I have linked here to the performance of this song from Tonight with Jooles Holland.

Declare Independence

Having also seen Pulp earlier that week, I was having a pretty strong nineties heavy week of live music.

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